All roads lead to Jamaica

Bamboo Avenue early coloured postcard

Bamboo Avenue, Jamaica – early coloured postcard

Well, genealogically speaking, it sometimes feels like they do !

Having finished my postgraduate studies until September I was asked to look into the origins of Dr Benjamin Bates (1737-1828) who was a member of the Hellfire Club, a friend of Erasmus Darwin and of the painter Joseph Wright of Derby, among others. Bizarrely his Wikipedia entry appears to combine the life stories of three quite different people – and if you were to believe it he was commanding a ship of the line in his eighties while simultaneously being a successful merchant in America and a physician in Buckinghamshire !

Only the last is true of the man I am looking at.

Not much was known of his origins in Nottinghamshire, but he married twice, lived to over ninety, and had one surviving daughter Lydia Bates who died unmarried in 1843. Having found her Will I was faced with the genealogist’s greatest challenge – a lovely collection of legatees but almost all female, some widowed, and some referred to as cousins but with no easy way of connecting them into the family tree.

If your cousin is the daughter of your father’s married sister who then herself married (perhaps more than once) there will have been at least two changes of surname from the main tree. Add in a few common surnames such as Smith and it’s no wonder these puzzles are often called brick walls. If your ancestors hale from Scotland you may fare better since Scottish baptism records usually name both parents and include the mother’s maiden name.

My help in this case came from a couple of unusual names and the wonderful 1851 Census, which has so often come to my rescue since, in England, it was the first time people had been asked to say exactly where they were born.

For my own family it was a huge surprise to discover Richard Lee who was born in Jamaica in the mid-eighteenth century but lived into his nineties and was present in the 1851 census – leading ultimately to the creation of this website and my book A Parcel of Ribbons.

So it was the 1851 census that came to my rescue with the Bates family connections via a man called Leigh Churchill Smyth who lived to be 83. He was born in Jamaica and baptised on the 25th June 1801 in St Catherine’s parish to Ann Eleanor Largue, recorded in the baptism records of her children as a free quadroon. There were five children, all baptised there as Smith, but with no father named. This suggests that he acknowledged the children to the extent of giving them his name, but not of having his full name recorded as their father. Jane Beazle Smith was baptised in 1790, Ann Frances in 1796, Leigh Churchill in 1801, Penelope Sophia in 1804 and Henry Shepherd in 1807.

Some time in the latter part of the eighteenth century the family went upmarket in the spelling of their name and Smith became Smyth.

Henry, who wrote his middle name as Sheppard, later recorded his place of birth as Kingston so it’s possible that Ann Eleanor took her children from there to be baptised in Spanish Town. Ann Eleanor herself was baptised there in 1775. She was the daughter of Ester Beazle or Beazley who was born in 1745 and recorded as a free mulatto when she was baptised with her son Stephen Adolphus Beazle in 1768.

Little Ann Frances Smith died of fever before her first birthday, but in the 1841 census Leigh, Penelope and Henry were all living with Matilda Eleanor Archer Smyth in London and Jane was living in Buckingham with Penelope Box (who was another widowed cousin mentioned by Lydia Bates). At first I assumed Matilda was their mother, but it seems possible she was their unmarried aunt.

Matilda had four brothers any one of whom might have been the children’s father. I can only find a record of the death of two of these brothers in England – Samuel Chester Smyth who died in Blackfriars schoolhouse in 1813, and Thomas William Anthony Smyth who killed himself on board his ship HMS Duncan in 1830.

As the Jamaican parish burial registers are not yet indexed on-line, the only way to find out if one of the two remaining brothers died there is to page through the images in the parish registers. For a name as common as Smith and a register with as many deaths as Kingston this is a lengthy task which I will undertake when I have time.

There is another possibility. Just as I was about to post this story I came across reference in an early 20th century book of pedigrees to Henry Sheppard Smyth being the son of Charles Smyth of Spanish Town and grandson of Sir Richard Smyth, a one time Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. This puts a gloss of legitimacy on his birth and pedigree which was obviously important in enhancing his social status as a ‘Gentleman at Arms’.  It also fits with the Smyth family associations with Buckingham. But I have been unable to verify it, though while searching I came across both a Leigh Smyth and a Churchill Smyth and a number of Penelope Smyths.

Leigh Churchill Smyth married and was a successful solicitor, perhaps with a wealthy wife, for at his death in 1884 he was worth over £36,000. His wife died a few months later worth even more, and there appear to have been no surviving children. His spinster sister Penelope who had been a governess had an estate valued at under £300 at her death. Jane was also unmarried and left what she had to her brother Leigh. Henry married late and had two children who were still very young when he died in 1866 leaving his wife less than £300. She died in 1870 leaving less than £600 and their children seem to disappear from the record.

So I wonder if there remain any descendants of Ann Eleanor Largue, and if so do they know of their Jamaican heritage?  Will they, like me, make the surprising discovery of how often British middle and upper class families had enslaved ancestors, and will they find the road to Jamaica?

