Monthly Archives: October 2011

William May – Vicar, moralist, a father bereft

The Chequer Inn at Ash in Kent, little changed since the time of William May

© Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

William May had rather sad life although he had a firm trust in divine Providence, and his own superior social background, which carried him through the most difficult of times. He came from Ash in Kent and studied at the University of Cambridge.  He was ordained by the Bishop of London on the 20th September 1719 and left for Jamaica on October 22nd spending thirty-two years as the vicar in charge of the parish of Kingston. It is possible that he had an uncle already in Jamaica as there is a marriage record for a William May and Margaret Rose who were married in Spanish town in 1670.

William found many of his parishioners a grave disappointment and he is probably best remembered for a much quoted letter that he wrote home to the Bishop of London soon after his arrival.

He didn’t think much of the quality of the early colonists, writing  “There is not six families who are well descended as gentlemen on the whole Island. . . And as for those Englishmen that came as mechanics hither, very young, and have now acquired good Estates in Sugar Plantations and Indigo, etc., of course they know no better than what maxims they learn in the Country. To be now short & plain, Your Lordship will see that they have no maxims of Church or State but what are absolutely anarchical.”

Church attendance did not feature much among the planter community who preferred to spend Sundays on their plantations or enjoying socialising. Even those who did attend often walked out early “any pragmatic fellow; an Officer or Justice, when he thinks fit, will go out of our churches before sermon is ended, to disturb our Congregation”.

Many colonists had relatively humble beginnings and he commented on the then Governor of Jamaica, Sir Nicholas Lawes, who had been apprenticed to a shopkeeper in Jamaica when he first arrived there – “there are people alive now, who remember that he went barefooted, & bare leg’d, with shoos on, as was the custom for most young shop-keepers & planters in those dayes.”

Colonel Rose he said had been a cooper by trade, Jonathan Gale had earned his living as a horse catcher and several prominent men were illiterate.

Of the Beckford family he had nothing at all good to say “Mr. Beckford’s brother, Tom, Colonel too, is a Libertine, and of the country principles, & has a great Estate. He has killed his man and so has his Brother Peter, but this makes neither a bit more Religious. He was a Councillor in Colonel Heywood’s time, and his graceless son was Governor of the Fort at Port Royal, a post worth £500 at least (Libs.) per annum. And so these Estated men govern the Island at this rate.”

Altogether young William May had found his parishioners a serious disappointment and an affront to his anti-Papist soul.

“Tavern-Keepers, Taylors, Carpenters, Joyners, are infallibly Colonels, Justices of Peace, as soon as they purchase Plantations, & our Printer, in his papers, styles them every man Esqrs, & Lt.-Collols, Honourable, prints Elegies on men who never were communicants with the Church in any part of her communion, & who liv’d & dyed keeping variety of women, as James, a sailor by breeding, but dy’d a rich merchant.
N.B.-The Papists everywhere are caressed, and those who are true Lovers of our Constitution dare not own it, or they must expect no honey in this country, but instead of it gall.”

You can read the full transcription of the letter in Caribbeana Volume 3 page 5.

William’s personal life was full of sadness.  He married the unusually named Smart Pennant, herself already a widow,  not long after his arrival, but she was killed on the 28th of August 1722 when a hurricane destroyed the house where she was in Kingston.

His second wife was Bathshua Vassall.  I love the name Bathshua which I had not heard of until I came across several of them in Jamaica at around this time.  It is a variation on the name Bathsheba and means ‘daughter of abundance’.  Bathshua Vassall fulfilled the promise of her name and with William May had eight children. Sadly five of them died young and two older sons died on sea voyages while travelling to America in the hope of recovering from illness. Only one son Rose Herring May lived to grow up and have children of his own.

Bathshua died in July 1746, but William lived to what was a good age for white colonists in Jamaica, dying in January 1754 at the age of 58. His health had been poor for some time and in 1748 he had petitioned his Bishop for the assistance of a curate as he was suffering from both gout and asthma.  Some years earlier William had hoped to return to England with his children for the sake of their education as he considered, probably with some truth, that there were no good schools in Jamaica.  He was offered a living in England in 1740 by Robert Hamilton but by the following year this had fallen through and he became resigned to remaining in Jamaica. He did however send his youngest son Rose to school at Eton which is where he was when William died.

The family monument in Kingston Cathedral is one of the more informative to have survived, and this transcription is taken from Monumental Inscriptions of the British West Indies compiled by J.H.  Lawrence-Archer and published in 1875.

