The Petticoat Patrimony project in Wakefield looks at the hidden stories and legacy of Eliza, Anne-Mary and Helen Edmonstone. The sisters were direct descendants of the indigenous peoples of Demerara and, as curators and enablers of Charles Waterton’s life, were victims of historical patrimony. Petticoat Patrimony seeks to redress this and challenge existing perceptions of Waterton, slavery, gender and racial stereotypes.
Previous articles in this series are available here.
From the body of Helen Reid
When her husband, Charles Edmonstone died on 29 November 1827, Helen Edmonstone (née Reid) was left as beholden to him in death, as she had been in life. While alive, she was vulnerable to theft, scandal, poisoning and at the mercy of the trustees who had the power to cut her off if she re-married or returned to the country of her birth. When she died some years later, like so many women her story was manipulated to suit a particular narrative, and until now, had been lost.
Born in Demerara, the daughter of Minda (an indigenous woman of high-status of the Arawak tribe) and William Reid, of Scottish heritage, Helen’s own marriage was one that enabled Charles Edmonstone access to native knowledge of the local terrain. This empowered him to hunt and kill escaped slaves. Rewarded financially by the British Crown for this, and as one of Scotland’s most successful slave and plantation owners, when Charles died, his will was extensive and commanding, and dictated the lives of his wife and daughters, most specifically his biological daughters, from beyond the grave.
“I hereby direct and appoint my said trustees upon my youngest child attaining majority to divide and make division of the residue of my said estates heritable and moveable real and personal among my children after named procreated of the body of the said Helen Reid my spouse in the following proportions.”
Power and control
I’m going to write that again.
Children “Procreated of the body of the said Helen Reid”.
Later in his will, Edmonstone repeats and reaffirms this statement:
“…for the benefit of my other children procreated by the body of the said Helen Reid.”
This tells us he has children other than from the body of the said Helen Reid.
That’s very specific and demonstrates complete power and control over all his children be they legitimate, or not.
Helen Reid’s ‘body’ gave birth to five children. The first was Eliza, born 1808 in Demerara
Eliza was left £5,000 in her father’s will with conditions attached. She could only spend her inheritance on property and, if she married, her husband could not use the money to pay any debts off. In 1865 Edmund Waterton, son of Charles Waterton and Eliza’s sister Anne-Mary, pledged stone from ‘his quarry’ for the building of a new Catholic Church in Walton. Unfortunately for Edmund, he didn’t own the quarry but rather, Eliza did.
Bought with money inherited from her father and lent to Charles Waterton in 1849 to extend his estate, Eliza took Edmund to court to establish ownership. In the Bill of Complaint dated 8 January 1867, it is established that Eliza’s inherited money was used extensively to invest in property and that Edmund had, since 1835, been mortgaging, and re-mortgaging Walton Hall and so, through a series of indentures, now ‘owned’ the land, hall and surrounding buildings and businesses.
Attempts to stop Edmund Waterton
In the January before he died, Charles Waterton himself tried to prevent Edmund from accessing the stone from ‘his quarry’ by writing to his son with several conditions to be met before permission was given for the stone to be used:
11th Jan 1865 – Walton Hall
My Dear Edmund
I shall be overjoyed, if the proposed religious establishment at Walton village can be effected without detriment to the worldly affairs of your family, which apparently will be numerous, and must be provided for.
So soon as you shall have satisfied me that you are not in debt, and that no London lawyer (rot them) shall have anything to do, directly or indirectly with the affair, then and in that case, and only then, I will joyfully provide from my Bark Quarry, every stone that may be necessary for the building.
The marbles too, may, perchance, come in to use. The first thing to be done, after your having taken possession of the land, will be to sink a large well, where the best water in all Yorkshire will be found.
The second will be, to consult me in everything.
This projected affair, recalls to one’s mind, the glorious times when four pious females of Walton Hall, built four churches in this neighbourhood for the love of almighty god and the good of the people.
Your affectionate parent,
P. S. My thumb aches badly.
Edmund, in debt and determined to claim the land he was entitled to through historic patrimony, merely had to wait until his father died to claim Eliza’s land. Land she had bought from the proceeds of slavery.
Helen Reid’s ‘body’ gave birth to a second child, Anne-Mary, born in 1810 in Demerara.
On her marriage to Charles Waterton in 1829, the £5,000 she was left was to go straight to him. Unlike her sisters, whose choices were limited, but who remained financially protected from husbands mired in debt, Anne-Mary was left nothing of her own in her father’s will but rather the £5,000 was to go to Waterton to do with as he wished. It was put “entirely at his disposal”.
If Waterton had died before her – highly likely, as he was so much older than her – Anne-Mary, already victim of her father’s will, would not have had the protection of the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act which would at least have given her a claim on his estate.