 

 

 

 

 

Planting seeds and recording sources

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I am ever the optimist when it comes to remembering what I have done. I plant seeds in my garden secure in the knowledge that when they come up I will remember what they are – mostly I don’t and mostly they grow anyway. By the time they bear fruit it is obvious what they were, but I don’t have any record of what I did to ensure that I have a good chance of doing the same again next year. Sometimes, as with the lovely cactus flower above, I get a total surprise, a present I didn’t deserve and did nothing to achieve beyond remembering to water it.

So it has been with genealogy. I am often in such a rush to find the end of the story that I merely sketch out a family tree sure that by the time I am ready to tell the story I will remember where I found the pieces of the jigsaw. Sadly, as with my garden, optimism is no substitute for keeping records!

When I began researching my own family history there were very few on-line resources and so apart from family records such as birth certificates I could be sure that a baptism record would have come from what was then known as the IGI, now familysearch.org and so felt no need to record where I had found the data. I made the beginner’s mistake also of recording the baptism date as the birth date  unaware that a baptism might occur any time from the hour of birth to several years afterwards.

There is a suggestion that in Jamaica baptism was often left until the child was expected to survive (no theological fears of eternity in limbo troubled the parents). In fact the reason may have been the more prosaic one that the local vicar had just died of fever, or the child born on the plantation was so far from the centre of the parish that baptisms were done in batches when the vicar found time to visit; or the planter waited for the next Races or Assembly Meeting in Spanish Town to have his child baptised there.

As a historian I have always insisted on being able to prove any assertion by providing the sources, as a genealogist I am afraid I have generally fallen far short.

So time to do something about it. I am studying for a postgraduate certificate in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies with the University of Strathclyde. It is taught on-line so no need to travel to Scotland, much as I would love to. Already I am learning how to document my sources carefully so that anyone coming after me will be able to check that I have made no mistakes and drawn no false conclusions. The downside of what really is a valuable discipline is that it slows me down – no longer can I rush ahead to sketch out the story trusting that when I reach the end of the road I will still be able to see where I came from! It is also time consuming and has taken me away from Jamaica and this blog.

So I hope you will forgive me if postings here are intermittent for a while. I hope that when I have time for full time research once again it will be more securely anchored and the flowers and fruits will be properly labelled.

 

Serocold and Sorocold – the Merchant and the Engineer

London Bridge Watercolour1799

London Bridge – late 18th century – the waterwheels can be seen at far end of the bridge

 

I have written before about John Serocold and his son of the same name who were Jamaica merchants during the 18th century, based in London. John Serocold senior was married to Martha Rose one of the daughters of Captain John Rose who made some of his money transporting rebels to Jamaica after the Monmouth Rebellion[1].

9 December 1685 – Invoice of sixty eight men servants, shipped on board, Capt Charles Gardner, in ye Jamaica Merchant (ship) for account of Mr.Rose and Comp.,they being to be sold for ten years..

Martha’s sister Elizabeth married Samuel Heming and had at least five children baptised in Jamaica. Another sister Frances married Dr John Charnock and had two children baptised and died in Jamaica before his death at St John’s in Jamaica in 1730. Afterwards she returned to London and married wealthy merchant Robert Fotherby who had a position in the Royal African Company and was almost certainly dealing in slaves shipped to the West Indies.

Mary Rose, older than her sisters,  married first Thomas Halse of Halse Hall, then John Sadler and finally wealthy merchant John Styleman after her return to London. You can read more about her here.

Martha Serocold died after presenting John Serocold with the second of two daughters both of whom died in infancy, and three years later he remarried with his second wife producing two sons – John and Thomas. John carried on his father’s business trading with Jamaica, later as the firm of Serocold and Jackson, in partnership with his son-in-law John Jackson.

The company of Serocold and Jackson got into severe financial difficulties but came to an arrangement with its creditors in 1782 (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 28 March 1782). Given the date it is not impossible that their troubles were connected with the disasters of the hurricane years in the early 1780s. They must have continued to struggle, for in 1786 John Serocold of Love Lane in the City of London was declared bankrupt. At his death two years later John Serocold was described as ‘formerly an eminent West India Merchant’ (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 13 November 1788). His brother Thomas outlived him by several years, having opted for the life of country gentleman at Peterborough.

I was intrigued by the name Serocold which is quite unusual, and all the more so when I came across George Sorocold who is often credited with being Britain’s first great civil engineer and who was the designer of the world’s first factory, Derby’s Silk Mill.

George Sorocold was a quite remarkable man, but the dates of his birth and death are unknown. He was probably born about 1666 and died after 1738. It seems likely that his family origins were in Lancashire but this is difficult to establish with any certainty partly because there are so many different versions of the name. So far I have found the following variant spellings, some in original documents and some in transcriptions: Sorocold, Sorrocolde, Sorrocoulde, Soracowle, Sorocale, Sorracoll, Seracold, Serocold, Sarracold.

I have as yet found no evidence for the suggestion made by others that his father was James Sorocold who had already moved to Derby when George Sorocold married there in 1684.

