Sackett Starters: Late Mediæval Period

I am often asked about the origins of the name Sackett. I have yet to see a convincing entry in any of the books of surname derivations I have consulted.

Certainly it is English, originating in the Isle of Thanet at the extreme north-east corner of Kent. However, I am still not certain which came first, the surname Sackett or the place name Sacketts Hill, in the parish of St. Peter in Thanet, where land was owned by members of the Sackett family until 1789. The earliest reference I have found is in Late Mediæval Thanet and The Cinque Ports by David R. Oliver which refers to a list of borsholders (constables) for Southborough in St. Peter in Thanet of 1317, which included William Saket. This was about 100 years (or three generations) after surnames started to be inherited from one generation to the next.

Compared with many surnames, the spelling of Sackett has been remarkably consistent down the centuries. Sometimes it has lost its "c" or a "t", or gained an "e" at the end, at the whim of the scribe, but never does it change its basic sound. (It has no connection with the surname Sackville, and the family does not appear to have ever been entitled to an achievement of arms, despite both being falsely claimed in some American books.)

Another thing I have noticed in my researches is that an unusually large number of surnames peculiar to Kent have a "ckett" ending — Clackett and Mockett to name but two others. I have not observed this bias in other counties such as Essex, Surrey, and Dorset, where I have done extensive research, nor in London, where most surnames of the British Isles are represented.

The surviving records of the 14th century are doubtless unrepresentative of the entire population of Thanet, but it does seem reasonable to assume that at this early date there was probably only one family of Sacketts, from whom all present day Sacketts are descended. The Lay Subsidy Roll of 1327 for the Hundred of Ringslow (which includes Thanet) names just two Sacketts, William Saket (possibly the 1317 borsholder of St. Peters) and John Sackett, both of whom were wealthy men assessed for considerable sums. These records did not mention everyone; only heads of household were named, and the poorest were exempt.

A generation later, the Black Death reached England through various ports including Dover, decimated the population, and changed the social structure of the country as entire villages were wiped out. Bubonic plague became endemic in England, with sporadic cases every year and periodic epidemics or "plague years" until the mid-17th century and the final infamous outbreak of 1666. No longer were peasants tied as serfs to their feudal lords; a shortage of workers led to the payment of higher wages for agricultural labourers and increased mobility of the working population.

In The History and Antiquities of the Isle of Thanet by John Lewis, there is a reference to a Latin document of 1441, recording an agreement between the Abbot of St. Augustine, Canterbury, and his tenants at Minster and Hengrove in Thanet, who included Andrew Sakett and Edmund Sakett. Further evidence for a branch of the family in Minster is provided by the 1473/4 will of Thomas Sakett, of Minster, in which he left wheat, barley, and property in St. Nicholas parish to his wife Alice and his sons Thomas, William and John Sakett, and bequests to the churches at Minster, St. Nicholas at Wade, and St. Peters.

There were also Sacketts farming five miles away in St. Peters, and some of them were quite well off. In 1444 John Sackett left 5 in his will to buy three altar-cloths for St. Peters church. Perhaps a descendant of his was the John Sackett who sold a "tenement with appurtenances" at Churchill to Robert Lasynby, the vicar of St. Peters shortly before his death in 1494. Other 15th century inhabitants of St. Peters included John Sakett, a smith, who died in 1479.

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, much church-owned land in Thanet passed to lay landlords. The 16th century was also a time of economic inflation. Between 1510 and 1540, prices of foodstuffs rose by 30%. During the next twenty years Henry VIII debased the coinage and prices of everything rose 100% or more. Rents were raised as leases and copies fell in and this encouraged the change from subsistence farming to farming for the market. By the first decade of the 16th century, Sacketts had spread north from St. Peters to the neighbouring Thanet parish of St. Johns, Margate and by mid-16th century Sacketts had moved a few miles south to St. Lawrence in Thanet. By the 1570s there were Sacketts in Birchington, and also living at the western end of the Isle at St. Nicholas at Wade, where their landlord was Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Fifty years later, Sacketts had crossed the Watsum Channel to various parishes in mainland Kent. Between 1614 and 1628 one family sent two sons, John and Stephen Sackett, to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge—where they were contemporaries of the young Oliver Cromwell—to study prior to ordination in the Church of England. Both brothers were appointed to parishes in Kent, where they were flexible enough to stay in their livings throughout the upheavals of the Civil War and Restoration. Others were less yielding in their religious beliefs and in 1632 Simon Sackett took his family across the Atlantic to New England, to join the Puritan settlement at Newtown, Connecticut.

Yet at the start of the 20th century the greatest concentration of Sacketts was still where they started, on the Isle of Thanet.