After Robert Blackford’s Death

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December 7, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

While I gather my thoughts for a post on backsword players and one on other events in the life of Robert Blackford, I’ve also been musing on his siblings and what might have happened to them.


Singleton’s The Ale House Door. 1790. Is this how Robert might have appeared in 1790 when taking a break for a drink?

After the death of her father Robert Blackford, Harriet Blackford’s mother Rebecca (Wayt) Blackford found herself in such dire straits that she deserted the family so that the younger children could receive parish assistance. Where were all the other Blackfords?

Of Harriet’s nine living siblings in 1802, the three oldest very likely had been living at home but were probably left to support themselves: John (24), Rebecca (22) and Robert (20). I imagine the next youngest might have been employed even before the death of their father: Lucy (17), Thomas (15) and William (13). The four youngest were Harriet (10), Dorothy (8), Henry (6) and Jane (1). With six children employable, I’m guessing that in a good economy (and depending on the time of year) the pooled resources of the family could have covered basic living expenses, even if the standard of living was lower than previously, especially if John was able to take over Robert’s butcher shop. There is no evidence from their later lives that they did not get along and would not have worked together. Food was more expensive than usual in the era around 1800 but was there more to the picture?

Was the family somehow in debt? Could Robert have made some bad business decisions? There were no bankruptcy proceedings or evidence that assignment of debt papers were created. On the other hand, Rebecca’s actions indicate that any assets of the family were quickly used up. Robert left no will, but if he had little of value a will wasn’t necessary. At 45, with children still young, one might expect that  he was unlikely to turn over his tools, the “goodwill of the business,” and all his assets to his eldest son John unless his health was broken and he was unable to conduct his own affairs. If he had possessions of value and a thriving business that he turned over to his son, wouldn’t he have also expected John to continue to support the family? It’s possible that he turned what little there was over to his son some time in advance of his death in return for John becoming the head of the family, or that the business was not thriving and he had sold his assets to survive and all he could leave for John was any goodwill and connections related to the business. Without further evidence it’s all guesswork.

Why didn’t Rebecca send some of the children to live with Blackford relatives? Lydiard Millicent is not far from Swindon, assuming they had stayed close to their birthplace. Since she appears to have placed the eligible children on parish relief, it seems likely the Blackfords had either died, left the neighborhood and were out of touch, or had no more resources than Rebecca. The children’s Blackford grandparents both died in 1783, when Robert & Rebecca had only three children and there is no evidence that the grandchildren were willed any direct inheritances.

Robert’s oldest brother John would have been 49 in 1802. I suspect he died before marrying but I have not found a burial record. He could have moved outside Wiltshire but that seems less likely for an oldest son and heir. Either way, I suspect he was out of the picture by 1802 in terms of assisting his brother’s children.

One possibility is that Robert’s brother William died in 1791 leaving his wife Mary to support their four daughters, but it’s also possible the man buried in 1791 was a different William. In either case, I’m not certain about what happened to these cousins; if William did die in 1791 it could be that Mary re-married and left the area. If so, her ability to help the Blackfords in Swindon was probably limited.

Robert had three sisters that might have survived infancy. I have found no records for Betty and Sarah after their baptisms. Perhaps they married outside Wiltshire or their burials were not recorded. The third sister, Mary, appears to have married William Price and died young in 1783. (1783 was a bad summer for the Blackford family: Robert’s father William died in May, his mother Dorothy in July, and Mary, along with her son Thomas Price, also died in July).

I think the short answer is that Rebecca had no resources to draw on from the immediate Blackford family. If there was any assistance available from relatives it seems likely it came from Rebecca’s side, the Wayt family. I hope to look further into that possibility.






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