Robert Hackshaw (1653-1722). "The Orange Skipper"
  The Taylors of Ongar
and others of their family



Writers on
the Taylors

Robert Hackshaw, (1653–1722)
“The Orange Skipper”

By Fiona Martin


1. Robert Hackshaw (1653–1722) was a London merchant and Dissenter who played a prominent role in North American colonial affairs. He may also have been involved in the secret negotiations prior to the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

He was the son of Robert Hackshaw (c1625–16741), “citizen and grocer of London”2 and his wife Sarah (1630-753)  the daughter of John Smart, a merchant tailor, landowner and Common Councilman.4 

The Hackshaws may have come to London from Cumberland via Somerset5 . The links between the Taylors of Ongar and the Hackshaws are underlined by the fact that Jane Jefferys, Sarah Hackshaw Taylor (wife of the first Isaac), Charles Taylor and several other members of the family were buried in the Hackshaw family tomb in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground6.

2. Robert Hackshaw is the most intriguing of the Hackshaw family. Josiah Gilbert, in his introductory note to the autobiography of his mother, the former Ann Taylor (1782-1866) [The Autobiography and Other Memorials of Mrs Gilbert, Formerly Ann Taylor, ed Josiah Gilbert,1874], wrote:

"The Hackshaws (or Hawkshaws) were either of Dutch extraction, or belonged to the Puritan emigration in Holland, for [Robert Hackshaw] was purveyor to King William III, and came over with him to England. He was called the 'Orange skipper', from having been employed, before the Revolution, to carry dispatches backwards and forwards, concealed in his walking-cane."

Josiah Gilbert appears to be recounting an oral tradition in his family that may not be entirely accurate.

3. There are, confusingly, at least four generations of Hackshaws called Robert. The first was probably born before 1630 and died in 1674; the second was born in 1653 and died in 1722. His sons included Robert (about 1675-May 18, 1738), whose son Robert, christened on October 24, 1704, in the parish of St Stephen, Coleman Street, died on September 1, 1713, (before his father). A grandson of the first Robert (son of his elder son John) was also called Robert.

In this article, references to “Robert” without further clarification are to the second Robert (d 1722).

Dutch connections

Josiah Gilbert believed that, "The Hackshaws (or Hawkshaws) were either of Dutch extraction, or belonged to the Puritan emigration in Holland”. The Hackshaw family certainly had close links to the Dutch community in London. Robert’s daughter Sarah married Gerard Vanheythuysen, who was the godson and probably greatnephew of the man of the same name , “borne in Waert in Brabant”, declared naturalised on April 25, 1663.7

His father, also Gerard, was the first Gerard’s executor. Through the Vanheythuysens the Hackshaws were also related to the Lodwicks [Lodewyks] and Delboes.8 

Similarly, through the Smarts they were related to the family of John Lethieullier (1591–1679) also from Brabant, later one of London’s richest merchant families. Robert’s cousin Elizabeth Smart was the wife of John Lethieullier junior,9 while another cousin, Elizabeth Hackshaw married into the Silvesters.10 For the Silvesters’ Dutch origins see House of Commons Journal Volume 7, February 7, 1656.

But there is no evidence that the Hackshaws were themselves Dutch. Rather, records tend to suggest that there had been Hackshaws in London from as early as 1583.11 Robert’s father was a London grocer, and two merchant businesses are listed in the 1677 London trade directory in the name of Hagshaw.

The only (rather weak) evidence that Robert was part of the “Puritan emigration in Holland” (as Josiah put it) is that there appear to be no English records of baptisms for Robert’s children, nor of his marriage to their mother, suggesting that he might have been abroad at that time. He certainly visited Holland later: on May 18, 1696, he was issued with a pass to go to Holland12 (with “Mr Moses de Casarez, Stephen Mason, Quintus Spencer, and one servant”).

Purveyor to the King

The Hackshaws do, as Josiah Gilbert claims, seem to have been royal suppliers during William’s reign. Warrant books record that Robert was a major supplier to the armed forces for campaigns in Canada and the Low Countries in 1710-11: Bills13 drawn by Col. Arnott on July 24, 1711, “upon account of the late Expedition to Canada” include payments to “....Mr Hackshaw, due Oct. 22 for 714.5.8 … and 1,000.0.0.” On March 17, 1701, Joseph Paice, John Champante and Robert Hackshaw proposed14 to the Lords of the Treasury “for remittance to New York for the pay of the forces by their joint bills of exchange, at an advance of 34l. per cent”.

Activities at sea

6. Josiah Gilbert’s claim that Robert Hackshaw was a “skipper” points to his shipping activity. His role was, however, as a ship owner and merchant, not a captain. London shipping records in Port Books list many consignments, mostly of cloth, to both the Netherlands and North America.

After 1697 London records are missing but other port records show that he was still active: on April 15, 1705, his galley, the Greyhound was bound from Cowes to New York15; in November 1711 he had a consignment in the Dove of London bound from Plymouth for New York16 and in February 1715 the same ship was bound from Southampton to New York.17

Colonial trade

7. Robert also had considerable investments in the North American colonies. He had been admitted (with his brother John) to the Skinners Company on March 20, 1677 (ie 1678 New Style). One of his trading partners in the fur trade in colonial New York was Robert Livingston the Elder18 (1654-1725), a member of the council of New York and secretary for Indian affairs, a dissenting Scot who had grown up in exile in Holland, who had met Robert in Lisbon.

