Thomas Sharp Hope: My Emigrant Ancestor

Thomas Sharp Hope 1795-1874

Farmer of Smarden, Kent, and of New York, and my third great grandfather

Last time I wrote about the Beales of  Biddenden.  My Beale ancestor was not a Richard, but John Beale, the ninth of Rich Richard’s ten children.  Though not as wayward as his brother Crusty Richard, John also provided his share of headaches to the Beales.  John’s mother’s (Frances Beale, nee Witherden) letters are kept by the Biddenden History Society, and according to a Beale cousin who has seen them, she was in frequent dismay at John’s behaviour, which included gambling and sending his washing back to River Hall.  Frances also expressed disapproval at John’s choice of wife, Elizabeth Hope, so much so that she apparently forbade the marriage.  John seems to have paid lip service only to her wishes and had four children with Elizabeth out of wedlock, giving them the surname “Beale Hope”, before finally marrying her in 1850, four years before his mother’s death but long after his father’s.  They went on to have another ten children after the wedding!

I wanted to find out a little more about Elizabeth Hope and just why she was so unsuitable, but hit a dead end when I started to research her.  I knew she had been born in 1825 in Smarden, which should have meant that I would find her on the 1841 census with her family, but I discovered that this part of the census had been destroyed.  I couldn’t find a baptism for her, or any trace of her parents or siblings.  I was about to order the marriage certificate for clues, when I found a notice in the South Eastern Gazette that gave me a clue and saved me the cost of the certificate.

Beale Hope Marriage

Further searching revealed that T. S. Hope was Thomas Sharp Hope of Kelsham Farm (a farm, it seems, no one could spell consistently) and that one year previously, he had sold pretty much everything in this farm and left the country.

thomas hope slae

Going back a little further, I found that Thomas Sharp Hope, born 1795, was one of three illegitimate children born to Eleanor Hope of nearby Frittenden.  The parish register indicated that her first son, Samuel, born 1787, was the son of Samuel Chambers, and indeed there had been a marriage licence issued for Eleanor and Mr Chambers in 1792, when she would have been pregnant with her second child, Lydia.  However, Eleanor never married Samuel Chambers and Thomas Sharp Hope is presumably the son of a Mr Sharp.  Eleanor did, in fact, marry someone else entirely, when Thomas was four years old.  She did rather well for herself, marrying a rich farmer with links to the local church, Edward Honeysett.  Thomas, meanwhile, married a woman named Rebecca Erridge and they had at least fourteen children between 1814 and 1841.  Evidently this was quite a financial burden on Thomas and he appeared frequently in the poor law books for Smarden, receiving the 19th century version of benefits.  His half-brother Samuel was in the same boat, but his half-sister Lydia had managed, like her mother, to dig herself out of poverty by marrying well.  Her husband was Thomas Witherden, a cousin of Frances Beale (nee Witherden).  I suspect this union was none too popular either – Thomas and Lydia are buried in a poorer part of Biddenden churchyard, away from the Witherden family plot.

The will of Edward Honeysett has kindly been transcribed and put online by another researcher and it sheds a lot of light on why Thomas left the country.  Edward Honeysett left Thomas Kelsham Farm, and its contents, but with strict instructions that when he died, it would pass back to Edward’s Honeysett relatives.  Thomas’s children would be left with nothing.  So he did the sensible thing and sold everything he could and cleared out to America.  In those days, parishes encouraged their burdensome residents to move to America – they would pay for their passage and give them some money to start anew.  They would tell them that they would be set up for life, though really the money was only enough to last a few weeks.  The conditions on board the ships were so insanitary that many died before even setting foot in the USA,  while others found themselves destitute and miles from home.

It seems that Thomas’s half brother Samuel had already made the passage some years before.  Initially sailing to Maryland, he had only stayed a year before returning to Kent in 1832, and then returned to New York in 1830 with his wife and ten children.  Samuel had apparently died either on his way back to America or soon after, but his wife and children and settled in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and were slowly setting up a good life for themselves.  His descendents still live in Kalamazoo today.

Thomas, meanwhile, fared somewhat better.  His family set up in Wayne County, New York, where they earned a living farming.  Some joined their cousins in Kalamazoo.  According to the 1860 census, Thomas Sharp Hope had an estate worth $200, which is not a lot, but certainly enough not to qualify him as a pauper.  He left a will when he died in 1873, though I have not been able to obtain the text for that will.  I do, however, have the will of his oldest son, where he makes multiple bequests to his siblings – including $100 for his sister Elizabeth Beale, back in the UK.  Perhaps this finally helped the Beales to accept Elizabeth.

I recently visited Smarden and the present owners of Kelsham Farm were kind enough to let me have a look around their land and take this photo.

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