Celebrity genealogy series. Sebastian Coe sets out to discover if there is any truth in his grandmother's claims that the family's origins were once quite grand.
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-'320 metres to go. Warren leads for Britain, Russia second.
'And Coe coming up!'
Sebastian Coe was one of the most successful athletes Britain has ever produced...
'Sebastian Coe in second place, looking very comfortable.'
..winning silver and gold medals at the Olympics in 1980 and again in 1984.
'And Coe gets through! And what a comeback for Sebastian Coe!'
Today, he is better known as Chair of the 2012 Olympic Committee.
-Nice to meet you.
-Good to see you.
-How are you doing?
-Are you going round the park this afternoon?
COE: 'My broad understanding of my family is actually quite narrow.'
When you are buried in competition and you are focusing on, you know,
"How do you go quicker?" - which tended to be for the first 25 years of my life.
I suppose my natural inquisitiveness was not being remotely challenged at that time.
Sebastian Coe was born in London in 1956, but grew up in Sheffield.
I can see a lot of massive changes.
I'm probably at that stage of life where I'd like to know what shaped me.
Most of it has ceased to be a construction site now...
'I mean, all families are black and white and all sorts of grades of colour in between'
and I guess that's what I'm going to find out.
Seb wants to explore his mother's side of the family.
His knowledge only goes back as far as his grandmother, Vera,
who he knew when he was a child.
The one thing I always remember about Vera,
she was always impeccably dressed.
She had a sort slight air of Margaret Thatcher about her,
but with none of Margaret's political beliefs!
She always used to talk about her family,
that they'd all come from a long line of minor aristocracy.
You were always left with the opinion that the background was quite grand,
but I always sort of thought this was, you know, sort of Granny going off on one.
Both of Seb's parents are dead, and so he's on his way to see
his cousin Anna who's researched the family history to find out more.
I have...two photographs here of Vera.
It's very elegant, isn't it?
-That wonderful reflection in the mirror.
-I know, it is.
-That's probably taken during the war and that was obviously taken at the same time.
-Yes, very elegant.
She did dance, I think, in her early years.
Yes, she did. She was a bit of a tearaway.
-But she was quite, quite the naughty girl.
So this would have been beginning of the 1920s, so it was the Roaring '20s.
Yeah. So, what do we know about Vera's parents?
Well, I have her birth certificate here.
So, 1st June, 1905. Vera Frances.
Born in Bath, I didn't know that, to Edwin Swan.
-So, Edwin was Irish? No.
-Yes, part Irish.
Right. OK. Mother, Gwendoline Hyde Swan, formerly Hyde-Clarke.
So, where did they meet?
The story goes that she and her chaperone were walking along by the Bath canal
and were approached by a rather tall, elegant young man with a slight Irish brogue.
And, apparently, he said, "Would you allow me to paint your portrait?".
-It's not bad, is it?
-Well, she did allow him to paint her portrait.
So, that is my great grandmother.
Yes. Gwendoline was from a rather well-to-do family,
so when she met Edwin, who was a penniless portrait painter,
it was somewhat frowned upon because they had far higher expectations.
So, what do we know of the Hyde Clarkes?
Well, I think originally the Hyde Clarke family were from Cheshire.
The family seat was called Hyde Hall.
-Oh, I've heard of Hyde Hall.
-In Cheshire. Well, Hyde!
-Well, the town of Hyde was named after the Hyde family.
-I think I had a road race in Hyde.
-When I was a kid, years ago, yeah.
And here is a painting of Hyde Hall.
Yeah, that's very... That's very...
The landscape I remember round there.
-Does it still exist?
Er, no. I think it was demolished because they found coal seams.
So, I'm guessing...
I'm guessing we should probably...
I don't know, maybe we should be going north?
I think that's sounds like a good step.
Seb has come north to find out about the family of his great grandmother, Gwendoline.
The Hyde Clarke connection is very interesting.
It's a part of the world I know quite well, not a million miles from where I was brought up in Sheffield.
I raced in and around all those towns.
They were my sort of apprenticeship, so it'll be fascinating.
Seb is on his way to Tameside Central Library
where he's meeting genealogist Eileen Butcher,
who's traced the Hyde Clarkes back to the early decades of the 19th Century.
I'm told that is Hyde Hall.
-That's very true, it is.
-And that's why I'm here.
OK. The Hyde Clarkes were a very well respected family in Hyde.