There is no record of how George acquired his education and when I first saw that he appeared to have married at the age of sixteen I was inclined to disbelieve it since this would be unusually early for an educated man of middle or upper-class origins. However I then found a more or less contemporary account which suggested that his wife had already had thirteen children (with no multiple births) eight of whom were still living by the time George was twenty-eight – pretty much a mathematical impossibility unless he had fathered his first child aged fifteen or sixteen. Perhaps it was a shotgun wedding!

The account of Sorocold’s fecundity was recorded in 1715 by a man called Thoresby who knew Sorocold, and who had an interest in compiling accounts of very large families, including Jane Hodson who  according to her epitaph in York Minster, died on September 2, 1636, aged 38, during the birth of her 24th child and another woman said to have had 53 children in 35 births.

They made them tough in those days!

It is a shame that we don’t know more about George Sorocold since his achievements in civil engineering were very considerable. He created a public water supply for Derby by raising water from the river Derwent into a tank that supplied a pipe system that lasted into the nineteenth century. Moreover the waterwheel was designed to rise and fall with the water level in the river to maximise supply even in periods of dry weather.

He went on to work on a system of waterwheels and pumps under Old London Bridge and created the public water supply in a number of major cities including Leeds. At Liverpool he engineered the city’s first wet dock, contributing indirectly to its rise as a major slaving port.

Sorocold waterwheel c 1700

Waterwheels at Old London Bridge about 1700

 

Interest in George Sorocold’s engineering achievements means that there is now research on-going to try to find out more about his origins and background. It seems highly likely that there is a connection between the Sorocolds of Lancashire, the merchant Sorocolds of London and the eminent engineer George Sorocold – a work in progress.

 

Pictures are taken from Old London Bridge where you can find the history of the changes that took place during the eighteenth century when the old bridge was modernised before being completely replaced in the nineteenth century.

[1] The original lists of persons of quality; emigrants; religious exiles; political rebels; serving men sold for a term of years; apprentices; children stolen; maidens pressed; and others who went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700 : with their ages and the names of the ships in which they embarked, and other interesting particulars; from mss. preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, England
by Hotten, John Camden, 1832-1873, London 1874.

Time for an Update!

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It seems amazing to think that already four years have passed since I set up this website with the help of the lovely Alex Barrett of Wick IT Services.

In that time I have written over a hundred posts, transcribed more than fifty Wills, uploaded various documents and images relating to Jamaica and maintained a database of over 7000 individuals with historic connections to eighteenth century Jamaica.

Meanwhile technology has moved on and since so many people now access the internet through their phones and tablets it is time for a makeover.

The fundamentals of the site are unchanged but the redesign makes it easier for those using the newer technology. I have also taken the opportunity to make the archive of old posts easier to look through and you will now find that on the right hand side of your screen.

The most major change relates to the family trees which previously were difficult to upload and keep updated. Using some different technology (the Rootspersona plugin) I have now created a number of new family trees taken from my main database and they are presented in what I hope you will agree is a much easier to read format with the information arranged in tabs. Those who have access to Ancestry can still find my main database called Jamaican Connections there. One difference however is that on Ancestry my rough notes are not made visible whereas I have taken the decision to include them here.

As with all genealogical research the work is never done, so it always comes with the caveat that where the information matters to you please double check my research against original sources wherever possible. And of course I am always happy to receive updates and corrections.

I hope you like the redesign and find the site easy to use however you access it.
 

Image courtesy of cliparts.

How not to jump to conclusions!

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Tenby Harbour

 

I had a salutary lesson in the dangers of jumping to conclusions in genealogy this week.

As part of the work I did on the Hungerford Morgans from Bristol I had located the man I thought was one of the sons of the first James Hungerford Morgan who had lived and died in Jamaica. There was a well constructed and sourced line of descent from his eldest son Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan but not much to go on in relation to either of his siblings baptised in Jamaica after him – a sister called Juliana after her mother and a second James Hungerford Morgan baptised in June 1792, and born in May of that year.

The man who was apparently James Hungerford Morgan II was an unmarried retired  Lieutenant living on half pay,  in Tenby in Wales, by the time of the 1841 and 1851 censuses. This fitted well enough with the fact that Henry Morgan, his apparent grandfather, had died in Wales.

Further investigation revealed a sister called Mary Morgan who outlived him, and that’s when the alarm bells started ringing, for at his death in April 1851 she was referred to as his only living relative despite the fact that the family of Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan were alive and well, living mainly in London and India.

Moreover when Mary Morgan died a few months later without having administered her brother’s Will it was left to her nephew the Rev Thomas Sleeman to tidy things up. If James and Mary had a nephew with a different surname it implied that there must have been another sister in the picture, albeit one who had died before 1851. It turned out this was not Juliana Morgan born in Jamaica, but an Elizabeth Morgan who had married wine merchant Thomas Sleeman at Tenby in 1806. A search for the Will of Thomas Sleeman and a bit more investigation made it quite clear that I was dealing with a different family from the one with the Jamaican connections.

