Tag Archives: slave

New Slave Ownership and Estate records

 

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This is just a quick post about the new records available at the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website. Newly added to the existing records of the slave owners who received compensation at the time of abolition are records of 8000 of the estates they owned together with maps of Britain, Jamaica, Barbados and Grenada showing the location of the estates and of places in Britain associated with them. It is a work in progress but a hugely valuable resource.

Moreover tomorrow, 28 September 2016, will see the launch at UCL of the new Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at UCL. You can find more details of the event here. It is free to attend but booking is required.

A useful additional resource is the website on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Runaway Slaves

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of a Mourning Brooch

 

One of the delights of running a website like this is when a reader gets in touch to provide further information relating to something they have read here.

When I wrote about Marchant Tubb and his wife Ann in one of my earliest pieces I was not then certain who his wife was. I did know that she had previously been married to Stephen Morant and had a daughter called Mary Powell Morant.

The reader who contacted me collects mourning brooches such as this lovely Georgian example made for Mary Powell Royall to commemorate her mother, and where possible researches the person commemorated. By a piece of clever detective work, decoding the coat of arms on the tomb that Marchant Tubb had erected for his wife, my informant was able to show that Stephen Morant’s wife Ann was called Ann Anderson and that they were married in Jamaica on the 4th of June 1737.

Ann Morant gave birth to two children, Stephen and Mary Powell Morant, before her husband died on 30 October 1742. Mary Powell Morant was baptised when she was eight months old, her baptism being recorded in the register for St Thomas in the East “Christen’d at Wheelersfield in Plantain Garden River a female child of Stephen Morant and Ann his wife aged 8 months 2 days and named Mary Powell whose Godfathers are Messrs Thomas Wheeler and Richard Swarton ye first of ’em being represented by Mr Gibbons Hodgins and Godmothers Mrs Mary Crames and Mrs Elizabeth Swarton, ye first of ’em being represented by Mrs Mary Cussans the father and mother being present.”

On the 14th of February 1745 Ann Morant remarried to Samuel Wheeler who in turn died about 1755. Some time after this she married her third husband, the surgeon Marchant Tubb, but sadly neither I nor my informant have been able to track down a record of this marriage which I am sure took place in Jamaica. By 1768 Marchant and Ann Tubb were in England together with their daughter Mary Powell Morant.

Mary Powell Morant was a considerable heiress and when after her mother’s death she decided to marry Joseph Royall in 1782, her stepfather took great care to ensure that the marriage settlement protected her rights, for as a femme couverte she might have lost control of it all to her husband. It provided further considerable work for the lawyers when, within a very short space of time, she left her husband and returned to live with Marchant Tubb. Temperamentally it seems the couple were completely unsuited, at least according to Mary ‘s very close friend Frances Lee who wrote to her brother “And what do you think is come to pass? Mr and Mrs Royall are separated by mutual Consent. They each complain of the violence of the others Disposition. Mrs R. is returned to her father whom she no longer calls Tubby. The marriage was concluded in such haste that I am not the least surprised at the separation – I pity neither.”

When Marchant Tubb died Mary inherited the share of the Wheelersfield estate that had come to him via his marriage, and on her death in 1816 she in turn left it to Frances Lee. There is no specific mention in Mary’s will of items of jewellery or the mourning brooch, although she did leave all her clothes to Elizabeth Pack (formerly Elizabeth Harrison) the black servant who had come to England with the Lee family in 1771.

There is one further little mystery that my informant found as a result of the researches into the mourning brooch. On 22 June 1739 a child called James Morant was baptised at Wheelersfield in St Thomas in the East said to be aged one year ten months and eight days old, the son of Stephen Morant and Ann Gowing. Stephen Morant was present at the baptism but Ann Gowing was not, and his godmother was Mrs Ann Morant. The infant James Morant appears to have been born about two and a half months after the marriage of his father to Ann Anderson.

Exactly one month later the adjacent record in the parish register shows the marriage of Ann Gowing to James Frazier a bricklayer. The marriage was by special licence rather than by banns which means that someone was able to put up the money for the licence and it took place in the house of Mr Roger Wood with Mr Richard Jephcott a millwright standing in place of the bride’s father.

Illegitimate children were of course very common in Jamaica, and in this case it would appear that Stephen Morant’s new wife was entirely happy to stand godmother for his illegitimate child, and that provision was being made for his mother. There is no mention in the parish register (which does generally record colour) of Ann Gowing’s colour or status, and therefore it seems possible that she was a poor white girl, perhaps a servant, rather than a slave or “housekeeper” to Stephen Morant.