They were the local industrialists of the time.
This is where they lived, the Great House of the area.
But no longer in existence?
Unfortunately not. It was demolished in about 1857.
-Ah, right. OK.
-This is the Pigot's Directory from 1834.
-The Directory was a trade directory, but it had a list of residents as well as tradesmen.
-And this is about Hyde Hall.
"Hyde Hall, the seat of HJ Clarke Esq,
"is a building of some considerable antiquity.
"It's pleasantly situated on the River Tame,
"but the rapid progress made in manufacturers and the introduction of machinery to a vast extent
"and power has materially deteriorated from the beauties of the adjacent scenery".
That's right, yeah. Now, HJ Clarke is Hyde John Clarke, and he's your great great great great grandfather.
-He's in full Naval uniform as he was a retired Captain in the Navy.
-He was actually Commander.
That's actually a powerful painting.
Yeah. Someone to be reckoned with, perhaps.
-And I've managed to source an original newspaper of his obituary in 1857.
Oh, my goodness!
And this is the Hyde and Glossop Weekly News.
"Captain Clarke, RN.
"In our last week's paper we briefly noticed the sudden death of Hyde John Clarke, Esq.
"Mr Clarke entered the Navy on the 29th June, 1791, as Captain Servant,
"Not a menial office.
"During the latter years of his life, Captain Clarke was not satisfied with doing nothing..."!
I can imagine that. "And, although advanced in years, he set about carrying on that good work which
"he had always kept in view, viz, to live for the benefit of the poor.
"It was chiefly through the exertions of Captain Clarke the noble edifice
"of St George's Church was erected at the time it was.
"Captain Clarke has passed from amongst us, but the church
"still remains a credit to the town and a lasting memorial of the man".
I mean, this is public service in its...
A classic example of public service.
-Yeah, that's right. And for no gain for himself.
Just for the poor of the town.
Though Hyde Hall no longer exists, St George's Church still stands in the town of Hyde.
When Captain Clarke was living at the nearby family estate,
he recognised the need for a church in the rapidly expanding industrial community
and set about securing funding from Parliament and public subscription.
Work on the church began in 1831.
Wonderful piece of architecture.
It certainly doesn't lack confidence, does it?
This is very, very familiar to me.
My house in Sheffield was made of this stone.
It's the stone of the landscape that I ran through.
I did all my training in the Peak District, 30 miles away from here.
And this is in memory of my grandfather
Hyde John Clarke Esq, formerly of Hyde Hall, afterwards, Llangollen. Yes.
"In the various relations of life he was eminent alike for his private virtues and his public services.
"Now he rests from his labours and his works do follow him".
That's quite a tribute.
Well, I think that would do for me!
Yeah, that's as good as it gets.
Hyde John Clarke is clearly a man of real substance.
I've always naturally been drawn to people who have contributed
and I think that's clearly what I sense in this guy.
I'm also acutely conscious that when I was trying to figure out
how to run a little bit faster all the time,
I was probably zoning out of conversations I shouldn't have been zoning out of,
particularly with my grandmother, who, by the minute, appears to be less delusional.
Seb knows Hyde John died in 1857.
He's searching the census for details of his birth.
Bet you never thought I'd be finding out more about you on something as devilish as this kind of machine!
Hyde John Clarke, head of the family.
Captain, Royal Navy, we know.
So, Hyde John Clarke is born in Jamaica.
Well, I guess I know where we're going!
There may be a military posting, not unthinkable. More likely trade.
And if we're talking trade then we're probably talking coffee...
Seb has discovered details of his great great great great grandfather
Hyde John Clarke, who he now knows was born about 1778 in Jamaica.
Seb has travelled to Kingston, Jamaica.
He wants to find out why Hyde John was born on the island and what his family was doing there.
I've been to Jamaica a few times.
Jamaica, of course for me, it's the powerhouse of world athletics.
My whole career has been surrounded by extraordinary Jamaican athletes.
But I guess I'm going to find deeper and maybe less attractive roots.
In the mid 17th Century Britain was rapidly expanding the reach of its Empire,
and in 1655 seized the Caribbean island of Jamaica from the Spanish.
For the next three centuries the small island
remained a part of the British Empire.
Seb has come to Registrar General's Department in Spanish Town.
He's meeting genealogist Dianne Frankson.
-Well, Dianne, I've brought this photograph.
Well, it's a photograph of a painting, and that is Hyde John Clarke.