Fortunately all these documents were easily available via the National Library of Wales website where you can view them for free and download for £3.50.

I had been a little wary from the first when the census data about dates and places of birth did not match up with what was known about the Jamaican family, but the census enumerators often did make mistakes in copying out their returns, so on its own it was not enough to do more that raise a nagging doubt.

In the end although I proved that James Hungerford Morgan baptised in Tenby in 1788 was not the same as James Hungerford Morgan born in Jamaica in May 1792 there is the intriguing possibility that the families were actually connected and that the coincidence of names may not be mere coincidence.

The father of the Tenby Morgans was called Harry Morgan and it seems likely that he was the Harry Morgan who married Elizabeth Dew in 1779 when he gave his parish as St Nicholas, Bristol. On his early death in 1793 at Tenby, after he had become bankrupt,  he gave his profession as mercer. Newspaper reports of his bankruptcy referred to him as a linen draper like the linen drapers of the Bristol family of the other Morgans and Hungerfords, many of whom lived in or were associated with the parish of St Nicholas.

St_Nicholas_from_Bristol_Bridge

St Nicholas from Bristol Bridge

So we have two families called Morgan with connections to Bristol, who shared a trade and were in some way linked to the Hungerfords.

This time I’m not going to jump to conclusions – but my instinct says there is a link to be found.

What do you think?

 

Picture of St Nicholas from Bristol Bridge – By NotFromUtrecht (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Brickwalls and a Bristol Linen Draper

Brickwall

 

Brickwall is the term used in family history research to describe the situation that arises when you are completely stuck in trying to trace your ancestors further back. Sometimes the solution is not to try to batter your way through but to work your way around it.

There are some family names that are so common that they make research particularly difficult. My father’s family name Wilson was once said to be the most common name in the Glasgow phone book. When I worked on a human resources system, based largely in London, Williams and Patel were the most common names.

So when I was contacted by someone with the surname Morgan my heart did sink a little. Of course Henry Morgan is one of the most famous names associated with early Jamaica, but there was no suggestion that this family were related to him.

My starting point was James Hungerford Morgan who was listed in the Bristol Poll Book for St Nicholas in 1774 as a linen draper. On the 29 November 1782 he married Juliana Wisdom James, from a long established colonial family, in Trelawny, Jamaica. They had four children baptised there before James died in April 1792. Juliana remarried the following year on the Fontabelle estate to William Pitter and had four more children with him.

The line of descent from the two sons of James and Juliana (Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan and James Hungerford Morgan II) had already been well traced by my enquirer who really wanted to know who were the parents of the first James Hungerford Morgan after whose marriage many descendants bore the double name Hungerford Morgan, sometimes hyphenated. This certainly suggested that Hungerford was an important family name and a connection to be cherished.

The obvious starting point was to look for a marriage between a Morgan and a Hungerford and sure enough there was George Morgan married to Mary Hungerford in August 1685 in London’s St James Dukes Place, which had a reputation as a ‘marriage factory’ where you could go to get married in a hurry and relative anonymity. It may be that Mary was already pregnant or that her family disapproved of George, or both, since back in her home parish of Windrush in Gloucestershire the following year their daughter Margaret Mary was baptised in July and their son James in November. The Hungerfords were prominent in Windrush but when James was baptised the parish register only recorded him as James with no middle name. In any case it seemed likely that James Hungerford Morgan was born in the early 1750s so although geographically Windrush and Bristol are not far apart this left a period of about seventy-five years to bridge.

Looking again at the Bristol records there was a Henry Morgan, also a linen draper, in the Poll books at the same time as James Hungerford Morgan. There is also a catalogue entry in the Bristol Record Office dated 1778 for a mortgage “James Hungerford Morgan, planter of Jamaica, now resided in Bristol, to Henry Morgan of Bristol, linen draper”. This also suggests a connection between the two, perhaps as brothers, uncle and nephew, or father and son. Unfortunately there is no online record for a baptism for James Hungerford Morgan, although plenty for James Morgan in and around Bristol in the relevant period. Of course with the surname Morgan he might have been an incomer from Wales, there being regular commerce and connections across the River Severn down the centuries.

The solution came via a catalogue entry at the National Archives for a legal case involving ” Henry Morgan, linen draper of Bristol and Catherine Morgan his wife (late Catherine Oliver, spinster)”. When I found that Catherine had a brother named Hungerford Oliver I knew I was on the right track – her first son Edward was named after her ironmonger father Edward Oliver and James after, it must be presumed, her favourite brother. Hungerford Oliver later married Prudence Milward of Old Swinford, Worcestershire, apparently rather against her father’s inclinations and had something of a reputation as an eccentric. Sadly their son Thomas Milward Oliver who trained as a doctor was later to hang for murder.

The confirmation of the parentage of James Hungerford Oliver comes from a series of family Wills, although finding his father’s Will proved challenging. Catherine Oliver’s mother Jane was clearly a wealthy woman with property in Bristol and on her death in about 1772 she left legacies to numerous family members including her grandchildren among whom were Thomas Hungerford Powell (son of her daughter Jane) and the four children of her late daughter Catherine and Henry Morgan, who was one of her executors.

