In the second blog about Unheard Voices in the Quarter Sessions records we will look closer at how these people identified themselves or, more realistically, how the courts identified them.
Sometimes the trade given is vagrant or vagabond, someone who is wandering and begging for food or work. In other words, they have no fixed employment and this makes them outcasts.
In 1766 James Aires, listed as ‘homeless orphan’ tells the court he was told by his mother he was ‘born in a pigsty’. With no other family, since her death he wandered looking for food and shelter, stopping in farmhouses and working petty chores for his keep. Although he asked the parish for help before, he was turned away and told to work for the farmers. The statement ends by saying he is twelve years old.
Industry seems to be what binds together communities and offer economic survival. In fact, in almost every Sessions, people are defined by their work, or lack of. We’ve come across husbandman, victualler, labourer, coal miner, nailmaker and many more. This is very valuable historical information, much like the census which tells us about how people lived and what they relied upon.
Although the cases are local, there are also references to what was happening in the wider world at the time. In 1766 Anne Hedges tells us her story, and is simply described as ‘widow’. She says her husband was born in the parish Ross in Herefordshire, but she was born in New York. After marrying her soldier husband she travelled around with him, performing nursing duties during what she called ‘the late war’ (meaning the Seven Years War). She then says she was wounded at ‘Martinico’ (modern day Martinique). This was attacked and occupied by the British in 1762, which fits her timeline. Afterwards she came to Britain on the ‘Solebay Hospital Ship’ and landed in Leith. She has a happy ending, as the parish agrees to take her in and care for her. She would have been unusual in her new local community, as people, especially women rarely travelled far outside their own county.