Whatever the actions of Mary Powell Morant’s father, the brooch she had made to commemorate her mother and the tomb created by her stepfather for his wife are tributes to someone who was clearly very much loved during her lifetime.

Mixed Race Jamaicans in England

The status of  mixed race Jamaicans in eighteenth century Jamaica was always going to be less than than of white colonists, but it was possible for them to become established and successful in England. A case in point are two of the children of Scudamore Winde.

Ambrose Scudamore Winde (he seems to have dropped the Ambrose early on) was born about 1732 at Kentchurch in Herefordshire, son of John Winde and Mary Scudamore.  The beautiful Kentchurch Court is still in the hands of the Scudamore family as it has been for the last thousand years or so. In 1759, following the suicide of his father, he and his brother Robert went to Jamaica where Scudamore Winde became an extremely successful merchant.  He was also Assistant Judge of the Supreme Court of the Judicature and a member of the Assembly.

Like many white colonists of the island he had relationships with several women but did not marry.  When he died in late September 1775 he left generous legacies to his various children. His business had prospered and a large part of his assets were in the form of debts owed to him. According to Trevor Burnard[1] he had  personal assets of £94,273, of which £82,233 were in the form of debts. This would be equivalent to about £9.3 million relative to current retail prices or £135 million in relation to average wages today.

Scudamore Winde freed his negro slave Patty who was baptised as Patty Winde in 1778 at Kingston when her age was given as about 50.  Patty and her daughter Mary were left land that he had bought from Richard Ormonde in Saint Catherine’s with the buildings on it, and £100 Jamaican currency together with two slaves called Suki and little Polly.  It is not clear whether Mary was Scudamore Winde’s daughter for although her name is given as Mary Winde she is referred to as a negro rather than mulatto.

Scudamore Winde had a mulatto son called Robert, possibly the son of Patty, who was born about 1759, and three children with Sarah Cox herself a free negro or mulatto (records vary).  Her children were Penelope, John and Thomas born between 1768 and 1774.  John may have died young and Thomas elected to remain in Jamaica where he had a successful career as a merchant in Kingston.  Robert and Penelope travelled to England under the eye of Robert Cooper Lee who was trustee and executor of his close friend Scudamore Winde’s Will.

Robert went into business in London as a merchant, listed in various directories from 1784 and for some of the time in partnership.  The firm of Koithan & Winde traded out of 20 St Martin’s Lane London in the 1780s, and there are records of Robert Winde ‘gentleman’ at 48 Jermyn Street in the 1790s when his wife Jane is listed as a haberdasher taking out fire insurance with the Sun Insurance company.

Robert married Jane Bateman at Holy Trinity Clapham in 1781 and they had at least six children. Four were living in 1794 when Robert Cooper Lee left legacies to ‘the two sons and two daughters of Robert Winde’, but only Jane Anne seems to have lived to adulthood.  She married late in life to a widowed solicitor called Henry Pinniger of Westbury in Wiltshire, who had seven children by his first wife.  The implication is that Jane Anne Winde had inherited sufficient income of her own to live comfortably as a spinster until then.

Robert Winde’s partner Frederick Koithan was born at Bremen in Germany and applied for naturalisation in England in 1791 by Private Act of Parliament.  He died in 1809 but the partnership seems to have ended before this with Robert Winde then trading on his own.  I have not found a burial for Robert Winde, but his wife Jane was recorded as living in Downing Street Westminster at her death in 1822.

Robert’s half sister Penelope married a young lawyer called David Steel on 1 May 1786 at St Martin Orgar and St Clement Eastcheap.  Robert Cooper Lee was a witness at the wedding.  Penelope was a considerable heiress. She had been left  £2000 in the first part of her father’s Will with a further £2000 on the death of her brother John plus another £1500 in a codicil.

This is particularly interesting since under the 1761 Act of the Assembly illegitimate mixed race Jamaicans were debarred from inheriting more than £2000 and I have not found any private Act permitting the Winde children to have more. I can only guess that since Robert Cooper Lee was administering the trust from England he had liquidated the Jamaican assets so the trust fund was based in England and therefore exempt.

Although David Steel began married life as a barrister, on the death of his father he took over his business as a nautical publisher and bookseller.  When he died in 1803, aged only 39, the Gentleman’s Magazine recorded

David Steel Esq. of Little Tower Hill. He was universally respected by those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance, and has left a widow and a large family to lament the irreparable loss of an affectionate husband and fond father in the prime of life. Mr. S. was orginally employed in the Navy Office, but quitted his situation to the study of law and practiced for several years with the profession of a barrister; he quitted the profession on his father’s death and succeeded him in his business as a book, map and chart seller. The literary world are under great obligation to him for the active part which he took as one of the committee for obtaining the repeal of the duty on paper[2].

 

He had been publisher of the Navy List and of “The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship and Naval Tactics” which is still available as a digital reprint.

Penelope found herself a widow with five small children and remarried to William Mason in 1806.  It seems likely that her eldest son David Lee Steel did not get on with his stepfather, and when he died at the age of 31 of “a rapid decline “(probably tuberculosis) his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine hinted at a family row over his inheritance.

 Gentleman’s Magazine  Vol.88 Part 1 Jan-June 1818, p.572

 

His younger brother Scudamore Winde Steel was made of sterner stuff and had a long and distinguished career in the Indian Army ending up as a Lieutenant General and with a knighthood. Their sister Penelope Sarah became a schoolmistress at the National School, Batson Street, Limehouse and lived to the age of 84.

Lt.-Gen. Sir Scudamore Winde Steel

Anne Steel followed in her father’s footsteps marrying twice into the printing and publishing trade. Some of her descendants live today in the USA but her nephews and nieces had all died without children by the early twentieth century.

Her nephew Charles, son of Sir Scudamore Winde Steel, married the sister of Kitty O’Shea – but that as they say is another story.

 

 



[1] Kingston Merchants and the Atlantic Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century, Trevor Burnard, BGEAH, Stirling, 3 September 2009

[2]    Gentleman’s magazine Vol. 73 (1803), p 93.

 

Death and Disease in Jamaica

aedes aegypti – the mosquito that transmits yellow fever

 

The colonists who went to Jamaica in the 17th and 18th centuries were aware of many of the risks to their health but not of the causes.  Much has been written about the reasons why white society in Jamaica never became established to the same extent as it did in North America in spite of the fact that the Caribbean islands were regarded as part of the same territory.

It is notable that of the early colonists who arrived with Penn and Venables from 1655 onwards few had descendants still on the island a century later.  Very many marriages were terminated within a short time by the death of one partner. Infant and maternal mortality even by the standards of the time was shockingly high, and more than one colonist died at sea fleeing the island for the sake of their health.  Of the eight children of the Rev William May featured in an earlier article only one survived to full adulthood, with two sons aged fifteen and twenty dying at sea on their way to Boston “for the recovery of their health”.  Young girls seem to have married earlier on average than their equivalents back home in England, and it is likely, quite apart from the shortage of young white women in Jamaica, that this was at least in part an attempt to ensure the production of children before their parents’ anticipated early death.  Visitors to the island noted with shock that few of the tombstones recorded Islanders who had made it past their early thirties.

The reasons for the very high infant mortality included waterborne infections such as diarrhoea and dysentery, measles, smallpox, whooping cough, and especially in the case of infants born on the plantations to enslaved mothers infantile tetanus (known as lockjaw).  This disease whose spores are transmitted through animal faeces nearly wiped out the population of the Scottish island of St Kilda in the 19th century, until the local minister studying a course on midwifery prevented the anointing of the baby’s cord with sheep dung.  On the Jamaican plantations where women carried baskets of dung on their heads to manure the sugar cane, such knowledge and choice was unavailable.  There is no record of the number of babies who died in this way but it must have been high.

Infections such as measles, smallpox and whooping cough were no respecters of colour or class but there is evidence of appallingly high mortality among slaves newly arrived in Jamaica.  Their health already compromised by dehydration, poor food, lack of fresh air or exercise and suffering from grief and depression, those on the lower tiers of a slave ship spent the voyage unable to avoid the urine and faeces of those above them. If they survived the voyage they too easily succumbed to epidemic diseases on arrival. It was generally the practice to “season” new arrivals allowing a period of acclimatisation often by working on the pens tending livestock or producing provisions before they were put to work in the cane fields or at the more skilled and exhausting tasks in the boiling houses.

Major epidemics killed white settlers and slaves alike, with regular outbreaks of yellow fever, measles, smallpox and yaws all of which were highly infectious. There is evidence that on some plantations it was realised that the slaves themselves were better at treating yaws, with which they were familiar from their home countries, than the European doctors who prescribed mercury itself a poison and used by them to treat the related condition of syphilis[1].

