Friday, 28 March 2014

Charlotte Taylor - Quadroon

In 1835, Charlotte Sproule was living with her family in Ireland and she was the grand lady of the Mellmount mansion in County Tyrone. However, Charlotte had been born in Jamaica as Charlotte Taylor, and Charlotte Taylor was a quadroon.  At this point in my research, I knew full well the implications of that term.

In those days of colonial Jamaica, race was important. Each Jamaican child was labelled very clearly at baptism, using terms that identified the racial mix. Charlotte Taylor was a quadroon. This meant that she had been born of a mulatto mother and a white father. Charlotte's mulatto mother was mixed race - she had a negro mother and a white father. Charlotte's father had been white, and her grandfather was also white.

Race Culture in Jamaica

There were strange attitudes to race in the white culture of Jamaica at that time. Men, both married and single, felt free to have sexual relations with slaves of all colours. However, many white men went on to form a long-term relationship with a mulatto or a quadroon lady. The man would then live quite openly with this woman and her children.

"Every unmarried white man has his black or his brown mistress, with whom
he lives openly; and of so little consequence is this thought, that his white female
friends and relations think it no breach of decorum to visit his house, partake of
his hospitality, fondle his children, and converse with his housekeeper..." (James Stewart, 1813)1

But at the same time, white was white, and other colours were socially unacceptable. A quadroon lady might be recognised as his woman, but she was not accepted into society, and neither were her children. She lived in his house, but she was not its mistress, she was known as the ‘housekeeper’.

Marriage was out of the question. It was not illegal in Jamaica to marry a mulatto or a quadroon woman, but it was totally unacceptable:

“It would be considered an indeniable stain in the character of a white
man to enter into a matrimonial bondage with one of them (a woman of color); he would be despised in the community and excluded from all society on that account.” (J. B. Moreton, 1790)

 What, then, of Charlotte Taylor?

Daughter of the Honourable Simon Taylor?

Simon Taylor
According to my information, Charlotte was supposed to have been the daughter of the Honourable Simon Taylor.  As a quadroon, she was certainly not his legitimate child. 

When I looked up the Honourable Simon Taylor, the Google machine lit up! Simon Taylor was a very famous man. He was born in Jamaica in 1739, was a plantation owner and a member of the Jamaican Assembly. Simon Taylor was fabulously rich and when he died in 1813,  he was one of the wealthiest men in the whole of the British Empire. 

The Honourable Simon Taylor was also unmarried, and he had no legitimate children!

The Source

How did I get the idea that Charlotte Taylor was this man’s daughter? Where did this information come from? On checking my records, I found it had come from the 'horses mouth' - well almost. It came from Jack Elder.

From 1880 to 1920, Jack Elder had gathered vast quantities of information on the Sproule families of Tyrone. He left us superb hand drawn family trees of different branches of the Sproule clans. On one of these trees is the information that James Sproule, son of Andrew Sproule of Tullymoan, had married Charlotte Taylor, the daughter of the Honourable Simon Taylor.

Jack Elder was a relative of this Sproule family and he lived in the same neighbourhood in Tyrone where James Sproule had settled with Charlotte in 1835. Elder was collecting information directly from friends and family who had known James and Charlotte of Mellmount.  It had to have been James Sproule himself who had told these folk that Charlotte Taylor was the daughter of the Honourable Simon Taylor. 

James Sproule and Charlotte Taylor

I wondered if James had also told friends and family in Tyrone that Charlotte was his wife, or did they just assume that? For from my reading of the situation, James and his lady Charlotte Taylor could not have been married in Jamaica.

The evidence was there in the children’s Jamaican baptism records. The first child of James Sproule was identified as his ‘reputed child’, but it is the baptism of child number 5 that actually confirms the marital status of his parents. Robert Samuel Sproule was baptised in Jamaica on September 18th 1826. His parents were given as James Sproule, not married, and Charlotte Taylor, not married.3

Breaking Cultural Chains

When James Sproule brought his lady to live as his ‘wife’ in Ireland in 1835, he was breaking the social and cultural rules of both countries. Men did not take their mulatto or quadroon ladies out of Jamaica, perish the thought! Women who had been slaves could definitely not be presented to the family in England, Scotland or Ireland.

James Sproule of Mellmount and Jamaica was different. He had worked within the system of those times, and he had been successful. But when it came to his family, he would not allow the system to destroy what he had built. James Sproule had chosen his own path and his path was to be with his lady, Charlotte Taylor.  I was getting to know James Sproule, and he was man that I admired.

It was time, now, to get to know his lady, Charlotte Taylor.

* Episode 1 of this story - The Beginning of the BIG Story

* Episode 2  - In Jamaica - James and Other Sproules

* NEXT Episode - Finding Charlotte Taylor


1 James Stewart, A View of the Past and Present State of the Island of Jamaica (Edinburgh, 1823), 173-74.
2  J. B. Moreton, Manners and Customs in the West India Islands (London, 1790), 125.
Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880,

Painting 1 - Harbour Street, Kingston. From A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica  (1825)  by James Hakewill
Painting 2 – Simon Taylor from the Group Portrait of Sir John Taylor and his family, by Daniel Gardner 1785


  1. Excellent narrative Kate. It appears Though James Sproule was an active participant in Creole Society he did not fully integrate and finally extracted himself and family. Was very interested in the Jack Elder tree you published here. Hard to read though .Is the Sproule tree available online as I have recognized some relatives in Jacks hand written one . All the best Garry

  2. Hi Garry,
    Thanks for your interest! Which tree of Elders are you interested in? If you send me your email address I will send you a copy of that tree. You can email me at
    Thanks again,

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