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Journey # 29: Are family legends complete fabrications or based in truth? The Dick Turpin Case

I've mentioned before that everything my father told me about our family has (so far) proved to be true — and surprisingly accurate in its truth, although it may not have been what I expected.

One of my father's stories was that our Yorkshire family had a connection to highwayman Dick Turpin. But it turns out that Turpin wasn't born in Yorkshire, although he was hanged there in 1739 as a horse thief. As soon as I read that he was born in the London/Essex area, I discounted the story completely. 

But recently, I reached the early 1700s in my Yorkshire family research and began exploring my ancestors, their family names and their locations for that time period. 

Much of our family tree has roots in Yorkshire, mostly in Leeds but also in smaller communities including Rothwell, Castleford, and Aberford. Aberford is between Leeds and the city of York and was on the road that led from London to Edinburgh. In fact, Aberford was considered the half-way point on the 'highway' between the two cities. That highway was where Dick Turpin would have been carrying out his thefts, so he may have been stopping in towns along the way, including Aberford, when my ancestors lived. He also lived in Yorkshire for a couple of years and so may have spent time in any of the towns where relatives were. Based on that, many members of our family could have certainly met or had some connection to Dick Turpin.

In addition, in the history of Turpin and his capture and trial, similar names appear to some of the ones in our family tree. Remember that few people could read or write so names were fluid and were written as they sounded and often changed slightly from person to person in the same family depending on how they pronounced the name. Palmer, which was used as an alias by Richard (Dick) Turpin while he lived in Yorkshire in the mid 1700s, is similar to Palmerly, which appears in our family tree in the 1700s in nearby Durham.

But Dad's story may have come from the fact that a person named Elisabeth Collit/Collet (that surname recently appeared in our tree from the 1700s) married a man named Richard Turpin in Yorkshire in 1737. 

Interestingly, 1737 is the same year that Dick Turpin escaped from London to Yorkshire to avoid capture. 

It is very likely that this is a different Richard Turpin, although it is easy to see how the story may have developed. But I am reminded that again my father's story has proved to be true — someone in our family did marry Dick Turpin. It just wasn't the famous Dick Turpin (as far as I know). 


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