Yellow fever had probably arrived in the West Indies from Africa by the mid seventeenth century. Like malaria it is dependent for its transmission on mosquitoes breeding in stagnant water, both then present in abundance in Jamaica. The clay pots used in sugar production when broken were cast down and provided small pools of water; hurricanes and earthquake tsunami created larger bodies of water ideal for breeding.

Following the disastrous earthquake of June 1692 a correspondent of Sir Hans Sloane wrote on the 23rd of September, “We have had a very great Mortality since the great Earthquake (for we have little ones daily) almost half the people that escap’d upon Port-Royal are since dead of a Malignant Fever, from Change of Air, want of dry Houses, warm lodging, proper Medicines, and other conveniences.”[2]

Another wrote “The Weather was much hotter after the Earthquake than before; and such an innumerable quantity of Muskitoes, that the like was never seen since the inhabiting of the Island.”

In addition to infectious illness with high mortality Jamaica’s inhabitants had to contend with problems caused by ticks and jiggers. Blood sucking ticks particularly attack bare flesh around the legs and infected bites could lead to more serious problems. Jiggers, or chigoe fleas, bore into the feet to lay their eggs and were particularly problematic for anyone without shoes, which of course was most of the enslaved population as well as some poor whites. It was important to remove the jiggers early in their life cycle using a specially designed knife, and many cases of lameness among slaves were attributed to the lesions from untreated jiggers. They could also attack the hands, and any part of the person exposed to the ground, such as legs or buttocks. Many plantations carried out weekly hand and foot inspections.

Europeans arriving in Jamaica recognized smallpox and dysentery, measles and whooping cough but yaws, tropical ulcers, the dry bellyache and miscellaneous fevers were new to them. Most were infections against which there was little remedy but the dry bellyache should have been avoidable by the mid-eighteenth century when its cause was understood to be lead poisoning resulting from the stills used for making rum.

Benjamin Franklin “wrote about lead poisoning on several occasions, in particular about a disease known as the dry-gripes (or dry-bellyache) that had plagued Europe and the colonies for years….in 1723 the Massachusetts colonial legislature passed a bill outlawing the use of lead in the coils and heads of stills.  Observance of this law led to vastly decreased incidence of the dry-gripes, as the population drank less and less lead-contaminated rum.” [3]

In 1745 Thomas Cadwalder had drawn attention to the extreme cases of colic ‘West India dry gripe’ that were caused by the use of lead piping in rum distillation, but it seems nothing was done and it is not clear when the use of lead was reduced in Jamaica, with large scale illness and death among the garrisons and in the navy still occurring at the end of the eighteenth century.  The better off colonists avoided the worst of this by drinking imported claret, brandy or Madeira as well as rum, but excessive use of alcohol leading to liver damage further weakened their ability to withstand illness and live to see old age.

One notable exception was Jane Gallimore born about 1664, who outlived her husband Matthew Gregory by nearly forty years and whose burial record in St Catherine in 1754 gave her age as ninety. Mary Bailie was buried on 22nd July 1756 when her age was recorded as ‘about 95’.

Many colonists chose not to risk the hazards of Jamaica once they had established their plantation, or made their fortune as merchants and left the island for ever hoping thereby to live a long and healthy life ‘back home’.



[1] Richard B. Sheridan, Doctors and Slaves, Cambridge University Press, 1985, reprinted 2009, pp.86-7

[2] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1694, 18, pp.78-100

[3] Lisa Gensel , The Medical World of Benjamin Franklin, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Vol. 98, No 12, pp. 534-538

 

Blocking Legacies to Negroes and Mulattoes

 

In December 1761 the Jamaican Assembly passed an Act, which was subsequently ratified in London, “to prevent the inconveniences arising from exorbitant grants and devises, made by white persons to negroes, and the issue of negroes; and to restrain and limit such grants and devises.” It is sometimes referred to as the Devises Act.

You can read the full text of the Act here.

Owing in part to the shortage of white women settlers in Jamaica, and to a more relaxed attitude to marriage than would be the case a century later, many white planters and other European migrants formed relationships with non-whites both free and enslaved.  The children resulting from these relationships were often brought up in what amounted to a stable family situation, and their education and welfare was provided for in the Wills of their white fathers.  In many cases the children were apprenticed to a trade, or sent to England for a liberal education in one of the professions.  Many had careers in the Army or Navy, as merchants, or later in the 18th century in the developing colonies of south Asia.  Where there were no legitimate offspring to inherit the wealth the father had accumulated in Jamaica, that wealth and property, including slaves, was often left to their illegitimate mixed race children.  It was this that the act of 1761 was designed to prevent or at least to limit.

