The Pursuit of Gentility
Gent Family Papers 1786-1840
from the marriage of John Gent & Sarah Booth
to the death of John Gent
Copyright: please feel free to make use of the information in these pages, but please have the courtesy to give appropriate credit. Where copyright belongs to another institution, such as a library, museum or record office, copyright permission will have to be sought from them.
It must have been around 1964 that my great aunt Dora McAvoy came to stay with us in Manchester, and discovered that I was keen on family history. About five years later when I was a student at Exeter University she invited me to visit her at her rented rooms in Torquay. I caught the bus there one Saturday, and she made me something to eat. All I remember of the meal was the dessert - rich fruitcake fried in a little butter. It may have been at that time that she gave me a bundle of letters that had belonged to her grandfather, Dr Henry Gent, many of them dealing with the time when he was living in America in the 1820s. I started transcribing these soon afterwards, continuing the task in October 1974 when I was newly appointed a lecturer at Hertfordshire College of Building in St Albans. In March 1993 my father's cousin Barrie Shaw of Harpenden lent me some letters that, unbeknown to me, Auntie Dora had given him, followed by a final batch a couple of years later.
Most of the letters meant little to me at first, and it has been a gradual process of discovery to place the letters in their original context. An email from Sarah Becker in Alexandria, Virginia, of the Stabler-leadbeater Apothecary Museum, recently sent me back to these letters, and a new awareness that my great great grandfather's correspondents were people of some significance in their time. Most of these people were well-known Quakers, people such as Lydia Mott, Hicks, Willis, Stabler and Belisario, and the internet has enabled me to discover more about them, and to acquire books written by and about them.
The main themes are life in the British colony of Tortola in the Virgin Islands, the Quaker communities of Alexandria, Skaneateles and elsewhere, including the Hicksite secession, family business concerning the possessions in Tortola and farms in Cheshire, England, the Turner family of Meerbrook, Henry Gent's cousins, and the forlorn lovelife of Henry Gent.
There has always been a family legend that Dr Henry Gent brought a former slave to England. I cannot now say that it is true. My Mother says she recalls reading an old, neatly written account of this some fifty years ago, which was kept in the old family chest. It no longer exists, and may never have existed, but we can say that early in his life Dr Henry Gent came under the influence of Quakers and abolitionists. His agent in Tortola was A. Belisario, author of the published transcripts of the trial of Arthur Hodge, the first white person to be executed for cruelty to blacks. The Virgin Islands had long been under Quaker influence. When he moved to the mainland United States he was befriended by Quakers in Alexandria, Auburn and Skaneateles, attended Quaker meetings, adopted the 'thou' form of address in his writing and the Quaker conventions for naming months, and courted exclusively Quaker women. When he returned to Cheshire he continued to be an occasional attender at Quaker meeting throughout his life. The family legend said that Dr Henry Gent was an active anti-slavery supporter.
A possible further link to the liberated slave was a photograph my grandfather often talked about, which used to be in the family album belonging to my cousin in Appledore, North Devon. I have not seen it for twenty years. It was of a man with a dark complexion, dark wavy hair and a possibly black ancestry, dressed in Victorian clothing of about 1870. Another photograph which I believe may be of his child or grandchild was of a child in a perambulator, who was supposed to have burned to death in an accident. These are just vague hints. Perhaps further research may turn up further information.
Frank J. Gent
26th September 2002
Update March 2003
My cousin has very kindly supplied copies of the photographs, which in fact appear to be of an earlier date, in the 1850s.
"Romeo McGildowney, Ollerton Hall, Knutsford; married Frances Hindle of Ollerton Hall, Knutsford, my godmother" [photograph courtesy Helen Sanders]
Internet searches bore some fruit. The will of Sarah Frances McGildowney of Ollerton Hall, Knutsford, was proved at Chester in 1864. I await a copy. A Richard Inman of Preston, 1804-1883, married in 1833 Maria, daughter of John Fowden Hindle. Her brothers left no descendants. There was a family connection with Captain William Hindle of Ollerton Hall, who died leaving two daughters, one of whom may presumably have been Sarah Frances. As for Romeo McGildowney, searches have so far proved unsuccessful. The surname McGildowney is extremely uncommon, which should help. It originates in Country Antrim. If Romeo were indeed of Afro-American origin, it would have been the name of his slave-owning white irish ancestor. A search of the Marriage registers at St Katherine's House 1840-1855 under the surname Hindle proved unsuccessful.
At Easter I received from Cheshire Record Office a photocopy of the will of Sara McGildowney. According to it there was a Marriage Settlement made with Romaldo King McGildowny [sic] on 20th march 1863, in preparation for their forthcoming marriage. Her possessions were placed in trust with Joseph henry pemberton and Augustus percy earle (a firm of Chester solicitors). The will is dated 14th May 1863, and was proved on 13th December 1864, after her death. I would surmise that she died in childbirth at the birth of her first child. I have so far been unable to trace the marriage, the birth of her daughter, and what subsequently happened to them.
