New Book – The Female Infidel

 

 

Regular readers of this website will be familiar with its origins in the letters of the Lee family sent from Jamaica to England. This new book carries on their history to the next generation with the story of Fanny Dashwood who eloped with Matthew Allen Lee. When I found an extensive collection of her papers at the National Archives in Kew, I knew that her story deserved to be better known.

Born to great wealth, but illegitimate, she lost her much loved father Sir Francis Dashwood (he of the Hell-Fire Club) when a small child. Educated in France with princesses, aristocrats and the daughters of Thomas Jefferson, future President of America, she was forced to abandon the studies she loved and return to England at the outbreak of revolution.

Once there she became embroiled in a series of teenage scrapes involving young men, which culminated eventually in elopement, furious rows and separation. Several years later she was abducted and raped, forced to attend a trial that destroyed her reputation and failed to deliver justice. It led Thomas De Quincey to name her as the ‘Female Infidel’.

There are very modern echoes in her persecution by the media, vilification by cartoonists and sufferings at the hands of stalkers. Despite all this she continued her studies and published her Essay on Government, which might have had greater success had she not already achieved notoriety. She is now remembered, if at all, for all the wrong reasons.

History has not been kind to her. I hope this book will help to redress the balance.

Buy the book direct at the special 10% discount price.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Available in perfect bound paperback A5 384 pages with illustrations.

ISBN: 9780244724160

 

Also available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

Data privacy and GDPR

You may be aware that data privacy has been much in the news lately. Not only in relation to the mis-use of data gathered via Facebook, but also because on 25 May 2018 new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR for short) come into force across Europe and by extension across the world. You can read more about GDPR here.

If you subscribe to this website to receive notifications of new postings I receive your email address together with the IP address from which you subscribed and the date you confirmed your subscription. This information is used only to notify you of updates to the website.

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Thank you for your continuing interest in A Parcel of Ribbons.

Anne M Powers

30 April 2018

The Iniquities of Apprenticeship

If anyone was ever in any doubt about the iniquities of the Apprenticeship scheme that followed the apparent abolition of slavery in the British colonies this little book lays out in graphic detail just how much more dreadful things became for those who had been enslaved.

I say ‘apparent abolition’ because although no-one was now legally a slave, the apprenticeship scheme left the formerly enslaved suffering the worst of both worlds. They were still tied to their former owners and required to work for them, and they had lost what minimal legal protection they had previously had.

Nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than in the testimony of young James Williams, formerly enslaved at Penshurst in the parish of St Ann. With the connivance of a corrupt local law enforcement, his previous owners, a Mr Senior and his sister, inflicted terrible punishments on young James and many of his fellow former slaves. James was about eighteen when he gave his testimony in 1837 and his resilient character shines through it.

When first published in Great Britain it caused an outcry and helped in the final abolition of slavery in all its forms throughout the British colonies. In case any should doubt his account, it was backed up by testimony recorded by a formal Commission of Enquiry.

This little book, which is a gripping and horrifying read, was republished in 2014 by Dover publications, unabridged from the original edition of 1838. It is also available as an ebook from Dover and other sources.

Williams, James. (2015) A Narrative of Events: Since the 1st of August, 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Laborer in Jamaica. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc.

 

 

Robert Cooper Lee – The Lost Miniature

I owe a debt to Michael Hardy who kindly obtained this much better copy of the image of Robert Cooper Lee from the Christie’s sale catalogue of 27 March 1979.

When I call this a ‘lost’ miniature I am sure the owner knows they have it! and I hope they still know who it is – too often miniatures end up being described simply as ‘portrait of an unknown man’ (or woman).

The miniature sold for £60 in 1979. The sale description was:

ROBERT COOPER LEE, English School, circa 1780, facing left in blue coat, white waistcoat and cravat, powdered hair – oval, 2 5/8in. (66mm) high – gold frame, plaited hair panel within blue glass border (damaged)

Robert (1735-1794), son of Joseph and Frances Lee, married Priscilla, daughter of Dennis Kelly and Favell Bourke.

All of which is correct except that the mother of Priscilla Kelly was not Favell Bourke. If you’d like to know more, it’s all in the book!

I do wish the catalogue had said what colour his eyes were, and what colour the plaited hair was. Was it some of his own hair, or perhaps some of Priscilla’s?

It would be lovely to know who now has the miniature, and whether they have any idea of the family history that goes with it.

Family Trees undergoing revision

Some readers will be aware that I am currently studying for a post graduate Diploma in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies with the University of Strathclyde. I am hugely enjoying the course, but one of the things I have learned is the inadequacy of the way in which, in the past, I have recorded the sources of the information for the family trees I have posted on this website.

Pending being able to revise them and bring them up to an acceptable standard I have removed the links from here. Meanwhile if anyone has a specific query relating to any of the following families please feel free to get in touch and I will do my best to provide an answer.

Allen
Blankett
Dehany
Halhed
Herring
Kelly
Lee
Long
Rose
Ross
Scott
Serocold
Welch
Winde
Wynter

 

Anne M Powers
29 March 2017

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

 

slave-ship-resized-900

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

IMGP0189

 

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.