A very dignified man.
Yeah, I thought so. I thought so.
-Well, I did some further research on your behalf.
-I bet you did.
-And I found...Hyde John Clarke's...
-Guess I'm going to need my glasses for this, aren't I?
..baptism record in the Trelawny Copy Register.
Trelawny. That's where Usain Bolt was born.
Yes, it is, actually, yeah.
And, so we look down.
-I'm not supposed to touch this, am I?
I'm really supposed to have my gloves on. I guess we should...
-Well, yes, we should.
Hyde John Clarke.
-OK, is that when it was regis...?
-This is when he was baptised.
-Oh, he was baptised, so, October 31 he was born, in 1777.
You might have to help me here. What's that?
What's that say?
-Illegitimate son of G Hyde Clarke and Sophia Astley.
Illegitimate son of G Hyde Clarke.
-And Sophia Astley.
-And Sophia Astley.
Well, this is taking an interesting turn.
Right. Curiouser and curiouser.
This is actually George Hyde Clarke.
-A very strong...
-So, this is Hyde John's father?
So, let's have a quick look.
Ah, the nose.
-Yeah, maybe, but...
-There's a slight hump on the nose.
Yes, well, that has always run through my family!
Interesting. Yes, you have one! Oh, yes! Oh, dear Lord!
That's a very strong feature!
But you can see that he's a very handsome man, which would explain
Sophia's falling in love with him, because this is a very handsome man.
-I'm guessing we don't know what Sophia looked like?
-No. Sadly, no.
So, I guess I really ought to ask you what we know about George Hyde Clarke?
-George. That's a good start.
Yes. George, at the time period in the 1700s was involved in
-the production of sugar cane and the manufacture of sugar.
He was very likely a wealthy man.
This, we're talking about, is when sugar was king.
-We're talking the pinnacle of sugar production in Jamaica.
We're talking the pinnacle of Jamaican wealth.
Planters had significantly more wealth
than the nobility and the royal family at the time.
So, this is a man that ruled his world.
So, what do we know about Sophia Astley?
Sophia Astley was a young beauty from Cheshire
and she was the daughter of John Astley, who was at the time a very famous portrait painter.
They seem to have sparked a romance.
-And they ended up coming to Jamaica, because you can see
in 1777 they're clearly here and he's having a son with her.
But this must have been seriously disapproved of?
Well, yes, because you're talking about people
who were of a certain class, and it was not really commonplace,
especially women of a certain class, to have children out of wedlock.
This is actually the will of John Astley.
-Which is Sophia's father.
-"And I give..."
"unto my said daughter, Sophia Astley, our..."
Well, this is a little difficult to read.
I actually transcribed it for you in modern.
Ah, good. OK.
"I give, devise and bequeath unto my said daughter, Sophia Astley,
"one annuity or yearly rent in charge of £100 for her life." That's...
-That's good money.
-Not insignificant then.
"And I do hereby expressly declare my will and mind to be that in case and during all such time
"as the said Sophie Astley shall at any time live or cohabit with that execrable villain
"George Hyde Clarke... "!
That happens to be my great great great great great grandfather! Good!
"..on the island of Jamaica or shall have any manner of criminal
"intercourse, connections or dealings with him in any respect whatsoever..."
I think we can conclude that he was not a happy man at this stage of his life.
"Execrable villain" - that is a badge of honour, believe me!
You can feel the vitriol and bile coming through the legalese there.
He blamed the entire relationship on George.
Yeah. Yeah. OK.
Seb wants to find out where George Hyde Clarke lived and whether he was a sugar plantation owner.
He's come to the Jamaica Archives to search the property records of the island.
Thanks very much.
Elevation of the Sun in March.
Everything you would expect in an almanac.
Parish of Trelawny.
Going back... G, C, C, C, C, Clarke!
Clarke. George Hyde Clarke.
Right. We're absolutely...
on the money.
bleak as they are in terms of the number of slaves,
tells you that this was substantial.
This was not, you know, this was not a smallholding.
To find out more about his ancestor's life as a plantation owner, Seb has to travel four hours
across the island to the Parish of Trelawny, where George Hyde Clarke owned Swanswick Plantation.
Well, I need to find out a lot more about George Hyde Clarke.
For a woman to have followed a man at that time to Jamaica,
under any circumstances,
this must have been a powerful affection to have upped sticks like that
and decided to sail halfway, or a good third of the way, round the world.
