In the eighteenth century the Corker family in England were in business as cork-cutters – a trade later made obsolete by the technology introduced by the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. As a comment on the curiosity of the family name describing the occupation, in a volume of marriage licences compiled for the British Record Society, the editors remarked: ‘Those who are amused by coincidences will note that . . . Nathaniel Corker of Nantwich (1736) was a cork-cutter’ (1).
Read about the Cork-Cutter’s Trade.
On 21 May 1667 Thomas Corker and Elizabeth Smith were married at St Chad’s Church, Wybunbury, a village a short distance south east of the market town of Nantwich in the English county of Cheshire. They made their home at Shavington cum Gresty, near Wybunbury.
Their daughter Mary Corker, baptised at Wybunbury in 1675, became the wife of Richard Owen at a marriage ceremony at St Chad’s Church, Wybunbury on 1 September 1703. Richard and Mary Owen embarked on the sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and settled in the town of Charleston in the British American colony of South Carolina.
A gravestone in a churchyard at Charleston, South Carolina commemorates
Back in England, Mary Owen had a sister named Anne and a brother named Nathaniel Corker. Anne Corker married Thomas Withers and Nathaniel Corker married Hannah Bowers at a double wedding on 5 January 1693 at St Mary’s Church, Wistaston, a Cheshire village close to the town of Nantwich.
Thomas and Anne had a son named Lawrence Withers. Nathaniel and Hannah Corker’s four sons – Thomas, Daniel, Nathaniel, and John – all qualified as cork-cutters.
The cousins Lawrence Withers and Thomas Corker, both nephews of Mary Owen, became residents of Charleston, South Carolina (2).
Thomas Corker, Merchant of Charleston, South Carolina
Thomas Corker, born about 1695, married Elizabeth Holm at Wistaston, Cheshire, on 11 February 1728. The marriage register recorded that his profession was a cork-cutter. Just under one year later, Elizabeth died in childbirth. She was buried at St Mary’s Church, Nantwich on 21 January 1729, the same day that her daughter Mary was baptised. The infant Mary died one month later; her burial was recorded in the parish register of St Mary’s Church, Nantwich on 17 February 1729.
Thomas Corker decided to make a new life in America where he became a prosperous merchant of pre-revolutionary South Carolina. The recipient of a generous legacy from his Charleston aunt, Mary Owen (3), he built up a department store in Charleston stocked with a:
‘variety of silks, patterned linens, India calicoes, woolens, and Hollands; manufactures such as playing cards, buttons, bundles of violin strings, and oil cloth umbrellas; an assortment of patent medicines, such as Greenough’s tincture for teeth; as well as more mundane items like pewter kitchen ware and workmen’s tools’ (4).
Thomas Corker was active in the deerskin trade – at trading posts the British traders exchanged manufactured goods for dressed deerskins supplied by the Cherokees and other indigenous groups of South Carolina. The skins, valued for making clothes, were packed in barrels and shipped to England to fill the orders of the garment industry (5).
Thomas Corker of Charleston died 28 January 1771 in his 75th year (6). His will, catalogued in the National Archives, London, left money to establish a school in Nantwich under the auspices of the ‘presbeterial or congregational’ society. This suggests great affection for Nantwich as his ancestral home. The will expressed the desire to:
pay a master and mistress twenty pounds per annum for teaching twenty boys and ten girls to write and read English until the age of twelve or fourteen years fit to put to some laudable trade to get their living.
An account of the nonconformist churches in Nantwich does not mention the Corker school charity (7). The executor of Thomas Corker’s will, the Charleston merchant Josiah Smith, junior, may have had little interest in supporting a gift for a provincial town in England.
When Thomas Corker wrote his will he had no living wife and no surviving children. In the eighteenth century, other people with the Corker name were also settled in South Carolina. However, the connection to the Charleston merchant Thomas Corker is not known (8).
Three Cork-Cutter Brothers of England
In his will Thomas Corker acknowledged his three brothers: Daniel, Nathaniel who was deceased when the will was written in May 1768, and John of ‘Uttoxeter in Stafford Old England’. It would be interesting to know how the Corker brothers got into the cork-cutter trade. Maybe one of them spent time in London learning the business.
Daniel Corker, a cork-cutter of Nantwich, was married at St Nicholas’s Church, Liverpool, on 8 October 1734. By 1736 he was active as a cork-cutter in Nottingham. His brother Nathaniel Corker, also a Nantwich cork-cutter, married Elizabeth Craven, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, at St Mary’s Church, Nottingham, on 22 November 1736.
The wedding of John Corker and Rosamond Poynton took place on 10 October 1725 at St Werburgh’s Church, Hanbury, Staffordshire. On the marriage licence the home address of both the bride and groom was stated as Uttoxeter, Staffordshire.
John and Rosamond Corker made their family home in Uttoxeter. There is a record that the Corkers owned property in Uttoxeter Market Place (9).
The demand for the Corker cork-cutting expertise justified taking on apprentices. For example, on 14 April 1742 William Key started an apprenticeship as a cork-cutter with the master John Corker of Uttoxeter. In 1762, William Johnson became a cork-cutter apprentice in Uttoxeter under the supervision of John Corker’s brother Nathaniel (10). A funeral service to memorialize Nathaniel Corker was held at St Mary’s Church, Nantwich on 12 April 1766.
