[Updated 8/26/13 to include the contested 21st generation entry and fix small typos.]
Recently, my family vacationed in England. While there, we visited the town and castle ruins in Spofforth, a small town in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Spofforth is strongly suggested as the ancestral home of the Spafford, Spofford, Spufford, Spuford, Spoford, Spauforth, Spofer, Spawforth, Spofforth, Spoforth, Spoffurth, Spoffort, Spofferd, Spofforths, Spauforthe, Spoofourthe, etc. family lines, at least as far back as they can be traced. (And no, not the Staffords — that is a totally different family.) That has prompted me to write up some things about the family and family history for my daughter, nieces, nephews, and other Spaffords. Read on — if you dare.
A note about spelling. Up until a few hundred years ago, spelling really wasn’t viewed as “fixed.” There were many reasons for this, including lack of references, evolving language, and low literacy rates. Thus, things were often spelled out as the scribe heard them, and there are some different spellings over time. I try to spell things in an accepted way, and reproduce the ancient spellings the way I found them in the references.
Spafford Narrative History
If you go back far enough (100 generations, certainly), every family likely interweaves with every other in a locale. I imagine if you go back 100,000 generations or so you come up with the few original homo sapiens, so in that sense every family is connected. Thus, at some levels, we are all related.
Throughout time, there was a lot of intermarriage of families and clans, and even among not-too-distant relatives, so family trees don’t really branch out quite so much as mathematics would predict. But for purposes of this essay, if we base our story on the Western view of descent of family name via the paternal line, and if we assume that all the women directly on that line were truthful about who was the father of the children involved (not necessarily a given in any family line), then my family can trace back as far as Orm in Yorkshire, England in the 10th century.
Orm (or Arm; old Danish for Dragon) was apparently a Christian lord of Viking descent, born around 965 AD. It is entirely possible that he arrived in England during the conquest by King Cnut around 1010, and may have been one of the clan chiefs (or son of a clan chief) who helped Cnut in that conquest: Orm was mentioned in an early charter of land by Cnut in 1033. Orm was a Thane in the area, of the “family” Ormerod. Orm has record of being a significant leader, and shows up again in the “Ormulum” text. Little is really known of his life, but he apparently lived near what is now Leeds. Orm paid for the restoration of the church in Kirkdale, and an engraving above the door still commemorates that. He held significant estates in Northumbria, either by conquest or gift.
Orm married into royalty. His wife, Etheldreda was the daughter of Aldred, Earl of Northumbria. Her uncle was Duncan, King of Scotland. Her great grandfather had been King of Northumbria before it had been conquered and added to the kingdom of England.
Gamel, Orm’s son, had significant land in York, Dereby, Lincoln, Stafford, Salop and Chester. He was Lord of Thorparch, on the river Thorpe in Yorkshire, There is record that he was generous to the Church, as he gave one of his manor homes to the Church of St. Peter in York. Given the time when he lived, he may have participated in Earl Siward’s 1054 military expedition against the Scottish king Mac Bethad (Macbeth!). Gamel’s mother was sister to Siward’s wife, and he was thus viewed as “family” in that household. Siward, the Earl of Northumbria, died in 1055 from dysentery. His son was too young to assume rule, so King Edward the Confessor appointed Tostig Godwinson, one of his own brothers-in-law, as Earl.
Tostig was not well-liked in Northumbria, being a Saxon in a land of many Danes and Scots. A few years earlier, he had been exiled by King Edward, briefly, from England along with his father, the Earl of Wessex. Tostig spent a lot of time in the court of King Edward, preferring the company of his kinsmen in Wessex to the people in Northumbria. He also likely secretly allied himself with the Scottish king Malcolm III. Tostig heavily taxed the locals, made unpopular decisions, and generally was disliked. He increased this dislike by appointing an inept administrator in the form of someone named Copsig who was inept. Tostig ordered the killing of several lords who objected to his heavy hand, including Ulf, son of Dofin, and Gamel, son of Orm, in 1064 during a visit to his manor in York under safe conduct.