So, I recognise in George Hyde Clarke somebody who, probably,
was not that bothered about the orthodoxies of the day.
We can conclude that he is probably on the racier side of life.
But I'm not sure that I'm yet prepared to concede the "execrable villain".
When George was living the life of a wealthy sugar planter in Jamaica, the industry was at its height.
Britain had developed an insatiable sweet tooth
and plantations and sugar mills were spread across the island.
Though Swanswick no longer exists as a plantation, the Great House,
which has been rebuilt over the years, still remains.
I suppose it's now just beginning to dawn on me that I'm walking on a drive
that the directest of ancestors
would have gone about their daily lives three centuries ago.
That's a rather big thought.
Clearly seen better days.
Seb has arranged to meet Dr Jonathan Greenland of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.
So, George Hyde Clarke lived here and I'd like you to tell me more.
Your ancestor George Hyde Clarke was a member of the Jamaican plantocracy.
They basically owned most of the land in Jamaica and this is what it was all about, Seb, really.
This is why your ancestors were here.
Sugar cane. Here it's sort of a brown colour, but when it's refined it becomes white.
That's why it's often called 'white gold'.
But sugar was definitely the cash crop. It had enormous implications for England and for the wider world.
And it made enormous fortunes for those people who are producing it.
This revenue, they can either invest here, in creating very large
Great Houses for themselves, or they could send the money back, and this what usually happened.
And it's that money which was going back into their estates,
sometimes their estates, sometimes into race horses and gambling and drinking, which was...
-Or into properties like that.
But also, importantly, a lot of the money which was being made
through the slave trade and also the sugar industry
was going back into the emerging industries back in England.
It wasn't just men like George
who profited from Britain's new sweet tooth.
During the sugar boom of the 18th century, Britain flourished,
helped by profits from the plantation economy and the slave trade.
Many of the country's great cities and mansions benefited from this new wealth.
Money poured into Manchester's factories and cotton mills
and funded the development of new technologies, like the steam engine.
The island of Jamaica, the British Empire's most valuable asset,
was supporting the growth of modern Britain.
So, we have George. He arrives here with Sophia.
Would they have done any physical work themselves here?
I doubt it. I mean, most of these estates were sort of self working.
I mean, they would have had a manager or overseer here, who would have lived in this house, possibly.
Who was doing all the work?
Enslaved African labour bought from Falmouth and places like this,
or from African Jamaicans born on the estate, born into slavery.
So your ancestor would have probably turned up every now and then
with his horse and his carriage and took a look at things to make sure everything was running well.
But coming to the estates must have brought them face to face with quite a lot of harsh realities.
I imagine they may have spent a good amount of time socialising with other people like themselves.
While the work on the plantations was done by enslaved Africans, the owners lived dissolute lives.
Away from the social constraints of England, they could spend their days
and nights drinking, gambling and womanising.
It was into this decadent world that George Hyde Clarke brought his mistress, Sophia Astley.
Seb and Jonathan have come to a nearby former plantation house
which has been restored to its past glories.
When your ancestor was in his relationship with Sophia, he was also married?
He was married to Catherine Hussey, who bore two children to him
and he was married probably in the 1760s.
George met Sophia for the famous,
now scandalous, relationship
in England. She joined him over here,
but George was already married with two children.
Exactly. We know that all of them were here around the same time.
I think this document may be of interest to you.
This is the last will and testament of George Hyde's uncle.
I mean, this is actually quite hard to read.
We have a transcription of it.
"I give to my son..." Unhappy?
"I give to my poor, unhappy and much injured niece,
"Miss Catherine Clarke, nee Hussey, wife of my profligate abandoned nephew George Hyde Clarke..."
George does quite well in wills! He's...
The uncle left her £300 to enable her to come to England to see her children.
I think we can safely say George is now a repeat offender here!
The press is not good, is it?
In 1793, when George was 50 years old, his wife, Catherine Hussey, with whom he'd had
two legitimate children, took the unusual step of filing for a formal deed of separation,
which granted her an annual income of £700, plus profits from the sugar plantation.
They had been married for more than 20 years.
Now, as for your direct ancestor, Sophia, what happened to her?
Did it all end up happily ever after with them living in a cottage?
I have to assume that, given what we already know about George, the answer is probably no, it didn't end up
happily ever after in a cottage looking over at the beautiful views together.
