Untold lives blog

152 posts categorized "Conflict"

24 November 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 3 Cato Perkins and Nathaniel Snowball

The previous blog post in this series explored the written legacy of Thomas Peters.  This post explores letters from two other figures who travelled to Sierra Leone in late 1791.  These letters are addressed to John Clarkson after he had returned to England in December 1792.

Cato Perkins

Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson  26 October 1793Letter to John Clarkson from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson, 26 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.97  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Cato Perkins was born into slavery around 1739.  He was given the name Perkins after his enslaver, John Perkins of Charleston, South Carolina.  At the age of 39, he ran away from the plantation and joined the British forces at the Siege of Charleston.  In 1783, he left the USA on the ship Briton for Nova Scotia.  By 1792, he had joined others in the relocation to Sierra Leone where he became a vocal member of the settlers’ community.

In 1793 Perkins wrote that the management of the settlement was unacceptable.  Perkins was nominated to travel alongside Isaac Anderson to London to deliver a petition of grievances to the Sierra Leone Company and to ask that Clarkson be reinstalled as governor, but Clarkson had been dismissed from the Company.  Perkins stayed at 13 Finch Lane and from there would continue to lobby the Company.  He expresses his disappointment at not meeting Clarkson given how ‘all the people have been much put upon since you came away’.

The letter below introduces the petition and declares that the settlers ‘want nothing but what you promised us’.  Clarkson would reply that despite his insistence the Company meet with Perkins that they had refused to.  Perkins returned to Sierra Leone where he continued to protest against conditions in Freetown.

Letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson  30 October 1793A letter from Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to John Clarkson, 30 October 1793, Add MS 41263, f.101 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Nathaniel Snowball
Nathaniel Snowball was 39 years old when he was evacuated from New York to Port Roseway, Nova Scotia.  He was a slave in Virginia before escaping to the British lines in the Revolutionary War.  His wife Violet, son Nathaniel and his 3-month-old daughter Mary, all travelled to Nova Scotia.  He travelled with his family to resettle in Sierra Leone.  There he became particularly dissatisfied with the lack of good farmland and the management by the Sierra Leone Company.  His objections eventually led him to lead a group of settlers out of Freetown into a new location at Pirate's Bay.  The letter below explains his intentions to take ‘departure as the Ezerlities did’ to escape the ‘boundage of this tyranious crew’.  He explains that he negotiated the new land from King Jimmy, a local tribal leader.

Letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay  24 May 1796A letter to John Clarkson from Nathaniel Snowball describing his reasons for leading some settlers out of Freetown to a new settlement at Pirate’s Bay, 24 May 1796. Add MS 41263, f.129  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan  29 July 1796The signatures of Nathaniel Snowball and Luke Jordan 29 July 1796, Add MS 41263, f.131.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Clarkson Papers contain many more letters from members of the Freetown settlement.  These were written by members of the community who enjoyed positions of importance, such as preachers and elected representatives.  Up to thirty people seem to have been responsible for authoring the surviving letters.  Among the authors are Boston King, Moses Murray, Isaac Anderson and James Liaster, but absent are the voices of the women of the settlement.  The next post in this series will explore what we know of the women who travelled to Sierra Leone in 1792.

Signatories of a letter to John Clarkson  all members of the Freetown settlement  including Luke Jordon  Moses Wilkinson (preacher)  American Tolbert  Rubin SimmonsSignatories of a letter to John Clarkson, all members of the Freetown settlement, including Luke Jordon, Moses Wilkinson (preacher), American Tolbert, Rubin Simmons and many more. Add MS 41263, f.115.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Jessica Gregory,
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

 

10 November 2020

A fatal pub brawl and its consequences

The saying goes that fate can turn on a sixpence, but for my great-great-grandfather John Barlow (1843-1884) it turned on a pint.  On 29 December 1884, John was having a drink after work in the Farmer’s Arms, New Ferry, when he accidentally picked up the wrong pint of beer and drank from it.  The pint’s owner, John Whitehouse, alias Mantle, objected and an argument quickly escalated into a fight. 

