Wilks-Wilkes Family of Yorkshire

Francis Wilks was born in St. Mary's Parish, Whitechapel, London, England, 14 Jan 1699/1700, to Francis Wilks and Susannah Foster. His lineage was the Wilks family of Rigton, Parish of Kirkby-Overblow,Yorkshire (25 miles above the city of Leeds). Yorkshire was England's largest county and has since been divided into four, leaving Kirkby-Overblow in the West Riding, or West Yorkshire.

From 10 Jun 1591 when Robert Wilks of Rigton wrote his will, their wills began similarly, "Itim, I give my soule to almighty god my maker and redeemer and my bodye to be buried in P'she church yard of Kirkbye overblowes. Itim, I give and bequeath the lease of my farmhold and all the yews ... unto JOHN WILKES my sonne and ELIZABETH my wife during the years ... jointly" ... "yf she keeps her my wyfe and marry no more". He left sonne George no portion as he had been given as much land as £30 could buy. His daughters Elizabeth, Anne, and Ezare (or Evare) each 20 shillings, his son John a mare and saddle. Executors: son John and wife Elizabeth with his brother-in-law Thomas Slater." The parish church is All Saints.



 All Saints Church, on the main street of Kirkby-Overblow, a village on an eminence overlooking grassy farmland to the South, which leads to moorland.

 Facing South, a Kirkby-Overblow street scene and Pubs (left foreground and right midground) on the corner where All Saints Church is to the right.

In early English records the name was spelled Wilks, Wilkes, or Wylkys. Its spelling is not important ~ early American court documents often had "Wilks" and "Wilkes" on the same page of documents. Today in America there are more "Wilkes" than Wilks, but most of my family uses the latter. Today Wilkes is the 1687th most common name in the United States and Wilks the 2802nd.

Surnames were not in use in England until brought by William the Conquerer in the Norman Invasion of 1066. Upper-class Norman names often began with "de." The massive Domesday Survey of landowners, begun by the Normans in 1080 and completed in 1086, did not include any Wilkses. As surnames were gradually adopted, the earliest Wilks record found is when John de Wylkys held lands in Wiltshire 1216-1272.

In 1271 Roger de Wylkys was granted three years' respite from Knighthood; and there were numerous other Wilks citations. The family spread into Shropshire bordering Wales and continued to appear in official records for 500 years, as well as in Staffordshire.

Dr. Richard Wilkes (1690-1760), antiquarian noted for his scholarly works on Roman England, wrote, "My family came out of Hertfordshire and settled here [Staffordshire] about 300 years ago . . ." (mid-1400s). There the family flourished as minor gentry, with documented service as knights, ministers, civil service. This is our lineage.

Dr. Wilkes wrote, "By 1540 the confirmed Catholic branch of the family had removed to Nedd" in Yorkshire." The River Nydd/Nidd drains off the Pennines Mountains through the valley called Nydderdale, northwest of Leeds.

This date coincides with the receipt by Richard Wylkes, son of William Wylkes, the Protonotary, of lands from his father-in-law's estate in 1539, the 30th year of the reign of Henry the VIII.

Henry, as you recall, separated the English church from the Church of Rome in order to anull his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Bolyn. He perceived loyalty to the Church of Rome as disloyalty to the Crown, and during those perilous times most English Catholics became Anglican.

Richard Wylkes, son of William the Protonotary, married Anne Walker, daughter of Thomas Walker of Tettenhall, Esq. Richard died at Bolton Percye, 10 miles SW of York, Ainsty Diocese -- to which the Parish of Kirkby-Overblow belonged (see Wilks & Young Families, p. 216).



Today's Counties


The Hertfordshire-Shropshire-Staffordshire Wilks family's connection to Yorkshire was recognized by the College of Arms. In 1591 a Wilkes pedigree was prepared for King Henry the Third by the King of Arms for the period 1216-1539, later extended to 1656. The College of Heralds' Visitation of 1623 authorized both to use the same coat of arms. A search of heraldic records would be desirable but costly.

The Wilks manor at Rigton was in the Parish of Kirkby-Overblow, which included the townships of Rigton, Stainburn, and Swindon, and was part of Ainsty Diocese.

The first Wilkes manor at Rigton was a leasehold owned by Thomas Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron. A lien of Lord Fairfax was mentioned in the will of Francis Wilkes, eldest son of John Wilkes of Rigton, Yorkshire, written in 1667.

Francis left his eldest son Francis 5 shillings and his younger son Robert the leasehold farm. Under English law, and much of Europe, the eldest son inherited the estate (primogeniture), so extraordinary circumstances such as disgrace or leaving the country must have occurred, to be disinherited. Perhaps the son Francis was the Francis Wilks in the Northern Neck of Virginia, implicated 1675-1676 in Bacon's Rebellion, a popular but soon quelled revolt against the Royal colony – a disgrace indeed!

