Tag Archives: slavery

New Slave Ownership and Estate records

 

slave-ship-resized-900

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.

Telling History versus Story Telling

Dido

The Kenwood portrait of Dido and Elizabeth, now at Scone Palace and attributed to Zoffany

I have just been to see the film Belle, the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate great niece of Lord Mansfield, daughter of a black mother, and the sparkling personality who shines out of a dual portrait that for many years had her labelled simply as the black servant of her cousin Elizabeth Murray. The differences between the story told in the film and the few known facts of Dido’s life lead me to ponder the differences between writing history and telling a story.

Before going to the cinema I had also read Paula Byrne’s book of the same name which, besides presenting the few known facts of Dido’s life, gives an excellent account of the background to her life in the context of the growing anti-slavery movement, and tells the story of the Zong massacre which had a profound influence on public opinion.

This deeply shocking case concerned a heavily overloaded slave ship, poorly navigated on its way to Jamaica, with a crew who jettisoned the ‘cargo’ when water ran short and whose owners then claimed on the insurance. However, it later became clear that the real reason for murdering about 142 souls was that disease had taken its toll and they were of greater value to the owners dead than alive. The first hearing before a jury found in favour of the owners, but the insurers appealed and Lord Mansfield as Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench was then called upon to adjudicate.

The presence of a young mixed race woman in Lord Mansfield’s household, not as a servant, but in many respects as an adopted daughter, was viewed by his contemporaries as having influenced his judgments in both the Zong case and in the legally more significant case of James Somersett. Although the exact wording of the Somersett judgment is only available via press reports (Mansfield lost his library and all his papers when his house was attacked during the Gordon riots in 1780 and Dido, Elizabeth, Lady Mansfield and Mansfield himself only just escaped from the mob) it established the precedent that a slave could not be forcibly removed from England against his will and as such was a significant step on the way to reform and emancipation.

The best historical writing tells a story as true to the facts as the writer can make it, in the full knowledge that there will always be interpretation of those facts – none of us can totally step outside our own time or the limits of our own knowledge and prejudices. The writer of a story based, more or less loosely on historical facts subsumes the history into the need to tell a dramatic tale, sometimes with an implicit political or social message, that they hope will entertain and hold the reader or viewer, and perhaps in the process educate as well.

So how much does it matter if the story teller diverges from the historical facts?

Paula Byrne’s verdict on the film was that “Like all historical-biographical movies, it takes considerable artistic licence even with the few facts that we know about Dido. The Zong case, being more dramatic, is made the centrepiece of the courtroom drama, although the Somerset case was really the more significant for the abolitionist cause. And John Davinier becomes an idealistic clergyman’s son, with a little of the Granville Sharp about him, instead of a faceless French servant. But the spirit of the film is true to the astonishing story of Dido’s bond with Lord Mansfield.”  [Byrne, Paula (2014-04-01). Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle (p. 238). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.]

The man Dido eventually married, after the death of her adoptive parents and the marriage of Elizabeth Murray was some kind of servant, not the crusading son of a vicar portrayed in the film, who is in turn loosely based on the anti-slavery activist Granville Sharp. Dido herself was probably kept more in the background at Kenwood than the film suggests and was certainly not an heiress. Mansfield left her a comfortable legacy and it is possible that her father left her £500, if she is indeed the reputed child Elizabeth mentioned in his Will, but the amounts of money involved were not enough to attract the attentions of an impoverished aristocrat looking for a rich wife as shown in the film. In the film these characters stand as placeholders or exemplars of the attitudes of the day, demonstrating the prejudices and hypocrisy Dido must have faced, but for which we have no specific evidence.

It was brought home vividly to me recently how much the history that I take for granted can be a closed book to others when I was talking to a young woman who had quite literally never heard of the Holocaust, who had no concept of what had happened. Her friend suggested that she should watch The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as a way of beginning to understand even though that is an entirely invented story.

