31 December 2014
Dear great, great, great grandfather Charles,
I am so proud to read of your achievements and very interested to learn more of your short life spent in England and that of your origins abroad.
Your youngest son, Charles Alfred, born in Frome, Somersetshire in 1824, wrote a letter in about 1870 which revealed some of your life but, in doing so, raised many more questions for which answers have yet to come to light through my research and that of many of your descendents with whom I correspond throughout the world – knowing our roots is important to us today.
Research, much to our surprise, had earlier found from Admiralty records that you were born in Magdeburg, Prussia about 1784 and served as an ordinary seaman in the British navy at the Battle of Trafalgar aboard HMS Achille. You were awarded Boulton’s Trafalgar medal and will be heartened to hear that Parliament finally, in 1847, recognised its brave seamen with the award of the Naval General Service medal. Ship’s musters record that your service took you to far away places, including Rio de Janeiro, before being discharged from the navy in 1815. I have read much of the British navy in the time of Lord Nelson to gain an appreciation of what life was like for an ordinary seaman. You would have had frightening, exhausting but yet proud and interesting experiences in the service of your king.
The Admiralty records do not state when and where you joined the British navy nor have I found details of your full service record.
Your son, Charles, also provided a picture of himself taken about 1865 which looks as though he was of dark skin. This revelation is supported by his mother having told him you were of African descent. It was therefore assumed that your parents were slaves transported from Africa to Prussia? If so, what was their homeland? Did you know their names and was our surname of MARTIN that of the slave owner? Were they previously known by a tribal name?
You are said to be fluent in several languages and a bit of a musician. I wonder what those languages might be? Such skills would have been highly regarded in the navy.
You were somewhere in France as a gentleman’s servant until your master’s property was confiscated in war and he exiled. You were then left to your own resources but why choose to join the British navy? Perhaps you were press-ganged? Furthermore, how did you come to leave Prussia for France?
I understand you had a brother living in Oxford. I suspect that was a shipmate rather than a blood relation?
You married Priscilla SHERKEY in Portsmouth on 13 December 1813. On your return to sea, you made provision for your wife by allotting her half of your pay and so she gave up service in Portsmouth and returned to her home town of Frome in Somersetshire. Your marriage certificate states you were a widower. I would so like to know your first wife’s name and where you lived together. Did you have any children?
On your discharge from the navy you chose to settle in Frome. A child’s baptism record states you were a spinner but I have no record of where you lived in Frome. Having been at sea for so long it must have been difficult to adapt to living and working ashore in what was a foreign country. This challenge would been made all the more difficult as you were three years short of qualifying for a naval pension and had to retire on your prize money.
Medical advances have established that I am not of African descent but most likely to have Native American roots. This may explain why an early navy ship’s muster records you as having been born in Charleston. Alternatively, you could have visited the United States of America with the navy, or perhaps it was not prudent to reveal your true birthplace of Prussia at that time?
It is my ambition to trace our family’s roots wherever that might be.
I am privileged to know you were my ancestor but equally saddened we never met.
Your loving great, great, great grandson,
Gordon P MARTIN