Untold lives blog

149 posts categorized "War"

09 February 2021

Sir Robert Preston and the East India Company

Robert Preston (1740-1834) was born in Scotland, the fifth son of Sir George Preston of Valleyfield.  He started his career with the East India Company at the age of eighteen serving as Fifth Mate on the Streatham, which sailed for India in July 1758.

Portrait of Sir Robert Preston in uniform, seated next to a globePortrait of Sir Robert Preston by William Dickinson (1794) © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG D40492 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

In November 1759 the Council of the East India Company at Calcutta was concerned about seven Dutch ships which were effectively blockading their port and they issued an order for the Duke of Dorset, the Calcutta and the Hardwicke to make a stand.  After considerable negotiation with the Commodore of the Dutch fleet, conducted under Flags of Truce, it was clear that battle was inevitable.  Charles Mason, Captain of the Streatham, joined the Duke of Dorset with ten of his crew including Robert Preston.

Duke of Dorset journalPage from the journal of the Duke of Dorset, 24 November 1759 IOR/L/MAR/B/612H  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The journal of the Duke of Dorset gives a detailed account of the battle.  The Dutch initially brought their broadsides to bear on the English ships, but they manoeuvred until ‘being now in the middle of their fleet we played on them as fast as we were able to load and fire, as did the Dutch on us, which was pretty galling on both sides but with the most success on ours.  For, after a smart firing of two hours with double round & grape shot, the Dutch Commander struck his broad pendant and hoisted a flag of truce, when we ceased firing at him.  We continued engaging the other ships which, on ten minutes close fire, all surrendered.  Our officers were sent on board to secure their magazines, spike their cannons and divide their prisoners on board our three ships. . . . The killed and wounded on board our ships is very inconsiderable to that of the enemy’.

Captain Bernard Forrester of the Duke of Dorset was wounded in the knee by a grape shot.  His leg was amputated but he died on 3 March 1760 about three months after the battle. 

Robert Preston served on the Clive as Third Mate 1761/2 and Second Mate 1764/5 under Captain John Allen, both voyages managed by Charles Raymond of Valentines, Ilford.  Then between 1767 and 1776 Preston made three voyages as a Captain, on ships under the management of Charles Foulis of Woodford.

Preston accumulated enough wealth to invest in shipping himself and he took over the management of several ships for the East India Company which made 55 voyages.  For a time he served as chairman of the Committee of Managing Owners of Shipping.

Charles Foulis and Robert Preston set up as insurance brokers in London and became managers of the Sun Fire Office.  Preston was elected MP for Dover 1784-1790 and then for Cirencester 1792-1806.  He was an Elder Brother of Trinity House 1781-1803 and a Deputy Master 1796-1803.  By the 1780s Preston was living in a substantial house in Woodford which had been the home of his colleague and close friend, Charles Foulis, who left the house and other property to him when he died.

Window at Trinity House - Robert PrestonWindow at Trinity House dedicated to Robert Preston © Trinity House

On 23 March 1800 Robert Preston succeeded to his family baronetcy.   He returned to Valleyfield but continued his London business connections until around 1823.  Preston died at Valleyfield on 7 May 1834, aged 94, said to be worth one million pounds.

Georgina Green
Independent scholar

Further reading:
Details of the career of each officer who served with the East India Company can be found in Anthony Farrington, A Biographical Index of East India Company Maritime Service Officers 1600-1834 (London, 1999), whilst details of each voyage are given in Anthony Farrington, A Catalogue of East India Company Ships’ Journals and Logs 1660-1834 (London, 1999)
Obituary for Sir Robert Preston in The Gentleman’s Magazine (1834), ii. pp..315-16
R. G. Thorne, The House of Commons 1790-1820 (London, 1986)

 

19 January 2021

Richard Walpole and the East India Company at sea

Writer Horace Walpole had a cousin Richard who served as an East India Company maritime officer from 1744-1757.  Richard Walpole had at least two encounters with hostile French shipping whilst serving as a Company officer, exemplifying the dangers faced by merchant ships even when as heavily armed as East Indiamen.

During Walpole’s first voyage as 6th mate and purser in the Augusta, his ship captured the French vessel Baronette on 21 October 1747.

Whilst commanding the Houghton in March 1757, Walpole was involved in an action near the Cape of Good Hope.  His journal of the voyage records how on the afternoon of 9 March the East Indiamen Houghton, Suffolk and Godolphin were approached by two unidentified ships.  Walpole immediately began to clear his ship in readiness for battle.  The three East Indiamen steered away but were followed.  Walpole had everyone on board prepared for action all night.

