Posts Tagged slave trade

Lockdown Research: Switching The Lens – And Discovering Eliza Catherine Herbert


I recently noticed that the London Metropolitan Archives has launched a new database – Switching the Lens – Rediscovering Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous Heritage, 1561 to 1840. This is an aspect of history that captured my imagination some time ago [ see, for instance, Suffrage Stories: Black And Minority Ethnic Women: Is There A ‘Hidden History’?]  and I was interested to see whether this new database would make the uncovering of individual histories any more possible. Through the centuries there have always been some men and women of BAME heritage living in Britain whose lives have, for one reason or another, been recorded in some degree of detail; the great majority, however, have hitherto remained untraceable. I gave details of the Switching the Lens website in my previous post and can now tell something of another life I encountered there, represented by a single entry in the database.

Above we see the entry for the baptism of:

‘Eliza Catherine Herbert, illegitimate daughter of Henry Bennett Herbert, Secretary to the Committee of Merchants trading to Africa, by a Woman of Colour passing under the name of Nance, and born 29 May 1798 at Cape Coast Castle, Africa.’  

This entry in the baptismal register of the church of St John, Wapping, made in, I think, August 1805, allows us a glimpse into the history of a London family involved in the African slave trade, a story that shuttles between Wapping and Cape Coast Castle, the ‘Grand Slave Emporium’ built on what was then known as the Gold Coast, now Ghana.

Let’s start with Henry Bennett Herbert, the father of the girl who is being baptised. His position as stated, ‘Secretary to the Committee of Merchants trading with Africa’, suggests a man of authority. However, the reality was rather different. In fact, Henry Bennett was only 22 years old and was already dead by the time he was appointed Secretary to the Committee of Merchants trading with Africa’. He had been born in 1777, baptized in St John’s, the  Herberts’ family church, and had travelled out to Cape Coast Castle in 1795, aged 18.

Henry’s father, James Herbert (1735-1789) had been a cooper (a barrel maker) who ran his business from Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, and had been a freeman of the Committee of Merchants trading with Africa. Indeed, it is possible that the family connection may go back even further as various ‘Herberts’ are noted as serving with the Royal African Company in the early decades of the 18th century. Although, I haven’t found evidence that James Herbert had any direct investment in a slaving ship, the barrels his company made would most certainly have been the means by which goods were sent out to Africa on ships that, when they returned across the Atlantic, were carrying slaves. Brewhouse Lane, where the company remained until the 1830s, is very close to the Thames at Wapping, in an area then dominated by businesses supporting maritime trade.

After the death of James Herbert in 1789 the coopering business was inherited by Henry’s elder brother, another James (1764-1830). As the younger son, Henry had to seek his fortune elsewhere and doubtless felt himself fortunate to be able, through his family connection, to offer his services to the African trade.  When approaching the Governing Committee in the Africa House he had no difficulty in finding the necessary guarantors; his brother James and another Wapping merchant put up £500, to which he himself added the same amount.

It was only after I had begun this research and was thinking about Henry Herbert’s situation that I remembered that somewhere on my bookshelves was a copy of William St Clair’s The Grand Slave Emporium: Cape Coast Castle and the British slave trade, bought when it was published in 2007. Fortunately I was actually able to find it (not an occurrence that I necessarily take for granted). Re-reading it illuminated both Henry Herbert’s short life and the near-miracle, as it seems to me, of his daughter’s appearance at the Wapping baptismal font.

When he arrived at Cape Coast Castle in, I think, October 1795, Henry Herbert’s first position was as a ‘Writer’, that is, a clerk, but within a year he had been promoted to ‘Deputy Secretary to the Committee’. Promotion was swift in Cape Coast Castle; the death rate was very high among the young men who arrived full of hope. In fact, Henry Herbert was appointed secretary to the Governor and Council on 5 April 1800 but the news of this appointment arrived only after his death. He had ‘Drown’d in Bathing at Cape Coast Castle’ on 23 March 1800. Henry Herbert had weathered the ‘seasoning’, the period during which new arrivals succumbed to the multitude of diseases infesting Cape Coast Castle, only to be felled by the surf. In fact, I found that William St Clair, too, had noticed the cause of Henry’s death and in his book mentioned that ‘there are few records of officers swimming for pleasure – Mr Herbert, who defied the dangers, was duly drowned.’ 

