Sunday, 7 December 2008

Road Trip 2 - William Fortune (The National Archives, Kew)

To the American Fitzhenrys, William Fortune has the same mythic status as Enoch Fitzhenry. The legend of Enoch has it that William Fortune (his cousin) was the only relative that Enoch had contact with after his arrival in the United States. One of Enoch's sons (William Fortune Fitzhenry) was given the middle name Fortune in his honour. William Fortune was a soldier who had fought for the Brits in the American War of Independence (bad idea!) and had subsequently lost his lands in South Carolina and went north to Canada after a stay in England.

Ann Fitzhenry (co-author of this blog) and Glen Porteous (another Fitzhenry researcher) had both done their research on William Fortune, and they had found that there was a file on him in the War Office Records held at the National Archives in Kew. Was this going to be a story of heroics and being mentioned in dispatches? Or William acting as a double agent while he was staying in England?


It was a bureaucratic wrangle over who should pay for William's funeral. Probably the only reason these few sheets of paper were kept was because it set a precedent which enabled the War Office to pay
for funeral expenses of British Army soldiers to someone other than the next of kin or executor of a will.

Let me summarise what I discovered (for indeed there was a lot of repetition).

William Fortune had found himself in the village of Hurstpierpoint in Sussex in the year 1822. Hurstpierpoint while unremarkable in itself, is just north of Brighton on the south coast of England and at that time in Regency England, Brighton was the most fashionable place to be seen apart from London. Hurstpierpoint was also on the main coaching route from London to Brighton so William may have been just "en route", or he may have been paying someone a visit.

He was taken ill. Then he died on 26th November, and was buried in the Hurstpierpoint parish churchyard on 29th November 1822.

We know this as the curate of Hurstpierpoint, a Reverend John Charles Fowell Tufnell wrote to the War Office asking for recompense for the medical bills and the cost of the funeral which he had personally paid for.
The Reverend said that there were no relatives in the country (England) who could pay these bills and William had not enough money at the time of his death to cover his debts. Could he (the Rev. Tufnell) receive the balance of the army pay
that was outstanding up to the time of his death, which William Fortune was entitled as a British Loyalist in the War of Independence.

There was then a flurry of correspondence around the War Office, and from his first request in November 1822, the Rev. Tufnell finally received his money in March 1823.

What else did I find?
William Fortune was either a Colonel or a Captain; he is mentioned as both in the correspondence although the Rev. Tufnell referred to him as Colonel.
His regiment was referred to as either the American Loyalists or the American Provincials.
His regimental number was 132807.

He had been placed on half pay in 1783 and was still receiving this pay at the time of his death.
His outstanding pay amounted to £15 and 15 shillings, or 15 Guineas (a Guinea being a pound and a shilling, an archaic form of British currency which is still used in horse-racing). This sum was not to be sniffed at, as an agricultural labourer's wage was 8 to 12 shillings a week.

I visited the Sussex Record Office a few days later on the road trip.
A very old and worn microfiche scan of the Hurstpierpoint parish register confirmed that Colonel William Fortune had been buried on 29th November 1822 at the age of 74 years by the Rev Tufnell. It gave his place of residence as Hurstpierpoint rather than saying that he was visiting from elsewhere.
Unfortunately there was no records of the monumental inscriptions in Hurstpierpoint churchyard at the records office, and Hurstpierpoint was at the other end of the county and in the opposite direction to where I was heading next.
So that's a visit for another time.

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