At daybreak the Suffolk raised its flags and made the signal for line of battle.  Here is a splendid drawing of that line of battle from the journal of the Suffolk.

Drawing showing the three East India ships in the line of battleLine of battle for the three East Indiamen from the journal of the Suffolk IOR/L/MAR/B/397D  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

At 8 am the unknown ships hoisted French colours.   The larger of the two shot at the English ships and the Suffolk returned fire.   After a short exchange, the ‘warm engagement’ ceased as the ships found themselves positioned outside the bearings of each other’s guns.  The French made to sail westward but were pursued by the East Indiamen.  They then tacked and came in close to the English ships and ‘a very smart fire’ was maintained by both sides.  At noon the French sailed away, probably bound for Mauritius.  Walpole recorded: ‘Every Body behaved during the whole Engagement with great Courage & Resolution; several of the Shot from the large Ship reached us, & four of them have lodged…(thank God) no Body hurt’.

Letter from Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reporting the action against the French published in the Newcastle Courant newspaperLetter from Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reporting the action against the French published in Newcastle Courant 9 July 1757 British Newspaper Archive

The three ships reached the UK without further incident.  Captain William Wilson of the Suffolk reported that the officers and sailors ‘behaved with all the Bravery and Intrepidity peculiar to our English seamen’.  He and his fellow captains asked the Company to honour a promise to reward mariners for their response to enemy attack.

Some of the crew of the Houghton, Suffolk and Godolphin did not reach their homes at the end of this eventful voyage.  They were pressed by the Royal Navy and found themselves on board HMS Hussar.

The French did defeat Richard Walpole five years later.  The ship Walpole for which he was Principal Managing Owner was captured off Ceylon by two French men of war and a frigate on 20 September 1762 on its outward journey to Bengal, laden mainly with cloth.  Captain Parson Fenner and some of the crew ended up at the Cape of Good Hope, others at Mauritius.  The East India Company decided that the capture was not through any misconduct of Fenner or his officers, but entirely owing to the superior force of the enemy which they were ‘utterly unable to resist’.  Richard Walpole was given permission by the Company to build a new ship for Fenner on the bottom of the Walpole.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Court Minutes IOR/B/74 and IOR/B/79
Ship journals: Houghton IOR/L/MAR/B/438H; Suffolk IOR/L/MAR/B/397D
British Newspaper Archive (also accessible through Findmypast) e.g. Newcastle Courant 9 July 1757

 

05 January 2021

Bevin Trainees now in India Office Family History Search

In 1941 the British Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin, supported the establishment of the Bevin Training Scheme to provide practical training in engineering for young Indians.  The Scheme was an effort to meet the demand for skilled engineers in Indian industries supporting the war effort.

Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India, chatting to an Indian trainee at work in a factoryLeo Amery, Secretary of State for India, chatting to an Indian trainee at work in a factory - from Engineering Bulletin September 1941 published by the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Crown Copyright) IOR/L/I/1/978

A previous story on Untold Lives revealed that the India Office Records include lists of the first seven batches of trainees invited to the UK and details of the firms they were placed with and houses they lodged in.

Example of a page from the India Office file showing the details recorded about the traineesExample of a page from IOR/L/E/8/8112 showing the details recorded about the trainees Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

As part of the India Office Records team’s efforts to identify records of individuals in our collections who historically have been overlooked, we have now transcribed all the names and details from these lists into the British Library’s India Office Family History Search.

Here are some examples of entries:
Prasad, R. – Placed with the Cincinnatti Milling Machine Company, Birmingham, on 13 Oct 1941.  Lodged at 77 Eachelhurst Road, Erdington, Birmingham.  Trainee reference number 2/42.
Deshpande, H.G. – Placed with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, Crewe, on 28 Sep 1942.  Lodged at Saxon House, Carlton Road, Whalley Range, Manchester.  Trainee reference number 5/38.
Nandy, S. – Placed with Vauxhall Motors, Luton, on 7 June 1943.  Lodged at 21 Ascot Road, Luton.  Trainee reference number 7/5.

We hope that this data will help your family history research and reveal stories about collaboration across cultures.