Cape Coast Castle (mid-19th c)

Henry Herbert’s time at Cape Coast Castle coincided with the peak of the British slave trade and, to understand a little of what he would have seen and done, I would urge you to read The Grand Slave Emporium in which St Clair describes in quotidian detail both life there and the economy, more complicated than one might imagine, on which it was based. It is perfectly clear that Henry Herbert knew exactly what was happening in the dungeons hewn into the rock several stories below his airy officers’ quarters and was complicit in sending men, women and children out through the Door of No Return to the slavers’ ships waiting in the roads. However, the notice of his appointments and death can only furnish a very general picture of his years at Cape Coast Castle. The entry in the Wapping baptismal register adds a more personal dimension.

William St Clair describes how ‘It was part of the welcome for a young officer arriving in the Castle to be supplied with a local sexual partner, one of the ways in which the British embraced local laws and customs without attempting to change them.’  He stresses that the arrangements made with ‘wenches’, as such women were known, while not regarded as marriages were certainly not informal casual sexual encounters. ‘Wenches’ were free women, not slaves. So, ‘Nance’, the woman named as Eliza Catherine’s mother in the baptismal register entry, was very likely Henry Herbert’s ‘wench’ and may have remained so for most of his time at the Castle. I noticed that St Clair, quoting from the will of a Castle officer who died in May 1795, mentions that in his will the man left a bequest to ‘my wench Nance’ and I did just wonder if she had found a new protector in Henry Herbert after his arrival a few months later. It may be a coincidence that two ‘wenches’ were named ‘Nance’, although most whom St Clair cites have African names. The Europeanised name may suggest that ‘Nance’ was of mixed race, as, naturally, there were by now numerous offspring of officers and ‘wenches’ living in and around the Castle.’ 

The news of Eliza’s birth in May 1798 must have been relayed to Wapping, a letter then taking about three months to travel between Africa and London. It is to be supposed that Henry’s mother, Elizabeth Herbert (for whom Eliza was obviously named), took a very real interest in the welfare of her grand-daughter and on hearing, in mid-1800. of the death of her son planned to bring young Eliza to England. My research leads me to think that this was probably not a very common occurrence. The Monk children, of whom I wrote here, were brought from India by their father, but in the case of Eliza Herbert it would seem that her family would have had to negotiate at a distance with ‘Nance’, if she were still alive, or, if not, with the officials of Cape Coast Castle, in order to take custody of the child and had then to arrange for her to be accompanied on the long sea journey to London. We do not know when exactly she did arrive for, although her baptism took place in 1805, she shared the occasion with a cousin, Susanna, daughter of her uncle James. It may merely have been convenient to baptise the two girls at the same time. 

Detail of John Rocque’s Map of London (1746) showing Princes Square


Princes Square (now renamed Swedenborg Sq) in 1921 (London Metropolitan Archives) 

But we can say with certainty that by 1805 Eliza Catherine Herbert was a most welcome member of the Herbert family and remained so for the rest of her long life. When, in 1817, her grandmother wrote her will it was to Eliza (‘the natural daughter of my son Henry Bennett Herbert) that she left all her personal and household possessions, in addition to setting up a financial trust in her favour. She also appointed guardians for her,  because Eliza was at that time a minor. The will makes clear that Eliza was then living with her grandmother in her house in Princes Square (later renamed Swedenborg Square and now erased). As Land Tax Records show that at the time Eliza was baptised Elizabeth Herbert was living on the north-west side of Princes Square, in one of the early-18th-century houses built for prosperous merchants, we can assume that Eliza had been brought here when she first arrived in London 


Wapping, 1896, showing, to the left of the image, Brewhouse Lane and area marked ‘Cooperage’ (Reproduced with permission from the National Library of Scotland)

The Herbert coopering business continued to be successful under the management of Eliza’s Uncle James, who in the early 19th century owned three ships involved in the British South Seas Whaling trade. The firm also, of course, produced the containers necessary for transporting the fishing products. His son, James Henry Herbert, inherited the business, moved out of insalubrious Wapping to Tottenham, and had retired by 1851, dying 20 years later by no means a wealthy man. Such is the fate of family businesses; they rise and then they fall. The unmarried women of such families have little agency in creating wealth, relying on the investments made for them. However, with the money inherited from her grandmother Eliza Herbert was able to lead what would appear to have been a reasonably comfortable life.

