Crowdfunding before the internet

A Victorian Workhouse (http://www.open.edu/)

We think of crowdfunding as a modern phenomenon. When a family loses everything due to a fire in their home just before Christmas, thousands of people respond to an appeal by their friends on the internet, donating toys, clothes and money. One family were so overwhelmed by the response that they were able to donate a huge number of duplicate toys, wrongly sized clothes and excess food to local charities.

For the eighteenth or nineteenth century family suffering such a disaster the prospects were potentially disastrous. Death of a breadwinner meant that the workhouse loomed.

While researching something else a few days ago in the wonderful British Newspaper Archive, I came across a sad tale, made bearable by the generosity of friends. The Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser for Monday 22 March 1819 carried an advertisement inserted by the friends of a ‘Widow and Ten Children’. Her husband had been a Captain in the West India Service, and formerly a Master in the Royal Navy. Once the Napoleonic Wars ended of course there was no further need for the large numbers of soldiers and sailors who had fought, and many became destitute. A former Naval Captain would probably have been pensioned on half pay, but as the article does not name him we cannot know if this was the case.

Wanting to provide for his family this former Navy man set himself up to trade, but he suffered ‘severe losses at sea’, trade was generally depressed and he became bankrupt.

He had many good friends however, and they set him up with a new ship and he began once again trading with the West Indies, hoping to repay the debts and to be able to support his wife and ten children. One of the children, a boy of six, was described in the newspaper as being ‘an idiot’, the general description at the time for any form of mental handicap. This child was said to be ‘quite incapable of taking the least care of himself’.

Then disaster struck again. The captain fell ‘victim to the fever at Jamaica’ and died. Those familiar with the dangers of yellow fever, malaria, smallpox, dysentery and the like at the time will know it is a sadly familiar story.

Step up Messers Godfree, Greensill, Harmer, Salter, Wilson and Wallis, all at various London addresses, who were advertised as being willing to authenticate the story and receive subscriptions on behalf of the poor widow and her children.

Calling for subscriptions in this way had been facilitated by the rise of a mass market press. Indeed the terrible hurricanes of the 1780s that destroyed plantations and caused huge loss of life in Jamaica, and the reaction to them back in England, had spawned what was probably the first ever mass campaign for donations in the face of a natural disaster.

Let us hope that the readers of the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser were as generous as those who had responded to the hurricanes and the people who now respond to appeals on social media to help those who have suffered loss and disaster. Sadly, since the widow is not named we will never know what happened to her and her many children, but I think there is a very good chance that she and they were able to avoid Christmas Day in the workhouse.

Invisible Black British History

1820-death-of-betty-harrison

Only relatively recently have many people in Britain become aware that the presence of black and mixed race people did not begin with the arrival of the Windrush in 1948. Indeed we also forget that the ship was called the Empire Windrush reflecting a heritage that was already on the wane.

Most people are still unaware of a black presence that goes back to Roman times and that increased in numbers during the eighteenth century. There are sometimes protests when a black or mixed race actor is cast in a historical drama by those who do not realise that this is an accurate portrayal of society at the time.

BBC Radio 4 is currently broadcasting a series of short talks on Britain’s Black Past and this reminded me of Betty Harrison, servant of the Lee family for nearly sixty years.

Had it not been for the note on a scrap of paper, shown above, I would never have known when she died or how old she was, let alone that she had married.

For those who have not read A Parcel of Ribbons I should explain that Betty Harrison travelled to England from Jamaica with the Lee family in 1771 and lived with them until her death in 1820. The entry for her burial at St Mary’s Barnes, alongside members of the Lee family who had been buried there since 1732, gave her age as 70 and her parish of residence as St Marylebone, but made no reference to her origins. Like many other black British residents her colour was invisible, and yet in the 1920s the family biographer Audrey Gamble referred to her as the Lee’s ‘black mammy’ and she was so much a part of the family as to merit burial with them rather than in London.

Elizabeth Harrison was born in Jamaica about 1750 and must have joined the Lee family at about the age of ten, probably as nursemaid to their eldest child Frances. It is impossible to be certain of her birth, but there is a baptism on 13 March 1758 in the parish of St Catherine for Thomas and Elizabeth, the children of Elizabeth Harrison a mulatto woman. There is no record of whether Betty was free or enslaved, but it seems probable that she was free.

The Lee children maintained an affectionate relationship with Betty all their lives, referring to her in their letters and bringing back presents for her from trips abroad. Robert Cooper Lee left her a life-time legacy of £20 a year, equivalent to an income of about £40,000 a year now (source: www.measuringworth.com). She had saved enough to be able to lend £30 to a Lee family member in 1804 so her circumstances were prosperous for a servant.

After the deaths of Robert Cooper Lee and his wife Priscilla their house in Bedford Square was sold and their children all set up separate homes. Betty Harrison stayed with Frances Lee who moved to Devonshire Street in Marylebone and it was probably there that Betty died in 1820.

The real mystery to me, and one I have yet to solve, is who was Mr William Pack, and when did Betty marry him? There was no mention of him in any of the Lee correspondence that I have seen and without the scrap of paper shown above (probably written by Frances Lee) I would never have known he existed.

Was he also a Lee servant? Were they married in England? When and where was he born and when did he die? And was he also of African origin? To date I have found none of the answers, but as more and more records come online I hope to one day.

Meanwhile a huge amount of work is now being done on the British people whose African origins have so far been invisible. You can read about Black British History Month here and if you are in London you can visit Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948. There are also many regional events taking place helping to raise awareness of history that should be better known.

 

 

 

 

New Slave Ownership and Estate records

 

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This is just a quick post about the new records available at the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website. Newly added to the existing records of the slave owners who received compensation at the time of abolition are records of 8000 of the estates they owned together with maps of Britain, Jamaica, Barbados and Grenada showing the location of the estates and of places in Britain associated with them. It is a work in progress but a hugely valuable resource.

Moreover tomorrow, 28 September 2016, will see the launch at UCL of the new Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at UCL. You can find more details of the event here. It is free to attend but booking is required.

A useful additional resource is the website on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

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!

8cEjrjqKi

 

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.

Sir Henry de la Beche resized 350

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.