Category Archives: Jamaican Life

Runaway Slaves

Newspaper_extract_runaway_slave-400x299

 Advertisement for a runaway from PortCities Bristol

I have to thank a member of the Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society for drawing my attention to a new transcription of advertisements for runaway slaves taken from Jamaican newspapers between 1718 and 1795, and from Workhouse Lists between 1773 and 1795. The list has been edited by Douglas B Chambers of the University of Southern Mississippi and was published in February 2013. There is also a list covering nineteenth century advertisements. The background to the project Documenting Runaway Slaves can be read here.

I wrote recently about the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website and the usefulness of the compensation records in tracking enslaved Jamaicans and their owners around the time of emancipation. This latest source gives a different kind of insight into slave life in Jamaica and enables us to associate the names of some slaves with their owners and the estates they had run away from.

There is a world of suffering encapsulated in a few simple lines in most of these advertisements, some of which were placed by owners wanting to trace their missing ‘property’, and others by people who had found or captured runaways and were advertising for their owners to come and claim them. Such a claimant was expected to pay the expenses of keeping the slave, and usually the owner offered a reward for the return of a runaway. A standard amount seems to have been one pistole, a Spanish coin current in Jamaica and worth in 1774, when Edward Long published his History of Jamaica, 17 shillings and 4 pence Sterling or 1 pound 5 shillings Jamaican. Relative to average earnings now that would be equivalent to about £1260 sterling – a not insignificant amount (source: http://www.measuringworth.com ).

It was sometimes easier for a slave to disappear in Jamaica than, say, the southern United States. Not only was there a large and fluid population in Kingston, and a significant number of free negro and mixed race creole Jamaicans, but the geography of the island meant that disappearing inland was also possible. One condition of the peace treaty with the Maroons, who after 1738 lived freely in their own territory, was that they should capture and return any runaways. This measure was included in order to ensure that their presence did not encourage slaves to run away. Many of the workhouse records say ‘brought in by the Maroons’. Leaving the island altogether would have been much harder. Even the white colonists had to have permission to leave, in order to prevent the escape of criminals or those with unsettled debts.

The advertisement above is fairly typical, giving the name of the runaway and the place he has left. It was also regular practice to describe the clothes worn (one poor man had been found with none!) and any ‘marks’ – these might be tribal scars indicating the area of Africa from which the person had been taken, or smallpox scars, damage due to tropical ulcers, Guinea worm parasites or infection with yaws. All such marks would make the person easier to identify and make it harder for them to avoid recognition – there can have been little concealment for the man described as missing half his nose. Above all, most were branded with the initials of the estate they belonged to, or perhaps those of a previous owner.

Opportunities for escape sometimes presented as a result of trust earned, perhaps taking letters to another town or estate, and in many cases the person had skills which the owner valued but which might help the escapee earn a living – carpenters, printers, a saddler and a cook are among those listed. Reasons for running away were of course varied, saddest in many ways are those who are said to be heading for another estate where a wife, husband or child was enslaved, for they were probably among those most likely to be caught as a result.

Some captured slaves were reported to speak no English and their chances of escape must have been very slight, they were probably fresh off the boat and as yet ‘unseasoned’. A surprising number of those detained said they did not know who owned them – but then if they were new arrivals why would they? Most had some clothes, but were unlikely to have any others they could change into to help them disappear. In 1816 a sixteen year old boy was described as having been wearing ‘sheeting trowsers, york-stripe jacket and a new striped holland shirt’. A century earlier Nanne was described as having a white petticoat, an osnaburg jacket and a white handkerchief. Osnaburg was a coarse, hard-wearing fabric originally made of flax from Osnabruck in Germany and which was commonly used for slave garments. By the mid-eighteenth century most of what was imported into Jamaica was probably woven in Scotland.

One interesting aspect of the records is that in many the height of the person is recorded – few are taller than 5’7″ and some as small as 4’6″. There were those who when captured claimed that they were in fact free, but without proof of it they had no hope – ‘says he is free, but has no documents thereof’. Occasionally such a claimant would name a witness who could attest to the fact that he was free.

Very few of the slaves in these records have a surname, and if you are looking for your family history it will be much easier to use them to track slave owners than the enslaved. But if you do know which estate an ancestor belonged to, or who the owner or managing attorney was you may be able to extend your knowledge of your family history using these records. They provide another very valuable resource for historians of slavery and of Jamaica.

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph Stone Williams

 Emancipation 1838 resized 450

Emancipation celebrations in Spanish Town 1838

 

I wrote last time about the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website, and quite by chance I have now found a Will which illustrates that period of history between the passing of the abolition act and actual emancipation.

Joseph Stone Williams died on the 6th of February 1836 in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica. He was born about 1778, the eldest son of James Williams and his wife Frances Cecilia Stone. Although I have not found baptism records for all the family it is possible to piece together the records of nine children, drawing partly on Joseph’s Will for information. The Williams family were present in Westmoreland throughout the eighteenth century and it is probable that Joseph was the great great grandson of Rowland Williams, whose family arrived not long after the British seized the island.

Joseph does not appear to have married but like so many men in Jamaica at the time he fathered a number of children, and in his Will he made generous provision for them and their various mothers, in particular for Mary Pessoa the mother of three sons and a daughter, the last of whom seems to have died before the Will was written. You can read the Will in full here.

Joseph was the owner of three estates – Anglesea Pen, Cairn Curran and Carawina. Claims were made for compensation for all three as owner, plus three other claims (for twenty-four individuals) as awardee. There were forty-two enslaved persons on Anglesea Pen with compensation amounting to £688 2s 2d; there were three hundred and eighteen enslaved at Carawina with compensation equal to  £5912 16s 11d; and at Cairn Curran eighty-five enslaved with compensation amounting to £1628 8s 10d.

Of these former slaves, who at the time he wrote his Will in 1835 had been converted to ‘apprentices’, a number were given to Mary Pessoa and are listed by name in the Will. Because Wills were written without punctuation it can be a little difficult to work out just how many individuals there are in this list but there seem to be about forty-two men and women, in which case they may constitute the workforce of the Anglesea Pen. Mary Pessoa was being left the services of these apprentices during the remainder of their apprenticeship, and Joseph Stone Williams made clear that the apprentices at Cairn Curran were to be allowed to continue to live in their accommodation ‘during the apprenticeship system without any hindrance or molestation whatsoever’.

As long as she remained single Mary Pessoa was to be allowed to continue to live in the Great House at Anglesea Pen where she had already been living with her children, and she also received furniture, household linen, Joseph’s wearing apparel, and the right to continue to pasture her and her family’s stock at Anglesea Pen. In addition to the legacies to Mary’s sons, Joseph also left legacies to Joseph and James Williams the two sons of Eliza Ward Robertson, to Mary Williams the daughter of Eliza Murray and to Ann Williams the daughter of Ann Anderson. There were legacies to various friends, family members, and servants, a large legacy to his brother William Williams, and the residuary legatee was his brother the Reverend Theodore Williams the vicar of Hendon in North London.

