Yearly Archives: 2013

Jamaican Christmas & John Canoe

 

 

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Christmas in Jamaica before emancipation was one of the few periods in the year when slaves were able to enjoy themselves, free for a brief period from work. If they were lucky they received extra rations of food and possibly cloth or clothing for the coming year, as was the custom for servants in England.

There were John Canoe processions, (variously written as Johnny Canoe, Junkanoo and Koo Koo, possibly from the French l’inconnu – the unknown- or perhaps of West African derivation) which are the origins of the modern carnival. The two pictures shown here, painted by the artist Belisario and published in 1837, represent the actors who were competing for their costume and group of friends to be picked to lead the festivities. By this time the costumes were more elaborate, and less fearsome, than those described half a century earlier by Edward Long.

Long, whose History of Jamaica was published in 1774, wrote that

In the towns, during Christmas holidays, they have several tall robust fellows dressed up in grotesque habits, and a pair of ox-horns on their head, sprouting from the top of a horrid sort of vizor, or mask, which about the mouth is rendered very terrific with large boar tusks. The masquerader, carrying a wooden sword in his hand, is followed with a numerous crowd of drunken women, who refresh him frequently with a sup of aniseed water, whilst he dances at every door, bellowing out John Connu! with great vehemence…this dance is probably an honourable memorial of John Conny, a celebrated cabocero at Tres Puntas, in Axim, on the Guiney coast; who flourished about the year 1720.

 

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There were also more local celebrations. On Christmas Eve 1812 the Moravian missionary John Becker wrote, Scarcely was our worship closed, before the heathen negroes on the estate began to beat their drums, to dance, and to sing, in a most outrageous manner. The noise lasted all night, and prevented us from falling asleep.

The following day he wrote: After breakfast, I went down and begged the negroes to desist, but their answer was:’What, Massa, are we not to dance and make merry at Christmas. We always did so. ‘ I represented to them that this was not the way to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. and expressed my surprise, that having heard the word of God for so many years, they still continued their heathenish customs. But all I could say was in vain… (quoted in Braithwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, pp.227-8).

In England, since medieval times, masters had allowed their servants licence over the Christmas period to let off steam.There can be little doubt that the Christmas festivities for the slaves in Jamaica performed a similar function – the one time in the year when they were free to enjoy themselves as they chose, to sing and dance and eat, and for a brief period perhaps forget their situation.

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For those of you spending part of your Christmas holiday on family history research, you may like to know that the invaluable Jamaican Family Search website is now entirely free to use. Patricia Jackson, who set up the site fourteen years ago had always hoped to be able to make it free. Recently she wrote, “Those who have paid subscriptions in the past enabled me to purchase microfilms, microfiche, electronic images, or photocopies of documents and registers, not only from Jamaica but from archives or libraries in England and the United States. I spent thousands of hours transcribing information from them to put on the site, often working up to 50 hours a week (so much for a part-time job!).” If you have not already discovered her site I can warmly recommend it.

Also free and with many useful articles and website lists is Genealogy In Time Magazine. This site helps to fund itself by receiving small fees from Amazon if you click through from the links on their home page to purchase something on any one of the main Amazon sites. A recent article addresses the question of just how popular is genealogy and examines the statistics comparing internet traffic to the most popular sites and distinguishing between the occasional researcher and those of us who become obsessive!

However you choose to spend the Christmas period, may I thank all of you who have been in touch or have bought my book, and wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

 

Snails and Serendipity

Snail Milk Water

 

So much of extending my historical knowledge has depended on serendipity.

This week I was in London for a meeting and hoping to be able to visit the Tate afterwards. However the meeting over-ran and, because it was closer to St Pancras where I catch my train, I went instead to the Georgians Revealed Exhibition at the British Library. It is full of fascinating images and objects demonstrating the way in which the Georgians shaped modern Britain. One of the highlights for me was the huge map of Georgian London making up the floor of the final room of the exhibition. I can spend hours looking at maps – and often do!

Afterwards I browsed through the books and souvenir objects for sale, which included among the usual mugs and posters a complete high head white wig for those wishing to dress the part! And among the books I came across a small volume that looked interesting, containing Georgian household cures and remedies.

And here I discovered a Jamaican connection, for the original book had come down through the Biscoe and Tyndale-Biscoe families to its present custodian Nicola Lillie. Some readers may remember the story I told not long after starting this website of the court case involving Joseph Biscoe and his runaway wife Susanna.

Joseph Biscoe’s aunt by marriage, Elizabeth Ambler (Mrs Elisha Biscoe) was the original owner of the ‘Physick Book’ in which she, her friends and later generations recorded their recipes for various potions for easing or curing everything from the bite of a mad dog to fits, bladder stones, gout, coughs and indigestion. Marilyn Yurdan worked with the author to provide the medical historical background, and although some recipes would be fairly easy to make now, it really is a case of ‘Don’t try this at home’ when you encounter Nurse Payne’s Receipt for a Sore Throat in the Small Pox containing rock alum and white dog turd! Given that as little as one ounce of alum can kill an adult (not to mention the dog turd), this is not one to copy.