When Twelve Years a Slave came out it caused a stir, particularly in America, and clearly there were many people who had no idea what slavery had entailed, how appallingly brutal it was, nor the risks run by free black and mixed race people before slavery was abolished. Similarly there has only relatively recently been an awakening in the UK, not simply of the importance of our slave owning past, but of the fact that there had been a considerable black presence in Britain before the eighteenth century. For example see the work of Miranda Kaufmann, who is incidentally a descendant of Robert Cooper Lee.

So to return to my original question, would it matter if someone who watched the film Belle believed every word to be historically accurate? Yes I think it would. I think the story teller has a duty to make clear that their story is ‘based on’ historical fact and is not a historical documentary.

But if watching the film Belle caused someone to be interested in the facts of the case and to try to discover these for themselves then that would I believe be a good thing. Moreover it is a good film, with wonderful settings and costumes and makes very enjoyable viewing!

 

 

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.

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.

A Parcel of Ribbons – The Book – Now available

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Available in perfect bound paperback 6″ x 9″ – 374 pages with illustrations.

ISBN: 9781105809743

When I set up this website it was with the aim of sharing material I had come across during research into my family history. In particular I was looking for the origin of the story that in my mother’s family there had been an ‘Indian Princess’.

It may seem a long way from an Indian Princess to Jamaica but the trail that led me there was illuminated by the discovery of a wonderful collection of family letters.

I can now share these and the story of the remarkable Lee family with you. I do hope you enjoy their story as much as I have enjoyed writing about it.

Of an unjust imprisonment and a shocking legacy

By Thomas Hudon, engraved by Johan Faber (The National Maritime Museum), via Wikimedia Commons

Many who are new to tales of Jamaican slavery are deeply shocked when they discover that freed slaves and mixed Jamaicans often themselves owned slaves. I think this is understandable (which is not to say justifiable), if you accept that for most people in the eighteenth century slavery was a fact of life and one which they generally did not question. Since owning slaves reflected your economic and social status it is unsurprising that freed slaves and mixed race Jamaicans would want to reinforce their new status, in much the same way as aspiring middle class Victorians in England would employ a live-in maid or a cook. A key difference of course being that the latter were free to leave for other employment.

However, I did find it particularly shocking when I read the Will of Francis Delap to discover, that in freeing and educating his little six year-old mulatto son Arthur, he was requiring his executors to provide Arthur with ‘three new Negro Boys nearly of his Age to be bought for him by my Executors immediately after my death to be marked AD and to be bred to the same Trade with himself’.  Not only were three little African boys straight off the boat to be branded with Arthur’s initials, but they were to be the slaves of another child of their own age.

Since they were all to be bred up in the same trade I presume Francis was trying to provide Arthur with the ultimate means of setting himself up in business. And of course this is not the only case of a child being given his own slaves.  But shocking nevertheless.

Francis Delap has however gone down in history for quite another reason. He was at the centre of the great Jamaican controversy in the mid 1750s surrounding the location of the island capital.

When the British arrived in Jamaica in 1655 St Jago de la Vega was the Spanish capital, situated inland for easier defence against seaborn raiders. After the 1692 earthquake and a later fire largely destroyed Port Royal, Kingston rapidly grew to be the centre of mercantile activity. By the mid- eighteenth century a schism had grown up between the planter and administrative classes who favoured Spanish Town, where the Assembly met and legal cases were heard, and the merchants who wanted to move the capital to Kingston. Apart from the disruption this would have caused, planter social life centred on the times of year when they arrived from their estates to enjoy the Spanish Town entertainments and attend the races, to get married and to baptise their children. Any move of the capital would also have had a depressive effect on property values in Spanish Town which had just been ascertained in the 1754 Census.