Helen Reid’s ‘body’ also gave birth, circa 1813, to a third child, Helen. Like her sister, Eliza, she was left £5,000 but with the same conditions attached. Only property could be bought with the money and no husband could pay any debt off with it. The Bill of Complaint submitted by her sister Eliza, shows clearly that Waterton was laden in debt. So, whilst both sisters lived with him at Walton Hall, raised his child and helped manage the estates, there was no financial gain for Waterton, after the death of his wife, in marrying either of them.
Charles and Robert
Helen Reid’s ‘body’ also gave birth to two boys. Charles was the elder and was the explicit recipient of the silver cup and double-barrelled fowling piece awarded to his father in Demerara for actively hunting down runaway slaves. The Glasgow Herald (Saturday 4 1863) tells us of his fate:
A second son, Robert John was named as the son who would inherit a gold mounted sword, also awarded to his father for hunting down runaway slaves. The leasehold of ‘Seafield’, a property on the main estate, was to be passed to the brothers on the death of their mother. Helen Reid could stay at ‘Seafield’ as long as she complied with the conditions of her husband’s will.
Until Robert was declared bankrupt in 1848 and the entire estate, bar Seafields, was sold by 1849, the property remained in the hands of the Edmonstone family. The renting out of Seafields in 1847 suggests someone within the family had been living there. Was it Helen Reid?
A final child, Bethia, another girl, was born in 1823 in Scotland. Aged just four when her father died, she was also left £5,000 with conditions the same as her sisters. Berthia died, age 16, of tuberculosis whilst staying with Charles Waterton’s sister, Mrs Carr, married to Robert Carr, a local solicitor, who lived on Westgate, Wakefield.
But these were not the only children named in Charles Edmonstone’s will. The house at Cardross Park was home to other, ‘muletto’, children too. When the family moved to Cardross Park from Demerara (by 1823 when it was purchased by Charles Edmonstone), Mary Edmonstone, born in 1793 moved with them. Mary is named as Mary Edmonstone McCallum in Charles Edmonstone’s will and was left £500, having married Archibald McCallum, a farmer near Balfron. The census’s track her to Canada where she died. Her headstone reads, “native of Demerara, West Indies”.
Most controversially and mysteriously, another child, Jeanie, ‘a muletto’ was also living with the family when Charles Edmonstone died. Of similar age to Bethia, Jeanie was left £1,000 which was only to be used to bring her up and educate her until she reached the age of 21, or she is married: “to the mulatto child named Jeanie residing with me at Cardross Park aforesaid the sum of one thousand pounds sterling.”
No trace has been found of this child. It’s as if she has been wiped off the face of the earth with no marriage notice, no reference to her in the letters left behind by the women who shared the fortune of the man they called ‘father’ and no sign of her ‘body’ in death notices either. Perhaps this white washing of the Edmonstone’s family was part of the systematic “I never possessed a slave in my life” narrative publicly pushed by Charles Waterton in 1833 and carried through to the present day as a way of colluding with a convenient truth.
Cardross Park and Black Fanny
Either way, before Anne-Mary and her sister Eliza were sent to Bruges in the summer before their father died, there were several children with different DNA heritages living at Cardross Park alongside servants.
On 30 December 1817, Charles Edmonstone listed enslaved people belonging to him who were highly skilled. It was the practice of slave owners to give their slaves a trade, which enable them to be hired out to other planters, making those enslaved people more profitable and easier to sell on.
One of Edmonstone’s servants at Cardross Park was called Black Fanny.
Black Fanny appears in the Kirk Session records from 1833 accused of fornication with a man called Alex Guy. Guy voluntarily admitted fornication with Black Fannywho is described as a “late servant with Mr Edmonstone of Cardross Park”.
The details of the case say that he is:
“now married, acknowledged himself guilty of fornication with Black Fanny, late servant, professed penitence, praying to be taken under discipline, rebuked, admonished, desired to appear next Lord’s day.”
We don’t know if Black Fanny continued to be a servant to Helen Reid and the young people left in the care of the trustees after Charles Edmonstone died, but we do know that she was there before Charles died. Once again, all trace of the woman who we can only assume was black and had travelled with the family from Demerara, has disappeared.
What we do know is that all the women with black heritage in this story have been written out. We also know that stories of the women with mixed heritage continue to be elusive.
Even being “from the body of Helen Reid” in the end, gave the Edmonstone sisters little protection. The conditions imposed upon them from beyond the grave by their slave trading father Charles, ensured they were kept in their place. And, in the end, when they died, their stories and legacies died with them.
This is part of a series of articles on the Edmonstone sisters, on the run up to International Women’s Day on 8 March. It is based on research by Helga Fox, Sarah Cobham, Catherine Clarke, Abibat Olulode and Zainab Jode. Look out for the next in the series next Wednesday.