Nor are we likely to want to make use of woodlice, earthworms and snails, all of which were favourite eighteenth century ingredients.

More benign is a recipe to make Lavender Water by simmering lavender flowers in cider; and a Tincture for Gout and Colick in Stomach was made using raisins, rhubarb, senna, coriander, fennel, cochineal, saffron and liquorish infused in brandy. My guess is that the rhubarb and senna would have made it effective for constipation if not for gout. Increased prosperity in the eighteenth century leading to a diet rich in red meat and other high protein items such as turtle, taken together with rich red wines, made gout the classic Georgian complaint.

Besides reproducing the recipes, the book explains what the various ingredients were – how many of us now would recognise Burgundy Pitch, mithridate or Balsam of Tolu? even if we could safely identify coltsfoot, ox-eye daisies or camomile. To take us through these forgotten ingredients each recipe has its own glossary and an explanation of its intended use or the problem it was intended to ease.

It is also a beautifully produced little book with a short, illustrated history of the Ambler Biscoe family and woodcut illustrations of the various herbs and other ingredients.

Although the eighteenth century family name was Biscoe, in the mid-nineteenth century it became Tyndale-Biscoe (after the Biscoe name had been lost for a time through a female line of descent) and some readers may know the lovely Historic Jamaica from the Air by David Buisseret, in which the photographs were taken by Jack Tyndale-Biscoe.

There is a large bequest of papers, maps, documents and photographs relating to Jamaica made by Jack Tyndale-Biscoe and his wife in the Jamaica Archives in Spanish Town – you can read the details of what was donated in Kenneth E. Ingram’s University of the West Indies publication Manuscript Sources for the West Indies. The collection also includes genealogical information on the Morrison, Duff and Dallas families of Jamaica and the Branch and deFreitas families of St Lucia.

In addition to their connection with Jamaica, the eighteenth century Biscoe family also owned plantations on St Kitts. There are records for the slave ownership of Stephana and William Biscoe (widow and son of Joseph Biscoe) in Jamaica on the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website.

Not for the first time I have been impressed by just how intertwined was the history of Jamaica with the huge changes that went on throughout the eighteenth century.

Lavender Water & Snail Syrup: Miss Ambler’s Household Book of Georgian Cures and Remedies, Nicola Lille & Marilyn Yurdan with illustrations by Laura Lillie, The History Press, Stroud, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7524-8995-7

A Year in Jamaica – Book Review

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For anyone with an interest in Jamaica and its history this enchanting memoir is a must read, and a great Christmas present.

Diana Lewes was the pen name of Elizabeth Anesta Sewell whose grandfather William Sewell went to Jamaica shortly after the abolition of slavery, and profiting from the general view that Abolition had ruined the plantations, bought up a number of estates including some that had belonged to the family of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. William’s partner married his daughter but died childless so that the legacy William had to leave at his death was a very valuable one. However, knowing that his son Henry was a spendthrift, William left his estate in trust to his five grandchildren, of whom ‘Diana’ was one.

In 1889 sixteen year old Diana, her older sister Beattie and their parents went out to Jamaica to live on Arcadia, while their brother Philip was sent to learn the business on the Oxford estate. The memoir, written over a period of years, has some fictionalised elements, partly perhaps to conceal the fact that Diana’s father embezzled part of his children’s inheritance. In the book this crime is committed by the attorney, which certainly fits with much of Jamaica’s history of dishonest estate management.

The year Diana spent in Jamaica was one not only of learning about a new country and its customs, but also one of growing up, of attending parties and of being forced by her father to promise never to marry. Her descriptions of a sugar estate in the late nineteenth century differ from the eighteenth mainly in the increased use of machinery and the relative freedom of the black workers. We are left in no doubt however about the different standing of various white neighbours, the black house servants, who wear white, and the other workers who still wear mainly the osnaburg of their slave ancestors.

She describes the house on the Oxford estate.  “Like many of the old fashioned Jamaican houses, it was built a storey above ground. Underneath were storerooms and servants’ sleeping quarters. Above these, approached only by two flights of steps, was the main part of the building and, crwning all, was a wide sloping hurricane roof.” At Oxford Diana learned that it was important to know the working cattle by name to ensure that none was worked two days running, “no steer, fed as these are, can stand being worked every day”. Diana learned to recognise all her brother’s cattle and on one occasion spotted one that had been out the previous day. The other drivers shouted with laughter that their colleague had been caught out by a young white girl.

On another occasion Diana was asked to count the canes in the cane bundles, as some workers would try to cheat by having too few in each bundle. She picked a bundle made up by Alexandra, a black woman who Diana comes to realise is the attorney’s mistress, and her intuition is proved right when the bundle is short. The ambiguities and nuances of post slavery, colonial Jamaica are very clearly brought out in descriptions of entertainments, riding parties and an encounter with a family of poor whites who have been evicted from their property.

There are moments of high drama too when they are riding back from a neighbouring property and are charged by a herd of cattle, or when the cattle are being counted and two huge bulls start to fight while Diana is trapped and only rescued by the black overseer. There is the night Diana spends alone with a large bag containing the estate money wondering if she will be attacked and murdered for it.

There are descriptions of lavish meals, melon, turtle, turtles eggs, yam, sweet potatoes, cho-chos, peahen, fried plantain, avocado pears and coconut pudding, but an underlying sense of the struggle Diana’s mother faces to maintain a style of life she had known as a young bride a quarter of a century earlier. When a careless servant spills water on the highly polished mahogany floor, she is equally careless about mopping it up, and there is the strong sense of a colonial way of life slipping away.

There are wonderful descriptions of the Jamaican landscape and vivid character sketches of the people who lived there. It is no wonder that when Diana’s nephew discovered the manuscripts of her memoirs after her death that he wanted to be able to publish them.

They richly deserve to find a wider audience and to stand alongside Lady Nugent’s earlier descriptions of Jamaica which convey the impressions of a sympathetic outsider and help the reader to understand how Jamaica has evolved.

 

A Year in Jamaica: Memoirs of a Girl in Arcadia in 1889, Diana Lewes, Eland Publishing Ltd, London, 2013. ISBN 978 1 906011 83 3 cover price £16.99

Sugar loaves and coal scuttles

 

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Coal boats loading at North Shields c.1795 – J M W Turner  (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

It’s that time of year when preserving garden produce for the winter is on my mind. It’s been a fantastic year for fruit in the UK and there is a glut of apples and pears, we’ve had a huge crop of blackberries and the wild rowan trees are covered in berries.

Checking the cupboard for sugar to make crab apple and blackberry jelly I found some left from last year that had hardened in the packet and that made me think of the labour involved in preparing sugar for use in the eighteenth century. Once the cane was cut and the juice boiled and crystalised most was packed into barrels for transport to Europe and further processing there. Only a small amount was ‘clayed’, further refined into white sugar loaves, in Jamaica. This was to protect the interests of the sugar bakers in Britain.

Either way the sugar bought by the eighteenth century housewife came in hard loaves from which the sugar had to be rasped or broken off and then pounded to the consistency required. Imagine taking a bag of modern sugar crystals and pounding it down to produce your own icing sugar and you will get an idea of the sheer physical labour involved and the time it took.

Then remember that to cook using your sugar you would have to light and tend your kitchen fire. By the eighteenth century London was dependent on imported coal as the medieval forests that once covered the country had been cut down for domestic fuel and for early industry. You would have ordered your coal using the old measure of a ‘chaldron of coals’, an amount which could vary from about 2000 pounds weight upwards. A London chaldron was defined as “36 bushels heaped up, each bushel to contain a Winchester bushel and one quart, and to be 1912 inches in diameter” (source:Wikipedia). The weight of this was about 3136 pounds so it was no wonder that a limit was put on the amount that could be drawn in one wagon – incidentally to protect the road from excessive wear rather than the horses from exhaustion!

When the coal was delivered to your house you would have to inspect it to make sure the merchant was not cheating you by including poor quality coal, wet coal or a load full of small dust called ‘slack’. It would be shovelled by hand from the wagon into your cellar or shed and from there you or your servants would have to scoop it up into the coal scuttles for use in kitchen and living rooms. Little wonder that only the well to do had fires in their bedrooms in even the coldest of weather.

Everything that happened in the eighteenth century household involved physical labour on the part of the householder or the servants. Preparing meals meant walking to market for the ingredients, scrubbing and preparing the vegetables, plucking the poultry, rendering your own fat from pork or beef to produce dripping, beating the eggs and ingredients for cakes (my grandmother beat fat and sugar for an eggless sponge by hand – that is using her own hand not a beater, the beating took up to half an hour but she made a superbly light sponge!). Even so simple an act as writing a letter might still involve mixing your own ink, and would require you to cut your own quills – paper you could at least buy ready made.

Leaving aside the digital revolution, think of any task you now undertake and then take yourself back to a time when there was no electricity, and virtually no machinery to assist. You could buy the cloth and thread for your clothes, but you or someone else would have to make the pattern, cut the cloth and sew them by hand. When they got dirty they would have to be washed by hand using soap you made yourself, although in London the air was now so filled with soot that those who could afford it sent their linen out of town to washer women in the outlying villages. If the weather was cold the water might freeze in the pump and in any case it would all have to be carried by hand to where it was needed.

In eighteenth century Jamaica the source of cheap labour that made all this possible was of course enslaved, while London and the growing cities such as Manchester and Birmingham were sucking in labour from the surrounding countryside. The nineteenth century would see a huge change with a move from human to machine power and a gradual increase in the cost of labour, with a corresponding decrease in the relative cost of machine power. We are much closer to this nineteenth century world than we are to that of the eighteenth.