The Wilkes Chronology including William the Protonotary's family was prepared from study of manuscripts in London's British Museum by Charles Denby Wilkes in 1950, placed in the Library of Congress in a folio, and is reproduced in my Wilks & Young book, pp. 192-202. It began with John de Wylkys of Wiltshire 1216.

1506 ~ William Wylkes the Protonotary, Member of the Star Chamber, Knight of the Shire, who in 1501 signed "of Willenhall," and died in 1506. His will named four sons, of whom Richard was executor and chief beneficiary.

1540 ~ Richard Wylkes, who married Anne Walker, daughter of Thomas Walker of Tettenhall, Esq., removed to Tettenhall, Yorkshire, was the forebear of our family in Yorkshire. He died at Bolton Percye.

Fifty years later, in 1591, his probable grandson Robert Wilkes wrote his will in 1591. The line of succession for Robert Wilks' leasehold in Rigton (based on wills, other Yorkshire records, and Berry's Surrey Genealogy) was:

In the first real census of England in 1881, there were 993 Wilks-Wilkeses in Yorkshire. It would be interesting to have Wilkes descendants' DNA tested to compare with those of Yorkshire and with other early Virginia Wilkses, to compare their ancient patrilineal origin with ours.

The capital of Yorkshire for centuries was the City of York, established in 70 A.D. by Vikings. York is a beautiful city with a colorful history. It is a wonderful place to visit. York has more intact miles of city walls than anywhere else in England, originally built as defense by the Romans to enclose a military fort and town on the banks of the navigable River Ouse.

The Anglo-Saxons arrived in the north in the sixth century and made York (Eboracum) the capital of Deira, a Northumbrian sub-kingdom. In 865 AD the Danes captured the north and in 867 occupied York. By this time, the old Roman wall was in poor repair. The Danes restored it and left the Anglo-Saxon tower - the only one remaining in England. In 876 the Danes made York (Eoforwic) capital of the Viking Kingdom of York. In 918 AD a mixed race of Norwegian-Irish Vikings settled at York, and for many years York was subordinated to the Viking stronghold at Dublin.

The squarish limestone wall is wide enough for two men to walk abreast. Each of the city gates tower is impressive. In the springtime, the grassy earth berm outside the wall is brilliant green and yellow -- doted with millions of blooming daffodils. Other ancient structures include the castle on a hill -- Clifford's Tower, the city's ancient church the York Minster (second only to Canterbury Cathedral in church heirarchy), and the Shambles -- the oldest city center of narrow streets fit only for foot traffic, with buildings on either side whose upper stories lean closer and closer toward each other. York has an excellent Viking Museum.

The University of York in the city houses the probate records for several northern English counties, and it is there the old Wilks-Wilkes-Wylkys wills of Yorkshire were obtained. The city is NE of Kirkby-Overblow, while Leeds is SW, both less than 50 miles away.


As noted above,1742 ~ Francis Wilks of London (former Agent for Massachusetts Bay Colony) bequeathed his "manor of Rigton" to his nephew Robert Wilkes, and mentioned his kinsman Francis Wilks.

The most common Wilks given name in Yorkshire was Francis.

Francis, age 35 of St. Dionis Backchurch, London, and Mary Jeffries, age 26 of St. Andrews, Holborn, London, married 6 Apr 1731 in the Chapel for Gray's Inn (the law court of London). Mary "the wife of Francis Wilks, Esq., ," died in childbed 1732 in Pennsylvania.

Francis Wilkes, born ca1695, a distinguished member of the family, wrote his will in London in June 1741. It was proven in court in July 1742.

A member of St. Dionisis Backchurch Parish of London, he was a merchant, former Director of the South Sea Company and Agent for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Agent for New England, often mentioned in London records. He bequeathed his "manor of Rigton" to his nephew, Robert Wilkes, and left a bequest to "my kinsman Francis Wilkes." He made his sister Susannah Harris his sole executrix. Four codicils which gave instructions for burying his body at Hackney Churchyard, and removal of his wife's body from a vault in Bunhill Fields (burial ground for Dissenters) to lie near him, "My deceased wife who was buried in Bunhill Fields may be taken up and put in the place near me as she often mentioned in her life."

The will did not mention her name.

Because Francis Wilks who died in 1742 was 35 years of age at his marriage in 1731 in London, clearly he was NOT the child Francis born 1699/0 in London to Francis Wilks and Susannah Foster.

Our ancestor Francis Wilks (ca1700-1783) was no doubt encouraged by "his kinsman" Francis (died 1742) to go from England to Pennsylvania, where he procured land from M. O. Penn in Bucks County in 1734. Earlier, William Penn attended the Falls Friends Meeting in Bucks Co., PA.

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