The Vicar of Tillingham

The Rev. Humphrey Cole (1572-1624) first appears on record as a young man of 21 or 22, enrolled at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. There he came under the influence of the most advanced English learning of his day, as well as the new Puritan movement in the English Church. After graduating, he served nine years in two London parishes before moving to the quiet town of Tillingham, Essex, some forty miles to the northeast and close to the North Sea. And there he served as Vicar of Tillingham Parish the rest of his life.

He took charge of restoring the beautiful, ancient church of St. Nicholas, which had fallen into disrepair. He loved farming and caring for animals. He was devoted to the church and his faith. He acquired co-patronage of the parish of Great Oakley, a short distance up the coast, and named a son-in-law as rector. In tribute to his long, dedicated service, the parish at Tillingham installed in a side chapel a stained-glass window of three panels. The inscription beneath memorializes Humphrey Cole  as “Priest and Vicari.”

St. Nicholas Church, Tillingham Parish, Essex

In 1597 Cole married Mary Mott, about whom we know nothing. They had six children: William, Martha, Thomas, Robert, Mary, and John. He later married a woman named Hester and may have had as many as three children with her, but the records are confusing on that point.

His father was Sir William Cole of the Slade, the Devonshire seat of the Cole family dating from the reign of Edward II (1307–1327). His mother was Elizabeth Deards, a silk heiress. Cole’s grandfather and great-grandfather were ministers, as was his son Robert and at least one son-in-law.

Their eldest son, William, took off for Virginia in 1618 on the Neptune. He settled in Elizabeth City County (site of today’s Hampton and Newport News), became a planter, and married a woman named Sarah, possibly surnamed Beck. Sometime after 1642, William and Sarah moved the family up the Chesapeake to St. Jerome’s Landing, Maryland, and at some point they adopted the Quaker faith. Their son William (1632-1678) changed his last name from Coal to Coale, possibly in admiration of Josiah Coale, a famous Quaker missionary. By 1662, this younger William Coale was a minister of the West River Meeting of the Society of Friends of Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Humphrey and Mary’s second son, Thomas, left for Virginia in 1635 on the Transport. He and his wife Priscilla and their daughters Sarah, Rebecca, and Mary settled in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. At some point they also became Quakers. Later they would head up the Chesapeake to buy Baltimore, but that’s a story for another day.

The Rev. Humphrey Cole is an ancestor of Alice Vernon Wilson.


  • Youngblood Family Genealogy website.
  • W.B. Coale, The Coale Family: Nine Generations (Self published, Santa Clara, CA, 1976). This source puts Cole’s birthdate at 1547, which is possible but would have him starting his family at age 51. Most other sources cite his birthdate in the vicinity of 1572, which seems more likely and fits better with the birthdates of father, grandfather, and others before him.
  • K.F. Edler, Jr. & B.A.F Edler, “Descendancy of Humphrey Cole (b c1570) and Mary Mott (b c1574),” Edler Family Pages website.

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