For anyone with an interest in Jamaica and its history this enchanting memoir is a must read, and a great Christmas present.
Diana Lewes was the pen name of Elizabeth Anesta Sewell whose grandfather William Sewell went to Jamaica shortly after the abolition of slavery, and profiting from the general view that Abolition had ruined the plantations, bought up a number of estates including some that had belonged to the family of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. William’s partner married his daughter but died childless so that the legacy William had to leave at his death was a very valuable one. However, knowing that his son Henry was a spendthrift, William left his estate in trust to his five grandchildren, of whom ‘Diana’ was one.
In 1889 sixteen year old Diana, her older sister Beattie and their parents went out to Jamaica to live on Arcadia, while their brother Philip was sent to learn the business on the Oxford estate. The memoir, written over a period of years, has some fictionalised elements, partly perhaps to conceal the fact that Diana’s father embezzled part of his children’s inheritance. In the book this crime is committed by the attorney, which certainly fits with much of Jamaica’s history of dishonest estate management.
The year Diana spent in Jamaica was one not only of learning about a new country and its customs, but also one of growing up, of attending parties and of being forced by her father to promise never to marry. Her descriptions of a sugar estate in the late nineteenth century differ from the eighteenth mainly in the increased use of machinery and the relative freedom of the black workers. We are left in no doubt however about the different standing of various white neighbours, the black house servants, who wear white, and the other workers who still wear mainly the osnaburg of their slave ancestors.
She describes the house on the Oxford estate. “Like many of the old fashioned Jamaican houses, it was built a storey above ground. Underneath were storerooms and servants’ sleeping quarters. Above these, approached only by two flights of steps, was the main part of the building and, crwning all, was a wide sloping hurricane roof.” At Oxford Diana learned that it was important to know the working cattle by name to ensure that none was worked two days running, “no steer, fed as these are, can stand being worked every day”. Diana learned to recognise all her brother’s cattle and on one occasion spotted one that had been out the previous day. The other drivers shouted with laughter that their colleague had been caught out by a young white girl.
On another occasion Diana was asked to count the canes in the cane bundles, as some workers would try to cheat by having too few in each bundle. She picked a bundle made up by Alexandra, a black woman who Diana comes to realise is the attorney’s mistress, and her intuition is proved right when the bundle is short. The ambiguities and nuances of post slavery, colonial Jamaica are very clearly brought out in descriptions of entertainments, riding parties and an encounter with a family of poor whites who have been evicted from their property.
There are moments of high drama too when they are riding back from a neighbouring property and are charged by a herd of cattle, or when the cattle are being counted and two huge bulls start to fight while Diana is trapped and only rescued by the black overseer. There is the night Diana spends alone with a large bag containing the estate money wondering if she will be attacked and murdered for it.
There are descriptions of lavish meals, melon, turtle, turtles eggs, yam, sweet potatoes, cho-chos, peahen, fried plantain, avocado pears and coconut pudding, but an underlying sense of the struggle Diana’s mother faces to maintain a style of life she had known as a young bride a quarter of a century earlier. When a careless servant spills water on the highly polished mahogany floor, she is equally careless about mopping it up, and there is the strong sense of a colonial way of life slipping away.
There are wonderful descriptions of the Jamaican landscape and vivid character sketches of the people who lived there. It is no wonder that when Diana’s nephew discovered the manuscripts of her memoirs after her death that he wanted to be able to publish them.
They richly deserve to find a wider audience and to stand alongside Lady Nugent’s earlier descriptions of Jamaica which convey the impressions of a sympathetic outsider and help the reader to understand how Jamaica has evolved.
A Year in Jamaica: Memoirs of a Girl in Arcadia in 1889, Diana Lewes, Eland Publishing Ltd, London, 2013. ISBN 978 1 906011 83 3 cover price £16.99
There was of course a huge Jamaican diaspora in the second half of the twentieth century. After the second World War the Windrush generation left the Caribbean in large numbers to work in Britain, in the USA and Canada. Many ended up remaining and making new homes rather than returning.
However, there is a sense in which there has always been a Jamaican diaspora, if it is defined as people born in Jamaica leaving for what was perceived as a better life elsewhere.
I was reminded of this when I came across the name Hercules Ross this week. I have written briefly before about the family of Hercules Ross of Rossie, who made his fortune in Jamaica as a merchant and who had two families. Like so many young white men, while in Jamaica he had a stable relationship outside marriage with a mixed race woman, Elizabeth Foord, with whom he had seven children five of whom survived to adulthood.
Ross, who was one of thirteen children of an impoverished excise man, went to Jamaica about 1760 to work as a naval clerk, became owner of a general merchant’s store and two trading sloops, captain of militia, ADC to a Major General, JP for Kingston and was owner of the 200 acre Bushy Park estate. The young Horatio Nelson was nursed back to health from a fever at Bushy Park. During the War with America from 1775 Ross became Prize Agent for Jamaica taking a cut of the prize money for captured vessels, and running his own privateers. He left Jamaica in 1782 and bought the Rossie estate in Scotland in 1785 for £33,250. Like a number of such men he then married. Harriet Parish was the daughter of a wealthy Scots Hamburg merchant and they had four legitimate children.
However he provided well for his three Jamaican sons and two daughters who came to Britain with him. The daughters became school teachers and his sons had positions in the East India Company. Best known was Daniel Ross, who was one of the two or three greatest hydrographic surveyors of the 19th century and has been called ‘the father of the Indian surveys’. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1822. He died in Bombay, and his obituary was published in the Straits Times dated 18 December 1849.
Of his brother David nothing seems to be known, and it is a common name which makes him harder to trace. Their brother Hercules Ross is believed to have been murdered by pirates, along with his wife, in the East Indies in 1810.
What prompted me to write this piece was encountering a reference to a young Hercules Ross who was Secretary to General Craig in the Cape Colony, on the very respectable salary of £1500 a year, in about 1798. He was referred to by Lady Anne Barnard in one of her letters to Henry Dundas, later Lord Melville, written between 1797 and 1801 and published in book form a century later. It is not certain that he was the same Hercules Ross as the son of Elizabeth Foord, but it is quite likely.
As the nineteeth century began the British Empire was expanding rapidly. No longer did young men seek their fortunes planting sugar in Jamaica, but their descendants, particularly their mixed race sons, often looked to the newly expanding colonies to make their fortunes. Parental influence could get them a place in the East India Company or the Indian Army, or a place in the colonial civil service. Moreover it may be that for those whose mixed race was more obvious it was easier to make a name abroad than at home.
And so a generation born in Jamaica spread out across the world in the first wave of the Jamaican diaspora.
Example from the register of St Catherine’s parish taken from FamilySearch.org, showing the baptism of a daughter to John Lee (brother of Robert Cooper Lee) and Mary Lord. It also shows the baptism of a legitimate child, the ‘bastard’ son of Robert Taylor, records the ‘mulatto’ status of the Clifford children and shows two adult baptisms.
One of the wonderful things about genealogical research is the willingness of so many people to share what they know, to help you find records you are looking for, and to make information available to everyone without charge. There are volunteers working all over the world to read and transcribe vital records, and other material, and to put it on-line.
Assuming you have access to a computer (or you would not be reading this!) you have a vast volume of information to draw on that could not have been imagined by our predecessors who had to work by visiting their local parish church, writing to the vicar of a parish they thought their ancestor might have come from, or requesting documents from their local county record office in the hope that they would find something useful. All these avenues are still available, and are often very useful, but working from home, or in your local library (which may also have a subscription to some of the paid genealogy sites such as Ancestry) there are many records available to you for free.
The first site I ever used, and one of the very first to put records onto the internet, was familysearch.org . To quote from them directly:
FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years.
