John Yonge

John Yonge wearing Clerical Garb

John Yonge A Georgian Squire


JOHN YONGE (N18) was was baptised 20th October 1720 a St Andrews Plymouth the year before his grandfather James the surgeon and doctor who made the family fortune through his practice of medicine. 

John was the second son of James Yonge, also a doctor who acquired Puslinch and numerous other properties, through his second marriage to Mary Upton. At Puslinch, acquired through his Upton marriage, James built the present Puslinch House in fashionable Queen Anne style. 1720-6, he bought the patronage of the living of Newton Ferrers from the Duke of Leeds for £1000 (1729), and then in 1730 he purchased for £13,105 the Manor of Puslinch. In 1725 he was granted the right to a reserved family pew in the parish church


James was also formally granted a coat of arms in 1725. The significance of a right to a coat of arms was not that it was definitive proof of the status of gentleman, but it recognised rather than conferred such a status..


It was John Yonge who was to reap the full benefits of his grandfather's money making and father's marriage and purchases. His elder brother James had died in 1739 when only twenty and never married so the succession continued through John. John inheriting all these from his father rather than purchasing from the benefits of trade was clearly of the gentry. The family had arrived even though particular prestige was attached to those who inherited landed estates over a number of generations. These are often described as being from "old" families. In time this would be the position of the Yonge's




On his fathers death in 1745 at the age of sixty six, John, then aged twenty four, succeeded to Puslinch. Being the owner of a substantial estate, the next thing John would need to do would be to marry and have heirs, so on the 4th August 1746, John married Elizabeth Duke, of Otterton, Devon. The Duke’s were a gentry family and and one of the oldest house of Devon. It is through the Duke family that the Yonge’s acquired a link back to Edward IV.


Simply owning an estate was not sufficient to grant entry into the upper classes. A family was not part of the gentry until members of the gentry accepted them as part of their social equals. Socialising together was important, but intermarriage was the surest sign of acceptance. Before that could happen, all financial ties with the business that brought in the wealth—commerce, colonial endeavours, manufacturing, military, finance or in the case of the Yonge practicing medicine—had to be severed and the family seen to live in a “good sort of way.”


It important for families to maintain social status, which meant a daughter was not normally expected to marry to someone of lower standing. The Duke family had been far longer a pillar of Devon Society and were far bigger landowners than the Yonge's so it would have seemed to be a step up in the World for the Yonge's to be connected by marriage but on the other hand the marriage did not bring much Duke property with it. The marriage would certainly have helped to cement John Yonge's position in Devon Society. Mothers and fathers spent much time searching for the the best possible spouse for their child, in order to benefit the family. For a daughter, social status, good manners were even more important than a pretty face and figure for an aspiring family such as the Yonges.


 As a result, families typically placed a dowry on their daughter, which consisted of a large sum of money. So in families of the class that the Yonge's were, a marriage settlement was an indispensable part of any wedding arrangements. Marriage was as much about securing property as any thing else. There was was a marriage settlement for Johns marriage but the substantive Duke estates did not come over with the marriage so it seems Elizabeth brought status rather than wealth to the family.


Many issues and concerns were brought up during the process of arranged marriages. English society had been strictly patriarchal–where women were supposed to be under a man’s care for the duration of their life. “The reasonableness and tolerance advocated in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century thought mitigated some of the harsh intensity of the Puritan-style family and led to more companionable relations between husbands and wives as well as to more affectionate concern by parents for their children. We know nothing of Johns marriage on a personal level but as a social match, it must be considered a success.



Gentry Status


The Georgian era gentleman was a very small part of the general population. During the era, the gentry class only made up about one and one half percent of the British population. When the rising merchant class had the means to join the elite group, they jumped at the chance. Still, the process was not as easy as simply buying their way in. The transition into the gentry class could take several generations to complete since inherited wealth, especially that related to land ownership, still offered higher social standing than earned wealth. John was the third or arguably the forth, if you include his great grandfather, also John who clearly had pretensions in his apparent use of a coat of arms. It was possible for individuals to improve their lot and move up the social ladder and attain some form of wealth and “class,” but they often ridiculed.