Matthew Waters
India Office Records

Further reading:
Bevin Training Scheme: papers not transferred to the High Commissioner for India, including lists of Indian trainees showing firms with whom placed and lodging addresses, May 1941-Sep 1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/E/8/8112]
Indian workmen training in UK (Bevin Boys), 1940-1947 [British Library reference IOR/L/I/1/978]

 

10 December 2020

Gallant, Clean and Drunk: Charles Old of the Royal Artillery

Charles Old served with the British Army in India in the mid-19th century as a gunner with the Royal Artillery.  His military discharge documents give a fascinating glimpse into the career of an ordinary soldier.  Born in Falmouth, Cornwall in 1835, Charles Old spent his early years living in Allen’s Yard, a down at heel area (later populated by self-proclaimed prostitutes).  His father Richard was a labourer and sometime ostler, and Charles followed his brother Richard into the British Army.

'A hot night in the Batteries'. Soldiers loading and firing cannons  during the Crimean War'A hot night in the Batteries'. Soldiers loading and firing cannons, during the Crimean War by William Simpson Shelfmark: 1780.c.6  Images Online

Charles enlisted in the 11th Battalion Royal Artillery on 18 March 1854, age 19, having previously been an outdoor servant.  He was sent to the Crimea, where he served with 5th Company H Field Battery.  He was awarded the Crimea Medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastapol, as well as the Turkish Crimea Medal.  After the Crimean war he was sent to India.  On 14 March 1858 Charles was mentioned for gallant conduct in the field before Lucknow during the Indian Uprising or ‘Indian Mutiny’.  For his actions, he received the Indian Mutiny medal, with Lucknow clasp.  This was awarded to troops under the command of Sir Colin Campbell who took part in the operations which led to the eventual surrender of Lucknow and its environs.

On 1 May 1859, Charles was transferred to 14th Brigade Royal Artillery.  On 20 September 1865 he was re-engaged for another nine years at Poona [Pune].  A physical description of him survives – he had grey eyes, light brown hair, and a fresh complexion, and stood 5 feet 9 inches tall.  He was undoubtedly a courageous soldier, but unfortunately the record of Charles’s conduct in the Army leaves something to be desired.  He appeared fourteen times in the Regimental Defaulter’s Book.  Between 1859 and 1874, he was tried by Court Martial four times, leading to four periods of imprisonment of one to two months each time.  The Regimental Board stated 'his conduct has been indifferent [he] has been guilty of many acts of Drunkenness & absence but has proved himself a gallant and clean soldier'.   The Board was at pains to point out that Charles possessed neither school certificate nor any good conduct badges.  Charles was a career soldier – he served over 21 years with the Royal Artillery in total, including two years in the Crimea and twelve years in India.  His service record reflects his many minor and not so minor run-ins with authority during that time, often through drunkenness.  He was not discharged from the Army as a result of his courts martial, which don’t in fact seem to have been that rare an occurrence in the 19th century.

Discharge Documents for Charles Old, 1875, commenting on his character and conduct.WO 97/1822/107 Discharge Documents for Charles Old, 1875, commenting on his character and conduct. © Crown Copyright Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives via Findmypast

By the time he left the British Army at Colchester on 9 November 1875, Charles was in the 25th Brigade Royal Artillery, regimental number 515.  He was intending to return to Truro, Cornwall, where his widowed mother Elizabeth, his brother Edward, and sister Elizabeth Marks were all living.  He moved quickly on his return home, marrying the twice-widowed Mary Jane Tuck at Tuckingmill on 13 November 1875.  He appears in the 1881 census working as a tin miner in Cambourne, and living with Mary Jane and his step-children.  Charles Old died at Truro Infirmary on 4 November 1882 of a ‘bronchial attack’, aged 47.  Perhaps those years of hard living in the Royal Artillery finally caught up with him.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
It can be difficult to pinpoint records relating to ancestors who served in India.  East India Company soldiers served in Presidency armies of Bengal, Bombay, and Madras.  The Indian Army was formed after the British Crown took over from the Company in 1858.  The India Office Records Military Department archive (IOR/L/MIL) holds recruitment registers, embarkation lists and muster rolls for European private soldiers and non-commissioned officers from 1753.  Documents for British officers of the East India Company armies include entry papers from 1775 and service records.

India Office Records also holds records of service for British Officers in the Indian Army, Royal Indian Navy and Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve.  Sequences are not complete, and often concern pay, leave etc.   There are few records relating to Asian personnel of the Indian Army up until 1947; these records are held in India.

Records for British Army units serving in India are found at the National Archives – this is where Charles Old’s discharge records are held.  After 1921, records are with the Ministry of Defence.

A J Farrington, Guide to the Records of the India Office Military Department (London: India Office Library & Records 1982)
Ian A Baxter, Baxter’s Guide: biographical sources in the India Office Records (London: FIBIS & British Library, 2004)
Peter Bailey, Researching ancestors in the East India Company armies (England: FIBIS, 2006)
Peter Bailey, Researching ancestors in the Indian army, 1858-1947 (England: FIBIS, 2014)
India Office Records family history web pages 
For details of prostitutes living in Allen’s Yard, Falmouth, see ‘Stand Up and (Don’t) Be Counted’ by Francis Ambler, from The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick-Maker: The story of Britain through its census, since 1801 by Roger Hutchinson (London: Little Brown, 2017)
Charles Old’s death notice can be found in The Cornishman 16 November 1882, British Newspaper Archive, also available via  Findmypast

 

04 December 2020

The curious case of Jean Robbio

At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, a mysterious French agent was picked up by the British at Bushire, Persia, dressed in disguise and carrying a map and secret letters.

On 29 July 1810, Stephen Babington, in charge of the British Residency at Bushire, wrote to the Government of India’s Envoy to Persia, John Malcolm, reporting the arrival of a Frenchman ‘in an Arab dress’ at Bushire.  The man was confirmed to be a courier for the Governor-General of Isle de France (Mauritius), General Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen.

Rough sketch of Bushire and its vicinity  c 1800

Rough sketch of Bushire and its vicinity, c 1800 (IOR/X/3111, f 1r

Babington had acted swiftly, arresting the courier.  He was pleased to report that his men ‘effected his seizure so completely that every article about him has been secured, and at the same time the most favorable impressions have been left upon his mind, of the mild and kind treatment, which Englishmen always shew to their Enemies’.

The courier was revealed to be one Jean Robbio.  Genoese by birth, Robbio had worked for the military and diplomatic mission of General Claude-Matthieu de Gardane to Tehran of 1807-1809.  In the context of the ongoing Napoleonic Wars, Gardane’s mission had been of great concern to the British, and Babington had acted in this atmosphere of heightened tension and suspicion.  Prior to his arrest, Robbio had been stranded in Muscat for two years.  Following his capture, Robbio made ‘no secret of his hostile intentions towards the English’, and Babington had him imprisoned at the Residency.  It appears that Robbio was however a model prisoner, and Babington subsequently allowed him to go out on parole in Bushire.

Robbio had a number of papers in his possession, including a map of navigation routes around Zanzibar, an intelligence report detailing the political situation in Baghdad, and a letter detailing Robbio’s audience with the Sultan of Muscat.

Map of the routes of navigation at the port of Zanzibar, part of Jean Robbio’s captured papersA map of the routes of navigation at the port of Zanzibar, part of Jean Robbio’s captured papers (IOR/L/PS/9/68/67, f. 1) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another mysterious letter seized from Robbio was from an unknown correspondent in Muscat, possibly Robbio himself, to an unknown recipient in India.  The letter makes a plea for help, offering a reward and the services of an experienced French navigator based in Muscat in return.

Mysterious letter from Muscat making a plea for help A mysterious letter from Muscat making a plea for help (IOR/L/PS/9/68/66, f. 1r) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The episode came to an abrupt end when HM Envoy Extraordinary to Persia, Sir Harford Jones, intervened.  He wrote to Babington on 9 September admonishing him for unilaterally arresting Robbio.  He warned ‘that no public functionary in a foreign State possesses any right or authority to seize or possess himself of the person or papers of an Enemy entering or being in that State, without the permission and sanction of the Sovereign’. 

Jones wrote again on 14 September indicating that the Persian Government were ‘very little pleased’ with his handling of the affair, ordering Babington to release Robbio at once.  To add insult to injury, Babington was told to pay for Robbio to stay at the Residency if he so pleased.  In a final admonishment, Jones declared that ‘there is not any Paper found on this Gentleman which I have seen that it is at the present moment of any great Importance to us to be acquainted with’.

John Casey
Gulf History Cataloguer

Further reading:
The story of Jean Robbio and the documents captured by Babington can be found in the India Office Records, shelfmarks IOR/L/PS/9/68/60-67
Iradj Amini, Napoleon and Persia: Franco-Persian relations under the First Empire, (Richmond: Curzon, 1999)

 

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

 

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