As I said, the list of apprentices was unpunctuated in the Will, but I have included it here with what I hope is correct punctuation so that anyone searching for ancestors in Westmoreland at this time may be able to find them.

William Grant, William Montague, William P [blank] Atkinson, George Dixon, James Arthur, James Drummond, Charles Vassall, Alexander Grant, Charles Pinnock, Thomas Williams, Richard Wellington, Nod alias William Godfrey, Amelia Murray, Eliza Grant, Grace Elizabeth Atkinson, Patience, Sarah R [blank] Arthur, Ann Wilson Bell, Margaret W [blank] Grant, Jane Smith, Jane Neill, Daphne, Hannah, Queen, Juba, Matilla, Bessy Anderson, Helen McLeod, Thomas Anderson, George Pessoa, Mary P [blank] James, Maria Williams Pessoa alias Maria Cook, James Gammon, Bonella Gammon, Maria Lewis, Robert Bowen, Jackie alias John MacLeod, Ithy (?) Girling, Mimba alias Eliza Hodges, David Bowen, William Goodin and Richard Bowen.

‘Ithy’ may be short for Ithamar in which case this is a girl or woman.

Reading the will in association with the compensation records provides an interesting snapshot of a pivotal period in Jamaican history.

 

Your Ancestor – Slave or Slave owner ?

Sir James Esdaile

Portrait of Sir James Esdaile (1714-1793) by Sir Joshua Reynolds

 

If your ancestor was in the small minority of people who owned land or property then tracking them back beyond civil registration and the nineteenth century censuses may be relatively easy. If on the other hand they were among the 90% or so who were agricultural labourers in Britain, or the even higher proportion in Jamaica who were slaves, records are thin on the ground and difficult to find.

A new database, launched a couple of weeks ago provides a hugely valuable resource for those trying to track ancestors who owned slaves. Although the transatlantic slave trade was ended for the British Empire in 1807, this did not end slavery as such. It did lead to marginally better conditions for some slaves as their owners realised they could no longer easily replace those they mal-treated, worked to death or murdered. But for nearly another thirty years the abolitionists argued with the slave owners who wanted compensation for the loss of their ‘property’ should their work force be freed to leave or go to work for someone else.

In the scandalous compromise that was eventually agreed, not only were the slave owners paid compensation, but their enslaved workforce were converted into ‘apprentices’ and required to continue working for the same masters for an interim period before being given full freedom of movement and the right to sell their labour where they wished. In practice for many this meant either leaving to set up subsistence small holdings on any available scrub land they could find, or working for the same master for a tiny wage and suffering the additional insult of being required to pay rent for the hut in the slave village which they had previously occupied as part of their servitude.

One consequence of the decision to pay compensation, however, was that records had to be compiled of who owned how many slaves and where they were held. This resulted in the creation of the first comprehensive information on slave ownership on the Jamaican plantations. Some earlier records do exist but there are few complete sets of records before this period.

The Legacies of British Slave-ownership website has now made these records available online.

“At the core of the project is a database containing the identity of all slave-owners in the British Caribbean at the time slavery ended. As the project unfolded, we amassed, analysed and incorporated information about the activities, affiliations and legacies of all the British slave-owners on the database, building the Encyclopedia of British Slave-Owners, which has now been made available online..”

 Not only does the database contain the names of the slave owners and the details of the compensation awarded, but where possible the researchers have added biographical details, and this is an on-going project to which we can all contribute as there is a mechanism for entering further information in your possession to send to the project team.

As yet there is not full integration of the records of slaves and slavery held at the National Archives with this project, but it is to be hoped this may one day be possible, and in the meantime this website includes useful links to other resources on slavery and the slave trade.

As an example of the kind of information you may find, I searched for my first cousin six times removed, Richard Lee – the son of Robert Cooper Lee – who had inherited a share of the Rose Hall estate in St Thomas in the Vale.

Parliamentary Papers p. 8.

Award split: £1424 8s 0d to each of Lee and Esdaile (seven-eighteenths each); £813 8s 11d to Thwaytes (four-eighteenths).

T71/855: awarded to Richard Lee, London, executor and trustee; James Esdaile and William Thwaytes, London, owners-in-fee. Wm Thwaytes received award as heir-at-law to Wm Thwaytes the claimant.

Clicking on the name of one of the claimants will take you to any biographical information known to the project (and to which you can contribute!). So for example for James Esdaile we find:

Son (and heir) of Sir James Esdaile the banker and brother of William Esdaile (q.v.).

  1. In 1789 the London grocers Davison & Newman bought a 4/18 share in Rose Hall; ‘the other owners were Sir James Esdaile [1714-93] and the Lee family, each of whom held a 7/18 share.’  Davison left his share to Abram Newman, who left it to his daughters, from whom William Thwaytes, the surviving partner bought it in 1811.  In Mr Thwaytes’ time, Richard Lee was the London agent of the estate, ‘taking over the sugar shipments’ [from Davison & Newman?] and rendering half-yearly accounts. After Mr Thwaytes’ death in 1834, his share passed to his heir-at-law, his nephew Wm Thwaytes,  and so out of the hands of the firm, because Thwaytes’s will (under which he left his freehold property including Rose Hall to his widow) was not attested, so his widow received only  a third-share as dower in her lifetime.

Sources

1. Owen Rutter, At the Three Sugar Loaves and Crown. A brief history of the firm of Messrs. Davison, Newman & Company now incorporated with the West India Produce Association Limited (London, Davison, Newman & Co., 1938), pp. 26-8, 34.

Previous readers of this website will remember the Three Sugar Loaves and Crown from an earlier posting.
The rich biographical information as well as the details of slave ownership and the amounts of compensation awarded provide invaluable background to a range of studies, genealogical, commercial, political  and economic.

Finally, if you want to try to match the slave owners to those they ‘owned’ you may find the images of the Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834, which are held on Ancestry.co.uk useful. From 1819 registers were compiled and sent to the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves in London. You can find the search form here.  Although you will have to register with Ancestry to view them there is no charge for reading these records.

Was Your Ancestor Really Married?

Rebecca Probert sized 300

The question of whether our ancestors were actually married and if so where and when is one which has particular resonance in the context of 18th century Jamaica.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting, albeit briefly, Professor Rebecca Probert and her husband who were at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event at Olympia in London. You might recognise Professor Probert from her appearances on television in programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are?, Heirhunters and Lucy Worsley’s series Harlots, Heroines and Housewives.  You will also find a very useful lecture by her (which you can download as a podcast) on marriage law and tracing marriages on the National Archives website.

Rebecca Probert is a Professor of Law, and her interest in genealogy has led her to extensive study of marriage law and to a crusading desire to correct many of the misapprehensions that exist about marriage practices and what constituted a legal marriage, which she saw propagated without question down the years in genealogy textbooks and handbooks.