The site has recently had a makeover and increasingly hosts a much wider variety of records than the baptisms and marriages of the original IGI (International Genealogical Index). In addition to transcribed indexes they now also include images from parish registers, and burials and census records are gradually being added. For Jamaica’s early parish registers, baptisms are now indexed but for the present to access older marriages and burials you must still use the images of the original handwritten indexes and then find the corresponding register page.
Transcribing Jamaican records presents particular problems, not just of difficult handwriting, but because of the complex state of relationships and colour status so it is always worth trying different combinations of parent names and different spellings. Apart from those who had no choice in coming to Jamaica from Africa, there were many arrivals from other parts of the world and as IGI widens its geographic spread you may now be able to find your ancestors who came from places other than Great Britain. You may also find ancestors who left Jamaica for the USA, Canada and other countries.
Recently completed indexing projects that will shortly be available on line include the following:
Italia (Antenati Italiani), Bergamo—Nati, 1875-1894 [Part 2C]
I promised to report back from last week’s University of Derby conference on Enlightenment, Science and Culture in the East Midlands c.1700-1900 if it turned out that there was any connection with Jamaica. It was no surprise to find one, although in a place I had not hitherto connected with Jamaica.
The small Lincolnshire town of Spalding is now something of a backwater, but in its hey-day it was a thriving east coast port connected to the sea via the river Welland. Now best known for its spring bulbs and for Lincolnshire’s rich agricultural lands, it also has the distinction of having been the first place in the UK where barcodes were used, according to Wikipedia!
Maurice Johnson was born at Ayscoughfee Hall in 1688. He founded the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society in 1710, the same year that he married Elizabeth Ambler with whom he went on to have twenty-five (some sources say twenty-six) children! Although some died in infancy and some in childhood, eleven seem to have lived to grow to adulthood, and it was one of his younger daughters Ann Alethea Johnson who provides the connection with Jamaica.
On the 15th of August 1751 Ann Alethea married Richard Wallin of Jamaica. He was made a member of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society on the 5th of December that year. “Proposed by the Reverend Mr Johnson That Richard Wallin Esqr (only son of John Wallin Esqr late of St Jago de la Vega in Jamaica deceased) At his own instance be elected a regular member assented to be subscribed with these proposers by the Secretary Dr Green and the Operator Mr Michael Cox”.
Their first child Ann Lydia was baptised a year later at St James, Westminster but died young, possibly before her parents sailed for Jamaica. There Richard Wallin took up his inheritance and three more children were born – Richard about 1753, Lydia Elizabeth in 1754 and Ann Alethea in December 1757. Their mother was buried in St Catherine’s parish on the 9th of June 1758, and little Lydia Elizabeth died the following year leaving Ann Alethea Wallin to inherit the Wallin estates.
Her father Richard Wallin was the only surviving child of John Wallin and his second wife Lydia Stoddard – a brother John, who may have been the elder, matriculated at Oxford in 1745 but then disappears from the record. There seem to have been no children of John Wallin’s third marriage to Mary Sackville in 1744.
John Wallin was an early settler in Jamaica and Lydia Stoddard’s mother was Anna Williamina Archbould grand-daughter of Captain Henry Archbould one of the original colonists.
Ultimately the Wallins seem to have bequeathed little to Jamaica other than their name. The widowed Richard Wallin travelled to Philadelphia where in 1760 he married Catherine Shippen and died about six months later. His daughter Ann Alethea Wallin was brought up in England and married the Rev. Charles Edward Stewart who became Rector of Wakes Colne in Essex from 1795-1819. They had at least six children between 1775 and 1794 and Ann Alethea died some time before 1817 when Stewart married a second time.
An estate referred to as Wallens in St Thomas in the Vale, which may be the same as Wallins, was recorded as being in the possession of James Blackburn in 1788 and it is reasonable to presume that the trustees appointed by Richard Wallin sold it on behalf of his only daughter.
A further connection with Jamaica is through Robert Hunter (1666-1734), Governor of Jamaica between 1727 and 1734. Maurice Johnson was Steward for his manor of Crowland near Spalding. Hunter left his extensive estates in Jamaica and England to his son Thomas Orby Hunter on condition that he did not marry Mrs Sarah Kelly, the widow of Charles Kelly! The reasoning for this was probably not any prejudice against the young widow, but rather fears of his son becoming entangled in the labyrinthine debts left by Charles Kelly.
