coakly lettsom

The Abolitionist who owned a thousand slaves

Near where I live in London, a well known opponent of slavery had a mansion in the early nineteenth century. But somehow, despite his best intentions, this noble abolitionist ended up owning a thousand slaves. So, how did that unfortunate situation arise?

I recently bought a small magazine from February 1825 from an antique dealer that included a feature on Grove Hill, the mansion built by John Coakley Lettsom. Here I am with the magazine below. And it revealed an intriguing story about an abolitionist who unintentionally ended up owning an awful lot of slaves.

This prosperous gentleman was born to a slave owning father and an Irish mother in what is now the British Virgin Islands, a group of Caribbean islands to the right of Puerto Rico if you look at a map.

He was sent off to England as a child where, under the care of a guardian, he eventually studied medicine and became a doctor. Then the news came of a large inheritance back in the Caribbean as both his father and older brother had died. The brother had spent a large part of their father’s legacy but…a hundred slaves were left on the family plantation.

Now, John Coakley Lettsom had become a Quaker in England. And consequently an abolitionist – as that Christian denomination opposed slavery. So the first thing he did was to liberate all his father’s slaves – which left him penniless. He then set up as a doctor and eventually earned enough money to return from the Caribbean to England.

His self-sacrifice as an abolitionist who had stuck true to his principles got him very favourable publicity in London. England, at this time, was turning very much against the ownership of slaves. In contrast to the Americas where slavery would persist until the mid-century, slavery was officially outlawed in legislation passed in 1807 and 1833. Throughout the British Empire, it became illegal to own other human beings.

Lettsom built a large mansion outside London called Grove Hill – on a high point where you could see the city in the distance. As London has expanded, the area today is just another borough of south London. His mansion was demolished not long after his death and a row of very fine Regency houses built, many of which are still there.

DISCOVER: A horrific day trip to Georgian London

Just before he died, fate played a cruel trick on Lettsom. His son Pickering Lettsom went to live in the British Virgin Islands, where his father had been born, and married a rich woman. Tragically, Pickering died a month after the marriage and his wife not long after. They left everything in their will to John back in London including….a thousand slaves that Pickering’s wealthy wife owned.

Before the exasperated abolitionist could free all these newly acquired slaves, he himself died in 1815. So having begun his career by freeing a hundred slaves to widespread public approval in England, he ended his life accidentally owning a thousand!

Below is a picture of the abolitionist at home with his family in Camberwell before learning about his windfall of a thousand slaves.

Filming with the “Forbidden History” team this week

I was in the Gore Hotel’s lovely Tapestry Room this week filming for the fifth series of¬†Forbidden History¬†presented, as ever, by Jamie Theakston. It’ll be aired in the Spring of 2018. I’ll be appearing in all six episodes and some great topics will be featured:

  • Who was the real historical Jesus?
  • The mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • The horror of the East German secret police – the Stasi
  • The man behind James Bond
  • Nazi Treasure quest – what were they looking for?
  • Secret societies – do they really control us?

Here I am filming at the Gore Hotel…

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Forbidden History examines the Knights Templar

In July 2016, I filmed for the first time for the programme Forbidden History – then presented by Jamie Theakston. The production crew came round to my house and filmed in my study to talk about the Knights Templar.

This was season four, episode four of Forbidden History.

We barrelled through some of the theories about the Knights Templar that most excite people. The idea that they held clandestine initiation ceremonies where lewd kisses where administered to different parts of the body (a real accusation at their trial).

DISCOVER: Filming with History channel in Templar Tomar

The supposed flight with all their treasure after the arrest warrants were served on the knights in 1307 (not verified).

Then in our Forbidden History filming we turned to the various theories on where the Templar treasure could have been hidden. Was it taken to Scotland? Was it spirited away to Portugal? Did it include the Holy Grail or any other sacred relics?

I pop up about seven times in this edition of Forbidden History talking about buried treasure, pagan rituals and the trial of the Knights Templar. It’s a great fun watch and so try and catch it on any number of channels internationally.

Simply search for “Forbidden History” and the episode “Dark Truths of the Templars” presented by Jamie Theakston. And my face will pop up!

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