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About the study

This one-name study aims to discover the origins of the Mortifee surname, plus its many variants, and to track Mortifee descendants throughout the UK and world-wide.

Variant names

I have registered to search the names Mortifee, Mortify and Martify. However, since beginning my research I have discovered many additional alternative spellings, particularly in the early years. Round about the late 19th and early 20th centuries the name tends to settle mostly as Mortifee, although the 1901 census still has four Martifees, all from the same family.

The earliest known usage of a Mortifee variant surname so far is Martinfeld in Penrith, Cumberland in 1578. However, my Mortifee family is thought to originate from Devon so it seems unlikely that this one person, many hundreds of miles from the rest, is actually connected. Martinfeilde in 1588 (in Kenn, near Exeter) is the first variant from the area where the vast majority originate.

In brief, other variants are:

Martifeild (1619) Martifield (1621), Martifilde (1621), Martyfield (1623), Martyfeylde (1631), Mortifield (1676), Martinfeild (1687), Martifey (1678), Mortifield (1690), Martifull (1697).

During the eighteenth century, variants were:

Martifie, Martifee, Martify, Martyfield, Martyffee, Martifil, Mortafee, Mortify, and Martinfield.

During the nineteenth century, variants were mostly confined to Mortify, Martify, and Martifee, with one very creative use of Mortiphie!

Name origin

The surname Mortifee sounds as if it it should have exotic origins, possibly in France and therefore perhaps with Huguenot connections. Unfortunately, the truth seems to be that it derives from the more mundane 'Martin's Field'. Presumably, this is the land where the early Mortifees either lived or worked.

During the 19th century almost all the Mortifees (and those with variant surnames) lived in Somerset, clusterered in and around the villages of Staple Fitzpaine, Hatch Beauchamp and Buckland St. Mary, a few miles south of Taunton. The close of the century sees movement northwards, with several families ending up in Bristol.

However, the earliest origins appear to lie in Devonshire. Putting aside for a moment the handful of Mortifees and variant names who live in other parts of England, the earliest ancestor (Rycharde Martinfeilde, baptised 1588), came from Kenn, near Exeter. Other 'hotspots' of Mortifees were Wolborough Parish on the southern outskirts of Newton Abbot, and Yarcombe, between Honiton and Ilminster. Whether they are connected or not remains to be seen.

Historical occurrences of the name

My great-great grandmother was Martha Mortifee, born about 1835 in Staple Fitzpaine. She was one of about 9 children born to John Mortifee and Priscilla Toten or Totten. The family were agricultural labourers in Staple Fitzpaine and it appears their livelihood may have been closely bound up with the local estates owned by Lord Portman. Family tradition has it that John was a gambler, and despite acquiring property at Staple Fitzpaine and at nearby Pickeridge he gambled away everything except 10 acres and 2 small cottages. This seems like quite a lot for a sometime labourer, but perhaps it is not enough to support a wife and nine children. Whatever the reason, he became a contract harvester and it seems that life was hard for the family.

His son Alfred Mortifee (1880-1951) was an astonishing man who well and truly broke out of the long tradition of agricultural labour. In 1901 he joined the Colonial Civil Service and was sent to Natal Colony in South Africa. Alfred founded, and was first Chairman of the Zululand Sugar Planters' Union. He was made a J.P. and could have had a brilliant political career had he not preferred to use his talents elsewhere.

Alfred's son, Alfred William Somerset Mortifee ('Bill', 1913-1998) was born in Somerset after his pregnant mother was put aboard ship at the earliest opportunity, to ensure that Alfred's first child was born in England! After an early childhood in South Africa he attended Queen's College in Taunton and then Peterhouse College, Cambridge. During the second world war Bill spent 3 years in the Western Desert working in Military Intelligence. Bill and his wife had 5 children, four of whom now live in Canada.

As for Martha Mortifee, her life is somewhat less exciting. She married Alfred Hutton in about 1863 and had 6 children, 2 of whom (one-year old twin girls) died in infancy. Their descendants bought and worked a market garden in Westbury-on-Trym on the outskirts of Bristol, until it was sold for building land in the early 1960s. Several other members of the Mortifee family moved into the area and in 1901 the widowed Martha was living there with her unmarried brother Joel (Martifee). Interestingly, the Huttons and the Mortifees are connected by marriage twice over as Martha's son Henry married his cousin Priscilla Mortifee.

Name frequency

The surname Mortifee and its variants are very rare. This is a brief breakdown of numbers:

1901 census: 14 (6 in Somerset and 8 in Gloucestershire)
1891 census: 11 (9 in Somerset and 2 in Gloucestershire)
1881 census: 12, all in Somerset
1871 census: none (but many variants)
1861 census: none (but many variants

1901 census: 4, all in Bristol (the same family). (This census should be 5 to include Joel Martifee who appears on the original census page fairly clearly but he has been indexed as Martiffce).
1891 census: 4, the same family as above
1881 census: 5, the same family as above but including another daughter who married in 1890
1871 census: 6, all in Somerset
1861 census: 7; one family in Bristol and one family in Somerset

1861 census: 3, all the same family in Staple Fitzpaine
1840 civil registration index: one (marriage of Hannah Mortify)

Three occurences in 1881, the same family. In 1891 they are MORTIFEE.

Frequency of earlier variations are too numerous to mention here as there is frequently just one one use of each variation.

Distribution of the name

Up until the end of the eighteenth century the Mortifee names are most frequently found in Devon, mainly in Wolborough parish by Newton Abbot and in Yarcombe, a village between Ilminster and Honiton.

However, by the beginning of the nineteenth century the name (and variants) have all but disappeared from Devon and are mostly in Somerset, centred on a cluster of villages south of Taunton. These are Staple Fitzpaine, Hatch Beauchamp, Buckland St. Mary, and Taunton itself.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century Mortifee families moved north into Gloucestershire, mainly Bristol, where some still live.

Additional usages of variant names are as follows:

Martinfeld: Penrith, Cumberland (one, 1578) and New Malton, Yorkshire (one, 1744)
Martinfield: Otley, Yorkshire (one, 1747) and London (one, 1784)
Martyfield: Lincoln (one, 1783) and Ludlow, Shropshire (one, 1725)
Martyffee: London (one, 1747)
Mortafee: London (two, 1759 & 1761)

One interesting 'variant ancestor' is Thomas Mortify who was baptised in Yarcombe, Devon in 1725. A Thomas Mortify married in Westminster in 1756; it would be nice to prove this was the same person.

At the time of writing the only overseas Mortifees I have been able to trace are the five children of Bill Mortifee mentioned above. Four of them can easily be found on the Internet while another daughter has managed to remain less conspicuous. One is in France and four in Canada, where 2 or 3 Mortifee grandchildren also reside.