Acquiring a fortune through a respectable trade

BBC Televisions’s The Good Old Days was for thirty years compered by Leonard Sachs, who is said to have introduced acts, “with a resounding barrage of garrulous and loquacious avidity.” Eighteenth Century memorial tablets on church walls seem often to have the loquaciousness of Leonard Sachs; they can be compulsive reading. Who is there who still uses such words?

On the wall of All Saints’ Church in Langport, a tablet bears words that were probably not part of the everyday vocabulary of local residents. In the final two lives that are commemorated, the inscription takes a sad and then a sinister turn.

to the memories of RICHARD WEECH Gent
and ELIZABETH his wife
(Daughter of John Jeane of Thorngrove Gent)
Who in the connubial state
Gave an eminent example
of Domestic harmony and affection
And which by proper education
They transmitted to a numerous progeny
The first died the 22 day of Nov. A.D.1753. AE55.
The latter the 14 day of March. A.D.1778. AE80.
Richard their Son, who died July 20. A.D.1740. AE6.
Susanna their Daughter, who by a paralytic seizure
Was deprived of almost all her mental faculties
She was liberated from this painful experience
The 24 day of Sept. A.D.1786. AE58.
And of Henry their Son, who in the vigour of youth
And in the pleasing prospect of acquiring a fortune
In the Island of Jamaica
Was snatched away by an untimely death
The 26 day of July. A.D.1766. AE29.

The death of Richard in 1740 when he was just six years of age would not have been an experience that was unusual. Childhood mortality was high, illnesses had no regard for social standing or wealth. The belief that death was a liberation for Susanna reflected the spirit of Eighteenth Century evangelical Christianity. It was inspired by a firm faith that this life was only a preparation for the life of the hereafter.

The words recording the death of Henry were those that were a cause to ponder. “And in the pleasing prospect of acquiring a fortune
In the Island of Jamaica,” meant only one thing, that Henry Weech was involved in the slave trade. Details of his role as a plantation overseer are readily available online. Thomas Thistlewood, an Englishman resident in Jamaica makes mention in his diaries of Henry Weech.

Henry Weech would not have been a bad man. He would have been respected as a gentleman; he would have been regarded as engaging in a respectable trade. The retrojection of Twenty-First Century values can lead to a harsh judgement of the people of the time. Henry Weech’s attitudes were the attitudes of the people of his time.

In two hundred and fifty years’ time, people may judge harshly people of the current times. Attitudes thought reasonable now may  be thought wholly objectionable by our descendants.


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