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The Life Story of Mary Young, Camden, 1730.
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Mary Young was baptised on the 14th October 1730 at Saint George the Martyr, Queen Square, Camden. The register tells us she was from Jamaica and was18 years old. There are records which tell us a lot about life in the eighteenth century both in the West Indies and in London. We have created an imaginary story of Mary Young's life based on those different types of records.

Author: Lin Carey

Red Lion Square, c.1750.

Elma's TIP!
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Click on the pictures as you read the story. They will tell you more about life at the time.

Portrait of a Black Girl, 1735.

Portrait of African Girl, c.1735

As told to Rebecca Knowles, wife of the curate of the Church of St George the Martyr, Queen's Square

Kingston , Jamaica

I spent the first seventeen years of my life in Kingston on the island of Jamaica . I have no memory of my parents, or of any brothers or sisters; my first recollections are of running through a field of weeds with some other children, and being scolded for it. The old woman who scolded me called herself my aunt. I don't think she was. She showed little fondness for me, though she never beat me. Before I was old enough to ask her who my mother was, I was taken from her and sold.

Map of World Showing Guiana and Jamaica.
Map of the World Showing Jamaica

Plantation life

After this came a time I do not like to remember. I was sent to a plantation where I was set to pulling up weeds and gathering stones along with some few others who were too small or weak to do heavier work. Several of these were children, but we were not allowed to play together, and at night we were too tired from the work even to talk much. We were all fed very little, and the sheds we slept in offered no shelter from the cold, but we children were still better off in one respect than the adults. We were sometimes beaten for slowness; but the older slaves were punished with unrelenting cruelty. Many times, I saw both men and women staked out in the sun, or hung up by their arms and flogged till they bled, for the slightest offences.

When I had been about two years in the plantation, a fever came among the slaves, and many of the younger and weaker among us died. I was ill for some days, but recovered. As I was still unfit for any work I was sold again.

Being sold

A Group of Black and White Men, c.1700.
Merchant with African Men

I remember the slave-auction with horror. I was too weak to stand very well, but the press of bodies all about me kept me from falling. White gentlemen, more than I had ever seen together at one time, crowded around us and prodded us with their sticks. One gentleman took hold of my chin with his hand and looked inside my mouth, which alarmed me greatly. He then ordered me to jump up and down. When I could not, he let me alone, saying to his companions, “This one will never do.” When my turn came to be sold no-one would bid for me, and the auctioneer was about to put me in a ‘parcel', that is, sell me as part of a lot with other, stronger slaves, when an old white man came forward and said he would take me for one pound. He led me out to an old lady, his wife, who exclaimed at my dirty and ragged state, and spoke to me kindly.

A new household

This man, Mr Dawlish, and his wife, were my owners for the next ten years. I thought myself blessed to be in their house. Mrs Dawlish clothed me, and taught me to sew and to say my prayers; I was willing enough to learn the words, as my mistress was so kind to me. When I was well enough, she trained me to keep house and to wait on her and her husband at table.

Servants in Kitchen, c.1750.
Kitchen scene with servants

Besides me there was a woman who was their cook called Amelia, and an old man called Matthew, who cared for their horses. These two, became something like family to me. When Mr Dawlish died, his widow would not sell one of us to pay his debts, so that we came to love her, and were all three distressed beyond measure when she died in her turn.

Major Askcough

Our good mistress had often promised that she would set all three of us free at her death, and her will declared as much; but as she died very much in debt the law would not allow it. While we were all sorrowing and grieving at our misfortune the creditors came to the house to collect what money or goods they could get. Among these men was one Major Askcough, a tall, broad, red-faced Englishman, who paid me much attention. After they had gone, my late mistress's lawyer told me that Major Askcough had taken a liking to me, and had agreed to take me in part-payment of his debt. He had need of servants in his house in London .

I was at first so astonished, I hardly knew what to feel. But Amelia embraced me and whispered in my ear that a slave can become free in England . I was too distracted to get much comfort from this thought, but there was no help for it. Next day I was taken from her and Matthew, without ever knowing their fate, and put aboard a ship for England .

