Monday, 14 April 2014

The End of the BIG Story

I will end this story where it began. Charlotte is in her drawing room in Mellmount, Strabane, County Tyrone. She learns of the tragic death of James Sproule, the man who everyone believes is her husband. The Will is read. I had imagined Charlotte being shocked to find that James Sproule had two ‘reputed’ children. Now I know that this was far from strange to Charlotte Taylor, and indeed she was a ‘reputed child’ herself.

Like many retired folk, James and Charlotte had hoped to live out their lives in peace and comfort in Ireland, but it was not to be.

From Jamaica to Ireland

The move from Jamaica was essential for the future of their large family. Although slavery was abolished in 1834, the negative attitudes to mixed race people were deeply embedded, and it would be a long time before they were treated as equals. In all likelihood, Charlotte’s children looked like any other white people, but they were recorded as 'mestees' on their legal documents and in Jamaica, they would not have the same rights or opportunities as their white neighbours.

In 1835, the time was now right for James and Charlotte to make their move to Ireland. Following emancipation, there were many white people who were selling up and moving back to their homelands. James would receive a large amount of compensation for his slaves from the government, and he had begun to sell off his assets. The family packed up, made the long sea journey to Ireland,  and settled in their leased mansion at Mellmount.

Charlotte in Mellmount

The transition for Charlotte must have been huge, though I am sure she appreciated at least one great benefit of living in County Tyrone. Charlotte had lived as 'Charlotte Taylor free quadroon' up to this point in her life. Now, at last, she could call herself Charlotte Sproule, wife of James Sproule of Mellmount.

Today we might recognise Charlotte’s appearance  as  that of a mixed race person, as did Lady Nugent when she met Charlotte in Golden Grove.  Anyone who had been to Jamaica at that time would certainly do so, and James was taking a huge risk in taking her to live in Ireland. However, the local people in Tyrone may well have believed that this was simply what people in Jamaica looked like, and it is quite possible that they did not question her appearance at all!

The Wedding of Margaret and Samuel Sproule

In January 1836 James and Charlotte celebrated the wedding of their eldest daughter, Margaret Madden Sproule. Margaret was marrying her first cousin, Samuel Sproule, the son of James’ late brother William. It was a good marriage for her, as Samuel had already qualified as a doctor, and he had great prospects in the East India Company.  He was just applying for the position of Surgeon in Bombay, but he was being sponsored by the powerful Sir James Rivett-Carnac, Governor of Bombay and old friend of Samuel’s uncle. His future looked certain.

The Death of James Sproule

It would appear that it was necessary for James Sproule to make one more journey to tidy up his affairs in Jamaica. James wrote his will in April 1840 as he was planning this last trip.  In a tragic twist of fate, James Sproule died on August 1st 1840 as his ship was pulling in to port! The ship, the New Grove, went down on the rocks at Morant Keys, just off Port Morant, and James Sproule was no more.1

In Ireland Without James

Charlotte was now alone in Ireland, and it must have felt very strange. Her eldest daughter was in India, and I believe that shortly after the death of James,  both of their sons, William Taylor and Robert Samuel,  sailed for America.  However, she had her four younger daughters there to comfort her.

One of these, Matilda Ann, married the local bank manager in Strabane, William Smyth of Bowling Green, in 1842. Charlotte soon had little Smyth grandchildren visiting her home in Mellmount. Her three youngest daughters, Ellen Madden, Jane Nugent and Sarah Charlotte, lived at home with her until her death.

On the 17th of April 1849, Charlotte died at Mellmount, she was 54 years old. For most of her life, she had been Charlotte Taylor, prohibited from the benefit of legal marriage.  But in death, she had acquired the status that she deserved:

“Mrs Sproule, relict of the late James Sproule, Esq., of Mellmount.” 

* Episode 1 of this story - The Beginning of the BIG Story
* Episode 6 - Finding Charlotte Taylor


1 Death Notices The Londonderry Sentinel 
2Samuel Sproule, brother of James of Mellmount, see Samuel Sproule, President of the Medical Board of Bombay

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

Friday, 4 April 2014

Simon Taylor and the Golden Grove Child

Charlotte Taylor was born on the Golden Grove plantation, where the rich and powerful Simon Taylor had one of his many homes. The Honourable Simon Taylor (1739-1813) had no legitimate children in Jamaica, but he actually had a policy of producing as many mixed race children as possible!