Under the act the amount that a child could inherit was to be limited to £2000 which although it was a large amount of money, equivalent perhaps to £286,000 today using the retail price index, or £2,850,000 relative to average earnings[1], was a mere fraction of the total of some of the larger estates.  The act was designed to prevent the leaving of a larger legacy to “any negro whatever, or to any mulatto, or other person not being in their own issue born in lawful wedlock, and being the issue of a negro, and deemed a mulatto.”  This therefore restricted legacies, even if left to a legitimate child, where that child was mixed race and at least one eighth black.  Nor could the restriction be avoided by leaving the property in trust to a white person on behalf of such child.  The  limitation of £2000 even extended to property left by such a mixed-race person to their children.  The only exception related to those mixed race Jamaicans who had already been granted the legal status of white persons.

In the event, until this act was later repealed, it was possible for white planters and others who had made their fortune in Jamaica to apply for a private act of the Jamaican Assembly to permit them to transmit their inheritance to their children, or to remove their property from Jamaica.

Robert Cooper Lee who had four mixed-race children born illegitimate in Jamaica, and was responsible as a trustee and guardian for his illegitimate mixed-race nephews, made such an application in December, 1776, in an Act “to authorize and enable Robert Cooper Lee, late of the Island of Jamaica, but now of the kingdom of Great Britain, esquire, to settle and dispose of his estates, both real and personal in this island, by deed or will as he shall think proper, notwithstanding an Act of the Governor, Council and Assembly of this island, intituled, an Act to prevent inconveniences arising from exorbitant grants and devises made by white persons and the issue of negroes and to restrain and limit such grants and devises.”

What is in many ways most interesting, is that three members of the Assembly dissented from the act and a copy of their objections remains at the East Sussex County Record Office at Lewes as part of the Jamaica papers of Fuller family of Rosehill in Brightling – ref: ESRO SAS/RF 20/66.  A transcription of this is included at the end of the text of the 1761 Act.

The three dissenters were Norwood Witter, Edward Clarke, and William Wynter.  Witter and Clarke were both members of the assembly for Westmorland, and William Wynter served on the Assembly as a member for St Thomas in the Vale, St Thomas in the East, and St Catherine at various times.  In 1757 he became a member of the Jamaican Council. He has already been mentioned here as the father of Thomas Wynter, mixed race son of Mary Johnson Rose.

In a clearly set out document they argued that the proposed act was unconstitutional because it restricted the right of a British citizen to leave his property as he wished; that it would encourage vexatious law suits based on the mere suggestion that someone’s ancestor was of mixed race; that limiting the financial transactions that could be made by mixed race Jamaicans might encourage them to take their money out of the island and even to emigrate; and that it restricted a father from providing for his children even where they had received a liberal education and looked white.  They also regarded it as unreasonable to penalise “a quiet and peaceable people who have ever shown themselves true and faithful to the White Inhabitants” and who had shown themselves highly supportive during the recent slave uprising.  In summary, they said:

We think it unreasonable.

As we apprehend it lays the Penalty on the innocent, We deem it severe

As we apprehend it tends to depopulate the Country, it is impolitic

As we apprehend it takes away the Right of Free Born Britons, it is unconstitutional

And as it lays a restraint on the parental affection it is unnatural

And on the whole we think it equally Inconsistent with Liberty, sound Policy, and pure Religion. 

Their objections however were overruled and the bill was passed into law on the 19th of December 1761.

Between 1768 and 1790 thirteen private Acts were passed giving the right to dispose of property as the person thought fit, including the example of Robert Cooper Lee above. They included Thomas Wynter, and in some cases also listed the names of the children who were at the same time being granted the rights of white people.

Perhaps the most interesting is that of 1784 granting the right to dispose of her property to a free quadroon, Sarah Morris of Kingston. She left her estate to her natural daughter Charlotte Stirling (daughter of a wealthy Scottish planter Robert Stirling) who was also granted the rights of a white person. During that period she was the only woman to obtain such a right.

