Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

22 October 2020

Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

This blog post provides a modest update to curator Margaret Makepeace’s 2012 and 2016 blog posts on Untold Lives - Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong? and Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!  Readers are encouraged to refresh their memory of Margaret’s posts before reading on here.


A letter from Eliza West (formerly Armstrong) to W. T. Stead, dated 6 March 1906, and sent from 50 Gladstone Street, Hebburn, confirms Eliza’s marriage to Henry George West, and his death, which left Eliza struggling to support her family and searching for ways to generate the necessary income to keep her household afloat.

Gladstone Street in 1987 showing terraced housesGladstone Street in 1987. Copyright South Tyneside Libraries

That W. T. Stead and Eliza were still in touch may come as a surprise to those familiar with ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’, Stead’s series of sensational, New Journalism articles, published in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885, in an attempt to end the deadlock in Parliament over the Criminal Law Amendment Act.  Stead was vilified (and rightly so) for his part in the abduction of Eliza, in his overzealous campaign to prove that a child could be bought for £5 and sold into sex slavery on the streets of London.

In Eliza’s letter to Stead she thanks him for his ‘kind and welcome letter’ and the gift of a ‘butafull’ [sic] book.  There has clearly been some delay between Stead’s last missive and Eliza’s reply because she apologises for not responding sooner and tells Stead she has been ill.  The letter is familiar in tone, and in it Eliza informs Stead that she has made up her mind to take in lodgers: ‘for a liveing as I realy don’t know what else to do [sic]’.  She signs off ‘thanking you so much for all your kindness I never will forget nor cease to remember all your kindness to us'.

In the same year a letter on Salvation-Army-Headquarters-headed-paper and dated 31 October begins with the subject line:

MRS WEST = ELIZA ARMSTRONG

The letter is from Commissioner Adelaide Cox and begins ‘My dear Chief’ (presumably, therefore, it is addressed to Bramwell Booth).  Commissioner Cox informs Booth that she has ‘instructed Staff-Captain Salt to continue to visit this woman [Eliza West] once a week until she has really turned her present difficult corner’.

The letter goes on to say: ‘We are taking up the question of the children at our Headquarters here.  There are five; and the idea is to find Homes for the three middle children.  Mrs West is willing for this.  At present, there are two lodgers in the house, who pay weekly, and all would be well in this direction, but for the fact that Mrs West has something the matter with her leg, and is obliged to attend the Infirmary'.

Those five children were Alice Maud May (born 1896), and referred to as her eldest ‘May’ in Eliza’s letter to Stead, William Frederick (born 1898), Sybil Primrose (born 1900), Phyllis Irene (born 1902) and Henry George (born 1904).

Between March and October Eliza must have moved quickly to bring in the lodgers mentioned both in her letter to Stead and that of Adelaide Cox’s letter to Bramwell Booth.  And by 1911 it would seem that the Army had succeeded also, in placing those ‘three middle children’ elsewhere, because William Frederick, Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene are not listed as members of Eliza’s new household with partner Samuel O’Donnell in the 1911 census return.

Table based on census returns for the West and O'Donnell families in 1901 and 1911

* The 1911 census records ‘children born alive to present marriage’, and sub-divides that information between ‘total children born alive’, ‘children still living’ and ‘children who have died’.  Tellingly, and indeed poignantly, in Eliza’s column, under total children born alive the number 9 is written; children still living 8; children who have died 1; and then each number is struck-through as the realisation is made that only O’Donnell’s children count here, and so the numbers 3, 2, 1 are placed above the original numbers recorded.  This however, again, is not quite accurate, as Eliza’s dead child is Reginald Ladas West (born 1894, died 1897).  Nevertheless, this semi-legible, deleted information tells us that Eliza lost at least 1 child in her lifetime, and at the time of the 1911 census was survived by at least 8.  A recent search of the General Register Office birth index adds two more children born to Eliza and Samuel, Minnie and Norman O’Donnell.

Dr Helena Goodwyn
Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University

 

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 is 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)