Golden Grove Estate, lithograph by Adolphus Duperly,  c.1830

Simon Taylor and Golden Grove

Taylor owned at least six big sugar cane plantations in Jamaica, but he made most of his vast wealth from acting as an agent for absentee landlords.  It was one of these clients, Chaloner Arcedeckne (1763-1809), who actually owned the Golden Grove plantation where Charlotte Taylor was born. Arcedecne was an MP in England who had inherited Golden Grove from his father but he had no interest at all in going to Jamaica. Simon Taylor was his agent, he ran the Golden Grove estate and Taylor also maintained a home there.

Over the years, Simon Taylor wrote many letters to Arcedecne and to other clients,  and these letters are the reason that Taylor is so famous to this day. They are studied by historians, sociologists and political scientists:

"Simon Taylor's letters from Jamaica form the richest correspondence I know of bearing on politics and society, black and white, in the British Atlantic world of the late eighteenth century. His observations on slave life in Jamaica, especially when one considers the limits of his perspective, are often keen.” (Prof. Alexander Byrd) 

Simon Taylor's Philosophies

Ardently pro-slavery, Simon Taylor led a powerful group of planters in the Jamaican Assembly to prevent any moves towards emancipation. He also advocated a rather novel method of adjusting the racial imbalance in Jamaica.

There were more than 250,000 people of African origin to a mere 40,000 whites, and all efforts to encourage more white people to come to Jamaica had failed. Taylor had a solution to this which he termed, 'Whitewashing the Blackamoors’! The idea was that if a man had a child with a negro woman, and then this child in turn had a child by a white man, in 4 generations the last child born would then be legally white.

"When I returned from England in the year 1760 there were only three quadroon women in the Town of Kingston. There are now three hundred, and more of the decent class of them never will have any commerce with their own colour, but only with White People. Their progeny is growing whiter and whiter every remove - from thence a White Generation will come." (Simon Taylor, 1804)

Children of Simon Taylor

Simon Taylor practiced what he preached! Lady Maria Nugent, wife of the Governor of Jamaica, visited him on the Golden Grove estate, and she said Taylor was ‘… an old bachelor, and detests the society of women’. But Lady Maria also learnt from his housekeeper that Mr Taylor had ‘numerous family, some on almost every estate’. 3

Taylor did not acknowledge any of these children publicly, his name did not appear on a baptism record nor were there children named in his letters. His Will, on the other hand, does make reference to two mixed race children, who are both assumed to be his daughters. The first was Sarah Taylor, a free quadroon who was the daughter of his long-term housekeeper, Sarah Blacktree Hunter. Sarah Blacktree Hunter had lived with Taylor on one of his estates and he had made her a free person. He left a great deal of money for her, for her daughter and for her granddaughter Sarah Taylor Cathcart.

Slave Child of Golden Grove

The other child named in his Will is not treated quite so well. She appears in a codicil dated 1811, and she is described as a quadroon slave, the property of the Golden Grove estate. In the Will, Taylor states that he is not going to free this slave as he feels he has a better way of making provision for her. He asks his executors to take £700 and to buy ‘a negro or other slave’  to be placed on Golden Grove in her stead. She is to remain a slave, but now she will have a slave to do her work. The interest on the remainder of the £700 is to be used for her clothes and maintenance during her natural life.  

Simon Taylor names this quadroon slave of Golden Grove, and, of course, this is our Charlotte Taylor.

* Episode 1 of this story - The Beginning of the BIG Story
* Episode 5 - Finding Charlotte Taylor
* NEXT Episode - Light on the Last Mysteries


1 Professor Alexander Byrd in Plantation Life in the Carribean Part 1: Jamaica c.1765-1848: The Taylor and Vanneck-Arcedekne Papers from Cambridge University Library and the Institue of Commonwealth Studies, University of London
2  Simon Taylor in a letter to George Hibbert, 14 January 1804, MS Simon Taylor Papers, London, Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS), Letter book F, no. 42
3 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
4 National Archives of England, Simon Taylor’s Will, PROB 10/7400/7, fols 2-4, folio 59.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Finding Charlotte Taylor

I began the hunt for Charlotte Taylor in the Slave Registers of Jamaica on Ancestry. There were two and a half pages of Charlotte Taylors! They were in all different parishes, all over the island. It was a very popular name for a slave and I wondered if the Honourable Simon Taylor had anything to do with this!1

The Slave Registers

Stokes Hall Today
Finding my Charlotte Taylor, the lady of James Sproule of Mellmount, looked at first as if it was going to be a daunting task. She did not appear on the Slave Registers of Stokes Hall, where James Sproule had worked, nor was she on his home plantation of Rosemount. As I was double checking these, I realised I was on the wrong track altogether.  