The others who obtained the rights were:

1768 William Patrick Bourne of St John

1775 George Brooks of St Elizabeth

1776 Robert Cooper Lee

1777 John Williams of St Ann

1783 Thomas Wynter,  and William Wright of Portland

1784 Sarah Morris (as above), Patrick Duncan of St Ann and Thomas Roper of Portland

1787 John Angwin of St Ann

1788 John Russell of Clarendon

1789 George Lesslie of Westmorland

1790 George Bedward



[1] Source: http://www.measuringworth.com

What’s in a name? – Searching Jamaican Parish Registers

A rose by any other name…

Old parish registers (OPR for short) are an invaluable source of genealogical information, but sadly are often only as good as the parish clerk or vicar who wrote in them. Some are written in beautiful script and contain additional information about the father’s occupation or the street in which the family lived, others are terse to the point of being almost useless without supporting information from another source.

If you have access to Ancestry, take a look at the registers for London where you can view the images of the actual pages. For example the early eighteenth century marriage records for St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London are clearly written and give the parish of both partners, but the later records in the same volume for baptisms and burials are untidy and hastily written although they do give the date of both birth and baptism, and the location of the burial.

Accuracy can be a problem and the record of the baptism of Robert Cooper Lee, whose parcel of ribbons gave this website its title, is doubly inaccurate – for the clerk of St Michael Bassishaw wrote his mother’s name as Sarah instead of Frances and his date of birth as the 4th of September when I know from a letter of his daughter Frances that it was the 15th. These problems can be much worse when dealing with the early Jamaican registers.

You can view the images of the early Jamaican parish registers on the Family Search site, which is free. These images are also available on microfilm through local LDS family history centres, although you may have to order them in for your local centre and pay the postage.

The coverage for different parishes varies a lot, with some of the earliest records in St Andrew (from 1664), St Catherine (from 1668) and Vere (from 1694) whereas Kingston only starts in 1721. Time, mould, insect attack, hurricane and fire took their toll on the records and they were sometimes copied to preserve them, not always with a hundred percent accuracy.

Until the Family Search site completes the computerised indexing of the records, you are dependent on either paging through a particular parish and time period, or using the hand compiled indexes whose images are also available. These are not in fully alphabetical order, but are organised by letter of the alphabet with blocks of records covering a period of years. If you are lucky the one you are looking at will have an annotation in the margin telling you what period it relates to, but not always. The index will give you a volume and folio reference in the form 1/23. Because the images cover two pages of the register an entry at 1/23 might be on image 12 or somewhere either side of it. Be aware that not all records are indexed, that marriages are only indexed by the name of the man and that a child’s baptism may be indexed under the mother’s name if it is illegitimate even if it later took its father’s name.

To have a good chance of finding the records you are interested in, it helps to understand family naming conventions in the eighteenth century which often followed a quite regular pattern. Where a couple were married and their children were legitimate, the eldest son was usually named after his father or one of his grandfathers, and the eldest daughter after her mother or grandmothers. It was also common for a surname to be used as a first name and the surname of a grandparent to be used as a middle name. For example Thomas Beckford married Mary Ballard in 1703 in St Catherine, Jamaica, and their eldest son was called Ballard Beckford, as was his son. The second Ballard Beckford’s daughter was named Mary Ballard Beckford.

Don’t be surprised if you find that a couple use the same name repeatedly – high infant mortality often meant that a father would make several attempts to carry on his name – if you see the same name repeated, look for a corresponding infant burial between the two baptisms. Robert Cooper Lee’s father Joseph had two attempts at a namesake before his youngest son survived.

After the eldest son and daughter, children were then named for the siblings of their parents, or after an aunt or uncle or their godparents. Sometimes they were named in honour of a family friend. Robert Cooper Lee, whose eldest son named after his brother John died young, named one son after himself; one after his friend Richard Welch; Matthew Allen Lee after his friend John Allen and Scudamore Cooper Lee after his friend Scudamore Winde. In turn John Allen named his first son John Lee Allen. Name patterns like this can often be helpful in tracing patterns of friendship especially if backed up by bequests in Wills.

In Jamaica the records are complicated by the number of illegitimate children, many born to white fathers and slave or mixed race mothers. In the early history of Jamaica slaves were not usually baptised or married in church as it was feared that if they became Christian they might acquire the rights of Christians. However from the earliest days there were free blacks and free people of mixed race – often the product of liaisons between white planters and merchants and their slaves or housekeepers. The latter were often free women of mixed race who moved between communities having some of the privileges of the white world, and as described in the article about Mary Johnston Rose, sometimes acquiring the status of being legally white.

When it came to recording the baptisms, marriages and burials of black and mixed race Jamaicans the local vicars varied in what they recorded. Some white fathers happily acknowledged their children and their names appear alongside the name of the mother in the register. However the child’s surname may be indexed as either the father’s or the mother’s.  For example in 1748 John  Lee and Mary Lord had a child baptised as Mary Ann Lord, the name she was buried under soon after.

