Posts Tagged Thomas Starke
In ‘What Mariana Starke was Not’ I explain that she was not – as has so often been cited – born in India. ‘India’ was, however, a formative presence in her worldview, a continent with which generations of her forebears had been associated. For, c 1710/11, it was to India that the young man who was to be her grandfather, John Starke (1685-1765), set sail. Having dealt with the many law suits he had inherited from his father, Thomas Starke, merchant and slave trader, John turned his back on the Virginia plantations and joined the East India ship, Averilla, heading for Madras.
Why did he forsake America for India? Doubtless the reasons were of the economic variety – he saw better prospects in the East. The fact that 25 years later the grandson of Micajah Perry, one of Thomas Starke’s most successful associates, was forced to sell his home, Hylands House in Epsom, and that the buyer was John Starke, would appear to vindicate the decision.
John Starke settled down to life in India, marrying, in 1713 at Fort St George, Martha Empson, whose father, now dead, had been an English merchant there. John Starke, described as a ‘seafaring man in the Madras service’, was not an employee of the East India Company but certainly travelled on their ships as supra cargo (or supercargo) – that is with responsibility for the management of the cargo and its trading.
It is possible still to catch glimpses of John Starke’s life as a free merchant at Fort St George. For instance in February 1724 an East India Company ship, the Lynn, travelling out to ‘the coast of Coromandel’, carried on it for his use 6 rheams of paper £12; 2 fowling pieces [guns] £5; 2 hatts and 2 wiggs £12. John and Martha Starke had a son, Richard, born in Madras in 1719 and a daughter, Martha. The family returned to England in early 1727, sailing on the ship Lyell. This may have been for the sake of the health of John’s wife, for she died in England, buried on 24 November 1730 at St Dunstan in the East, the churchyard that had in the previous half century received so many Starke bodies.
John travelling back east in 1731 and in 1732 was appointed supra cargo for a ship sailing to China.He was now, for a short time, associated with the developing China trade but by the end of 1734 had returned to England, buying and settling into Hylands House, Epsom, which comprised ‘a messuage, forecourt, coachouse, stables and other outhouses and garden, ¾ acre’.
His son, Richard, was not, however, able to enjoy the pleasures of Epsom for in 1735 he began his career with the East India Company. He still had family – the Empsons – in Fort St George. In 1736 John Starke had sent there to Matthew Empson (either his brother in law or his nephew) ‘a box of books and apparel’ Empsons continued through several generations to live in Madras and Mariana may have been aware of these Indian relations – although they are never mentioned in any extant correspondence.
Comfortably settled in Epsom, John Starke maintained his interest in travel, in 1745 subscribing to A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels in Europe, Asia, Africa etc by John Green. At some point (I have, as yet, been unable to trace the date) he remarried – taking as his second wife Honor, daughter of Sir Thomas Rawlinson and sister of Mary Rawlinson, devoted friend of his sister, Martha. Starke clearly was the uxorious type, losing no time, after Honor’s death in February 1751, in marrying in October, at Temple Church, Ann Clotterbooke. He died 14 years later and was buried at St Mary, Ewell, on 11 April 1765.
In John Starke’s will, among the usual bequests, was one leaving £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].He stresses the need to extend the Gospel ‘in all the remote and uncivilised parts of our settlement where providence has been graciously pleased to open a fair field to us (and probably for that purpose). 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 – while blustering, even in his will, that English men were also the gift of providence.
On her death, also in 1765, his former sister-in-law, Mary Rawlinson left to John’s daughter, Martha, ‘my dressing table and the dressing stand in my own bedchamber, the bureau in the maid’s room and the black and gold Japan corner cabinet in my bed chamber, the Japan tea table in the parlour, the little mahogany table in ditto and likewise my tea board and writer and all my china ware except 6 blue and white cups and saucer… I give likewise to Miss Starke a pair of glass salts and the turkey carpet in my bed chamber.’ Martha Starke never married and I have wondered if any of these delightful pieces were eventually subsumed into the Hylands House furnishings, to be appreciated by Mariana Starke.
Source: The East India Company papers in the British Library provide a wealth of easily accessible details of life about individual ‘British in India’.
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 Consent – set 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.