Author Topic: At what age did an infant become a child in the late 18th / early 19th centuries  (Read 400 times)

Offline JustinL

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I'm posing the question in an attempt to confirm that I have found the baptism record for a distant ancestor.

In applying for a marriage licence in 1822, James Butler stated that he was unable to produce a baptismal record as he did not know where he had been baptised because both his parents had died during his infancy.

James' father, James Butler of St. Clement Danes (a parish in central London), died on 8 August 1792. I haven't yet found a death/burial record for his mother, Elizabeth.

There is a baptismal entry from April 1785 for a James, son of James and Elizabeth Butler, in the parish registers of St. Martin in the Fields, which adjoins the parish of St. Clement Danes along Drury Lane.

Would a boy of 7 (or 8 or 9) still be regarded as an infant at that time?

Justin


Offline jbml

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The word "infant" is not a term of art.

Even if it were, there is no guarantee that he was using it in its strictly accurate sense. (How many people say "12 pm" to mean 12 noon?? How many mortgagors or residential property think they are actually mortgagees?? How many of the cases on the meaning of "appurtenance" are actually cases on the construction of wills, in which the Court reached the conclusion that the testator had not meant the word in its strict legal sense, and was concerned to try to ascertain what he actually had meant? How many people think "forensic" is a synonym for "scientific"? The list of examples of inaccurate use of words and expressions with an actual strict meaning is endless.)

"Infant school" traditionally covers the age range 4 - 7 ... so I have no difficulty with the idea that "while I was still an infant" could have been intended to mean as old as 7 or 8 ... especially as I doubt he kept a strict mental record of the fact that "oh yes ... one parent died when I was 5 and the other when I was 8".

I think the record you have found is not inconsistent with the statement that he is recorded as having made.
All identified names up to and including my great x5 grandparents: Abbot Andrews Baker Blenc(h)ow Brothers Burrows Chambers Clifton Cornwell Escott Fisher Foster Frost Giddins Groom Hardwick Harris Hart Hayho(e) Herman Holcomb(e) Holmes Hurley King-Spooner Martindale Mason Mitchell Murphy Neves Oakey Packman Palmer Peabody Pearce Pettit(t) Piper Pottenger Pound Purkis Rackliff(e) Richardson Scotford Sherman Sinden Snear Southam Spooner Stephenson Varing Weatherley Webb Whitney Wiles Wright

Offline horselydown86

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In law in the C18th a person was an infant until the age of 21 years.

I have a Complaint in the Chancery Court which describes the Complainant as:

...late an Infant under the age of Twenty one years but who hath now attained his full age...

Offline JustinL

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jbml - thank you for taking the time to reply. However, I am a bit bemused by your opening statement. I did not suggest that infant was a 'term of art'. Whereas I agree entirely with the points you make about the contemporary misuse, or plain misunderstanding, of various terms, and the contemporary usage of the word infant, I was attempting to canvas people's opinion, or experience, of the concept of infancy 200 years ago. Moreover, its usage in a quasi-legal statement. Perhaps I should have been clearer.

horsleydown86 - thank you very much indeed for your most illuminating input. For me, it certainly increases the likelihood that I have found the right baptism.

I should perhaps add that James' wedding in 1822 was witnessed by an Elizabeth Butler, who could not have been his mother. The register of St. Martin in the Field records the baptism in 1783 of 'Elizabeth Butler, daughter of James and Elizabeth'.