East India Wharf, c.1790.
Scene at docks

Going to England

I had never set foot on a ship before. For some days the discomfort brought on by the constant motion, and my grief for my old life and for Amelia, oppressed my mind so that I could think of nothing else. At length, however, I began to take heart and look about me. Major Askcough had bought more slaves than myself: a woman of about thirty called Juliana Lee, and her daughter Rosanna, a pretty little girl of about five, both of whom shared a berth with me. Juliana told me she had been a cook for the overseer of a plantation, and had often been cruelly whipped by him. She told me that she had been sold away from her husband, a worker on the plantation, and never expected to see him more. I was so sorry for her misfortune that I almost forgot my own, and began to feel friendly towards her.

Another traveller

At the start of the voyage, our new master visited us carrying another child, little more than a baby, which he placed in Juliana's arms, and told her she was to look after it as her own. The child was a girl, of our race but somewhat light-skinned. Major Askcough said her name was Jamaica , and her mother had died, but told us nothing more about her. I was greatly surprised by this, but neither of us dared to question him. When he had gone, we wondered together who the child might be; as she was too small to be of use as a servant for at least three or four years. I thought it promised well for our new master's kindness of heart that he would preserve such a tiny infant from the hard life of the plantations, at his own cost. But Juliana had a different opinion. “This child must be the master's own,” she said; and I believe after all she may have been right.

On board ship

Our master did not require much service from us on the ship, which was as well since we had the two children to look after, and they both took ill from the damp weather and unaccustomed food. The meat was so salt, and the bread so hard, that we could not well eat it without drinking, and the water became more scarce as the voyage lengthened. We had but one pallet and some sailcloth as bedding for all of us, so while the girls were ill we two slept and watched by turns. We were not sorry when we heard the sailors' shout on a grey, wet morning, and ran out on deck to see the coast of England .


After some sailing along the coast we landed at London . The Major hired a carriage to take us to his house – a means of travel I never used before and found very cramped and jolting. When we entered the city I was very much struck with the fine tall buildings, and the great press of people in the streets, and was astonished to think that I once thought Kingston a great town! Everywhere there were people; in carriages like our own, on horseback or on foot. The babble of voices, the savoury smells from cook shops and the stink of rubbish at street corners, all crowded in on us through the windows and made my head spin.

Cornhill, c.1770.
Street scene, Cornhill, London

Red Lion Square

And so I came to Red Lion Square , where I work still. Our master and mistress live on the edge of the city, where the streets are less crowded. Major Askcough's home is three stories high, with tall glass windows and rooms all panelled in wood. The Askcoughs have four other servants besides us, which I thought a great household when I arrived; but I soon learned from Eliza, the kitchen maid, that they were far from being the most wealthy family in the area. Mrs Askcough seemed to be a very fine lady, but I thought she received us coldly.

Red Lion Square, c.1750.
Red Lion Square

She set Juliana to work in the laundry, where her older child was to help her. I was told to wait on my lady's young son tomorrow, and if I gave satisfaction I should be his nursemaid. Then we were given a little room at the top of the house, where Juliana shared one bed with her daughter and I had the other with little Jamaica .

Staircase, 1700.
Attic rooms

We were very happy to have this room to ourselves, and tired though we were, stayed up some of the night talking and wondering how we should like this new country.

Fitting in

In the morning I was introduced to young Robert Askcough. He was a handsome child of about six, tall and stout for his age and full of spirits and energy. At the start I did not know how I should manage him: he was so headstrong, and declared he would never be ruled by a servant, and still less a Black one! But I taught him some games I used to play as a child in Kingston , and told him stories that Amelia used to tell me, and by degrees he came to accept me.

