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Some Paternal Ancestors of Edwin Brown (“Big Doc”) KUGLER Sr

The Isle of Thanet

Location of the Isle of Thanet at the southeast corner of Great Britain
Map by Jon K Shidler

The Isle of Thanet
is near the southeastern corner of Great Britain

Thanet is scarcely an island any more; it is barely separated from the rest of County Kent by the River Stour and a marshy area. It forms the tip of a peninsula protruding into the North Sea at Kent’s eastern extremity. From prehistory until the Middle Ages, The Wantsum Channel1, as much as two miles wide in Roman times, separated Thanet from the rest of England. But silt from the River Stour2, beach deposition across the northern entrance, and land reclamation by local monasteries have now essentially joined the Isle to Great Britain.

Lying as it does in that part of England closest to mainland Europe, Thanet has been the site of a number of significant invasions and landings. The Romans first landed there when they invaded England with legions and elephants in 55 BC. It was where in 449 Vortigern, leader of the Britons, met with two Jute chieftans, the brothers Hengst and Horsa, when he agreed to let them settle in England in exchange for aid against the Picts. Hengst was to become king of Saxon Kent. The Vikings occupied the Isle in 851 and again in 864. St Augustine landed there when he brought Christianity to Britain in 596. Richard the Lionhearted passed that way in 1194 after he was ransomed from being held captive by the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Britons called the island Rhuoihm, with the Saxon invasion it became Thanet.

Residents of Thanet long supported themselves by agriculture and fishing. The Isle is known for its apple and cherry orchards. The towns on the North Sea coast, the largest of which are Margate and Ramsgate, have become seaside resorts.3

Map of the Isle of Thanet - 1732
michaelsbookshop.com 4

1732 map ot the Isle of Thanet5

Edward M Harnett Sr was baptized at St Mary’s in Minster (indicated by the leftmost red oval) in 1598. However, most Harnett baptisms,
marriages, and burials took place at St Laurence church near Ramsgate. In 1637 Edward M Harnett Jr sailed for the New World from Sandwich,
whose harbor has since filled with silt.

Ramsgate. Most of the baptisms, marriages, and burials recorded for your Harned ancestors were at St Laurence Church in Ramsgate.

Originally named Hraefn’s Ate, or “cliff gap”—referring to a gap in the white chalk cliffs that line the Isle of Thanet’s North Sea shore—the name has evolved through Remmesgate and Ramisgate to the present form. Ramsgate began as a fishing and farming hamlet. Fishermen built Ramsgate’s first harbor by gradually improving on the protection afforded by natural features. By the early 1700s small merchantmen could find shelter.

Paving of Ramsgate’s streets, which had previously been nothing more than beaten earth, seems to have approximately coincided with its becoming a fashionable resort in the late 1700s.

Today there is regular ferry service from Ramsgate to Ostend, Belgium. Ramsgate’s major industries today are tourism and fishing. and Ramsgate Harbour is now more of a marina.6

Sandwich. This place, which probably dates from Roman times, is the port from which the Harneds sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. Then, it had a busy harbor on an inlet from the North Sea. A hundred years later silting threatened the rich port, but all efforts to create sluices and channels to control the waters ultimately failed. Now, Sandwich lies two miles from the Sea, reached by the meandering River Stour, suitable only for small boats. The harbor, called Sandwich Haven, used to be large enough for big trading and warships to sail to and from the quay. It was also large enough for invading ships, resulting in town walls being built in 1380. Only two gates, of the original five, and none of the walls, remain.

Sandwich is one of the “Cinque Ports”7, five harbors of southeast England grouped together for defense purposes and presided over by a “Warden” since the time of Edward the Confessor (ruled 1042–1066). One early Warden of the Cinque Ports was William Longsword (c1176–1226), Henry II’s illegitimate son8, who some of my mother’s relatives believe to be an ancestor, but I remain skeptical. Later Wardens have included the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill.9


1 Wantsum Channel (ws).

2 River Stour (ws).

3 Isle of Thanet (ws).

4 In 2005, I discovered the website of Michael’s Book Shop in Ramsgate as a source of Isle of Thanet maps and history. I downloaded this map on 11 Nov 2010. As of the next day, 12 Nov, I can no longer access the site or the maps.

5 See Isle of Thanet maps (ws) for Thanet maps of various vintages.

6 Ramsgate (ws).

7 The others are Dover, Hastings, Hythe and Romney. Only Dover remains a port of any consequence today; see Cinque Ports (ws).

8 William Longsword (ws).

9 Sandwich (ws).

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