The Stokes family is believed to be of Norman origin, having come to England after the conquest in 1066, when honors and possessions were assigned to them.
There were numerous branches, but the one that settled in Essex County and then Stepney, Middlesex County are the progenitors of my branch in America.
The immigrant ancestor was Thomas Stokes, born 1 April 1637. He was the son of Henry and Sara Elizabeth (nee Casse) Stokes. Thomas was baptized on 14 February 1642 at St. Olave's church in Surrey.
Thomas and his brother were bakers, like their father Henry. Both brothers would become Quakers as well. Thomas, however, would encounter trouble as a result of his Quaker beliefs. On 25 December 1664 he attended an "unlawful" Quaker meeting, which was basically, any meeting that did not practice the liturgy of the Church of England. He was taken prisoner on 1 January 1665 and imprisoned at Newgate Prison, London, England.
On 11 January Thomas, and three others, were found guilty of attending an unlawful religious assembly after two previous convictions before Justices of the Peace for the same offence. Their sentence was to be safely transported to the Island of Jamaica, being one of his Majesty's (King James II) foreign plantations, and there to remain for seven years.
Amidst noisy protest by friends and relatives, Thomas Stokes and his fellow-prisoners were sent down the Thames on a barge from the Tower of London towards exile in Jamaica in the West Indies. They were put on the ship Black Spread-Eagle which sailed from Plymouth on 23 February 1665. However, they never made it far.
Ships from the Netherlands, engaged in a war with England at that time, made frequent and daring raids into English waters, and, indeed, the very day after the Black Spread-Eagle had left the port of Plymouth, a Dutch privateer hove in sight. Flight was useless; she was quickly overtaken, her crew's resistance, if any, was quashed. She was taken to Hoorn in North Holland, where the convicts of England were held by their national foes to be exchanged as prisoners of war. Thomas was provided with a passport by the Dutch and returned home to England. The charges against them seem to have been dropped; they were not rearrested and within a short time Thomas Stokes set foot once more in London.
When he was safely back in England, Thomas was a witness at the Quaker marriage of John Staples, a grocer in Goswell Street London, and Grace Russell, daughter of William Russell. The marriage took place on 25 August 1666, at the meeting house in Westberry Street in Wheeler Street near Spittlefields, London.
On 30 October 1668, Thomas Stokes, of Lower Shadwell, in the County of Middlesex, took Mary Bernard, the daughter of John Bernard of Stepney in the same county to be his wife, at the Westbury Street meeting house. One report lists Thomas Hooten, also named in a 1678 New Jersey deed with Stokes, as a witness to the wedding. They would be members of the Devonshire House Meeting, the Ratcliff Meeting and the Barking Meeting of Quakers at various times. They would have two daughters, Mary and Sarah, a son Henry who died at twenty months and was interred in Ratcliff, and a son John.
In 1676, Thomas decided to move his family to Western New Jersey. They left London aboard the ship Kent, mastered by Gregory Marlow in May 1677. After arriving first in New York, the ship sailed south to New Jersey.
In 1678, Thomas's brohter John purchased 1/32nd of a share in New Jersey from Thomas Hooton.
Thomas and his family proceeded up the river with the Commissioners and other immigrants to the present site of Burlington City and a few years later settled on a tract of land containing 162½ acres on the northern side of Rancocas Creek a little above the forks. Here their son Joseph was born. Thomas, Jr. was born in 1682.
A plantation was surveyed for his brother, John Stokes, on 2 October 1683 and was part of the tract purchased by him from Thomas Hooton in 1678. John conveyed this farm to his brother, Thomas, in May 1701, for “five shillings lawful money of England and the natural love and affection which I do have and beare unto my brother Thomas living at or near Burlington in West Jersey.” John never lived in America.
Mary Barnard Stokes died in 1699; Thomas Stokes survived her more than two decades, dying in the year 1720 at the residence of his son, Thomas Stokes, Jr., in Waterford Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey.