The Sargent Family From Fairlight Return After 157 Years

The Sargent family from Fairlight return after 157 years by Paul Draper (previously published in Fairlight News in 2015)


The Sargent clan are all descended from John and Sarah Sargent, who lived in Fairlight between 1818 and 1858. At a time when they already had eight children, John decided they should emigrate to the USA and he left in 1857, via Bristol and sailed away onboard the ‘Eagle’. He established himself at a small town called Rushville in Midwest Illinois and in 1858 sent for his wife and children. Somehow she managed on her own (he did not come back for them) but we cannot find their emigration records. They were reunited at Frederick’s Landing, Illinois and made their way to Rushville where they settled and then had another five children!

Their story has been particularly interesting to study because John and Sarah were married in Fairlight old church on 9th October 1842. Their first child, Sarah, was baptised in the old church on 1st August 1843, their third child, Elizabeth, was baptised on 27th June 1847 in the new (current) church, but where was their second child, John, baptised? At the time of his baptism, 17th July 1845, the old church had just been demolished and work had commenced on the new one. So where did his baptism ceremony (and nineteen other baptisms in the building period) take place? We do not know for certain.

In the 1841 census, the unmarried John, aged 23 was living with his parents, John and Elizabeth in ‘Rosemary Lane’. (Research suggests that the house was probably either Little Stonelink or another long-since demolished building just opposite). In the 1851 census, John, now married to Sarah, is living at ‘Waites Farm’ with their first five children. (In 1851, there are three separate households called ‘Waites Farm’, but recent research suggests that John and Sarah were living in the property now known as ‘Waites Old Farmhouse’).

The 2015 visit:-

Last September Jim Sargent emailed Richard Barron, Rector of Fairlight and Pett, and advised him that he and his family intended to visit Fairlight in June to see where John and Sarah had lived. Over the following weeks and months we exchanged information and slowly put together a plan. They also have roots in Pett, Battle and Wittersham.

Day 1. Finally, on 8th June 2015, at 1.45pm, their minibus pulled up in the carpark outside St. Andrew’s and eleven members of the Sargent family set foot on Fairlight soil for the first time since 1858. They were greeted by Richard and Kath Barron, Paul Draper. the FRA Archivist, his wife Karen and local historian, Haydon Luke.

We showed them the church, the graveyard and took ten of them up the tower to see the magnificent views. After a brief visit to the old coastguard cottages, we then drove to Waites Old Farmhouse. The present owners, Brian and Daphne showed them the house and garden with particular emphasis on their original well in the back garden. There then followed a short ceremony. Jim and his family had collected some water from the River Illinois at Frederick’s Landing, the point where the family had landed in 1857/8, and Jim had somehow brought the bottled water through US and UK customs to Fairlight. We all took it in turns to pour a few drops of water down the well to symbolise the return of the Sargents to their original family home. Many photographs were taken.

The minibus then took us down Rosemary Lane to see Little Stonelynk. The owners, Roger and Susan, told them about their house and the art of thatching and again many photographs were taken.

Next, the minibus took us to Pett church where they were greeted by local Pett historian, John Taylor. He gave them a short talk on Pett and the church and then we adjourned to John’s house where he and his wife, Ray, provided tea and cakes.

Day 2. After an early morning visit to Wittersham, the minibus arrived at the Fairlight Lodge Hotel at 2pm where we once again greeted them for an afternoon of entertainment. The eleven Americans were joined by a total of eighteen ‘Brits’.

Firstly Jim led us all outside where they announced that Paul Draper and Paul Lamb, the minibus driver, on behalf of Back Roads Tours, were presented with T-shirts marked ‘ Sargent 2015 England Tour’ and both declared as ‘Cousin Paul’!

Next, Haydon Luke gave a photo presentation and talk on the history of Fairlight. Then, Jim and his daughter Linda organised a ‘get-to-know-you’ session called five five five. Each American spent five minutes telling one or two Brits about their own story and then, after five minutes the roles were reversed and so on. A simple but effective way for everyone to introduce themselves, but quite noisy!

High Tea was provided by Nicola and Maggie. What a magnificent spread we all enjoyed! To complete the picture, Maggie and Nicola presented our eleven guests each with Union Jack coloured Mad Hatter tea-party top hats.

Then we all adjourned to the bar where Kath Barron took to the piano to play two songs requested by the Sargents. Firstly, ‘Stilling the sea’, a hymn sung by the Sargent children in 1858 when their ship was apparently in difficulties in an Atlantic storm. Secondly, ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’. Words and music were provided but we all knew the words to the second one!

To end the afternoon, we all went outside for a selection of group photos.

In the evening we had a farewell meal at the Two Sawyers. (The Two Sawyers played a significant role in the Sargent family history. Formerly part of Fairlight, some of the Fairlight Vestry meetings, determining the future of the poor of the village, were held there. John Sargent’s parents were themselves declared poor and the whole family sent to the Poorhouse on the 25th December 1830.)

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Sargent 2015 England Tour’ and Jim announced that he will persuade all those other Sargents back in the USA to make this an annual event!!

By Paul Draper

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