Marilla Smith

In 1812, in the village of Pavenham, in Bedfordshire, Marilla Smith and Humphrey Curtis married. They are found in lodgings at Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, in 1841, Humphrey claiming birth in 1791, was working as a grinder and his wife, Marilla, said she had been born a few years earlier than her husband, in 1786.

This couple were Gypsies, and Marilla had been baptised on 5th March 1787 at Yelling, Huntingdonshire, the daughter of Edward Smith, vagrant, and his wife, Aly … (sic), where the cleric had noted ‘the child was born in the field.’ Surely her parents are Edward Smith and Alethea Hearn, who also baptised a son, Mendoza Smith, on 1st February 1789, in Flitwick, Bedfordshire, another daughter, Cyene, in Huntingdonshire on 24th July 1791, the child of ‘Edward Smith and Hearn, Gypsies,’ as well as a Solomon Smith, baptised at Riseley, Bedfordshire, on 13th March 1796.

Alethea Hearn/Hern had married Edward Smith at Guilden Morden, Cambridgeshire, on 27th August 1792, and her husband was a brother of the Viramenta Smith who formed a union with William Curtis, having four known children at the beginning of the nineteenth century, one of whom she named after her brother. This is interesting, given that Edward’s daughter also unites with a Curtis. Marilla’s marriage was to take place three years after the death of both a brother and her mother, for Edward’s son, Mendoza, died at the age of 20, and was buried on 6th November 1809 at Flitwick, in Bedfordshire; whatever had afflicted him also claimed the life of his mother, it seems, since Alethea was also buried there on 28th November, just three weeks later.

In 1810, in Huntingdonshire, a Despair Curtis and his partner, Elizabeth Smith, baptised a daughter, Mary. The name Despair is intriguing, not only because it is so unusual, but because it reappears some two generations later amongst the Smith tribe in the area, and because Curtis was sometimes used as an alias by a Hemlock Smith, and grandson of Viramenta, another grandson being named Humphrey Smith, which is perhaps also a family name. Marilla Smith and Humphrey Curtis therefore formed a union that was one of a number between the two tribes which took place at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century in the locations favoured by these families, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire.

Marilla and Humphrey do not appear to have had any children and Marilla’s death, on 28th October 1849 at Cople, Bedfordshire, the wife of Humphrey Curtis, scissor grinder, was uncertified; the girl who had been born in the field died unremarked, ‘aged 63 years.’ Humphrey lived only a little longer, dying on 19th May 1850 at Renhold, Bedfordshire, ‘aged 60 years,’ a scissor grinder. He died, the medical attendant confirmed, of influenza, ‘complicated by congestion of the brain in his last hours.’