As for the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, it was formed in a very ‘clubbable’ period of the eighteenth century, a time which spawned clubs and associations for all sort of purposes – all male of course. William Stukeley, another a Lincolnshire man, friend and contemporary of Johnson pioneered archaeology investigating Stonehenge and Avebury. Johnson and Stukeley also re-founded the Society of Antiquaries in 1717, and started the Ancaster Society in 1729 while Stukeley founded a botanical club at Boston (Lincolnshire) in 1711, the Belvoir Club in Leicestershire in 1727 and the Brasenose Society at Stamford in 1736. The latter took its name from the brazen nosed door knocker taken there in 1330 by a breakaway group of Oxford students.
All these clubs and societies very much reflected the Enlightenment, reading letters sent from abroad, papers on various subjects and discussing everything from sea shells, to new engineering techniques for fen drainage and new agricultural methods of improving crops and animals. Another member with a Jamaican connection was John Harries, who was re-embarking for Jamaica in 1732 having brought home a collection including coral to make lime for sugar boiling, shells, nuts and petrified hard wood which he presented to the Society. Among the many distinguished members of the Spalding Society were Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane (another with Jamaican connections of course), the poet Alexander Pope, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir George Gilbert Scott and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Many of these societies lasted only a short time, some had their collections preserved by amalgamation with others and some were simply dispersed. The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society is highly unusual in having survived the loss of its founding spirit – Maurice Johnson died in February 1755 barely two months after his redoubtable wife Elizabeth.
By 1770 the Spalding Society had become more of a book club with occasional lectures, but it continued throughout the nineteenth century and in 1890 it was revivified by Dr Marten Perry and its collection is now housed in a purpose built museum, opened in 1911. You can visit by appointment and see the original minute books and letters as well as the collections.
I owe my new found knowledge of the Spalding Society to a fascinating lecture given last Saturday by Diana and Michael Honeybone, who have together edited The Correspondence of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society 1710-1761, published by the Lincoln Record Society in 2010.
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.
It is always very satisfying when another piece of the genealogical jigsaw puzzle slots into place, and this is what happened following the item I wrote last time about Robert Fotherby, who gave his body to science.
I already had a copy of his Will and decided now was the time to transcribe it and to remind myself why I knew anything about him in the first place. I had in fact come across him in the Will of John Rose of Cotterstock (c.1696-1736), which is one of those documents that is a real treasure trove. John Rose had no children and left a number of legacies to his cousins before making over his estate which included holdings in Jamaica to his nephew, then a minor, on condition that he change his name from John Pate to John Pate Rose – which in due course he did.
He listed the following cousins – Robert Fotherby and his wife Frances; Mary Stileman; Martha Milner; Thomas Bush; Thomas Pain the Elder of Oundle, and his sons John and Thomas; Rose Fuller and Francis Sadler both of Jamaica; and the widowed Mary Smith of Leicester. He left a number of charitable legacies and money for his servants as well as, intriguingly since I don’t know what the connection was, Fifty pounds to be equally divided between the two Sons of Thomas King late of Spanish Town in Jamaica aforesaid Dancing Master deceased to be paid them in Jamaica money. Whether John Rose had ever visited his estates in Jamaica, which were being managed by Francis Sadler, is not recorded. You can read the Will in full here.
To unpick all these relationships we need to go back to the early days of settlement in Jamaica when the sons of Thomas Rose of Mickleton decided that their future lay there. The eldest brother William, an apothecary, remained in London acting to some extent as family banker; Dr Fulke Rose and his brothers Thomas and Francis patented land in Jamaica; John Rose pursued a career as a merchant based mainly in London, trading goods and convicts into the island (although one of his daughters was born in Jamaica). There was also a sister Elizabeth Rose, possibly married in 1679 to Richard Phelps in Jamaica, and later to a man called Milner, finally in 1699 back in London to a widower called William Bush with whom she had several children.