The Slave Registers of Jamaica in Ancestry begin with the year 1817. Charlotte was not a slave at this time. She had been a ‘free quadroon’ on the baptism record of her second child, William Taylor Sproule, in 1816. So none of these Charlotte Taylors were my Charlotte Taylor! Equally, it was also possible that Charlotte’s mother had been a free mulatto, in which case Charlotte would have been free when she was born – she may never have been a slave at any time.

In Familysearch

That left me with the Jamaican Parish Records on Familysearch. Again, there was a long list of Charlotte Taylors here, and I had so little to go on. I knew that Charlotte was a quadroon and that she had her first child in 1814. So I guessed that her age at that time would be anything from 14 to about 24. On a quick scan down the ‘Charlotte Taylors’ in Familysearch, there were surprisingly only two that were in the right age range.2 

One of these had been born in 1794, but her mother was a negro woman. My Charlotte’s mother would have been mulatto.  However, the other Charlotte Taylor fit perfectly!  She was one of 48 slaves baptised on the 17th March 1798. Charlotte was in a smaller group of four slaves that had been marked with the term ‘Quadroon’.

Charlotte Taylor Born 1795

This had to be her. I couldn’t believe that I had found her so easily!  Charlotte Taylor, the lady of James Sproule of Mellmount, had definitely been born as a slave in Jamaica. Her birth year was given as 1795, so Charlotte Taylor had been 19 at the birth of her first child, Margaret Madden Sproule. But it was when I saw where she was born that I got those prickly tingles you get when you know that a story is coming together.

Charlotte Taylor was born on Golden Grove, and Golden Grove was one of the homes of the Honourable Simon Taylor. 

But much more than this, Simon Taylor himself mentions this Charlotte Taylor, quadroon child of Golden Grove, in a document dated 1813. And I might even have a description of her!

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


1 Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 Class: T71; Piece: 145
2 Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880, Familysearch

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. Her 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

Monday, 24 March 2014

As One Door Closes… Another one Explodes!

It was time to tidy up my findings, and to close the book on James Sproule of Mellmount and Jamaica. I was preparing to enter the details in my family tree - James Sproule, his wife Charlotte, their seven children and his two reputed children. In his Will written in 1840, James had provided the names of his children:

Margaret Madden Sproule
William Taylor Sproule
Matilda Ann Sproule
Ellen Madden Sproule
Robert Samuel Sproule
Jane Nugent Sproule
Sarah Charlotte Sproule

The Children’s Names

There are some unusual names there, especially for a Sproule family. Robert, Samuel, Sarah and Charlotte are all good Sproule names.  I could also understand the ‘William Taylor’. James Sproule had married Charlotte Taylor, daughter of the Honourable Simon Taylor. Their son, William Taylor Sproule, had obviously been given his grandfather’s name.

However, the eldest child’s name, Margaret Madden, was very unusual. A second child had been given the name Madden too, Ellen Madden Sproule. I knew that there were no Maddens in the family of James Sproule in Ireland. In fact, both of his parents had been Sproules.

The Parents of James Sproule

James’ father was Andrew Sproule, son of William Sproule of Tullymoan, Urney, County Tyrone.  James’ mother was Martha Sproule (c.1750-1820) and she came from a farm near the town of Castlederg, also in County Tyrone. Martha was the daughter of Samuel Sproule and the granddaughter of Thomas Sproule of Golan (1680-1761). There were no Maddens anywhere in this family. 

Margaret Madden Sproule’s Baptism

I needed some dates to enter Margaret Madden Sproule into the family tree. I thought her baptism record might be in the Jamaican Parish Records on Familysearch. She popped up right away, and Familysearch also had the original page from the Parish Record:

25th February 1814 Baptised at Pleasant Hill Plantation six children of colour
Margaret Madden Sproule reputed daughter of James Sproule

What? Wait, no, that can’t be right! Margaret Madden Sproule, ‘reputed daughter’? She is not a reputed daughter, she is the legitimate daughter.

Margaret Madden Sproule

She is definitely the legitimate daughter! I know her history. Margaret Madden Sproule went to Ireland when she was 21 years old and she married her first cousin, Doctor Samuel Sproule of the East India Company. Their children became the ‘Knox Sproules’, big bankers in Indianapolis. She can’t be a reputed daughter!