Gamelbar, Gamel’s son, was successful and inherited his father’s lands. He was Baron of Spofforth, was recorded (after the Norman Conquest) as having the following fiefs: Folyfate, Aiketon, Spoford, Ribbeston, Plumpton, Colthorp, Stockton, Lynton, Heselwode, Sutton, Sighelinghale, Lofthowse, Kibelingcotes, Guthmundenham, Cloughton, Pokethorp, Esthorp, Hoton, Fosseton, Wandesford, Nafferton, Queldryke, Wartre, Thriberg, Edelington, Middleton, Stubbum, Skaln, Colesburn, Nesselfeld, Inwely, Wheteley, Askwith, Dalton, Horton, Casteley, Letheley, Walton, Bergheby, Arlesthorp, Soreby, Hemelsby, Steynton, Asmonderby, Merkingfeld, Hornyngton, Wolsington, Yedon, Rondon, Oxton, Tadcastre, Snawes, Haghornby, Gramhope, Kerkby, Kerkby-Orblawers, Carleton, Midhope, Remington, Neusome, Boulton, Horton, Gersington, Lynton, Ketelwell, Thresfeld, Arnecliffe, Addingham, Routherneck, Stynton, Estborne, Malghum, Brunby, Swyndon, Halton, Pathorne, Elgfeld, Thornton, Bunyngeston, Difford, Gisborne, and Westeby. Spoford or Spofforth was a place name, derived centuries earlier, and means “spot of land where the ford is” (as in ford of the river). It is uncertain what river that may have been, but the town of Spofforth is along the River Crimple, which empties into the River Nidd.
Clearly, Gamelbar was a wealthy and powerful thane.
On 3 October 1065, all the thegns (thanes) in the region rebelled, marched to Eoforwic (York) and defeated Earl Tostig’s house troops (all Danish mercenaries — he didn’t trust the locals, and apparently for good reason); Gamelbar was a leader in this revolt. King Edward sent Harold, Earl of Wessex (his brother-in-law), to York as his emissary. Harold secured a truce, and returned to the king with the recommendation that Tostig be stripped of his title. It was so ordered by the king, and Tostig again went into exile, now with a big grudge against Harold.
Tostig raised some troops via his father-in-law, Count Baldwin of Flanders, and made several raids along the coast. In January, 1066, King Edward died and Harold became king. Many others wanted to claim the throne, including Harald Hardrada of Norway, who launched an invasion. In September Tostig joined forces with Hardrada to invade Northumbria where they conquered York. Nearly simultaneously, William the Bastard of Normandy invaded Wessex (he claimed that Edward had promised the throne to him; he and Edward were cousins).
King Harold learned of the fall of York, first, and he put his troops on a forced march to the north where he caught Tostig and Hardrada by surprise. Their army was not prepared for a battle, and were defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, with both Tostig and Hardrada killed and Gamel avenged.
However, as this concluded, news reached the King about William’s Norman force landing to the south. He put his exhausted (and bloodied) army on a march south to meet them. They eventually met at the battle of Hastings, where Harold — making some poor decisions along the way — died (as did his two remaiming brothers) and William became William the Conqueror; had he lost, he would probably still be known to history as William the Bastard.
Meanwhile, Gamelbeorn, also known as Gamelbar de Spofford, had been loyal to King Harold. He participated in the revolt to the Normans in 1068-1069, but the effort was defeated. William exacted terrible revenge on everyone in Yorkshire, including Gamelbar. He forfeit his estates, his mansion in York, and his many other manor homes. Those were given to William’s ally, William de Percy, who was made a Baron. Gamelbar’s main manor home was in the town of Spoford (Spofforth, now.) Gamelbar was almost certainly put to death if he was not killed in battle. (See the section below on Spofforth Castle)
So, the early history of the Spafford (et al) line has them being significantly involved with the incidents that led to the victory of William the Conqueror: Gamel’s assassination as a cause of rebellion against Tostig, leading to bad blood with Harold, leading to the attack that sapped Harold’s troops and thus unable to defeat William’s forces. As we will see later, they also were involved, very indirectly, with the Magna Carta. The family also had an indirect connection to Shakespeare via the real King Macbeth.
Line of Descent
Based on the available information (linked in above), the following appears to be the line from Orm, my (great-)29grandfather to me; there is some small dispute about whether there was another generation in 20-22. I’m leaving out siblings, although some are known (but not all are). A rather comprehensive family history up to 1888 is available as an online book, although at least one alternate and well-researched history presents some disagreement.
- Orm, Lord of Thorpatch. Born probably around 965, died before 1042
- Gamel of Spofforth. Born ca 990, killed 1064. Lord of Thorparch and Lord of the Manor of Ilkley. King’s fowler and Ranger of the Forest of Knaresborough. Assassinated by Tostig, Earl of Northumbria.
- Gamelbar or Gamelbeorn. Born ca 1015, died in or after 1068. Lord of Spofforth, Plumpton, Braham, etc.
- William de Spofforth. Born ca 1040. Joined Aldred, Archbishop of York in resisting Normans. His properties were also confiscated by the Normans in 1086 as a result of William’s scourge of Yorkshire.