For example, could you marry by jumping over a broomstick, did our ancestors indulge in test marriages for a year to see if the woman would become pregnant, did lack of parental consent mean a marriage was illegal, did many couples live together regarded as married by the custom and consent of their community? Professor Probert’s book Marriage Law for Genealogists sets out to provide the definitive answer to these and many other questions.

The book covers the law of England and Wales as Scotland has always had a separate legal system. It takes as its starting point the year 1600 and covers the many changes that took place in the seventeenth century during and after the Civil War, as well as critical legal changes such as the Hardwicke Marriage Act (which came into effect in 1754), and more recent changes such as that making it possible for a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister.

Because the author recognises that many readers will be interested in specific questions rather than wishing to read the book from cover to cover, she has structured it around a series of key questions, and flags up a series of key facts invaluable to anyone wishing to check on a particular aspect of marriage law. The questions she addresses are whether and why a couple got married, who could marry and whom they were free to marry, how marriages took place in terms of the formalities required, when a person could get married in relation to minimum age and questions of parental consent, and she provides some guidance on where marriages may have taken place. It was for example perfectly legal to get married in a parish other than your own and she discusses why this might have been the case.

Some misunderstandings about marriage are of relatively recent date. For example the belief that before 1754 a simple exchange of vows between two people constituted a valid marriage, can apparently be traced to a New York legal case in 1809, which led to an English case confusing the distinction between being bound to be married and actually being married. Being bound to be married Professor Probert compares with the exchange of contracts on a house purchase which binds the parties but requires completion. The notion that two parties could be married by jumping over a broomstick has been traced to a misunderstanding in a change of language when ‘broomstick’ was an adjective used to describe a sham, and resulted from a nineteenth century interest in pre-industrial folk customs, interpreting visual images of broomsticks as depicting actual folk ceremonies.

A similar misunderstanding arose concerning the term ‘hand fasting’, sometimes believed to be a marriage for a year and a day and used as a fertility test, but which was in fact no more than a period of betrothal which was a formal contract to be married at some future date.

Another myth that Professor Probert debunks is the notion that in the past huge numbers of people cohabited, married in the eyes of their community but not by their church. There were a great many reasons why this was not the case and in fact in the early eighteenth century only about 2% of births were illegitimate, with peaks during the First and Second World Wars, the rate did not really rise until the 1960s. The fact that you may not be able to find a record of your ancestors’ marriage, does not mean that they were not married nor that their children were illegitimate.

Who you were allowed to marry in the past was much more restricted than it is now. The so-called ‘prohibited degrees’ included close blood relations but also many who were only distantly related to you by marriage. The book includes a useful table of those marriages which could never be valid such as between a parent and child, those which have always been valid such as between cousins, and a range of permitted relationships which have varied over time. It is also interesting to note that if a marriage did occur within the prohibited degrees it could only be challenged while both parties were still alive.

You may have been surprised to discover an ancestor whom you knew to be a nonconformist, or a Roman Catholic, who nevertheless was married in an Anglican parish church. Before the advent of civil marriage in 1837 only Jews and Quakers were likely to have been married other than in an Anglican parish church by an Anglican clergyman, although Catholics often did go through a second Catholic ceremony. Even if your ancestor was married without calling the banns or by obtaining a licence, as long as the ceremony was conducted by an Anglican clergyman the marriage was clandestine but valid. During the Civil War religious marriage ceremonies were replaced for a brief period by a form of civil marriage, but Canon Law was reinstated in 1660 and the Hardwicke marriage act tightened up on what had been seen as a number of undesirable practices. After the mid-eighteenth century record keeping improves, to the relief of many a genealogist, but the fact that a marriage was not registered did not render it invalid. This protected the couple whose marriage might have been challenged as a result of an absent-minded cleric failing to keep proper records.

When considering your ancestor’s marriage Rebecca Probert makes clear the difference between directory requirements which were desirable, and mandatory requirements which if neglected would render a marriage invalid. She deals with questions such as couples who gave false or partial names in order to conceal an intended marriage from family members, and with those who did not have  parental consent to their marriage. With the arrival of civil registration and the increasing availability of divorce the question of remarriage in church arose, and I was unaware that it was permissible to be remarried in church although since 1857 Anglican clergyman could refuse to perform such a ceremony.

Professor Probert’s book is an invaluable aid to anyone researching their family history and a useful antidote to the numerous myths that have grown up concerning marriage in the past.

Marriage in Jamaica

In relation to Jamaica the question of whether your ancestors were married relates very closely to who they were, why they were there and when. This is further complicated by the condition of the parish registers of the period. Although the legal regulation of marriage was the same as for the home country and local vicars were required to prepare ‘bishops transcripts’ of their registers, the frequent death of incumbents and the depredations of climate and insect attack on the primary copies of the registers mean that the registers were often poorly kept or have periods without entries. So as in England the lack of a register entry for a marriage does not mean it did not happen. Where both parties were from the white elite, and you can find baptism entries for their children you can be certain they were married.

However, during the eighteenth century there was a serious shortage of white women in Jamaica and an easy availability of free and enslaved women. This led to a variety of relationships, consensual and otherwise, resulting in the birth of mixed race children who if recognised by their fathers were often baptised with his name and were left property on his death. I have discussed previously what happened to some of these children when they were sent to England.

Marriages between free negroes or Taino Indians, who were present in Jamaica from the earliest days,  did take place, but only rarely is the racial category assigned to the parties recorded in a parish register.  For example, Charles Benoist and Uańah ‘an Indian Woman’ were married in the parish of St Andrew on the 30th May 1675. The disapproval accorded to any suggestion of a mixed race marriage is reflected in the reaction to the impending marriage of Rose Price in 1765.

A 1765 letter from Simon Taylor demonstrates the sort of disapproval that a marriage might incur when he refers to the intention of Rose Price to marry. ‘I cannot forget to acquaint you there is a Report on Friday last a Licence was taken out for our friend Rose Price and one Miss Patrick a Writing Master’s Daughter at Spanish [Town] and without a Shilling but that Rose sett out the next day for the Red Hills with his Black wife. I should be very sorry that he should play the fool so egregiously as there has been some coolness between his father and him for some time about other matters and in all probability this will so much incense the Old man that he will disinherit him…’[1] It is not clear whether Rose Price went ahead with the marriage since the following year he was married to Lydia Ann Fagan. Fear of ‘diluting’ the white elite was ever present and perhaps his father intervened to reinforce the convention that marrying a mixed race wife was just not done.[2]

Readers of the book A Parcel of Ribbons will be aware that the marriage of Robert Cooper Lee and Priscilla Kelly, the mixed race mother of  his children, which took place on their arrival in London in 1771 seems to be absolutely unique. While there was nothing in canon law to have prevented it taking place in Jamaica, socially it was impossible.

