Select Baker Miscellany

Here are some Baker stories and accounts over the years:

The Occupation of Baker

The occupational name of Baker could refer to someone whose special responsibility in the kitchen of a manorial house was the baking of bread.  Alternatively, the baker might refer to the owner of a communal oven used by the village (as peasants generally could not bake their own bread).  Later, in London and other towns, the public baker was a substantial tradesman.

The Bakers of Sissinghurst

Sissinghurst Manor in the Weald of Kent was purchased by Thomas Baker in 1490.  The Bakers had been a yeoman family based in nearby Cranbrook during the reign of Edward III.

Thomas Baker had come upon impressive wealth to purchase such a large manor.  Cranbrook was then becoming the lead cloth-making center for England, a position which it retained for three hundred years.  Many Flemish weavers settled in Cranbrook. As late as 1620, it was fashionable to be dressed in Cranbrook cloth.  Several other families developed prominence such as the Courthopes of Goddards Green, but Sissinghurst remained the oldest and greatest manor of the Weald.  

Strangely, when Thomas Baker died in 1497 or his son Richard Baker died in 1504, there was nothing to indicate they had amassed their fortune in the cloth-making business.  It is known they were devout men, careful with their money, who cared deeply about their families but would not over-indulge them.  

Sir John Baker lived at Sissinghurst Castle during the reign of Henry VIII.  As Attorney General, Baker had been pivotal in Henry’s dissolution of monastic and chantry.  The King left him 200 English pounds (a substantial sum at that time) in his will.  Sir John got his nickname Bloody because of his later association with Queen Mary.

Matthew Baker of Culmstock

Matthew Baker was one of the most famous shipwrights of the Tudor age.  He was the first to lay down the lines of the ship in advance on paper, rather than the traditional way which was at the site of construction. 

By 1578 he was well-established as a royal master shipwright at Deptford.  He can claim some credit for the defeat of the Spanish Armada ten years later.  He was responsible for constructing or rebuilding many of the ships that fought against the Spanish.  And, from his vantage point at Culmstock in Devon, his beacon served as a communications signal for the advance of the Armada up the Channel

Baker Distribution in England

H.B. Guppy in his 1890 survey Homes of Family Names in Great Britain had the following to say about the Baker name distribution in England:

“Speaking generally, the Baker surname is most numerous in the south of England and diminishes rapidly in frequency as we proceed northward, until we reach the counties bordering Scotland where it meets its extinction within sight of the Cheviot Hills.  

Baker is a name which prefers the coast; and the manner in which it abounds in almost all the coastal counties of southern England (excluding Cornwall and Dorset), from Monmouth round to Suffolk, is very remarkable, and not at first sight intelligible. The counties of Monmouth, Somerset, Sussex, and Surrey stand foremost amongst those containing the greatest number of Bakers.” 

This coastal preference comes out in the 1891 census.  There were two concentrations of the name at that time, one in the southeast from Essex along the coast to Hampshire and another in the southwest taking in Somerset and Devon.

The Bakers of Archdale Hall

Richard Baker had come via Barbados to the Carolinas with his family sometime around 1680.  He was first granted land along the Ashley river in South Carolina.  There he built his home of Archdale Hall.   He died in 1698. 

His wife Elizabeth, however, survived him for another thirty six years.   According to the South Carolina Gazette

"On Tuesday the 13th August 1734 died near the Ashley river in the 104th year of her age Mrs. Elizabeth Baker.  Her maiden name was Elizabeth Wilson and she was born in Wiltshire in a town called Shraton on the 18th August 1630.  She lived in England for 27 years, in Barbados for 23 years, and in Carolina for 54 years. She had 12 children, two of them being alive yet, 25 grandchildren, and 43 great grandchildren.  On the same day she died one of her great granddaughters was delivered of a child.”  

Richard’s son William had taken over Archdale Hall and during his lifetime expanded the family’s lamdholdings so that they were close to 1,000 acres.  He also built a brick home in the Georgian style to replace the house his father had initially built.  

However, it was probably the next Baker, Richard Baker, who elevated his family into the level of wealthy rice planters.   He operated a large rice warehouse on his property and a schooner whereby he could ship his and others’ rice along the Ashley river to Charleston.   He, however, died in 1752 as a result of a duel.  

The family prosperity continued until the time of the Civil War.  After the war, Dr. Richard Bohun Baker, the sixth of that name, inherited Archdale Hall.  He was a widower with no children and lived there alone with a handful of ex-slaves who stayed on the plantation as laborers.  He survived the Charleston earthquake of 1886 which, however, left Archdale Hall in ruins.

Conrad Becker in Pennsylvania and the Baker Line

Conrad Becker arrived in Philadelphia from the German Palatine with two brothers on the Snow Betsie in 1739.  He was next recorded in 1753 marrying Catharina Lambart in York county, Pennsylvania.  He fought in the Revolutionary War and died in 1795.  The Becker name became Baker shortly afterward. 

Conrad and his wife raised no fewer than seventeen children at their home in Manchester township.  The twelfth child, named Conrad and born in 1777, was the father of Conrad Baker, a Presbyterian minister, and the grandfather of Conrad Baker, the Governor of Indiana in 1867 and 1868.

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