Two men fighting in a pub watched by other customers- Illustrated Police News 17 April 1869Two men fighting in a pub - Illustrated Police News 17 April 1869 British Newspaper Archive

Unfortunately, John sustained fatal injuries and died next morning in the Borough Hospital, Birkenhead.

Report of the fatal pub brawl at New Ferry - Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885Report of the fatal pub brawl at New Ferry - Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885 British Newspaper Archive

John’s death was obviously catastrophic for the family.  His wife Elizabeth was left widowed with three children – George Robert (16), John Robert (13), and Mary Jane (10).  Her parents Robert and Mary Gore lived in the same street and were a source of support, but her father died in 1887.  In the same year Elizabeth married a shoemaker called William Tasker.  In family legend, Tasker was a villain whose behaviour towards his step-children caused the boys to leave home.  But is there any evidence to support this?

In June 1886, George Robert Barlow joined the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, but that was before his mother’s remarriage.  By 1894 he was in Kirkee, Poona, where he married a nurse Rhoda Mary Moss.  By 1901, he was in Liverpool and described himself as a retired soldier.  He died in 1905, leaving his wife and one surviving son.

My great-grandfather John Robert Barlow (1871-1959) certainly left home to join the Merchant Navy, though the exact date is unclear.  Merchant Navy records are not centralised and it is difficult to track down individuals if you don’t know the name of the ship.  He is certainly absent from the 1891 and 1901 censuses; unlike ships in British ports, ships at sea were not enumerated.  Various documents describe him as a ‘trimmer’ (stoker), and later a marine fireman, so he clearly worked in the engine room of steam ships.  His death certificate describes him as a retired boatswain.  He married in Kirkdale in 1905 when he was 33, his bride Emma Gibbons was 18.

In 1889 Elizabeth and William Tasker had a son together named William George; in 1891, they were staying in a common lodging house in Birkenhead.  By 1901 they were lodging in Ormskirk, Lancashire.  In 1911, Elizabeth and William George were living with her daughter Mary Jane Kirkby in Rock Ferry, and Elizabeth is described as a widow.

And what of William Tasker?  The son of Daniel Tasker, shoemaker of Hoole, Chester, and his wife Mary, he was baptised in Chester in 1842.  His year of birth fluctuates in the records; on his marriage certificate in 1887, Tasker describes himself as 37 rather than 44.  Lying about your age is one thing, but did great-great-grandma Elizabeth really marry a wrong un’?  Possibly.  There is a William Tasker, shoemaker of Hoole, Chester, who appears in the Calendar of Prisoners Sent for Trial in both 1870 and 1871.  He was found guilty of riot in August 1870 after attacking Hoole Police Station, and sentenced to 14 days' hard labour at Chester Castle.  He was then found guilty of larceny in September 1871, having stolen ‘a coat, a pair of trowsers and a medal…’ from his father, and was sentenced to 12 months' hard labour.  Included are details of Tasker’s record of previous convictions for drunkenness, ‘breaches of Militia discipline’, assaulting police, and in May 1868 he served 14 days for stealing a duck.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
British Newspaper Archive (can also be accessed through Findmypast) includes reports of John Barlow’s death, for example Liverpool Mercury 2 January 1885 & 29 January 1885; Cheshire Observer 3 January 1885; Chester Courant 7 January 1885; Morning Post 2 January 1885.
British India Office Marriages via Findmypast (Bengal, Madras and Bombay: Registrar Marriages ‎ (1891-1895) IOR/N/11/8 f.677, no.3)

 

03 November 2020

Tracing the Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 2 Thomas Peters

This blog post explores some of the documents within the British Library collection relating to Thomas Peters.  Peters was a former slave who had joined the British Army Regiment, the Black Pioneers, during the American Revolutionary War.  Like many other ex-slaves, he was evacuated to British Territory in Nova Scotia after the British had lost the war.  These documents relate Peters’ campaign to secure better lives for his black community in Nova Scotia, where conditions were inhospitable both environmentally and socially.