Robert Hackshaw was also a member19 of the statutory Greenland Company set up under the 1692: “Act for the regaining encourageing and settling the Greenland Trade”.

8. In 1691-92 Robert became a founder member and Treasurer of the West Jersey Society, a stock company composed of 48 members, mostly London residents. West Jersey Proprietor Doctor Daniel Coxe, who had purchased about one-fifth of its territory, conveyed to the Society its first large tract of land. Their holdings were surveyed into farm lots, and their agent leased farms and collected rents on their behalf.20 

In 1692 Robert signed the petition of proprietors of the Provinces in East and West Jersey in America, “praying to enjoy the liberty of their own ports against the pretences of the collector of New York who enforces ships bound to the East and West Jerseys to unload or pay Customs there [in New York] which is illegal and discourages their trade.”21

On December 24, 1692, on the instructions of the committee he wrote a letter from London to Jeremiah Basse, their agent to complain “of receiving no news; intend to purchase Dr Coxe's remaining third of land; have bo't of him 4,000 acres at Cohanzey or Salem Tenth side; wine and brandy to be made; settlements at Cape May to be encouraged”.22

9. In both 1699 and 1700 he signed pro-trade petitions to Parliament complaining about the behaviour of the Governor of New York, the Earl of Bellomont.

“By his illegal proceedings, he has put such further hardships on the merchants and other the King's subjects there that, without redress, the petitioners must be forced to withhold their trade thither, especially being informed by … inhabitants of that place [of] … his several arbitrary and unjust proceedings”.23

In reply, the Governor, in Boston suffering from gout, accused Robert of harbouring pirates: “Since my leaving New York one of the four Ships has come in that went from thence to Madagascar last Summer and of which I informed your Lordships, and has brought Sixty Pyrates and a vast deall of Treasure. I hear that every one of the Pyrates paid 150lb for his passage, and the owners, I am told, have cleared thirty Thousand pounds by this Voyage. It is observable that Mr Hackshaw, one of the Merchants that petitioned against me to your Lordships, and Stephen Delancy, a hot headed saucy Frenchman and Mr. Hackshaw's Correspondent, are the cheife owners of this Ship. I hear there were 200 Pyrates at Madagascar when this Ship came away, who intended to take their passage in Frederick Phillips Ship and the other Two belonging to New York.”24

In another letter Bellomont repeated this claim: “The most prominent and opulent merchants in the city – De Lancey and Philipse among them – accumulated much of their wealth by piracy. Shelly is one of the Masters of Ships that I formerly informed your Lordships went last Summer from New York to Madagascar; he is a dweller at New Yorke, and Mr Hackshaw one of the Merchants in London that petitioned your Lordships against me is one of his owners, and Mr de Lancey a Frenchman at New Yorke is another. I hear too that Captain Kidd dropped some pirates in that Island. They write from New Yorke that Arabian Gold is in great plenty there. When Frederick Phillipp's ship and the other two come from Madagascar (which are expected every day) New York will abound with gold. Tis the most beneficiall trade that to Madagascar with the pirates that was ever heard of, and I believe there's more got that way than by turning pirates and robbing.”25 

10. Later Robert was active in South Carolina, signing a petition26 to revoke the Proprietary Charter in favour of a Royal Charter. But his business was often precarious. The risk of loss of shipping to foreign vessels, pirates or shipwreck was compounded by what merchants saw as unfairly heavy taxation in the colonies and the uncertainty of being paid by the Treasury paymasters. There was also a major court case in 1711 over business interests [Samuel Lillie v David Waterhouse, Robert Hackshaw and Robert Hackshaw C 10/528/37 1711].

Links to the 1688 Revolution

11. A business in White Hart Court (“a pretty good open Place, well inhabited by Wholesale Dealers”) is listed in the 1677 London Directory in the name of Rob Hagshaw27 (sic).

Robert was, however, unlike his brother, not a Common Councilman. His absence from City politics could be a sign that he was often abroad on business, possibly, as Josiah Gilbert claims, secretly carrying dispatches to and from Holland before the Revolution. There is unlikely to be any written evidence as to this clandestine activity. But of great significance is his arrest in 1685 in connection with the import of subversive pamphlets from Holland.

State Papers for January 168528 record the arrest and subsequent release of a merchant, Robert Hackshaw, in connection with the spreading of seditious libels in documents imported by ship from Amsterdam about the death in the Tower of the Earl of Essex in the wake of the Rye House Plot. On January 5 a warrant was issued to Thomas Atterbury, messenger, to search for Robert Hackshaw, a merchant, and to seize him with his papers and bring him before the Earl of Sunderland, or Roger L'Estrange, to be examined concerning what shall be objected against him concerning the dispersing of treasonable and dangerous libels.