HERE LIES INTERR’D YE BODY OF THE REVD. MR. WILLIAM MAY, BORN IN THE PARISH OF ASH IN KENT, YE 29th OF AUGUST, 1695. EDUCATED AT ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, IN CAMBRIDGE, COMMISSARY OF JAMAICA, AND 32 YEARS MINISTER OF THIS PARISH. HIS FIRST WIFE WAS SMART, YE DAUGHTER OF EDWARD AND ELIZTH. PENNANT, OF YE PARISH OF CLARENDON; HIS SECOND WIFE WAS BATHUSA,YE DAUGHTER OF FLORENTIUS AND ANN VASSALL, OF YE PARISH OF ST. ELIZABETH, WHO WAS BURIED IN SPANISH TOWN CHURCH BY YE GRAVE OF HER MOTHER ON YE 22 DAY OF JULY, 1746, BY WHOM HE HAD ISSUE SIX SONS AND TWO DAUGHTERS, FIVE OF WHICH ARE ENTERRED UNDER THIS STONE, VIZ. PETER,WILLIAM, ELIZABETH, GEORGE, AND ITHAMAR. TWO DIED AT SEA GOING TO BOSTON FOR YE RECOVERY OF THEIR HEALTH, VIZ. RICHARD, ON YE 28’th OF AUGUST, 1745, IN YE 21st YEAR OF HIS AGE, AND FLORENTIUS, YE 4th OF JUNE,1747, IN YE l6th YEAR OF HIS AGE. HIS SON, ROSE HERRING MAY, IS THE ONLY CHILD THAT SURVIVED HIM, WHO IT IS HOPED WILL INHERIT HIS FATHER’S VIRTUES, AS WELL AS HIS FORTUNE.

I’m not clear how large a fortune William left to his son Rose, but he did own property in Kingston and had a pen, or stock ranch, in the parish of Clarendon remembered today as the town of May Pen. Under his Will he freed his slaves James and Elizabeth and left them pensions of five pounds a year. It is likely that he also owned other slaves who worked on the pen.

Most of the clergy had yet to discover a conscience in relation to slavery.

Spanish Town Census 1754

 

Reproduced by kind permission of the East Sussex County Record Office ref: ESRO SAS/RF 20/7

 

Held at the East Sussex County Record Office at Lewes as part of the Jamaica papers of Fuller family of Rosehill in Brightling, is a copy of a census of Spanish Town, otherwise known by its Spanish name of St Jago de la Vega; its reference is ESRO SAS/RF 20/7.

In July and August 1754 Charles White undertook the task of surveying the whole of St Jago de la Vega in order to create a census of all the white population and the free Negroes and Mulattoes. The only persons excluded were those gentlemen who were occasional residents during the sitting of the Assembly and the law courts. White attested that he had taken

Particular Account of the Houses and the Annual Rents or Estimate of Rents of the said Houses in and belonging to the said Town and Suburbs of St Jago de la Vega and of the Number of people of free Condition in each Family by going thro the different Streets Lanes Allies and Places thereof and by calling at or enquiring concerning each respective and Distinct Tenement and concerning the Number of People in each Family and that the annexed Account is the most exact he could with his utmost diligence procure of the Number of houses and the Rents of them and of the Number of persons of free Condition that were in the said Town att the time he took the said Account, exclusive of Gentlemen who appear by the said Account to have Houses therein and who come there occasionally to attend the Service of the Country as Members of the Council and Assembly and Judges of the Suprem(sic) Court of Judicature.

In total he recorded 866 white people and 405 free Negroes and Mulattoes. Slaves were of course not included. He also recorded the rental value of each property, the names of the owner and the occupier and the occupation of the latter. Additional notes give us information about the owners, for example that they were normally resident in Kingston or owned a plantation in some other parish than St Catherine.

You can find the full transcription of the census here, but in the meantime here is a quick breakdown.

