Thursday, June 15, 2017

HIS MAJESTY'S 7-YEAR PASSENGER, Part 1: Richard Trenary, 1742

East Newlyn-north of Truro
(Trenary to Williams to Morgan to GLOVER)

In a published listing of 18th century felons sentenced by the English courts for transportation to the American colonies, the name “Richard Trenarry” is recorded.  Tried in Cornwall, Richard was sentenced in the Western Circuit Court of Assize at Truro in March, 1742.  His punishment: transportation as one of "His Majesty's 7-Year Passengers" to America where he would be bought as a convict laborer and serve his master, unpaid, for seven years.  His crime: stealing 6,000 pounds of tobacco, or so they say.
At a time in British criminal history when stealing a handkerchief was seen as a transportable offense (among at least 150 other crimes), the theft of even six pounds of tobacco seems comparatively serious.  And, if the charge is correct -stealing 1000 times six pounds of tobacco- well, it seems that Richard was lucky to have escaped the other obvious alternative, hanging.
There is no question that Richard Trenary was transported to America as a convicted felon with a seven-year sentence.  According to Houlihan and Trenary-Barker, co-authors of The Richard Trenary family tree, 1811-1880:
"He was christened with the name of Richard Trenery 25 May 1717 in East Newlyn, Cornwall, England and was a descendant of John Trenerry born about 1534 in the same parish.  In the spring of 1742 Richard, almost 25, was sentenced to seven years in the American Colonies for stealing 6,000 pounds of tobacco.  He was transported in April of 1742 to Prince Georges Co, Maryland and eventually showed up on a 1758 land indenture with his Americanized name of Richard Trenary.  On the 1758 Loudoun Co, Virginia colonial land record Richard, with his wife Mary and son William Bishop, leased 100 acres.  It is believed he died around 1790 and most of his family moved to Frederick County where his son Samuel lived."
It is the size of Richard Trenary’s theft versus the size of his penalty that puzzles me.  (A seven-year sentence was standard but many minor criminals received fourteen-year judgments.)  Six thousand pounds of tobacco is almost too whopping an amount to believe.  It’s not like Richard was strolling down the roadway one day and happened upon the six thousand pounds of tobacco that might have “fallen off a cart” on the way to market.  If the quantity is correct, then Richard acquired a motherlode of at least six massive hogshead barrels, weighing no less than a thousand pounds each.  Undoubtedly imported from the colonial plantations of Virginia or Maryland; undoubtedly untaxed goods and, undoubtedly, not fortuitously found on the side of the road.  Shipwreck?  Secret cove?  Conspirators?  Let’s just say that Richard probably knew a smuggler or two. 
At twenty-five, Richard likely already had a trade or skills (like lifting heavy weights!) that would serve him well once he disembarked at Annapolis in chains.  He would have been displayed in the open market as chattel, sold to the best bidder at a price-per-head much less than an indentured free white or enslaved African laborer.  Once selected by a plantation owner or merchant, Richard would have been quickly put to heavy use as free labor.  For seven years.
Unlike his post-1776 Botany Bay counterparts, Richard had the option of returning to his native Cornwall when his time was served.  He chose instead to remain in Virginia where he had earned a clean slate and acquired some land on which to build a new, free life.  Richard and his wife Mary had children of which one -Samuel Fenton Trenary- was the grandfather of the grandmother of Louisa Jane Williams, wife of Jacob Coleman Morgan -my great-great grandparents on the Glover branch of my family tree.