I cannot discover where Eliza lived after her grandmother’s death in 1827. She was now 29 years old and may have been able to continue living in the Princes Square house for a while but I next found her in the 1841 census living at 10 Holland Place, in north Brixton. The street has now vanished, but was in the area between Clapham Road and Brixton Road, south of the Oval. The 1841 census does not produce much information and we learn from this only that Eliza was of ‘Independent’ means’ and had not been born in Lambeth. At first I assumed she was living in this house as a lonely boarder but further investigation into the ramifications of the Herbert family revealed to me that Arthur French, the 70-year-old head of the household, had been a Wapping cooper, whose aunt was mentioned as a friend in the will of Eliza’s grandmother and that Anna Maria Pillar, the other woman of independent means listed as living in the house, was actually one of Eliza’s many cousins. So, although it’s ridiculously sentimental, I was pleased that she was  living among friends and family.

Ten years later Eliza was still in the same house, although the head of household had changed. (In fact Arthur French had died barely a month after the 1851 census.) She is now described as ‘Fundholder’ and her place of birth is given as ‘Africa’. I have, however, been unable to find any link between Eliza and the other two women living as boarders in the house. Life may not have been quite so comfortable as it had been ten years earlier; there was now only one servant rather than the three who had previously waited on the household.

By 1861 Eliza Herbert had moved a short distance and was living at St Ives Cottage, St Anne’s Road, now obliterated, but it was just south of Holland Place. Once again she is a boarder, now described as ‘Lady’ and with her birthplace as ‘Africa’.  Besides the householder (a commercial traveller), his wife and daughter there was only one other boarder, a teenage  ‘shipbroker’, and one servant. Ten years later she had moved again, further west to 2 Grosvenor Place, a boarding house in a terrace on Camberwell Road (now demolished, but it was opposite Addington Square)  Here she gave the 1871 census enumerator her exact place of birth, ‘Cape Coast Castle’.

Thus it would seem that for about 40 years (between the 1840s until the late-1870s) Eliza Herbert lived alone, as a boarder, occupying a room or two in the homes of strangers. This, doubtless, was the lot of hundreds of thousands of unmarried women, but I don’t think the actuality was as forlorn as it might appear because my researches show that during this time Eliza Herbert was always living close to ‘family’. For it is likely that the reason she remained in the Brixton area for so much of her life was because she was still very much in touch with the descendants of the French family, friends of her grandmother.

You will remember that in 1841 Eliza Herbert was living in the Brixton home of the former Wapping cooper, Arthur French.  Also in the household was Arthur’s daughter, Grace, who by 1861 she was married to a successful building contractor, Benjamin Gammon, and living in Loughborough Park Road, in the northern part of Brixton. Interestingly, their house was named ‘Herbert Lodge’. Grace’s son, born c 1852, had been given ‘Herbert’ as a first name, suggesting to me there was a strong connection between Grace and Eliza. 

The bond was made manifest by 1881 when the census finds Eliza Herbert, now 82 years old, living in the home of a young couple, Johanna and Robert Pearce, at 8 Church Road, Brixton. For Johanna Pearce was the daughter of Grace Gammon (nee French) and, with ‘Elizabeth’ as her second name, was Eliza Herbert’s god-daughter.  Church Road is now St Matthews Road, running between Effra Road and Brixton Hill. No 8 was a charming early-19th century villa, long since demolished.

Josephine Avenue, Brixton, photographed c 40 years after Eliza’s death. It was noted on the Booth’s Poverty Map (c. 1898) as a ‘middle-class, well-to-do’ street

By 1886, when Eliza Herbert wrote her will, she had moved with Johanna and her husband to a new house, close by, in Josephine Avenue. It was here that, on 21 March 1890, she died. Her estate amounted to over £800 (roughly £100,000+ in 2020) – suggesting that the funds she had inherited had served her quite well during her extremely long life. She left her personal effects to be divided between Johanna Pearce and Herbert Gammon. Incidentally, I can’t help wondering what happened to all the household and personal possessions she inherited from her grandmother. Did she carry any Princes Square furniture and china with her from house to house or had everything been long since scattered?

