Friday, December 30, 2011

“There is Not so Gay a Town...”
Florida in the Regency Era
by Guest Blogger Darlene Marshall

In 1812 a plucky band of men of diverse races, nationalities and backgrounds came together to defend their homes from foreign invaders intent on seizing their land and destroying their way of life.

The invaders were the Americans, and the defenders were the men of East Florida.

St. Augustine City Gates b.1808

A little known and embarrassing piece of US history is the “Patriots War”, a foray by the United States to seize Spanish East Florida, a land of British and Spanish settlers, free blacks, runaway slaves, European adventurers and Indians. Florida was under British control from 1763-1784, a haven for British Loyalists fleeing south during the American Revolution. The British Governor of Florida, James Grant, described St. Augustine during this period: “There is not so gay a Town in America as this is at present…Major Small with the band of the 21st has turned all their Heads. His Colonel has not escaped the infection, he is as young as any of them, danced till twelve last night at the Weekly assembly, then carried the ladys [sic] home to sup at his house and after they went away…got drunk with their partners till six in the morning.”1 Tory refugees swelled East Florida’s population from 6,000 to over 17,000 persons by the end of the war, and the British continued to play a strong role in St. Augustine society when control returned to Spain in 1784, as Spain could not put a great deal of effort into maintaining its colony in Florida while it fought wars in Europe and the Caribbean.

The American government wanted control of Florida for a number of reasons: to protect New Orleans and Mississippi traffic in the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, to keep Great Britain from having a southern foothold on the continent where it could affect American shipping and to stop slaves from running to freedom in Spanish Florida. The status of blacks, free or slave, was different in Spanish areas than in America. In St. Augustine free blacks served in the militia and owned land. Slaves could purchase their freedom and that of family members, and the Church supported educating blacks and ran a free school. It was not a paradise, but to the slaves in the United States it was a far better life with greater opportunities than what they had, plus some runaways hid amongst the Indians in Florida giving rise to the Black Seminoles. The armed blacks in the St. Augustine militia worried southern Americans so much that they pressured the US federal government to do something about Florida.

Historian James G. Cusick says, “If you want a three-sentence summary of a very complicated story, it runs like this: In March 1812 an agent for the U.S. government used American forces to seize a border town in Florida, an action that severely embarrassed the administration of President James Madison. However, when war broke out with Great Britain a few months later, the Madison administration decided to leave American troops in Florida, and the state of Georgia used its militia to reinforce them. As a result, for the next two years, angry American citizens in Georgia and angry Spanish subjects in Florida slugged it out in a kind of no man’s land at the edge of a bigger conflict.”2
St. Augustine Light b.1824

The defenders of St. Augustine fought fiercely because they knew their freedom was at risk, but it was ultimately a losing cause. When America legally acquired Florida from Spain in 1819 the territorial government began rolling back the rights of free blacks and imposing harsher US standards of slavery. Many of the free blacks who could fled to Havana. Wealthy landowner Anna Kingsley went so far as to make her daughters marry white men who could uphold their property rights. 3 By the end of the 1820s St. Augustine was transitioning from a cosmopolitan British and European city of frivolity and fiestas to a staid American small town, its glory days of pirates, adventurers and invaders mostly behind it.

1 The Oldest City—St. Augustine Saga of Survival, Jean Parker Waterbury, Ed.
The Other War of 1812—The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida, James G. Cusick
 3 Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley—African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner, Daniel L. Schafer

Darlene Marshall is an award-winning author of Regency-era romance set in Florida and the Caribbean. Her latest novel, Sea Change, is available in print and digital editions. For more information:

Sea Change blurb: “Before the day is done, Charley Alcott must survive an attack by privateers, perform surgery at sea, and ensure that Captain Davy Fletcher never discovers his prisoner is actually Charlotte Alcott. Her adventure is just beginning.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Before the Victorian Christmas

The Christmas we celebrate is a Victorian invention, a result of the nostalgia of such 19th century writers as Walter Scott, Leigh Hunt and Washington Irving, for a tradition that may have never existed.

In 1807, Robert Southey wrote:
All persons say how differently this season was observed in their fathers' days, and speak of old ceremonies and old festivities as things which are obsolete.

