My cousin Rob MacLaren got in touch recently about my John Birtwhisle of Dundeugh Coat of Arms? post. Rob is the brother of Hamish who I collaborate with on the Ancestorium.com family tree site collaboration. He mentioned the post because it references an Alexander Birtwhistle (1750-1810) in Gatehouse-of-Fleet being given a silver cup containing the Crest and Motto from the Dundeugh Coat of Arms by the ‘Gatehouse Volunteers’ (the local Militia of whom he was the Commanding Officer). Turns out there’s a street named after him there:
According to his mum (my aunt), Alexander was a mate of Robert Burns and appears in 2 of his poems. The Burns Encyclopedia includes a record for an Alexander Birtwhistle that describes him as follows:
A Kircudbright merchant, and Provost of the Burgh. He is supposed to have carried on a substantial foreign trade from the town.
“To end the work, here’s Whistlebirk, Long may his whistle blaw, Jamie”
In his ‘Second Ballad on Mr Heron’s Election‘ he called him “roaring Birtwhistle”. That’s maybe why my aunt described Alexander in Scottish slang which makes his leadership of the local miltia seem surprising at that time, but there’s nothing been found on Google to support this.
It’s been a while since I last posted on here, but I just wanted to share a short film made by Janet Baker about my 3x great aunt Alice Claire Macdonell (of Keppoch). She was a poet, Bardess to the Clan MacDonald Society, self-proclaimed Chiefteness of the Keppoch clan and contributor to the Celtic revival movement. Her poem Scotland at Nation was a plea for Home Rule for Scotland and the eliminating of the constant use if the word ‘English’ for ‘British’ which she felt threatened and entirely swamped the Scots existence as a nation. This formed part of her involvement in a movement seeking historic truth in the teaching of Scottish history in Scottish schools.
I am hugely grateful to Janet for putting this short film together. Alice is buried in Hove North Cemetry not far from where I now live in grave where the headstone has no epitaph. From what I understood she would have liked to have been buried in the ancestral graveyard at Cille Choreil, where I think her mother and possibly her father are both butired. Not sure that would be possible now and if I was more flush I would try and get an inscription for her headstone, but maybe that’s a fund that could be put together with help from Keppoch and other branches of Clan Donald. In the meantime, I have included her poem Scotland at Nation below:
That was all hugely appreciated, but to top that she has produced the following report looking at the Webbe family ownership of the New River estates I had been looling into. It’s way more forensic than anything I have done, but as she explained it’s incredibly complicated and so she isn’t sure if it is completely correct for reasons explained below. But in answer to my Joshiah Webbe(s) and New River(s) Estates? post that asked whether their were two New River estates and two related Josiah Webbes , she says the answer to both of those questions is an emphatic ‘yes’!!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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
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.