And what, you might ask, is the point of all this? Well, I suppose it shows that a child, born in a far off country, out of wedlock, to an African mother, far from being repudiated by her British family, was welcomed and cherished. Knowledge of her unorthodox origin, which transgressed early 19th-century ideas of both morality and race, does not appear to have affected her family relationships. Her grandmother, referring to her as ‘the natural daughter of my son…’, was quite open about her status. Indeed, Elizabeth Herbert allocated far more care in her will to Eliza’s wellbeing than to those of her other grandchildren, the assumption being that they would be provided for by their fathers. And, as we have seen, care for Eliza continued down through the generations of the French/Gammon family. 

And what of Eliza’s appearance? Was her genetic inheritance obvious? We don’t know. She lives now only in official documents and that is not the kind of thing of which they speak. Nor do we know anything about Eliza’s attitude to her origins, other than she was quite happy to admit to having been born not only in Africa, but specifically in Cape Coast Castle. I am assuming that she left the Castle when too young to retain any memories, but she could not have escaped thinking about her mother. Was ‘Nance’ a name that Eliza knew? Was she talked of when, as a child, Eliza  lived with her grandmother in the house in Princes Square? Did Eliza subsequently take an interest in Africa, read books about it, or, perhaps, support missionary work?

As to her personality, we can only assume that Eliza was amiable, capable of maintaining family friendships throughout her long life. In her will she made bequests not only to Johanna Pearce and to Herbert Gammon, but to a number of cousins. Alas, it is the fate of single women that their memory disappears so entirely. If she had married and had children Eliza’s story might have been handed down, even surviving into the 21st century but, as it is, only an outline of her life can be resurrected, mapping a journey that brought her from Cape Coast Castle to Brixton, via Wapping.

And, of course, Brixton in the late 19th century being very different demographically, it is entirely a coincidence that this child of Africa, born above slave dungeons, should have spent her last years living a stone’s throw away from Windrush Square, now an implicit memorial to Britain’s involvement in the slave trade.

Apart from re-reading St Clair, The Grand Slave Emporium, research for this article has, of necessity, been drawn from online sources. I have, in particular, mined a plethora of records held by and While doing so I realised that numerous family researchers have fatally muddled their Herbert family trees. The secret, I find, is to read all available wills. 


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


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Mariana Starke: Great-grandfather’s house


House similar to that lived in by Thomas Starke and his family in the late-17th century

In the late-17th century Thomas Starke, the slave trader, lived and, I think, carried on his business in Mincing Lane in a house rebuilt in the 1670s – after the Great Fire of London. Starke’s house – and all the others in that street- have long since disappeared – now replaced by a Gotham City simulacrum, politely described as a ‘post-modern gothic complex’. However a few London houses built by Mincing Lane’s post-Fire-of London developer, Nicholas Barbon, do remain, including – pictured here – 5-6 Crane’s Court, just off Fleet Street – giving a rough idea of the manner of house in which Starke and his family lived.

Fortunately for us, when Starke – a freeman of the city of London – died in early 1706 several of his children were not yet 21 years old. This meant that the London Court of Orphans was required to draw up an itemized list of his household goods, assets and debts in order to supervise the division of the estate. This inventory provides a marvellous picture of the furnishing of the Mincing Lane house – at least some of which were purchased with the profits from Starke’s slave-trading activity, as well as an insight into Starke’s complicated finances. Moreover, the inventory, made on 18 April 1706, is held in the London Metropolitan Archives, very close to my home, a short walk collapsing the centuries.

Although the inventory does not reveal who was living in the house in 1706, a 1695 tax assessment showed that besides Starke, his wife, and two daughters, the household then comprised two apprentices (both of whom were to figure in later Starke litigation) and three servants – two of them women, one a boy.

The 1706 inventory begins at the top of the house – in the fore garrett – [perhaps a bedroom for the apprentices?] which contained:

One corded bedstead and rods, printed stuff curtains and valance, and flock bed and feather bolster and pillow,  2 blankets and 2 rugs, a table,  2 chests of drawers, a pallet bedstead, 2 chairs, one box – value £2 2s

I assume that ‘corded bedstead’ meant a bed with cords to support the mattress and that  ‘rods’ are curtain-type rods from which hung the printed stuff curtains that surrounded the bed to exclude draughts.

The back garrett  [perhaps a bedroom for 2 servants?] contained::2 chests, a horse for clothes, a few candles, 2 little bedsteads, a feather bed, 2 flock bolsters, two blankets, two rugs, a quilt, some lumber – value £2 1s

In the room 2 pairs of stairs forwards [perhaps Stark’s daughters’ room]: One sacking bedstead and rods, camblett curtains and valance lined with silk. Feather bed, a bolster, 2 pillows, 2 blankets, a rug, one counterpane. Corded bedstead and rods, curtains, 1 feather bed, bolster, 6 pillows, 4 blankets, a rug, 7 chairs, 1 chest of drawers, a table, 2 looking glasses, 5 window curtains, 3 rods, 2 pairs of dogs [ ie for the fireplace], a fender shovel, and tongs, a pair of bellows, 4 hangings of the room – value £15 7s.

Apart from the value, we can tell that this room was used by more important members of the household than the two garrets because of the use of ‘camblett’ to make the curtains, ‘camblett’ being a fine dress fabric of silk and camel-hair, or wool and goat’s hair, which was a lighter material, replacing broadcloth and serge and quite newly fashionable.. Similarly the lining of the valance with silk was a newish and fashionable furnishing style.

Back room: 1 corded bedstead, printed stuff curtains and valance, feather bed, bolster, 1 pillow, 1 blanket, a rug, 1 chest of drawers, 1 table, 2 matted chairs, grate, fender, shovel and tongs, a warming pan, a pair of bellow, 1 boll printed stuff. Hangings of the room, 3 chairs – value £5 2s

Middle room: 1 corded bedstead and rods, a pair of old curtains and valance, 1 feather bed, bolster, 1 pillow, a blanket and rug – value £1 15

In the room 1 pair of stairs backwards:  [perhaps Starke’s bedroom – to be used for entertaining as well as sleeping.] 1 sacking bedstead, silk and damask curtains and valance lined with silk, a quilt and feather bed bolster, some calico curtains, 1 table, a looking glass, 6 chairs and cushions, a slow grate, shovel, tongs and poker, a brass hearth shovel and tongs, 3 pairs of tapestry hangings – value £36 6s [Peter Earle in The Making of the English Middle Class: Business, Society and Family Life in London 1660-1730 (1989) gives the average value of the furnishings of a merchant’s bedroom as £23.3, positioning Starke’s as rather above average.]

The silk and damask curtains and the valance lined with silk were smart and fashionable, while the presence of the tapestry hangings suggest a room intended for comfort in a slightly old-fashioned style..

On the staircase: 3 pictures, clock and case, 2 sconces – value £5

In the Dining room [Earle denotes the dining room as the ‘best’ living room in a house of this type, giving the average value of the contents of such a room as £12 2s – making Starke’s furnishings a little above the average in value.]: Gilded leather hangings, 2 tables, a looking glass, 1 side table, 11 cane chairs, 12 cushions, a pallet case, 2 glass sconces, a pair of tables, brass hearth dogs, shovel and tongs – value £13 12s.

The gilded leather hangings were, by the early 18th-century, perhaps a little old fashioned, but the possession of cane chairs marked the Starkes out as a family who were prepared to buy new and fashionable styles. Cane chairs had been new in aristocratic homes in the 1660s, and were taken up by ‘middling men ’ from the 1680s. It would seem that the Starkes’ cane-bottomed chairs required cushions to make them acceptably comfortable.

In the parlour [the ‘second best’ living room]: Cane chairs, 2 cushions, a boll – value £2 10s.

In the Kitchen: An iron back grate, fender, 2 spit racks, an iron crane, 3 hooks, 2 shovells, tongs and poker, 1 gridiron, 2 iron dripping pans, 2 dish rings, 1 shredding knife, 2 frying pans, 2 box irons and heaters, jack chain and weight and pulley,. 4 spits, a beef fork, a brass mortar and pestle, 7 candlesticks, a pair of snuffers, a ladle and scummer, 2 iron bottles, 4 brass pots and covers, 1 bottle, 2 sauce pans, 1 copper stew pan, 3 chairs, 2 folding boards, 1 pair of bellows and napkin press, a table, a lanthorn, 196lbs of pewter, some tin wooden and earthenware – value £19 12s 10d .

Earle mentions that the average value of kitchen goods in this period was between £10-£20, putting the Starkes’ batterie de cuisine at the top end of the scale.

In the cellar and yard: A few coals, a beer stilling, 2 brass corks, some fire wood, a leaden cistern, 1 boll, 2 doz glass bottles – value £7 1s.

