Ralph Willett

1719 - 1795


Slave-owner and connoisseur, whose estates in St Kitts were inherited by his cousin and adopted ward John Willett Adye (q.v., under John Willett Willett senior). Ralph Payne, Baron Lavington (q.v.) was also a beneficiary under Ralph Willett's will, and referred in his own will to the estates transmitted by Ralph Willett's will.

  1. Ralph Willett has an entry in the ODNB as 'book-collector and connoisseur.'

  2. Ralph Willett, a proprietor in St Kitts, bought an estate at Merley (in Canford), Dorset, in 1751 and built a fine house and became sheriff of the county in 1760. In 1795, when it was said to be worth £10,000 p.a., it was inherited by John Adye, the second son of his cousin, who took the name Willett.

  3. Will of Ralph Willett of Morley [in fact Merley] House Great Canford Dorset proved 04/02/1795. In the will he left £1000 and £200 p.a. to his wife as well as £100 for mourning: he also left her three children (surnamed Strutt) £50 each for mourning. Although he died s.p., in his will he provided £8000 to any younger child he had, and £20,000 to a daughter if she were his only surviving child. He left a long series of monetary legacies, typically of £500 (although including individual bequests of: £1000 to his cousin Sir Ralph Payne; £4000 to his cousin John Stanley - of which the £3000 owed to him by Stanley formed part; £1000 to Stanley's son John Willett Stanley; £2000 to Annabella Willett Adye, daughter of his cousin John Willett Adye). He left his two plantations in St Kitts in trust, together with (or possibly including) an estate called Bevons Island, 'late the estate of Samuel Oakes Taylor' for his children, in absence of which to John Willett Adye, son of his [the testator's] cousin Clara Adye, on condition that he changed his name to Willett. Later in the will he specified the addition of the enslaved people, utensils etc. on the estates to the same trust, with remainder to John Willett Adye's son (with provision for £12,000 to his younger sons and daughters). In a codicil he gave his wife the right to his house for life. A long series of further codicils appears to have amounted to no more than tinkering with the original will.


  1. Oxford DNB online, Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly, 'Willett, Ralph (1719-1795), book collector and connoisseur.'

  2. John Habakkuk, Marriage, debt and the estate system (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994) p. 455 (sourced to Hutchins, Dorset, vol. iii pp. 304-7).

  3. PROB 11/1256/18.

Further Information

Oxford DNB Entry

Associated Estates (2)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
- 1795 [EY] → Owner
1783 [EA] - 1783 [LA] → Mortgage Holder

Ralph Willett of Merly was shown as holding a mortgage of £8000 over the estate then known as Ham Lodge, previously Willetts, in 1783 when the estate was sold by Joseph Coates and his wife Mary to Edward Brazier subject to the mortgage.

Legacies Summary

Physical (1)

Country house
Merley House, Canford Magna, Dorset [Built] 
description →
Built by Ralph Willett c. 1751, extended by him with the addition of two wings c. 1772 which were later...

Relationships (1)

Testator → Legatee
Notes →
Ralph Willett adopted his 'cousin' [in fact, the child of Ralph Willett's cousin Clara Adye] John Willett Adye in the latter's...

Addresses (1)

Merley House, Canford Magna, Dorset, Wessex, England