Who was Humphrey Belt?



            Due to time constraints this report is about one aspect only of the search for the origins of Humphrey Belt.  It deals exclusively with information obtained from The Royal College of Arms in London, England, formerly known as the College of Heralds and the developments from it.  From a family history aspect the College’s credentials are impeccable – the Holy Grail of family history.
            All of the documents received from the College are at the end of this explanation of them.
            The research began originally nearly two years ago when Edward asked the College of Arms to examine the coat-of-arms of Colonel Joseph Belt who was the son of John and grandson of Humphrey Belt who arrived in Virginia in 1635 at the age of 20. Unfortunately, the work asked for was undertaken but left in a tray and was there when a fire broke out in the offices. It was to be nearly a year before the College found it again and Edward got an answer or two and the most intriguing mystery yet surrounding Humphrey.
            The Garter King at Arms, Thomas Woodcock, could not find a match at all for Joseph’s coat-of-arms as a Belt, but it proved to be identical to the Birkbeck coat-of-arms.  Woodcock also looked into the myths and legends surrounding the Yorkshire Belt coats-of-arms. There is one and one only and that is the coat-of-arms designed initially for Sir William Belt. When his brother Sir Robert Belt was knighted, he shared the same design as his brother. Their father never had a coat-of-arms because he was never knighted. This means a reference to this knighthood in the York archives, in their official records, is wrong. It never happened.  Interestingly, the reference says there were two together knighted, one being Leonard Belt. Such elaborate lies; clearly something was happening, but not what they wanted people to believe.
            After Edward received Woodcock’s first letter he asked me to act for him with the College and the mystery promptly got deeper.
            Discovering Joseph had the Birkbeck coat-of-arms produced a kind of sub-committee. It comprised Edward, Mary Lou, Elizabeth and I. We covered a great deal of ground which I’ll explain another time – it doesn’t immediately affect this research as such.
            Crucially important was how the knowledge of this coat-of-arms was passed down the generations. Edward had grown up with it and has proof it was extant in 1722. He is descended from Colonel Joseph. Mary Lou also knew of the coat-of-arms because it too was passed down through the generations; originating she believes with her grandmother’s generation who may have first found the coat-of-arms through the description of Virginia Dorsey Lightfoot. Lightfoot credits "Authority---The Original drawing of "The Arms of Joseph Belt, Esquire" by James  Neale Maguire, dated June 20, 1751"  published in the Baltimore Sun article in 1904.”
Mary Lou is descended from John, Joseph’s elder brother. Until about a decade ago, neither branch of descendents was aware of the other; until a chance meeting at a conference. Elizabeth came to know about Joseph’s coat of arms through Belt Campus and she did an enormous amount of research to verify all claims about it. She discovered whilst Joseph had the coat-of-arms he never used it in any correspondence or any other way whatsoever.  This, of course, raised another question as to whether Joseph knew they were not the Belt arms which so far hasn’t been answered.  All three had found and referred to the same citations.
            In 1722 in the USA there were no records of Herald’s Visitations in UK. There were no genealogical books with family trees in them at all. This wasn’t unusual.  The College of Heralds was inaugurated in the reign of Richard III in 1484 to maintain the bloodlines of the aristocracy;   the studbook of the King’s peers. It had to be 100% accurate because it had implications for wards of court of the King where he had the use of the money of orphans. It was a guide to the marriage-go-round; how many knights would be available for wars and taxation etc. etc.  It ensured that all the families were inescapably registered.  There were severe penalties for anyone who passed false information to the record keepers.
            The College had a monopoly on this information and it wasn’t until about the middle of the 19th Century that any of it came into the public domain where anyone could have access if they were prepared to pay for it.  Previously only the monarchs and lawyers had unfettered access.
            This is the reason why in Virginia and then in Maryland the coat of arms would not be challenged. If a person said it was their coat-of-arms and put their name on it, it was accepted into the USA record books.  After having been recognised for a couple of centuries in this way, who would challenge it? Until Edward came along no one did and then he struck gold.
            In the UK the restricted access meant only those who knew families who displayed coats-of-arms would be aware of the details of them.
            There’s always been a question mark over the coat-of-arms as to whether Joseph invented them or not. I think this can now be categorically put to rest permanently because the chances of someone producing exactly the same design listed for another name is millions to one.  Every one is different; its part of the College’s duties to ensure this is so. Colonel Joseph was still alive in 1751 and must have been the source for Maguire’s very accurate drawing of that year, or, at least given his permission for it to be made available to a wider public beyond the family. I think it unlikely he would have done so if he had any idea the coat-of-arms belonged to the Birkbeck and not the Belt family. There was always a chance a Birkbeck may come along one day and claim it

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