The inventory goes on to give the value of Starke’s wearing apparel (£5), household linen, and plate (292 oz, value £74 –presumably including the silver salver and caudle cup that Starke specifically mentioned in his will) – before moving on to monies owed to him and his own debts.

All in all, this is a house of a middling London merchant, one who, with his family, wished to be comfortable but was not desperate to adopt the very newest fashions. I do not think it would have been as elegant as the parlour room set, dating from 1695, that one can see at the Geffrye Museum. Here you can see the Starkes’ cane chairs, but Thomas Starke presumably preferred the older-fashioned tapestries and gilded leather hangings. which many of his fellow merchants – as in the Geffrye Museum re-creation -would have been taking down and replacing with pictures. In fact only three pictures are listed in the Starke inventory, all hanging on the stair case, alongside the household’s only clock. Similarly, the Starkes were, presumably, still eating off pewter and had not been tempted by the more newly fashionable china.

I did find two omissions interesting. The first is that no room is specifically denoted as a counting-house, although at the time of Starke’s death the sum of £245 19s 13/4 [=£32,000 purchasing power in today’s terms] was held in cash in the house. So, perhaps I was incorrect in assuming that, as he was living in Mincing Lane, in the very heart of the trading district, his business would have been done on the premises. And, secondly, I suppose I might have expected a merchant’s possessions to have included at the very least a quantity of ledgers – and, perhaps, some books and a globe.

Sometime after Thomas’ death, his widow and her daughters – Sarah, Martha, Frances and Elizabeth moved out of the City. There no longer being any necessity to live close to business, they chose Chelsea as their new home– more rural, more fashionable. It is possible that they were the first occupants of a newly-built house in Upper Cheyne Row, close to their great friend Lady Mary Rawlinson, widow of a a close associate of Thomas Starke and a former Lord Mayor of the City of London. The Survey of London suggests that this house and its immediate neighbours were built c 1716 and Lady Mary and her daughter, also Mary, lived at 16 Upper Cheyne Row between 1717 and her death in 1725.  Between 1748 and 1757 Thomas Starke’s daughter, Martha, and the younger Mary Rawlinson lived together at 12 Upper Cheyne Row. They were evidently very close; in her will Martha, who died in 1758, left everything to Mary and asked to be buried with her in the same grave in Ewell parish churchyard. However, Mary Rawlinson lived on to 1765 and in a codicil to her will, made in 1764, changed her preferred place of burial  from Ewell to the Rawlinson family vault in St Dionis Church Backhurch in the City (demolished 1868)..

I imagine that Thomas Starke’s tapestries and gilded leather hangings did not make the move from Mincing Lane to Chelsea and that his widow and daughters took the opportunity to furnish the new – airier and lighter – house with new china and new materials to complement the modern fireplaces and panelling. As we shall discover, in the early 18th-century the Starke family began a close association with India and goods – gifts – from the East would have travelled back to decorate these Chelsea rooms, perhaps, eventually coming into the possession of Mariana Starke.


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Mariana Starke: Great-grandfather’s will

I am interested in trying to build up a picture of the physical reality of the lives of Mariana Starke and her forefathers.

Now a picturesque ruin, St Dunstans, where so many Starkes were christened and buried

Although it is well nigh impossible to know what memory, if any, of Thomas Starke, slave trader, descended to his daughter, Mariana Starke – she, the ‘celebrated tourist’, was born a little under 60 years after his death – I wondered if links might be discerned through a tracing of worldy goods as they descended through the family. I made a start with Thomas Starke’s will. Through this, at the very least, we become acquainted, more closely than in any baptism register, with his surviving children and with the friends – fellow merchants – to whom he entrusted the will’s execution.

