Saturday, 24 November 2012

White Slavery in the English Colonies

I am probably straying into the territory of my fellow hoyden, Kim Murphy, but I recently had cause to research the plight of "white slaves" in England's colonies in the seventeenth century.

In the horrendous history of black slavery in the Americas, the existence of something in the order of 300,000  Englishmen who, during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, were sent as "indentured servants", transported convicts or prisoners of war to toil in the tobacco fields, sugar or cotton plantations is largely forgotten.

The book "White Cargo" by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, opens with the story of the discovery of the skeleton of a boy of 16 in what had been the cellar of a 17th century house. He had been buried in a hole under a pile of household waste. Forensic examination showed he had died of tuberculosis around 1660 but worse his skull showed evidence of a mouth infection and herniated discs and other injuries to his back bore evidence of a short life of hard toil. When he had died he had been of so little account, he had simply been tossed into the garbage.



The failure to find gold in the new land in the early seventeenth century, led English authorities to look for another form of wealth, tobacco, but tobacco needed people to tend it and to find cheap labour the landowners turned their eyes back to England and the people that society considered "surplus" - the homeless, the destitute and the criminal.

They began with children. Some were sent by their impoverished parents in the promise of a better life (in a sad evocation of what was to come in the 1950s with the expatriation of children from the slums of Liverpool).  Others were urchins, rounded up off the streets of London and forcibly deported them to Virginia. There they were sold to planters who worked them to death, often within a year. The fate of the young man mentioned above?

The next group of people were the sweepings of England's gaols. Between 50,000 - 70,000 convicts were transported to Virginia, Maryland, Barbados and the other possessions in the years before 1776*. These included political prisoners such as royalists or religious persecutees such as Quakers. Prostitutes were rounded up and sent as "breeders".

Following the battles of Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651) thousands of Scottish prisoners of war were sent to labour in the sugar plantations of the West Indies. Some survived and having earned their freedom did quite well in the new lands but for many it was a death sentence. (see my novel THE KING'S MAN)

Irish women and children being loaded on to ships
Then there were the Irish. During the seventeenth century, a systematic "ethnic cleansing" campaign was waged against the Irish and under Cromwell, unknown numbers of Catholic men, women and children were transported to the colonies.

And when labour began to run short, the authorities turned to kidnap. Innocent young men were duped or just forcibly coerced on the ships bound for the colonies. Kidnappers were reputedly paid 2 pounds by the planter's agents for strong, fit young men and if this reminds you of R.L. Stevenson's novel "Kidnapped", then you are right. It is the basis for that plot. It is also the basis of the Steeleye Span song that I have included below.

An indenture
Finally there were those who went of their own "free will". Some 300,000 people willingly signed "indentures" agreeing to sell their labour for a period of time in return for passage to the new world, and a new life. The reality was they sold themselves and they were treated as chattels and legal sanctions were brought in that allowed violence (whippings and brandings) and restraint to be employed to keep the indentured servants in check. They could be bought and sold and disposed of by will. What began with the white slaves then flowed on in increasingly harsher terms for the black. Even contemporary writers such as Defoe recognized the plight of the indentured servant describing them as "more properly called slaves". The difference is that the period of indenture theoretically had an end point, for the black slave it didn't. The reality was that most indentured servants emerged at the end of their time just as landless and impoverished as they would have been if they had stayed in England.

The plight of the indentured servant is illustrated in the life and death of Thomas Hellier. In 1677, Thomas Hellier of Whitchurch, in Dorset  an educated young man of 28 in somewhat dire straits, signed up as an indentured servant and sailed to Virginia. There he was delivered first to a planter called Connor who then sold him to Cuthbert Williamson of the ominously named "Hard Labour Plantation". Although he was promised a role as tutor to Williamson's sons, Hellier was put to work in the tobacco fields. Not only was he subject to the hard labour in the fields but also the continual haranguing of Williamson's wife. Hellier ran away, was recaptured and his period of indenture extended. With his hair clipped to mark him as a runaway he was put back to work, subject to even more abuse from Mrs. Williamson than before.

One May morning in 1678, Hellier rose, dressed in his best clothe and taking an axe and a knife murdered Williamson and his wife, and a servant. After a few weeks on the run he was captured and sentenced to hang. On his gallows he gave a moving speech against the tyranny of the plantation owners. After he was dead,  his body was hung in a gibbet at Windmill Point on the James River as a warning to indentured servants not to defy their masters.

This song by Steeleye Span, "Gone to America", exemplifies the plight of the young men who just "disappeared" and those they left behind...




For further reading I commend the book WHITE CARGO mentioned above.

*I found this a fascinating post to research because it made the link in my mind with the transportation of convicts to Australia, After the American War of Independence, the transportation of convicts shifted to Australia and in 1788 the First Fleet arrived with its cargo of prisoners. For those transported for "seven years" it may as well have been a life sentence. Few would ever return to England.  My own great+ grandmother was transported in 1798 for stealing. She arrived as a young girl of 17 in a colony that was only 10 years old. The women were lined up like cattle for selection as "servants", although one can imagine the reality of their fates, particularly if you were young and pretty. Fortunately for Mary Hyde, she was taken on by a young man who loved her and looked after her, before his untimely death only a  few years later...but that's a story for another day.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

WILLIAM and MARY

This week we welcome Andrea Zuvich as our guest blogger. William and Mary are the forgotten Stuarts (except to the Irish!) and we are very excited to find out a little bit more about them!


The story of William & Mary is one of duty, love, war, heartbreak, betrayal, and revolution. It was a real game of thrones. This was a unique reign as there was a joint King and Queen upon the throne for the first time in English history.

Mary II, eldest daughter of James, Duke of York (later James II) and niece of the Merry Monarch, Charles II, was a romantic, naturally intelligent but poorly educated, beautiful, feminine girl when she married William III of Orange in 1677.  


William III, by contrast, had lived a solemn lifestyle – one of hard work and duty. He was Stadtholder, or Chief Magistrate, of the United Provinces/Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands) and the constant threat from and warfare with Louis XIV’s France always plagued his thoughts. His passions included hunting and collecting artwork.

William was struck by Mary’s sweet nature and stunned by her incredible beauty, and he immediately asked Charles for her hand in marriage. Mary, then fifteen years old, was devastated to learn that she would have to marry her first cousin William, who was at first sight unattractive, morose, old, and a good deal shorter (William and Mary’s height difference was almost the same as that between Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise). Remember, Charles II’s Restoration court was flamboyant and colourful, whereas the Dutch Republic was more sombre and calm. Fortunately, she soon fell completely in love with her husband, who was kind-hearted and even funny with his intimates, and also with her adoptive country.



Within a few months of their marriage, 1678, Mary became very happily pregnant. At around four months pregnant, she decided to visit him at his encampment at Breda. Unfortunately, the roads were rough and the coach jostled her about so violently, resulting in a miscarriage. As there was no doctor around with knowledge of gynaecology, she developed an infection. Eventually, in 1679, she became pregnant a second time, but the damage from the first miscarriage was too great and she lost the baby again. Call it wishful thinking, she had all the symptoms of pregnancy again in 1680, but no child came, the symptoms had been misdiagnosed and this was unbearable for the young couple. Mary’s childlessness was a source of deep heartache for her for the rest of her life.

William, in sadness or desperation, turned to another. Imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for Mary, who loved him passionately, to learn that he was carrying on with her lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Villiers, a woman she had grown up with. There is still debate as to whether William’s relationship with Elizabeth Villiers was sexual, as she never gave birth to any of his children, though the affair presumably lasted for 15 years, and when she did marry, she quickly had children. No letters between them, nothing at all, has survived. Elizabeth remains shrouded in mystery. Perhaps we will never know what their relationship was. One thing remains clear: William was not, unlike his uncles, a highly sexed man. This can be attributed to his ill health – he had severe asthma, suffered from headaches, haemorrhoids, and later, painfully swollen legs and feet.

Persistent rumours of William’s homosexuality, popularised in Jacobite propaganda, cannot be accepted due to lack of evidence. We even have William’s own writing against it. When told of scurrilous rumours surrounding his relationship with his young favourite, Arnold Joost von Keppel, he wrote, “I find it extraordinary that one cannot have esteem for a young man without it being criminal.” (Sodomy was illegal at this time).

Then, in 1688, the Glorious Revolution occurred, in which the Immortal Seven – seven of the most influential, powerful men in England – invited William to take the throne from James II, his uncle/father-in-law, who was unpopular and Catholic. For a brief summary, click here,

William and Mary were crowned in 1689 at Westminster Abbey – he crowned in St. Edward’s Chair, she in a copy of the chair which is on display at the Abbey museum today. Mary was Queen regnant, like Elizabeth I had been (Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge will become Queen consort when her husband William becomes King, not Queen regnant). Mary, though unfortunately not given the same excellent education as Elizabeth I had had, was nevertheless a very intelligent woman and there were pamphlets at the time which depicted her as the new Elizabeth.

Together they purchased the home that would become Kensington Palace and they hired Christopher Wren to remodel both it and Hampton Court Palace.

Their joint reign was short-lived. In late 1694, Mary contracted hemorrhagic smallpox – the most deadly strain of the disease. She considerately sent anyone who had not already had the disease away from Kensington House and put her affairs in order. She went through her journal and ripped out and burned pages that she did not wish anyone else to see.  Mary, aged only 32, died in the early hours of the 28th December, 1694, leaving her husband (who fainted) and the entire nation broken-hearted. To William, whose father had died of smallpox a week before he was born, and who also lost his mother to the same disease when he was ten, it was an earth-shattering blow. Her body lay in state in the Banqueting House until the costly funeral at Westminster Abbey, where “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary” by Henry Purcell was played.

After Mary’s death, William ruled alone until his death in 1702, and in the intervening years he had become more unpopular, the target of several assassination attempts and he increasingly drank to excess. As he rode his favourite horse, Sorrel, out on Home Park, Hampton Court; the horse stumbled on a molehill, sending William flying off, breaking his collarbone in the fall. Within days pneumonia had set in and William III died at Kensington House. Loathed by his sister-in-law, Mary’s younger sister, now Queen Anne, he was interred with little fanfare. A sad end for someone once heralded as the Protestant Champion of Europe! 

Andrea (aka 17th Century Lady) is a 17th century historian specialising in the late Stuarts & the middle Baroque composers. She went to the University of Central Florida and Oxford University and is a Garden History tour guide at Kensington Palace.  She is currently writing a historical fiction book about William and Mary. You can find her at The Seventeenth Century Lady

Sunday, 11 November 2012

17th Century History of A Haunted House - Borwick Hall







Just up the road from where I live is a massive gatehouse and high walls and a tantalising view of crenellated stone and high roofs. Walking all around the wall it becomes apparent that behind the walls lies  a wonderful old house, not open to the public, but a gorgeous stately stone building which has obviously stood for many generations. Enquiries revealed this building to be Borwick Hall.

This gateway was built by Robert Bindloss, the third Robert of his family, in 1650. He had been created a Baronet by Charles I. The Bindloss family had amassed a fortune from their business as clothiers. Robert was elected as the Member for Parliament for the Borough of Lancaster (aged 16) in 1640 and the following year he was knighted by Charles I. In London there was a saying "As rich as Sir Robert in the north." Nowadays it is hard to imagine anyone of 16 becoming an MP.

During the English Civil Wars however, he did not fight for his King - he was afraid to take sides in case his property was requisitioned by one side or the other. He was appointed a High Sherriff for Parliament as well as serving the Crown.

When the young Prince Charles (to be CharlesII ) fled in 1651 he insisted on a safe house at Borwick but Sir Robert himself was nowhere to be found, having taken refuge at a safe house himself away from the possible embarrassment of his two-faced position.

According to local legend, the young King Charles wasted no time in using his considerable charm to take advantage of the warm August night and a first floor bedroom at Borwick Hall to father a child with a young local woman, Lady Dashwood, arranged for his convenience. Afterwards he did honour his obligations though and made provision for the child. Rents from certain properties were made over to Lady Dashwood and were still paid right up until the last century.

After the young Charles's visit, Robert Bindloss stole quietly home. He was by all accounts an extravagant man who took to living beyond his means. He was also not well liked for his persecution of the Quakers at Yealand who were associated with the then radical George Fox. Sir Robert often sent armed guards to break up their meetings, egged on by his personal chaplain Dr Sherlock, a zealot who applied what he regarded as God's will with sinister enthusiasm.

Borwick Hall is said to be haunted by a starving girl who fought against her parents who had arranged her wedding - as punishment she was locked in the tower and forgotten about and starved to death, but her ghost still walks the corridors looking for vengeance.

There is also a story that an old lady knocked on the door in a blizzard one New Years Eve looking for some place to stay. Sir Robert put her up and made sure she was well fed. The next day she gave him a ripe apple and said if he kept it high up above the fireplace all year he would have good fortune that year. If he took it down then disaster would happen. It is still a tradition for someone to knock on the door and hand over an apple to this day.

Sir Robert died without a male heir in 1664 leaving Borwick Hall and his estate to his daughter, Cecilia. She married a Standish, a local prominent Lancashire Catholic family.

As for the Hall, it was used by the military in World War II, then sold off for the sum of £8,800. An amount of £650 was paid by the war department for dilapidations.Later it became a holiday camp and now it belongs to the Lancashire Youth Clubs Association who remain the present owners.
My books are 

The Lady's Slipper - An artist, a wild orchid and early Quakers  in the years following the English Civil War. 
The Gilded Lily - Beauty, desire, danger and redemption in Restoration London