So next time you put sugar in your coffee, boil a kettle, load the washing machine, cut the lawn or drive to the supermarket to load up with ready prepared goods, just pause for a moment and imagine having to do all these tasks the eighteenth century way.

The Jamaican Diaspora

 

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British settlers landing at the Cape Colony

 

There was of course a huge Jamaican diaspora in the second half of the twentieth century. After the second World War the Windrush generation left the Caribbean in large numbers to work in Britain, in the USA and Canada. Many ended up remaining and making new homes rather than returning.

However, there is a sense in which there has always been a Jamaican diaspora, if it is defined as people born in Jamaica leaving for what was perceived as a better life elsewhere.

I was reminded of this when I came across the name Hercules Ross this week. I have written briefly before about the family of Hercules Ross of Rossie, who made his fortune in Jamaica as a merchant and who had two families. Like so many young white men, while in Jamaica he had a stable relationship outside marriage with a mixed race woman, Elizabeth Foord, with whom he had seven children five of whom survived to adulthood.

Ross, who was one of thirteen children of an impoverished excise man, went to Jamaica about 1760 to work as a naval clerk, became owner of a general merchant’s store and two trading sloops, captain of militia, ADC to a Major General, JP for Kingston and was owner of the 200 acre Bushy Park estate. The young Horatio Nelson was nursed back to health from a fever at Bushy Park. During the War with America from 1775 Ross became Prize Agent for Jamaica taking a cut of the prize money for captured vessels, and running his own privateers. He left Jamaica in 1782 and bought the Rossie estate in Scotland in 1785 for £33,250. Like a number of such men he then married. Harriet Parish was the daughter of a wealthy Scots Hamburg merchant and they had four legitimate children.

However he provided well for his three Jamaican sons and two daughters who came to Britain with him. The daughters became school teachers and his sons had positions in the East India Company. Best known was Daniel Ross, who was one of the two or three greatest hydrographic surveyors of the 19th century and has been called ‘the father of the Indian surveys’. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1822. He died in Bombay, and his obituary was published in the Straits Times dated 18 December 1849.

Of his brother David nothing seems to be known, and it is a common name which makes him harder to trace. Their brother Hercules Ross is believed to have been murdered by pirates, along with his wife, in the East Indies in 1810.

What prompted me to write this piece was encountering a reference to a young Hercules Ross who was Secretary to General Craig in the Cape Colony, on the very respectable salary of £1500 a year, in about 1798. He was referred to by Lady Anne Barnard in one of her letters to Henry Dundas, later Lord Melville, written between 1797 and 1801 and published in book form a century later. It is not certain that he was the same Hercules Ross as the son of Elizabeth Foord, but it is quite likely.

As the nineteeth century began the British Empire was expanding rapidly. No longer did young men seek their fortunes planting sugar in Jamaica, but their descendants, particularly their mixed race sons, often looked to the newly expanding colonies to make their fortunes. Parental influence could get them a place in the East India Company or the Indian Army, or a place in the colonial civil service. Moreover it may be that for those whose mixed race was more obvious it was easier to make a name abroad than at home.

And so a generation born in Jamaica spread out across the world in the first wave of the Jamaican diaspora.

 

Education at Home and Abroad

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 Jan Steen (1625/1626–1679)  via Wikimedia Commons

Much has been written about the failure of Jamaica to establish a self-sufficient and expanding white colony during the eighteenth century by comparison with the success of the rest of the North American colonies. The appalling death rates from yellow fever, malaria, smallpox and other diseases meant that it was difficult for those young men (and it was mainly men) who arrived seeking to make their fortunes to get a permanent toe hold. Even if they survived long enough to marry, and there were too few white women available for them all, their children also died in great numbers.

However there is another reason why those colonist families that did begin to become established did not remain on the island, which has perhaps received less attention than it deserves. Jamaica failed to establish a really good education system and did not found a university.

This meant that the colonists sent their children back home not just for their health, but to be educated, and once there, experiencing the wider world of eighteenth century Europe, and with the apparently limitless resources provided by the parental plantations at their disposal, they lacked the incentive to return to Jamaica. Many preferred to buy their way into the landed upper middle classes, build grand houses, and participate in Jamaican interests at a distance through the West India lobby or involvement in the building of the West India Docks.

Elsewhere in North America Harvard University was begun in 1636, William and Mary College in 1693 and Yale University in 1701, but there was no parallel development in Jamaica.

There were some early attempts to establish schooling on the island. In 1695 An Act for erecting and establishing a free-school in the Parish of St Andrew was passed, along with other Acts relating to island defence. Subsequent Acts of the Assembly were more concerned with ensuring the rights of minors, defending the island, building roads and bridges, and trying to encourage further white migration than with educating those who were already there. The incentive to provide schools for their own children was also reduced among families for whom the employment of a private tutor (if you could persuade one to come) was the norm.

When William May arrived in Jamaica as a young clergyman, he wrote home to his bishop in far from flattering terms about the early colonists, and in the case of Jonathan Gale and his son Colonel Gale he marked them both as ‘illiterate’, as he said was the father of John and Samuel Moore. There were some Jamaican schoolmasters mentioned by William May – the fathers of both Colonel Peak and Colonel Sadler were said by May to have been teachers, but their sons preferred to make money from their plantations rather than seek an academic career.

You can find the full text of May’s letter in Caribbeana – he clearly had a very poor opinion of his parishioners! But many of the very early settlers probably had little use for more than basic literacy, being concerned to carve out their estates from virgin territory. On the other hand the merchants who imported the goods they needed and who traded their produce for them had to be well enough educated to keep good records, as did the attorneys who managed their legal affairs. But like so much of their food, tools and luxury goods these skills were generally imported by the settlers rather than being home grown.

On the 3rd of February, 1730, Peter Beckford, another man of whom William May held a low opinion, and who died five years later worth over £300,000, gave £2000 “for a school and poor housekeepers”. However, there appears to have been was no real concerted effort to establish good quality schools during the eighteenth century and it became the norm for children, both boys and girls, to be sent to England for their education. The two Moore brothers mentioned above matriculated at Wadham College Oxford in 1700 and 1702, with Samuel going on to register at the Inner Temple.

Both John and Samuel Moore returned to Jamaica after their time at university, but as the century progressed it became more and more common for those who had made their fortunes in Jamaica to relocate to Britain and seek a place in British society. If Jamaica had had good schools and a centre of learning sufficient to attract students from elsewhere in the Caribbean, it is possible more young men would have remained on the island.

 

 

Some things in life are free

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Example from the register of St Catherine’s parish taken from FamilySearch.org, showing the baptism of a daughter to John Lee (brother of Robert Cooper Lee) and Mary Lord. It also shows the baptism of a legitimate child, the ‘bastard’ son of Robert Taylor, records the ‘mulatto’ status of the Clifford children and shows two adult baptisms.

One of the wonderful things about genealogical research is the willingness of so many people to share what they know, to help you find records you are looking for, and to make information available to everyone without charge. There are volunteers working all over the world to read and transcribe vital records, and other material, and to put it on-line.

Assuming you have access to a computer (or you would not be reading this!) you have a vast volume of information to draw on that could not have been imagined by our predecessors who had to work by visiting their local parish church, writing to the vicar of a parish they thought their ancestor might have come from, or requesting documents from their local county record office in the hope that they would find something useful. All these avenues are still available, and are often very useful, but working from home, or in your local library (which may also have a subscription to some of the paid genealogy sites such as Ancestry) there are many records available to you for free.

The first site I ever used, and one of the very first to put records onto the internet, was familysearch.org . To quote from them directly:

FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years.

The site has recently had a makeover and increasingly hosts a much wider variety of records than the baptisms and marriages of the original IGI (International Genealogical Index). In addition to transcribed indexes they now also include images from parish registers, and burials and census records are gradually being added. For Jamaica’s early parish registers, baptisms are now indexed but for the present to access older marriages and burials you must still use the images of the original handwritten indexes and then find the corresponding register page.

Transcribing Jamaican records presents particular problems, not just of difficult handwriting, but because of the complex state of relationships and colour status so it is always worth trying different combinations of parent names and different spellings. Apart from those who had no choice in coming to Jamaica from Africa, there were many arrivals from other parts of the world and as IGI widens its geographic spread you may now be able to find your ancestors who came from places other than Great Britain. You may also find ancestors who left Jamaica for the USA, Canada and other countries.

Recently completed indexing projects that will shortly be available on line include the following:

  • Italia (Antenati Italiani), Bergamo—Nati, 1875-1894 [Part 2C]
  • U.S.—1900 Census
  • Magyarország, Szabolcs—polgári anyakönyvi adatok, 1895–1978 [3. Rész]
  • U.S. (Community Project), New York—New York Passenger Lists, 1942–1957 [Part J]
  • Belgium, Limburg, Lommel—Civil Registration, 1891–1910 [Part 2]
  • U.S. (Community Project), New York, New York—Passenger Lists, 1942–1957 [Part F]
  • Italia (Antenati Italiani), Cremona—Nati, 1875–1902 [Part 2B]
  • U.S. (Community Project), Illinois—Northern District Naturalization Index, 1926–1979 [Part D]
  • U.S. (Community Project), Illinois—Northern District Naturalization Index, 1926–1979 [Part C]
  • U.S., Virginia, Richmond—Birth Index, 1870–1912
  • U.S., Florida—County Marriages, 1830–1957 [Part D]
  • U.S., Massachusetts, Plymouth County–Probate Index, 1881–1939
  • Sverige, Stockholm stad—Register til kyrkoböcker, 1546–1927
  • Italia (Antenati Italiani), Udine—Nati, 1875–1901 [Parte 2B]
  • Russland, Sankt Petersburg—Kirchenbuchduplikat, 1833–1885 [Teil A]
  • U.S., Georgia—Deaths, 1931–1940 [Part A]
  • Canada, New Brunswick—Provincial Marriages, 1789–1950 [Part A]
  • U.S., Georgia—Deaths, 1931–1940 [Part B]
  • Brasil, Rio de Janeiro—Cartões de Imigração, 1900–1965 [Parte 3DD]
  • Jamaica—Civil Marriages and Deaths, 1871–1995 [Part B]
  • U.S. (Community Project), Illinois—Northern District Naturalization Index, 1926–1979 [Part A]
  • U.S. (Community Project), Rhode Island—Naturalization Index of the District Courts, 1906–1991
  • U.S., Tennessee—Deaths, 1956–1961
  • U.S., California—County Marriages 1850–1952 [Part D]
  • El Salvador—Registros Civiles 1836–1910 [Part B]
  • U.S., Kentucky—Death Certificates, 1956–1961
  • Brasil, Rio de Janeiro—Cartões de Imigração, 1900–1965 [Parte 3EE]
  • U.S. (Community Project), Connecticut—Naturalization Indexes from the District Court, 1851–1992
  • U.S. (Community Project), New York—Passenger Lists, 1942–1957 [Part K]
  • U.S.—Applications for Headstones for Veterans, 1941–1949
  • Italia (Antenati Italiani), Bergamo—Nati, 1875-1894 [Part 2B]
  • México, Coahuila, Matamoros y Torreón registros Iglesia Católica, 1870-1966
  • Deutschland, Mecklenburg-Schwerin—1867 Volkszählung [Teil C]
  • U.S., Alabama—County Marriages, 1809–1950 [Part D]
  • Nederland, Zuid-Holland, Leiden—Burgelijke Stand, Geboorten, 1870–1882
  • U.S., Arkansas—WWII , First Draft Registration Cards, 1940–1945 [Part C]
  • Danmark—Borgerlige Ægteskabsbøger, 1923–1961

Good hunting!

Postal services then and now

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Mail Coach in a Drift of Snow by James Pollard

Much of the last month has been spent on research for my next project, a biography only obliquely related to Jamaica. It included a week spent at the wonderful National Archives at Kew doing research the old fashioned way by handling actual documents. Even then modern technology comes to our aid, and I and most others there were using pocket digital cameras to photograph documents rather than having to sit and make laborious, detailed notes and transcriptions. Moreover having got the images home I can blow up difficult to read handwriting in a way that you can’t with the real thing.

So much has changed for historical research in a digital age with huge commercial genealogical websites, the pioneering IGI (now given a facelift and including lots of new data) and even local county record offices are putting much of their material on-line saving the researcher in time and travel costs, not to mention the ease with which material can be found when it has been indexed on computer.

Nevertheless sometimes one has to rely on the postal services either to receive photocopied material, or as several weeks ago, to pay by dollar cheque for material sent from an American University. They were kind enough to send the material first and invoice afterwards. Because they had no facility for paying on-line, I then had to visit my local bank and obtain a dollar cheque (for which they charged an arm and a leg!) which I then posted by registered airmail.

Here the saga began since six weeks later it has still not arrived and I have had to arrange a wired payment instead and now wait to hear if the Post Office will refund the value of the missing cheque, plus bank charges and postal costs.

It made me think once more how impressive in fact were the eighteenth century postal services. On a fast passage by packet boat letters from London might reach Jamaica in the time it has taken for my letter to fail to arrive in America! Moreover, many of the papers I have been looking at in the National Archives are letters sent within England which are dated and have a postmark demonstrating that they arrived just as quickly as a modern letter – and sometimes faster!

From the mid-eighteenth century houses in most British towns began to have numbers to help the postboy deliver to the correct address, as the quantity of letters handled by the mail increased. In 1760 the Post Office revenues were taken over from the Crown and merged with general revenue and the Post Office took over direct management of the Inland Post, Foreign Letter Post, the Penny Post and the Bye and Cross Roads Letter Post.

There were problems in relation to political influence, for example the contract for the provision of packet boats to places such as Jamaica was often held by an MP whose support might be required by the government, regardless of how efficiently he managed the contract. Members of both Houses of Parliament were allowed to send letters, packets and newspapers post free and often provided a ‘frank’ to others with a consequent loss to the revenue. Those who could not afford the penny post, payable on delivery, would send a letter with a code on the address to indicate that they were well and the letter could then be refused by the recipient who had in fact received the intended message.

In 1784 the first Mail Coaches replaced post boys on horseback and there were experiments in Ireland with a new kind of mail cart probably similar to those still in use in the early 20th century. There were however still problems with the quality of the roads, and as the picture above shows, severe weather could delay the mail.