So we can de-code the cousins of John Rose of Cotterstock, whose father was William Rose the Apothecary, as follows: Mary Stileman was a daughter of John Rose the merchant and you can read more about her here. Her son from her second marriage was Francis Sadler. Martha Milner was a daughter of Elizabeth Rose, and Thomas Bush was Martha’s half-brother. Rose Fuller was a grandson of Fulke Rose and as a young man he went to Jamaica to manage the estates belonging to the Fuller and Isted families.
That was as far as I had got until I looked again at Robert Fotherby and discovered a marriage licence allegation on Ancestry for an intended wedding to the widowed Frances Charnock ‘aged upwards of thirty years’, in 1732. Frances Rose had buried her daughters Elizabeth and Mary in the parish of St John Jamaica in August and October 1720, and her husband Dr John Charnock in September ten years later. Their deaths are recorded in a monumental inscription (Lawrence Archer, p.313). Returning to England she remarried and had, it is to be hoped, ten happy years with Robert Fotherby. That he was very fond of her is evidenced by the care he showed in providing for Elizabeth Lambe, who had been her companion, and perhaps her nurse in her last illness.
Frances was buried on the 2nd of March 1741/42 at St Mary Aldermanbury in the City of London, where her mother Elizabeth had been buried in 1735 and her infant niece Elizabeth Serocold (daughter of Martha Rose) was buried in 1716. The church was destroyed by enemy action in 1940, but in 1969 when the site was to be redeveloped the stones were sold and the church was rebuilt in Fulton, Missouri, USA as the National Churchill Museum.
So of this extensive list of cousins, all apparently relations of the Rose family, I am left with Thomas Pain and his sons who I suspect were closely related to John Rose’s wife Elizabeth (one of the witnesses to her Will was a Thomas Payne) and Mrs Mary Smith of Leicester.
I did not hold out much hope of finding Mrs Mary Smith though my guess is that she was also a member of the Pain family. However I then discovered that in 1758 the Bank of Smith and Payne was established in London’s Lombard Street. John Payne, the founding partner, and a Chairman of the East India Company, was a nephew of the Thomas Payne of Oundle mentioned in the Will of John Rose of Cotterstock. Both the Smith and Pain/Paine/Payne families had connections with Wigston near Leicester.
John Paine of Oundle, son of Thomas the Elder, was buried in the church of St Peter, Oundle on the 23rd of July 1801, aged eighty-one, at which time his younger brother Thomas and sister-in-law Sarah were still alive.
As a postscript: John Pate did obtain a private Act of Parliament in 1744 to change his name to John Pate Rose. He went on to have three daughters with Martha Henn, but I am not clear whether he was married to her. Hannah Bella born in 1753 died young. His daughters Letitia and Sophia born in 1751 and 1752 both married within a month of each other in 1784, each couple being witnesses at the others’ wedding – Letitia to the widowed Sir George Booth and Sophia to the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne with whom she had a daughter Margaret.
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.
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.
“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.).
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.
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.
The question of whether our ancestors were actually married and if so where and when is one which has particular resonance in the context of 18th century Jamaica.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting, albeit briefly, Professor Rebecca Probert and her husband who were at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event at Olympia in London. You might recognise Professor Probert from her appearances on television in programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are?, Heirhunters and Lucy Worsley’s series Harlots, Heroines and Housewives. You will also find a very useful lecture by her (which you can download as a podcast) on marriage law and tracing marriages on the National Archives website.
Rebecca Probert is a Professor of Law, and her interest in genealogy has led her to extensive study of marriage law and to a crusading desire to correct many of the misapprehensions that exist about marriage practices and what constituted a legal marriage, which she saw propagated without question down the years in genealogy textbooks and handbooks.