‘To my dear & loving wife Sarah one full third part of all my personal estate ..if estate does not amount to sum of £2000 [2012: £ 261,000] leaves to Sarah all my estate in co of Suffolk lying in the hundreds during her natural life and after to my son John Starke and his heirs forever. But if one third part shall amount to £2000 then my will and mind is that the said estate shall immediately go to said son. I likewise give to my wife all her jewels ? of gold and her gold watch and a large silver salver and caudle cup and cover. I give unto my son John Starke and to his heirs for ever all my reall  estate in Virginia consisting of 5 plantations. I give to my said son the sum of £500 and the diamond ring I wear. I give unto my loving daughter Mary Sherman the sum of £200 and likewise forgive her all such sums of money as she stands indebted to me for. I give to my said son John Starke a full one fifth of my personal estate after my just debts are paid and my wife’s one third part deducted. I give to my loving daughter Sarah Starke the sum of £300 and also one fifth part of all my  personal estate [etc] provided that said one fifth part shall not exceed the sum of £1500 [2005: £209,000] and what shall appear to be more than that sum I give unto my said son. I give to my said daughter Sarah all her jewels and my gold watch and 2 brooch [?] pieces of gold which were my Aunt Dennis’s. I give to my loving daughter Martha Starke the full one fifth part of my personal estate [etc]. I give unto my loving daughters Frances and Elizabeth unto both of them the full fifth part of my personal estate [etc]. I give unto my daughter Sarah a large gilt spoon. to Martha one ?? of gold that was my Aunts and I give to Frances one old Nobb (?) spoon. I give to Francis Lee and William Downer the sum of £10 apiece to buy them mourning and a ring of 20s value and I desire them to be aiding and assisting my wife and son. And my will is that my daughters’ legacy shall be paid them as they shall arrive to the age of 21. And make my wife and son jointly my executors and appoint my said loving friends Francis Lee and William Downer to be the overseers of my will.

30th Jan 4th yr of Ann (1706)

Witnessed by Ann Stephens, W. Ford, John Hodgkin, Jeffery Bass (?) Probate 4 March 1706.

So, even from this cursory transcription of the will, we can visualise Thomas Starke’s most prized – or most expensive – possessions – the jewellery, gold and silver – the salver and the caudle cup – and know that he still held five Virginia plantations. In the next ‘Mariana  Starke’ post I will be able to reveal vastly more of the possessions with which Thomas Starke was surrounded as he lay on his death bed in the house in Mincing Lane.


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What Mariana Starke’s Great-Grandfather Was

 Mariana Starke’s great-grandfather was a Virginia landowner and slave trader.

 A slave shackle recovered from Thomas Starke’s ship.

In the last ‘Mariana Starke’ post I gutted the red herring that had Mariana born in India. This, if a red herring could be said to be put to such a use, had been a hook on which some scholars had hung critiques of her two Indian-set plays. While I am certain that an interest in Anglo-Indian affairs permeated Hyland House, which had been purchased with the proceeds of her grandfather’s engagement with India, I am wondering if the shade of Thomas Starke, her great-grandfather, did not also, perhaps, linger?  If so, that may well give an added spice to the abolitionist sub-plot of The Sword of Peace (1788) and to two of Mariana’s creations in it, the slaves Caesar and (offstage) Pompey.

Thomas Starke (c 1649-1704), was probably born in Suffolk and in the early 1670s spent some time in Kings and Queens County, Virginia, where he (and perhaps another member of his family) owned land  – land devoted to tobacco production. On his return to England he married Sarah Newson, possibly in 1676 at Pettistree in Suffolk. Those facts are interesting – if a little hazy – but what is definite is that by 1678 the family was living in London, in the parish of St Dunstan in the East, where a son was christened. Their surviving children – several died in infancy – included Mariana’s grandfather, John (1685-1765) and several daughters, some who were to make alliances with fellow merchant families.

The Starkes lived in Mincing Lane, in a house built after the recent Great Fire. The premises also served as Thomas’ counting house; I will relate more of this interesting establishment in a subsequent post.

The counting house was the hub of Starke’s business empire; he is first recorded as importing tobacco (24,252lb) from Virginia in 1677. Many of the records regarding his business may be found here. The ships plying the Atlantic to pick up the tobacco did not, of course, travel empty, but carried over a wide variety of goods to tempt the settlers. On 10 October 1677, one of Starke’s ships – the  Merchant’s Consentset sail for Virginia carrying, amongst other consignments, 2 cwt nails; 10 lbs Norwich stuffs; 5 doz Irish hose; 35 lbs wrought brass; 1 cwt hops; 1 small saddle; 3 castor, 2 felt hats; 3/4cwt haberdashery wares (to a value of  4s 6 1/2d) . On another occasion Starke’s consignment included ‘Indian cargo’ – that is tomahawks to sell to Indians – plus clothing, hardware, flints and gunpowder.

