New ‘Recommended’ Category and some more resources for those researching slave owning ancestors

I have created a new Recommended category because recent posts have resulted in lots of them for books, resources and even a podcast. I was going to try and weave these into longer posts, but I have come to an impasse with the themes I have been exploring in my recent ones, i.e. Skeletons in the closet, Reflections and (possible) Parrallel Project.

With Skeletons in the closet, that’s because I am not sure that I will get any further back with my Russell and Webbe slave owning ancestors from Nevis unless someone else finds some new lead(s). And that’s because it seems like there’s not much in the way of early records about the settlers as a result of various fires, invasions and earthquakes that over the centuries have destroyed a lot of the original documents. When it comes to my reflections on the why of what I am doing on this blog and a (possible) parrallel project based on what I could do with it all, then the next step would be to take one rather than more pondering.

I may come back to both, if I don’t go down another rabbit hole. Either way, I thought I’d share some of what I have been recommended. I have already mentioned Episode 4 of 7 of Radio 4’s Descendants series that Ruth Hecht who I have been in touch participated in. She also recommended Alex Renton’s Blood Legacy: Reckoning With a Family’s Story of Slavery book published last year. I have linked to the preview in Google but there is also a review in The Guardian that might help you decide whether this is one for you.

For reading link to my reflections mentioned above, my friend Ivan Pope ,of Attention Deficity substack infamy, has also recommended Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton. I think it’s being published in March this year, but there’s a review on Salvation South from last week that includes this snippet below:

There’s no book quite like Ancestor Trouble, Maud Newton’s exploration of family, how we define who we are, and how to truly reckon with our pasts. Her genealogical research includes marvellous stories; her exploration of the role of popular genetic websites asks some big questions; and her thinking deeply about what repair means goes in unexpected directions.

There’s also the accompanying America’s Ancestry Craze: Making sense of our family-tree obsession article by Maude Newton in Harpers mag you can read in the meantime.

Coming back to recommended resources for anyone researching slave owning ancestors, Ruth Hecht also introduced me to Christine Eickelmann who’s a research associate at Bristol University. She’s conducting a more scholarly enquiry into the enslaved people on the Mountravers Plantation in Nevis, West Indies (aka Pinney’s Estate). According to this record on the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery (LBS) database, the Pinney family are connected to my Webbe ancestors via a business partnership:

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More rabbit holes: aleatory methods and chronotopic cartography?

Chronotopic Map of Virgina Woolfe’s To The Lighthouse

This is the third in series of post where I have been reflecting on what I am doing here and why (see here). And it may become the first in new series about if and how all this could be the basis of a parrallel project, e.g. scholarly, creative and maybe even both. Then again it could be my falling down yet another rabbit hole, but at least my musings interested and resonated with some friends and family, as well at least one distant relation (see comments here). And even hit the mark with my old friend Ivan Pope and especially the Tristram Shandy wandering digression I reference. That’s probably because his PhD is ultimately about how a text is generated from wandering around in a space, which was the prompt for my pondering about what the nature of any parrallel project might actually be if more scholarly.

Turns out he also picked up an original edition of Volume VI of Tristram Shandy at a boot fair last year for £3 and says it’s one of the most beautiful things he own. Great minds think alike, and possibly because we have frequently discussed whether our intellectual and other wanderings could be linked to some form of ADD or ADHD (along with self-diagnosed ups and downs of living with it given the issues raised in what’s known as the Hunter versus farmer hypothesis).

But I digress because I just wanted to share some thoughts on possible areas to explore, or maybe more rabbit holes to fall down, which are really just a gloried way of keeping notes.

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Recommended listening: Radio 4 Descendants

Following on from recent posts about my slave owning ancestors, I just want to recommend Episode 4 of 7 of Radio 4’s Descendants series. Ruth Hecht who I have been in touch with was one the participants. I found it fascinating on so many levels, and not least being the storytelling approach given the different perspectives involved including both a decendant of slaves and one from those who eslaved them:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09jjq9z

It touched upon so many things, including those I have been seeing as part of my research, i.e. how the slave owning families were so connected and how that appears to have been a way of consolidating the vast wealth they had amassed, the close links between industry and those compensated for their slave owning, and how slavery in the UK is never far from home.

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Beyond the BMD, who am I?

My wandering through family history seems to move forward in fits and starts. There’s probably a pattern to that waxing and waning, and exploring it may add to an earlier post reflecting on the why of it all (see If you don’t know where you are going). And you can see my attempt at a potted historical account of what I have been doing on this blog and how that has evolved over time outlined in the about section of this site. It includes the following explanation of what appears to be the two sides of it, or at least for me:

  1. Pokemon-like genealogy of who begat whom, where and when: the gotta catch them all of ancestor BMD (Birth, Marriages and Deaths), and what now goes on over at the Ancestorium.com family tree collaboration I co-facilitate with my cousin Hamish Maclaren (see more about this here).
  2. Social sharing of stories, photographs and content with others: that’s what this blog is still mostly about – hence containing anecdotes, discoveries, encounters, observations, notes and reflections like this one.
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Joshiah Webbe(s) and New River(s) Estates?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_St.Kitts_and_Nevis_(1888).jpg

As you may have seen in the last few posts, I am exploring my slave owning ancestors. It’s not quite the ‘Blood Legacy: ‘reckoning with a family’s story of slavery’ by Alex Renton that has been recommended to me, but that’s one I will check out (not least because its reckoning theme is part of what I am trying to do with this series of posts).

