Abel was baptised into a dissenting family in Walsall in Feb 1788. His parents James and Mary Rooker apprenticed him to a Walsall surgeon, Francis Weaver, who was a member of the same dissenting congregation. Such an apprenticeship would not have been cheap but it would open up opportunities for a professional career that did not require a university degree, which Abel would not have been eligible for (at least in England) with his non-conformist background.
Abel’s non-conformist family background was a distinguished one. His great grandfather Samuel Rooker (c.1694-1768) was a cooper from West Bromwich and a member of a dissenting congregation that met at Bank Court in Walsall (on the north side of High Street). Samuel and his son Samuel junior, also a cooper, were among several people keen to secede from this congregation on doctrinal grounds. In 1751 they built a small chapel (approximately 10 ½ feet by 9 feet) on land at Hill Top in Walsall (actually more like West Bromwich). This building was registered for religious worship on 17 May 1751 and just a week later was attacked by a mob and destroyed. It was not until 1763 that the discontented group were able to secede, when twenty-eight members and two deacons began to meet in a new building erected in Dudley Street, Walsall. This congregation flourished until 1790 when, on finding that their premises were too small, laid plans to erect a new chapel in Bridge Street. This opened in September 1791 at a cost of £2, 125 13s, with all debts on the building cleared by 1795. Abel’s baptism is recorded in the Bridge Street chapel register but, as it took place in Feb 1788, it is most likely the ceremony actually happened in the Dudley Street premises.
Samuel senior had another son James who showed a vocation for church leadership and he was sent to study at the dissenting academy in Bedworth, Warwickshire under John Kirkpatrick. James was invited by a dissenting congregation in Bridport, Dorset to become their first minister in 1751. In 1764 the dissenting academy at Ottery St Mary (founded by Rev John Lavington in 1752-54) moved to Bridport, following Lavington’s death in December that year, to continue under Rev James Rooker’s tutelage. James built a house (Bridge House at the far end of East Street) in 1765 to accommodate both his family and the students. This became a hotel in the 1980s. James continued at Bridport until shortly before his death in 1780. The history of the Bridport congregation mirrored that of the Walsall one with a group seceding from the established Presbyterian congregation in the town in 1742, which went on to build a chapel at Barrack Street in 1746. It was not until 1750 that they issued an invitation to James Rooker to become their minister. He was ordained on 16 October 1751 after serving a fairly lengthy apprenticeship (a common practice followed by dissenting congregations of this type).
Links between the Rooker family in the Black Country and the West Country continued after the Rev James’ departure for the south-west as evidenced in probate and property documents well recorded in a paper by Alan Sell. One link not mentioned by Sell was the baptism of Samuel junior’s son James Rooker by his uncle Rev James at Bridport in 1757. The baby’s parents were recorded as Samuel and Joanna Rooker of West Bromwich.
A P F Sell, ‘The Walsall riots, the Rooker family and eighteenth century dissent’, Transactions of the South Staffordshire Archaeological Society (1983-4), 25, pp. 50-71.
[transferred from old blog]