In the case of the children of Mary Johnston Rose her sons Thomas Wynter and William Fuller took their father’s surnames and she was generally known as Mary Rose, although her mother was Elizabeth Johnston. That she used the name Mary Johnston Rose strongly suggests that she was the acknowledged daughter of a man called Rose, albeit not legitimate. In letters she is referred to as Mrs Rose, but beware of assuming that Mrs means that a woman was married – the title Mistress was used for both married and single women, and Mrs was also sometimes a courtesy title rather like Madame in French was used for an older woman.

The Jamaican registers may or may not tell you something useful about the ethnic origin of the person. The St Catherine’s register has the marriage of Emanuel Angola and Malina Angola in 1671, which only hints at African origin through their names. In 1677 Peter Moore and Black Betty were married as ‘free negroes’, but on the same page the marriage record of a mulatto and a negro does not tell us whether they were free. There was no requirement on parish priests to follow a set form in what they recorded, and as a result the records are fragmentary, inconsistent and sometimes very hard to read!

By the middle of the eighteenth century it is becoming more common to record the status of an individual, and children are baptised using all the various categories of colour discussed in an earlier posting.  Whereas a legitimate child almost always has both parents named, the illegitimate may have none – but almost always its colour is recorded. Watch out for abbreviations such as ‘Mul.’ Or simply ‘M’ for mulatto, a letter Q (which can look like a 2) for a quadroon.  Such is the segregation of people according to their colour that some of the Kingston registers actually had separate sections for Whites and People of Colour.

Civil Registration began in Jamaica on the 1st of April 1878 but some districts did not record until up to five years later. The Family Search site has over one and a half million records for Trelawny Parish Civil Registration Births, 1878-1930, and over 280,000 other indexed records from 1752-1920.

The rejoicing will be great on the part of this user when the fully indexed records are finally available online.

So good luck with your searches, and good hunting!

 

 

Mary Johnston Rose – How to become legally white

Sample of eighteenth century Indian chintz.

The Spanish Town census, featured here recently, listed three people who were described as “free Mulattoes or Descendants from them admitted to the privileges of white people by Acts of the Legislature”.

They included Mary Johnston Rose and her son Thomas Wynter. Mary was a free mulatto, the daughter of Elizabeth Johnston who died in 1753 a free negro. Mary may have been born as early as 1700 when there is the baptism of a Mary Elizabeth daughter of Elizabeth Johnston ‘a negro wench’ on 5th July 1700. If this is the right mother and daughter then Elizabeth was probably a house slave at the time and later freed. It seems probable that Mary’s father was one of the Rose family, possibly Francis Rose (1656-1720), or William Rose (d. about 1724).

There is no record of how Mary acquired her education, but that she did so at a time when most women, whatever their colour, were illiterate suggests that she had a favoured upbringing at the hands of her father.

Mary was said to be related to Rose Fuller (a plantation owner and key player in island politics; Francis Rose was his great-uncle and William Rose his cousin) and she was his housekeeper for about twenty years until he returned to England in the summer of 1755, landing at Portsmouth on the 18th August. The role of housekeeper frequently equated to that of common law wife and there was clearly a strong degree of affection between Mary and her employer who was the acknowledged father of her son William.

After Rose Fuller left Jamaica he sent her various items, including a carpet. In May 1756 she wrote that these were “such marks of your esteem for me as I shall never forget” and she forwarded a list requesting calimancoe[1] shoes, coarse linen (probably for servant or slave clothing), chintz (perhaps Indian chintz such as pictured above), tea and a white beaver hat. She sent him some boxes of sweetmeats “which will serve to remind you that you have left here a person who always thinks of you”. In a further letter in December 1756 she wrote “I most heartily thank you for all your favours which have been very great to me, but notwithstanding them, I have often known the want of your being here, since your departure. May you long enjoy your health is the sincere wish of your most affectionate honourable servant Mary Rose”.

Clearly she missed him, but knew that she would never see him again.

Mary had two sons by different fathers – Thomas Wynter who was probably the son of Dr William Wynter; and William Fuller – born on the 28th of January and baptised on the 18th of April 1735 – who was the son of Dr Rose Fuller. From a letter written by her nephew Robert Kelly to Rose Fuller in 1758 we know that William Fuller was sent to England to be educated at his father’s expense, but as nothing further is heard of him it seems he probably died young. Robert Kelly was the son of Mary’s sister Ann Rose, and his father was one of the five Kelly brothers whose Wills are on this website, most probably John Kelly who died in 1740.

