The Life of John Colmer – Son of John Colmer and Maria CROFT Colmer

By | 3rd March 2018

Between 1886 and 1891, Anne Sophie STREET Colmer, widow of James Colmer, and her five children immigrated to New York City. Anne’s husband, James, was the great grandson of John Colmer and Maria CROFT Colmer.  In 1914 the family received a written Colmer family history from William Colmer of London, England, brother of James and also a great grandson of James and Maria CROFT Colmer.  In his opening note to the manuscript, he indicated that he was “repeating the history handed down from father to son for many generations.”  The following is derived from his manuscript.  It should be noted that there are some very specific details, including dates that would suggest that in addition to any handed down history, some degree of genealogical research was conducted at one time.

James Colmer Brown, December 15, 2017

As early as 1760, John Colmer and his brother, William, were the only surviving Colmer family members still residing in Plymouth. In 1762 John Colmer married Maria Croft at St. Andrew’s Church in Plymouth, Devonshire.  Maria was a lady of means and her money “was settled on herself with reversion to her children (if any), failing issue to her husband.”  Maria did, in fact, die on June 28, 1764 in giving birth to her first child, John.  Maria was buried at St. Andrew’s Church.  Her husband, John Colmer died years in 1768 and is buried with Maria at the old Church. Their surviving son was left to be raised by guardians at the age of four years.

Young John was educated at Plymouth and Cambridge.  When he “attained his majority” he inherited his mother’s fortune and the Colmer property.  In 1787 he went abroad on a long tour of the principal towns of Europe.  For two years he resided in Paris.  After an absence of four years, John returned to England in 1791 and took up residence in Chambers in Bloomsbury, “then a fashionable part of London”.

On December 17, 1793 John Colmer married Anne Cross at Whitechapel Church in London.  Anne Cross was born on January 27, 1776 at Stratford, London, the eldest daughter of John and Esther Cross.  A few months after their marriage, John and Anne went to Plymouth where they remained until 1820.

John Colmer was considered a “well-known athlete in the west country and was paid to be an expert player of baseball and fives. Like many other gentlemen with sporting tastes he became a gambler, and in 1805 the Ashburnham property was sold to pay his gambling debts.  In 1813 the entail of the Colmer property was broken and the property was sold to pay further gambling debts.”  At this time, John became a local schoolmaster.

Shortly after the Battle of Waterloo, the Emperor Napoleon I was captured by the English and brought as a prisoner of war into Plymouth.  According to the family history, “since Napoleon could not speak English, John Colmer was employed as interpreter and remained in daily attendance upon the Emperor until the latter’s deportation to St. Helena.”

John Colmer gave up the scholastic profession, entering into a contract with the Corporation of Plymouth “for the control of the Turnpike Trusts and lived at the chief Turnpike House.”  According to family history, on April 17,1818 a heavy turnpike gate was placed on end by the roadside for repairs.  While the workmen were at dinner, John’s daughter, Maria, aged about nine years, climbed up the gate and it fell, killing her immediately. “The tragic death of his favorite daughter so upset her father that he terminated his contract with the Corporation of Plymouth.”

In 1820, John and Anne Colmer returned to London with their two year old son, William and in 1822 they were joined in London by their son James, aged fourteen.  The other children remained in Plymouth.

Now back in London, John became a journalist and editor of the “London Mirror” newspaper.  He was also the author of several books, plays and poems.  After a long illness, John Colmer died in 1832.  It is reported that “after his death a number of influential gentlemen petitioned the Government for a pension for his widow from the King’s Civil List, but their efforts were unsuccessful.”

His widow, Anne Colmer, remained in London until 1840 living with her son James.  She then returned to “Devonport and stayed with her eldest daughter Elizabeth (Mrs. Callard)” until her death in 1852.  (William Colmer, author of the manuscript and grandson of John and Anne Colmer, reminisces about his grandmother recalling her to be tall and handsome as an old lady, with white, curly hair worn in ringlets and with large blue eyes, an aquiline nose, and fair complexion. He remembers her to be kind and referred to him as “her dear little man”).

John and Anne Colmer had the following children, all of whom were born in Plymouth and christened at the Old Church.

All grandchildren of Maria CROFT Colmer, they were:

  1. John was born January 2, 1795 and died September  15, 1818 at Tortola, West Indies.
  2. Thomas was born February 9, 1798 and died young.
  3. Elizabeth was born October 30, 1797.  She died in London on February 6, 1872 and is buried at Bow Cemetery. Elizabeth was married to Richard Callard and had two daughters.
  4. Susannah was born June 3, 1801 and died August 27, 1849.  She is buried at Ebenezer Wesleyan Chapel, Morristown, Devonport.  Susannah was married to Josiah Austen and left her husband a widower with three sons and three daughters.
  5. Thomas was born April 10, 1803 and died June 1, 1850 at Sheffield.
  6. Mary Ann was born June 10, 1805 and died November 24, 1872 at Bideford, North Devon.  She married Jeremiah Thorne and had two sons and two daughters.
  7. James was born April 3, 1808 and died January 15, 1887. (James was my 2nd great grandfather).
  8. Maria was born July 7, 1809 and died on April 17, 1818 and was buried at the New Church (St. Charles the Martyr) Plymouth.
  9. Jane was born on February 2, 1813 and died April 26, 1867 and was buried at Battersea Cemetery.  She was married to William Bachhouse and had two sons and four daughters.
  10. Louisa was born October 4, 1815 and died May 3, 1887 and was buried at St. John’s Cemetery, Cornwall.
  11. William was born on March 4, 1818 and died on September 29, 1890.

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