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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Bigamist Captain John Lindsay & the Pensacola Connection in Mansfield Park

In Janeites, Rita Lamb wrote on June 7 (and then again today,  re-posted):  "An archaeologist at West Florida, Margo Stringfield, has posted further background to John Lindsay's relationship with Belle's mother here: Apparently it was a longer relationship than the usual story suggests. If Ms Stringfield's research is correct then it wasn't confined to the West Indies or Florida either, but continued for some time in London."

Rita, I noticed when you posted the above 2 weeks ago, and read the linked article with interest for several reasons (including that I live in South Florida, the other end of the state from Pensacola in the ironically much more “Southern” Panhandle). It's very interesting how well Stringfield’s work fits with Steedman's earlier research which Ellen Moody just quoted from at length.

That Captain Lindsay conveyed the lot in Pensacola to Dido’s mother after he owned it 8 years, in 1773, fits very nicely with Steedman’s research otherwise showing the very long term and strong double family that Lindsay managed (under the patriarchal customs of the day) to create and sustain). Although… we can only wonder as to how happy either of his wives, or any of his children, really were with the arrangement. And the film Belle does indeed slide by ALL of that….

I became curious to know something about Pensacola while Captain Lindsay was there, and here, courtesy of Wikipedia, is my edited down summary, which indicate that Captain Lindsay was where the action was, as he probably was a participant in ”…Great Britain’s victory over France in the Seven Years War (the French and Indian War) and its aftermath. [I]n 1763 the British took control of Pensacola. During the British occupation, the area began to prosper. Pensacola was the capital of British West Florida.“Pensacola was becoming something more than a garrison town…There were now a number of fine houses and structures and an especially impressive Governor’s Palace while the fort had been strengthened and made more efficient. It seems likely the town had over two hundred houses made of timber. Pensacola was still, however, mainly a military and trading outpost, its principal link to the outside world being primarily by sea.”  After Spain joined the rebels of the American Revolution in 1779, Spanish forces captured East Florida and West Florida, regaining Pensacola. They held this area from 1781–1819.  Following the War of 1812 and United States victory over Britain, it negotiated with Spain to take control of Florida.
The British colony of West Florida, with its capital at Pensacola, included all of the Panhandle west of the Apalachicola River, as well as southwestern Alabama, southern Mississippi, and the Florida parishes of modern Louisiana. …In 1763, the British laid out Pensacola's modern street plan. This period included the major introduction of the slave-based cotton plantation economy and new settlement by Protestant Anglo-British-Americans and black slaves. …During the American Revolution (1775–1783), the state of Georgia revolted against the British crown, but East and West Florida, like the Canadian colonies, remained loyal to the British. Many loyal to the king relocated to Florida during this period….”.

So it appears from the above that the major introduction of slave-based cotton plantations to British West Florida occurred exactly when Captain Lindsay received his land in Pensacola.

In that regard, one thing that Steedman wrote in her email to Ellen really struck me:

“Documents show Elizabeth’s brother was still alive in 1783. What happened to him? why was he not equally favored? were there no rumors because he was a boy and thus could not have been anyone’s slave-mistress? We may infer that one reason this familiar family pattern in slave- owning families has escaped the Mansfield official histories is it is uncomfortable to people to have again to recognize that a white man is bigamously living with two women, one of which is his overt property (Elizabeth Lindsay’s mother) and the other his de facto property, Mary.”

I have since 2006 been of the opinion (which Rozema’s 1999 film points in the direction of, when we see Tom Bertram’s sketch of his father raping a slave woman) that JA means for us to discern in the shadows of MP that:

ONE: Sir Thomas has for several decades led a double life, and that he has a second family in Antigua, including black slave wife and biracial children; and

TWO: Somehow, some fuzzy way, both Henry Crawford and Mary Crawford are part of Sir Thomas’s other family, such that, in the character of Henry, we have the proverbial chicken coming home to roost---very much (and not coincidentally) like the illegitimate son Frederick coming home to (unwittingly) confront his own biological father, Baron Wildenhaim, in Lover’s Vows. Again, in a very small nutshell, it is no accident that Henry Crawford is initially described as follows, as if he were a slave on the auction block being evaluated by prospective buyers:

“Her brother was not handsome: no, when they first saw him he was absolutely plain, black and plain; but still he was the gentleman, with a pleasing address. The second meeting proved him not so very plain: he was plain, to be sure, but then he had so much countenance, and his teeth were so good, and he was so well made, that one soon forgot he was plain; and after a third interview, after dining in company with him at the Parsonage, he was no longer allowed to be called so by anybody. “  

So, till now, I had always thought Lord Mansfield was an allusive source for the character of Sir Thomas, because Lord Mansfield, like Sir T., was the patriarch of a household with a young (grand)niece who was brought to live there as a girl and then lived in limbo between being family and slave.

But now, with the combination of Steedman’s and Stringfield’s data aligning so closely, I infer that JA, working the gossip network at Godmersham for intelligence, had by 1814 learned a great deal about Dido’s father (and mother and brother). And I speculate that JA, as she often did in her novelistic subtextual allusions, blurred two generations of a real life family together (as if to say, like father like son—or in this case, nephew), such that Lord Mansfield’s nephew, Captain John Lindsay, is, I believe, ALSO an allusive source for Sir Thomas!

And she wrote all of this into MP in 1814, three years after JA’s initial engagement with the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, in S&S, when JA, perhaps not yet aware of all the details of the real life (very) extended family of Lord Mansfield, had given the brown-skinned Marianne Dashwood an East Indian aura….

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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