Women Petitioners: Belinda Sutton, an ex-slave in Massachusetts

In February 1783, Belinda Sutton petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for a pension from the estate of Isaac Royall Jr, her late master. (In this petition she names herself simply ‘Belinda, an Affrican’, but in later documents she gave the surname Sutton, her married name.) She had been born in Ghana 70 years earlier and kidnapped by slavers when she was just 12 years old.  The petition is one of the earliest narratives by an African-American woman, and an early demand for reparations for the injustice and exploitation of slavery. The court ordered that she should have her pension, but she had to petition again a number of times in later years to continue receiving it.

The Petition of Belinda an Affrican, humbly shews.

That seventy years have rolled away, since she on the banks of the Rio da Valta received her existence. The mountains covered with spicy forests, the valleys loaded with the richest fruits, spontaneously produced, joined to that happy temperature of air to exclude excess, would have yielded her the most compleat felicity, had not her mind received early impressions of the cruelty of men, whose faces were like the moon, and whose bows and arrows were like the thunder and the lightning of the clouds. The idea of these, the most dreadful of all enemies, filled her infant slumbers with horror, and her noontide moments with cruel apprehensions! But her affrighted imagination, in its most alarming extension, never represented distresses equal to what she hath since really experienced. For before she had twelve years injoyed the fragrance of her native groves, and e’er she realized, that Europeans placed their happiness in the yellow dust which she carelessly marked with her infant footsteps, even when she, in a sacred grove, with each hand in that of a tender parent, was paying her devotions to the great Orisa who made all things, an armed band of white men, driving many of her countrymen in chains, rushed into the hallowed shades! Could the tears, the sighs and supplications, bursting from tortured parental affection, have blunted the keen edge of avarice, she might have been rescued from agony, which many of her countrys children have felt, but which none hath ever yet described. In vain she lifted her supplicating voice to an insulted father, and her guiltless hands to a dishonoured deity! She was ravished from the bosom of her country, from the arms of her friends, while the advanced age of her parents, rendering them unfit for servitude, cruelly separated her from them forever!

Scenes which her imagination had never conceived of – a floating world – the sporting monsters of the deep and the familiar meetings of billows and clouds strove but in vain to divert her melancholly attention, from three hundred Affricans in chains, suffering the most excruciating torments; and some of them rejoicing that the pangs of death came like a balm to their wounds.

Once more her eyes were blest with a continent – but alas! how unlike the land where she received her being! Here all things appeared unpropitious – she learned to catch the Ideas, marked by the sounds of language, only to know that her doom was slavery, from which death alone was to emancipate her. What did it avail her, that the walls of her lord were hung with splendor, and that the dust troden underfoot in her native country, crowded his gates with sordid worshipers? The laws had rendered her incapable of receiving property, and though she was a free moral agent, accountable for her actions, yet she never had a moment at her own disposal!

Fifty years her faithful hands have been compelled to ignoble servitude for the benefit of an Isaac Royall, untill, as if nations must be agitated, and the world convulsed for the preservation of that freedom which the Almighty Father intended for all the human race, the present war was commenced. The terror of men armed in the cause of freedom, compelled her master to fly and to breathe away his life in a land where lawless domination sits enthroned, pouring bloody outrage and cruelty on all who dare to be free.

The face of your petitioner is now marked with the furrows of time, and her frame feebly bending under the oppression of years, while she, by the laws of the land, is denied the injoyment of one morsel of that immense wealth, a part whereof hath been accumilated by her own industry, and the whole augmented by her servitude.

Wherefore casting herself at the feet of your honours, as to a body of men, formed for the extirpation of vassalage, for the reward of virtue, and the just returns of honest industry, she prays, that such allowance may be made her out of the estate of Colonel Royall, as will prevent her and her more infirm daughter from misery in the greatest extreme, and scatter comfort over the short and downward path of their lives

And she will ever pray.

Belinda’s petitions in the Harvard Antislavery Petitions Massachusetts Dataverse (with links to images):

Petition of an African slave, to the legislature of Massachusetts (full text of the printed version of Belinda’s petition, reprinted in William & Mary Quarterly)

Belinda Sutton and her petitions.