By the 18th century a a market economy was well established. This favoured larger estates, payment of rents in cash, not produce, and a view of land as ‘capital’ and the rents as ‘income’. A newly rich man who wished his family to join the gentry (and they nearly all did so wish), was expected not only to buy a country house and estate, but often also to sever financial ties with the business which had made him wealthy in order to cleanse his family of the "taint of trade", depending somewhat on what that business was. This was very much John's situation. There s no evidence that John ever “earned any money by his own personal endeavours.

An established estate of at least 300 acres was considered necessary – Puslinch was between two and three times larger. Throughout the Georgian era, estates were largely self-sustaining economic entities. The most obvious feature of an estate was the grand house where the master of the estate and his family lived and conducted their business. Houses might stand for generations, but changes in fashion, architecture, and gardening meant an estate owner might spend a great deal on bringing the house and grounds up to modern, fashionable standards or rebuilding entirely. This is what John's father did when he had the present Puslinch House built


While the house might be the most obvious feature of an estate, the more significant ones were those that provided income and sustenance to the owner. A home farm provided food and necessities for the family in residence, as well as the servants who lived with them. Tenant farms and rental properties provided the majority of a gentleman’s income. Natural land resources like trees (lumber), coal, fishing, etc. could supplement incomes. These passive forms of income separated the gentleman from the working class whose hands were soiled by paid work. This was the case with Puslinch


Apart from a few honourable professions connected with the governing elite (the clergyof the established church, the officer corps of the armed forces, the diplomatic and civil services, the baror the judiciary), an occupation was considered demeaning. However younger sons, who could not expect to inherit the family estate, were instead urged into these professions and this became a pattern in many families. If John's elder brother had lived then John would not have inherited Puslinch and would indeed have followed a familiar pattern and have just become a priest and presumably at Newton Ferrers.

John did not have a title but the gentry's lack of titles "did not matter, for it was accepted by contemporaries that the landed gentry were all for practical purposes the equivalent of continental nobles, with their hereditary estates, their leisured lifestyle, their social pre-eminence.

John was not put off in dealing with those with titles so must have been sure of his position in the World. In 1759 he received a letter, as did many others, from Sir John Rogers Baronet, a lawyer, politician and leading county figure, concerning the provision of clothes for the militia and the provision by the parish of a chest for storing arms etc. His reply was sarcastic, hostile and critical of Sir Roger's understanding of the law!

Land ownership in an age before industrialisation, was a prerequisite for social power. Only land owners could vote. Masters of large estates often served as local magistrates, presiding over civil and certain criminal complaints. They also frequently served as church wardens managing tithes to the local rector and maintaining the parish church. Thus, land afforded not only economic power, but social standing and influence as well, making it the natural vehicle of the upwardly mobile nouveaux riche to make their impact upon society.


The gentry could be rustic drunken and hard swearing and bucolic or sober educated and respectable. The 18th century novelist Henry Fielding's who in his novel Tom Jones portrayed two contrasting characters, Squire Weston (Weston was undoubtedly a pun on a typical type of old fashioned West Country squire) and, to reflect the new spirit of the age, Mr Allworthy (another pun on a name)


Good manners defined a person during the era. Loosely based on Renaissance Italy and 17th Century French customs, the “rules” of engagement during the Georgian Period were strictly enforced. One who did not adhere to the rules would be shunned by Society. A gentleman, for example, was expected to speak properly and to avoid vulgarity to be dressed appropriately to dance well to be well versed on a variety of subjects and to have a university education, as John did) or above and to practice benign condescension to those of a lower class.


John acted as a Justice of the Peace and it was this involvement in public duties and the fact that most English landowners were not absentee landlords but lived on their estates, is what distinguished John and most other gentry of England from that of the Continent. In an age when the government still relied largely on local gentry to enforce its laws, the Yonge's would clearly have been seen as part of the local establishment,


Henry Fielding wrote " heaven and hell when well rung in the ears of those who have not yet learnt there are no such places are by no mean words of little signification ............. magistrates have always thought themselves concerned to cherish religion and to maintain in the minds of men the belief of God and another life, at first a politic device and is still kept up in the world as an engine to awe men into obedience".