For example, could you marry by jumping over a broomstick, did our ancestors indulge in test marriages for a year to see if the woman would become pregnant, did lack of parental consent mean a marriage was illegal, did many couples live together regarded as married by the custom and consent of their community? Professor Probert’s book Marriage Law for Genealogists sets out to provide the definitive answer to these and many other questions.
The book covers the law of England and Wales as Scotland has always had a separate legal system. It takes as its starting point the year 1600 and covers the many changes that took place in the seventeenth century during and after the Civil War, as well as critical legal changes such as the Hardwicke Marriage Act (which came into effect in 1754), and more recent changes such as that making it possible for a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister.
Because the author recognises that many readers will be interested in specific questions rather than wishing to read the book from cover to cover, she has structured it around a series of key questions, and flags up a series of key facts invaluable to anyone wishing to check on a particular aspect of marriage law. The questions she addresses are whether and why a couple got married, who could marry and whom they were free to marry, how marriages took place in terms of the formalities required, when a person could get married in relation to minimum age and questions of parental consent, and she provides some guidance on where marriages may have taken place. It was for example perfectly legal to get married in a parish other than your own and she discusses why this might have been the case.
Some misunderstandings about marriage are of relatively recent date. For example the belief that before 1754 a simple exchange of vows between two people constituted a valid marriage, can apparently be traced to a New York legal case in 1809, which led to an English case confusing the distinction between being bound to be married and actually being married. Being bound to be married Professor Probert compares with the exchange of contracts on a house purchase which binds the parties but requires completion. The notion that two parties could be married by jumping over a broomstick has been traced to a misunderstanding in a change of language when ‘broomstick’ was an adjective used to describe a sham, and resulted from a nineteenth century interest in pre-industrial folk customs, interpreting visual images of broomsticks as depicting actual folk ceremonies.
A similar misunderstanding arose concerning the term ‘hand fasting’, sometimes believed to be a marriage for a year and a day and used as a fertility test, but which was in fact no more than a period of betrothal which was a formal contract to be married at some future date.
Another myth that Professor Probert debunks is the notion that in the past huge numbers of people cohabited, married in the eyes of their community but not by their church. There were a great many reasons why this was not the case and in fact in the early eighteenth century only about 2% of births were illegitimate, with peaks during the First and Second World Wars, the rate did not really rise until the 1960s. The fact that you may not be able to find a record of your ancestors’ marriage, does not mean that they were not married nor that their children were illegitimate.
Who you were allowed to marry in the past was much more restricted than it is now. The so-called ‘prohibited degrees’ included close blood relations but also many who were only distantly related to you by marriage. The book includes a useful table of those marriages which could never be valid such as between a parent and child, those which have always been valid such as between cousins, and a range of permitted relationships which have varied over time. It is also interesting to note that if a marriage did occur within the prohibited degrees it could only be challenged while both parties were still alive.
You may have been surprised to discover an ancestor whom you knew to be a nonconformist, or a Roman Catholic, who nevertheless was married in an Anglican parish church. Before the advent of civil marriage in 1837 only Jews and Quakers were likely to have been married other than in an Anglican parish church by an Anglican clergyman, although Catholics often did go through a second Catholic ceremony. Even if your ancestor was married without calling the banns or by obtaining a licence, as long as the ceremony was conducted by an Anglican clergyman the marriage was clandestine but valid. During the Civil War religious marriage ceremonies were replaced for a brief period by a form of civil marriage, but Canon Law was reinstated in 1660 and the Hardwicke marriage act tightened up on what had been seen as a number of undesirable practices. After the mid-eighteenth century record keeping improves, to the relief of many a genealogist, but the fact that a marriage was not registered did not render it invalid. This protected the couple whose marriage might have been challenged as a result of an absent-minded cleric failing to keep proper records.
When considering your ancestor’s marriage Rebecca Probert makes clear the difference between directory requirements which were desirable, and mandatory requirements which if neglected would render a marriage invalid. She deals with questions such as couples who gave false or partial names in order to conceal an intended marriage from family members, and with those who did not have parental consent to their marriage. With the arrival of civil registration and the increasing availability of divorce the question of remarriage in church arose, and I was unaware that it was permissible to be remarried in church although since 1857 Anglican clergyman could refuse to perform such a ceremony.