Tracking down Henry Morgan’s Will took a bit of guesswork. There was no Will for a Bristol linen merchant of that name so I wondered, since his grandson James Hungerford Morgan II had died at Tenby, whether Henry Morgan had retired to Wales. There were four plausible candidates and looking at the map of south Wales I opted to start with “Henry Morgan of St Brides in the County of Glamorgan Gentleman” and struck lucky. It was not uncommon to make the transition from trade to gentleman, and Henry’s Will finally confirmed for certain that he was the father of James Hungerford Morgan. How the name Hungerford came into the Oliver family and whether there was any connection to the Hungerfords of Windrush must remain a question for another day.

That James Hungerford Morgan who became a Jamaican planter came from Bristol is not surprising. With connections to the haberdashery and linen trades and a grandfather who was an ironmonger, it is highly likely that his extended family had been exporting goods to Jamaica for some time. What direct connection they may have had with the slave trade, other than as owners of slaves in Jamaica is unclear, but his son Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan died a wealthy man and his estate made compensation claims on two estates.

old_derbyirongate

All Saints Derby – now Derby Cathedral

Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan had married Elizabeth Lawson from Falmouth who, according to Morgan family tradition, later burnt most of the family papers! Whether she was just obsessively tidy or was trying to conceal something is unclear. Her husband left a legacy of £200 to a young woman called Julia Hungerford, and, curious to know whether she would explain the link to the Hungerford family, I tracked her down in the parish register of All Saints Derby, where in 1842 she married Richard Lindley giving her father’s name as Henry Rhodes. The later census records show her as having been born in Jamaica, so it seems likely that she was the illegitimate, probably mixed race, daughter of Henry Rhodes Hungerford Morgan, baptised in Manchester Jamaica in 1819, about three years before his marriage to Elizabeth Lawson.

So if you have a brick wall in your current research do not give up, the solution is often out there and with more records becoming available online every week it may just be waiting to be found.

 

 

 

Skeletons in the cupboard

 

This week I have been pondering the issue of skeletons in the family cupboard and our attitudes towards them.

I had been exploring the history of West Horsley Place in Surrey, recently in the news when it was inherited by Bamber Gascoigne but which belonged to my maternal grandfather’s family for over a century and a half until it was sold to Lord Crewe in 1921.

West Horsley Place resized 450

West Horsley Place c.1840

In the process I came across my mother’s great uncle and his wife Daisy Oliphant who lived at West Horsley at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Curious about her, and thankful her name was relatively unusual, I tracked her back only to discover that her father, who was a journalist and foreign editor of the Morning Chronicle, appeared to have left his wife and first family to live with a young Scottish actress who in turn had left her husband. Now they would simply have divorced their first spouses and remarried, but divorce was expensive and socially frowned upon, and simply living as if married was cheaper and more convenient. The arrangement cannot have been too acrimonious since some of the first family turn up as witnesses to the weddings of the second.

In the records of Wills, and sometimes on death records, you may find a clue to such an arrangement where the person in question is shown with two surnames, for example in this case ‘Catherine Bland or Oliphant’. Her maiden name of MacNab was discovered because when she moved south to live with William Oliphant her mother came too and was present in a census record!

Sometimes the use of two surnames on a record may indicate that the person was illegitimate and the record is giving the surname both of the birth mother and the acknowledged father. But be careful about making such assumptions without further evidence. Particularly in more recent records the use of two surnames for a woman may simply indicate that a previous husband had died.

I enjoy uncovering these little histories in my family, but I am conscious that not everyone is pleased to find out that an ancestor was illegitimate, or left his wife, went bankrupt or worse still engaged in criminal activity. Therefore when I am asked to help find out about someone else’s family history it does occasionally present an ethical dilemma.

If someone contacts me because they are searching for a long lost living relative, and I happen to discover who that person is what should I do with that information? Does the other party want to discover they have an unknown sibling? In that particular case I was saved having to make the decision as the people in question found each other by another route.

Most people now seem to be relatively comfortable with the notion that an ancestor was illegitimate, or fell upon hard times and entered the workhouse, or was unfortunate enough to become mentally ill and was consigned to an asylum. Distance lends a certain objectivity and we no longer regard birth out of wedlock or mental illness as the stigmas they once were.

Even in the nineteenth century illegitimacy was sometimes glossed over. I recently had a conversation on the Facebook group Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society about the family of the distinguished geologist Sir Henry De La Beche whose father and uncle had changed the family name from Beach in 1790 in what may well have been a spurious attempt to claim Norman inheritance.

Halse Hall Great House

Halse Hall Great House today

Thomas Beach from Wiltshire married Helen Hynes in Jamaica in 1755 and hence acquired the Halse Hall plantations via her mother Jennet Guthrie’s first marriage to Francis Sadler.  Thomas and Helen had at least four children – Thomas, Jannet, John Hynes and Rose Sadler of whom only Thomas and John survived to change their surname.