One other feature of Jamaican marriages, among the white elite, is worth mentioning and that is the much younger average age of brides compared with young women in England. Whereas in England the average age of brides was around twenty-five during the eighteenth century, in Jamaica it was much younger. A systematic survey is required and matching baptisms (and assumed birth dates) with marriages is tricky but the overall impression is of most girls marrying in their teens. This is entirely understandable in the context of high rates of mortality in Jamaica, described by Trevor Burnard as ‘Britain’s most unhealthy colony’. To consolidate estates by marriage and create an heir as early as possible it was necessary to marry daughters as soon as a suitable match could be made. Given that Burnard [3] has calculated that in the parish of St Andrew the mean length of a marriage was eight years and four months and the median a mere six years and four months before the death of one partner, it is not surprising that early marriage was the norm and re-marriage frequent.

Of marriage ending in divorce rather than the death of one partner I only know of one case in eighteenth century Jamaica, where, as in England, a Private Act was required to achieve a divorce. In 1739 Edward Manning divorced his wife Elizabeth Moore citing her adultery with Ballard Beckford. Manning then followed the traditional Jamaican planter pattern of setting up house with a free mulatto woman, Elizabeth Pinnock, who outlived him and to whom he left property and slaves.

For those Jamaican inhabitants who were not of the white elite eighteenth century records are sparse. Only towards the end of the century does regular baptism of slaves become more common, often with changes of name, and with the advent of the Baptist Missionaries attempts to regularise relationships through marriage increased. Even after emancipation however, when people were free to make their own choices, rates of illegitimacy remained high.

With the increasing availability of parish register and civil records on-line you will have a greater chance of finding your ancestors than in the past and, with the aid of Rebecca Probert’s book,  of establishing whether your ancestor was really married.


[1] Wood, Betty ed., The Letters of Simon Taylor of Jamaica to Chaloner Arcedeckne 1765-1775, in Travel Trade and Power in the Atlantic 1765-1884 Camden Miscellany XXXV, vol.19, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp.24-25.

[2] Powers, Anne, A Parcel of Ribbons, Lulu.com, 2012, p 151.

[3] Burnard, Trevor, A Failed Settler Society: Marriage and Demographic Failure in Early Jamaica, Journal of Social History, Vol.28,No 1(Autumn 1994) pp.63-82.

Probert, Rebecca, Marriage Law for Genealogists, the definitive guide, Takeaway (Publishing) 2012, ISBN 978-0-9563847-1-3

 

Infant and child mortality in Jamaica

Mourning scene

A late 18th Century embroidered mourning scene for a young child worked on an ivory silk ground. The stylized scene includes a central tombstone with the inscription written in ink on silk: ‘In memory of Mifs Betsey Thomson who died Jun 29 1794 aged 4 years’*

I recently took some time off to look after a grandchild with chickenpox, and it was borne in on me how much things have changed even during my lifetime. A mere half century or so ago all children in the UK could expect to catch measles, mumps, whooping cough, German measles, chickenpox, and possibly scarlet fever or rheumatic fever, and to be vaccinated only against smallpox and diptheria. Many would die from polio and meningitis. Only when I was almost out of primary school did the Salk vaccine arrive from America to immunise against polio, which my sister had caught as a baby and I too had probably suffered from. In secondary school I was vaccinated against TB and tetanus, and already antibiotics were available to fight bacterial infections and pneumonia, saving many lives. My Scottish great grandmother lost only one of her twelve children – little Catherine died at eleven months of Cellulitis, Septicaemia of the arm an infection probably resulting from a small scratch or insect bite, which now would be easily treatable.

Now every child in the West, and many in the developing world, can expect to be vaccinated against virtually all of these childhood diseases and new vaccines are coming on stream all the time. However we should beware of becoming complacent since antibiotic resistance is becoming more and more common, and if it becomes entrenched we may find ourselves in a similar position to the parents of small children in 18th-century Jamaica.

There was for a time a strand of academic thought that claimed that because infant mortality in the past was so high, and so many pregnancies and infants were lost, that parents were inured to it and did not care for their small children unprepared to make any ‘investment’ in them until they grew up and were likely to reach adulthood.

I really do not believe this. Take for example the death of little Charles MacKay, which was mentioned recently on the Facebook group of the Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society, following the discovery of some marble tomb fragments from a site that had been bulldozed. The gravestone had sadly been lost but it had previously been recorded and so we know that so precious was little Charles Mackay that he was not recorded as being simply two years old at his death but precisely two years five months and twenty-seven days.

Here lies Interred

The Body of Charles MacKay

The Son of

Hugh MacKay by his Wife Frances

Born on the 14th of November, 1751, Dyed on the 21st of May, 1754

Aged 2 Years, 5 Months and 27 Days

Oh! Early loss. Like some fair Flower, the pleasant Spring supplies, That gayly Blooms, but even in blooming dies. Memento Mori. O Death, all Eloquent you only prove, What Dust wee doat on when tis man wee love

Browsing through Philip Wright’s Monumental Inscriptions of Jamaica (Society of Genealogists 1966) shows that many children were commemorated with their ages given to the day in this way.

It is hardly surprising that parents, faced with the repeated loss of children born in the British colonies, sent them back to Britain in the hope that their chances of survival would be greater. This was a practice not only among 18th-century Jamaican parents, but one which continued throughout the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century. My own grandfather and his siblings were sent back from India to school in England, not because the schools were so much better but because their health was likely to be improved.

More heartbreaking was the position of Lady Nugent, whose diary of her Jamaican experiences is well known[1]. Having apparently lost several pregnancies she had two children born in Jamaica with whom she returned to England. When they arrived her health had been so debilitated that she weighed a mere six stone, and when subsequently her husband was posted to India she left her four surviving children including a five week old baby behind in England for the sake of their health.

She wrote of her pleasure at her husband’s new appointment, But alas! I cannot help thinking of my children; and, while I am going through all the bustle of dinners, to meet East Indians, etc and while I am fatigued in both body and mind, with writing and various preparations, my whole heart is at Iver and at Westhorpe; for ten days ago, my dear little girls returned there, under the care of dear good Miss Dewey. I am impatient to get out of town to them…

And later she wrote, This book I shall seal up, and send to Westhorpe to be put into the desk, that is in the little breakfast room, where my dear children may find it, one of these days, should I not return; and along with it various little articles, as keepsakes, which they will value, I am sure, as relics of the father and mother, devoted to their interest and welfare.

The Nugents did return safely to England  and spent the rest of their lives with the four of their children who survived to grow up. Because of their social position and Lady Nugent’s Journal we know more about them than about many of Jamaica’s colonists and their children.

Often we can only deduce the deaths of children when we read a Jamaican Will that leaves an estate to nieces and nephews, distant cousins or friends, from which it can be assumed that no immediate heirs had survived. Such children were often buried on the planter’s estate in a family plot and it was not uncommon for the grave to be unmarked, the grave marker lost or the death and burial to have gone unrecorded in the parish register. This makes it difficult to estimate levels of child mortality. How much more difficult is it to estimate mortality among Jamaica’s slaves and their children, particularly in the earlier part of the 18th-century for which fewer plantation records survive.