That her husband's name was Romaldo King McGildowny offers a possible further clue. Richard King was an important member of Tortola society in the first decades of the nioneteenth century. He was executor of the will of Dr John Gent in Tortola, and my great great grandfather Dr Henry Gent corresponded with him concerning the family properties there.
My great grandfather was born on December 25th 1858, just five years before Sarah Hindle married Romaldo/Romeo King McGildowny/McGildowney. Presumably she was asked to be his godmother as a friend or patient of Dr Henry Gent. Possibly the doctor was the agent of the introduction between Sarah and Romeo.
I have just ordered the following certicates:
Marriage Certificate of Romaldo King McGildowny to Amy Jane Boyd McGildowny at St Lawrence, Over Peover, in 1865.
Birth certificate of Josephine Helen Gray McGildowny born at Knutsford in 1866.
I am awaiting their arrival to discover more details of Romaldo's parentage and birth. But it seems likely that Josephine is the little girl in the photograph in my possession, and that no children were born of Romaldo's first marriage. It also seems likely that his name was never Romeo, that was just my gt grandfather's memory making a mistake.
April 2003 - Update and rethink
I have received the three certificates I ordered, extremely quickly, from the registrar at Macclesfield.
The first is a marriage certificate.
This relates to the second marriage of Romaldo King McGildowny on June 15th 1865 at Over Peover. He is described as 'of full age' ie over 21 (unhelpfully!), a widower, and a gentleman, the son of Edmund McGildowny, also described as a gentleman. His bride was Amy Jane Boyd McGildowny, daughter of the late Charles McGildowny, gentleman. She also is described merely as 'of full age'. The minister was Henry Leicester, presumably a member of the well-known Cheshire family. Edmund McGildowney was a witness to his son's marriage, together with Thomas Francis Nicholls, Emilia Rower and Sophie Ward.
It can be surmised that the couple were cousins. It seems extremely unlikely that Romaldo was a former slave, or a descendant of such, but his extremely unusual forename, and his unusual appearance, beg many questions. he certainly does not seem to be typical of the Ulster upper classes. Did his father marry a woman in the New World, and have children by her?
The second document is the birth certificate of their daughter Josephine Helen Gray McGildowny.
She was born 15th March 1866, nine months to the day after her parents' wedding. Her father's name is misspelt Ronaldo, and it is made clear that her mother was a McGildowny before her marriage. That this was her maiden name is clear from the name of her father.
The third certicate records the death of Amy almost three years later.
Her age at death is given as 26, indicating she was probably born in 1843. She is described as the 'wife of Romaldo King McGildowny Gentleman of Independent means', and the cause of death is given as apoplexy.
Information about the McGildowny Family (from the web)
Anne Fulton third child of John Williamson Fulton was born 7th September 1809. She married on 10th March 1831 James Hope M.D. Fellow of the Royal Society, who died when physician of St George's Hospital, London on May 13, 1842 and was buried in Highgate Cemetry. He was descended from Henry, elder brother of Sir Thomas Hope, First Baronet of Craighall and Pinkie, whose sons settled at Boothes Co. Lancashire. She died at St Mary Church, Torquay, where she had resided for many yearson 12th February 1887 and was buried at Highgate. Notices of both of them are in Leslie Stephens Dictionary of National Biography Vol XXVII. See also his memoirs by her published by Hatchard 1842 and 1848 and a notice of her in her "St Thomas Becket" third Edition 1891 published by Burnes & Oates.
Portraits of him by T Phillips R.A. and of her by Sands R.A. are in the possession of their only child.:-
Theodore Cracraft Hope Sir, K.C.S.I, C.I.E. born 9th December 1831, educated at Rugby and Haileybury, entered the Bombay Civil Service 1853. Barrister at law 1866, Member of the Legislative Council of Gov. Gen. of India 1875-1880. Prov Member of the Council of Bombay 1880. Secretary to the Gov of India for Finance and Commerce 1881-1882, officiating Finance Member 1882. Member of the Gov. Gen Council for Public Works 1882-1887. Retired 1888 and settled at 21 Elvaston Place London S.W. He married on the 16th August 1866 his cousin Josephine Mc Gildowney Fulton. See hereafter mentioned, and has no issue. He was created C.S.I. 1877 and C.I.E 1882, K.C.I.E 1886.
John Williamson Fulton
John Williamson Fulton sixth child of John Williamson Fulton of Calcutta and Upper Harley Street was born 23rd December 1814. M.A. Trinity College Cambridge Barrister-at-Law. Married 25th June 1840 at Larne, Matilda, daughter of John Montgomery Casement of Invermore Larne, Co Antrim J.P., and Mary daughter of John McGildowney of Clare Park Co. Antrim niece of Major General Sir William McClermont K.C.B.