Upton Scholarship


In the year before his death, John was engaged in extensive correspondence with the Rev J Griffith of Pembroke College concerning an exhibition or scholarship founded by Francis Rous which John claimed for his son John through descent from the founders sister, an Upton. The claim was somewhat dubious but persistence paid off just six weeks before he died. A university course cost the not insubstantial sum of £300 a year so it is not hard to appreciate why John pursued the matter. In the correspondence he also expressed concern for his sons and moral and fiscal well being. He sounds very like a modern concerned and loving parent


To Mr Griffith April 20 1766


In my last I mentioned to you the sum I proposed to send with my son to Oxford, desiring you if more would be wanted to signify it to me by return of post, but as I have heard nothing from you, I concluded that the sum will be sufficient to answer all immediate demands - when more shall be necessary you will be pleased to give me notice and I shall be able on a short warning to remit to you a further supply - my son will deliver to you a bank bill of £20 and seven Portugal Pieces of 36£ each, the whole amounting to £32 12s- besides this I have furnished him with six guineas to defray the expenses of his journey, which he is to begin tomorrow morning and to serve him for pocket money, as long as it will last - I gladly accept of your offer to be his cashier and do wish to have all superfluous expenses avoided - the entertainments you speak of I have particularly forbidden and enjoined him to pay an exact obedience to your directions on all things as if they were my own - I leave it to you to employ for him such tradesmen as you shall think proper and must repeat my request that you will be so good to take what care you can that he does not fall into bad company, which I look upon as a circumstance of the greatest importance - I wish you may have secured a room for him, if not I must have the article of his sharing for the present to your discretion if none can be had in College, at the worst his cousin Doidges who is his fellow traveller and goes to Oxford to take his Masters degree, will take him with him to his own lodgings - he is a sober young man and I will be easy while my son is his chum


To Mr Griffith April 20 1766


As to other particulars I should thank you for your advice with regard to the annual allowance necessary for one of my sons degree since the expenses of living in university may be much altered since I left in. I say necessary having neither the ability your inclination to indulge him in extravagance and therefore I shall desire you to receive and disburse his money at least in the beginning or until you shall find he has prudence enough to be trusted with the management of it himself - of academical books I have some by me which may be able to spare and if you would be so good as to tell me what those are in your lecture your pupils may save the buying of them at the bookseller



The Church



John from owning Puslinch was gentry but he was doubly qualified, for the clergy of the established, Anglican church were treated as ‘honorary gentlemen’. In medieval times most clergy had been poor and ignorant, being little higher up the social scale than the peasantry but by the 18th century many went to university Most would have attended Oxford or Cambridge universities. John like many Yonge's were to , went to Exeter College Oxford but he was the first one. On the 7th April 1737 when aged sixteen, he matriculated. He obtained his B.A. in 1740, became a fellow of all Souls and obtained his M.A. In 1747.

A man aspiring to the gentry class would ensure his sons, especially the eldest, received a gentleman’s education. At Cambridge or Oxford he would be taught the classics. Perhaps more significant, the exposure to his social betters would allow him to develop the necessary social graces to mingle with the upper crust. While his expensive education would not actually provide useful instruction in how to manage an estate, it would afford him the opportunity to rub shoulders with others sons of the gentry, establishing connections that could serve him well throughout his life.

Quite a few were younger sons of landed gentry families as indeed was John until his older brother died went into the Church. John Yonge was to became the first of many Yonge rectors of Newton Ferrers church. The Reverend C.B. Yonge in his history of Newton Ferrers, states that the living was bought by John, however original records in the Plymouth Record Centre make it very clear that the living was bought by his father James.