What can be said with certainty is that malaria, smallpox, yellow fever, measles and other infections killed adults and children alike. Poor hygiene and a lack of knowledge of how infection was spread, or understanding of the role of mosquitoes in transmitting malaria and yellow fever, meant people were unable to take preventive measures and survival was often due to luck rather than a strong constitution.

 

 


[1] Lady Nugent’s Journal of her residence in Jamaica from 1801 to 1805. New and revised edition edited by Philip Wright, Institute of Jamaica, Kingston, 1966.

* from http://locutus.ucr.edu/~cathy/dress/mourn.html

Pancakes 18th century style

 

18th_century_Dutch_dish_resized 256

With Lent fast approaching I thought it would be good to dip once again into the cookbook of Hannah Glasse to see how she made pancakes.

This is an 18th century Dutch dish such as Hannah Glasse might have used to serve up her pancakes*.

Traditionally of course pancakes were made on Shrove Tuesday, when western Christians were shriven of their sins and used up foods they were forbidden to eat during the fasting period of Lent. Because the date of Easter is moveable so is the start of Lent, which this year begins on Ash Wednesday, February 13th.

This time of year is also known as the ‘hungry gap’, when foods stored over the winter are running out and new spring crops have not yet come in.

Hannah Glasse lists seasonal foods in her book and mentions a huge range of fish available during the winter – many now unavailable or ignored, including a surprisingly large range of freshwater species the fishing for which, of course, would not be so adversely affected by winter weather.

She mentions dorey, brile, gudgeons, gollin, smelts, crouch, perch, anchovy and loach, scallop and wilks, periwinkles, cockles, mussels, geare, bearbet and hollebet. She also advises on how to chose for freshness salmon, pike, trout, carp, tench, grailing, barbel, chub, turbot, cod, ling, skate and thornback, sole, sturgeon, herring, mackerel, lobsters, prawns and more.

Of January Fruits which are yet lasting, she lists some grapes, fifteen varieties of apples (most of which I regret to say I have never heard of) and five kinds of winter pears. In February she adds to the list the Pomery, the Winter Pipperning and the Dagobent Pear. Even in March, and with no refrigerated storage, she expected to have available five apple varieties and two pears. By April her list of available vegetables and salads is increasing and includes cucumbers, mushrooms and purslane grown on hot beds – making use of the huge quantities of manure available to 18th century farmers and market gardeners.

We are not so used now to having to think seasonally about our food, but even in our relatively sheltered economy the UK is suffering some shortages due to having experienced an eighteen month drought followed by many months of exceptionally high rainfall. Farmers are still unable to lift root crops from saturated ground, two weeks of heavy snow meant crops such as leeks and greens could not be harvested, and until the ground dries out new seed cannot be sown as cultivation with heavy machinery only compacts the soil destroying its structure. In any case the ground is so wet that seed would rot if planted.

Although food prices are pushed up by such conditions, the wealthy West can today afford to import food to make up any shortfall. It is worth remembering that 18th century Jamaicans too were heavily dependent on imports, despite the island’s potential for growing its own food, with planters preferring  to give their land over to the monoculture of sugar, coffee and other cash crops. Some native foodstuffs, such as the green turtle, were exported to the profitable markets of London, and in the fifth edition of her book Hannah Glasse included lengthy instructions on preparing a turtle in the West Indian Way. This was for a turtle weighing sixty pounds!

And so back to pancakes. Hannah Glasse included several pancake recipes in her book, most of which are far more generous with cream, eggs and butter than is fashionable now. Most use spices such as cinnamon, mace and nutmeg as well as sugar, and in the case of at least one recipe the quantity of nutmeg is quite large.

If you are thinking of trying the recipes remember 18th century eggs would have been smaller than today, and spare a thought for Hannah when you reach for the packet of caster sugar. She would have had to shave her sugar off a Jamaican sugar loaf and to pound it with pestle and mortar to achieve the desired fineness; her nutmegs would have been bought whole and her cinnamon as curled bark, all to be grated and pounded by hand.

Several of the recipes make use of ‘sack’ which was a fortified white wine approximating to a sweet sherry. It was imported into England, but would also have been imported into Jamaica from the Canaries which were on the shipping route for the outward journey of many of the supply ships.

creamjugs

18th Century Cream Jugs recently sold by Lacy Scott and Knight.

 

To make Fine Pancakes.

Take half a Pint of Cream, half a pint of Sack, the Yolks of eighteen Eggs beat fine, and a little Salt, half a pound of fine Sugar, a little beaten Cinnamon, Mace and Nutmeg; then put in as much Flour as will run thin over the pan, and fry them in fresh Butter. This sort of Pancake will not be crisp, but very good.

Pancakes.

Take a Quart of Milk, beat in six or eight Eggs, leaving half the Whites out, mix it well till your batter is of a fine thickness. You must observe to mix your Flour first with a little Milk, then add the rest by degrees; put in two Spoonfuls of beaten Ginger, a Glass of Brandy, a little Salt, stir all together, and take your Stew-pan very clean, put in a piece of Butter as big as a Wallnut, then pour in a Ladleful of Batter, which will make a Pancake moving the Pan around, that the Batter be all over the Pan; shake the Pan, and when you think that side is enough, toss it, if you can’t, turn it cleaverly; and when both sides are done, lay it in a Dish before the Fire, and so do the rest. You must take care they are dry; when you send them to the Table, strew a little Sugar over them.

A Quire of Paper

Take a Pint of Cream, six eggs, three Spoonfuls of fine Flour, three of Sack, one of Orange-flour Water, a little Sugar, and half a Nutmeg grated, half a pound of melted Butter, almost cold; mingle all well togeether, and Butter the Pan for the first Pancake; let them run as thin as possible; when just coloured they are enough: And so do with all the fine Pancakes.

Interestingly her pancakes seem mainly to have been served on their own with sugar rather than with sweet or savoury fillings.

 

* By Leoboudv (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Jamaica in the 18th century British Press

I was searching the British Newspaper Archive last week and in an idle moment wondered just how much coverage there was of Jamaica. A search for the single word ‘Jamaica’ was revealing. Even bearing in mind the rapid increase in the number and size of newspapers, particularly during the 18th century, the increase in references to Jamaica is an indicator of its rising importance to the British economy, and sadly during the 20th century also its decline.

  • 1710-1749      5,703
  • 1750-1799    28,818
  • 1800-1849  169,096
  • 1850-1899  390,761
  • 1900-1949     74,838
  • 1950-1999          648

A further breakdown in the first half of the 18th century is also revealing (again bearing in mind that the number of papers was also increasing).

  • 1710-19        96
  • 1720-29      996
  • 1730-39    1,147
  • 1740-49    3,464

Incidentally re-running the search a day later produced a few more references, either due to minor vagaries of the indexing system, or to the addition of new newspaper scans. The ten year project to digitise the newspaper collections of the British Library is on-going, so as with many on-line sources it’s worth popping back from time to time to see if an item of interest is now available.

