Fanny’s mother Christiana (known as Kitty), was married to Henry Chapman an up and coming young stock and ship broker who also made money in Lloyd’s Coffee House, taking a share in the risk of insurance of ships and their cargo in return for a share in the premiums.
Henry had already been married and had a son, also called Henry, but his wife had died. In his will, Christiana’s father, William Neate, recorded that he had proposed taking Henry into partnership with him and he provided that, in case of his decease Henry should be paid a salary of £300 per year to go to America to settle his affairs.
As it turned out those affairs were a disaster. The American Colonies were beginning their revolt against their British colonial masters and one element of this revolt was that American Merchants were not paying their debts to their British Creditors. None of the girls saw much of what they had been promised in the estate.
But things got worse still. In 1779, Henry was declared bankrupt. From his later letters it appears that at least one of the reasons was that he had suffered severe losses in his Lloyd’s “risques”. This too would not have been surprising at the time because England was involved in wars with Spain and France and later of course the American colonies and there was a great loss of shipping. Of course insurance premiums rocketed so some Lloyd’s brokers made their fortunes. Most, however, lost and some, like Henry, lost everything.
Henry Chapman was born on the Isle of Thanet – even then not an Island but a peninsula to the East of London on the Coast of Kent. After his bankruptcy Kitty, left him in London to sort out his affairs as best he could and moved in with her mother who was by that time living in St Peters near Broadstairs on the Isle of Thanet. Kitty’s mother did not originate from the Isle of Thanet, but from Chippenham, Wiltshire, so it seems probable that she was living there in a house somehow connected to the Chapman family as her income would in any event have been limited after her husband’s death.
Thanks to their separation, Kitty and Henry communicated by letter and many of Henry’s letters have been preserved. From them we know a lot about his life in London and his subsequent life (and death in 1798) in America. Kitty’s letters to him no longer exist, but his replies give us a lot of information about what she was writing and about the life of her sisters. Kitty kept a diary; there are two years’ of that diary surviving. Later one of Henry and Kitty’s daughters, Fanny, lived with Jemima. It is Fanny’s diary that we will be sharing with our readers. It is those which provide us with more information about the latter lives of three of the sisters.
The surviving letters from Henry to Kitty show the enormously strong relationship both physical and in their business affairs, their equality of intelligence and, what seems surprising looking back, the fact that Kitty’s opinions on all his business affairs were sought and respected by Henry.
Henry’s story is also a sad one, as having left England in 1783 to try to recover the Neate family fortune, he found himself in a hostile environment. The newly independent America had no intention of paying its debts. In some states there were even laws absolving American debtors of their obligations to English creditors.
His letters were an endless tale of disappointment and anguish and very little success. He died from yellow fever in a boarding house in New York in 1798.
The only surviving letter from Kitty to him dates from this time. It was returned to her unopened after his death. On his last letter to her she has written “this was the last letter of my poor Henry”. Kitty survived living with relatives and in various boarding houses. Charles Meniconi, her brother in law (see next post), had meant that she, her sisters and her children should be looked after, but thanks to Cooper, they were not.
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