Peters formed a petition which outlined the grievances of the community in Nova Scotia and he sailed to England in the aim of presenting it to the British government.  There he met Granville Sharp, abolitionist and activist, who had previously relocated some of the ‘London black poor’ to Sierra Leone as part of a philanthropic project.  Granville probably helped Peters to meet Sierra Leone Company directors.  The following document records the essence of Peters’ petition and gives an account of the meeting.  It describes how the Company was willing to instigate a relocation of the ‘free blacks’ of Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, and how Peters was given a set of terms upon which people would be considered for the trip.

A record of Thomas Peters meeting the Sierra Leone Company officialsA record of Thomas Peters meeting the Sierra Leone Company officials, Add MS 41263, f.158.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On return to Nova Scotia Peters took on the task of finding people who would be willing to re-locate to Sierra Leone.  In this letter, Peters writes to Lawrence Hartshorne outlining his progress.  He describes people as in ‘high spirits’ and expresses his eagerness to see John Clarkson, the Company Agent who was in charge of the mission to Sierra Leone.

A letter from Thomas Peters to Lawrence Hartshorne  written from Saint John  New BrunswickA letter from Thomas Peters to Lawrence Hartshorne, written from Saint John, New Brunswick, [which at the time, was part of Nova Scotia] October 1791, Add MS 41262, f.13.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Peters writes again to the Company in the letter below.  This letter was sent shortly before the departure of the ships to Sierra Leone for a new life.  In the letter,  Peters and his friend David Edmon[d]s ask humbly that the ‘black people of Halifax bound for Sierra Leone’ have some ‘frish beef for Christmas diner’ for their last Christmas Day in America.

Letter requesting provisions for Christmas from Thomas Peters and David EdmondsLetter requesting provisions for Christmas from Thomas Peters and David Edmonds, December 1791. Add MS 41262, f.24.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The handwriting differs between these two letters, so it seems that one of them was drafted on behalf of Peters.  The extent of Peters’ literacy is difficult to determine.  It is noted that his petition of grievances was redrafted to correct his spelling and grammar before it reached the British Government – implying a general level of literary.  However, putting the physical penmanship aside, these letters record the words of an individual who had lived through kidnap from Africa, the horror of the journey through the middle-passage, enslavement in South Carolina and the American Revolutionary War.  Peters was then influential in establishing a colony of free black people in Sierra Leone, where today is he remembered as one of the founding fathers of Freetown.  These few documents are therefore a rare and important recorded legacy of a voice so regularly absent from the written record.

The next blog post in this series will expand on this written legacy by examining some of the other letters written by the Sierra Leone settlers.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

Tracing the lives and letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 1 The Journey to Sierra Leone

29 October 2020

The Oddfellows friendly society and Barbados

‘It is the positive duty of every man who earns his bread by the labour of his hands to provide against times of sickness, for the decent burial of himself and his wife, and endeavour to secure something for the widow and orphans he may leave behind him.’

This quote is taken from the 1870 rule book of the Oddfellows friendly society.  The Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity, was established in 1810.  It grew to be the largest friendly society, with branches in nearly every town in England and Wales, plus many in Ireland and Scotland, and also overseas in the West Indies, Gibraltar, Malta, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, and Constantinople.

Title page of the Rules of the OddfellowsRules of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity (Manchester, 1870)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Members paid contributions to local lodges and received benefits in time of need.  Any member could reach the highest position in the Order.  Religion was held sacred in lodge meetings and politics were not discussed.  Good works were encouraged – visiting the sick, helping widows and orphans, increasing happiness and knowledge.  Self-respect and self-dependence were watchwords of the Order.

In 1901 The Oddfellows’ Magazine featured Brother John Christopher Cordle, a black Barbadian, in its Colonial Roll of Honour.  It stated that the Manchester Unity recognised no distinctions of creed or colour: ‘We appraise the man by his worth and his work’.

