Origins of the Sweet Surname

Origins of the Sweet Surname

Information courtesy of John Sweet:    Thank you John!

Updated Information from John Sweet, 1st September 2004:

Hello Sue,
Attached below is the update on the history of the Sweet Families within Somerset and Devon with detailed ref. to the orig. documents still in existence at the Devon Records Center in Exeter. Thank you for your kindness in placing the early history of the Sweet/Swete Families on your wonderful web site for Merriott.

Regards John Sweet


Prior to the Domesday Book, information is extremely scarce.  However, I have been able to obtain documented information from AD 970 written in the personal prayer missal of a bishop at Muchelney Abby who recorded a man of the name attesting as witness  to the freeing of a slave by another Anglo-Saxon land owner living in the immediate area.  This is published in the book “Some Anglo-Saxon Boundaries” pages 417 – 419.

The church at Muchelney (AD 690) was rediscovered in 1872 by work men in the field adjacent to the Norman church which dates just after the Norman Conquest.  The crypt of the church is now exposed as well as the foundations.   The ceramic tiles found in the sanctuary have been relocated within the sanctuary of the Norman church.

At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, there were Sweets living at two locations near Merriott:  one at Stoke Sub Hamdon (four miles Northeast
away) and another at Moortown Farm (located seven miles Northwest) who “could not be separated” from Muchelney Abby.  This grant signifies it was ‘Bookland” and as such free from taxation.  These grants were highly prized.  In addition the records state the granted right to “go to whomever Lord he would” a great privilege rarely given usually only to long standing family ownership usually an ancient one. Moortown Farm is a scant four miles from the ancient sanctuary of Alfred The Great in 876.  One other of the name Sweet, no doubt related, lived fifty miles away within Devonshire at Hareston Farm, five miles from the town of Modbury.  A branch of the Sweet family resided at the manor house of Traine in Modbury from 1472 until the mid 1850’s. These are the only known families of the name living within Somerset and Devonshire during this early period.

The Swete/Sweet Families living at the time of the Norman Conquest were Thanes; men who were required to fight for an over lord and yet were within the social status holding them to places of responsibility. Each was required to provide horse, chain mail, battle ax and for themselves (or an appointed if they were too old) as well as like service in kind by a number of men depending on the amount of land they held.  Their land was taken from them after the battle of Hastings. The Sweet/Swete Families primarily lived in Devonshire at Dartmouth from 1210 or earlier until 1348 when they were amongst the most prominent families, even representing Dartmouth to the King on several occasions.  There were ten branches of the family in 1332 living between Plymouth in the West and Exeter in the East, with the main branch at Dartmouth.  This information is published in “The Devonshire Lay Subsidy of 1332 published by the Devon & Cornwall Record Society, New Series Volume 14.In 1348 however, with the arrival of the Black Death from Europe there is the sudden demise of the two leading brothers, Gilbert and John at this time. Further records record only the transactions of their property from their heirs and boundaries of properties described as formerly belonging to John or Gilbert.All is not lost however, as there are legal transactions within the court system referring to the squabble between Swete relatives over wool transactions taking place between Dartmouth and Totnes, an ancient market town up river on the Dart by ten miles. Totnes became the dwelling place for the Swete Family following the untimely demise of their kin in Dartmouth. They became prominent and were appointed as two of the eight Ale Tasters as well as managers of the bridge across the river Dart.

During their entire time at Dartmouth, Totnes and further at Traine they were associated with another family – the Scoos Family.  John Scoos was a Scotsman and the Swete Family were descendants of disinherited Saxons. Together they formed an alliance against the Normans (more than 90 percent of those living in Dartmouth were Norman – and few others had wealth enough to live in a town environment) since neither “fit” Norman society.

Gradually over the centuries they became influential working together and rose up the ladder until their succeeding ownership of Traine.   John Scoos acquired Traine in Modbury from Guy Swete in 1479.  Who Guy Swete was remains a mystery which time has not unveiled. Through John Scoos daughter, Johanna’s marriage to John Swete, their son, John Swete acquired the manor according to Star Chamber transcripts in 1530 when he became of age.

John Swete and John Scoos held land holdings together in 1501. File grant Ref 1205 F/T 1 – date 1501 in South Milton; land next Southdowne, on road from parish church to Horswell.

John Swete first acquired land in South Milton on September 12, 1474 (1638F/T 22) and several other purchases between November 1475 to 1488 (1638F/T 23, 25, 26, 28.)

The original land transactions and surviving deeds written on parchment back before the early 1300’s – with translations from Latin and French accomplished by prominent historians on the earliest material are still in existence and accessible at the Devon Records Center in Exeter. However I am not at liberty to share the actual digital pictures nor copies of the early transactions and deeds by written agreement which allowed me to photograph them.

A majority of the information has been transcribed from the Latin and Norman French and is published within two books by Hugh R. Watkin. “The History of Totnes Priory & Mediaeval Town published in 1914 and “Dartmouth, Volume 1, Pre-Reformation” published by the Devonshire Association under the Parochial Histories of Devonshire No. 5 in 1935.  Both of these volumes contain many records of the Swete/Sweet Families and the Scoos Family. Both volumes are difficult to obtain privately, but are available at some public libraries within Devonshire and pages may be copied.

One branch of the Swete Family in the late 1400’s lived at Exeter holding once again prominent positions.  It was from this branch of the family that John Swete of Newbury, Massachusetts was descended according to histories in Exeter which state he sailed there on the ship James in 1635.In my personal belief, there is little doubt that I have walked on the ground of my ancestors, stood within their churches and roamed the hills wherein they dwelt for perhaps a thousand years or more.  Someday perhaps another will glean additional information with the use of this material.For further discussion, please contact John Sweet directly:

Thanks again John for your additions to the Sweet Page.

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