And like maps, I find old newspapers endlessly fascinating. Where else could you learn that in 1742 a clerk to a vinegar merchant in Hoglane, reputed to be worth £2000, a widower for thirty years and who had pass’d his Grand Climackterick five years had married a lass of nineteen!

More particularly for the family or other historian you may find mention of someone in an unexpected context – perhaps a house sale, or as victim (or perpetrator) of a crime.

For example I wrote a while back about the scandal involving Joseph Biscoe and his wife and found that not long after the court case Biscoe sold all the contents of the house he had owned in Derbyshire, from which it sounds as if he was getting rid of everything that might be connected with her.

Biscoe sale

But to return to Jamaica. Many of the early references are records of which ship has arrived and what the cargo was. On the 2nd of September1712 the Newcastle Courant announced that a galley called the Rapier had arrived from Jamaica carrying a cargo of ‘sugar, cocoa, indigo etc.’ Many announcements during periods of war related to British ships being captured, or enemy ships that had been captured and their cargo taken. For people anxiously awaiting news of the arrival of friends or family, or whose fortune was tied up in a particular cargo, the shipping news in the papers was a vital source of information, especially for those who did not live in one of the major ports.

It was through the British Newspaper Archive that I discovered a reference in 1768 to a box addressed to Joseph Lee being washed up on the shore near Penzance with a large quantity of mahogany presumed to be from a shipwreck. As I knew that Joseph Lee was visiting London at the time and the box was addressed care of Messers Thomas and Stephen Fuller, Merchants in London, I knew for certain this must relate to the Joseph Lee whose letters feature in A Parcel of Ribbons.

Sadly also there are sometimes adverts relating to runaways.

Missing black boy 1807

This one appears to be a boy who was free rather than a slave, but one wonders what it was that made John Thomas run away from his apprenticeship and offer himself to someone else. The age given is young for an apprentice, so was he in fact a slave whose master wished to disguise the fact at a time when emancipation and an end to the slave trade was very much under discussion?

 

Newspapers are an invaluable source of information I’ve only touched on the British ones here, but of course there were newspapers published in Jamaica, and you will also find many references in American newspapers.

Curtis Brett – Spanish Town Printer

 

18th Century style wooden Common Press at The Tom Paine Printing Press Lewes, Sussex

I have to thank Professor Roderick Cave* for reintroducing me to Curtis Brett, who had only merited a footnote in my book. Until now I had been completely unaware of Curtis Brett’s key role as the printer to the Jamaican Assembly at a time in the island’s history when the location of its capital was in dispute. The Kingston merchant lobby wanted to relocate the capital there and avoid the hot and dusty ride across the St Catherine plains to Spanish Town to attend to legal matters. The Plantocracy and its lawyers on the other hand wanted to be able to come in from the surrounding countryside to attend the law sessions in Spanish Town and combine this with residence in their town houses, attendance at balls and social functions, and days at the races.

Brett, who had been born in Ireland in 1720, had trained as a printer, and although his early ventures in Jamaica were as a storekeeper in Kingston, and then as a plantation overseer, he moved on to work in a counting house in Spanish Town for Archibald Sinclair. It was here that his previous printing experience led to his appointment as printer to the Assembly.

In order to raise the start-up capital required it was agreed to invite subscriptions to publish a book of The Laws of Jamaica. Brett finalised the manuscript on board ship, returning  to London in June 1755, where the book was printed and bound by his previous master William Strahan. Back in Jamaica he was to be assisted by Charles White, whose work on the Spanish Town Census of 1754 has already been described here.

In the spring of the following year Curtis Brett returned to Jamaica with copies of the Laws of Jamaica and all the equipment required to set up as a printer in Spanish Town. By the 8th of May he was ready to produce the first edition of the St Jago Intelligencer, of which sadly only one (or possibly two) issues are known to survive.

 

 

This very rare book, of which only three copies are known to exist was printed by Curtis Brett in 1757. Details of this copy, for sale by the William Reese Company, can be viewed online here.

 

By insisting that subscribers to the Intelligencer paid their subscriptions in advance, and by printing materials for the Assembly and probably a book almanac as well as the book highlighted here, Curtis Brett found his business so successful that by 1761 he had accumulated about £5000 and was looking for fresh challenges.  Roderick Cave believes Brett was then bought out by his partner Charles White before setting off to pursue activities as a merchant in Jamaica, New York and London.

 

By this time Curtis Brett was married and the father of a son. His wife was the widowed Ann Allwood, whose first husband was Hayward Gaylard. Hayward Gaylard had a chequered history, he had been a haberdasher and merchant in Cornhill, London but had been declared bankrupt in 1746, and had presumably travelled to Kingston in the hope of mending his fortunes. There was in London at the same time a printer called Doctor Gaylard (c.1699-1749). He was not a medical man, for Doctor was indeed his baptismal name! and although he came from Sherborne in Dorset it is not unreasonable to suggest that he was connected with the family of Hayward Gaylard and hence through the printing connection Curtis Brett may have been introduced to Hayward.

Hayward Gaylard married Ann Allwood, in Spanish Town, on the 25th of  December  1752. The marriage was to be short lived and apparently without surviving children, for Hayward Gaylard was buried in the North churchyard at Kingston on the 24th of July 1756. It seems possible that when Curtis Brett first travelled to Jamaica it was with Hayward Gaylard, and this would account for how he came to meet his future wife.

What is harder to account for is how Ann came to be there in the first place. We know that she had at least two brothers, both of whom had interesting careers. Her brother John was an artisan painter who took an apprentice in St Giles in London in 1765 and spent some time on the Carolinas, painting an altarpiece in Charleston in 1772.

Her brother Thomas was apprenticed to Thomas Johnson in Liverpool in 1752 and became a master carver and gilder. In this role he exhibited sculptures and created picture frames for Romney, framed works by George Stubbs and undertook decorative carving work for the Prince of Wales at Carlton House. Whether because the Prince was notorious for not paying  his bills or for other reasons, sadly, in 1799 Thomas was declared bankrupt, and family properties in Great Russell Street and Charlotte Street had to be sold. What happened to him after this is unknown, but it seems likely he lived out his life at Barking in Essex, died in 1819 and was buried in the family grave in the Whitefield’s Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road, London. My reasoning on this is governed by the burial in the same church in a ‘family vault’ of his brother-in-law Curtis Brett in 1784.

John Allwood, who died in about 1796, left a wife, seemingly his second, and the only reference to a child was to his son John who had some years previously left for Bombay and had not been heard of since.

So how did Ann Allwood come to be in Jamaica in 1752? It is possible that she travelled there with her brother John, since we know he ventured to the Americas twenty years later. There is the further possibility that there was a third brother, called Francis, who set up shop in Harbour Street, Kingston and lived out his days as an established member of the community there, dying in Liguanea in April 1793. He was noted for having blown up his own house in Kingston to prevent the spread of a conflagration in 1782. The Cornwall Chronicle of 1789 reported that ‘His long pursuit of that business, and known integrity, see from the year 1774, until the fatal conflagration in 1782, which, to save the town from still further destruction, had his house blown into the air by gunpowder, for which he has never received the smallest recompense.[1]

If she did travel out to Jamaica with her brother Francis, this would have placed Ann firmly within the merchant community in Kingston and in a position to meet both of her husbands.

We know of only two children of Ann and Curtis Brett. Charles Richard Brett was born in Kingston on the 4th of September  1761 and he may have been the child mentioned in his father’s letter,  quoted by Daniel Livesay[2], as being sent to England. A second son, Curtis Brett, was born on the 8th of October  1765 and one on-line source suggests he was baptised at Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex on the 11th of November that year, which would imply he was born in England, but I am unable to verify this.

The second Curtis Brett signed  Articles of Clerkship with John Windus of Tooks Castle Yard on the 19th of  November  1781, but I am unclear whether he ever practised law. In due course he inherited all his father’s estate, including mining interests in North Wales, when Curtis Brett senior died in 1784. Four years later he married Anna Maria Johnson and they had a family of four sons and two daughters.

Of their children, Charles Curtis became an army veterinary surgeon; Henry Richard was a wine merchant and later Brewer’s Agent whose son Walter spent several years in Belgium before he migrated to Canada where his sons both became taxidermists; George fared less well and in 1851 seems to have been a Watchman at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. The third Curtis Brett fell even further and seems to have ended his life in the Camberwell Workhouse, perhaps his previous employment as a grocer and later wine cooper and brewer’s agent had led him to drink. I cannot trace Louisa, but Emily Maria married well to a respected clergyman and her grandaughter  Emily Mary Edith Lloyd married the wealthy Charles Bosanquet. It was however a tale with a sad ending. Of their three children Muriel died aged only seven, Sydney died of wounds in the early months of the Great War aged barely twenty and his brother Leslie, who appears not to have served, died aged eighteen in November 1918 perhaps in the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Curiously, or perhaps not so curiously given the social set they all moved in, Charles Bosanquet was related to descendants of Robert Cooper Lee whose letters form such a major part of A Parcel of Ribbons.

 

* ‘Two Jamaican Printers’, in Roderick Cave, Printing and the book trade in the West Indies (London: Pindar Press, 1987) pp. 206-218.

 

 


[1] http://jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Members/C/CornwallC_01.htm

[2] Curtis Brett to his son, c. 1777, MS 10, letter no. 19, 40, National Library of Jamaica,  cited in Children of  Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Migration from the West Indies to Britain, 1750-1820,  Daniel Alan Livesay, unpublished PhD thesis (book in preparation)

These Curtis Brett letters are partial transcriptions of the originals, the whereabouts of which are sadly currently unknown.

 

The Swymmer family of Bristol

College Green Bristol where the Swymmer Family owned property during the 17th and 18th centuries. Bristol Cathedral is in the background*

 

 

The Bristol-based Swymmer family played a key part in the development of merchant venturers in that city, in the early history of Jamaica, and in the slave trade.

There are records of seventy-three indentured servants (mainly men) despatched to Jamaica from Bristol by the Swymmers between the 16th of September 1676 and the 10th of August 1685 . With the growing demand for plantation labour and a shortage of indentured servants the trade in the latter decreased as the trade in enslaved Africans increased.

Anthony Swymmer was present in Jamaica from the early days of the colony and in his Will dated the 11th of October 1684, he referred to himself as “Anthony Swymmer of the City of Bristoll, Esq , late resident in the Island of Jamaica, and now bound thither again”. Probate of the Will was granted in 1688 and it is presumed that he died in Jamaica. This Anthony Swymmer was married to Jane Langley, the sister of Elizabeth Langley who was married to Fulke Rose and later to Sir Hans Sloane.

Disentangling the members of the Swymmer family can be tricky – for example not only did this Anthony Swymmer have a son called Anthony but so did his brother William. Both brothers were themselves sons of another Anthony Swymmer and his wife Joan Hayman. Unfortunately Swymmer baptisms on IGI are patchy, although there are also some marriage and burial records. There are fifteen Wills of members of the Swymmer family at the National Archives and I am gradually working my way through transcribing some of them. Some already appear on this website – you can see the current list here. There are also records of property owned by the family held at the Bristol Record Office for members of the family owned considerable property in Bristol on College Green, and also Lower Green, Nicholas Street, Small Street and Kings Square. They also owned land and property at Marshfield, at Rowberrow in Somerset, in Buckinghamshire and later in Flintshire and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord Mayor’s Chapel in Bristol where Bridget Swymmer was buried in 1820**

 

 

 

 

 

The Swymmer family may have originated in Cornwall where John Swymmer and his wife Susan had three sons Peter, Warne and John baptised in Padstow in 1631, 1634 and 1637. Peter is recorded as a mercer and issued his own tokens (there being regular shortages of small coins). One website suggests that he also lent money at interest. With his wife Grace he had a daughter Elizabeth and a son, another Peter Swymmer. That there were connections with the Bristol branch of the family is further hinted at through the marriage in Padstow in 1700 of a Susanna Swymmer and Arthur Merrett, while a Barbara Swymmer married Anthony Merrett in Gloucestershire about 1698, and Rebecca Merrett married John Swymmer in 1696 at St Philip and St Jacobs, Bristol. Moreover in his Will of 1726 William Swymmer of Bristol left a legacy of £100 to another William Swymmer, the son of John Swymmer of Padstow.

John Swymmer of Bristol died relatively young, and childless, in 1700. He was the eldest son of William (c.1650-1715) the stay-at-home brother of the first Anthony who went to Jamaica. That first Anthony had a son called Anthony who married first a daughter of Bernard Andreiss, possibly called Johanna (widow of a Dutchman called William Kupius resulting in a petition of Mr Swymmer for an escheated estate of one Kupuis, late of Jamaica, deceased’) and then a woman called Milborough (surname unknown) who was the mother of Jane Langley Swymmer and Anthony Langley Swymmer.

John Swymmer’s widow Rebecca (Merrett) shines through his Will as a young woman well endowed in her own right, with a large collection of family jewellery and a passion for both needlework and riding. John, who left the majority of his estate to his brothers, nevertheless explicitly left Rebecca all the needlework hangings she had made and her own bay horse with its saddle and other ‘furniture’. He also left her half the contents of the house in Small Street, Bristol, made sure her marriage settlement was honoured and that she was repaid the twenty-five pounds of her own money she had paid out for his medical bills. A Memorandum attached to the Will also listed items of furniture and other household goods. Whether he remembered them after writing the Will or whether she persuaded him to add such detail is unclear, but at a time when a married woman’s property belonged to her husband such a precaution, preventing as it did all these items from being included in the residuary estate, did secure her position.