Dress Shop,c.1720.
Family group

I was required to stay with him when he was not with his tutor, and after a few days my lady allowed us to be alone with some show of reluctance. She frowned at me often, and once when she found me showing the child how to play marbles, she scolded me so severely for teaching him “low ways,” I feared I should be sold again. But Juliana, who had already learned some of the ways of the house from Eliza, told me I was worrying needlessly. “The boy is so spoiled,” she said, “no-one else can keep him in order.”

Less than a servant

The Askcough's house is finer than any I could have imagined before I came to England . The drawing room is full of beautiful things which must not be touched: pictures in carved wooden frames, fine china vases, and a clock with a monstrous long pendulum in a great lacquered case, taller than I am. On my first day, Robert ran away from me into this room and nearly knocked the clock over.

Interior, 1730.
Eighteenth century room

Mrs Askcough's own maid, Jane, was very angry with me: she is the only one of the servants who is allowed to venture into the drawing room without permission. Juliana and I soon learned that Jane, the footman and the cook all thought us beneath them. They are still very haughty with us, and when we have no other duties, all three regard us as their servants and expect us to do their bidding. At first I complained at this, but Juliana said: what else could we expect, when they were paid wages for their work, and we got none for ours?

A friend

Only Eliza, the drudge of the household, talks to us civilly. She is younger than me, little more than a child; but I have been grateful for her help and advice, particularly during my first days when she accompanied me on my errands to Holborn or Bloomsbury Market to show me the way.

Carriages, 1741.
Scene with carriages

At the start, every new object I saw as I walked filled me with such interest that I would dawdle and stare, and Eliza was obliged to keep nudging me to make me go on. She showed me many of the sights of the area: from the splendid houses in Bedford Row where the richest people live, to the great stone pillar called “Old Noll's stone” at the corner of our own square which is said to be haunted. She told me that the threat “Old Noll will get you” was one of the few things that could make Master Robert behave himself, which I afterwards found to be true.

At the fair

We are not given a regular Sunday off work like the other servants, but Major Askcough allows us each a half-day at times when it suits him. This summer, to our great joy, Juliana was allowed to go out for the afternoon on the same day that I was taking Robert to the fair. She brought both girls, and we were able to walk and talk together for almost the first time since the ship from Kingston . I was worried about Master Robert's reaction, but he seemed to take a fancy to Rosanna, whom he had often seen about the house. He condescended to show her how to use his little whip and top, which delighted her, and they were so pretty together that it was a delight to see them.

Scene at The Fair, c.1740.

The fair was beyond anything I ever saw in Jamaica . Everywhere there were stalls selling pies, fruits and ale. There were jugglers, musicians and a fierce display of sword-fighting, which Juliana and I took for real and were very much alarmed at, till Master Robert laughed at us and said it was all for show.

Some acrobats and dancers came onto a stage outside a public house, one of them a black woman of about my own age. I thought her wonderfully skilful, and when the show finished I managed to have some conversation with her. She told me that she was a free woman, who made her living in this way – and that there were many like her in London !


I came home very thoughtful, and asked Eliza whether it were true that people of my colour could live free in England . She replied that it was, and told me that anyone who was baptised a Christian must certainly become free at that moment, for how could a Christian be a slave?

A few weeks after this the parson came to call. That night Lady Askcough told me, with a somewhat sour face, that Juliana and I were to be instructed in the Christian religion, “for,” said she, “it's not fitting that you stay in our house as heathens.” I was much excited by this, and wondered if we should get wages once we were Christians, but I did not dare ask her. The next day we were taken to a house near St George's church to begin our instruction, and here I met Mrs Knowles, wife of the curate, who encouraged me to tell her the story of my life.

We are all four to be baptised together in the autumn, and I am glad of it as Mr and Mrs Knowles tell us very earnestly that it is the only way to avoid going to hell. But I was also somewhat dashed to meet several Black servants at the church who have been baptised, and not one of them receiving any wages from their masters. What must I do to be truly free? Can a slave leave his master and learn a trade? I mean to find out, if I can.

Mary Young's Baptism Recorded in 1730.
The baptism entry for Mary, Juliana, Rosanna and Jamaica .

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