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Women Petitioners: London Servants

I’m going to round off WHM2017 with a couple of posts indulging my current interests in petitions. Today I have two petitions from the London Lives Petitions Project: both are from working women who petitioned London magistrates for help after their employers’ actions had got them into serious trouble with the law. The first appealed to the justices because, she said, she had no other friends to help her in London; the second claimed abuses of power by her dishonest employer’s friends and relatives. Both women were subsequently exonerated.

Elizabeth Rainshaw, falsely accused of theft by her mistress in 1691:

The humble petition of Elizabeth Rainshaw

Sheweth that your petitioner hath lived in ye service of Mr. Scott (son in law of Justice Newman) about one year & an half & has been intrusted severall times with moneys & goods by her mistress to a considerable value; But now lately their being provision of coals brought into her said masters house the doors were sett open for them to goe in & out at pleasure.

That your petitioner’s mistress alleadging she lost six silver spoons the same day & 2 watches, hath charged your petitioner with the same & caused her to be comitted to Bridewell & has bound your petitioner’s uncle also over to appear before your Worshipps as being a confederate with her notwithstanding he is known to be an honest sufficient tradesman of the parish of Fulham in Middlesex & came not nere your petitioner yet the said Misstresse Scott in the night time cryd out her said uncle was come to rob them, & caused her husband to goe out of his house with 2 pistolls in his hands to the watch to seek the man that intrubled at their door & it happened to be one of their neighbors; Now for as much as the said Mrs. Scott hath heretofore accused severall of her servants for theft (vizt.) one for a dog of a hundred guineas price & one other for things afterwards found in her own closett & hath brought her servants to disgrace when they were not guilty; And your petitioner being bread up in ye country & hath no friends alive but her said uncle James Rainshaw, & being innocent of the said fact,

Your petitioner therefore humbly prays your Worshipps will be pleased strictly to examine the circumstances of the said matter which are too large to incert herein [LL LMWJPS653020007]

Elizabeth was tried at the Old Bailey Sessions of July 1691 and acquitted, ‘the Evidence being Circumstantial‘. (There is no way of knowing from the brief report whether her appeal to Westminster JPs had any influence on the outcome of the trial.)

*

Martha Johnson, duped by a thieving employer in 1699:

The humble petition of Martha Johnson

Sheweth that your petitioner is bound over to this present Sessions for receiveing a parcell of plate from one Henry Marline, who stole the same, from James Liege his friend and relation, as to the felony your petitioner is innocent thereof, as may hereafter appear. That your petitioner well knoweing the said Marline to be a gentleman of undoubted creditt and unspolled reputation, who brought unto your petitioner in his fowle linnen (shee then being his washer woman) the plate aforesd, alleadgeing it not onely to be his owne, butt that being under an obligacon to pay a summe of money to support his creditt or he was utterly ruind, requested your petitioner to sell the same, which by reason of her poore circumstances, shee att first refused; butt was for the reasons aforesaid prevaild upon by the said Marline, he offering to goe along with your petitioner to indemnify her from all harm that should happen on that occasion.

That the said plate was stopt, and your petitioner being seized, had Marline apprehended, and deliverd into the charge of one John Kimpton the constable, who, either by negligence or combination with the said Liege and one Bobine friends and relations to Marline, who out of the tender regard they had for his life and reputation sufferd him to escape, the truth whereof your petitioner can make appear by severall credible witnesses.

May it therefore please your Lordshipp to discharge your petitioner And that the constable being now bound over, may be proceeded against according to law. [LMSLPS150100093]

Sir Robert Jeffreys, one of the JPs, investigated Martha’s case and reported that he was ‘well satisfied of her innocencye & integrity in this matter‘.

*

How an 18th-century petitions works

Petitions of the People? (many headed monster)

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The Journey of Sarah Knight (1666-1727)

In October 1704, Sarah Knight left her home town of Boston, MA, for a five-month journey on horseback to New York, which she recorded in a travel diary which is memorable for its descriptions of the perils and people she encountered along the way, her observations of local characteristics, and racist comments on native Americans and slaves. Also notable, in contrast to several writers I’ve profiled this month, is the near absence of God: Sarah is more grateful to her human guides than to divine Providence for her deliverances from danger.

‘Terrifying darkness’ and the ‘kind conductress of the night’:

Here We found great difficulty in Travailing, the way being very narrow, and on each side the Trees and bushes gave us very unpleasent welcomes wth their Branches and bow’s, wch wee could not avoid, it being so exceeding dark. My Guide, as before so now, putt on harder than I, wth my weary bones, could follow; so left mee and the way beehind him. Now Returned my distressed aprehensions of the place where I was: the dolesome woods, my Company next to none, Going I knew not whither, and encompased wth Terrifying darkness; The least of which was enough to startle a more Masculine courage. Added to which the Reflections, as in the afternoon of ye day that my Call was very Questionable, wch till then I had not so Prudently as I ought considered. Now, coming to ye foot of a hill, I found great difficulty in ascending; But being got to the Top, was there amply recompenced with the friendly Appearance of the Kind Conductress of the night, Just then Advancing above the Horisontall Line. The Raptures wch the Sight of that fair Planett produced in mee, caused mee, for the Moment, to forgett my present wearyness and past toils; and Inspir’d me for most of the remaining way with very divirting tho’ts, some of which, with the other Occurances of the day, I reserved to note down when I should come to my Stage. [16]

Devilish hosts:

About four in the morning, we set out for Kingston… This Rode was poorly furnished wth accommodations for Travellers, so that we were forced to ride 22 miles by the post’s account, but neerer thirty by mine, before wee could bait so much as our Horses, wch I exceedingly complained of. But the post encourag’d mee, by saying wee should be well accommodated anon at mr. Devil’s, a few miles further. But I questioned whether we ought to go to the Devil to be helpt out of affliction. However, like the rest of Deluded souls that post to ye Infernal denn, Wee made all posible speed to this Devil’s Habitation; where alliting, in full assurance of good accommodation, wee were going in. But meeting his two daughters, as I suposed twins, they so neerly resembled each other, both in features and habit, and look’t as old as the Divel himselfe, and quite as Ugly, We desired entertainm’t, but could hardly get a word out of ‘um, till with our Importunity, telling them our necesity, & c. they call’d the old Sophister, who was as sparing of his words as his daughters had bin, and no, or none, was the reply’s bee made us to our demands. Hee differed only in this from the old fellow in to’ther Country: hee let us depart.  [20]

‘Buggbears’ (both geographical and human):

Here wee took leave of York Government, and Descending the Mountainos passage that almost broke my heart in ascending before, we come to Stamford, a well compact Town, but miserable meeting house, wch we passed, and thro’ many and great difficulties, as Bridges which were exceeding high and very tottering and of vast Length, steep and Rocky Hills and precipices, (Buggbears to a fearful female travailer.) About nine at night we come to Norrwalk, having crept over a timber of a Broken Bridge about thirty foot long, and perhaps fifty to ye water. I was exceeding tired and cold when we come to our Inn, and could get nothing there but poor entertainment, and the impertinant Bable of one of the worst of men, among many others of which our Host made one, who, had he bin one degree Impudenter, would have outdone his Grandfather. And this I think is the most perplexed night I have yet had…

From hence we went to Stamford, the next Town, in which I observed but few houses, and those not very good ones. But the people that I conversed with were civill and good natured. Here we staid till late at night, being to cross a Dangerous River ferry, the River at that time full of Ice; but after about four hours waiting with great difficulty wee got over. My fears and fatigues prevented my here taking any particular observation. Being got to Milford, it being late in the night, I could go no further; my fellow travailer going forward, I was invited to Lodg at Mrs. –, a very kind and civill Gentlewoman, by whom I was handsomely and kindly entertained till the next night. The people here go very plain in their apparel (more plain than I had observed in the towns I had passed) and seem to be very grave and serious. They told me there was a singing Quaker lived there, or at least had a strong inclination to be so, His Spouse not at all affected that way. Some of the singing Crew come there one day to visit him, who being then abroad, they sat down (to the woman’s no small vexation) Humming and singing and groneing after their conjuring way–Says the woman are you singing quakers? Yea says They–Then take my squalling Brat of a child here and sing to it says she for I have almost split my throat wth singing to him and cant get the Rogue to sleep. They took this as a great Indignity, and mediately departed. Shaking the dust from their Heels left the good woman and her Child among the number of the wicked. [52]

The Journal of Madam Knight (Early Americas Digital Archive)

Overland travel in Connectict from footpaths to interstates

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Mary Saxby (1738-1801), an 18th-century vagrant and memoirist

Mary Saxby’s Memoirs of a Female Vagrant was published posthumously, with the twin goals of raising some money for impoverished relatives and ‘prompting the active beneficence of the present age, to regard the wandering classes of the poor, with
that attention which it is needful for their relief and reformation’.