Well, let's see. This is a marriage certificate, 1792.
-Ah, she did get her man, but not George.
Mr Louis Foncier, bachelor, and Sophia Astley of the same parish.
-And they were married in London!
So, for Sophia, this unmarried woman with two illegitimate children...
-Two? So, Hyde John had...
This was probably her last chance at respectability.
I mean, obviously, an unmarried mother
was not considered to be totally respectable,
so this was really a very important thing for Sophia.
Of course, what I don't know is when George arrived in Jamaica.
I don't know yet whether he came direct from England.
This is the parish records from Westmoreland, which is another Parish in Jamaica.
Now if you scan down here...
I'm now getting quite familiar with old script!
Do you see this name here?
-Yes. It is George Hide, but spelt without the 'y'.
-George Hide, son of Major Edward Clarke, baptised March...
March 17th, 1743.
So, I'm guessing born a couple of months earlier than that.
I think what this does tell you is that George Hyde was Jamaican.
-He wasn't coming from England into the situation.
-He was here.
-He was born into the plantocracy.
So we're now going back another generation that had been here.
Well, there's clearly a lot to absorb about George.
You can place him very much as a man of his time and plantation life in Jamaica.
But there is an uncomfortable elephant in the room, which is inescapable.
Because every time we look at the plantation ownership
there are slaves.
This was a forced labour force.
The lavish and indulgent lifestyle enjoyed by men like
George Hyde Clarke was underpinned by an industry that was to shape the development of the modern world.
The trade and exploitation of enslaved Africans.
Seb wants to know what it would have meant to be a slave on his ancestor's plantation.
He's meeting historian Dr Aleric Josephs, a specialist in 18th century Caribbean society.
There is a human story here.
Yes, there is one.
It was typical of the Caribbean, English speaking Caribbean,
French Caribbean, and all the Caribbean areas
to have what we now refer to as a slave society.
Slave labour was considered the best labour
because of the availability of a large number of enslaved persons to work the plantation.
And when you look on any estate inventory you come to understand the value of slave labour.
This was the most costly part of producing sugar.
George Hyde Clarke was a typical planter.
He could not have carried out his economic activities without them.
And if you look at, for instance, this inventory
you can see the different types of slaves, how they were used.
So, this is Swanswick? This is the inventory?
-Yes, this is the inventory for Swanswick.
So look, we have a Newton, 60 years of age,
-value 60, and we guess pounds.
Let's compare him with, say, Boyle.
-And he's 40 years. He's younger, so he's more expensive.
-It's relative to his age.
-Yeah. And there's more productivity.
Yes. That could be the case.
So, actually, if you move on you've got a 13 year old here.
-Ready for work.
-Ready for work.
-And he has a value of 50.
-Yes. He's young.
-The slave was property, it was a commodity.
The slave was classed just like any other estate stock,
At the time this Swanswick inventory was written in 1768 the slaves on the estate
were valued at over £10,000, nearly £700,000 in today's money.
Plantation owners could purchase new slaves in local slave markets.
Here, traders could offload their cargoes of enslaved Africans,
who would then be sold in lots to the highest bidder.
Once on the plantation, some slaves were treated well.
But the work was brutal and violence was common.
Punishments included lashing with a whip,
flogging with a stick, chaining in manacles, mutilation,
and even castration and blinding.
Women could add sexual abuse and rape to the ill treatment they may have had to endure.
But despite the horror many people faced, benevolent relationships
could be formed between the ruling class and the African Caribbeans.
Plantation society was built on contradictions.
These contradictions seemed to be played out in the life of George Hyde Clarke.
Some planters would have a wife to fit the English norm.
They would have coloured mistress likely and...
And that would have been from the plantation household more likely?
In some instances, this woman might never have been enslaved.
George Hyde Clarke, based on his will, seemed to have a coloured mistress by the name...
Well, I'm not smiling at the circumstances, I am smiling at
the nature of looking yet again at a will, because this is the third will.
-The first will was by the father of Sophia Astley,
who was his mistress.
Then there was the will of an uncle
who was making provision for George's wife, Catherine Hussey.
Those two wills were not really PR made in heaven for George.
In his will he indicated that there was this other woman in his life - not the two you mentioned earlier -
-in his life.
-Yeah. This was a full time occupation for George!
Well, he was a typical West Indian man, white man, I should say.
Yes, I think you do need to say that.
Right, so, bequeathed unto Sarah Lee.
