Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

September 2004


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Village History – The Slave’s Grave

The grave of Myrtilla, “negro slave of Mr Thomas Beauchamp of Nevis”, which lies in the churchyard on the south-east side, is our most interesting ancient memorial.  She died in 1705, and is described in the Burial Register as “a negro girl of Mrs Beauchamp’s”.   There was once a footstone giving her age, (now moved with other footstones to the edge of the churchyard), which was read by the Rev Harvey Bloom in 1910 as saying “aetatis suae (aged) 72”, although I feel this is unlikely to be correct, given that she was described as a girl.  Neither slave nor master lived very long on Nevis, where tetanus, malaria, or yellow fever brought heavy death toll, and even in Oxhill 72 was an advanced age for the period.  Harvey Bloom did extensive surveys of local churchyard inscriptions, but these were not always very accurate, and the lettering on the footstone was most probably very worn.  That on the tombstone itself has since been recut.

Thomas Beauchamp’s wife Perletta was believed to be one of the twin daughters of the then Rector, Nicholas Meese.  Her twin was Margaretta also meaning a pearl.  (Were they so named as the two pearls in an oyster?).  Thomas and Perletta Beauchamp had four children while in Oxhill, and one, Margaretta Perletta, named after both twins, sadly died aged 4, and lies buried in front of the altar, near the Meese family graves.  However up to now we have known nothing of Thomas Beauchamp himself and his connection with the Caribbean island of Nevis, although it seemed reasonable to guess that he was a sugar planter in this newly thriving colony.  The Beauchamps were a local family, and had in earlier centuries held Warwick Castle. 

Most fortunately, David Knight was contacted last year through the Oxhill website by a historian from Bristol, Christine Eickelmann, who with her husband David Small has been doing research into a sugar plantation on Nevis.  (There was a recent Time Team programme on television about this plantation, for which David Small was the historical consultant)

From her knowledge of Nevis documents, Christine has been able to confirm the presence on Nevis of Beauchamps in the eighteenth century, and indeed there are references in deeds to a Thomas Beauchamp and to a Thomas Beauchamp the Younger. 

Family names often passed from father to son, and there could well have been a whole dynasty of Thomases.   Still, it is tempting to think that one of these two could possibly be the owner of Myrtilla, and the other could be his son - another Thomas - who was born in Oxhill in 1705.  If so Thomas the Younger would have died a very young man, as his widow remarried in 1730.  (Fourteen years later a further deed refers to her as being a widow again.  Did her husbands perhaps fall victim to Nevis’s tropical diseases?)  

There is much still to know, but I am very pleased to have some evidence from the Nevis end of Myrtilla’s story.  A little more light on an old mystery!

Ann Hale

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Last modified: August 26, 2004