Anna Meighan widow

???? - 1848

Claimant or beneficiary

Biography

Widow of prominent mahogany merchant and landowner Edward Meighan, who had settled in British Honduras following the evacuation of the Mosquito Coast in 1787. Anna, a daughter of Charles Pitt Gapper, married Edward Meighan, a son of Lawrence and Marcia Davis Meighan at St. John's, Belize on 26/12/1804. Edward was described as "a boy" when he was baptized at St. Johns in 1790. He became a magistrate, but was unsuccessful in business and died seriously in debt. His marriage was not a success and there is no record of children. Anna obtained a legal separation from him, and on 13/02/1815 a child listed as colored, named Jane, was baptized at St. Johns to Edward Meighan, Mahogany Planter, and Priscilla, a free woman.

In his will of 1816, Edward Meighan named Anna Meighan executrix, as well as manumitting an enslaved person named Priscilla Meighan. Anna objected to this instruction and sought to place Priscilla back into slavery through the courts. She claimed that Edward had 'attempted to invest her [Priscilla] with a considerable property, and ultimately entitling her to more claims than a lawful wife could be justified in demanding'. She asserted that the property Priscilla inherited and her freedom were illegal, as they drew upon bonds and a mortgage granted to Edward's sisters and thus deprived them of their rightful inheritance. Edward died heavily indebted, with his creditors not receiving repayment and thus Anna argued that Priscilla should not have her manumission legalized as it deprived others of due repayment.

Edward's debts and subsequent court proceedings were laid out in the report sent by Commissioners on Criminal and Civil Justice in the West Indies and South America to the Foreign Office in 1829. In 1811 a deed of separation between Edward and Anna was filed, with her entitled to £1500 Jamaica currency, which was never paid. Two years later Edward entered into a bond of mortgage for the sum of £10,000 upon his father's estate with his two sisters. 18 further smaller claims were also listed against Edward Meighan. On these grounds Anna claimed Priscilla's manumission should be revoked. She ordered a man to destroy Priscilla's possessions, including a chest of drawers, her clothes, bedding, glass and other household possessions. In court Anna's defence rested on her claim that Priscilla Meighan remained her legal property and thus she could act as she pleased. She asserted that Edward Meighan had no right to insist on Priscilla's manumission and in so doing 'was disposing of that private property in the most unthinking, and in fact illegal manner' and that Priscilla's freedom compromised her ability as executrix to fulfil Edward's debts. Her attorney's argument to the court ran: 'not only the freedom of Priscilla, which a decision in favour of the legality of the manumission would comprise but also investing her in the right of property, viz. a woman slave, cattle, furniture, & c, which is held in Priscilla's name or claimed by her, and which most certainly never could be realized by her own industry, abilities or exertions, as they (it is well known) only tended to the most unlimited extravagance; but must evidently have accrued from Mr Meighan's resources, to the great injury of his family and creditors.' However, court records show Priscilla had paid Edward fifty pounds for her freedom, the manumission had been publicly recorded, and no creditors objected at that time.

The court found against Anna Meighan, concluding: 'The court in conclusion cannot pass unnoticed the overstrained correctness of the representative, in apparently asserting the rights of the creditors, while it appears to them, that the real intention of the defendant arises in a want of humanity, by so glaring an attempt to deprive a person of liberty.' The court gave Ann sufficient furniture to reduce her remaining claim to under a hundred pounds to prevent her appealing to Jamaica. (A full account of the court proceedings can be found at the link listed in the references.)

Census records show Anna Meighan as white; the 1832 census shows her with Thomas J. Blockley, a child of colour, in her household. The 1834 Compensation Claims show she owned a 75 year old enslaved person, Joe Gapper, his son, and others surnamed Gapper, confirming her identity as Edward's bride of 1804.

Her will, dated 12/04/1848 and proved 05/08/1848, left ten pounds to her goddaughter Emily Martiney, goddaughters Gertrude Mary Cox (no comma separates the given names, but the word "god daughters" is clearly written, suggesting two) and her house and all remaining property to Thomas John Blockley, relationship not given; her executors were William Henry Coffin and Thomas John Blockley. She may have been interred at Yarborough Cemetery in one of the tombs now missing their memorial inscriptions; burial registers after 1841 have not survived.

Sources

Communications received at the Foreign Office relative to Hayti [sic] (London, 1829), pp. 106-12. Available through Googlebooks: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=sjdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP7&lpg=PP7&dq=ACCOUNTS+AND+PAPERS;+SEVEN+VOLUMES.+-(7.)-+RELATING+TO+HAYTI;+MEXICO;+SWAN+RIVER+SETTLEMENT;+ALSO.+THIRD+REPORT+ON+CRIMINAL+AND+CIVIL+JUSTICE+IN+THE+WEST+INDIES,+atc.+Session+February%E2%80%94%5E+June+1829-+VOL.+XXIV.&source=bl&ots=q6X638wnUM&sig=V0CpxJ2PJ6gn1aqSFxXYCZWsfuw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAGoVChMI0oSjyaX-xwIVyLgUCh1EGQqy#v=onepage&q=meighan&f=false.

Research by Sonia Bennett Murray from Magistrates Minutes, Private Records, and censuses 1816-1839/40 at the Belize National Archives; St. John's parish registers. For page references, see publications by Sonia Bennett Murray: The First Parish Register of Belize, 1794-1810, and the First Four Censuses, 1816-1826 (2010), Second Parish Registers of Belize, 1813-1827 (2011), Third Parish Registers of Belize, 1828-1841 (2012); They Came to Belize, 1750-1810.: Compiled from Records of Jamaica, the Mosquito Shore, and Belize at the British & Belize National Archives (2017).

We are grateful to Cynthia Gentles and Sonia Bennett Murray for their help with compiling this entry.


Further Information

Name in compensation records
Ann Meigham Gapper
Spouse
Edward Meighan
Children
d.s.p.

Associated Claims (1)

£229 11S 3D
Awardee