So, Sarah Lee is a new name.
-And Sarah Lee is clearly, and as you've said, the other woman,
or the other, other, other woman!
-Well, it's difficult to read.
It's the handwriting from the 19th century, so let me show you a typed script.
OK. "I give and bequeath unto Sarah Lee, now residing with me, all my
"household furniture and household table and bed linen and every other kind of property except money
"and securities, for money and except books, bookcases, the chair..."
He's really gone into detail here.
"And if I shall survive the said Sarah Lee, let I give and bequeath
"every matter and thing herein before given to her to my reputed natural daughter,
"Elizabeth Lee Clarke, by the said Sarah Lee
"who is now between 14 and 15 years of age".
-So, Elizabeth Lee is the daughter of Sarah Lee.
The product of the relationship with George Hyde Clarke.
This is, at the very least, the third recorded illegitimate child.
Well, as I said earlier, he was typical.
He was typical of having this mistress and...
He's still not coming out of this as an Eton chorister, though.
I'm not trying to make his image clean.
I'm just saying that he was like so many other planters.
The better planters made provision for those children
because it would not have been easy...
So the best we can say is at least he's making provision.
-He's making provision, yes.
-And quite substantial provision, too.
Records show that George became involved in a relationship with Sarah Lee,
a mulatto or mixed race woman, who it's likely he met in Jamaica.
In his will, he states that Sarah was living with him at Hyde Hall in Cheshire.
He'd fathered their daughter, Elizabeth, when he was 65 years old,
15 years after his separation from his wife, Catherine Hussey.
I can't go that far at the moment and say that I like George.
There are odd contradictions because with the horror
of all that went with enslaved labour
and clearly the brutality of the everyday existence
on those plantations,
you occasionally got glimpses of redemptive features.
The way he made provision for Sarah Lee and her child, their child.
But you also recognise a man in a setting where there is little or no moral compass.
How would I feel if I were living on the inherited wealth of the sugar industry?
It's an easy answer actually, of course, because I know I'm not, and that's a bit of a cop out, I suppose.
But, no, I don't think I would be that comfortable if I knew that that was the basis
of the wealth accretion,
and was impacting upon my current circumstances.
Mercifully, it's not. I don't have to enter that moral maze.
George's will reveals that he had at least six illegitimate children
with four different women, in addition to his two legitimate sons.
George Hyde Clarke died at the age of 81 in 1824,
ten years before slavery was abolished in Jamaica.
Seb knows from the baptism record that George Hyde Clarke
was born in Jamaica in 1743,
the son of Major Edward Clarke.
But what he still doesn't know is how his family came to be in Jamaica running a sugar plantation.
-How do you do?
He's meeting historian Dr James Robertson
at the former colonial garrison Fort Charles, outside Kingston.
-Well, James, what I know is that George Hyde Clarke was born in Jamaica and lived here.
His baptism record reveals that his father was Major Edward Clarke,
and that is as far as my trail leads.
I can take you one stage further back.
I have a portrait of Major Edward.
-I'm not sure about the uniforms, but clearly a spiffy red coat.
What is so remarkable about this is, we've got the portrait record,
son, father and grandfather, just, you know, there they are.
You are atypical in that. There's few families that can do it.
This is not a nice island for paintings.
What the hurricanes and the fires miss, the beetles eat.
-So, when did Edward actually arrive in Jamaica?
-Plus or minus, early 1740.
He's here with colonial regiments that are out in the West Indies from the North American colonies.
-And he meets his wife here?
She's a widow from Westmoreland, which is the far west of the colony.
-It's next to Trelawny.
-Next to Trelawny.
As an officer, he'd have far more of a social life.
He can come ashore, he can to Kingston, he can probably go to
Spanish Town, which is where there's a social network, a social season.
In Spanish Town you have banquets, you have taverns,
there's dances, there's certainly the races
and, there, a Westmoreland widow is actually quite tasty.
Major Edward Clarke's marriage to Elizabeth Guthrie, the widow of a plantation owner introduced
the Clarke family into the profitable world of sugar production and the plantation lifestyle.
When they met in the early 1740s Edward Clarke was serving with the North American Colonial Regiments,
which were fighting alongside the British in a campaign against the Spanish in the Caribbean.
So, Edward came down from America?
-What on Earth is he doing serving in an American regiment?
He's born in America. He's born in New York.
He's born in New York when it is a British colony.
