MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Sunday 20 February 2011

The man who changed the course of English history.

The man who changed the course of English history.
by Steve Garrett,
Salisbury Cathedral
Last year, we visited the mighty medieval masterpiece that is Salisbury Cathedral. From the outside the building’s setting amongst the surrounding water meadows has remained virtually unchanged since John Constable painted it almost 200 years ago. And once inside, the sense of scale and awe of the structure really hits you, especially the massive scissor columns - hastily built to support the 7,500 ton stone steeple, added some 100 years after the cathedral proper was finished.
 I have to say, that is one hell of an extension....

All in all, it’s a fantastic building – and strolling amongst its towering stonework, you really do get a feel of the single-minded dedication of medieval man’s homage to God Almighty.

Thursday 10 February 2011

An Obnoxious Weed - The Colonial Tobacco Trade in the 1700’s

Early Trade

Virginia’s development is mostly down to the industry of growing and exporting tobacco. The early colonists saw the Native Americans growing tobacco and soon adopted it as their "cash-crop" (growing a commodity for sale, not for personal use). Since 1613  tobacco provided more income than any other farm crop until the 21st Century.

Sir Walter Raleigh is given the honour of introducing tobacco to England, but the Spanish Conquistadors had first seen the Aztecs using it a century before. Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, is credited with introducing tobacco to France and Nicot was honoured by the botanical name for the species - Nicotiana tabacum.

Smoking – clay pipe, not the familiar modern cigarette - was therefore already popular in Europe before Virginia was colonised. James I, by 1604, was so repulsed by the habit that he issued A Counterblast to Tobacco, three years before Jamestown was settled.
An Englishman, John Rolfe, sent to the Colony in 1612 by the Virginia Company, found that tobacco would grow well in Virginia and sell profitably in England. Many of the original  Jamestown colonists had died of starvation as their farming efforts had been relatively unsuccessful. Throughout Virginia and the greater Chesapeake, the potential cash value of tobacco soon became apparent.

 In 1613, rather than the harsh strain of tobacco that was native to Virginia, Rolfe grew a crop of Sweet-scented tobacco from seeds imported from the Caribbean. England paid a high price for this sweeter tobacco, and the craze for planting  it followed. Settlers began to plant it in every available land space. Before mid  century the Chesapeake colonies were able to rely on tobacco as a main means of currency.

Jamestown settlers cared more about the price paid for tobacco than for King James's personal opinion against smoking. The tobacco in John Rolfe's original shipment of four hogsheads was sold in England at 3 shillings per pound. Tobacco therefore provided the colonial governments of Virginia and Maryland with one of their principal revenue sources.
A duty of two shillings levied on each hogshead of tobacco exported yielded Virginia £3,000 in 1680, and £6,000 per annum from 1758-1762. In Maryland the proceeds remained steady at £2,500 per annum from 1700. Exports increased from £2,300 in 1616 to almost £50,000 in 1618.

A man's wealth was estimated by his annual amount of accrued pounds of tobacco. Tobacco currency was also used to pay fines and taxes. For example, to marry, a man had to pay the rector of his parish so many pounds of tobacco. Owners permitting Negroes to keep horses were fined 500 pounds tobacco.

Exporting Tobacco

Tobacco was exported direct to England, France, Holland, the Caribbean Islands and South America, with Virginia providing more revenue to England than any other colony because of a 2 shilling/hogshead export tax on tobacco. To ensure a higher percentage of profit remained in England, King Charles II issued the Navigation Acts in 1651. These prohibited export of tobacco except to English ports, but smuggling was rife; sea captains continued to trade in the Chesapeake and were skilled at evading the authorities and export fees. The desire to control the colonial economy to benefit the English merchants eventually resulted in the American Revolution in 1775

The initial Jamestown growers, including John Rolfe, piled tobacco leaves and allowed them to "sweat" as they dried before being shipped to England. Virginian farmers soon discovered the advantage of hanging leaves to dry, however, before pressing them into barrels known as hogsheads. Plantation workers piled dried tobacco leaves into the hogshead, pressed them down with weights or a screw and lever, and repeated the process until the hogshead was tightly packed. The hogsheads would then be sealed tightly so the tobacco inside would not rot or be spoiled by seawater.