By 1679 Starke was sufficiently prosperous to be admitted as a freeman of the Haberdashers’ Company and by 1686 was the third largest importer of tobacco in London. As the owner of tobacco plantations he would have been well aware of the problem of finding labour to tend the crop; the number of indentured white servants was declining and the importation of slaves from Africa had been interrupted by the 1689 war with the French. In 1692 he found a solution, heading a group of London merchants that petitioned for the right to send a ship (the Concord) to the Guinea coast to transport slaves back to work on their plantations in Chesapeake.  After that, Starke’s ships  – such the Endeavour, African Galley and Two Brothers -regularly plied the triangular route between London, Africa and Virginia. Fortunately for us such ventures frequently did not go to plan and resulted in litigation, because it is in the case reports that details of Starke’s business are laid bare.  For instance in 1698, with others, he charted the African Galley, for a voyage first to Guinea, travelling on to Maryland or Jamaica. However, the ship’s master was very slow in fitting out the vessel and, to compound his disobedience, called in at St Thomas, off the Guinea coast, delaying arrival in Virginia until July 1699, where he then stayed, rather than going directly to Maryland to deliver the Guinea cargo. The case was brought to recover the monies lost because many of the ‘negroes’ died as a result of the delays and because much of the cargo was carried off the ship by the crew and sold for their own benefit. Similarly, in 1700 Starke charted the Two Brothers  for a voyage to Guinea and Virginia, putting on board in London a cargo sufficient to purchase 400 ‘negroes’, There was some dispute and the ship’s master refused to leave until three weeks after ship was ready to sail. As a result, by the time they got to Guinea, they were forced to pay very high prices for the ‘negroes, since many vessels had arrived before them and got the best of the trade. They obtained only 75 slaves, 16 of which [sic not ‘whom’] the master maintained were for his own account’. Starke brought the case because he doubted that he would ever see some of the money earned from the sale of the ‘negroes’. It is now a truism, but the ledgers in that Mincing Lane counting house noted only the financial, not the human, cost.

As luck would have it, it is one of Thomas Starke’s ships, the Henrietta Marie  that has, more than any other project, been responsible for exposing the intimate horrors of the late-17th-century slave trade. The ship left London in September 1699, travelling to the Bight of Biafra, buying there about 235 slaves, of whom 190 survived to disembark at Jamaica on 18 May 1700. The Henrietta Marie was then shipwrecked off Key West, Florida, lying forgotten on the sea bed until 1972, archaeological research finally beginning in 1983.  It is the earliest shipwrecked slave ship to be identified by name and it is this fact that has allowed for extensive archival research – in addition to the study of the recovered artifacts.

Among these many objects are a large number of shackles – which require little explanation – and thousands of glass beads, which perhaps might. Beads were the currency in which slaves were bought.  Thomas Starke had consigned a quantity of these beads to the Henrietta Marie and the bartering had presumably been so effective that the beads brought up the from the sea bed 300 years later were those that were surplus to requirements. Analysis by shape and colour has helped unravel another mystery of the slave trade. Thus, in the ledger in that Mincing Lane counting house, the entry for so many ‘Venetian glass beads’ would have its contra,  ‘negroes’.

Thomas Starke died in 1705, leaving a number of law suits unresolved with which his widow and son were forced to grapple. That son, John, Mariana’s grandfather, may have paid one visit, in 1707, to the 920 acres his father had held in Virginia at the time of his death, but then, c 1710, rejected the West for the East, sailing to India as purser on an East Indian merchantman, Averilla. The motivation is unexplained, but it is salutary to note that in his will, dated 1763, John Starke left £2000 [2012 = £229,000] to the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, specifying that part of the money was to be applied ‘by the Society towards such charitable purposes as they shall judge most efficacious towards converting the savage Indians in our American colonies and late Acquisition’ [ie territory gained up to the Mississippi following victory over the French in 1763]. It seems as though John Starke felt the necessity of making amends – one takes it that conversion to Christianity was intended as a gift – to at least one group affected by his family’s business dealings in North America.

It is hardly worth mentioning that in 2012 we surely know far more about Thomas Starke’s trade and the contents of his ships than his great-grandaughter ever did. But something of his acumen and derring-do – and, I imagine, his irascibility and ruthlessness – may have passed into family legend.

For further reading on the 17th-century slave trade, in which glimpses may be caught of Thomas Starke, see here, here and here.


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