When Sir Charles Knowles arrived in Jamaica as Governor he sided with the Kingston lobby in favour of the move, falling out with the Spanish Town inhabitants and choosing to move to Kingston rather than as was traditional living in Spanish Town. He also insisted on the supremacy of the English parliament over the Jamaican Assembly.  This direct confrontation with the Assembly came to a head when the Governor dissolved the Assembly and elections were called. There was not of course any universal franchise, only free white men who were freeholders could vote.

It appeared that the votes for the three members for Port Royal were going to be critical and the pro-Kingston lobby wanted to ensure that the vote was not supervised by the Provost Marshall Francis Delap, who was thought to favour the Spanish Town cause. Uncertain what to do for the best when told to hand over the Writs, Delap had the Writs and all his papers locked in two chests and deposited  them with Charles Price and Dr William Wynter.

The Governor had Delap arrested and ordered him to surrender the Writs for the election so that new ones could be issued, putting a Mr Johnston who he had appointed as the new Provost Marshall in charge of the election. Delap had serious doubts about the legality of this, but was unable to act beyond securing all his papers, as Governor Knowles had him committed to the Kingston jail where he was clapped in irons, deprived of the use of pen and ink and prevented from communicating with anyone.

Knowles intended to have him shipped out to England as a prisoner, but the Island Council decided instead to prosecute him for a misdemeanour and he was at last able to apply for a writ of Habeas Corpus and to obtain bail. Following a court appearance in June 1755 Delap was fined £500 and once again imprisoned.

One of Delap’s friends and supporters was Rose Fuller, who had earlier clashed with Knowles as a result of which he had resigned as Chief Justice. In the Spring of 1755 he heard that his brother John had died in England and so after two decades in Jamaica Rose Fuller returned to England, arriving in August of 1755. His presence there enabled him to coordinate support for Delap’s case in London and eventually Delap was freed. Papers held at the East Sussex Record Office at Lewes show that Fuller had raised a letter of credit on Arnold, Albert and Alexander Nesbitt of London  for £6000 for Delap’s legal support, based on a valuation of Delap’s Jamaican estate which ‘recently stocked with a great strength of able negroes and mules, is good security for £30,000’ (ESRO  SAS-RF/21/42).

The Board of Trade eventually decided in favour of Spanish Town on a technicality and Governor Knowles left Jamaica. A huge procession of carts brought the island papers back to Spanish Town and the celebrations included two huge bonfires, one topped with an effigy of Governor Knowles and the other one of his ship[1].

When Delap died over twenty years later most of his wealth was left to his siblings in Ireland, but he also made provision for the care of four mixed race children, whose mother was Mary Shippen, and for little Arthur, now the master of his own slaves.

 

 

 

 


[1] You can read a fuller account of the Spanish Town versus Kingston controversy in Gone is the Ancient Glory, Spanish Town, Jamaica 1534-2000 by James Robertson, Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston 2005; and a contemporary account of the trial of Francis Delap in An account of the trial of Francis Delap Esq upon an information for a misdemeanour: at the Supreme Court of Judicature, held in the town of Kingston, in Jamaica, on June 18, 1755. Ecco Print Editions (print on demand).

William May – Vicar, moralist, a father bereft

The Chequer Inn at Ash in Kent, little changed since the time of William May

© Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

William May had rather sad life although he had a firm trust in divine Providence, and his own superior social background, which carried him through the most difficult of times. He came from Ash in Kent and studied at the University of Cambridge.  He was ordained by the Bishop of London on the 20th September 1719 and left for Jamaica on October 22nd spending thirty-two years as the vicar in charge of the parish of Kingston. It is possible that he had an uncle already in Jamaica as there is a marriage record for a William May and Margaret Rose who were married in Spanish town in 1670.

William found many of his parishioners a grave disappointment and he is probably best remembered for a much quoted letter that he wrote home to the Bishop of London soon after his arrival.

He didn’t think much of the quality of the early colonists, writing  “There is not six families who are well descended as gentlemen on the whole Island. . . And as for those Englishmen that came as mechanics hither, very young, and have now acquired good Estates in Sugar Plantations and Indigo, etc., of course they know no better than what maxims they learn in the Country. To be now short & plain, Your Lordship will see that they have no maxims of Church or State but what are absolutely anarchical.”

