The most disappointing Wills from every point of view are those where a man leaves everything to his ‘beloved wife’ (un-named) and says nothing else, apart perhaps from commending his soul to God and requesting payment of all his just debts – not the unjust ones of course! Admirable as it is that he provides amply for his widow, he leaves little to the family historian.
The best Wills for a genealogist are those that mention lots of friends and relations by name, perhaps even including their home town or street. If they also include details of the relationship so much the better, although you do have to remember that ‘my sister’ might be ‘my sister-in-law’, my niece could be a great niece and ‘my kinsman’ may give you weeks of work trying to work out just how they were related.
By far the greatest quantity of seventeenth and eighteenth century Wills relating to Jamaica were written by men, but there are Wills for those women who outlived their husbands and had property in their own right. In some cases such as thrice-married Mary Rose who I wrote about a while ago, although the main part of her husbands’ estates went to her sons she still had property of her own.
In the case of Margaret Eleanor Alpress, whose Will I recently transcribed, she had outlived her husband by many years and was wealthy in her own right.
Margaret Eleanor Alpress ‘of the City of Bath in the County of Somerset Widow but now in London’, was born Margaret Aikenhead in Jamaica in the early 1740s and married Samuel Alpress in the parish of St Andrew on the 27th January 1761. He died in 1784 leaving his widow and three surviving daughters.
Samuel’s father George Alpress had owned 125 acres in Clarendon and 51 acres in Vere in 1754 and used his wealth to send Samuel to be educated in England where it has to be said he did not shine! During his time at Jesus College, Cambridge Samuel was said to have started a riot in Ely and in a letter to Stephen Fuller in 1757 (the Fuller family were in loco parentis on George’s behalf) William Hawes wrote that ‘The conduct of Mr Allpress does not warrant his remaining at college’. He also appears to have run up considerable debts.
Samuel returned to Jamaica where his father died sometime before 1766. His mother Jane remarried on the 25th of June 1766 to Dr Cholmondeley Dering of South Carolina but was drowned at Dry River four days after her wedding while returning from Spanish Town to Withywood. Samuel inherited £4000 Jamaican currency and the plantations.
Samuel and Margaret had at least three daughters born in Jamaica of whom only Elizabeth survived. Two more daughters followed – Milborough, who may have been born in Jamaica, and Jane Eleanor born in London in 1771. It was to these daughters that Margaret left her most personal possessions.
Elizabeth who had married Kean Osborn at Spanish Town in 1780 was left a silver christening bowl; and Milborough, married to Richard Crewe of Crewe Hall in Cheshire, was left a silver epergne. It was the youngest daughter Jane Eleanor who received the bulk of her mother’s personal possessions. Whether this disparity reflected earlier gifts to the older daughters, their husbands’ relative wealth or favouritism to the youngest is unclear. Kean Osborn and his heirs are shown as owners of the Caswell Hill property mentioned in the Will in various early nineteenth century listings, by which time they were absentee landlords, its size given as over 2000 acres in 1845. Jane’s husband Richard Bulkeley was the sole executor. It is possible both other sons-in-law were out of the country, Kean Osborn in Jamaica and Major General Richard Crewe serving with the army.
Jane received ‘three Mahogany Cases with Silver Locks and Handles, the two larger Cases containing two Dozen Green handled Knives and Forks ferrelled with Silver and one Dozen of Table Spoons, and a Marrow spoon in each Case and the smaller Case containing one Dozen of Green handled knives and forks ferrelled with silver and one dozen of Desert Spoons, and also a Silver Cruet stand both Compleat, two pair of high Silver Candlesticks, one flat silver candlestick, one large silver Tankard and Cover, two Silver Cups and Covers ,one large round Silver waiter, one ditto next size two hand round Silver waiters, one Silver Tea urn, one Tortoises Shell Tea Chest with silver Canisters Compleat, fifteen Silver Tea spoons and a pair of silver Tea Tongs’.
Margaret’s sister Elizabeth Townsend received a large square silver tea board, her sister Milborough McLean a large silver saucepan and cover, niece Elizabeth Trelawny Townsend a silver teapot, and a friend called Mary Stern a small silver saucepan for cream.
There were jewels also, with daughter Elizabeth receiving ‘my Diamond Necklace and Ear Rings, one large Diamond Pin, and her Father’s Picture set round with Diamonds’, while Jane was left ‘my two next sized Diamond Pins and six smaller ones, my Diamond Pin with her Father’s Hair and a smaller Diamond Pin with Hair in it and my Rose Diamond Ring’.
There was a hoop diamond ring for god daughter Elizabeth Raine(?) Wilhelmina Pringle and money gifts to grandchildren including grandson Kean Osborn, who sadly would die at Salamanca during the Peninsular War.
The item that most intrigued me was the green handled knives and forks with their silver ferrells. A little research showed that such handles were often made of ivory stained green. If anyone can tell me how this was done I’d love to know.