And so Mary’s memoir is simultaneously a detailed personal account of experiences of extreme poverty and itinerancy in the 18th century, a spiritual autobiography (with its Providential world view linking her to both Alice Thornton and Ann Fanshawe), and a text for moral reformers (the prime audience, no doubt, for editorial annotations like ‘The vagrant classes of the British poor appear to be inferior in civilization to the Bedouin Arabs’ [p.19]). The rarity and quality of her voice makes it an important and seductive source, but it’s also quite a challenge for historical source criticism, and one in striking contrast to the bureaucratic imperatives of pauper narratives in settlement or vagrancy examinations.

On the pride of youth:

I now wandered from town to town, till I met with a poor travelling woman, who had three daughters: and though she was a very ignorant person, yet the Lord disposed her to take pity on me in my forlorn condition; for she washed, combed, and fed me, and took as much care of me as if I had been her own. In this poor state, I might have been very happy; as she was a tender, motherly woman, and would have taught me to get my bread honestly, had I been ruled by her. But here again, my proud, imperious temper, began to shew itself incapable of any restraint. Her youngest daughter was about my age, and with her I soon contracted an intimacy. As we both had pretty good voices, we agreed to go about together, singing ballads; and to this end we determined separating from her mother. Ah, did young, inexperienced persons, know what misery awaited them, by giving way to their own headstrong passions, and escaping from the restraint of their elders, surely they would not rush on their ruin, as they too frequently do! [pp.8-9]

On more female partnerships:

I travelled as far as Dover in Kent, with very little to support me; stopping, at times, to ask for a bit of bread, to keep me from starving. When I reached the coast, I met with a woman who sung ballads, which was a profitable trade in those parts; and she took me into partnership, till we had some words and separated… Soon after this, having made myself clean and smart, I joined company with a decent woman, who had some small children. Her husband to the best of my recollection, was gone abroad; and I think that she sold hardware. We could get no lodging for our money, except in a barn; and I was young, and in that line of life which attracted the notice of men. Though it is now so long ago, I still reflect, with horror on the one hand, and gratitude on the other, on the imminent danger, in which a kind providence watched over and preserved me… [pp.11-12]

On the consequences of keeping bad company:

Out of Kent, I went into Essex; where they would not suffer any one to travel without a licence, except they could give a very good account of themselves. I, not knowing the rules of the country, sung ballads in Epping market. In the course of the day, I became acquainted with a middle aged woman, who looked like a traveller; and we went to sleep together at an alehouse. For this I soon smarted; as she proved to be a common woman, though I did not know it. Being in her company, and having been seen with her in the market, the constable came in the night, obliged us to leave our bed, and secured us till morning; when we were taken before a justice, who committed us both to Bridewell, ordering us both to be repeatedly whipped. The keeper heard my story very candidly; and I believe he was a good man. Observing my youth and inexperience, he pitied me; and remonstrated with the woman for drawing me into a snare. We were to be confined there six weeks, without any allowance. She was a good spinner; and he made her work, and give me half her earnings. As to being whipped, I knew little but the shame of it; for he took care not to hurt me. He lent me good books, gave me good counsel, and was very tender to me. I remember feeling some serious emotions, whilst reading, and some faint desires to improve by what I read and suffered; for my misery was extreme, from cold and hunger: but my heart being unchanged, as soon as I was set at liberty I returned to my former courses, wandering from place to place. [pp.15-16]

On first finding Methodism:

How I went on, for some time after this, I have almost forgot; till one day, walking in the fields with a female neighbour, one of my daughters who was with us, did something to displease me; and I asked her, what she thought would become of her, if she went on so? The woman turned round to me, and said sharply, “And what do you think will become of you? You have more knowledge than your child, and ought to be found in your duty.” I asked her what she meant; she told me, I never attended at any place of worship. I answered, I had been at church to try, and could not hear. She said, that there a meeting house in the town, and I might stand on the pulpit stairs; where she knew, I might hear. As soon as she mentioned the meeting house, I thought I would go, and make a trial: accordingly I went the next sabbath; and finding that I could hear, I continued to attend. I soon began to be much persecuted, both by my husband, and our neighbours; but I did not care for that: for I wanted to flee from the wrath to come; though, as yet, I knew not the way. I do not remember that what I heard at the meeting house was made of any use to me: but still I kept waiting, in much darkness and distress; crying to the Lord, in a poor broken way, for mercy. [pp.29-30]

The Memoirs of a Female Vagrant, written by herself (via Trove)

The girl who ran away with the gypsies

Vagrancy (London Lives)

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The will of Elen ferch Lewes (d. 1619)

Today’s offering, courtesy of the National Library of Wales’s rather amazing Welsh Wills Online project, is the 1619 will of Elen ferch Lewes of Meline, Pembrokeshire. Elen was not very wealthy (the total value of her probate inventory, included with the digitised will, was £31 17s 6d), but her will is interesting for its detailed bequests to other women, largely of clothing, cloth and domestic items. (In contrast, she leaves most of her sheep to her brothers.) The will may say something about friendships and alliances, but it also makes very clear statements about hierarchy and status.

… Item I geeve and bequeath to Elizabeth Lewes my sister one grey mare, my biggest panne, and my best coffer or chest conditionally that she shall geeve her old coffer unto my executor heereafter to be named, one black gowne, two redd petticoates, my best smock, one holland apron, one kerchieff of linnen xvj d per yard, my best ruffe band, ffoure cardegan pounds of woll whereof parte is now collored in blew.

Item I geeve and bequeath to Owen Lewes my brother the one half of my sheepe remayneinge in the custody & heardinge of Edward John, and to be delivered at May next after my decesse soe that they be before hand shorne, & one old chest or coffer.

Item I doe geeve and bequeath unto Nel Gruffith my cozen five shillinges in money being parte of a dept of x s due upon my Aunte Elizabeth Thomas widow, and payable at Kiricks[?] tyde next.

Item I geeve and bequeath unto the said Nel xxiiij s being a dept due unto me at Mecgans[?] tyde next upon my cozen George William Griffith for a little grey nagge, one apron of green saye chieffe of Scottish cloth. And one peece of white cloth wch I have made ffor blanketts.

Item I doe geve unto Katherin Thomas daughter unto Thomas George v s in money beinge the resdue of the x s due upon the said Elizabeth Thomas widow one ffemale lambe of the best that my sheepe shall rame at Maie next one kerchieffe, one fallinge band of holland & two hennes

Item I doe geeve and bequeath unto Myles the sonne of Thomas George, one parre of new woolle stockins.

Item I doe geeve & bequeath unto Elizabeth Thomas my aunte one old trammid[?] coverlette.

Item I doe geeve and bequeath to Katherin the reputed daughter of Thomas George one blacke petticoate, one wollen smock, & one redd wastcoate

Item I doe geeve and bequeath unto Maud the wieffe of George William Griffith, one peece of redd graynd cloth conteigneing 5 yeards together wth the bodies made for the same.

Item I doe geeve all my old ragges as well for daies wearing as bedd clothes unto Maud William for her paines takeing in attendeinge me in my sicknes

The rest of all my goodes cattells & chattells as well moveable or unmoveable not before bequeathed I doe geeve & bequeath unto Myles Lewes Thomas my brother…

Welsh Wills Online

Elen’s will, among others, is mentioned in Gerald Morgan, Women’s Wills in West Wales 1600-1750, Transactions of the Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1992)

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The travails of Lady Ann Fanshawe (1625-1680)

Ann Harrison came from a Hertfordshire Royalist family whose lives were turned upside down by the Civil Wars. She married her husband Sir Richard Fanshawe in 1644, and large parts of their married life were spent in travels that she recounted in her memoirs, during which she gave birth to numerous children. As with Alice Thornton, the role of Providence is never far away from the narratives of her sufferings and near escapes from death (or fates worse than death).

Following the outbreak of civil war:

My father commanded my sister and myself to come to him to Oxford, where the Court then was; but we that had till that hour lived in great plenty and great order found ourselves like fishes out of water, and the scene so changed that we knew not at all how to act any part but obedience. For from as good house as any gentleman of England had we come to a baker’s house in an obscure street, and from rooms well furnished to lie in a very bad bed in a garret; to one dish of meat, and that not the best ordered; no money, for we were as poor as Job; nor clothes more than a man or two brought in their cloak bags. We had the perpetual discourse of losing and gaining of towns and men; at the windows the sad spectacle of war, sometimes plague, sometimes sicknesses of other kinds, by reason of so many people being packed together, as I believe there never was before of that quality; always want yet I must needs say that most bore it with a martyr-like cheerfulness. For my own part I begun to think we should all like Abraham live in tents all the days of our lives… But as, in a wrack, the turbulence of the waves disperses the splinters of the rock, so it was my lot; for having buried my dear brother William Harrison, in Exeter College Chapel, I then married your dear father, in 1644, in Wolvercote Church, two miles from Oxford, upon the 18th of May. [Memoirs, pp.24-25]

Caught up in Irish rebellion, 1649:

I landed at Youghall, in Munster, as my husband directed me, in hopes to meet me there. But I had the discomfort of [both] a very hazardous voyage, and the absence of your father, he then being upon business at Cork. So soon as he heard I was landed he came to me, and with mutual joy we discovered those things that were proper to entertain us both. And thus for six months we lived so much to our satisfaction that we began to think of making our abode there during the war; for the country was fertile, and all provisions cheap, and the houses good, and we were placed in Red Abbey, a house of Dean Boyle’s, in Cork; and my Lord of Ormonde had a very good army, and the country seemingly quiet… But what earthly comfort is exempt from change! For here I heard of the death of my second son, Henry; and within a few weeks of the landing of Cromwell, who so hotly marched over Ireland that the fleet with Prince Rupert was forced to set sail…

During this time I had, by a fall of a stumbling horse, being with child, broke my left wrist, which because it was ill set, put me to great and long pain; and I was in my bed when Cork revolted. By chance my husband that day was gone upon business to Kinsale. It was in the beginning of [Octo]ber 16[49], at midnight, I heard the great guns go off, and thereupon I called my family to rise; which they and I did as well as I could in that condition. Hearing lamentable shrieks of men and women and children, I asked at a window the cause. They told me they were all Irish, stripped and wounded, turned out of the town; and that Colonel Jeffries, with some others, had possessed themselves of the town for Cromwell… And then, about three o’clock in the morning, by the light of a taper, and in that pain I was in, I went into the market-place with only a man and maid; and passing through an unruly tumult, with their swords in their hands, searched for their chief commander Jeffries, who whilst he was loyal had received many civilities from your father. I told him that it was necessary that upon that change I should remove, and desired his pass that would be obeyed, or else I must remain there. I hoped he would not deny me that kindness. He instantly wrote me a pass both for myself, family and goods, and said he would never forget the respects he owed your father. With this I came through thousands of naked swords to Red Abbey, and hired the next neighbour’s cart, which carried all that I could remove; and myself, sister, and little girl Nan, with three maids and two men, set forth at five o’clock in [Octojber, having but two horses amongst us all, which we rode on by turns… by little and little, I thank God, we got safe to the garrison, where I found your father the most disconsolate man in the world, for fear of his family, which he had no possibility to assist. But his joys exceeded to see me and his darling daughter, and to hear the wonderful escape we through the assistance of God had made. [Memoirs, pp.52-55]

The Memoirs of Ann, Lady Fanshawe, Internet Archive

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Eleanor Miller (d. 1777?): a poor Scottish migrant in 18th-century London

Eleanor Miller, a poor widow living in St Botolph Aldgate, was examined concerning her settlement rights in December 1765 by two Middlesex Justices of the Peace. Her examination is considerably longer than average and recounts an eventful life: from Edinburgh to work in London, a Fleet marriage to a sailor subsequently killed in Cuba during the Seven Years’ War, to cohabitation with another man in her husband’s absence and the birth of (at least) two children. (It’s worth noting that she began the extra-marital relationship just a few months after her husband’s departure, well before his death.)

Beyond the details contained in the pauper examination itself – a type of narrative narrowly focused on what the law wanted to know of a pauper’s settlement entitlement – Eleanor’s life is as shadowy and difficult to trace as that of most poor eighteenth-century migrants to London (especially married women). I can’t trace her back to Scotland; there is a possible Fleet marriage record (which would provide her maiden name), but the dates don’t match. It’s possible that Eleanor was allowed to stay in the parish (on the basis of settlement by service before her marriage, and the birth of one of her illegitimate children there): there is a St Botolph burial record of 1777 for an Eleanor Miller.

Eleanor Miller the widow of James Miller deced Maketh oath that She was born in the Parish of Griffiers in the City of Edinburgh in North Britain And this Depont Saith That in the year one thousand Seven hundred & fifty one She was hired as a yearly servt. to Valentine Harris of Flushing Yard in the Parish of Saint Botolph without Aldgate in the County of Middx at Certain Yearly Wages and Continued in such service for about Nineteen Months

That afterwards in the year one thousand seven hundred & Fifty three she was Married at the Fleet to her late deceased husband James Miller who (as he hath informed her) was born in the Parish of Dunkare in the County of Fife in North Britain And this Depont. farther Saith That to her knowledge information or belief her said late husband never did any Act to gain a Settlement in England And this Depont. farther Saith that her Said late husband was a Seafaring Man & departed from & took his leave of her at Portsmouth sometime in the Month of September in the year one thousand seven hundred & sixty one & (as this Depont. has been Credibly informed & believes) went from thence on Board the Dragon Man of War then at Portsmouth to plymouth & in the beging. of the Month of october following: Sailed as a Mariner in the said ship from Plymouth aforesd. bound for Martinico,

And this Depont. Saith That since such her Said husband leaving her at Portsmouth as aforesd. she has [neither s]een nor heard from him Save that she this Depont. has been [informed] by Letter & otherwise that her Said late husband James Miller was [ki]lled at the Siege of Havanna in the Month of July One thousand Seven hundred & sixty two

And this Deponent farther Saith That on her said husbands leaving her at Portsmouth as aforesaid she Came from thence to London And afterwards about the begining of January one thousand seven hundred and sixty two took a lodging in the house of one John Gunn a Labourer who then lived in Quaker Street in the Parish of Christ Church Spittle fields in the Said County of Middx And that about the Middle of the Same January she this Deponent Suffered the said John Gunn to lye with her & have Carnal knowledge of her Body at his house in Quaker Street aforesaid whereby she Conceived with Child of a Male Bastard Child of which she was delivered in the Month of September in the said Year One thousand seven hundred and sixty two at Quaker Street-in the said Parish of Christ Church Spittle fields and since Baptised by the name of Richard Miller at the Church belonging to the said Parish of Christ Church Spittle Fields and is Now become Chargeable to the Parish of Saint Botolph without Aldgate in the County of Middlesex

And this Depont. farther Saith That about eight Months ago She this Deponent was delivered of a Female Basterd Child at the house of one William Agis in the Minories in the Parish of Saint Botolph without Aldgate London since Baptised by the name of Elizabeth at the Parish Church of Saint Mary Whitechappel in the said County of Middx & Called Elizabeth Gunn And that the Said Female Bastard Child is become Chargeable to the said Parish of Saint Botolph without Aldgate Middx And that the said John Gunn who now lives in the said Parish of St. Botolph witht. Aldgate Middlesex did get her with Child of the said Female Bastard Child

Elenor Miller
Sworn this 7th. day of December 1765 before
Chris Scott R Pell

London Lives: GLBAEP103090014

Possible genealogical records (Ancestry/Findmypast/FamilySearch):

  • Fleet marriage record for a James Miller and Eleanor Plumly but dated 5 June 1750 (RG7/249). (If this is Eleanor’s marriage it must also cast doubt on the dates she gives for her period of domestic service.)
  • St Botolph Aldgate burial record for Eleanor Miller, dated September 1777.
  • There are more certain baptism records for both the illegitimate children.
  • I also haven’t found any sign of a marriage record for Eleanor and John Gunn (though I have found a John Gunn marrying another woman in 1765…).
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Family, Friends and Gifts: Bess of Hardwick’s Correspondents

For today’s post, I’ve chosen four letters written to Bess of Hardwick by female relatives and friends of varying ages and status, revisiting the themes of material culture and gift-giving in Magdalen Lloyd’s letters but in a very different social context. Food and textiles were particularly common gifts between early modern women. Moreover, gift-exchange was a key element in Tudor elite political patronage as well as social relationships, and receiving gifts well was just as important as giving them.