Mary also had a sister Sarah Johnson, a niece called Peg whose child she took in when Peg was drowned in a storm, and nephew and niece John Schutz Johnson and Ann Rose – Sarah’s children.

Thomas Wynter, William Fuller and Robert Kelly were all classified by Jamaican society as quadroons and as such did not have the same rights as white people, although having mothers who were free meant they too were free. However in 1745 Mary applied for herself and her sons to be accorded the same rights as whites, and in 1746 the English parliament confirmed an Act of the Jamaican Assembly granting those rights.

“At the Court of St. James 17.12.1746.  Present the King’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council.  Whereas the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Island of Jamaica with the Council and Assembly of the said Island did in 1745 pass an Act which hath been transmitted in the words following viz An Act to Intitle Mary Johnston Rose of the Parish of St. Catherines in the said Island, a free mulatto woman and her sons Thomas Wynter and William Fuller begotten by white fathers to the same rights and privileges with English subjects born of white parents.  The Act was confirmed, finally enacted and ratified accordingly.”

This was not a wholly unusual event, there were a handful of such Acts each year from the early eighteenth century onwards, but the proportion of all the mixed race adults and children granted such rights was small and it does indicate that Mary had some influence over her own position, albeit presumably through the fathers of her sons, both of whom were members of the Assembly at the time.

Had her sons been born a few years later their position would have been more difficult, for in December 1761 the Jamaican Assembly, alarmed by the numbers of mixed race illegitimate children of the Plantocracy inheriting from their white fathers, passed an Act to “prevent exorbitant grants and devises to Negroes”.  William Wynter was one of three men to sign a protest against the Bill.

Nevertheless the Act was made law and so in 1783 Mary’s son Thomas was forced to petition for the rights of his own mixed race children William Rose Wynter and Mary Mede.  The baptism record for William Rose Wynter lists him as a mulatto so it is possible his mother was black.

Although Thomas Wynter was listed as a Millwright in the 1754 census, by the time of his death in 1789 he was able to leave £1000 to his daughter Mrs Mead, and an annuity to Mrs Hemming the mother of his two children, and to direct that Hampshire Plantation and Prospect Penn and all his other real estate and slaves in Jamaica should be sold by his Executors for the benefit of his children. His estate was valued at £65,820 and the money from the sale was put in trust invested in securities in England.

After a career in the Army, William Rose Wynter ended his days in England dying in Devon in 1846, and his sister married an English vicar and also left Jamaica for England. The descendants of William Rose Wynter through his son Thomas Rose Wynter can be tracked down through the nineteenth century, also in the Indian Army and later in Cornwall. The descendants of Mary Elizabeth Wynter Mead nee Hemmings can be tracked into the late twentieth century.

When Rose Fuller died in 1777 he left his house in Spanish Town to the lifetime use of Mary Johnson (sic) Rose “to whose care and attention under God I conceive my life has been more than once preserved in several dangerous illnesses I had in Jamaica”. He left her an annuity of £100 Jamaican currency (worth a bit over £70 sterling) annually for her lifetime, which was the continuance of a similar annuity he was already paying her. She was also left the lifetime use of the contents of the house except for what might be needed for the use of his attorneys managing his property from the Grange, and he requested, but did not require, that she might live at the Grange Pen to assist the attorneys when necessary. Mary was also left the use of six female slaves with any children they might have, again for her lifetime; and mention is made of her chaise and horse. Clearly she was left well provided for, but she later supplemented her annuity by letting out lodgings and she was able to buy her house in Spanish Town. She died a relatively wealthy woman.

On the 19th of March 1783 the parish register for St Catherine recorded the burial of “Mary Rose mulatto Old Age”. She had reached the age of over seventy and possibly as much as eighty three, a very good age in Jamaica, after a full life which had seen her and her sons become legally white.

 

If you would like to know more about women and the African Diaspora, and about Mary Rose, you can find it in Gendering the African Diaspora, Indiana University Press 2010, which contains a paper by Linda L. Sturtz entitled Mary Rose: “White” African Jamaican Woman? Race and Gender in Eighteenth Century Jamaica.

The letters written by Mary Rose and others referring to her are in the collection of the Fuller papers held at the East Sussex County Record Office at Lewes, England.



[1] Calimancoe was a dense, and expensive fabric used for shoes, stiffened petticoats and waistcoats. It was a shiny fabric with a striped or chequered pattern made of wool with silk or mohair.