George Pemberton’s Huff or Hough? A Few Speculations

George M. Pemberton (1810 – 1878) stated in his scrapbook:

“My great great Grandfather, George Pemberton, lived in Cheshire County or parish England. His residence was known by the name of “Pemberton Huff,” and received its name from some circumstance that took place between the king and himself, and the king ordered the following notice to be put up at the Pemberton’s gate post:”

“While olives are green and commodities rough
Here is the place for Pemberton’s huff. ”

My first impression of this rhyme was that it sounded like a witty banishment. The first line of the couplet indicates the long lasting duration of this notice: olives are green and commodities remain rough in perpetuity.  The second line states this is the place to put your pique—if by “huff” we take it to mean a hissy fit. Spelling was scarcely standardized in the 17th century, which is the generational time referred to by George M. Pemberton (1810-1878) writing of his great-great grandfather [born ca. 1660]. Huff may have meant hough, a place name in parts of England. The name Hough is Old English haga, or ‘enclosure’. In the context of Cheshire, hough is a familiar estate name. There are at least two remaining listed 17th houses in Cheshire named Hough: Hough Hall Farmhouse, Wilmslow (former U.D. Prestbury Road) Macclesfield, Cheshire East and Hough Hall, Newcastle Road (off) Hough, Crewe and Nantwich, Cheshire. Also we do not know if this couplet had been put in writing prior to George M. penning it in the 19th century as “huff” or if it was just oral family lore.

When “huff” is put in the context of advice meted out by a royal to a subject, the couplet seems to be saying “park your attitude here.” The word “huff” meaning a fit of anger came into popular parlance about 1615. A king might express displeasure with a royal huff, but Pemberton’s huff apparently was not welcome in court, or even behind the scenes in Whitehall if Pemberton were but a tradesman. Charles II was a very popular sovereign and he associated with all manner and classes of people. He readily forgave moral indiscretions, but bad manners were not tolerated in court. He also was perpetually in debt to merchants and purveyors of the sort of goods which royals relish, hence, in the couplet, we have a reference to olives which were a luxury item— not common on ordinary tables in the northern clime of England.

We know from shipping records that some of the Pennsylvania Quaker Pembertons were merchants. If our Pemberton was a merchant, possibly a purveyor to the king, one avenue might be to research Charles II’s expenditures, which are recorded. And if our Pemberton was a merchant who threw a tantrum because Charles II would not pay his bill, his trade certainly must have suffered by exile from court. 

So the wit of the couplet jives with what we know generally of Charles II. Its meaning pivots upon the spelling of huff or hough. It could be either an exile or a reward. George M. Pemberton writes that the estate “received its name from some circumstance” between his ancestor and the King. So that might contraindicate the pre-existing local name of hough for a farm. If Pemberton was prominent enough to have a personal encounter with the King, then he may have already had a worthy property in Cheshire. So whether the King sent Pemberton back to his farm for a duration or whether the King rewarded him by vouchsafing his farm—if the farm afforded a living, why emigrate to the colonies? The George Pemberton who emigrated to the colonies (b. 1685 the year Charles II died) might have been a second son, who had no hope of inheriting the family estate, and by necessity had to seek his fortune elsewhere. (Primogeniture customs may have applied only to the gentry, however, and not to merchants or Dissenters.) Wikipedia states: “In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, many younger sons of English aristocrats specifically chose to leave England for Virginia in the Colonies. Many of the early Virginians who were plantation owners were such younger sons who had left England fortuneless due to primogeniture laws.” We know only that the son of our mysterious Cheshire Pemberton, George II, owned land in Virginia.

The most famous Pemberton known to Charles II was Sir Francis Pemberton, Lord Chief Justice of England, 1624-1697, who led a fiscally dissolute youth and a politically notorious life as a judge. According to Wikipedia: while “appearing at the bar of the House of Lords to argue an appeal to which some members of the House of Commons were respondents, Pemberton inadvertently triggered a constitutional struggle for supremacy between the two Houses of Parliament. The House of Commons had resolved that it would be a breach of their privileges for any lawyer to act in the appeal and ordered that he should be taken into custody. The House of Lords thereupon ordered his release. The resulting tug-of-war ended only when King Charles II intervened and Pemberton was set free.” Sir Francis Pemberton was born in St. Albans and died in Highgate. None of his notable family were named George before 1790. His family tree is well-researched. Google: Family Tree of Hilda Mary Pemberton, http://www.pelteret.co.za/pdf/genealogy/pemberton_family_tree.pdf.