Unless Sir Henry’s father Thomas De La Beche was married twice (which is of course possible) it appears that Sir Henry was probably illegitimate and his parents married only about a year after his birth. Thomas De La Beche had a minor career in the army until he inherited the Jamaican plantations and he died in Jamaica in the summer of 1801. His widow then took five year-old Henry back to England, surviving shipwreck on the way.

When Henry grew up he married Letitia Smith and they had one daughter, Elizabeth, named presumably after his mother. The marriage was not a success and while Henry was on a geological trip abroad his wife had an affair with Henry Wyndham, son of the Earl of Egremont, and they separated, the separation being made legal in 1828.

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Sir Henry De La Beche (The National Museum of Wales / Amgueddfa Cymru)

It must have been evident to most people that Sir Henry’s daughter Rosalie who was born in 1834 was not his wife’s child. However when Rosalie died young, not long after her father, the press notice referred to her as his youngest daughter. She had lived in his household for a number of years and was on perfectly friendly terms with her married half-sister Elizabeth. Her probate record refers to her as Rosalie Torre Gay or De La Beche so it is reasonable to suppose that her mother’s surname was Gay, but I have not found a baptism record, and her birth occurred before civil registration.

It is unlikely, I hope, that any modern descendant of the De La Beche family will be offended by these discoveries, however in the context of the joint histories of Jamaica and Great Britain a difficult issue can arise. Some people are absolutely delighted to discover they have mixed ancestry but I know of at least one case of someone who when presented with irrefutable evidence of black Jamaican inheritance absolutely denied its truth.

It became clear to me as I gradually became acquainted with the history of 18th-century Jamaica and the way in which the mixed race descendants of the Plantocracy were often absorbed into mainstream British society, that sometimes these origins were consciously obscured and sometimes they were simply forgotten.

For myself I think that family skeletons should be brought out of the closet and re-clothed in the stories of their lives. It is a way of honouring those who went before and reclaiming them from the dust of history.

 

 

March v. Ellis a bitter family dispute

 300px-The_Court_of_Chancery_during_the_reign_of_George_I_by_Benjamin_FerrersThe Court of Chancery in the reign of George I  (source: Wikipedia)

The case of Francis March against members of the Ellis family is very typical of 18th-century Jamaican Chancery cases. Many of these arose because of the early deaths of colonists and their reliance on loans taken out in expectation of repayment from the profits of their estates, profits which did not always materialise. Add to this the problems of remote management of estates for absentee owners, inadequate record keeping, records lost by accident or destruction by the Jamaican climate, and you have a difficult mix in which disputes about Wills and land ownership could drag on for many years.

Moreover decisions of the Jamaican court had to be ratified in England and so a litigant might find themselves fighting in the courts of both Jamaica and London. This is the context of a case that spanned the first quarter of the eighteenth century involving the descendants of John Ellis and his son-in-law Francis March.

John Ellis arrived in Jamaica either with or shortly after the first group of colonists and rapidly acquired several estates and plantations. When he died in August 1706 he left three of 11 children still living – John, George and Martha. His daughter Martha had married Frances March in 1701 when she was 17 and he was about 21 and Ellis appointed his son-in-law as one of his Executors.

John Ellis junior married Elizabeth Grace Nedham (sometimes written Needham) and they had four children living at his early death in England only three years after his father. John the elder had left legacies to his daughter Anne, and to his grandchildren Sarah and John March as well as to the poor of the parish of St Katherine’s. The bulk of his estate was left to his son John, who on his death had made a will leaving £2000 Jamaican currency to each of his daughters Mary and Martha when they married, plus an additional £1000 to each of their first children. He left £1000 to his sister which appears to have been due to her from their father’ s will and £500 to Abigail Demetrius who was then a minor. Having made provision for the education of all his children and Abigail he left various parcels of land to his son George making his elder son John residuary legatee. This third John Ellis later died without having made a will or having married.

As Executor Frances March apparently discovered after the death of the second John Ellis that none of the legacies due from John Ellis the elder had been paid and that John Ellis the younger had died in debt to the tune of over £8000 (which would have a purchasing power of nearly £900,000 today).

The Ellis property in Jamaica consisted of the Caymanus Plantation, a large part of the Crawle Plantation, two thirds of the Sixteen Mile Walk Plantation, plus some other uncultivated land and all the associated sugar works, slaves, stock and equipment.

The Sixteen Mile Walk Plantation was owned in part by Susanna Cooke who had leased it to a man called Carlton Goddard in return for an income of £50 per year, and in about 1704 the younger John Ellis had agreed to buy out Carlton Goddard’s share for £1800, paid in instalments with interest. Ellis took possession of the land, but failed to pay most of the money and all of the rent.