'Merrie Old England' was a creation of Walter Scott who said in Marmion, his epic poem of 1808:
England was merry England, when Old Christmas brought his sports again.

But the Examiner newspaper reported in 1817:
Merry Old England died in the country a great while ago; and the sports, the pastimes, the holidays, the Christmas greens and gambols...

The truth is that before the Victorians 'invented' Christmas trees, and Christmas dinners, and revived the Yule log, and Wassailing, many of the traditions of Christmas were regional, fostered by small closed societies created by difficulties of transportation and communication.

Some of the old traditions are the most interesting--many of them lost to use, but some revived for the 21st century. A few are familiar all over Britain, most are decidedly regional.

Trial of Old Father Christmas
Father Christmas - was a character evolved from the Saxon King Frost (also sometimes called Father Time or Father Winter), the Viking god Odin and his winter character Jul, and of course the Norman St. Nicholas. There are indications that he was occasionally know as Old Father Christmas, Sir Christmas and Lord Christmas. From the 15th century a carol offers: "Welcome, my lord, Sire Chistemas! Welcome to us all, both more and less!"Suffice it to say that every era had its traditional, benevolent, gift-giving figure.

Thomasing or 'gooding' - St. Thomas's Day, December 21, was a day for the poor to collect money (doles) for Christmas use.

Barring Out - usually occurred on St. Nicholas's Day, December 6 when the students of a school would lock out the staff, and keep them out until certain demands were met.

Boar's Head - was an ancient ceremony which did not actually occur at Christmas but somewhat earlier in the month--around December 16. The boar's head was a luxury dish, and the ceremony is mentioned in writings of 1603 and, it is said, has been performed at Queen's College Oxford since the 14th century.

Ashen Faggot - a Christmas Eve custom similar to the Yule log but limited to the west counties. A bundle of ash branches is burned to the accompaniment of cider drinking and singing while the bands holding the bundle burst.
A stern St. Nicholas 1810
Mumming - a house visitation practice which takes, in different areas, many different forms. The Hooden Horse in Kent, the Old Horse in Derbyshire, geese-dancing in Cornwall (derived from the word 'guise' meaning disguised), are only a few. In all cases the house visitors either performed set plays, or "engaged in licensed misbehaviour".

Sante-Claus 1821
predating Clement C. Moore's poem
Then there was Cattle Kneeling, Holy Thorn, Vessel Cups, and events such as 'Ringing the Devil's Knell' on Christmas Eve. All these practices and more are discussed in the excellent book "The English Year" by Steve Roud from Penguin Ltd.

Who knows which of the traditions each Regency family may have observed, but Christmas was then, as it is now, a time for family and charity, a time of love and a hope for peace. I hope that you enjoy all the delights and blessings of Christmas-tide, however you celebrate.

I will be taking a break from my blog next week, and on December 30, guest blogger Darlene Marshall will be here discussing Regency-era Florida.

Join me January 6, 2012 for a New Year of Regency research!

'Til then, all the best,


Friday, December 9, 2011

The Bequests of Queen Charlotte,
Consort of George III

Portrait by Stroehling 1807
On November 17, 1818, her Most Excellent Majesty Queen Charlotte, wife and consort of King George III for fifty-seven years, died aged seventy-four. She was buried at the Royal Chapel of St. George, Windsor, on the 2nd of December.

The previous day her Will was proved in Doctors' Commons. Lord Arden and General Taylor were the executors and also Trustees for property left to Princesses Elizabeth and Mary. General Taylor had written the will for the Queen on November 16; the witnesses were Sir Francis Millman and Sir Henry Halford--both attending physicians.

The Queen's will directs that her debts and legacies be paid from her personal property, said to be under £140,000.
Her Majesty states her property to consist of a real estate in New Windsor, called the Lower Lodge, and of personals of various description; those of the greatest value being her jewels,...
The unmarried Princess Augusta Sophia was given "the house and ground at Frogmore, and the Shawe establishment", and all its household appurtenances. The Princess Sophia, her youngest daughter, was given the property in New Windsor.

