Monday, 14 May 2012

Peter King: Population of early nineteenth-century Coventry petition for black rapist, James Frayde, to avoid the gallows

As part of a broader study of pardoner's tales - of the pardoning petitions of 18th and early 19th century England and Wales I have recently come across this case which raises a mass of questions about gender, race and the criminal justice system - issues I have been working on for many years
Here is a brief outline of the evidence i am developing into a case study of 'Race, rape and the pardoning process'

I would really appreciate any comments on this developing project and any other information from anyone who knows the area's history or who can help us  trace further newspaper articles in the Midland press.

In 1805 James frayde, an African who had only been in England for a couple of months was tried at the Warwick assizes for the rape of an adolecent white girl. He was sentenced to death. But a huge petitioning movement immediately kick started in the locality as seen in this article from the local paper

Warwick Advertiser 30 August 1806
Mr Alderman Whitwell left Coventry on Thursday last, for London; the worthy Alderman is the bearer of a Petition to his Majesty, signed by upwards of 3,000 inhabitants of that city, recommending Joseph Frayde (a native of Africa, who on the day of his trial had been but seven weeks and three days in England), to the Royal clemency, for a mitigation of punishment, who was left for execution at the late assizes of for that city, for a rape.

Why were such a high proportion of the local middling sort and all the local magistrates  petitioning in this way?
The coventry paper gives an amazing explanation

Coventry Mercury  Monday, 18th August 1806
            Frayde, first saw the light of Heaven in Africa; a country wherein the doctrine of the Cross is seldom preached, yet seldomer understood, whose neglected inhabitants groan beneath an iron yoke of dark, gloomy, superstitious ignorance; nor can it be fairly supposed that the seven weeks and a half, this man has employed in roaming through England, could have afforded him an opportunity of acquiring some knowledge of its laws, or the punishments annexed to their infringement.

We know from a document in the pardoning archive that Frayde was eventually reprieved and transported . The judge  was a vital, if not the only player in this process so his report (transcribed below) would have been very influential
Here it is:

Document in The National Archives Home Office Papers
Report of case of Joseph Frayde a convict under sentence of death at Coventry for a Rape.


31 August 1806
My Dear Sir,
                I have just received your letter respecting Joseph Frayde, and must acknowledge my obligation to Lord Spencer and yourself for writing privately to me on the subject before you require a public official Report and opinion.  Such a Proceeding often  ? much Trouble & Inconvenience to both Parties.
                The man is a Negro, a very stout man, & was convicted before me upon evidence, which satisfied the jury, & was by no means unsatisfactory to me, of the full offence of Rape on a girl under 14 years of age.  I intended that the law should have taken its course against him, & I thought that the ground for mercy stated in the Coventry Petition (that he was a stranger here and ignorant of our laws) was quite futile:- there is no country on Earth, (which is not wholly savage,) in which Rape is not considered as a crime; & if a man does what he knows to be wrong, he must abide the sentence of the law of that country in which he offends.  But an Alderman of Coventry has been with me, who is a surgeon & gave evidence at the trial, & had brought with him an affidavit respecting the girl (the prosecutrix) & a Petition signed by inhabitants of Coventry to the number, I suppose, of some thousands:- for, there are signatures which fill 12 large sheets of paper, & contain some 3, some 4, some 5 columns of names, - & of persons of such a description that it is impossible that Party should have any influence thereupon.  I have likewise received applications from the Petty Jury, & Grand Jury, & every Magistrate in the place.  I have therefore sent a Respite for Frayde during his Majesty’s Pleasure: & I had intended to apply at your office, that his Majesty might be requested to order him to be transported for Life: you will consider this as an application for this purpose.
                I have been moved to mitigate the sentence, by these considerations – 1. The Alderman? that the father of girl had been capitally convicted of sheep-stealing, & that the mother was a woman of bad character, & was frequently at the Barracks among the soldiers. 2. The Affidavit stated that the child was a forward child, & very apt to speak men as she passed them, & that she had told the Deponent that if she could convict the black man, then her mother should have a reward of 40£.  This it seems was the amount of a reward advertised and paid by the farmer, who convicted the girl’s father of sheep-stealing, & she was led from thence to believe that everyone who could convict an offender capitally, would receive a reward of 40£.  This inducement might possibly lead the child to swear more particularly to the circumstances which constitute the full completion of rape, than she would otherwise have done; but the surgeon swore to a recent destruction of the hymen – & they saw her within 2 hours after the injury. 3. But another consideration weighed still more strongly with me, & will ? have its weight with me, while I have the honour to bear a judicial character.  It is this that the case of an offence, in which Party Dispute can have no concern & where it is impossible that the criminal should excite the attention of any particular  Party of any denomination, an ? of general sense of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, instead of having the effect generally intended, of deterring by the example, & of making others more fearful to offend –  lends rather to render the execution of the laws odious & to render juries unwilling to trust the criminal in the hands of the judge, by finding him guilty.  You may possible recollect an instance of this sort some years ago at Lancaster.
                                                I am Dear Sir
                                                                Your obliged & obedient Servant
                                                                                                J Rooke

Cheltenham 31 August 1806
Mr Justice Rooke
In this amazing mixture of motives and perspectives on the crime and on the subsequent conditional pardon the true story is difficult to unravel
Was he guilty?
Was the judicial response appropriate?
The criteria used to make the decision reveal a whole range of prejudices and presuppositions
This young African was transported to Australia
But was the outcome fair?
We would be very interested in your thoughts and also help in tracing further information ( the assizes records do not survive for this circuit) If anyone knows the right site to go to to trace his possible life in Australia that would be very interesting
Pete King

1 comment:

  1. All I could find was that Joseph Frayde died 8/7/1835 in the Port Maguire District of NSW. (4/4549 Reel 690, page 074)
    see srwww,
    (Having been transported on the ship Ann with 200 convicts on 1/8/1809.)

    Chris Side
    (PhD Student, ELH)