- Walter de Spofforth. Born ca 1063, died ca 1091. Walter was killed in an invasion of England by Scottish king Malcolm III.
- John of Spofforth. Born ca 1085, died ca 1091. Married Juliana de Plumpton, daughter of Nigel, a lord. This was the first in a long familial association with the Plumptons over 200 years.
- Henry. Born ca 1115. Married the daughter of Sir Richard de Stokeld.
- Elwine or Elerina de Spofforth. (Also known as Robert.) Born ca 1145 and died after 1186.
- Gamel de Spofforth. Born ca 1175. Was Marshall to Nigel de Plumpton, Lord of Plumpton.
- William of Spofforth. Born ca 1200. Noted as attending a Parliment at St. Albans
- Nicholas de Spauford. Born ca 1235, died ca 1265. Married Dyonysia de Plumpton.
- Roger Blase de Spofford. Born ca 1260, died after 1325. Joined Lord Pembroke in the insurrection vs. Edward II in around 1320.
- Robert of Spofforth. Born ca 1285, died after 1338. Married Agnes Castelay.
- Robert of Spofforth. Born ca 1310, died after 1339. Married Evorta de Norwode. Served as the Prior of Helaugh.
- Robert Spofforth. Born ca 1340, died after 1361. Married Mary de Malebis, daughter of Sir Thomas de Malebis. Robert’s nephew, Thomas Spofford, was in the House of Lords in the reign of Henry V as Abbot of St. Mary’s in York. It is alleged that Thomas was a hero in one of the ballads of Robin Hood while Bishop of Hereford! He was also elected one of the four presidents of the Council of Constance.
- John Spofford. Born ca 1360, and died after 1396. Married Maria Meynel. Lived in Newsham, England.
- Robert Spofforth. Born ca 1405, died after 1431. Married Ann Anlaby, daughter of William Anlany and Alice Ughtred. Lived in Menthrope, near Selby, and in York.
- Robert Spofforth, born ca 1460, died after 1494. Married Ellen Roncliffe, daughter of Baron Bryan Roncliffe. They lived in Wistow Manor, near Selby.
- Bryan Spofforth. Born ca 1500, died ca 1555. Was rector of Barton-le-Street from 1536-1554. Married Agnes Aslaby (a nun), daughter of Walter Fawkes, in 1530. He was ejected from the church in 1554.
- Robert Spofford (sometimes listed as Richard). Born ca 1532. Married Agnes Clare, daughter of Gilbert Clare, in 1565. Robert was the first Protestant from birth in the family.
- [According to some accounts, there was another generation here, with Richard, b. ca 1565, died 1611. Married Anne. He was esquire to Sir Wm. Bambrough.]
- John Spofforth. Born ca 1588, died 1668. John was the Vicar of Silkstone, but was ejected as a nonconformist (Puritan). Married Ellen.
- John Spofford. born 1612 died ca 6 Nov 1678. Emigrated to Massachusetts in 1638 as a Puritan aboard the “John of London” sailing from Hull with a group led by the Rev. Ezekiel Rogers. Married Elizageth Scott, who came to MA at the age of 9 in April 1634 aboard the ship “Elizabeth.” She was the daughter of Thomas Scott and Elizabeth Strutt; the Scott family traces back to Charlemagne. John & Elizabeth lived in Ipswich and Newbury. John was 13 years older than Elizabeth. As a matter of trivia, each traveled to the colonies aboard a ship bearing their names.
- John Spaford II. Born 24 Oct 1648 in Rowley, MA and died 22 Apr 1696 in Bradford MA. He married Sarah Wheeler, daughter of David Wheeler and Sarah Wise. John’s name appears in the list of soldiers with Capt. Thomas Prentice’s Company in King Philip’s War, Feb 29, 1675-1676, and also in Capt. Appleton’s troop in the Narragansett campaign of the same war. John and Sarah had 8 children.
- Jonathan Spofford. Born 28 May 1684 in Rowley, MA and died 16 Jan 1772 in Georgetown MA. Married Jemima Freethe, daughter of John Freethe and Hannah Bray. Jonathan and Jemima had 13 children, not all of whom lived to adulthood.
- Jacob Spafford. Born 17 Aug 1722 Rowley, MA and died 1769 in Salisbury CT. He married Rebecca Smalley, daughter of Benjamin Smalley and Rebecca Wright. Jacob and Rebecca had 11 children. He was the first to use the last name Spafford with that spelling.
- Solomon Spofford. Born 21 Sep 1756 and died 2 Feb 1837 in Athol, Ontario. He Married Sally Sheldon. He had achieved the rank of Colonel in the army. He fought with the colonists in the Revolutionary War, but his allegiance changed and he fought with the British in the War of 1812, moving to Canada after the war ended. Solomon and Sally had 9 children.
