Thursday 9 March 2023

Did James Annesley have a son in Pennsylvania?

Haywood’s Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman, Return’d from a Thirteen Years Slavery in America where he had been sent by the Wicked Contrivances of his Cruel Uncle (1743) is based on the “extraordinary and improbable” (MYN, 1.29) adventures of James Annesley (1715–60).

Haywood wasn’t the only writer attracted to Annesley’s story—Tobias Smollett gives a lengthy description of the case in The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751); Walter Scott used the story as a plot device in Guy Mannering (1815) as did William Godwin in Cloudesley: A Tale (1830); it was used more transparently by Charles Reade in The Wandering Heir (1872) and, most famously, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (1886).

As Wikipedia explains:

In 2010 [six years after I established Haywood’s authorship of MYN] A. Roger Ekirch published Birthright: The True Story That Inspired Kidnapped, a biography of James Annesley. Ekirch wrote that, while historians had long dismissed many details of Annesley's story as fiction, he had found a trove of legal documents that show that the story as traditionally told was mostly true.

John Henley’s review (in the Guardian; here) provides some details from Ekirch’s groundbreaking study:

The principal source of information on Annesley was a fanciful if much-reprinted volume from 1743, Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman …. The events related in the book appear so far-fetched, however, that most of those who have read it, says Ekirch, ‘have tended to dismiss it as merely a sentimental fiction, written during an age when overblown stories of impossible adventures were a popular literary genre’. But … after seven years spent with trial transcripts, family documents, newspaper reports, House of Lords records and a treasure trove of nearly 400 legal depositions unearthed in Dublin and at the National Archives in Kew, it is now clear to Ekirch that those Memoirs are, essentially, true. ‘Annesley wasn’t the author, but he was the source of the information,’ he says. ‘You don't have to dig far to substantiate it’.”

It is a shame that Ekirch’s research did not lead him to my Bibliography, and that I was not able to benefit from any of his research before publishing my own account of Annesley and Haywood’s Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman, but others can connect our “dots,” so that a more complete account is now possible.

* * * * *

One aspect of the Annesley story that has always interested me is the question of Annesley’s children. Although he won an improbably legal victory over his Cruel Uncle, said Cruel Uncle spent fifteen years pursuing used every legal method possible to avoid restoring Annesley’s inheritance. Sadly, these delaying tactics paid off: he outlived his nephew by one year, and in the following year Annesley’s only son died.

Annesley’s son is usually only mentioned in passing, as above, to add pathos to his father’s failure to (re)gain his inheritance. A few details of Annesley’s two marriages and five children appeared in 1778, and were reprinted verbatim until Ekirch’s Birthright expanded on them in 2010.

In a note to account of the Annesley trial, Francis Hargrave (here) noted that James:

was twice married; first, to a Daughter of Mr. Chester, at Staines-Bridge in Middlesex by whom he had one Son and two Daughters. The Son, James Annesley, Esq. died November 1763, S. P. and the eldest Daughter is married to Charles Wheeler, Esq. Son of the late Captain Wheeler in the Guinea Trade: Secondly, to a Daughter of Sir Thomas J’Anson of Bounds near Tunbridge in Kent, Gentleman-Porter of the Tower, by whom he had a Daughter and a Son, who are both dead; the Son, aged about seven Years, died about the Beginning of 1764; and the Daughter, aged about Twelve, died in May 1765.”**

Regarding the second marriage, an “A. M. T.” of Dublin added here (The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 78 (November 1795): 906a):

Sir Thomas J’Anson … was gentleman-porter at the Tower, and resided near Tunbridge, in Kent. He died several years since without male issue (as I believe), but had two daughters; one, a most amiable young lady, married to Mr. James Annesley, who {unsuccessfully at least} contended in the year 1743, and afterwards, for the honours and estates of the late Earl of Anglesey. Whether the other young lady was married or not, I cannot say.

* * * * *

Ekirch adds a lot more details concerning these relationships, but does not mention (as far as I can tell) the—admittedly weak—claim of yet another child, a son born in America. The claim for James’s liaison and child appeared in 1890. Not only is the evidence weak, it is likely impossible to corroborate, but intriguing nevertheless.

In an essay about the library of an anonymous “Philadelphia Antiquarian,” E. Powell Buckley notes that

The library has a large collection of ‘secret memoirs,’ … [including] a complete set of the celebrated Annesley case, or the Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman, returned from Thirteen years Slavery in America, 1742, the first volume of which is frequently met with, and is supposed to end the story; but, including the trial account, comprises three volumes. Connected with these are divers pamphlets on the subject.