Lady Frances Pierrepont, Bess’s daughter sends Bess linen and a drinking glass [c.1575]


my most humble duty done vnto your honour with lyke desire of your blesinge vnto master pierrepont and me and our cheldren/ I haue sent vnto your honoure a peece of lawne and a drinckinge glasse as a remembrance of my intyre louynge dutie/ with most hartie wishe of manye happye newe yeares vnto your honoure then the wiche no yearthlye thinge can be more to my comforthe for I am soe muche and many wayse bounde vnto you as none can be more and so neare vnto you as none can be nearar that your longe and most happy lyfe is the graytest ioye in the wich I besecche the allmyghtye to grannte yow with all the rest of his best blessinges and so I humble tak my leue from holme thes wensdaye…

Elizabeth Wingfield, Bess’s half-sister, on gifts of clothing Bess sent to the queen [1576?]


my humbil duty remembred yow honour shall know that after my cousin wilame and my carefull toyll by reason of the shurt tyme we haue reped such recompence as could not dissire better furst her majesty neuer liked any thinge you gaue her so well the color and strange triminge of the garments with the reche and grat cost bestowed vpon yt hath caused her to geue out such good speches of my lord and yow ladyship as I neuer hard of better she toulde my lord of Lester and my lord chamberlen that you had geuen her such garments thys yere as she neuer had any so well lyked her/ and sayd that good nobell copell the show in al things what loue the bere me and surely my lord I wyll not be found unthankefull/ if my lord and yow ladyship had geuen v hundrd pound in my opennon yt would not haue bene so well taken/ and for yow other thinge my cousins william and charls wyll geue yow ladyship full aduertysment but surely in generall al was so well and thankefuly taken as ys posibell with master aturnoye and hys wyues most humbill duty/ and now I humbely pray yow honour that I may reseaue the rest of the money I haue received lli and haue promised payment for the rest with spede and so I beseche the almighty to make the rest of my very good lorde and yow ladyship’s yeres as prossorous as thys beginynge so with my humbill prayer to god for you and all yours I end with my humbill duty thys ij Ienouory…

Elizabeth Smyth, mother to a goddaughter of Bess, thanks Bess for a gift of a bowl with a cover (1578)


My moste honorabel good Lady; I thought it my duty to sende to geue your honor humbel thanckes; that it would please you to acseppte of parte of my lettel one, so that therby your honor hath bownde bothe me and myne; if it please god to blese her with liue; to do you seruise; For I haue allwayes founde your honor so lyke a Mother vnto my selfe; that it made me presume to geue your Ladyship parte of my Childe; I haue reseued frome master Hamond a Boule with a couer; for the whiche I moste humbely thancke your honor in my gerles behalfe; Thus moste humbely Crauinge pardon for this my bowldnes: and geueinge your honor humbel thanckes for all your fauors contenually bestowed apoune me; desiering no longer to liue then I shall by all meanes sycke to deserue the same besehinge your honor to remember my humbel duty to my Honorable Good Lord; I most humbely take my leaue: prainge to god for the increase of all honor and happynes to you bothe…

Arbella Stuart, Bess’s 12-year old granddaughter, sends Bess some strands of her hair and a pot of jelly (1588)

To the right honorable, my very good Lady, and Grandmother, the Countesse of Shrewsbury

Good Lady Grandmother, I haue sent your Ladyship, the endes of my heare which were cutt the sixt day of the moone, on saterday laste; & with them, a pott of Gelly, which my seruante made; I pray God you finde it good. My Aunte Cauendishe was heere on Monday laste, she certified me, of your Ladyships good health, & dispositione, which I pray God longe to continue. I am in good health, my Cousin Mary hath had three little fittes of an agew, butt now she is well, and mery. Thus with my humble duty vnto your Ladyship & humble thanckes for the token you sent me laste, and craueinge your dayly blessinge, I humbly Ceasse. Frome Eims, the .viii. of February. 1587

Your Ladyships humble, and obbediente childe
Arbella Steward

  • Letters from the website Bess of Hardwick’s Letters
  • EMLO also includes the correspondence, with a wider range of search options (including the facility to search by gender of correspondent).
  • Felicity Heal on The Power of Gifts in early modern England
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