Professor Probert’s book is an invaluable aid to anyone researching their family history and a useful antidote to the numerous myths that have grown up concerning marriage in the past.
Marriage in Jamaica
In relation to Jamaica the question of whether your ancestors were married relates very closely to who they were, why they were there and when. This is further complicated by the condition of the parish registers of the period. Although the legal regulation of marriage was the same as for the home country and local vicars were required to prepare ‘bishops transcripts’ of their registers, the frequent death of incumbents and the depredations of climate and insect attack on the primary copies of the registers mean that the registers were often poorly kept or have periods without entries. So as in England the lack of a register entry for a marriage does not mean it did not happen. Where both parties were from the white elite, and you can find baptism entries for their children you can be certain they were married.
However, during the eighteenth century there was a serious shortage of white women in Jamaica and an easy availability of free and enslaved women. This led to a variety of relationships, consensual and otherwise, resulting in the birth of mixed race children who if recognised by their fathers were often baptised with his name and were left property on his death. I have discussed previously what happened to some of these children when they were sent to England.
Marriages between free negroes or Taino Indians, who were present in Jamaica from the earliest days, did take place, but only rarely is the racial category assigned to the parties recorded in a parish register. For example, Charles Benoist and Uańah ‘an Indian Woman’ were married in the parish of St Andrew on the 30th May 1675. The disapproval accorded to any suggestion of a mixed race marriage is reflected in the reaction to the impending marriage of Rose Price in 1765.
A 1765 letter from Simon Taylor demonstrates the sort of disapproval that a marriage might incur when he refers to the intention of Rose Price to marry. ‘I cannot forget to acquaint you there is a Report on Friday last a Licence was taken out for our friend Rose Price and one Miss Patrick a Writing Master’s Daughter at Spanish [Town] and without a Shilling but that Rose sett out the next day for the Red Hills with his Black wife. I should be very sorry that he should play the fool so egregiously as there has been some coolness between his father and him for some time about other matters and in all probability this will so much incense the Old man that he will disinherit him…’ It is not clear whether Rose Price went ahead with the marriage since the following year he was married to Lydia Ann Fagan. Fear of ‘diluting’ the white elite was ever present and perhaps his father intervened to reinforce the convention that marrying a mixed race wife was just not done.
Readers of the book A Parcel of Ribbonswill be aware that the marriage of Robert Cooper Lee and Priscilla Kelly, the mixed race mother of his children, which took place on their arrival in London in 1771 seems to be absolutely unique. While there was nothing in canon law to have prevented it taking place in Jamaica, socially it was impossible.
One other feature of Jamaican marriages, among the white elite, is worth mentioning and that is the much younger average age of brides compared with young women in England. Whereas in England the average age of brides was around twenty-five during the eighteenth century, in Jamaica it was much younger. A systematic survey is required and matching baptisms (and assumed birth dates) with marriages is tricky but the overall impression is of most girls marrying in their teens. This is entirely understandable in the context of high rates of mortality in Jamaica, described by Trevor Burnard as ‘Britain’s most unhealthy colony’. To consolidate estates by marriage and create an heir as early as possible it was necessary to marry daughters as soon as a suitable match could be made. Given that Burnard  has calculated that in the parish of St Andrew the mean length of a marriage was eight years and four months and the median a mere six years and four months before the death of one partner, it is not surprising that early marriage was the norm and re-marriage frequent.
Of marriage ending in divorce rather than the death of one partner I only know of one case in eighteenth century Jamaica, where, as in England, a Private Act was required to achieve a divorce. In 1739 Edward Manning divorced his wife Elizabeth Moore citing her adultery with Ballard Beckford. Manning then followed the traditional Jamaican planter pattern of setting up house with a free mulatto woman, Elizabeth Pinnock, who outlived him and to whom he left property and slaves.