Four sons of John and Rosamond Corker – John, Nathaniel, Thomas and Daniel – were baptised at St Mary the Virgin’s Church, Uttoxeter in the years 1734, 1739, 1743 and 1750, respectively. Career details for the two oldest sons, John and Nathaniel, have not been confirmed.
The youngest son Daniel Corker, a cork-cutter like his father, raised his family in his birthplace of Uttoxeter. None of his sons were attracted to the art of cork-cutting. Three sons of Daniel Corker became skilled watchmakers (The Corker Family: Clock & Watch Makers of Staffordshire and London).
Daniel’s brother Thomas Corker set up in the cork-cutting business
in Leicester, the county town of Leicestershire (11).
His son, another Daniel Corker, also became a Leicester cork-cutter.
Both father and son were registered voters for Leicester at the United Kingdom
general election of 1826. It should be noted that, before the
1832 Reform Act, the right to vote was restricted to men who were
property owners. Poll books recorded those who cast a vote
and who they voted for (the secret ballot was introduced later).
For the 1826 election the Leicester poll book listed: (12)
In Pigot’s 1828 commercial directory for Leicester the Corkers were the only cork-cutters to qualify for an entry (13). Daniel Corker’s cork-cutting workshop was still at York Street while his father Thomas Corker was now residing at Church Gate, Leicester. In the summer of 1828 Thomas Corker was aged 84.
Not long after the 1828 directory was compiled, Daniel Corker died at the young age of 37. He was buried at St George’s Church, Leicester, on 5 October 1828. His father Thomas Corker, aged 87, was buried at St Margaret’s Church, Leicester, on 18 January 1831.
More Corker Cork-Cutters
For the 1780 British general election the pollbook for Westminster named John Corker, a cork-cutter of New Court, Channel Row [Cannon Row], Westminster (14). Possibly he was the John Corker, the son of John and Rosamond Corker, baptised on 6 December 1734 at Uttoxeter, Staffordshire.
In the late 1770s a John Corker, in the cork-cutting profession, was living in east London at ‘Bluegate Fields, Ratcliffe-highway’ near the church of St George-in-the-East (15). It is not known if he was the same John Corker listed in the Westminster pollbook. Daniel Corker, the son of the London cork-cutter John Corker and his wife Sarah, was baptised on 9 August 1778 at St George-in-the-East church (16).
The London-born Daniel Corker became established as a cork-cutter in Worcester, the county town of Worcestershire. Pigot’s commercial directory for 1828 had an entry for Daniel Corker, cork-cutter, 67 High Street, Worcester (17). His shop had moved to 80 High Street when a sale notice was printed in the Worcestershire Chronicle on 15 March 1843: (18)
He may have downsized his business; a notice of another move was placed in the Worcestershire Chronicle on 21 April 1847: (19)
In the 1851 census Daniel Corker’s shop had returned to the High Street, Worcester;
the census return recorded that he was 72 years old, born in London.
On census day 7 April 1861, his address was
Another Corker cork-cutter was found in the census returns for Sheffield: Charles Corker, born about 1826, reported his occupation as cork-cutter in the 1851 census and later decennial censuses.
More Corker Family History
(2) Lawrence Withers of Charleston, South Carolina was named in the will of his cousin Thomas Corker, probated in London in 1772. The will stated that Nathaniel Withers, the son of Lawrence and Elizabeth Withers, had been born in Charleston.
The will of Mary Owen probated in October 1749 (South Carolina,
Wills and Probate Records, images online at the Ancestry website)
named her ‘beloved nephew’ Thomas Corker as the executor
and sole beneficiary. She bequeathed ‘all my real and personal
estate, for him to dispose of at his discretion and as he shall
think proper amongst relations’.
Papers of Henry Laurens: November 1, 1755 – December 31, 1758,
published for the South Carolina Historical Society, 1970.
(6) ‘Extracts from the Journal of Mrs. Ann Manigault 1754–1781’, The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 21, 1920, p. 20, Internet Archive .
(7) James Hall, A history of the town and parish of Nantwich, 1883, Internet Archive .
In July 1744, a marriage licence was issued in South Carolina for
Richard Corker and Elizabeth Goodale.
In 1756 Richard Corker was given a land grant of 250 acres at
Salkehatchie River, Prince William parish, Granville County
South Carolina Department of Archives and History).
(9) Francis Redfern, History and antiquities of the town and neighbourhood of Uttoxeter, 1886, p. 237, Internet Archive .
(11) The family connnection of the Corkers in Leicester and Uttoxeter was mentioned in a notice in the Staffordshire Advertiser on 8 July 1815 (The British Newspaper Archive , The British Library):
(14) Westminster Pollbooks, London Lives .
(15) The Proceedings of the Old Bailey , trials held at London’s central criminal court, Reference Number: t17790707-5.
(18) The British Newspaper Archive , The British Library.
(19) The British Newspaper Archive , The British Library.
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