Most of my ancestors involved with the slave trade owned plantations on the Island of Nevis in the West Indies, and through marriage not only were they connected to most of the other plantation owners there but also across the Leeward Islands. What’s been difficult is to find out more about the family history of some these ancestors before they appear on these islands because what is publicly available is patchy.

From what I have been told that patchiness is the result of various fires, invasions and earthquakes that over the centuries have destroyed a lot of the original documents. For example, during the French invasion of Nevis in 1706 records were “burned in the street” hence the earliest record that the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) are working on being from 1705.

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Some more notes on Sir James Russell, Knt.

In my recent post on the Russell Family, I explain 3 of 4 siblings identified so far were early settlers of St. Kitts and Nevis. I can’t find anything about their ancestry including where they hailed from, but am pretty clear that ancestor Lt. Col. Randal (or Randolph) Russell, arrived in about 1637 based on a deposition he made that is cited in The history of the island of Antigua, one of the Leeward Caribbees in the West Indies, from the first settlement in 1635 to the present time (1894) by Oliver, Vere Langford. And some idea of the later legacies relating to the plantations and slaves he and his brother James owned, as well as how that wealth was consolidated through marriages with related and other famlies in subsequent generations (see posts on Madan and Nisbet families). What has been less clear is how and when his broher James and sister Anne came to be there. In her case, the how is linked to her appearing to be the 3rd wife of Sir Thomas Warner who is noted for settling on Saint Kitts and establishing it in 1624 as the first English colony in the Caribbean (see wiki entry). What I don’t know is when she married Sir Thomas and if that was before or after her 2 brothers had settled there. I’ve found a few more clues about her brother James though in Colonising Expeditions to the West Indies and Guiana, 1623-1667 (2017) by V.T. Harlow

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More Plantations: The Russell Family Revisited

Having looked recently at my plantation and slave owning Madan and Nisbet ancestors, I need to revisit my Russell ones (see earlier posts here). This is mostly going to be more genealogical because trying to fathom the complexities of how the estates of these and other related families got passed on from generation along with other legacies needs way more time to unravel than I can commit. And not least because that’s something that still appears to be ongoing at the Centre for the Study of legacies of British slave ownership (who have even cited this blog). I will try and tackle some of the ownership and passing on, but this post is also an attempt to check previous findings having found more about these families, including their plantation and slave owning.

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More Plantations: Nisbet Family

In my previous post, I had mentioned that I would be looking in more detail in the slave ownership of my Russell ancestors who had plantations in Nevis, Aniqua and possibly also St. Kitts. I will come back to them because while trying to untangle the ownership of their estates, I noticed that this blog was cited on the record for my ancestor Walter Nisbet (1745 – 1797) on the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery database (LBS) hosted by UCL. And that a resource I have been citing in recent posts.

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More plantations: the Madan Family

Following my previous Skeletons in the closet post, this is the first of a new series that looks at ancestor families with links to the slave trade. This one looks at the Madan family, but I think I may have got in a muddle about them. `I’ve now worked out that it was Martin Madan (1700 – 1756) who was the Colonel and MP, not his father who was also called Martin (1653 – 1704). The younger one married the English Poet Judith Cowper and they both have wiki entries (see his and hers):

Martin Madan the MP also has a biography on History of Parliament site, which explains that he was the 1st son of Martin Madan of Nevis, West Indies by Penelope, daughter of Col. Sir James Russell (member of the council of Nevis). The biography also explains that Martin Madan (the father) was from an old Waterford family, emigrated from Ireland to the West Indies about 1682 and acquired plantations in Nevis and St. Kitts.

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Skeletons in the closet?

I am been busy trying to both restructure this site and categorise the blog posts in a more meaningful way (see more on this on the Family Indices, Categories and Related Resources index page). That includes creating new categories, including Skeletons in the closet. That’s because family history can reveal not only the good, but also the bad and even downright ugly. Sadly, that includes those involved in slavery.

I haven’t found many who were, but that is partly the result of feeling less connected to ancestors the further back I go, so after a certain point I’m generally not looking beyond more basic family tree info, i.e. who begat who. But also because I have been more interested in those ancestors that are less well documented and, therefore, more of a mystery. That hasn’t seemingly included those owning or trading slaves (so far). However, I thought it important to create a category about those ancestors I’ve found that were, as well and as those involved in equally unedifying and nefarious activities.

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