Another uncle was Colonel of the Regiment of Bengal Artillery in which Robert Bell Fulton was Major. This was William Casement, a generous man and one of Robert Bell Fulton's greatest friends.
Lieutenant Colonel McCleverty, commanding the British Regiments in New Zealand in 1853 was also married to one of the Miss Casements. See letters from Mrs Robert Bell Fulton to her sons in New Zealand enclosing letters of introduction from John Williamson Fulton to his brother-in-law Lieutenant Colonel Cleverty.
John Williamson Fulton practised as a Barrister in Calcutta for some years then settled on his property of Braidjule Co. Antrim residing at Braidjule House near Lisburn. He died 10th November 1872 but his widow lives - 1893 - at Southbourne, Hants.
In letters from his son and heir Edmund Fulton of Braidjule we find... "My father went as a Barrister to Calcutta where he got on well but retired rather early owing to my mothers health failing. He then bought the land in the County Antrim which I now own and also the house to which your letter was addressed which was sold when my mother finally decided to live in England. He died suddenly of heart disease, at the age of fifty seven and is buried in the churchyard of Drumbo Parish Church. He was well liked and respected and was a magistrate for the Counties of Down and Antrim. His sister, Mrs Mackintosh lived at the place called Geddes in Nairnshire and has left descendants whom you will find in the pedigree. They are very well off and her grandson Charles who had lately married has just been appointed Deputy Lieutenant for the County Nairn. I do not know on what papers my father compiled the pedigree but I have been so long in India and never saw him after he prepared it, but know that he always took a great deal of trouble about it and wrote to a great number of people on the subject &c.
He left issue:-
John William Casement Fulton born 1841
Edmund Casement Pollard Fulton born 1843
Josephine Mary McGildowney Fulton born 1845
Edmund McGildowney Hope Fulton born 1848
George Wade Robertson Fulton born 1853
John Williamson Casement Fulton born 10th ??? 1841 died 22nd January 1855 at Rugby.
Edmund Casement Pollard Fulton born 17th March 1843 and died November 1844 at Calcutta.
Josephine Mary McGildowney Fulton the third child of John Williamson Fulton was born 19th March 1845 and married on the 16th august 1866 her cousin, Theodore Cracraft Hope.
Edmund McGildowney Hope Fulton, the Hon eldest surviving son of John Williamson Fulton was born 6th July 1848. Entered the Bombay Civil Service 1869, married on 25th November 1879 Cornellia Emily only daughter of Sir Michael Westropp late Chief Justice of Bombay.
In a letter from he thus describes his career: ..." I myself have been in the Indian Civil Service since 1869 and am now approaching the end of my career. At present I am officiating as Judge of the High Court of Bombay, but shall soon be displaced by the return from furlough of the Judge for whom I have been acting. I shal then revert to a District Judgeship at a place called Satara but hope to return to the High Court in a few months when a fresh vacancy occurs &c, &c."
From the last Whitaker I see that he has been appointed Judicial Commissioner for Lower Burma, at a salary of Rs2880. He has issue:
Henry Westropp Fulton born 2nd October 1880
Bessie Maud Fulton born 29th September 1882
Esme Mary Fulton born 17th January 1892
CASEMENT OF MAGHERINTEMPLE (from Burke's)
LINEAGE-This family migrated to Ireland from Ramsey, Isle of Man, early in the 18th century, having originally been of French extraction.
HUGH CASEMENT, m. 1740, Elizabeth (d. 8 July, 1801, aged 80), dau. of George Higginson, of Magheragall, and d. 10 July, 1797, aged 77, having had issue,
1. George, Surgeon R.N., m. 1stly, Elizabeth Montgomery, and had issue,
1. John Montgomery, m. Mary (d. 1843), dau. of John McGildowny, and d. 1839, leaving issue,
(1) Edmund McGildowny, of Invermore, Co. Antrim. J.P., b. 1812; d. unm. 1876.
(2) George, Lieut. R.E.
(1) Elizabeth, m. Capt. Gillespie, 15th Hus.
(2) Mary, m. Henry Mills.
(3) Matilda, m. John W. Fulton, Barrister-at-law.
(4) Jane, d. unm.
(5) Grace, d. unm.
(6) Anne, m. General M'Cleverty
2. William (Sir), K.C.B.
He m. 2ndly, Matilda Montgomery, and by her had issue,
3. George, Major in the Army.
4. Hugh, Lieut. in the Army.
2. ROGER CASEMENT, of Harryville, Co. Antrim, m. 1stly. Catherine (d. 1803), dau. of Julius Cosnahan, of Peel, Isle of Man, and had, with other issue [many missing including the link to the executed Roger David Casement],
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