6. The Family of Sotherton Backler, Apothecary, and his wife Ann Ashley

In which we look at the births (and too many deaths) of the children of Sotherton Backler and his wife Ann Ashley, later to become, respectively, Beadle and Butler of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries

This family illustrates the perils of infancy and childhood in 18th century London, and introduces us to some unusual (and unexplained) names.

Sotherton Backler, Citizen and Apothecary

      c. 5 Feb 1703/4, Ashwell, Herts.,  d. 28 April 1763

      m. Ann ASHLEY 5 July 1732 1732 at St Antholin, Budge Row, City of London.  ‘Sotherton Barker [or Backer sic] of St Giles’ Cripplegate London Batch and Ann Ashley of St Olive [sic] Jewry London Spinster married by Licence by Mr Lande.’   Ann Backler died December 1768

Ozell 1733-1733. Little Ozell died of ‘rising lights’, according to the parish register of St Giles Cripplegate in London. ‘Rising lights’ were any obstructive condition of the larynx or trachea (windpipe), characterised by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult breathing, occurring chiefly in infants and children. 

What’s in a name?  Who can explain where the names ‘Ozell’ and ‘Annozella’ came from? There is no sign of these names in Backler families in East Anglia.  Could the names have come down from the Ashley family?

Annozella 1734/5-1736.  Annozella died of smallpox, but perhaps she need not have done so.  By this date, medics had begun ‘variolation’ (inoculation with smallpox virus), a practice which was more widespread on the European continent than in England.  Jenner’s vaccine remained some way off (1795), but although there were hazards in the variolation process (some of those who were inoculated died of the disease, or of infections acquired through the inoculation process), the case fatality rate was 10 times lower than in naturally occurring smallpox .  The practice was slow to catch on in England, and even at the end of the 18th century, the death rate from smallpox in infants was 80%.  There was probably little the Backlers could do to save their small child. 

(source downloaded 19 April 2014: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200696/)

Sotherton 1737-1737.  It is possible he died of ‘teeth’. There is an entry in the St Giles Cripplegate register for the burial of ‘James Sotherton’, of ‘teeth.  In the absence of any other record for this Sotherton before the christening of ‘our’ Sotherton some years later, one could speculate that this entry refers to this Sotherton – speculation only!

Jane Ozella 1738/9-1741/2  Jane died of consumption.

Ann 1741 – 

      m. John Freeman 12 July 1770 at St Andrew by the Wardrobe/St Ann Blackfriars, witnessed by S Backler and Sarah Rowley. Nothing more is known about Ann and John.

Ozella 1743/4-1745 – died of ‘tooth’

Sotherton  b.  28 July 1746, died 1819 Apothecary

      m. (1) Frances Harris

      m. (2) Hannah Osborne 3 Oct 1782. She died 23 April 1803

Elizabeth 1748/9 –  her fate is not known. It is possible she married.

Samuel 1753-1755 died of measles

In my next blog I will look at Sotherton senior’s rise to the post of Beadle of the Society of Apothecaries.  It is possible that young Sotherton, Ann, and possibly Elizabeth, lived with their parents at the Society, although they may have resided elsewhere with their parents having just an office or apartment from which they carried out their duties in the Society.


  1. You say that nothing more is known about Ann Backler and John Freeman. I have been looking into a John Freeman of Newington Green who died in 1803 in his 64th year (birth date c.1739). His widow died in 1720 aged 78, at Bridge Street (Blackfriars): which fits with Ann’s birth in 1741.

    Do you have anything that could c9nfirm or deny this connection!

    They had at least three daughters, my great, great, great grandmother Mary (1781-1859), Elizabeth who died in 1789 and Sarah, who married J or T Morgan in 1806 at Edmonton, Middlesex.

    1. I just wrote a long reply, but it hasn’t gone…trying again. Your John Freeman and Ann are definitely my Ann Backler. It is great to have this confirmed, shown among several other clues through John Freeman’s Will citing brother in law Sotherton Backler as an Executor. John and Ann had two sons, John Sotherton Freeman,1777-1777; and Thomas 1779 – who married Frances Philpot in 1803. I have Elizabeth Ann’s death, but not marriages for Sarah or Mary. It would be great to fill out their details, and then to do an update of my blog. I think the Ann Freeman death in 1820 is the right age and the right place, although no Will, alas. Thank you so kuch for getting in touch. It will be good to bring the Freemans up to date.

      1. Hi there,

        Thanks for your reply. Mary Freeman my 3x Great Grandmother married Richard Pack (born 1768) at Bridewell Chapel (Bridewell Hospital) on 18 March 1802. Richard had an address at 20 Bridge Street Blackfriars, and is described as a merchant. In 1818 he was on a Committee of Governors of the hospital.

        In 1804 he inherited Flore House, in Northamptonshire from his maternal uncle Richard Kerby. He was Sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1830 – but seems to have kept his address in Blackfriars until his death in 1838.

        He had a son, John Christopher, who was a barrister living in London: and at least three daughters Ann Augusta (who married Giles Miller) Francis Simpson Pack (my GGGrandmother – who married William Grant of Litchborough in1842) and an Elizabeth, (who married John Henry Shore in 1849).

        Going back to the Freeman’s, Sarah married the Rev. T Morgan, former Chaplain on HMS San Josef, on 4.11.1806 at All Saints, Edmonton, UK

        Hope this is of interest.



      1. By the by, I found a reference to Sotherton Backler in the register of members of the Society of Apothecaries in 1783. It refers to Newington Green which all fits.

        Newington Green was a centre for religious non-conformist groups (unitarians etc) and I was wondering whether you knew anything about that? Later, of course, it was where Mary Wollstonecraft opened a school for girls.

        I’m not subscribing to ancestry (yet) so can’t access the will.



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