Hidden story behind manumission

My husband’s 3rd great-grandfather was Frederick Walton Mallalieu (1802-1851), who was born in Lancashire, England, and came as a young man to the British West Indian island of St Kitts about 1820 and worked as the manager of the Belvedere sugar plantation. Only just leaving his teen years, his duties would have included the charge of the enslaved people on the estate who did the brutally difficult work of harvesting and processing sugar cane. In a previous post I wrote about charges made against Frederick in 1822/23 by the enslaved, accusing him of mistreatment. A manumission document in the St Kitts & Nevis National Archives shows that slavery was a complicated subject that can’t always be defined in black and white terms.

Dated March 24th, 1829, the government registry entry described very clearly that two enslaved children were freed by Frederick Walton by means of cash payment to their slave owner:

“Know all men by these presents that I William Thomson of the island of Saint Christopher esquire for and in consideration of the sum of thirty-five pounds to me in hand well and truly paid by Frederick Mallalieu of the said island esquire, the receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge, have manumitted, enfranchised, and set free, and from all slavery and servitude forever absolutely discharged, and by these presents do manumit, enfranchise, and set free, and from all slavery and servitude for ever absolutely discharge my two sambo slave children named Susan and Thomas so that neither I nor my executors, administrators, or assigns, or any or either of them or any other person or persons whomsoever, can, shall, or may now, or at any time hereafter, have, claim, challenge, or demand, either at law or in equity and right, title, interest, or property in to, or out of the said before mentioned slave children named Susan and Thomas or to their labour or service in any right or manner whatsoever, but of and from all such right, title, property, or interest, shall and will from henceforth be utterly debarred, and for ever excluded by these presents.

Records of manumissions in the British West Indies normally listed the primary actors in the transaction, whatever money changed hands, and limited identification of the freed slaves. They commonly gave little to no information about why the manumission occurred, or the precise relationship between the enslaved and the emancipator. Doing some digging behind the bare bones information in Susan and Thomas’s registry entry revealed some background clues about why the manumission could have taken place, but also led to more questions.

Why did Frederick Walton Mallalieu free the two children?

The slave owner of record was William Thomas, an Englishman who owned or leased several plantations in the St Mary Cayon parish of St Kitts (aka St Christopher). Frederick Walton lived and worked in the St Ann Sandy Point parish, located on the other side of the island. The trip by car (with the route following around the coast, not directly cross-island over mountainous terrain) is about a half hour today, but in the days of horse travel, the trip would have required many hours. This brings up the question of how a relationship came to exist between Frederick Walton and the two children.

An obvious question is whether Frederick could have been the children’s father, which was a common reason for manumission by a European man. In the 1827 slave register for St Kitts, the births of two slaves on an estate leased by William Thomson were recorded; Susan, born July 10, 1818, and Thomas born October 18, 1820. Birth dates aren’t typically recorded in the register, so this is bonus information. Both were given the racial designation mulatto, meaning of mixed race, and both were born in St Kitts. In the 1831 slave registry (two years after the manumission document), children Susan and Thomas were listed under William Thomson as manumitted. Their ages, though possibly not accurate (the accuracy of ages in the registries varies wildly), do reflect that Susan was older than Thomas. Assuming that the original birth dates were accurate, it’s unlikely that Frederick Walton could be their father, as it’s believed he arrived in St Kitts about 1820, and when Susan was born he would have been barely 16 years old. Further doubt on his paternity is raised by the children’s racial designation in the manumission entry – they are both referred to as “sambo”, a term used for three quarters African ancestry (which could have meant one parent was considered fully “black”, and the other mulatto).

What other possibilities were there for Frederick Walton’s reason for freeing Susan and Thomas? Other than ties due to paternity, common reasons were to reward many years of faithful service, or for a particularly appreciated act performed by the enslaved person. It’s not clear how either could be the case with the two children.

Another possibility is that Susan and Thomas were freed as a gesture to their mother, who according to the laws of the British West Indies, would have been an enslaved woman. Their father was likely someone other than Frederick Walton. Their “sambo” racial designation could support this theory, as would the birth years of the children relative to Frederick’s arrival in St Kitts. Another thread of history that could be weaved into this thought is that my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather William Mallalieu was listed as “colored” in his death record, meaning of mixed race. This implies that William’s mother – who was apparently never married to Frederick Walton and remains a mystery – was a woman of color (and could very well have been enslaved). I have found a possible candidate for Susan and Thomas’s mother among the slave registries for William Thomas, but so little information is available about her that positive identification is nearly impossible.

It would be fascinating to be able to follow Susan and Thomas’s lives after their manumission, but to find them in later St Kitts birth, marriage, and death records, their surnames would be required. The fact that their freedom was bought by Frederick Walton Mallalieu raises many questions, and doesn’t make understanding the institution of slavery any more straightforward.

Sources

  1. St Kitts & Nevis National Archives, with many thanks to former archivist Victoria O’Flaherty for locating the manumission registry entry.
  2. Manumission in Late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica, New West Indian Guide by David Beck Ryden, Vol. 92, Issue 3-4, 2018
  3. Legacies of Slave-Ownership, University College London database of compensation paid to owners post-abolition, 2021
  4. Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers, 1813-1834, ancestry.com database, 2021

2 Comments

  1. David Ryden said:

    Interesting account… I’m struck by the similarity in wording to the Jamaica manumission deeds, from a half century before.hand These records fascinate me and I’m glad to see that you have found them useful to your own family research. Nice detective work, on your part!

    February 15, 2021
    Reply
  2. dreamer said:

    I guess the British used similar formats across their colonies in the Caribbean!

    February 15, 2021
    Reply

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