Church attendance did not feature much among the planter community who preferred to spend Sundays on their plantations or enjoying socialising. Even those who did attend often walked out early “any pragmatic fellow; an Officer or Justice, when he thinks fit, will go out of our churches before sermon is ended, to disturb our Congregation”.

Many colonists had relatively humble beginnings and he commented on the then Governor of Jamaica, Sir Nicholas Lawes, who had been apprenticed to a shopkeeper in Jamaica when he first arrived there – “there are people alive now, who remember that he went barefooted, & bare leg’d, with shoos on, as was the custom for most young shop-keepers & planters in those dayes.”

Colonel Rose he said had been a cooper by trade, Jonathan Gale had earned his living as a horse catcher and several prominent men were illiterate.

Of the Beckford family he had nothing at all good to say “Mr. Beckford’s brother, Tom, Colonel too, is a Libertine, and of the country principles, & has a great Estate. He has killed his man and so has his Brother Peter, but this makes neither a bit more Religious. He was a Councillor in Colonel Heywood’s time, and his graceless son was Governor of the Fort at Port Royal, a post worth £500 at least (Libs.) per annum. And so these Estated men govern the Island at this rate.”

Altogether young William May had found his parishioners a serious disappointment and an affront to his anti-Papist soul.

“Tavern-Keepers, Taylors, Carpenters, Joyners, are infallibly Colonels, Justices of Peace, as soon as they purchase Plantations, & our Printer, in his papers, styles them every man Esqrs, & Lt.-Collols, Honourable, prints Elegies on men who never were communicants with the Church in any part of her communion, & who liv’d & dyed keeping variety of women, as James, a sailor by breeding, but dy’d a rich merchant.
N.B.-The Papists everywhere are caressed, and those who are true Lovers of our Constitution dare not own it, or they must expect no honey in this country, but instead of it gall.”

You can read the full transcription of the letter in Caribbeana Volume 3 page 5.

William’s personal life was full of sadness.  He married the unusually named Smart Pennant, herself already a widow,  not long after his arrival, but she was killed on the 28th of August 1722 when a hurricane destroyed the house where she was in Kingston.

His second wife was Bathshua Vassall.  I love the name Bathshua which I had not heard of until I came across several of them in Jamaica at around this time.  It is a variation on the name Bathsheba and means ‘daughter of abundance’.  Bathshua Vassall fulfilled the promise of her name and with William May had eight children. Sadly five of them died young and two older sons died on sea voyages while travelling to America in the hope of recovering from illness. Only one son Rose Herring May lived to grow up and have children of his own.

Bathshua died in July 1746, but William lived to what was a good age for white colonists in Jamaica, dying in January 1754 at the age of 58. His health had been poor for some time and in 1748 he had petitioned his Bishop for the assistance of a curate as he was suffering from both gout and asthma.  Some years earlier William had hoped to return to England with his children for the sake of their education as he considered, probably with some truth, that there were no good schools in Jamaica.  He was offered a living in England in 1740 by Robert Hamilton but by the following year this had fallen through and he became resigned to remaining in Jamaica. He did however send his youngest son Rose to school at Eton which is where he was when William died.

The family monument in Kingston Cathedral is one of the more informative to have survived, and this transcription is taken from Monumental Inscriptions of the British West Indies compiled by J.H.  Lawrence-Archer and published in 1875.

