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.

1835 was the right year 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, Strabane, County Tyrone.

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 who was Governor of Bombay and an old friend of Samuel’s late 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.” 
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* Episode 1 of this story - The Beginning of the BIG Story
* Episode 6 - Finding Charlotte Taylor


References:

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

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