Before the legal formalities had been completed conveying the land to John Ellis, Carlton Goddard was declared bankrupt and his Jamaican property was assigned to a London merchant called Samuel Clarke. Francis March, who was then in Jamaica, was sending money back to London for the maintenance of the four Ellis children and their aunt Anne Ellis, and he was now faced with the demand from Samuel Clarke to hand over Goddard’s share of the Sixteen Mile Walk Plantation. March told Clarke that the conveyance had not been completed but Clarke agreed to the conveyance going ahead on payment of the Ellis debt by March in person out of his own funds.

Meanwhile by about 1712 Susanna Cooke had died, and a man called John Hayward offered to buy out her son George Cooke’s share of Sixteen Mile Walk and his share of the Crawle Plantation and various other pieces of land, which had he succeeded would have seriously affected the value of the Ellis properties. So Francis March set out for England to get agreement from George Cooke in person to sell all this property to him. Again March paid for this from his own funds intending it for the benefit of his own family and about Christmas 1713 he travelled back to Jamaica and attempted to sell John Ellis’s “wastelands”, as requested under the terms of the will. He sold a small amount of land to Ezekial Gomersall, but could not find a buyer for the rest.

Francis March seems to have been a regular transatlantic traveller because in 1718 he again returned to England where in the meantime Anne Ellis had become administratrix of the Will of her sister-in-law Elizabeth Grace Ellis. The four Ellis children now being orphans their aunt Anne Ellis was named as their “next friend” and a group action was taken in the Court of Chancery to demand that Francis March should produce accounts of what had happened to the various Ellis properties. Many of March’s papers were still in Jamaica but he did produce a formal response and then returned to Jamaica in 1721.

By this time the two Ellis boys had reached the age of seventeen (the age at which they were to inherit) and their sister Mary had married John Manley who appears to have been somewhat older than the Ellis children and to have acted for them in their minority.

The Ellis family now took matters into their own hands and forcibly occupied all the property that had belonged to John Ellis senior, to his son Major John Ellis and to Carlton Goddard, including the land bought from George Cooke by Francis March with his own money! Moreover they also took possession of all the stock of slaves, cattle and equipment, and produce in the form of sugar and rum which March later valued at over £12,000 Jamaican currency and they took all the regular income from the plantations.

Having expelled Francis March they then exhibited a bill of complaint in the Jamaican Court of Chancery against him to which March duly responded. By this time the third John Ellis had died and the seized estates were being managed jointly by his younger brother George Ellis and John Manley.

Francis March was forced to sue for the money that he had laid out in paying for the land the second John Ellis had committed to purchasing from Carlton Goddard as well as paying off Goddard’s debt in order to secure the purchase. Moreover according to March the legacies due to Anne Ellis and to his two children as well as to the poor of the parish of St Catherine’s had still not been paid.

By this time Frances March had been in Jamaica on and off for many years and like so many colonists his health and that of his family was suffering. He sent his son ahead to England and prepared to leave the island with the rest of his family at which point the Ellis contingent threatened him with an injunction to prevent him leaving the island while what they claimed was a debt to them was still outstanding. This was a common procedure since it was not unusual for debtors to try to escape Jamaica leaving their debts behind them. Desperate to get back to England Francis March paid the Ellis family the amount that they had counterclaimed and left on a ship called the Resolution.

His troubles were far from over for the ship caught fire and March lost most of his possessions, including all his accounts and papers, and he and his family barely escaped with their lives. Back in London by 1724 John Manley was already dead as was Abigail Demetrius, George Ellis had reached the age of 21 and Francis March again attempted to enforce on George Ellis the payment of the legacies due under the Wills of his grandfather John Ellis and his father.

220px-Westminster_Hall Court of Chancery

Westminster Hall where the Court of Chancery sat
(source: Wikipedia)

Once again Frances March petitioned the Court of Chancery, this time in London, in an attempt to get the whole confused mess finally resolved by asking the Court to require George Ellis to agree to pay him £3794 Sterling, the amount he had disbursed on behalf of the Ellis family. Given the size of the profits from their estates their is no reason to assume they could not easily have afforded this.

Sadly I am not aware of any record to indicate that George Ellis did finally pay up.

Francis March died in about 1736 and the Ellis family continued to prosper in Jamaica acquiring further lands, including the Montpellier estate from Francis Sadler Hals who received it as reward for his efforts in the Maroon War settlement of 1739. There is a very good account of the Ellis family’s various holdings and acquisitions in Barry Higman’s book Montpelier Jamaica: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom 1739-1912.

I wrote on a previous occasion about the fate of George Ellis’s son John Ellis and his two great nieces Anne Maria and Bathshua Herring Ellis, who were all lost at sea in the great storm of 1782 when two of his servants had an absolutely miraculous escape.

 

Note: I have to thank David M Oakley without whose hard work transcribing a key legal document this posting would not have been possible.

 

 

Scotts of Ireland, Jamaica, Dominica and Nova Scotia

Happy New Year

The New Year is a time for good resolutions and at least one blogger I have read recently has promised to post more often. I’m conscious that I have not posted regularly in recent months and will try to do better in 2015.

I shall begin with a correction.

One feature of genealogy is that it is never done, and too often evidence emerges that shows conclusions drawn in the past, which seemed reasonable at the time, to have been wrong. So it was that I was contacted by someone researching the Scott family who challenged my assumption that their earliest ancestor in Jamaica had been the Rev John Scott who was presented to the parish of St Catherine on 14 March 1720 and married Elizabeth Millner (possibly the daughter of Elizabeth Rose of Mickleton) the following year. That John Scott died in November 1734 and so could not have been the father of the Scott brothers who grew up alongside the Lee family (see the book A Parcel of Ribbons).

In fact it seems clear now that the Scott family who were prominent in Jamaica from the mid-eighteenth century had come from Ballingarry in north Tipperary, Ireland where Jeremiah Scott (who had fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690) settled in the time of William III. Jeremiah’s son – yet another John Scott – had a large family of at least ten children many of whom were mention in the Will of their sibling the Hon. John Scott of Jamaica, proved in 1776.

This John Scott had brothers who ventured out across the colonies, Michael to Grenada, George to Dominica and Joseph to Nova Scotia. George, who was a professional soldier, was appointed Governor of Grenada but then left to be Governor of Dominica where he was killed in a duel in 1767. Michael seems to have remained in Grenada and by the time of his brother John’s death was still in dispute with him about George’s Will. Other brothers, and several sisters remained in Ireland.

Joseph Scott went to Canada where he built himself a delightful manor house at Fort Sackville, Bedford, Nova Scotia on land that had belonged to brother George. It is one of the oldest houses in Nova Scotia and is now a museum.

Scott Manor House Nova Scotia 7093_Medium

Joseph traded in a variety of goods, including rum which presumably came via his brother John in Jamaica. He also had huge timber holdings and he may well have traded lumber back to Jamaica in return. He imported butter from Ireland which was also a popular item traded into Jamaica, although its rancid flavour by the time it reached the tropics was an acquired taste!

This spreading out of a group of brothers from the British Isles is typical of what happened in many families during the eighteenth century. As time went on the next generation would be more inclined to look east towards India, Sumatra and China rather than west to the Caribbean and North America.

Joseph Scott’s family became well established in Canada and he died there in 1800 leaving a substantial fortune and over 8000 acres to his second wife Margaret.

John Scott married two wives in Jamaica adding considerably to his lands in the process. His first wife Frances Mary Henderson brought him lands in Clarendon but died giving birth to her namesake in November 1755. His second marriage to Lucretia Favell Gregory consolidated his dynastic credentials since her family included Gregorys, Gallimores and Favells, all early settlers.

By the time his son Jack Scott returned from education in England in the late 1780s to take over management of the family estates they were among the wealthiest on the island, albeit Sir George Nugent did not think much of him. The Scotts owned the Retreat and Kensington Park plantations in St Thomas in the East and Clarendon Park in Clarendon, but Sir George called him ” a silly, vain, chattering blockhead who…constantly blabs out all that passes in Council” (Lady Nugent’s Journal p.315). His brother George had settled to the life of a landed gentleman in England and Matthew had a distinguished naval career becoming a Vice Admiral in 1819.

All three Scott brothers married daughters of the plantocracy, but in Jack’s case not before he had fathered mixed race children with at least three women in Jamaica. Of his thirteen known children only five were legitimate (the last born posthumously in 1814 six months after his father’s death), whereas all thirteen of his brother Matthew’s were. The Scotts maintained close contact with the Lee family throughout their lives – Jack wrote regularly from Jamaica to Richard Lee, Matt Scott settled his family in Devonshire Place just around the corner from Frances Lee, and General John Lee named Matt Scott as one of his executors.

There have been distinguished Scott descendants down the years, but in recent times perhaps the most notable is Lt.-Cmdr. Desmond Edward Patrick Dehany Scott who claimed Rockall for the Crown in 1955!

 

A Parcel of Ribbons now on Kindle

Parcel of Ribbons Front Cover V3 resized 300

The book A Parcel of Ribbons is now available on Amazon Kindle

 

You can of course still buy the paperback from Amazon or Lulu.com and other outlets which has the advantage of being a physical book and of having the index. Kindle format still does not support indexing although it does include the illustrations. The footnotes from the paperback are converted into endnotes for Kindle and I have made some minor corrections, mainly of typos. Some of these arose because I transcribed many of the letters using Dragon Naturally Speaking software, which is extremely impressive (no I don’t have shares!) but occasionally produces some oddities, a few of which I missed when proof reading.

One piece of information not in my possession when I wrote the book was that Robert Lee junior did not die at Lisbon as much later members of the Bevan family believed but in fact, like two of his brothers before him, shot himself. It is no wonder that Favell Bourke Lee, by then Mrs David Bevan, sought consolation in evangelical religion. For three out of six siblings to die by their own hand was a terrible burden for the family to have to bear.

Despite this shadow that fell over the family in the nineteenth century, their eighteenth century letters remain full of life, hope and insight into the interactions between Britain and Jamaica and the lives led in London by returning colonists.