Christianna Jacques: An Apprentice from Nevis in Bristol

In our continuing series for Black History Month 2023, Christine Eickelmann shares the history of Christianna Jacques – an enslaved Black woman from Nevis who built a life in Bristol

Bristol University’s Special Collections provide a unique and important resource into the experiences of enslaved people. One of the many stories to be found in this collection, is the life of Christianna Jacques (Lewis, Ellis). She was born on 30 June 1780 on Mountravers, John Pinney’s sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Nevis. She was the first child of an enslaved woman, Mulatto Polly (aka Polly Pinney, Mary Scarborough); her father, evidence suggests, was Gwyn Vaughan Jacques, a white man. Christianna’s seven siblings were fathered by another white man, the planter John Scarborough.

In 1790, at her mother’s request, John Pinney took Christianna to Bristol. At first she was in the Pinneys’ service, working with, among others, Fanny Coker and Pero Jones, two black servants also from Nevis until aged 16 she began a three-year apprenticeship, probably as a seamstress. Mulatto Polly financed her training and sent money for her upkeep. It appears that during her schooling, Christianna did not live in the Pinney household.

Christianna Jacques lived for some time in John Pinney’s house in Great George Street, Bristol, now the Georgian House Museum. Image: Christine Eickelmann/David Small

On 20 April 1803 Christianna Jacques married a 21-year-old joiner, John Lewis, in Portsea, Hampshire, and sometime afterwards lived in Chatham, Kent. Both Portsea and Chatham were closely connected with seafaring; her husband may have worked on the ships.

From Chatham, she travelled to Bristol to meet her mother, who, by then, had been freed, as had Christianna’s siblings. Mother and daughter met up at least once more during Mulatto Polly’s several trips to England.

By then a widow, Christianna married Eli Ellis on 28 June 1813, also in Portsea. He was a jeweller who later ran his business from Goose Lane in Worcester. The couple had two sons, who were both baptised in the Methodist chapel. Her first-born, Eli Joseph, died aged two in January 1817, and it is likely that Christianna died following the birth of her second, unnamed child. Aged 38, she was buried on 2 December 1818 in Worcester.

For more information about Christianna Jacques, Fanny Coker and Pero Jones, see biographies number 445, 334 and 265

What inspired your research? The Pinney Papers in Bristol University’s Special Collections inspired my research into the entire population of Mountravers plantation in Nevis. Christianna Jacques was one of hundreds of enslaved people.

Author: Christine Eickelmann is an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of History (Historical Studies).

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