For international mail, wars and weather could take their toll and it was common practice to send important letters in more than one copy by separate boats, as I discovered when preparing the Lee letters for publication in A Parcel of Ribbons. Shipwreck could also result in the loss of correspondence as for example in December 1768 when a box addressed to Joseph Lee, then visiting London from Jamaica, was washed up along with some Jamaican mahogany on the Cornish coast following a winter storm.

It would be interesting to compare the time it now takes to send a parcel by surface mail from England to America or Jamaica relative to the eighteenth century times. Of course air mail makes all the difference now – when it works!

 

The 4th of July – not the end of the story

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Signing the Preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris, November 30, 1782.*

 

 

Following the 4th of July celebrations of America’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776, I thought it interesting to quote from a letter which demonstrates that this was, to slightly mis-quote Churchill, not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Six years later, on the 6th of December 1782 Robert Cooper Lee wrote to his second son Richard who had been sent first to Brussels, and then to Hanover, to learn how to be a merchant.

Robert Cooper Lee to Richard Lee

Bedford Square, 6th December 1782

My dear Richard,

One of the most important Events in the Annals of Great Britain has taken place.  The Independency of the United States of America.  On the 30th of November Provisionary Articles were signed at Paris by his Majesty’s Commissioners and the Commissioners of America, to constitute a Treaty of Peace, when the Peace shall be agreed upon between Great Britain and France.  This previous Step, the signing of Articles with America being an Acknowledgement of her Independence, has removed the principal Obstacle to a general Accommodation.  The Parliament met yesterday, and was opened by one of the longest Speeches from the Throne that has been made for many Years; it contains great Variety of Matter and expressly declares the Dismemberment of the Empire by the Seperation of America.  The Address in the House of Commons was moved by Mr Yorke and seconded by Mr Banks.  There was no Amendment moved.  Mr Fox Lord North and Mr Pitt spoke, but there being no Opposition to the Address it is called a Conversation, and not a Debate.  All Parties seemed agreed on the Necessity of assenting under the present Circumstances, to American Independence.  And equally agreed with respect to France and Spain to accept of nothing short of honourable Terms of Peace.  How that can be reconciled to the Idea of giving up Gibraltar I cannot see, yet that is confidentially talked of, and that the Spaniards are to give us the Island of Porto Rico in the West Indies in Exchange.  Our captured Islands to be restored to us, and St Lucia to the French.  In the East Indies the French demand to be put in the same Situation they were in prior to the last War, but that cannot be agreed to on our part.  The prevailing Opinion here is that a general Peace will take place.  Our political Barometer the Stocks have risen five or six per cent.  I would send you Woodfull’s Paper with the King’s Speech and the Debates on it, but I conclude you will easily get a Sight of them.

A Frigate the Resource from Jamaica arrived a few days ago; she left Jamaica the 14th of October, and brings to Government Intelligence that the French and Spaniards were preparing to make another attempt on that Island. Don Solana with the Spanish Ships was about proceeding to the Cape, where the land Forces intended for the last Expedition had continued; they expected to meet the Reinforcement of Ships and Troops from France that sailed in September, when Lord Howe sailed, and to make a force of 25,000 Men and 25 Ships of the Line.  Admiral Piggott from America would be soon after them, and Admiral Hughes with the Ships detached from Lord Howe’s Fleet shortly afterwards.  I therefore trust Jamaica will escape this Danger.  Have you seen Sir Edward Hughes’s Accounts in the Gazette of our Engagements with the French Fleets in the East Indies?

These ‘Provisionary Articles’ were finally ratified by the US Congress on the 14th of January 1784.

For a family whose income depended on the free movement of trade, any war caused difficulties at best and disaster at worst, Robert Cooper Lee’s comment about the improved price of ‘Stocks’ shows that the reaction to the prospect of peace was very favourable. And as can be seen from the second paragraph of the letter the threat to Jamaica had been very real. For an island only just recovering from the disastrous hurricane of 1780, and the several more that followed in that decade, the arrival of peace was more than welcome.

You can read all the Lee family letters in the book A Parcel of Ribbons.

Picture source: U.S. Diplomacy Center (State Department) exhibition via Wikipedia, a 1902 print from an earlier painting, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin standing on the left.

The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society

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Ayscoughfee Hall, Spalding (Thorvaldson: Wikimedia Commmons)

I promised to report back from last week’s University of Derby conference on Enlightenment, Science and Culture in the East Midlands c.1700-1900 if it turned out that there was any connection with Jamaica. It was no surprise to find one, although in a place I had not hitherto connected with Jamaica.

The small Lincolnshire town of Spalding is now something of a backwater, but in its hey-day it was a thriving east coast port connected to the sea via the river Welland. Now best known for its spring bulbs and for Lincolnshire’s rich agricultural lands, it also has the distinction of having been the first place in the UK where barcodes were used, according to Wikipedia!

Maurice Johnson was born at Ayscoughfee Hall in 1688. He founded the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society in 1710, the same year that he married Elizabeth Ambler with whom he went on to have twenty-five (some sources say twenty-six) children! Although some died in infancy and some in childhood, eleven seem to have lived to grow to adulthood, and it was one of his younger daughters Ann Alethea Johnson who provides the connection with Jamaica.

On the 15th of August 1751 Ann Alethea married Richard Wallin of Jamaica. He was made a member of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society on the 5th of December that year. “Proposed by the Reverend Mr Johnson That Richard Wallin Esqr (only son of John Wallin Esqr late of St Jago de la Vega in Jamaica deceased) At his own instance be elected a regular member assented to be subscribed with these proposers by the Secretary Dr Green and the Operator Mr Michael Cox”.

Their first child Ann Lydia was baptised a year later at St James, Westminster but died young, possibly before her parents sailed for Jamaica. There Richard Wallin took up his inheritance and three more children were born – Richard about 1753, Lydia Elizabeth in 1754 and Ann Alethea in December 1757. Their mother was buried in St Catherine’s parish on the 9th of June 1758, and little Lydia Elizabeth died the following year leaving Ann Alethea Wallin to inherit the Wallin estates.

Her father Richard Wallin was the only surviving child of John Wallin and his second wife Lydia Stoddard – a brother John, who may have been the elder, matriculated at Oxford in 1745 but then disappears from the record. There seem to have been no children of John Wallin’s third marriage to Mary Sackville in 1744.

John Wallin was an early settler in Jamaica and Lydia Stoddard’s mother was Anna Williamina Archbould grand-daughter of Captain Henry Archbould one of the original colonists.

Ultimately the Wallins seem to have bequeathed little to Jamaica other than their name. The widowed Richard Wallin travelled to Philadelphia where in 1760 he married Catherine Shippen and died about six months later. His daughter Ann Alethea Wallin was brought up in England and married the Rev. Charles Edward Stewart who became Rector of Wakes Colne in Essex from 1795-1819. They had at least six children between 1775 and 1794 and Ann Alethea died some time before 1817 when Stewart married a second time.

An estate referred to as Wallens in St Thomas in the Vale, which may be the same as Wallins, was recorded as being in the possession of James Blackburn in 1788 and it is reasonable to presume that the trustees appointed by Richard Wallin sold it on behalf of his only daughter.

A further connection with Jamaica is through Robert Hunter (1666-1734), Governor of Jamaica between 1727 and 1734. Maurice Johnson was Steward for his manor of Crowland near Spalding. Hunter left his extensive estates in Jamaica and England to his son Thomas Orby Hunter on condition that he did not marry Mrs Sarah Kelly, the widow of Charles Kelly! The reasoning for this was probably not any prejudice against the young widow, but rather fears of his son becoming entangled in the labyrinthine debts left by Charles Kelly.

As for the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, it was formed in a very ‘clubbable’ period of the eighteenth century, a time which spawned clubs and associations for all sort of purposes – all male of course. William Stukeley, another a Lincolnshire man, friend and contemporary of Johnson pioneered archaeology investigating Stonehenge and Avebury. Johnson and Stukeley also re-founded the Society of Antiquaries in 1717, and started the Ancaster Society in 1729 while Stukeley founded a botanical club at Boston (Lincolnshire) in 1711, the Belvoir Club in Leicestershire in 1727 and the Brasenose Society at Stamford in 1736. The latter took its name from the brazen nosed door knocker taken there in 1330 by a breakaway group of  Oxford students.

All these clubs and societies very much reflected the Enlightenment, reading letters sent from abroad, papers on various subjects and discussing everything from sea shells, to new engineering techniques for fen drainage and new agricultural methods of improving crops and animals. Another member with a Jamaican connection was John Harries, who was re-embarking for Jamaica in 1732 having brought home a collection including coral to make lime for sugar boiling, shells, nuts and petrified hard wood which he presented to the Society. Among the many distinguished members of the Spalding Society were Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane (another with Jamaican connections of course), the poet Alexander Pope, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir George Gilbert Scott and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Many of these societies lasted only a short time, some had their collections preserved by amalgamation with others and some were simply dispersed. The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society is highly unusual in having survived the loss of its founding spirit – Maurice Johnson died in February 1755 barely two months after his redoubtable wife Elizabeth.

By 1770 the Spalding Society had become more of a book club with occasional lectures, but it continued throughout the nineteenth century and in 1890 it was revivified by Dr Marten Perry and its collection is now housed in a purpose built museum, opened in 1911.  You can visit by appointment and see the original minute books and letters as well as the collections.

I owe my new found knowledge of the Spalding Society to a fascinating lecture given last Saturday by Diana and Michael Honeybone, who have together edited The Correspondence of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society 1710-1761, published by the Lincoln Record Society in 2010.