 

The occupations of the white residents are recorded as follows:

11 Attorneys, 5 Barristers and one councillor at law

2 Bakers, 2 Barbers, 2 Blacksmiths (one who was also a provision planter)

1 Bookbinder and 3 Bookkeepers

2 Bricklayers (one of whom was also a provision planter)

9 Carpenters, of whom one combined his work with being Coroner, farmer and provision planter

13 Clerks working in offices, for merchants or the courts and two of whom were also planters

1 Deputy Marshall, a Deputy Clerk of the Peace and a Dancing Master

2 Factors, a Fisherman and a Gardener

5 Gentlemen (one a planter and Justice of the Peace)

1 Housekeeper

20 Hucksters (who would have sold their wares on the street or from booths), one also a carpenter

2 Iron Mongers

1 Jew Butcher

8 keeping Lodgings

2 Mantua Makers

6 Merchants (one combining it with being a planter and farmer)

2 Midwives

2 Millwrights (one combining with being a provision and ginger planter)

1 Music Master and Organist (who had died between Charles White taking the census and writing it up)

John Venn the Parish priest who was also a planter

1 Penkeeper and a Peruke Maker

3 Physicians who were also planters; 4 physicians who were also surgeons (2 being provision planters); and 2 Surgeons

85 Planters, of whom one was Island Secretary, one a Member of the Assembly, one combined it with being butcher, one was clerk of the vestry and one a shopkeeper.

2 Provision Traders, a Retailer and a Riding Master

3 Sadlers

4 School Mistresses and 3 School Masters (one also a planter)

3 Seamstresses

3 Shoemakers, one a provision planter

23 shopkeepers, one resident in Kingston, one with a provision mountain and one a provision planter

1 reader to the Synagogue

3 Silver Smiths and a Surveyor

5 Tavernkeepers who variously combined it with being a silversmith, shoemaker, planter and pen keeper

4 Tailors (two of whom were also planters)

1 Upholder (i.e. upholsterer)

3 Watchmakers and a Wheelwright

11 households were made up of Orphans and there were 18 Widows

One man was Blind and 27 Properties were untenanted.

Three people in the survey of whites were recorded as being “free Mulattoes or Descendants from them admitted to the privileges of white people by Acts of the Legislature”. They were Mary Rose, her son Thomas Wynter, and Susan Hosier.

 

Of the free Negro and Mulatto inhabitants their occupations included:

4 Bricklayers

17 Carpenters (including 4 planters and one who was also a cooper), 1 cooper, 1 Sawyer,

1 Coachman, 1 Fisherman, 1 Hawker and 1 keeping Lodgings

2 Doctors, 1 Midwife, 1 Nurse (who was also a provision planter)

1 Cook and 3 Pastry cooks

1 Planter

4 Poulterers,

1 Mantua Maker, 29 Seamstresses and 9 Tailors

1 Schoolmistress, 1 Servant

4 Washers

2 Wheelwrights

4 Widows, 2 Orphans , and 19 persons for whom no occupation is recorded.

64 of the total proprietors in this group are women and 50 are men, but a few appear to be duplicates, with the same or a very similar name owning more than one property. This may reduce the total to 60 women and 45 men.

 

 


False teeth, slavery and propaganda

The eighteenth century false teeth of Archbishop Dillon

 

On the 29th October 1794 the good folk of Derbyshire could read news of the international situation in the pages of the Derby Mercury. They were also warned of forgeries of Bank of England £10 and £20 notes found to be in circulation – amounts no doubt well beyond the dreams of many of the paper’s readers. They could peruse advertisements for an “Infallible ointment for the itch” (probably scabies); consider the virtues of the Elixir of Bordana for gout and rheumatism at three shillings a bottle, or discover where to purchase Balsam of Honey effective for coughs, consumption etc.

Tucked among these homely items was one of the more shocking stories of the evils of slavery.

A planter’s wife was walking on the quayside observing a newly arrived shipload of slaves from Africa when she noticed a young woman with a particularly good set of white teeth. As her own front teeth were rotten, doubtless from over consumption of the sugar that had made her family rich, she enquired whether the young woman’s teeth could be implanted in her own gums. On being told they could, she had the young woman seized. The terrified girl found her teeth being forcibly removed despite her screams and struggles and they were given to the planter’s wife.

History did not of course record the sequel. After the immediate pain and trauma the poor victim was now forced to go through life with her looks ruined and her ability to eat whatever meagre food she was given impaired. Her value as a slave was diminished and she was probably condemned to work as a field slave rather than as a more prestigious house slave.

And the planter’s wife – did her implants work? Almost certainly not, though they might have been made into a set of false teeth for show.

There was experimental work in dentistry being done in the late eighteenth century, for example by John Hunter in London. The forced migration of French dentists escaping the terror of the French Revolution changed dentistry in both England and America and the technology of false teeth was improving from the wooden or ivory sets (which tended to rot) which were mainly for show and were removed at mealtimes, to porcelain sets with gold springs  such as those of Archbishop Dillon pictured above, that could actually be used for eating. Improvements in dentistry and dental technology in the nineteenth century followed on the heels of the damage done to teeth by the mass availability of sugar and refined carbohydrates.

There is one other thing to consider about this story in the Derby Mercury, in which no details of names or places were given, for it was part of the propaganda war being waged against the cruelties of slavery. Did it actually happen?

Sadly however, propaganda or not, it is all too likely to have been true.

 

 

Mary Rose – a colonial snob


Georgian houses in Charterhouse Square London

reproduced by kind permission of the London Photo Project

 

Mary Rose is one of my Jamaican favourites, not because I can say she was a particularly good or nice person but because she was a much married survivor. She was also more than a bit of a snob.

The Rose family came from Mickelton in Gloucestershire. Mary’s father John Rose was a merchant, based in London, who traded with Jamaica and made some of his money by transporting convicts captured after the 1685 Monmouth rebellion.

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.
The men whose names are contained in the within written list, as
shipt upon the account of John Rose and Company, on board the
Jamaica Merchant, to be landed and disposed of in Barbados or
Jamaica.

Born in the City of London on the 17th of May 1681, she was baptised on the 29th of  May at the church of All Hallows Barking by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London. She was the fifth of fourteen children born between 1676 and 1694. Her uncle Dr Fulke Rose had gone to Jamaica around 1670 and his brothers Thomas and Francis joined him there. So Mary already had family in Jamaica when she went there in her early teens.

On the 18th of  December 1697 aged sixteen, Mary married Thomas Hals (or Halse) in Spanish Town. Thomas was the great grandson of Sir Nicholas Halse of Cornwall, England and was heir to the Halse Hall estate in the parish of Clarendon. It was a sad fact of life in Jamaica that marriages were frequently cut short by the death of one partner, and on 24 Aug 1702 Thomas Halse died barely six months after his father, and was buried at Halse Hall. He left behind him one son, also called Thomas, and a rich widow.

Rich young widows in Jamaica did not long remain unmarried and within three months Mary had married again, this time to John Sadler whose father Charles Sadler was prominent in island politics. Mary and John had at least three children – Mary baptised in 1705, John Charles baptised in 1709 and Francis baptised in 1711.

In the early years of the eighteenth century Mary was joined in Jamaica by two of her sisters – Elizabeth who married Samuel Heming and Frances who married Dr John Charnock – he and their two young daughters died in Jamaica and Frances returned to England. Elizabeth left at least three children – Richard, Mary and Samuel – who lived to grow up. Mary also had several cousins in Jamaica, William the son of her uncle Thomas (who had died in 1679) and the family of her uncle Francis who lived until 1720.

Mary was luckier in the length of her second marriage which lasted over a quarter of a century. John Sadler, who like his father  took an active part in island politics, was a Member of the Assembly for Clarendon in 1704, 06 and 09,  St. Ann in 1707 and  St. John 1711. He was later also a Member of the island Council. Although it seems likely her children Mary and John died young, her son Francis went on to play a particularly dramatic part in island history – of which more another time.

After the death of John Sadler Mary returned to England where she was now the only surviving child of her mother Elizabeth. Captain John Rose her father had died in 1703 and was buried at All Hallows Staining in London. Her sister Martha who had married Jamaica merchant and agent John Serocold had died in childbirth in February 1716/17.

For a time Mary went to live with her mother who by now was in her seventies, but on the 12th of February 1731/32 at St Dunstan and All Saints she married for a third time as the fifth wife of John Styleman an East India merchant who was by then aged about eighty-two. When Mary was a small child and her siblings were baptised at All Hallows Staining there was a Styleman family in that parish and it is possible that the families had known each other for half a century. John Styleman had spent three decades in India, married there and buried his first wife and five children there before returning to England in the first decade of the eighteenth century to marry three more wives before Mary.

John Styleman died in 1734 and Mary lived out her life in his house in Charterhouse Square in London. She died about May 1750 and opted to be buried with her last husband and three of his wives at Bexley in Kent where he had built almshouses that still exist today. You can read Mary’s Will here. It makes fascinating reading being full of very specific instructions such as leaving the marble fireplaces in the garrets of the house in situ!

Sadly I don’t know exactly which house in Charterhouse Square she lived in, though it could have been one of the ones pictured, and I have no idea where the two portraits of herself and John Styleman now are, if indeed they still exist.

And the reason I called her a snob? In her Will she left her silver plate and jewels to her son Francis but specifically requested him not to use them in Jamaica, and in respect of her other household goods  “I likewise earnestly desire and request that he will not use them at Spanish Town which place is my Aversion for a Planter to live in” .