But there it was, and there could only be one Margaret Madden Sproule:

Making Sense of Margaret Madden Sproule

James Sproule must have had another reputed child, and this time, he had brought the child into his family. His wife Charlotte had reared this reputed child as her own!

And then it dawned, the strange name Margaret Madden Sproule! Is it possible that a woman called Margaret Madden was the real mother of this child? Had James Sproule presented his wife Charlotte with a ‘reputed’ child, complete with the name of her birth mother? Could James really have done that?  Could anyone have done that? There were so many questions now!

The Theories

I had to find the origin of this name. I searched for ‘Margaret Madden’ in the records of St Thomas in the East, Jamaica. Very near to Stokes Hall, I found a ‘Margaret Madden, plantation owner’! Perhaps James had an affair with this Margaret Madden, plantation owner. In that case, his daughter would be white. That would explain how the adult Margaret Madden Sproule had gone on to fit so comfortably into life in Ireland, and later into high society in the Indian Raj.

But it would not explain why his wife Charlotte would accept this child into her family.

Was the daughter white? I went back to the original entry of the child’s baptism in the Jamaican Parish Records. In my shock at seeing the words ‘reputed child’, I had missed the phrase, ‘children of colour’. James’ daughter was not white. If this child had been given her mother’s name, mother had to be a negro or mulatto ‘Margaret Madden’.  There were plenty of those too! Like all plantation owners, Margaret Madden had given her own name to many of her female slaves. James Sproule could certainly have had a child by a slave named Margaret Madden.

But would wife Charlotte have accepted a slave child as her own? Surely not!

The Next Child

I was going round in circles and getting nowhere. Nothing made any sense.  I decided to leave it for a while and to research the next child, William Taylor Sproule. I was on safer ground here as he had to be the child of Charlotte Taylor Sproule.  I found William Taylor’s baptism record quite quickly, and with it, came the bombshell:

22nd January 1816 William Taylor Sproule son of Charlotte Taylor free quadroon by James Sproule 

Charlotte Taylor was a quadroon. She was the ‘child of colour’. It was she  who was the mother of Margaret Madden Sproule.  

Charlotte Taylor was a quadroon. Charlotte Taylor was not who she was supposed to be.

* Episode 1 of this story - The Beginning of the BIG Story
* Episode 2  - In Jamaica - James and Other Sproules
* Episode 3  - The Sproule Children of Stokes Hall Jamaica
* NEXT Episode - Charlotte Taylor - Quadroon


* The Will of James Sproule of Mellmount and Jamaica
1 Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880, Familysearch

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Sproule Children of Stokes Hall Jamaica

Their names appeared in a register created in 1817. Two Sproule children, acknowledged by James Sproule as his 'reputed' children in his will of 1840, and they were, indeed, slaves. Their names were listed in the slave register of the Stokes Hall plantation in St Thomas in the East, Jamaica. Jane was the first entry that I came across:

Jane alias Jane Sproull, Mulato, aged 10, Creole 1

This Sproule child had a negro mother and a white father, hence she was ‘mulatto’. She was also ‘creole’, indicating that she was born in Jamaica. Of course, the entry did not say that James was the father of this girl, but the profile of this Jane Sproull fitted perfectly. This was definitely my cousin Jane.

And there was further proof, for they were here together. Eleanor Sproule, the other ‘reputed’ child of James, appeared in the same list of slaves:

Eleanor alias Eleanor Sproull, Mulato, aged 4, Creole.

I wondered if there were any more 'reputed' children. I hunted for other children of James Sproule anywhere on the island of Jamaica, and found only one possibility. This child was in the same Stokes Hall plantation list of 1817, a little boy this time:

Robert alias Robert Sproull,  Mulatto, aged 7,  Creole

Robert appeared again in the next registry of slaves carried out in 1820, and it was recorded here that Robert Sproull had died.

Stokes Hall Plantation

Sugar Plantation in Jamaica
The Stokes Hall plantation was next to the smaller Rosemount Plantation owned by James Sproule. Stokes Hall was recorded as belonging to 'Alexander Donaldson deceased'.  I was never able to find any information on Alexander Donaldson, as he seemed to have always been deceased! This was quite common in the plantations of Jamaica. Some owners died, others left to return to their homes, usually in England or Scotland. The financial aspects of their plantation was then run by an agent in Jamaica, usually a lawyer or a law firm.  The agent appointed a manager to run the day-to-day activities of producing the sugar cane.