Her books, plate, house linen, china, pictures, drawings, prints, all articles of ornamental furniture, and all other valuables and personals, she directs to be divided in equal shares, according to a valuation to be made, amongst her four younger daughters.
In the end all this material, even her clothes and her snuff, was sold by Chrisitie's auction house, from May to August 1819. It is to be hoped that her daughters did indeed receive the money from the sale, at least.

Certain personal property that Charlotte had brought with her to England from Mecklenburg-Strelitz was directed to be sent back to the senior branch of that House. She also directed that the jewels which the King presented to her should be given to the House of Hanover "as an heir-loom" should George not recover or long survive her.

Her jewels comprised three categories:
1. Those which the King purchased for £50,000 and presented to her

2. Those presented to her by the Nawab [nabob] of Arcot.

3. Those purchased by herself or being presents made on birthdays or other occasions.
Queen Charlotte directed that the Arcot diamonds were to be sold and the proceeds divided amongst the four youngest daughters. The rest of the jewels were to be apportioned equally to the four princesses.
Two of the Arcot diamonds

There was, however, a problem in implementing the will with regard to the jewels--the Prince Regent appropriated them all.

The Arcot diamonds ended up in a crown made especially for him as George IV. They were not recovered and sold, along with the other jewelry, until 1837. It was only then that the terms of Queen Charlotte's will were fully executed, in the year of the accession of her granddaughter Victoria.  

The King of Hanover had eventually to sue for the jewels that Queen Charlotte had intended for his House. They were not handed over until the reign of Queen Victoria. Some of Charlotte's possessions may be viewed at the Royal Collection

Charlotte's opal ring
My main source of information for this post comes from the Annual Register of 1818--Chronicle section, for December. In that article, at least, no mention is made of any bequests to her seven surviving sons. Only the six daughters of Charlotte and George are recipients of legacies. Interesting....

'Til next time,


Source: The Annual Register for 1818 is available free for download from Google Books.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Breach of Promise of Marriage

You can no longer pursue an action in the courts for 'Breach of Promise of Marriage' in Great Britain or in North America. Changing times and social mores have precluded the necessity for such legal action.

But in Regency times, such actions were brought against gentlemen who had slipped a little in honour--a word that held men to a very high standard.

I have come across two cases of Breach of Promise of Marriage reported in contemporary Regency journals. The first--Fitzgerald v. Hawkesworth--appeared in the Derby Mercury (a publication that commenced in 1732 and continued for more than 200 years) on the 31st of May, 1804:

The second court case--Hardenn v. Causton--comes from 1818 and was reported in the Annual Register of that year. The proceedings are rather lengthy so I have selected a few interesting portions to reproduce:

The plaintiff, who was represented to be a young lady of great personal attractions, singular amiability of disposition and possessing an accomplished and well-cultivated mind, is the daughter of a respectable tradesman residing at Hatfield, in this county; and the defendant is a gentleman of independent fortune, lately retired from the business of a printer, which he carried on in Finch-lane, Cornhill.

From 1809 to 1817, these two carried on a 'voluminous correspondence'. In one letter the defendant said "I will marry you as soon as circumstances will permit".

This intimacy continued down till May 1817, when the defendant wrote to the plaintiff, announcing that the best mode of terminating the anxious suspense which she had always expressed, was to break off the connexion, and think no more of matrimony;...declaring his own intention of breaking off the match.

The defendant was asked to 'consider again of his rash determination', but he did not respond to this suggestion and so action was taken by the lady. The court case, complete with jury, followed.

The Jury retired for about an hour, and on their return, found a verdict for the plaintiff. Damages, Four Thousand Pounds.

A substantial sum in penalty--but the defendant had inherited 10,000 pounds during the course of the legal case, and so was well able to pay for his freedom from the Promise of Marriage.

A woman's reputation was her pride, her joy, and her protection, in those fiercely patriarchal days. A broken engagement could damage that reputation beyond repair. It was necessary therefore that the legal system protect her from the consequences of a gentleman's dishonour, and obviously the system worked.

It's a romantic notion--Breach of Promise of Marriage--and many novelists have put it to good use. But it came down to brass--money--and saved many a woman from a penniless and harrowing future.

'Til next time,