- Abijah Pratt Spafford. Born ca 1787 and died 1842. Married Margaret Sheldon Ferguson, daughter of J. Ferguson and Polly Young. They had 9 children.
- Abijah Spafford. Born ca 1825 in Athol, Ontario, and died 4 Dec 1909 in Cherry Valley, Ontario. He had a paralyzing stroke in July of 1908. He married Anna Eliza Ketchum, daughter of Thomas H. Ketchum and Caroline Jackson. Abijah was a Methodist minister.
- Thomas Franklin Spafford. Born 16 Mar 1857, died Dec 1937, both in Cherry Valley, Ontario. Married Sarah Catherine Wood, daughter of Nehemiah Wood. He was a schoolteacher.
- Marcus Vernon Spafford. Born 11 Jan 1883 Sophiasburg, Ontario, and died 23 Jun 1948 in Rochester, NY. He married Ila Maude Foster, daughter of William Asa Foster and Lucritia Iantha Anderson. They emigrated to the US ca 1902, and he worked as a foreman in the film doping plant for George Eastman at Kodak. He became a naturalized US citizen on 29 November 1921. Ila lived to age 100.
- Howard Franklin Spafford. Born 22 Apr 1918 in Rochester, and died 3 July 2007 in Hartford, CT. Married Elizabeth Ann Gallagher, daughter of Eugene Paul Gallagher and Ruby Viola Shoemaker. Howard served in WWII in an antiaircraft battery deployed in Europe. He later served as an accountant and financial officer for several small companies in the Rochester area.
- Eugene Howard Spafford. The current affront to civilization from the Spafford family.
John Spofford (#23) was the ancestor of almost all of the Spaffords, Spoffords, and similar in the US and Canada. A few others have since immigrated from other parts of the British Empire.
To the best of my ability to tell, there are no male heirs to this line after at least Thomas (#30), and possibly earlier — all lines end in daughters. If I were to somehow have sons at this point, I might try to name them Orm and Gamel.
Crest and Motto and Etc
The family motto has been rendered as Fidelis ad extremum or “Faithful to the extreme.” Another version has been “Rather Deathe than false of Faythe,” which is rather the same thing. Given some of the family history of continuing to serve on the losing side of disagreements long after the outcome was decided, this certainly seems apt!
A commercial service has a version of the Spafford coat of arms. This is one of two versions. The other version is shown to the right.
There have been a few notable Spaffords about. Check out the Wikipedia page for Horatio Spafford, for instance, especially if you think your luck is bad; the Spafford Center in Jerusalem is related.
Suzy Spafford is a notable cartoonist. Spafford Lake on the campus of UC Davis is named after a long-time administrator in the UC system, Ed Spafford. Roz Spafford is an award-winning author. George Spafford has coauthored several books with my former student Gene Kim.
There is a jam-rock band from Arizona named Spafford, although I have no idea why they picked that name.
NY State has a town of Spafford. I’ve been there — it is a pleasant little town in the Finger Lakes region.
There are other Spaffords about, if you know where to look for them, and many are worth finding.
The ruins of Spofforth Castle still stand in the town of Spofforth. Actually, it is the remains of a fortified manor house, but at one point it would have been seen as a castle. Only the western part of the castle still stands — there was originally more to the East, North, and West. After the castle fell to ruins, the locals took a great many of the stones to build their homes, churches, and common buildings, thus leaving much less of the grandeur that was once there.
After William took Northumbria, he gave all of Gamelbar’s lands and manors to his buddy, William de Percy. Spofforth Castle was constructed in the 11th century. It seems likely (although there is no clear archeological evidence) that Spofforth Castle was built on the foundations of one of Gamelbar’s early homes.
Legend has it that the first version of the Magna Carta was drafted at Spofforth Castle!
One account notes that Harry Hotspur was born here at Spofforth Castle in 1364. He is a notable character in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, as a friend of Henry V. In real life he also was a notable knight, who rebelled against King Henry IV and killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
The castle was ruined in 1461, after the Percys sided with Lancaster in the War of the Roses — and lost. Over 100 years later, the castle was restored, but it was not used as a primary residence and fell into disuse. It was last occupied in 1604, and again ruined in the civil war (1642-1651).
The castle has a ghost, too!
One might make the comment that the castle is like the Spafford authoring this blog — old, weathered, and in ruins.
Here is a video tour of the castle, taken in 2011, with silly music in the background.
This is a gallery of pictures I took in August 2013 of the castle and its interior: