Sunday, 27 February 2011

White Indians

So much myth and mystique surrounds the topic of "white Indians" that it's often difficult to tell fact from fiction. In this article, I address those individuals who made the transition to adoptive status. Documented cases exist of white children being raised by Native tribes, but those who never rejoined European life rarely wrote memoirs. I have already written about the ten-year-old boy discovered by George Percy in 1607. There is no other historical record of him, and we can only speculate as to who he was, but most likely he was born within the Arrohatec tribe and one of his parents had been from said tribe.

Life was extremely harsh for the Europeans when settling the North American continent, and some preferred to take their chances with the Indians, rather than starve to death among their kinsmen. George Percy wrote in Trewe Relacyon that "many" ran off to join the Indians. The fact that such an act became punishable by death suggests that it was more commonplace than historians care to admit.

Not many records remain from 17th-century Virginia, except for a few individuals who returned to English society. One woman was shipped back to England in fear that she would run off again to rejoin her Indian family.

Few tribal people willingly joined European society, but why did so many Europeans remain living with their "captors" even when given opportunities to return? Was the draw simply due to survival, or was something more at work? Survival was certainly a large issue. The indigenous people knew the land, where to find food and how to gather it. More importantly, they usually shared food equally.

In spite of all of the stories the colonists spread about the indigenous people being "savages," women were rarely raped by Indians in the 17th and 18th centuries. The tribes that the first Europeans encountered had strict incest taboos. A warrior simply did not violate his future kin, or he would have been disgraced.

Captives went through various adoption rituals that included dressing like a member of the tribe, and being introduced to their new families. In some tribes, men were required to run the gauntlet or some other act of bravery in order to survive. Women and children were taken in more frequently, and in time, those who were adopted, regardless of gender, were given equality within the tribe. Some captives even attained the level of chiefs.

Mary Jemison, a late-18th-century captive had this to say, "They were strictly honest; they despised deception and falsehoods...," and another 18th-century captive, John Brickell said, "The Delawares are the best people to train up children I ever was with. They never whip, and scarce ever scold them." J. Hector de Crevecoeur, an outside observer in Letters from an American Farmer, probably says it best why many of the captives remained,

"...there must be in their social bond something singularly captivating, and far superior boasted of among us; for thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having choice become Europeans! There must be something more congenial to our native dispositions, than the fictitious society in which we live; or else why should children, and even grown persons, become in a short time so invincibly attached to it?"

In the mid-18th century, peace treaties came into existence that all white "captives" were required to be returned. Many only responded to Indian names, spoke Native languages, and preferred the less restrictive clothing. Some had to be tied or jailed in order to keep them from returning to their Native families. While most captives didn't try to escape, they were outcasts in the culture that had "saved" them, especially the women who had married Native men and given birth to "mixed" children.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Fleet Marriages

A Fleet Wedding Robert Chambers Book of Days
In the 17th Century, under English Common Law, if a couple declared their unconditional consent to being married in front of witnesses, the union was valid. Since Henry VIII broke with Rome in the 1500’s, the performance of marriages became separate from the church, but couples still required a licence to marry. Some, however either couldn’t afford the fee for this licence, or wished to marry without parental consent, or to hide a prenuptial pregnancy. In such cases they entered into ‘irregular, or clandestine marriages’.

These were ceremonies conducted by an ordained clergyman, but without banns or licence, and generally not in a church, usually away from the parish of the bride or groom. Often shrouded in secrecy, the primary appeal of these weddings being reasons of cost, or the avoidance of the need to obtain parental consent, to obtain a back-dated ceremony, to legitimise offspring, or validate claims upon an inheritance or will.

Before the Civil War, a chapel in the White Tower was a favourite setting for such marriages, though this practice was stopped by Archbishop Laud. Impatient lovers then went to one of two churches in the east end of London - St. James's, Duke's Place, or Trinity, in the Minories, who claimed to be exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop of London. A register preserved at St James’ records that from 1664 to 1690 nearly 40,000 marriages were celebrated.

The Fleet Prison, located on the east bank of the River Fleet, which claimed to be outside the jurisdiction of the church, was a debtors' prison as early as 1290, where gaolers levied fees from the prisoners, and habeas corpus was unknown.

The ‘Rules of the Fleet’, may be traced to Richard II’s time, when prisoners were allowed freedom under bail, or with a 'baston' (tipstaff), a sort of permanent warder to prevent the prisoner from absconding. This licence cost eightpence per day, and twelvepence for the keeper who remained with him. These day rules existed during the reign of James I, The Fleet and the Queen's Bench being the only prisons in the kingdom to which these privileges were attached. For certain payments favoured prisoners were allowed to be absent for long periods; and Mr. Charles Dickens tells a story of one old resident, whose heaviest punishment was being locked out for the night.

The lawless streets, side-alleys and by-yards of the Fleet quarter around the prison and the Fleet Ditch, were where prisoners lived under ‘The Rules of The Fleet’, among them disgraced clergymen, and those pretending to be ordained. This is also where they ran their disreputable business, amongst which was the celebration of illicit marriages.

English marriages have to be solemnised between  8 am and 3pm, during ‘canonical hours’ thus the clocks in the marriage houses were all stopped at a time between these two to keep the ceremony legal.
The marriages were entered in a pocket-book by the parson, and on payment of a small fee, copied into the regular register of the house, unless the interested parties desired the affair kept secret. Sometimes the names were transposed to protect identities or left off altogether.

One famous celebrant of clandestine marriages was Bartholomew Bassett, clerk of the Fleet Chapel, who paid an exorbitant rent of £100 for the Fleet cellars which he used as a private chapel, offering bribes to turnkeys and subordinate officials of the Fleet Prison.

The earliest recorded date of a Fleet Marriage is 1613, after which the demand for such weddings grew and spread to rooms of adjoining taverns and private houses adjacent to Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, and the Mint.
Attractive young girls would act as touts to bring in victims, accosting passers-by with the words, ‘Would you like to step in and be married, sir?’ and earn themselves a commission of a shilling on a fee which ranged from two crowns to a guinea. It was at Bartholomew Bassett’s, that Beau Fielding  married his first wife, before he fixed his affections on the Duchess of Cleveland.

Famous marrying houses were:  'The Cock,' near Fleet Bridge, 'The Rainbow' Coffee House, at the corner of Fleet Ditch. The 'Cock and Acorn,' the 'Fighting Cocks,' the 'Shepherd and Goat,' the 'Golden Lion,' the 'Bishop Blaze,' the 'Two Lawyers,' the 'Wheatsheaf,' the 'Horseshoe and Magpie,' the 'King's Head,' the 'Lamb,' the 'Swan,' the 'Hoop and Bunch of Grapes.' These taverns in or near Fleet Street and Fleet Market, provided chaplains, chapels, or private rooms, in which marriages were solemnised on every day of the year.
The 'Hand and Pen' appeared more than once. Joshua Lilley's 'Hand and Pen' stood near Fleet Bridge; Matthias Wilson's 'Hand and Pen' looked out on the Fleet Ditch; John Burnford's 'Hand and Pen' kept open door at the foot of Ludgate Hill; and Mrs. Balls had her 'Hand and Pen' office and registry of marriages within sight of the other three establishments of the same name.

Some who came into the marrying business were women, who entered the trade by inheritance. Many were former innkeepers who supplied adulterated liquors before they entered the more lucrative matrimonial trade.
On occasion a young heiress was kidnapped and forced into a hasty Fleet Marriage for purposes of exhorting money. The bride’s family were then persuaded to buy off the ‘bridegroom’ to obtain an annulment and preserve the girl’s reputation.

Bigamy was often a reason for using ‘The Fleet’ and these marriages were often hard to prove. Matthew Dowtey was acquitted at the Old Bailey in 1694 of having married Sarah Suddrey at St Mary le Bow and subsequently Ann Padle at the Fleet chapel, despite evidence from a Fleet minister of the second marriage and of others of his cohabitation.

The following is from the poem The Humours of the Fleet in the British Museum:
 "Scarce had the coach discharged its trusty fare,
But gaping crowds surround th' amorous pair;
The busy plyers make a mighty stir,
And whispering cry, 'D'ye want the parson, sir?
Pray step this way—just to the "Pen in Hand,"
The doctor's ready there at your command.'
'This way!' another cries. 'Sir, I declare,
The true and ancient register is here.'
The alarmèd parsons quickly hear the din,
And haste with soothing words to invite 'em in.
In this confusion, jostled to and fro,
The inamoured couple know not where to go,
Till slow advancing from the coach's side,
The experienced matron came (an artful guide);
She led the way without regarding either,
And the first parson spliced 'em both together.

