Tag Archives: enslaved

All roads lead to Jamaica

Bamboo Avenue early coloured postcard

Bamboo Avenue, Jamaica – early coloured postcard

Well, genealogically speaking, it sometimes feels like they do !

Having finished my postgraduate studies until September I was asked to look into the origins of Dr Benjamin Bates (1737-1828) who was a member of the Hellfire Club, a friend of Erasmus Darwin and of the painter Joseph Wright of Derby, among others. Bizarrely his Wikipedia entry appears to combine the life stories of three quite different people – and if you were to believe it he was commanding a ship of the line in his eighties while simultaneously being a successful merchant in America and a physician in Buckinghamshire !

Only the last is true of the man I am looking at.

Not much was known of his origins in Nottinghamshire, but he married twice, lived to over ninety, and had one surviving daughter Lydia Bates who died unmarried in 1843. Having found her Will I was faced with the genealogist’s greatest challenge – a lovely collection of legatees but almost all female, some widowed, and some referred to as cousins but with no easy way of connecting them into the family tree.

If your cousin is the daughter of your father’s married sister who then herself married (perhaps more than once) there will have been at least two changes of surname from the main tree. Add in a few common surnames such as Smith and it’s no wonder these puzzles are often called brick walls. If your ancestors hale from Scotland you may fare better since Scottish baptism records usually name both parents and include the mother’s maiden name.

My help in this case came from a couple of unusual names and the wonderful 1851 Census, which has so often come to my rescue since, in England, it was the first time people had been asked to say exactly where they were born.

For my own family it was a huge surprise to discover Richard Lee who was born in Jamaica in the mid-eighteenth century but lived into his nineties and was present in the 1851 census – leading ultimately to the creation of this website and my book A Parcel of Ribbons.

So it was the 1851 census that came to my rescue with the Bates family connections via a man called Leigh Churchill Smyth who lived to be 83. He was born in Jamaica and baptised on the 25th June 1801 in St Catherine’s parish to Ann Eleanor Largue, recorded in the baptism records of her children as a free quadroon. There were five children, all baptised there as Smith, but with no father named. This suggests that he acknowledged the children to the extent of giving them his name, but not of having his full name recorded as their father. Jane Beazle Smith was baptised in 1790, Ann Frances in 1796, Leigh Churchill in 1801, Penelope Sophia in 1804 and Henry Shepherd in 1807.

Some time in the latter part of the eighteenth century the family went upmarket in the spelling of their name and Smith became Smyth.

Henry, who wrote his middle name as Sheppard, later recorded his place of birth as Kingston so it’s possible that Ann Eleanor took her children from there to be baptised in Spanish Town. Ann Eleanor herself was baptised there in 1775. She was the daughter of Ester Beazle or Beazley who was born in 1745 and recorded as a free mulatto when she was baptised with her son Stephen Adolphus Beazle in 1768.

Little Ann Frances Smith died of fever before her first birthday, but in the 1841 census Leigh, Penelope and Henry were all living with Matilda Eleanor Archer Smyth in London and Jane was living in Buckingham with Penelope Box (who was another widowed cousin mentioned by Lydia Bates). At first I assumed Matilda was their mother, but it seems possible she was their unmarried aunt.

Matilda had four brothers any one of whom might have been the children’s father. I can only find a record of the death of two of these brothers in England – Samuel Chester Smyth who died in Blackfriars schoolhouse in 1813, and Thomas William Anthony Smyth who killed himself on board his ship HMS Duncan in 1830.

As the Jamaican parish burial registers are not yet indexed on-line, the only way to find out if one of the two remaining brothers died there is to page through the images in the parish registers. For a name as common as Smith and a register with as many deaths as Kingston this is a lengthy task which I will undertake when I have time.

There is another possibility. Just as I was about to post this story I came across reference in an early 20th century book of pedigrees to Henry Sheppard Smyth being the son of Charles Smyth of Spanish Town and grandson of Sir Richard Smyth, a one time Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. This puts a gloss of legitimacy on his birth and pedigree which was obviously important in enhancing his social status as a ‘Gentleman at Arms’.  It also fits with the Smyth family associations with Buckingham. But I have been unable to verify it, though while searching I came across both a Leigh Smyth and a Churchill Smyth and a number of Penelope Smyths.

Leigh Churchill Smyth married and was a successful solicitor, perhaps with a wealthy wife, for at his death in 1884 he was worth over £36,000. His wife died a few months later worth even more, and there appear to have been no surviving children. His spinster sister Penelope who had been a governess had an estate valued at under £300 at her death. Jane was also unmarried and left what she had to her brother Leigh. Henry married late and had two children who were still very young when he died in 1866 leaving his wife less than £300. She died in 1870 leaving less than £600 and their children seem to disappear from the record.

So I wonder if there remain any descendants of Ann Eleanor Largue, and if so do they know of their Jamaican heritage?  Will they, like me, make the surprising discovery of how often British middle and upper class families had enslaved ancestors, and will they find the road to Jamaica?

 

 

 

 

 

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.