And the next stage is an older genealogical text,
the History of the Commoners, and it gives you who his dad is.
Edward Clarke, yes.
Marries Elizabeth Guthrie.
And then you go back...
Espoused George Clarke Esq, who was the Lieutenant Governor of
the Province of New York, son of George Clarke Esq of Swanswick in Somersetshire.
So Swanswick in Trelawny...
So there is a Swanswick, Somerset?
Yes. He's playing himself as English in the choice of name, rather than using a colonial name.
So, Edward's father is Lieutenant Governor of the Province of New York.
It's odd. As with most things on this journey, this has been an extraordinary story and things
have come out of left field rather quickly actually on occasions.
So, I don't quite know how to react to this, but, I thank you all the same!
You've posed probably as many questions as you've answered, but thank you.
That's, I suppose, the great thing about history.
That's what happens when you get stuck with an academic!
Seb has traced his family back to his seven times great grandfather,
who was Lieutenant Governor of New York in the 18th century.
To find out more about his illustrious ancestor,
Seb is heading to New York City.
It's exciting to have one set of grandparents born in Jamaica.
You find the next one up the tree is born in America.
And then to find out that his father was Lieutenant Governor of this city!
Yeah, this is an interesting family. I'd like to find out why he was here,
what his background was.
Was it military, was it political, was it patronage?
Probably a mixture of all three. And I'd like to understand the time leading up to massive change
in this country, because this was really in the infancy of this extraordinary city.
In the early 18th century, the state of New York was part of Britain's North American colonies.
George Clarke arrived in New York from England
and in 1736 was appointed to the position of Lieutenant Governor.
At the time of his appointment, New York City was a small settlement,
barely a few miles square, on the southern tip of what we know today as Manhattan.
There was little in the way of important trade or commerce,
and in the late 1730s a population of less than 11,000 people.
Seb is on his way to meet historian Professor Graham Hodges.
This is your great grandfather seven times over, Lieutenant Governor George Clarke.
It's amazing that, yet again we have another portrait.
He becomes Lieutenant Governor and it's a culmination of a lifetime
of hard work, tough politicking in New York colony.
New York at this time is not the great metropolis by a long shot.
It's a town where the air is redolent with horses, pigs run everywhere, chickens, too.
There are people who have farms in the backyard.
There have been smallpox epidemics.
There had been a series of very tough winters,
and it was not a good place to be in the summertime.
It was fetid, frankly.
So, he's in charge of a colony which is small, not that prosperous, but very, very promising.
And your ancestor is engaged in one of the most significant events
of the Colonial period, the event known as The Negro Uprising of 1741.
I have here a document which is a report that he made back to
-the Board of Trade, and I'd like you to look at it.
-The Board of Trade in London?
Yeah. It's quite extraordinary.
I think you'll find quite a bit revealed there.
"The fatal fires that consume the buildings and the fort did not happen by accident,
"as I first apprehended,
"but was kindled by design in the execution of a horrid conspiracy
"to burn it and the whole town and to massacre the people.
"How many conspirators there were we do not yet know.
"Every day produces new discoveries".
-And what, in essence, does that mean?
-In March of 1741 there are a series of fires.
One of them destroys Fort George, where Clarke was living when he was in town.
Two black men were apprehended and asked about what was going on.
Eventually, they confessed that, not only were they trying to burn down the fort,
but also to burn down the entire city, killing as many white people as possible,
with the enslaved people then taking roles as the leaders.
In 1741 New York's economy was in trouble.
Unemployment was rising and money was scarce.
As in Britain's other colonies in North America, the owning of
slaves from Africa and the Caribbean was part of daily life.
But as the recession deepened, it was these enslaved people who suffered the most.
Slavery is part of the economy and the society.
The slaves lived with you, you knew them for a long time.
Servitude is the condition for about 20% of the population.
And they're not all that happy about it,
and were looking for the best opportunity which would gain their freedom.
-An inexorable move for freedom.
And if they had to do it violently, they were going to do it.
So, Clarke is right in the middle of this.
He's the Crown Governor, so he has to find out what happens in this conspiracy
through whatever means, then he has to prosecute
the people who are involved and, ultimately, to find a way to end it.
Over the next few weeks, further arson attacks panicked the city.
As the Crown representative, Clarke had to calm the fearful population.
New York's future as a colony was in the balance.
Arrests were quickly made and, within weeks,
the first public executions of alleged conspirators took place.