The Wills of the Jamaican Swymmers – Anthony, Anthony and Anthony Langley provide an insight into the accumulation of family lands by 1760, when the last of these died in St Thomas in the East. Apart from his extensive holdings and mineral rights in Flintshire in Wales, Anthony Langley Swymmer left 2036 acres at the Nutts River plantation, 1120 acres at Clark’s River, 332 acres acquired from Richard Risby, 4000 acres in Vere and 1100 acres in the parish of St George. There was also land and buildings in Spanish Town ‘near the Beef Market’. As he died childless the main beneficiaries of all this were the children of his sister Jane who had married Richard Chandler Champneys whose first wife was Sarah Daines, Jane’s second cousin.

I must apologies incidentally to any Welsh speakers for my inability to read the names of the various places in Flintshire where Anthony Langley Swymmer held property!

Sadly the Champneys family squandered their inheritance:

Sir Thomas Champneys inherited several estates from his father, but from mismanagement lost all but the Orchardleigh and Nutts River estates. He died at Exton, Hampshire, aged 76 in July 1821. His son and heir, Thomas Swymmer Champneys, squandered what was left of the family’s fortune and ended up in the insolvent debtors court in the 1820s which declared his the largest amount of debt ever filed in the court since its establishment in 1813, with debts and liabilities upwards of £429,000.”

It is a tale not at all untypical of wealth accumulated in Jamaica, using slave labour, by the early migrants who managed their estates in person, but whose successors became absentees spending the profits of an earlier generation. The Swymmer family however, not only made their fortunes on the plantations, they had also made much of it directly through the slave trade, and in the process contributed to the wealth of Bristol derived from that trade.

 

*By Snapshots Of The Past (College Green Bristol England) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Original image: Photochrom print (color photo lithograph).

**By NotFromUtrecht (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bits and Pieces

Royal York Crescent Clifton, Bristol*

This last week has been a busy one, taken up with a variety of activities and so by way of catching up this week’s blog piece is a bit of a patchwork, piecing together some of the scraps of information recently acquired.

Part of the week was spent stitching together a family tree for a friend of a friend who will probably be as surprised as I was to discover in it a Jamaican connection. In his case this was a young soldier who joined up at the age of seventeen in the first half of the nineteenth century and served with his Regiment, the 33rd Foot the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, in the West Indies, among other places.

Yesterday I spent in Bristol at a conference on Jamaica and the Caribbean: Beyond the Boundary. It took place in the Watershed, a converted dockside warehouse, now an arts centre and cinema, and was part of a three-day event to “reflect on the sometimes difficult political, economic and social development of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago since independence 50 years ago, and also the significant impact these countries have had on the Caribbean community in Bristol and the UK.”

The wealth of Bristol, a significant seaport for centuries, was in many ways derived from slavery, the slave trade, and the income from the products of slavery particularly sugar. Although it was a much smaller city than London, perhaps 20,000 people in the first part of the 18th-century, by the end of the century it had become one of the most favoured retirement spots for members of the Plantocracy returning home, especially in the area of Clifton. The names of streets today reflect this, Royal York Crescent, Regent Street, Merchants Road – in the fresh air high above the river Avon and the Avon Gorge with easy access to the city of Bristol and its trading connections, but set apart in genteel Georgian splendour.

Much of the conference was concerned with the modern Caribbean and the Afro-Caribbean migrants to Britain, Bristol in particular. It began, however, with a historical introduction to Bristol and Jamaica by Professor Madge Dresser of the University of the West of England. She outlined a little of the early history of Jamaica and the connections with the island of Bristol families such as the Penns and the Swymmers. Elizabeth Swymmer is one of the few women whose direct connections to the slave trade can be tracked. She mentioned the records of the Bybrook Plantation held at the Bristol record office, and the often chance distribution of Jamaican and Plantation records to other record offices around the country. Talking of the distribution of records she mentioned the use of the slave ownership compensation records compiled in 1833 for tracking both slave owners and enslaved people. Just as I have discussed here previously the way in which the mixed race Jamaican descendants blended into English society, so the profits derived from Jamaica were often used to build the great 18th-century British country houses, with the origins of the funds subsequently suppressed or forgotten.

The second speaker, Adrian Stone, was a hugely enthusiastic speaker about his own genealogical researches which had taken him from 21st-century Bristol to 18th-century Jamaica. A self-taught researcher he had begun by interviewing close family members and then more distant cousins about their origins in Jamaica and the complex interrelationships of a large family. Living now in London he had discovered cousins he did not know existed and had explored their joint history using resources such as the Mormon family history Centre in Exhibition Road, and the National Archives at Kew. He had found that many people asked if he was able to traces family origins back to Africa and demonstrated how the slave returns for Jamaica, which I discussed last week, could sometimes be used through the names of women such as ‘Ebo Venus’ to relate their origins to specific tribes and regions in Africa.

This brings me to another of this week’s bits and pieces, for I came across some material relating to slave names. I will cover it in more detail another time but, briefly, enslaved Africans in the early eighteenth century were often given names of classical origin such as Venus, Phoebe or Chloe. Christian baptism frequently over wrote such names with English ones. But throughout it all names of African origin persisted, for example, Cudjoe the leader of the Maroons during the war of the 1730s whose name from the Guinea Coast indicates he was born on a Monday. Where these names exist in the slave records they can be used, together with some tribal references which remain, to establish areas of origin in Africa.

My final fragment for this week concerns the sort of correction a genealogist sometimes has to make (but hopefully not too often). In dealing with partial records of baptisms marriages and deaths and information derived from Wills, we reconstruct family trees and sometimes we get it wrong!

When I was working some time ago on the Aikenhead family, three of whose daughters were prominent among the Wills I transcribed, I had attached them to Archibald Aikenhead of Stirling Castle, well aware that this involved a certain amount of guesswork. I now know that some of my guesses were wrong, for I recently acquired, courtesy of Dianne Golding-Frankson, the Wills of two men both called William Aikenhead. Doctor William Aikenhead, who died about 1762, left no direct heirs and made his uncle Archibald Aikenhead his residuary legatee. The other William Aikenhead who died about 1760, referred specifically to four children – his son John Lawrence Aikenhead, and his daughters Elizabeth, Margret Helen, and Milborough Aikenhead. By the time he wrote his Will his daughter Elizabeth was married to Gilbert Ford, and Milborough to John Harvie. Margret Helen, who I take to be Margaret Eleanor Aikenhead, brought her inheritance as dowry to her marriage with Samuel Alpress about a year after the death of her father. All this means not only that more of Archibald Aikenhead’s children had died in infancy than I had previously suspected, but also that Archibald and William must have had another brother, the father of Doctor William Aikenhead. Whether this brother had a presence in Jamaica or had remained in Scotland I don’t know.

So continuing the patchwork metaphor with which I began, the work of the historian and the genealogist is to attempt to make a pleasing (and it is to be hoped truthful) pattern from the scraps and pieces of information that have been left to us. Sometimes it is necessary to unpick a piece of work and re-make it in an attempt to produce a more accurate reconstruction of our past.

* Photograph of Royal York Crescent from lizzieparker.wordpress.com where you can find a whole treasure trove of photographs and information about Bristol and Clifton.