John Christopher Cordle was born in Bridgetown in 1827.  His teacher at elementary school was Edward Archer.  Cordle became an assistant at that school and then a schoolmaster in Barbados.  Edward Archer was Corresponding Secretary for the Oddfellows Barbados District.  Cordle joined the St Michael Lodge in 1853, becoming assistant secretary.  He served two terms as Grand Master in 1859 and 1860, and was Corresponding Secretary for 30 years.  His work for the Oddfellows included assisting the widows and orphans’ fund and travelling to Jamaica and Trinidad to help open new lodges.

View of Bridgetown Barbados in the 1840s showing the town and harbour in the distance and fields with cattle in the foregroundBridgetown from Robert Hermann Schomburgk, The History of Barbados (London, 1848) BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Oddfellows’ lodges hosted convivial gatherings.  There are several reports in The Oddfellows’ Magazine of the anniversary dinners of the Barbados St Michael’s Lodge.  On 29 May 1867, the Clarence Hotel hosted ‘one of the best dinners which has ever been given by the Oddfellows in this Island’.  About 70 attended, including two or three merchants, Masonic brothers, and several city gentlemen.  Cordle acted as chairman, and he called upon the West Indies press for help in extending the principles and benefits of the Order to the young men of the islands.

There are also indications in Oddfellows annual reports of conflict within the Barbados lodge.  At a Special District Meeting held on 23 November 1886 it was resolved that Brother Cordle should be expelled from the Order, and his name erased from the Merit Board, for embezzling funds, misappropriating goods, suppressing correspondence, and giving false statements.  However the directors in England ordered that the resolution be rescinded and the case reheard after Cordle had been informed of the specific charges against him.  

Cordle was expelled again for the same reasons by a resolution of the Barbados District Meeting held on 9 March 1888. Once more this was overturned in England, with the District ordered to consider and adjudicate upon the claim of £6 12s 6d made by Brother Cordle against it.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Rules of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity (Manchester, 1870)
The Oddfellows’ Magazine and annual reports - digitised copies from the archive of the Order available via Oddfellows website
Our story about Oddfellow Edwin Thomas Smith

20 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.5 Colonial New England from the 1640s onwards

During the 1630s up to 20,000 people emigrated from England to New England.  This period is known as the Great Migration and many of the emigrés were separatists or puritans.  However, colonial life wasn’t for everyone.  During the 1640s, more puritans returned to England than left.  Many returned to fight in the English Civil War.

In the latter half of the 17th century, English colonies expanded throughout the territories of several Algonquian-speaking tribes.  The English established praying towns to convert local people to Christianity.  Relations between Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag tribe broke down, increasing tensions further.

The war that followed, known as King Philip’s War (1675-1678), was the deadliest conflict seen in North America.  The colonists won; thousands of Native Americans were killed or sold into slavery. It was a huge blow for their resistance to colonisation.

Anxieties about the English Civil War by an early female poet

Open copy of Anne Bradstreet's Several Poems…by a Gentlewoman in New-EnglandAnne Bradstreet, Several Poems…by a Gentlewoman in New-England, 1678. C.39.b.48 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was an English poet and one of the first female writers to be published in North America.  She emigrated on the Arbella in 1630 and settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony with her family.  Her 1642 poem A Dialogue Between Old England and New is about the English Civil War.  Young America asks Mother England what is troubling her, to which she replies 'a new conflict' and laments her ‘plundered townes’ and her ‘young men slaine’.


Translating the Bible for Algonquian Native Americans

Title page of the first translation of the Bible into the Massachusett languageWusku Wuttestamentum nul-lordumun Jesus Christ nuppoquohwussuaeneumun. Cambridge: Printed by Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, 1661. C.51.b.3 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This is the first translation of the Bible into the Massachusett language, printed at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1661. It was produced for so-called ‘Praying Indians’ – native people who had been converted to Christianity.

It was jointly translated by John Eliot, a Christian missionary, and Cockenoe, a Native American captured and enslaved during the Pequot War in 1637. Cockenoe taught Eliot the language and acted as his interpreter. This book is known as the Eliot Indian Bible, underplaying Cockenoe’s vital involvement in the work.


Mapping King Philip’s War

First printed map produced in North America  cut by John Foster and orientated to the west instead of the northWilliam Hubbard, A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England, Boston: Printed by John Foster, 1677, G.7146 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This is the first printed map produced in North America.  It was cut by John Foster and is orientated to the west instead of the north.  The map conveys a political message, illustrating the English settlements attacked by Native Americans during King Philip’s War (marked by a number next to the place name).  This was meant to emphasise the violence of the Native Americans.  The map does not reflect Native American lands or the devastating impact of the war on tribal populations in any way.


Enslaved people in colonial America

Transatlantic slave voyages to Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America began in the mid-16th century.  The traders of enslaved people were not only Spanish.  The first recorded transatlantic slave voyage that departed from an English port was in 1563.   This was bound for Hispaniola.

The first transatlantic slave voyage from an English port to an English colony via the African coast was to Barbados in 1641.  However, enslaved African people were bought at South American and Caribbean ports and transported to New England from the 1630s.  English involvement in slavery increased in frequency from the 1640s onwards.  Some colonists in Plymouth Colony owned enslaved people.

Front page of Boston Gazette 11 December 1721 Extract from Boston Gazette with news of inward and outward bound ships and an advertisement for the sale of two women slavesBoston Gazette, 11 December 1721 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


This is an issue from 1721 of the Boston Gazette, one of the earliest newspapers printed in colonial North America.  In the left-hand column, you can see the news of inward and outward bound ships.  Many of these were slave ships.  In the right-hand column, there is an advertisement for the sale of ‘two very likely Negroe Women for either Town or Country Business, to be sold by Mr. John Powell Merchant in Boston’.


Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

15 October 2020

Tracing the lives and letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 1 The Journey to Sierra Leone

With the outbreak of the American War of Independence in April 1775, the British Army soon realised that it lacked the manpower it needed to prosecute the war.  One action taken was the issuing of the Dunmore Proclamation in November 1775 which decreed that slaves who joined the British to fight against the American revolutionaries would be freed from slavery.  Thousands of slaves joined the British forces in response where they became known as the Black Loyalists and were formed into a number of military units such as the Black Pioneers and the Ethiopians.   The Black Pioneers accompanied General Henry Clinton to Rhode Island when he was tasked with taking Newport in 1776.

Map of Rhode Island in 1776 marked with the positions of British RegimentsMap of Rhode Island in 1776, Add MS 57715, f.3. The map is marked with the positions of British Regiments. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With the conclusion of hostilities, the future of the Black Loyalists remained uncertain and they were under threat of re-enslavement.  General Washington demanded that the British obey the Treaty of Paris (1783) which had specified that all American property, including slaves, be returned.  The British instead attempted to keep their original promise by relocating thousands of ex-slaves outside of the United States.  Sir Guy Carleton, commander of British forces in North America, oversaw the evacuation of Black Loyalists and many other black individuals living behind British lines – some runaway slaves, some born free men, as well as their families - to British territory including Jamaica, London (where many became known as London Black Poor), and Nova Scotia.

A manuscript record of some of the orders issued by Sir Guy Carleton during the American War of IndependenceA record of some of the orders issued by Sir Guy Carleton during the American War of Independence. Add MS 21743, f.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Nova Scotia the Black Loyalists were promised land and freedom, but Nova Scotia proved to be hostile both environmentally and socially.  A description of the relocation to Nova Scotia is given in a report commissioned by Sir Carleton.

Title page of the manuscript report on Nova ScotiaTitle page of the report on Nova Scotia, Kings MS 208, f.1. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Page from manuscript report showing increase in population in Nova Scotia as ‘New Inhabitants’ arriveThis page traces the increase in population in Nova Scotia as ‘New Inhabitants’ arrive. Kings MS 208, 24 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The report made direct reference to the Black Loyalists settling in Nova Scotia and stated that they numbered around 3000 at the point of writing in 1784.

The following page of the report explains the difficulties that have arisen already with lack of land to cultivate and insists that provisions be made for the new settlers lest they ‘perish – they have no other country to go to – no other asylum'.

Manuscript document giving description of the shortcomings of resettlement in Nova ScotiaDescription of the shortcomings of resettlement in Nova Scotia. Kings MS 208, f.32 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With many of the black settlers feeling betrayed, an unusual and challenging plan was devised: to relocate these families from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, to form a new colony of free people, who would govern themselves.  The decision to relocate the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia developed upon an earlier project that had relocated a number of the ‘black poor’ of London to Sierra Leone.  Granville Sharp, philanthropist and abolitionist was a seminal figure in the original plan.  The recently formed Sierra Leone Company would orchestrate the new project and instigated John Clarkson - the younger brother of abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson - as the agent in charge of the mission.  However, the figure who was instrumental in devising the plan was the former slave and Black Pioneer, Thomas Peters.

The next blog post in this series will examine Thomas Peters’ role in the establishment of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and the letters in the British Library that were composed by him.

A view from the sea of the New Settlement in Sierra Leone 1790 with a sailing ship in the foregroundA View of the New Settlement in Sierra Leone by Cornelis Apostool. 1790, before the re-settlement of the Nova Scotian Black Loyalists. British Library Maps.K.Top.117.100 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

13 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.4 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony continued

A massacre by Plymouth Colony militia

This is a journal chronicling events that occurred between 1622 and 1623 in and around the Plymouth Colony, obviously from a colonialist perspective.  One event in particular stands out.

Title page of Edward Winslow's Good Newes from New EnglandEdward Winslow, Good Newes from New England, C.132.h.20(2) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

During these early years of the colony there was a growing threat from the Narragansett and Massachusett tribes.  At the same time, more badly provisioned men were arriving at the colony amidst a shortage of food.  They settled at nearby Wessagusset and stole corn from the Massachusett tribe.  Tensions grew and rumours reached Plymouth of an oncoming attack.

To purportedly pre-empt this, the Plymouth militia massacred a group of Massachusett visitors in Wessagusset.  This atrocity is described by Winslow in this book as 'the just judgment of God upon [the Native American’s] guilty consciences' for plotting against the English.

A different perspective

Page from Thomas Morton's New English CanaanThomas Morton, New English Canaan, 1637. C.33.c.27 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The majority of contemporary printed sources about the Plymouth Colony were written by the colonists themselves or to promote further settlement in North America.  Thomas Morton, however, wrote from a different perspective.

His book is a harsh critique of the Plymouth Colony’s treatment of the native people, who Morton describe as more 'civilised and humanitarian' than the colonists.  Morton claims that Massasoit only made peace with the colonists because they claimed to keep the plague in their powder store and said they could unleash it at any time.   He also recounts the atrocity at Wessagusset, describing how the colonists 'pretended to feast the savages' before stabbing them with their own knives.


The Mystic Massacre

Engraving depicting the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by militia by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified villageJohn Underhill, Newes from America; or, a New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; containing, a True Relation of their War-Like Proceedings, 1638. C.33.c.25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This engraving depicts the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified village during the Pequot War (1636-1638).

The war against the Pequot tribe was fought by an alliance of the colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and Saybrook colonies and their allies from the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes.  It was ostensibly caused by tribal competition for political dominance and control of the fur trade, however this power vacuum only existed as a result of European involvement in the region and the spread of epidemics that reduced native populations.

The violence at Mystic horrified the colonists’ tribal allies.  Over 500 Pequots died, including women and children, as the village was torched. By the end of the war, the tribe was effectively extinct.

The loss of tribal lands

Deed showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists.Collection of Sundry Original Deeds of Conveyance of Lands ceded by Indian Sachems to English settlers in New England, from 1659 to 1711. Lansdowne MS 1052 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These are original manuscript deeds showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists. The Mohegans allied with the English colonists during the Pequot War and later conflicts such as King Philip’s War. This was to defend themselves against the Narragansetts.

By 1676 Uncas had suffered heavy losses and, in this weakened position, he ceded all Mohegan lands apart from a reserve of farms and hunting grounds to the colonists in exchange for protection.  Tract by tract, field by field, Native American lands were slowly lost to the English colonists during the 17th and 18th centuries.


Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

08 October 2020

The Law of Forfeiture: Applying English Traditions in India?

In a delicate case from 1864 the Privy Council considered whether the English practice of forfeiture following a suicide should apply to a subject of the British Raj.

Following the death of Rajah Christenauth Roy Bayadoor in Calcutta on 31 October 1844, a second will was discovered, written by him that morning, which left a portion of his estate to the East India Company (EIC).  Since his death was by his own hand, Bayadoor’s widow, Ranee Surnomoyee, disputed the validity of this will on the grounds that it was not written in sound mind.  The court found in favour of Ranee Surnomoyee, declaring the second will to be invalid.

The Court House, Calcutta - a hand-coloured print by Frederick Fiebig in 1851, showing people in the foreground, with a cart and a palanquin.The Court House, Calcutta, where the case would first have been heard.  A hand-coloured print from the Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts, by Frederick Fiebig in 1851. British Library Online Gallery

An appeal was then made to the Privy Council against this verdict on behalf of the EIC, citing the law of forfeiture in cases of suicide.  A digitised copy of the response of the Council is available to view on the website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII).

Known as felo-de-se within English common law, meaning 'crime of his-, or herself', suicide in England was associated with restless souls.  Confirmed victims were historically buried at crossroads with a stake through their heart, possibly in an effort to stop the soul from wandering.  The law was only changed to allow burials within churchyards following the tragic death of Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh in 1822.   Even then, restrictions still applied.   In her book on Victorian attitudes to suicide, Barbara Gates states that churchyard burials were allowed without Christian rites and restricted to 'at night, between the hours of nine and midnight, and his/her goods and chattels must still be turned over to the Crown'.

Robert Stewart  Viscount CastlereaghRobert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, took his own life in 1822, probably due to stress and depression caused by the strain of his political career and public unpopularity. The suicide of such a public figure inspired the re-examination of related English laws. Image from Jonah Barrington, Historic Memoirs of Ireland (London, 1833) BL flickr

Intended as a deterrent to criminals, the law of forfeiture passed the deceased’s property to the Crown and away from inheritors.  It also applied to suicides, which were considered a crime against the individual, God and the Crown.  Abolished by the Forfeiture Act 1870, the practice was applied infrequently, even at the time of our case.

In the appeal the representative of the EIC did not further contest the second will.  Instead he argued that English law, including forfeiture, applied in the colonies.  The privy councillors therefore had to consider the application of these laws in India.

They examined cultural differences between Britons and Indians to find examples of where British law did not fit with Indian traditions.  The main examples given by the Council were polygamy and child marriage.  Although shocking to Victorian sensibilities, these were part of the culture and beliefs of Indians at the time and so the EIC had allowed them to continue.  Therefore, by adapting English law to suit Indian culture, the EIC had set a precedent.

In conclusion, the Privy Councillors expressed their surprise at an effort to enforce forfeiture following a suicide as late as 1844 and their confusion at its application to an Indian Hindu.  They found in favour of the descendants of Rajah Christenauth Roy Bayadoor and allowed them to retain possession of his property.

Matthew Waters
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Barbara T Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories, 2nd edn (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Stewart, Robert, Viscount Castlereagh and second Marquess of Londonderry

 

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