James Sproule in Stokes Hall

Stokes Hall was a plantation of about 800 acres and it had roughly 180 slaves. James Sproule's name appears on the records of  Stokes Hall in the 1820s and 1830s, first as a joint manager, and later as part owner.1  James obviously worked here at Stokes Hall, and judging by the ages of his reputed children, he had probably worked here since he came to Jamaica in 1801.  As his career progressed, he bought his own small plantation, Rosemount, and set up his home there. However, I found that Stokes Hall was not the only estate that James had managed.

In 1834 slavery was abolished in Jamaica, and the arrangement was that the plantation owners would be compensated. The compensation was allocated in 1838, and in these records we find that James Sproule had interests in nine different plantations! He has become a very affluent man at this stage. 

Compensations Awarded to James Sproull 1838

The Family of Jane Sproule

The slave registers give us some more information about the two Sproule children of Stokes Hall. Jane, the older reputed daughter, was born in 1807, just six years after James arrived in Jamaica. In the register of 1817, Jane’s mother is named beside her. She is Phillis, alias Misa Cargill. 

Each slave had an official ‘registered’ name, and also had a name that was used on an every-day basis - hence the 'alias'. Misa Cargill, the mother of Jane, was known as Phillis and she has her own separate entry in the same register.  Here we find that she is a 26 year old creole negro. Her mother, the grandmother of Jane Sproull, is named as Helen alias Lucy Cargill. 

Grandmother Helen is still living on the same plantation, she is 55 years old and she is African. When she was young, Jane Sproull's grandmother had a different name. She was living in a village in West Africa. She was captured, kept in a holding pen with hundreds of other frightened folk, and then transported in chains to Jamaica.

Now called Helen alias Lucy Cargill, she is registered as having died in the 1820 register of slaves of Stokes Hall, Jamaica.

The Family of Eleanor Sproule

Eleanor, the second daughter of James, had a different mother. She was called Deborah alias Elizabeth Bryan and she was a 26 year old creole negro.  Deborah's mother is named simply as Esther. Esther, grandmother of Eleanor Sproule, had four other children living on the Stokes Hall estate in 1817. All were negro, and all had different surnames.  


In 1826, we see that life has changed for the two girls. James Sproule himself signed the register of slaves for Stokes Hall that year. By this time, it was not a full list of slaves, James was only required to list changes to the slaves on the plantation - new births, deaths, bought etc. James registered changes concerning both of his daughters. They appear together:

Jane Sproull Mulatto 19 Creole   - by sold
Eleanor Sproull Mulatto 13 Creole  - by sold

There is another detail on the entry that is vitally important, ‘sold for manumission’. James Sproule had bought both of his girls, and James had paid to have them freed.

The Girls Freed

We know only a little of the girls following their manumission. James provided for Eleanor in his Will of 1840, and it looks as if she may be living with the family in Ireland at that time:

“To my reputed Daughter Eleanor Sproule three hundred pounds sterling or fifteen pounds annually as interest until paid as my executors and executrix may think proper and at their convenience to pay the legacy or should she wish to remain with the family to get her board gratis and five pounds annually for nothing in lieu of interest and should my estate turn out well she is to get something more as my executors may decide.” 

James also tells us that his other 'reputed' daughter, Jane, has a son, James Sproull Wilson and is living in Bath, Jamaica. Little James Sproull Wilson was born on 25th April 1830 and his father was James Wilson of Bath.4  In his Will, James left his Rosemount estate to Jane and her son;

“To my reputed Daughter Jane Sproule of Bath Jamaica I bequeath the remaining part of my freehold of land in Jamaica named Rose Mount now partly occupied by my late negroes for her sole use & her son James Sproule Wilson but in case both dying without lawful issue then it is to fall into my wife and children and to be sold on their account that they get the proceeds thereof.”

I don’t know how the little family of Jane Sproull managed after James' death.  I found no record of Jane after this, and there were too many people named James Wilson to accurately pinpoint the son.

James Sproule in a New Light

At this point, I was feeling more positive about my great, great granduncle James Sproule. He had been a slave owner and he had fathered children with women who had no choice, they were held in slavery. But James had gone to great lengths to look after his two girls. Not many men at that time, and in that culture, would have done the same. Furthermore, from my research, James had no other ‘reputed’ children after he met his future wife Charlotte Taylor, daughter of the Honourable Simon Taylor. Maybe James Sproule was not such a bad person after all!

That pleasant thought lasted for a full 24 hours -  and then I found the bombshell!

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


1 Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 
2 Legacies of British Slave-ownership University College London 
Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880,