Does this immediately calm the situation?
No. The situation remains volatile.
The trials were ongoing.
There are more and more exposure of their plans.
More connections are being made.
People are more and more scared.
Executions were continuing on and there are a lot of people thrown in jail.
So, Clarke, as a Crown official, felt it was important to try to end it.
At this point, more than 25 have already been executed,
so the blood has run through the streets of the city.
It's a pretty terrible time.
Clarke had hoped that the swift punishment of the conspirators would be enough to quell the uprising.
But this strategy failed.
So, Clarke offers rewards to whites.
He offers emancipation to enslaved people who would come forth, with also a cash bounty.
They were really buying their way out of this.
Yes. They were very, very anxious about this.
And so, for him to make an open call like this, is extraordinary.
I mean, this is an opportunity of a lifetime for any enslaved person.
And the £100 is more than double,
maybe triple the annual wage of any skilled artisan.
So, again, this is a pot of gold which has being promised,
but the results are really quite extraordinary.
It was only with the offer of inducements that Clarke gained control of the situation.
In response to the offer, hundreds of informants came forward to incriminate others.
By the end of August 1741, nearly six months after the first fire,
the alleged leaders of the conspiracy had been caught and executed.
With the ringleaders dealt with, the tensions in the city receded.
Through the use of force, and Lieutenant Governor Clarke's shrewd tactics,
the end of the so-called Negro Uprising was brought about.
Clarke had helped to safeguard New York's future.
He did what he felt was absolutely necessary within the political context...
-To fulfil his remit.
-To fulfil his agreement,
and also simply the security of the colony,
because that was very much under question.
Is there any evidence of George anywhere, bricks and mortar?
There is a very nice memorial.
A family estate in upstate New York
called Hyde Hall and I suggest that you go there.
I'll take your advice.
I think you'll be rewarded if you do.
In 1745 George Clarke retired to England. He was 69 years old.
In the years that followed, his descendants continued to prosper in the province of New York.
Before returning to England, Seb wants to see the family estate.
He's on his way to upstate New York where Hyde Hall is situated.
This is great today because I know America pretty well, but I've never been upstate New York.
I've no idea what I'm going to find when I get here.
I had little or no idea
what I was going to find when I arrived in Jamaica.
But at each stage the matter of fact script
on a birth certificate or a record of baptism or a will
has led and unravelled the most extraordinary personal stories here
in parts of the world that I had no recognition or understanding at all that I had any attachment to.
Coming towards the close of this journey, I didn't think that I would find bricks and mortar.
Oh, what a beautiful building.
Well, I've finally found Hyde Hall.
This 19th century mansion, once the Hyde Clarke seat in America,
is now a museum and stands as testimony
to the family's place in Britain's colonial history.
Oh, my goodness!
Yeah, Granny, you were right, we were wrong.
Huh! Well, we know you!
Hyde Hall was occupied by descendants of the Clarke family until the 1940s.
Many of the family's possessions still remain.
This has been a fantastic journey.
It's unquestionably awe inspiring.
You know, to see these big chunks of British history and to know that,
actually, your family was sitting pretty much at the epicentre of it.
And they're extraordinary characters. I mean, they are big characters.
These aren't little tweaks to history.
I like to think that some of the things I've seen
just put a few more brush strokes on a canvas that was pretty empty.
And I do, at this moment
roundly apologise to my grandmother for really zoning out very seriously
and thinking probably that she was a tad delusional about what clearly she did have a feel for.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
As a young athlete Sebastian Coe was too busy concentrating on running faster to ever listen very closely to family stories. The former Olympic gold medal winner sets out to discover if there is any truth in his grandmother's claims that the family's origins were once quite grand. To his surprise, it turns out granny was right, although perhaps not quite in the way she thought.
Seb's journey into his family history begins in Cheshire, where the family seat of Hyde Hall once stood, with the story of a philanthropic and upstanding ancestor who worked for the benefit of his community. However, the story soon takes an unexpected turn as Seb follows the trail to Jamaica and discovers the dissolute world of 18th-century plantation life. On the island he uncovers illegitimacy, a philandering sugar planter and slavery.
Seb's family links with Britain's colonial past don't end in Jamaica. Seb discovers that the first of his ancestors to settle on the island had arrived from New York. He travels to the States to investigate an illustrious ancestor who was involved in one of the most dramatic events in the city's history.