In 1751, when aged thirty six, John nominated himself rector of Newton Ferrers, having been curate since 1747, following obtaining of his MA. In October of that year there was a sequestration of the living of Newton Ferrers with power to administer revenues for the use of the future rector made between the Vicar General of the Bishop of Exeter to John Yonge. A sequestration was when a writ was issued against a priest by a creditor. All such writs had to be registered with the Bishop. Perhaps there had been a problem with the previous rector Previously on the 25th December 1748 John entered into a grant of next presentation to the rectory of Newton Ferrers. It was between John Yonge and Richard Doidge of Elfordleigh (In Plympton St Mary) Esq and Joshua Worth of High Bickington, clerk, in trust to present such person as John shall nominate during his life. Doidge took over from him on his death

It wasn’t unknown for some rectors, in particular, to spend more time fox-hunting and hobnobbing with the local squirearchy than undertaking any religious duties hardly surprising when younger sons often saw the church simply as source of income and entered it without any great religious vocation or interest. There was time to carry out his professional duties and to live like any other country gentleman. He dressed the same, kept the same kind of company and pursued whatever other interests a country gentleman was able to do.

We don't know what John's attitude was but reformers saw the 18th-century Anglican church as religiously moribund and riddled with apathy. Parish roles (livings) were viewed primarily as a source of assured income and religious vocation or scholarship were often secondary. The power of patronage and influence was paramount. With John being a prime example as he controlled the living.

Religious duties were certainly not necessarily particularly onerous or time consuming. When Georgian parsons wrote about ‘reading Evensong’ or ‘reading the service’, they were speaking literally. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1662 contained everything needed to conduct services: the prayers, linking admonitions, exactly where to find the lessons for the day in the Old and New Testaments (and precisely which verses to read — those and no others), and the psalms to be read (rarely chanted, save in the grandest churches). In most rural parish churches there would be no music or hymns.

Quite often, the only ‘fresh’ element in a service would be the sermon. Georgian sermons tended to be lengthy affairs, running sometimes to an hour or more. These of curse would take time to prepare but for the clergyman who had better things to do with his time there were published books of sermons which could be used.

Communion services at this time were held infrequently — weekly communion services were considered a ‘popish’ practice and could be condemned by the bishop. In the middle years of the century, the dioceses of Hereford and York, for example, recorded 62% and 72% of parishes respectively holding only three or four communion services a year. Most parish churches held at least one Sunday service each week, usually Mattins (morning prayer) or Evensong (evening worship), together with one or two special services on major church festivals like Christmas, which could fall on a weekday.

The emphasis on regular public worship from the nineteenth century onwards may well have created a perception of the ‘failings’ of the eighteenth-century Church which is misleading. The Established Church had not become wholly secular or abandoned any Christian ministry nor did its clergy lack all enthusiasm in parish matters. There were ‘hunting parsons’ who preferred chasing foxes to saving souls and neglectful rectors who fobbed off their parishioners with occasional services performed by underpaid curates. However, compared with earlier centuries, there is little evidence of any significant decline in pastoral care or parochial worship. What was John?

As well as income from Government stock and rents, John as the priest was entitled to tithes tithes, levied on the produce of the land in each parish. Like all taxes, those who had to pay them did so with varying degrees of unwillingness nor were they exempt from efforts to evade or minimise the amounts paid over. It was up to the rector’s representative — or the man himself — to collect the tithe and chase arrears. This would not make for John's popularity.

Plymouth Corporation rate Books and the Parish Overseerers accounts shows that he was quite zealious in his church administrative duties including the appointment of a church warden and the keeping of accounts. In 1759 he wrote that one of the parish officers was incapable of keeping accounts and he recommended another be appointed by the Justices to the office of Overseer of the Poor

Although spiritually the church of England was at a low ebb, politically it was all powerful. its powers privileges and rights were entrenched in law and it was seen as an integral part of what it meant to be English and as a means of preserving control over the lower orders. All this would haver reinforced John's gentry status.



How well off was John?


We have no details of his income unlike for his grandfather but details of his will and marriage settlement documents set out below give some indication and show that in gentry terms John was decidedly more than minor gentry. His capital, land and government stock was through inheritance and marriage. In his lifetime he would have received a considerable sum in rent and tithes.


The assessment under the tithes Commutation Act of 1836 stated that the then John Yonge as owner of Puslinch owned 840 acres in the parish of Newton Ferrers.] Nearly all the lands were tenanted. John as rector would also have been entitled to tithes.


A man’s income, was always reported as a number of pounds (£) “per year, About £100 a year was the barest minimum income on which a small household could be kept, retaining only one maid—a servant being necessary to maintain any claim of respectability. On £300 a year, a small family could retain two servants and live somewhat more comfortably, but still could not afford a carriage, which could only be supported on an income of at least £700 a year. Jane Austin's Mr. Bennet draws about £2,000 a year, which would be sufficient to keep the appearance of comfort and respectability but he bears the financial burden of providing dowries for five daughters.. But an income of more than £4,000 a year, like Bingley’s, could well-provide for both country and town homes, with all of the modern comforts and latest fashions.

In general, an estate would be priced at about thirty times the income it produced. So, an estate producing £1000 a year would sell for approximately £30,000. To put these numbers in perspective, during the era, the edge of poverty was approximately £50 a year.


Certainly John was the largest property owner in the Parish. For example in a typical year 1758 he was assessed at £1 8s 5d for the poor rate relief which was split equally between what he owned, just in the parish and what he owed as rector. Of the 18 other or so payees in the parish none paid a £1 and indeed all we less than each of John's individual contributions. Total receipts in that year were £5 2s 1d.



He had land holdings in Plymouth, Newton Ferrers, Colebrooke and elsewhere, most, apart from Plymouth acquired through marriage. At least until 1748 he was still leasing, though he had sub let, his grandfathers home on the New quay at Plymouth.


Death and Will


John died when he was only forty six, on the 10th of June 1767. He was buried the day he died with affidavit. This meant that his burial was in accordance with an act of Parliament of 1666 which provided "No corpse of any person (except those who shall die of the plague) shall be buried in any shift, sheet, or shroud, or anything whatsoever made or mingled with flax, hemp, silk, hair, gold, or silver, or in any stuff, or thing, other than what is made of sheep's wool only." This was designed to help the English woolen industry. His widow Elizabeth survived him another twenty three years, dying in 1790.


He first made made a will on the 15th December 1755. In it he left £100 and the use of the house at Puslinch to his wife Elizabeth, during the minority of his eldest son John. He also left £500 each to James, Duke and Charles Upton, his other sons. The manor of Puslinch and its messuages and lands he left to Elizabeth, his wife, his brother Charles Yonge, Joshua Worth of High Bickington, Richard and Dorothy Doidge of Elfordleigh, in trust to convey the same to his eldest son John on his reaching the age of twenty one, or failing this to his other sons and daughters in order of birth.


Probate was granted on the 3rd October 1767 of a will dated 10th February 1767. It was similar to an his earlier will save that two daughters having been born subsequently, Elizabeth and Dorothy Ayre, he also provided for legacies of £500 for them and deleted the legacy to Charles Upton who had died in infancy. Also the legacy of £100 to his wife was made conditional on her confirming to the executors of William Gascoyne of Yealmpton, yeoman, a lease dated the 28th December 1749 of as Gloynes tenement. Puslinch with all its lands and all his other real and personal estate was left to Elizabeth, Joshua Worth and his brother, Charles Yonge, they were both described as surgeons, Charles wife Thomasina, Richard and Dorothy Doidge and Sarah and Ann Duke, his sisters in law, all in trust for his children.



All in all John's life was probably a satisfying if uneventful and undemanding one. He seems to have been typical of his age and class a true early Georgian. With low taxation, no fear of invasion, the Protestant succession assured after 1746, the socially upsetting industrial revolution having barely started and with the dangerously infectious French revolution not even on the horizon, life for people such as John Yonge must have been very agreeable under the first two George's. For John lived at a time when the gentries monopoly of social and political power and religious patronage was accepted as pre ordained. For those who chose, this was an age of elegance and refinement reflected in fine houses and gardens and good taste in art, literature and music.



© Ian. Yonge 2021

Latest comments

27.10 | 10:41

Hi Ian....Has taken me a while but finally found your website. Brilliant. Will be in touch. Julian Hastings

20.06 | 13:06


Thanks. Praise always appreciated! I presume you are a descendant of Peter Herbert. You can email me on for fuller reply


19.06 | 23:35

I am the Great-Great Grandson of Walter Francis Duke Young. This is such a great website and so interesting to read about the Yonge family history!!

27.05 | 17:13

Thank you for this account of Charlotte M Yonge. I wouldn't say she was a recluse, however, judging by her letters.