A hogshead
 The first hogsheads in the mid-1600's weighed 500 pounds, but the size gradually increased along with the amount of tobacco prized (squeezed) into each. About 1,000 pounds of tobacco could be packed into a hogshead if you knew what you were doing. By the 1800’s a typical hogshead weighed nearly 1300 pounds.

As the Colony populations increased, so did the production of tobacco. With the rise of imports of tobacco into England increasing from 60,000 pounds of tobacco  in 1622 to 500,000 pounds in 1628, and to 1,500,000 pounds in 1639. By the end of the 17th century, England was importing more than 20,000,000 pounds per year.

Problems in price stability and quality existed, however. In 1660, when the English markets became glutted with tobacco, prices fell so low that colonists barely survived. In an attempt to make up by quantity what was being lost in low prices planters began mixing other organic material, leaves and floor sweepings in with the tobacco. The exporting of this trash tobacco solved the immediate cash problem, but accentuated overproduction and resulted in a deterioration of quality.

"pressed" tobacco
Control over tobacco growing, processing, and shipment therefore became a major subject of debate at official Governmental meetings. Before inspection was eventually implemented, tobacco could be shipped from any wharf and the quality of tobacco unregulated. Poor-quality Trash tobacco decreased prices for everyone, since buyers were often unable to inspect the hogsheads before delivery.

As the reputation of colonial tobacco declined, European demand for it reduced and  Colonial Government stepped in to resolve the situation. Three solutions were put forward

·         reduce the amount of tobacco produced;
·         regularized the trade by fixing the size of the tobacco hogshead and prohibiting shipments of bulk tobacco;
·         improve quality by preventing the exportation of trash tobacco.

These soon fell through because there was no practical way to enforce the law

If the planter delivered his tobacco loose or in bundles he received a receipt -  a transfer note, which entitled the holder to a certain number of pounds of tobacco drawn at random from the total stock of transfer tobacco, derived from several sources. Often, after filling his hogsheads,  a planter had an insufficient quantity left to fill another. The excess was delivered to the warehouse, where the planter would receive a transfer note to cover it.

Clergy, innkeepers, artisans, and others whose main occupation was not tobacco planting  tended small patches of land in their spare time in order to meet various country and parish levies, and to make purchases in local stores. These people carried their small quantities to the warehouse and received transfer notes that could either be sold or tendered as payment of debts, fees, and taxes. Until the union between Scotland and England, creating Great Britain in 1707 Virginia planters had little control over the export and sale of their tobacco crop. With the opening  of warehouses and settlement of Scottish and Dutch merchant services, however, small planters could sell their crop in Virginia and purchase farm tools, clothing, and other items from the same merchant thus eliminating the risk of shipment and sale overseas.

Large planters continued to ship their hogsheads to England and trust their crop to agents in London, Bideford, Bristol, and other cities. Before profits were known, these agents were often instructed to purchase household goods and luxury items for the planters against the sale of the crop. Many of the leading Virginia planters went deeply into debt in the 1760's after miscalculating the sales price, or for ordering too many imported goods before ensuring the annual tobacco crop produced the assumed projected number of hogsheads.

Goods required, included guns, powder and hot and flints. linens of all sorts, but chiefly ordinary blues, osnabrugs, (a coarse type of plain textile fabric, named for the city of Osnabrück from which it may have been first imported.) Scotch and Irish linen, and fine mens and women’s clothes ready made up (modern “off the peg”)  broadcloth, kerseys (a coarse woollen cloth derived from the village of Kersey, in Suffolk, England) and druggets, (a heavy felted fabric of wool or wool and cotton, used as a floor covering) Haberdashers’ wares - hats which cost about five or six shillings apiece. wigs. iron work - nails, spades, axes, broad and narrow hoes, frows (a cleaving tool for splitting cask staves and shingles from the block) wedges, and saws and other tools for carpenters, joiners, coopers, shoemakers, etc. cutlery, earthen-ware, cooking pots, fine china, pewter, window-glass, grind-stones, mill-stones, paper, ink-powder, saddles, bridles – horses, cattle, sheep – all livestock, especially those of breeding quality – furniture, ornaments, books, ….. the list is endless.

In the 1730's, Governor Gooch's efforts to force tobacco to be inspected before shipment were finally agreed. The Inspection Acts revolutionized tobacco regulation and became a permanent feature of trade until the War for Independence.. Official public inspection warehouses were established at specific locations along the Chesapeake Tidewater, planters by law had to transport every hogshead of tobacco to a warehouse for inspection. Inspectors were empowered to break open each hogshead, remove and burn any trash, and issue tobacco notes to the owner specifying the weight and kind of tobacco. It became harder for growers to ship Trash tobacco - and easier for colonial officials to collect the appropriate taxes.

Intellectually, the "tobacco mentality" affected the wealthy plantation owners in the Tidewater area. They competed over the quality of their crop, while plunging deeper into debt to the English merchants in order to display their wealth and maintain a high status among Colonial society.

George Washington was, initially, a successful tobacco planter. He inherited slaves and agricultural lands on the Middle Peninsula and the Peninsula when he married, Martha Dandridge Custis, the richest widow in the state.In 1759 his slaves on the Claibornes plantation produced 23,427 pounds of tobacco and 281 barrels of corn. Washington quit growing tobacco on his Potomac River plantations, however, partly because transportation costs were too great and because his agents were unskilled and unfair in their dealings. Despite his instructions to time the sale of his crop to reflect the seasonal high points in the market, Washington received low prices so often that he decided to grow wheat, oats and other small grains on his Mount Vernon plantations instead.

Labour, Growing and Harvesting,

The plantation economy in Virginia was based on cheap land and even cheaper labour. Tobacco is a labour-intensive crop to grow, requiring over a year of work to gather the small seeds, grow them early in the year in cold frames, transplant to outdoor fields when the soil is warm, then weeding is necessary throughout the summer - "topping" plants to remove the flowers and force more of the plant's energy into the leaves. Harvesting the leaves individually for several weeks as they ripen in late summer to early autumn. Then drying and storing…

The original English settlements in Jamestown had no slaves, but by 1700 there was not enough labour to be of sufficient use. The first black slaves arrived in 1619 and in 1660 only 3% of the colonists were black. By 1680 the black population still only composed less than 7%. Between 1667-1686 Virginia created a legal structure for holding black families in permanent slavery, and imported a huge quantity of slaves after 1700 to provide sufficient labour to grow tobacco. At the time of the first census in 1790, 20% of the residents in Virginia were slaves.

The demand of tobacco as a main export crop altered the balance, however, it must be noted that until the early-mid 1700’s white convicts and voluntarily indentured white people formed a greater part of the workforce. (Until Australia was discovered)

Shipping – beware pirates
To avoid piracy – rife along the coast of America and the Caribbean in the 18th Century, shipments were sent to England in convoy. Once the Royal Navy regularly provided an escort, merchant ships could dispense with armament thus creating more space for cargo.
 From the following, it appears convoys were prepared in the spring months:

Tobacco Shipping Discussion in the Maryland Assembly:

Wednesday in the Evening May 15, 1695. To his Exncy the Governr
The humble Peticion of the Commanders of the Merchants Ships now trading and lying at Anchor in the Ports of their (Majesties) Province of Maryland. Humblly Sheweth unto your Exncy. That yor (Petitioners) having been hindered by severall Impedimts (as first the bad season for Making and Raising Tob. 2ndly the excess of Rain and ill weather occasioning great Trouble in rolling of the same when got ready Received, 3rdly the want of Sloopes) for the said and several other Reasons cannot possibly be ready to Saile for England within the time appointed by the Commandore. Yor (Petitioners) do therefore humbley pray your Exncy that our time of stay for the dispatch of our necessary Business (for the Intrest as well of the Masters as our Owners) may be lengthened untill the last day of June that at which time wee do all Sincerely promise to be all ready loaden or unloaden at Kiquotan to set Sayle under Convoy of Capt Crowe the Commandore aforesaid. And as in duty bound shall pray &ca. Signed by 24 ship commanders.

 London, Bideford and Bristol were the main English ports for Tobacco
 see  Part Two 


Tobacco Trade: part Two. The Bideford Connection

by Helen Hollick

The Devonshire town of Bideford was of little consequence until Elizabethan era. It developed beside a ford over the Torridge, and was given by William Rufus  to the Grenville family in the early 12th century. From then until 1744, Bideford remained their property.
The town was granted a Market Charter in 1272, but prosperity began to develop when Later, Bideford became a thriving port trading with the American Colonies under the Grenvilles family. From 1550 for almost 200 years Bideford thrived on importing timber from Newfoundland for shipbuilding, the production and export of wollens and cloth and importing tobacco. Supposedly, the first commercial cargo of tobacco carried by Sir Walter Raleigh was unloaded at Bideford.

Sir Richard Greville
After the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 colonial settlement was centred around the planting of tobacco to ply the European markets, presided over by a consortium of London merchants and West Country mariners, who could see the potential of making a profit from  tobacco. The function of the Virginia Company  was to create settlements to grow tobacco, .
Jamestown was founded in 1607, a settlement owned entirely by the Virginia Company; all settlers were employed by the Company or dependents of the employees. Disease was rampant and the colony was close to starvation. In 1608 John Smith (of Pochahontas fame) sustained the settlers through a harsh winter and promoted further development in North Virginia. Smith returned to England in 1609 following a serious injury, but in the summer of 1616 he visited the West Country sea-port towns, handing out maps and books of shipping routes to North America. 
Tobacco rapidly became an economically viable commodity. Exports rose from 20,000 pounds in 1617 to 4,000,000 pounds in 1640. Bideford had many experienced ship owners and merchants who took out blankets and returned with tobacco.  
The English Civil War began in 1642 and left the Virginian planters to develop crops and settlements. When the Civil War ended and the Monarchy was restored in 1660, Bideford enlarged a fleet of tobacco ships and built  the Quay in 1663, funded by the corporation of Bideford.
Bideford merchants built tobacco trading links with Northern Europe where good quality Maryland tobacco was popular.  Bideford earthenware and wools were traded along the Maryland and Virginia rivers directly to settlers - their return voyages laden with fresh, early tobacco, which fetched a high price.  Goods would be paid for in tobacco and the trade was one of the reasons of Bideford’s success. Many colonial ships’ masters were related to  prominent tobacco merchants, further strengthening trade. In 1676, one ship, the Bideford Merchant, brought home 135,000 lbs of tobacco.
As a result of the prosperity improvements were made to the town. Bridgeland Street was built in 1692 and the Quay was extended to it from the bottom of Cooper Street, but wars with France from 1689 to 1697 and 1702 to 1713 caused disruption to shipping. European markets were cut off, causing heavy losses. Financial burdens, brought about by increases in tobacco duty became too heavy for many merchants and finally, the American War of Independence (1775 – 1783) ended colonial trading for Bideford forever.
see also Part One That Obnoxious Weed

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Alice Tankerfelde -

A woman who was found guilty of murder in 1534 !

As author Mari Watson explains….

Alice Tankerfelde is unknown to most of us. She is neither Royal nor likely to go down in History in but a minor way. She is, however, a slice of life in the Tudor Era not generally covered -  that is Women who Murder! 
In 1534 Alice was guilty of participation in two murders, two seductions and one escape from the Tower.

 Her exact origins are unknown but by the time of her sad demise “by the Devil’s instigation” she was married to John Wolfe. Together with her husband, “ a Merchant of the Steelyard” on July 16, 1533 Alice participated in the murder of two foreign merchants, Jerome de George and Charles Benche. Her co-conspirators, besides her husband, were a London gentleman named John Westall, and two yeomen, Robert Garrard and John Litchfield.

Pretending to be a whore Alice lured the two foreigners into a house in Durham Rents in the Savoy section of London, where they “kept company” all afternoon and into the night. Around ten o’clock the two Jerome de George and Charles Benche who were probably drunk and unfamiliar with London were  escorted by Alice and Westall to their lodgings at St. Benet Gracechurch at the house of  a Florentine Merchant, John Gerrald.
The easiest way to travel was by water

The two Gentlemen  along with Alice and Westall boarded a boat at Strand Stairs,
Garrard and Lichfield took the position of the Watermen, Wolfe, hid in the stern and waited until they were in middle of the Thames. He jumped out of hiding and stabbed Charles in the back. He died instantly. Then all four men attacked Jerome de George breaking his neck. Putting chains on the two bodies after they had stripped them of clothes and valuables, they threw them overboard.
Alice, Wolfe, Westfall, and another gentleman named Stanley then broke into John Gerrald’s house to rob the dead men’s rooms. Caught in the act they were arrested.

Wolfe supposedly escaped and went to Ireland. The other men are not mentioned.
Because the murders occurred on water Alice was tried by the
Admiralty Court
and sentenced to hang on the pirates’ gallows at Wapping Old Stairs.
After hanging, her body would be set in chains, the tide coming in three times to make sure she was dead. Until the day of her execution, Alice was held in the Tower of London in Cold Harbor Tower. It had a gatehouse into the inmost ward and a porter’s lodge  nearby.

By late March 1534, Alice had  seduced many of those charged with keeping her. William Denys, a servant of the Lord Lieutenant, Sir Edmund Walsingham, was a frequent visitor and “showed her a secret way how she might be conveyed out of the Tower.”
He was dismissed for fraternizing with the prisoner; Alice then charmed another of the Lord Lieutenant’s servants, John Bawde. Alice may have already met him in 1532 when her husband was in the Tower for another offense. Notes claim “when her Husband went to Ireland he asked  Bawde to keep an eye on her.”

When Alice “heard there was no remedy with her but death” she begged Bawde to help her escape “for the honour and passion of Christ”. Bawde bought two hair ropes for 13d., made a ladder and carried it into the Tower concealed beneath his cloak. Alice was given a key he had filed down so that it would open the back of the outer prison door, giving access to St. Thomas’s Tower, which is over what is now known as Traitor’s Gate. The moat, at this point, was narrow and at low tide, often dry.

On Saturday March 28 1534 the confession by Alice states that the door to the inner ward was “shut and hasped with a bone.” In a letter written by John Grenville during the Confession, “the staple, which door she saith she did shake and so the bone fell out.”
She made her way to the outer ward and used the key Bawde had given her. They met on the leads of St. Thomas’s Tower at about ten at night.

 Grenville’s writing of the Confession  by Bawde  is a little different. He says “On Friday about  (two) of the clock in the morning one Bawde, the Lord Lieutenant’s servant came with counterfeit keys and opened the prison door where Wolfe’s wife was, and conveyed her out of the Tower with  ropes tied to the embattlements: and after he had conveyed her down, went down himself.”

 On the wharf  below they hid for an hour. Then Bawde found a boat and rowed them to the water-stairs at the end of the Tower causeway. They were walking up Tower Hill toward a Mrs. Jenyn’s house, where Bawde had left two horses, when they encountered the Watch. By Grenville’s account, Alice was “apparelled like a man” and for that reason the Watch was suspicious and took both Alice and Bawde into custody and took them to the Lord Lieutenant.” He continued writing that, on Tuesday, “Wolfe and his wife shall hang upon Thames at low water mark in chains. And Bawde is in Little Ease, and after he hath been in the Rack shall be hanged.”

 In his Confession Bawde states he participated in the escape “for the very love and affection that he bear to the Woman .”

The Lisle letters an abridgement p.273-275   British History Online
Tower of London by Richard Davy