HERE LIES INTERR’D YE BODY OF THE REVD. MR. WILLIAM MAY, BORN IN THE PARISH OF ASH IN KENT, YE 29th OF AUGUST, 1695. EDUCATED AT ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, IN CAMBRIDGE, COMMISSARY OF JAMAICA, AND 32 YEARS MINISTER OF THIS PARISH. HIS FIRST WIFE WAS SMART, YE DAUGHTER OF EDWARD AND ELIZTH. PENNANT, OF YE PARISH OF CLARENDON; HIS SECOND WIFE WAS BATHUSA,YE DAUGHTER OF FLORENTIUS AND ANN VASSALL, OF YE PARISH OF ST. ELIZABETH, WHO WAS BURIED IN SPANISH TOWN CHURCH BY YE GRAVE OF HER MOTHER ON YE 22 DAY OF JULY, 1746, BY WHOM HE HAD ISSUE SIX SONS AND TWO DAUGHTERS, FIVE OF WHICH ARE ENTERRED UNDER THIS STONE, VIZ. PETER,WILLIAM, ELIZABETH, GEORGE, AND ITHAMAR. TWO DIED AT SEA GOING TO BOSTON FOR YE RECOVERY OF THEIR HEALTH, VIZ. RICHARD, ON YE 28’th OF AUGUST, 1745, IN YE 21st YEAR OF HIS AGE, AND FLORENTIUS, YE 4th OF JUNE,1747, IN YE l6th YEAR OF HIS AGE. HIS SON, ROSE HERRING MAY, IS THE ONLY CHILD THAT SURVIVED HIM, WHO IT IS HOPED WILL INHERIT HIS FATHER’S VIRTUES, AS WELL AS HIS FORTUNE.

I’m not clear how large a fortune William left to his son Rose, but he did own property in Kingston and had a pen, or stock ranch, in the parish of Clarendon remembered today as the town of May Pen. Under his Will he freed his slaves James and Elizabeth and left them pensions of five pounds a year. It is likely that he also owned other slaves who worked on the pen.

Most of the clergy had yet to discover a conscience in relation to slavery.

False teeth, slavery and propaganda

The eighteenth century false teeth of Archbishop Dillon

 

On the 29th October 1794 the good folk of Derbyshire could read news of the international situation in the pages of the Derby Mercury. They were also warned of forgeries of Bank of England £10 and £20 notes found to be in circulation – amounts no doubt well beyond the dreams of many of the paper’s readers. They could peruse advertisements for an “Infallible ointment for the itch” (probably scabies); consider the virtues of the Elixir of Bordana for gout and rheumatism at three shillings a bottle, or discover where to purchase Balsam of Honey effective for coughs, consumption etc.

Tucked among these homely items was one of the more shocking stories of the evils of slavery.

A planter’s wife was walking on the quayside observing a newly arrived shipload of slaves from Africa when she noticed a young woman with a particularly good set of white teeth. As her own front teeth were rotten, doubtless from over consumption of the sugar that had made her family rich, she enquired whether the young woman’s teeth could be implanted in her own gums. On being told they could, she had the young woman seized. The terrified girl found her teeth being forcibly removed despite her screams and struggles and they were given to the planter’s wife.

History did not of course record the sequel. After the immediate pain and trauma the poor victim was now forced to go through life with her looks ruined and her ability to eat whatever meagre food she was given impaired. Her value as a slave was diminished and she was probably condemned to work as a field slave rather than as a more prestigious house slave.

And the planter’s wife – did her implants work? Almost certainly not, though they might have been made into a set of false teeth for show.

There was experimental work in dentistry being done in the late eighteenth century, for example by John Hunter in London. The forced migration of French dentists escaping the terror of the French Revolution changed dentistry in both England and America and the technology of false teeth was improving from the wooden or ivory sets (which tended to rot) which were mainly for show and were removed at mealtimes, to porcelain sets with gold springs  such as those of Archbishop Dillon pictured above, that could actually be used for eating. Improvements in dentistry and dental technology in the nineteenth century followed on the heels of the damage done to teeth by the mass availability of sugar and refined carbohydrates.

There is one other thing to consider about this story in the Derby Mercury, in which no details of names or places were given, for it was part of the propaganda war being waged against the cruelties of slavery. Did it actually happen?

Sadly however, propaganda or not, it is all too likely to have been true.