Friday, 11 April 2014

Light on the Last Mysteries

I was nearing the end of the amazing story of James Sproule and his lady Charlotte Taylor, but there were a few more puzzles yet to be solved. One was the mystery of the children’s names – why did James Sproule call their first child Margaret Madden Sproule? And of course there was the big question - how did Charlotte Taylor make the extraordinary move from slave in Jamaica, to lady of the Mellmount Mansion in Ireland? How was this possible?

I found two very precious pieces of information that helped shed some light on both of these remaining puzzles. 

Charlotte Taylor’s Appearance

The diary of Lady Maria Nugent held the first key to the  life of this remarkable woman, Charlotte Taylor. Lady Maria Nugent was the wife of the Governer of Jamaica, and she visited Golden Grove, one of Simon Taylor's homes, in 1803. She recorded vivid descriptions of the visit in her journal, and she related one incident  that is very relevant to our story.1

Lady Maria was early for dinner one day and she passed the time by walking round the Golden Grove house.  The housekeeper sent a child, who Lady Maria identifies as a ‘mulatto child’,  into the living room  to amuse her.  Simon Taylor arrived and was anxious that she dismiss this child. Lady Maria discovered later from the housekeeper that this mulatto child was, in fact, Simon Taylor’s daughter. Taylor's other children lived in Trelawny, his main home. The little mulatto daughter on Golden Grove was almost certainly an 8 year old Charlotte Taylor! Lady Maria actually gives us a brief description of her:

“She was a sickly, delicate child, with straight light-brown hair, and very black eyes.”

Mixing with the Ladies

This little snippet also gives an important insight into the status of Charlotte on Golden Grove. Lady Maria Nugent was the most distinguished lady in the whole of Jamaica at that time and yet it was obviously quite normal for the housekeeper to send Charlotte in alone to amuse her.  Even as a slave child, Charlotte was apparently mixing with the best.

Another thought struck me on reading this little story. Much later, Charlotte and James Sproule gave their children some unusual names, and one of these was that of their daughter, Jane Nugent Sproule. Could Jane Nugent have been named for Lady Maria Nugent? Possibly, but I think it much more likely that she is named in memory of ‘the housekeeper’ in this incident. According to Lady Maria, she was called Nelly Nugent! I strongly suspect that Nelly Nugent, the ‘housekeeper’ of Simon Taylor,  had been proudly displaying her own daughter to the distinguished visitor!

Charlotte after Simon Taylor

Simon Taylor died in 1813, and he left Charlotte as a slave on Golden Grove at that time. I knew that she had her first child by James Sproule in 1814, the daughter named Margaret Madden Sproule. In 1816, they had their first boy and Charlotte was recorded there as being a free person. So James Sproule must have arranged his lady’s freedom some time in 1815.

And that was it, I had no more information on Charlotte Taylor  – or so I thought until I was writing up this story! There was one little fact that I had overlooked, Charlotte had owned a slave! She had been bequeathed a slave in the will of her father, the Honourable Simon Taylor.  Would her name appear  in the Slave Registers as a slave owner?

I looked this up on Ancestry, and I was quite stunned at what I found.  In 1817, Charlotte Taylor, former slave, was now a slave owner. As I looked at the names of her two slaves, and at the long declaration that followed this tiny entry in the Slave Registers, it suddenly dawned! Charlotte Taylor had written the entry herself! 

Charlotte’s Writing

Charlotte had written a long declaration in the most beautiful handwriting. I checked later entries to ensure that this was definitely her writing, and every entry is consistent. Charlotte Taylor, a slave in Jamaica in the early 1800s, could read and write beautifully! 

How could this be? Was Simon Taylor having his slave children educated? From my reading  of Simon Taylor, he was not the type of man who would have done this.  But strangely, when I checked back  through his history I saw that his other daughter, Sarah Taylor, could also read and write. Charlotte had received some level of education at Golden Grove, and she was much better prepared to become a lady in Mellmount than I had imagined.

The Last Mystery

It was Charlotte’s last entry in the Slave Register that provided the answer to the question that had niggled me from the beginning. In Charlotte’s entry of 1832, a  name leaps straight off the page - Margaret Madden! Charlotte had acquired 3 slaves who had been formerly owned by plantation owner Margaret Madden, and now they had been ‘bequeathed’ to Charlotte. Margaret Madden, Charlotte Taylor and James Sproule had all lived in the same area, and had obviously become close friends.

Margaret Madden, the name of the couple’s first child, was the name that had opened the door to this mystery, and now this same name had helped to close it.

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


1 Lady Nugent’s Journal: Jamaica One Hundred Years Ago… Lady Maria Nugent, Frank Cundall, Published by the Institute of Jamaica by Adam & Charles Black, London , 1907
2 Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 Class: T71; Piece: 145


  1. Kate, you really have a fascinating family history. I've very much enjoyed reading it. Dara

  2. Hi Dara,
    That's a great blog you have yourself! Are you living in Malahide - that's just up the road from me.

  3. Thanks for this. Its great to know what happened to Charlotte. I've done some research on Simon Taylor and his mixed-race mistress Grace. You'll find that several of the Taylor line (Charlotte's niece and several cousins) ended up in living in England and Scotland. I wonder if they kept in contact? So fascinating!

    1. Hi Mel, many thanks for your comment. Did you research the children of Grace at all?
      I would love it if you have any information on them. It is a fascinating family! Regards, Kate

  4. Hi Kate,
    I think Grace only may have had one child that died. However, before Simon Taylor and Grace Donne met, he had a child with another women named Sarah Blacktree Hunter. They have a daughter together, but she seemed to have stayed in Jamaica. However, Hunter did bring her granddaughter, so Charlotte's half niece named Sarah Taylor Hunter Cathcart, to England where she was educated and lived a pretty middle-class life in London. This little girl appears in the UCL compensation records. There was a bit a controversy though when she first came to England because her white Scottish father did not what his mixed-race child here. However, Simon Taylors family seemed to have assisted her. Another branch of the family, Simon Taylor's first cousins, also had mixed-race children settle in England and I think Scotland (the family seat was in Montrose). Some also end up in India (and Australia, I think).

    It was not unusually for mixed-race children from the West Indies (and the East Indies) being educated and settling in Britain during this period. Indeed, I think it was way more common than most people realize. However, what I find interesting about your blog is that Charlotte came and settled, not as a child of a white man, but as his 'wife'. This was rare.

    It was very common for white men to call a mixed-race or black woman his wife when they were not married. They did this likely because there was a change in attitudes around such nonmarital and interracial pairings in the colony by around the 1820s, likely in response to the increasing adoption of abolitionist sentiment and the associations of such interracial relationships as symptomatic of slavery. So while these relationships were once very common, but the 1820s or so you find white men being dismissed from political positions and 'concubines' being excluded from 'respectable' society. So many couples essentially claim that they married when they hadn't.

    Sorry for going on and on! I've been doing research on these colonial 'wives' (housekeepers, concubines, sexual labourers) for a few years, but still find it fascinating.

    1. Hi Mel, I am delighted to get this information! I also thought it was very rare for a man to take his lady back with him. I know that quite a few sent their children back to be educated, but I hadn't come across another lady going back. There was a row between the first cousin of Simon regarding the cousins children was there not? I seem to remember that the cousin wanted to free the children and Taylor would not allow this. He was a peculiar guy - so pro-slavery and apparently anti-women. And yet he had at least two of his children educated and seemed to take care of them. Kate