There was a few years ago, in possession of a physician in Lancaster county, [Pennsylvania] a portion of a woman’s skull, the daughter of an early settler, who, but for the untimely death of her lover, would have been the wife of this same “young nobleman.” She was the mother of his child, and on his departure from Philadelphia to establish his claim as Lord Altham, he promised an early return to marry her. He died suddenly in London, and the sad event unbalanced the girl’s mind, and three years later she also died, a hopeless maniac. The boy grew up and was killed in a frontier Indian battle.

It is not certain that “the daughter of an early settler” is Maria, “a very amiable creature of about fourteen or fifteen” (MYN, 1.90; here), daughter of his second master, who “possest a Passion for him more violent that is ordinarily found in Persons of tender Age” (MYN, 1.91), but this seems very likely.

Maria’s violent passion is briefly described in an account of “The True History of James Annesley,” which appeared in an 1873 review-essay in Harper’s Weekly. (Here; the essay was prompted by the first US publication of Reade’s Wandering Heir, in 1873). The anonymous essayist writes that

James ran away from his master [Duncan Drummond, at New Castle on the Delaware River, who] … recovered him, and kept him three years longer, and then sold him to another planter, who was rather more humane. Here he became unintentionally the object of affection of two women—his master’s daughter, Maria, and a young Indian girl. They persecuted him with addresses which were distasteful to him, and the Indian, in a rage at his obduracy, drowned herself in an adjacent river. The parents of Maria discovered the infatuation of their daughter by the stratagem related in the novel [eavesdropping], and James was transferred to a planter in Sussex County, who dying, he was again sold to a neighbor of | his late master.

It was while in the service of the latter that, being convalescent from a wound received from the vengeful brothers of his Indian admirer, he was lying under a hedge, and overheard his master’s wife (not daughter) arranging with a slave (who appears to have been a white, not a mulatto) to rob her husband and fly from the country. He had the courage to remonstrate with her, and thus incurred her hatred, though for the time she dissembled, and pretended to transfer her regard to him. But after she had made an attempt to kill him with poison he resolved to escape, and accordingly did so in the most expeditious manner at hand. He found a ship on the coast, which took him to the island of Jamaica, and there he enlisted on board of Admiral Vernon’s vessel as a common sailor.

Ekirch largely passes over the period that James spent with his second master; in Ch. 4 he mentions “the evidence [of his mistreatment by his first master] was strong enough to prompt his sale to a new master [not named], though conditions remained harsh during the succeeding three years. Then with just twelve months remaining, Annesley, now twenty-one, boarded a ship … only to be apprehended and punished with four additional years of servitude” (Ekirch, p. 90; here)

Ekirch dismissed the “Several dramatic incidents described” in MYN as “at best implausible” (Ekirch, p. 90)—saying of the one (concerning Maria and an Iroquois girl named Turquois), that events “were likely less titillating” than MYN suggest; and that another (concerning the unfaithful wife, neighbor to his second master) was “almost certainly … inspired by” a sensational (but unrelated) murder that occurred at the time (Ekirch, p. 91).

Haywood claims that Maria “had made all the Advances Modesty would permit” (MYN, 1.96; here), but that Annesley “had not the least Spark of Inclination” for her (MYN, 1.97). However, as Ekirch says, James was Haywood’s “source of the information” (Ekirch, p. 70; here)—and he had very good reason to conceal this relationship (abandoning a pregnant teenager in the Colonies would have, at the very least, not have helped him build the support he needed to prosecute his case). One later writer suggested that Maria “show[ed] her affection in a manner which could not be mistaken” [Celebrated Claimants (London, 1874), 76–77; here]—an ambiguous statement, which could support either Haywood’s or Buckley’s account.

* * * * *

Buckley refers to James’ death as “sudden” and “untimely,” suggesting that he died young, soon after he reached London, but James died at the age of forty-five, which is certainly young), but it was still twenty years after regaining his freedom. If Maria died, “a hopeless maniac” only three years after James (1763)—then she had been holding out the hope of reuniting with him for a long time, longer than Buckley seems to be implying. However, these details are not so far from the known facts as to flatly contradict them.

It is possible that further research might either corroborate one or more facts in Buckley’s account, or locate a parallel that might have inspired the story—just as Ekirch was able to locate a parallel story of the “attempt to kill [James] with poison” (Ekirch, p. 91). Certainly, according to Ekirch, James’s widow, Margaret Annesley (née I’Anson) “spent her last years in a madhouse”—perhaps, as a “hopeless maniac.” However, the chances that a portion of Margaret’s skull ended up in the possession of “a physician in Lancaster county” seems very remote indeed, so it is unclear how all the elements in this story can be accounted for.

Whatever the truth may be, the fact that even this putative (eldest) son of James “was killed in a frontier Indian battle”—thus missing out on the inheritance his mother hoped for him, via James—would be, sadly, quite fitting.

PS: for my post on the various versions of the above portrait of James Annesley, see here.

No comments: