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Dear Reader #128

Dear Reader,

Some chart news. Operation Cameo, book six in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series, is a top twenty hot new release in Britain. We will publish the book in February 2022. Many thanks to all my readers for their support.

This week I parcelled 84 books to send to the Bodleian Library, Oxford; Cambridge University Library; National Library of Scotland; Trinity College Dublin; The British Library and the National Library of Wales. Publishers have been fulfilling this requirement since 1662. A great tradition 🙂

Researching the Gadsden branch of my family I discovered grocers in London and Newport Pagnell. Further research revealed that earlier they had been traders in Liberia, Nevis and South Carolina. 

Here’s Christopher Gadsden (16 February 1724 – 28 August 1805) an American politician who was the principal leader of the South Carolina Patriot movement during the American Revolution. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress, a brigadier general, Governor of South Carolina, a merchant and the designer of the Gadsden flag. He was also a signatory to the Continental Association and a Founding Father of the United States. 

More about the Gadsdens in future posts.

I reckon I should award the prize for my most exotically named ancestors to Zephaniah Thorpe and his wife Mary Discipline.

The son of Ralph Thorpe and Mary Wakefield, Zephaniah was baptised on 25 April 1790 in Lakenham, Norfolk. He was named after his grandfather, Zephaniah.

Mary Discipline was born on 25 January 1789 and baptised on 1 February 1789 in Heacham, Norfolk. Her parents were Thomas Discipline and Mary Smith.

Zephaniah Thorpe and Mary Discipline married on 22 August 1813 in St Dunstan, Stepney, which indicates that they had moved from Norfolk to London. However, this was a small step before they embarked on an even greater adventure. Before detailing that adventure it is worth noting that Zephaniah and Mary signed their names on their marriage certificate. For a well-to-do man this was common, but for a woman, even one from the middle classes, it was a rarity. Often, women of the age were not taught how to read or write for fear that it would ‘corrupt’ their minds.

In 1829, Zephaniah and Mary found themselves in New York. You would think that emigration was a ‘young man’s game’, but Zephaniah was 39 and Mary 40 when they embarked on their journey. What compelled them to leave? For settlers in earlier centuries religious persecution offered the main motivation, but in Zephaniah and Mary’s case it would seem that a better quality of life was the main factor.

Zephaniah had a skill – he was a sculptor specialising in marble. In the 1830s New York was a developing city with a need for artisans. Zephaniah and New York were made for each other, so he took the gamble and transferred his family across the Atlantic Ocean.

Using a chisel, sculptors would remove large portions of unwanted stone. During this roughing out phase they would work rhythmically ensuring that the stone was removed quickly and evenly. Some artists would carve directly on to the stone while others used a model formed from wax or clay.

An example of a sculpture created during Zephaniah’s era can be found in Green-Wood Cemetery. There is no evidence that Zephaniah worked on this sculpture, but he definitely saw it and maybe it offered him some inspiration. 

The sculpture is called Charlotte Canda (3 February 1828 – 3 February 1845). It’s a memorial to a young debutant, Charlotte, who died in a horse carriage accident on her way home from her seventeenth birthday party.

Stereoscopic view of Charlotte’s memorial by E & H T Anthony.

On 11 April 1838 at the Common Pleas Court in New York, Zephaniah and Mary applied for naturalisation. The application, sponsored by James Bryson, was granted and Zephaniah settled his family in Brooklyn.

Application for naturalisation.

In 1855 Zephaniah was living at Number 59 Ward 7, New York with his wife, Mary, their son, Thomas aged 39, a lodger Bartu Durando a jeweller from New Jersey also aged 39, and granddaughter Josephine A Thorp aged 10.

The street contained families from Canada, Germany, Ireland and Prussia plying their trades as bookkeepers, carpenters, clerks and grocers. A cosmopolitan area. Zephaniah’s son Thomas was also a sculptor. What did father and son sculpt? Probably the great marble columns and artefacts in New York’s burgeoning churches and civic buildings. Certainly, there was plenty of work available because by this time they had been plying their trade for 26 years.

Ten years later, Zephaniah, Mary, Thomas and Josephine were living in Brooklyn, in a house valued at $800. In this census Josephine was described as a niece from Alabama. Ten years earlier the census had described her as a grandchild. Official records are not always accurate, sometimes through accident, other times through design – particularly when people wish to hide something. Often, you need to read between the lines. There is no record of Thomas’ wife, so I’m inclined to believe that she died young and that Josephine was Thomas’ daughter. Certainly, she lived with him throughout her childhood.

New York, c1865, a scene familiar to Zephaniah. Maybe he worked on these buildings?

Zephaniah died in Kings, New York on 9 September 1868 aged 80. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.

A Brooklyn directory of 1877 listed Mary as the widow of Zephaniah. It also listed Thomas as a sculptor, living at the same address. Josephine was not listed so it’s fair to assume that she had married and started her own family.

Mary died on 3 September 1876 of pneumonia at 287 Jay Street, Kings, New York. She was buried with Zephaniah in Green-Wood. By this time she had lived amongst the tall buildings of New York for 47 years, a far cry from her birthplace in the flat Norfolk Broads.

Green-Wood Cemetery. Credit: Find a Grave.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #109

Dear Reader,

Betrayal at #1 in America this week and #4 in the Netherlands.

The ‘Welsh Tree of the Year’ at my local park, Margam.

My article about the amazing Nancy Wake appears in this month’s issue of the Seaside News.

A map of all reported UFO sightings, 1906-2014. (Image: ESRI). Is there anybody out there…

Just discovered that my splendidly named ancestors Zephaniah Thorpe and Mary Discipline emigrated to New York City, arriving on 11 April 1838. Zephaniah was a sculptor specialising in marble. Maybe he worked on the pillars in this picture 🤔

A DNA test I took at Christmas 2020 established a link between a Morgan branch of my family and a Bevan branch. This in turn led to Barbara Aubrey, a gateway ancestor. A gateway ancestor is someone descended from royalty, the aristocracy, or landed gentry. Through Barbara Aubrey, and other gateway ancestors, I have discovered links to many of the noble households in Wales, especially in my home county of Glamorgan.

My direct ancestor, Gwladys ferch Dafydd Gam ‘the star of Abergavenny’ (1378 – 1454), was the daughter of Gwenllian ferch Gwilym and Dafydd ap Llewelyn ap Hywel, otherwise known as Dafydd Gam a man immortalised by William Shakespeare as Fluellen in Henry V.

Fluellen: “If your Majesty is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which your Majesty knows, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service, and I do believe, your Majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon St David’s Day.”

King Henry: “I wear it for a memorable honour; for I am Welsh, you know, good my countryman.”

The Battle of Agincourt, 1415. The Bridgeman Art Library.

Due to her discretion and influence, the poets compared Gwladys to the legendary Queen Marcia who was ‘one of the most illustrious and praiseworthy of women in early British history.’ Indeed, the poets sang Gwladys’ praises. ‘Gwladys the happy and the faultless. Like the sun – the pavilion of light,’ wrote Lewys Glyn Cothi. They also noted her beauty and luxurious dark hair.

Lewys Glyn Cothi (c1420 – 1490) was a prominent 15th century poet who composed numerous poems in Welsh. He was one of the most important representatives of the Beirdd yr Uchelwyr, ‘Poets of the Nobility.’ 

Lewys was a prolific poet, writing many celebratory poems and elegies. He was responsible for compiling much, if not all, of Llyfr Gwyn Hergest, the White Book of Hergest, which disappeared in the 19th century. He also added several poems to Llyfr Coch Hergest, the Red Book of Hergest, which is now in the National Library of Wales.

During Owain Glyndwr’s War of Independence, Gwladys served as Maid of Honour to Mary de Bohun (c1368–1394), wife of Henry IV, and afterwards she served Henry’s second wife, Queen Joan (c1370–1437). On her return to Wales, Gwladys married Sir Roger Vaughan of Bredwardine and from that day on she remained in her homeland.

Raglan Castle. Engraving, 1798.

The battlefield and royal politics proved tragic for Gwladys. At Agincourt, 1415, she lost her father, Dafydd Gam, and her husband, Sir Roger Vaughan. Later, at Easter 1456, her son Watkin was murdered at his home, Bredwardine Castle, while in 1469 two sons, Thomas and Richard (my direct ancestor) died at the Battle of Edgecote. In May 1472 a fourth son, Sir Roger Vaughan, was captured by Jasper Tudor and beheaded at Chepstow.

Gwladys’ second husband, Sir William ap Thomas of Raglan Castle, known as Sir William Herbert, also fought at Agincourt. Due to the colour of his armour, Sir William was nicknamed ‘The Blue Knight of Gwent.’

Gwladys’ first marriage produced five children, three boys and two girls, while her second marriage produced four children, two boys and two girls. All married into Welsh and English noble families: the Stradlings, Wogans, Vaughans, Devereauxs and Audleys. They also established the Herbert line, a branch of my family, one of the most influential families in medieval and post-medieval Wales.

In the Middle Ages, noble women were expected to obey their husbands, guard their virtue, produce offspring, and oversee the smooth running of their household. Good management skills were essential. Moreover, when her husband was away a wife’s role would increase substantially to the extent that she would assume control of her husband’s domain and even bear arms.

As Lady of Raglan Castle, Gwladys entertained her guests. She also assisted the needy and afflicted, and supported Welsh culture, especially the bards and minstrels. In Lewys Glyn Cothi’s elegy, he stated that Gwladys was ‘the strength and support of Gwentland the land of Brychan.’ 

Abergavenny Priory. Artist unknown.

Gwladys died in 1454. Along with her husband, Sir William ap Thomas, she was a great patron of Abergavenny Priory and an alabaster tomb along with effigies of the couple can still be found there.

According to legend, Gwladys was so beloved by her people that 3,000 knights, nobles and weeping peasantry followed her body from Coldbrook House (her son Richard’s manor) to the Herbert Chapel of St. Mary’s Priory Church where she was buried.

Born into privilege, Gwladys used her position to support the poor and vulnerable, and the arts. And for that she earned her people’s eternal love and respect.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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