Depiction of a Fleet wedding
(Robert Chambers, Book of Days)

Marriage Acts

In 1711, Parliament passed legislation to counter the loss of revenue (from non-payment of licence fees) caused by clandestine marriages. Fines were also imposed to any person in 'holy orders' conducting a marriage, as well as ‘prison-keepers’ who permitted such a marriage at his prison. While this prevented marriages being performed inside the prisons, it did not prevent them being conducted in other locations nearby: e.g. the Liberties (or Rules) of the Fleet, or the Mint (for King's Bench Prison).

In 1753, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act was passed, which required, under pain of nullity, that banns should be published or a licence obtained; that, in either case, the marriage should be solemnized in church; and that in the case of minors, marriage by licence must be by the consent of parent or guardian; and that at least two witnesses must be present. Jewish and Quaker ceremonies were exempt. Clergymen conducting clandestine marriages were liable to transportation.

The act put a stop to these marriages in England, so couples had to travel to Scotland (Gretna Green had substantial use until 1856, when English law declared such marriages invalid) or to the Channel Islands where the 1753 Act did not apply.

Further Reading The Book of Days

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A short history of Valentine's Day

The origins of Saint Valentine's Day lie shrouded in obscurity. Saint Valentine himself, a third century Roman martyr, seems to have nothing to do with the romantic traditions that became associated with his feast.

Dr. Douce, in his Illustrations of Shakespeare, cited in The Book of Days, writes:

It was the practice in ancient Rome, during a great part of the month of February, to celebrate the Lupercalia, which were feasts in honour of Pan and Juno. whence the latter deity was named Februata, Februalis, and Februlla. On this occasion, amidst a variety of ceremonies, the names of young women were put into a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. The pastors of the early Christian church, who, by every possible means, endeavoured to eradicate the vestiges of pagan superstitions, and chiefly by some commutations of their forms, substituted, in the present instance, the names of particular saints instead of those of the women: and as the festival of the Lupercalia had commenced about the middle of February, they appear to have chosen St. Valentine's Day for celebrating the new feast, because it occurred nearly at the same time.

The first mention of Valentine's Day traditions in England originate from the 14th century writers Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower who both allude to the folk belief that birds choose their mates on the feast of Saint Valentine, their patron.

In Britain, the mating flights of crows, rooks, and ravens can generally be observed by February 14. Here in Lancashire, I notice more and more birdsong each day as February advances and the birds repair their nests, preparing for a new cycle of birth and life.

Around 1440, John Lydgate's poem in honour of Queen Katherine, widow of Henry V, is the first to mention romantic traditions among humans associated with this date:

To look and search Cupid's calendar,
And choose their choice, the great affection.

People of both sexes sent tokens of admiration. You could either send a token to the romantic interest of your choice, or draw lots as to who would receive your Valentine. In 1470s Norfolk, the Paston family seems to have perferred drawing lots rather than sending tokens to a chosen person.

Actual Valentines could be quite costly. In 1523, Sir Henry Willoughby, gentleman of Warwickshire, paid 2S, 3d for his. Unfortunately no description of this costly item remains for us today.

After the Reformation, the feast of Saint Valentine was abolished, and yet the amorous traditions flourished.

By 1641, the system of casting lots for Valentines was so well known in Edinburgh that a wag waggishly proposed their new Lord Chancellor be chosen by the same method.

A Dutch visitor to London in 1663 observed:

it is customary, alike for married and unmarried people, that the first person one meets in the morning, that is, if one if a man, the first woman or girl, becomes one's Valentine. He asks her name which he takes down and carries on a long strip of paper in his hat band, and in the same way the woman or girl wears his name on her bodice; but it is the practice that they meet on the evening before and choose each other for their Valentine, and, come Easter, they send each other gloves, silk stockings, or sometimes a miniature portrait, which the ladies wear to foster the friendship.

In his diaries of the same decade, Samuel Pepys reveals how he would call by a colleague's house early in the day in order to make the man's daughter his Valentine. Pepys would also arrange for a young man to call to pay the same homage to Mrs. Pepys and bring her presents, which Pepys then paid for. One year when Pepys was short of cash, alas, no young man with presents appeared and Mrs. Pepys was quite irate. Eventually they settled on a yearly ritual, whereby Pepys's cousin paid a visit to honour Mrs. Pepys and bring her presents which Pepys knew she desired.


The Book of Days

Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

Short self-promotional addendum: DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL is now available in paperback and is a BookBrowse Recommended Book Club Read AND is the perfect Valentine's Day Gift for that special person who likes to read about real historical firebrands and 17th century enchantments.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Wreck of the Batavia (Part 1)

You may think the "land downunder" may not have much to offer in the way of seventeenth century history but contrary to popular belief, Australia was not "discovered" by Captain Cook in 1770 but was well known to cartographers, explorers and merchants long before then, as well, of course, by its own indigneous inhabitants!

Over the next few blogs, I thought I would turn away from Europe and my beloved English Civil War and bring you a few posts on the comparitively unknown 17th century history of the "far east" and the "antipodes".   So to wet your appetite I will start with the bloodcurdling tale of the Wreck of the Batavia.

By the early seventeenth century the Dutch has realised the fabulous potential of the "Spice Islands" could only be properly realised through a monopoly on the growing spice trade between Europe and the islands of what is now Indonesia. In 1602 a council of seventeen men formed the VOC (the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or Dutch East India Company). They wasted no time in sending out their first settlement fleet and within a short time had secured a virtual monopoly on the world's supply of nutmeg, cloves, mace and cinnamon. The Dutch control over the Indonesian Archipelago continued unbroken until the middle of the twentieth century.

The tug of war between the Portugese (who had established a foothold in the region during the sixteenth century), the English and the Dutch for control of  the spice trade is a fabulous tale and it is well told in Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton. I hope to make it the subject of a more detailed blog later on this year.

By the 1620s the Dutch were well established in Java with its centre of power being Batavia (now Jakarta) and in 1628 the newly commissioned ship Batavia, set sail from Holland in a convoy of 7 ships under the command of Francisco Pelsaart. The skipper of the Batavia was a man called Ariaen Jacobsz, a man with whom Pelsaart had a history.  On board was a troop of soldiers and an assortment of potential settlers for the new colony including the "undermerchant" for the voyage, Jeronimus Cornelisz (a bankrupt pharmacist from Harlem) and a beautiful, high ranking young woman Lucretia Jans, on her way to Batavia to join her husband. A total of 322 people.

Reconstruction of the Batavia
The voyage was plagued by bad weather and the ill feeling between Pelsaart and Cornelisz was worsened by a rivalry over the lovely Lucretia. By the time the convoy reached Cape Town Jacobsz and Cornelisz were hatching a plan to mutiny, seize the Batavia and establish a new life somewhere other than under Dutch rule.

Jacobsz first act was to deliberately steer the Batavia off course, away from the rest of the fleet, but before the mutiny could take place, on 4 June 1629 the ship struck a reef near Beacon Island in the Abrolhos archipelago off the Western Australian coast (then known as "the unknown land"), a string of desolate unihabited islands with no water and only seals and sea birds for food.  Forty of the crew and passengers drowned in the wreck. Given the fate of the survivors, they were probably the fortunate ones!

The stark landscape greeting survivors.
The Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia
Realising the  parlous situation they had found themselves in, Pelsaart, Jacobsz, the senior officers and some of the passengers set sail in the ship's longboats to reach Batavia (one of the most singular feats of navigation in history). They left the survivors under the control of the next most senior officer, Jeronimus Cornelisz.

Cornelisz had little reason to welcome the return of a rescue party as Pelsaart was aware of his role in the planned mutiny and he feared punishment on return to Batavia. He also had plans to start a new kingdom with himself as ruler, using the gold and silver on the Batavia. However to achieve his ends he first had to eliminate any potential opposition ....

Little were the survivors to know they had been left in the charge of a  psychotic killer with an extraordinary ability to bend people to his will (a seventeenth century Charles Manson).

(to be continued....)