For those Jamaican inhabitants who were not of the white elite eighteenth century records are sparse. Only towards the end of the century does regular baptism of slaves become more common, often with changes of name, and with the advent of the Baptist Missionaries attempts to regularise relationships through marriage increased. Even after emancipation however, when people were free to make their own choices, rates of illegitimacy remained high.
With the increasing availability of parish register and civil records on-line you will have a greater chance of finding your ancestors than in the past and, with the aid of Rebecca Probert’s book, of establishing whether your ancestor was really married.
 Wood, Betty ed., The Letters of Simon Taylor of Jamaica to Chaloner Arcedeckne 1765-1775, in Travel Trade and Power in the Atlantic 1765-1884 Camden Miscellany XXXV, vol.19, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp.24-25.
 Powers, Anne, A Parcel of Ribbons, Lulu.com, 2012, p 151.
 Burnard, Trevor, A Failed Settler Society: Marriage and Demographic Failure in Early Jamaica, Journal of Social History, Vol.28,No 1(Autumn 1994) pp.63-82.
Probert, Rebecca, Marriage Law for Genealogists, the definitive guide, Takeaway (Publishing) 2012, ISBN 978-0-9563847-1-3
I was searching the British Newspaper Archive last week and in an idle moment wondered just how much coverage there was of Jamaica. A search for the single word ‘Jamaica’ was revealing. Even bearing in mind the rapid increase in the number and size of newspapers, particularly during the 18th century, the increase in references to Jamaica is an indicator of its rising importance to the British economy, and sadly during the 20th century also its decline.
A further breakdown in the first half of the 18th century is also revealing (again bearing in mind that the number of papers was also increasing).
Incidentally re-running the search a day later produced a few more references, either due to minor vagaries of the indexing system, or to the addition of new newspaper scans. The ten year project to digitise the newspaper collections of the British Library is on-going, so as with many on-line sources it’s worth popping back from time to time to see if an item of interest is now available.
And like maps, I find old newspapers endlessly fascinating. Where else could you learn that in 1742 a clerk to a vinegar merchant in Hoglane, reputed to be worth £2000, a widower for thirty years and who had pass’d his Grand Climackterick five years had married a lass of nineteen!
More particularly for the family or other historian you may find mention of someone in an unexpected context – perhaps a house sale, or as victim (or perpetrator) of a crime.
For example I wrote a while back about the scandal involving Joseph Biscoe and his wife and found that not long after the court case Biscoe sold all the contents of the house he had owned in Derbyshire, from which it sounds as if he was getting rid of everything that might be connected with her.
But to return to Jamaica. Many of the early references are records of which ship has arrived and what the cargo was. On the 2nd of September1712 the Newcastle Courant announced that a galley called the Rapier had arrived from Jamaica carrying a cargo of ‘sugar, cocoa, indigo etc.’ Many announcements during periods of war related to British ships being captured, or enemy ships that had been captured and their cargo taken. For people anxiously awaiting news of the arrival of friends or family, or whose fortune was tied up in a particular cargo, the shipping news in the papers was a vital source of information, especially for those who did not live in one of the major ports.
It was through the British Newspaper Archive that I discovered a reference in 1768 to a box addressed to Joseph Lee being washed up on the shore near Penzance with a large quantity of mahogany presumed to be from a shipwreck. As I knew that Joseph Lee was visiting London at the time and the box was addressed care of Messers Thomas and Stephen Fuller, Merchants in London, I knew for certain this must relate to the Joseph Lee whose letters feature in A Parcel of Ribbons.
Sadly also there are sometimes adverts relating to runaways.
This one appears to be a boy who was free rather than a slave, but one wonders what it was that made John Thomas run away from his apprenticeship and offer himself to someone else. The age given is young for an apprentice, so was he in fact a slave whose master wished to disguise the fact at a time when emancipation and an end to the slave trade was very much under discussion?
Newspapers are an invaluable source of information I’ve only touched on the British ones here, but of course there were newspapers published in Jamaica, and you will also find many references in American newspapers.