By January 13 it was reported that: “Last Saturday Mr Norden, master of a ship, was taken off the Exchange for bringing from Amsterdam a great number of libels relating to the death of the Earl of Essex and on Sunday Mr Cornish, Mr Hacshaw (sic) and some others were taken up by a messenger concerning the said libel. They two were discharged but the others are still in custody.”

There is no explanation for his release; it can only have been for lack of firm evidence linking him to the documents imported on what was probably one of his ships. Later, Robert was an active member of a London Whig club.29

Robert’s known political allegiance may be the reason why Francis Francia, the defendant in a 1717 Treason trial (about a Jacobite conspiracy) objected to Robert being a member of the jury.30 

A dissenter

12. Robert was certainly committed to Protestantism and Dissent. Records show that he was a member (with his cousin Humphrey) of Congregational Churches in London (for example, present at “Mr Tonys Meeting 17 Dec' 1695”).31 

He left money in his will32 to Pastor Thomas Hall, a dissenting Minister, and to the poor of his church. The Hackshaws were also related to the Prince family of Boston: Robert’s son wrote to his cousin Thomas Prince in August 1723 and 1726.33

Robert was also involved in the publication in London of the American theologian Cotton Mather’s huge history of Puritan New England, Magnalia Christi Americana. This was a risky business. Mather had written: "The Booksellers in London are cold about it" and "The Proposals for Subscriptions, are of an uncertain and a tedious Event." So in March 1701 news of Robert’s involvement seemed heaven-sent: “There is one Mr. Robert Hackshaw, a very serious and Godly man, who proposes to print the Ecclesiastical History of New England AT HIS OWN CHARGE” [estimated at 600].

“He declared He did it not with any Expectation of Gain to himself, but for the Glory of God." But publication took a year. It was unclear even to Mather at the time what had caused the “extreme Hazard of Miscarrying” but he thought the most likely culprit was Bromfield, his original contact in London, and his “nice Hummours”.

But from a letter by John Quick (1636–1706) a dissenting Minister who was involved in the negotiations, it emerges that Robert was less than totally committed to the immediate printing of the manuscript.34. In the event a bookseller called Parkhurst took charge.

The work was, however, controversial and received mixed reviews from the start. Cotton continued to correspond with Robert until at least 1706.35

Land in Hoxton

13. Another connection to the Dissenters is the fact that Robert lived in Hoxton Square outside the City. One of the earliest dissenting academies (founded in 1669) was in Hoxton Square. Hoxton and Charles Squares, as well as being fashionable neighbourhoods, were centres of non-conformist sects.

For example Edmund Calamy lived there. Hoxton Square is thought to have been laid out by Samuel Blewitt and Robert Hackshaw in 168336 and is thought to be one of the oldest squares in London. In 1683 Robert’s cousin Humphrey Hackshaw leased37 five acres in Pittfield Close, Hoxton. 

In this venture Robert was acting as a property developer: in 1687, for example, he leased38 a property in the same parish to John Gain. According to tax records39 Robert himself lived in the Outliers district of the parish of St Leonard, Shoreditch. (His stock value at 400 was the second highest on the list for the area.)

The fact that his house was in the square itself emerges from an Old Bailey trial: on February 27, 1734 John Humphries, Plasterer, was indicted at the Old Bailey for “stealing 200 hundredweight of lead, fixt to the Freehold of Robert Hackshaw, in Hoxton Square, Feb. 16”, found guilty and sentenced to transportation.”40

The main witness, Thomas Mead, confirmed that the house was empty:  “On Saturday Morning, my Wife told me, as she came by Mr. Hackshaw's empty House, which is but 3 Doors from mine, she saw the Bar of the Cellar-door loose. Then, says I, some Rogues have been stealing the Leaden-sink in the Kitchen. That would be worse, says she, than when they stole the Pipes a Year ago. As I had the Key of the House, I went to examine how it was; I found the Lead of the Sink was taken out, and laid upon the Floor ready to be carried away. O, thinks I, the Gentlemen will come to fetch it at Night, and I can't do less than to give them a Welcome. So I spoke to Robin Ballance to bring his Gun and to sit up with me that Night, which he did. I went out about 12 but found nothing stirring. I went again in less than an Hour and heard a ticking in the Cellar, and by and by a light was struck. I goes home to my Wife – Her Name is Nanny, says I, now my Chaps are in the House, but call the Watch – I warrant you the Rogues have got Pistols, if they have, says I, we'll send the Dog in first and he won't value their Pistols, for he don't know a Pistol from a Broom-stick. Then Bob shall go with his Gun, and Fire upon them, and I'll hide myself behind the Door, till the Danger is over. But all this wou'd not make her easy. And so being willing to obey my Wife's orders, I ran to the Watch as fast as if I was running for an Estate, and brought them with me: But when we came to the Door they were so full of their good breeding, that they stood disputing who should enter first: I was vext at it, for I thought their Noise would alarm the Rogues within, and so it proved, for presently I heard a Window slap to. Now, thinks I, they have made their Escape Backwards, and I have watch'd all Night for nothing. So I push'd in foremost, and ran into the Kitchen; I saw no Body at first, but looking into the Closet, there stood the Prisoner, squeez'd in a Corner bolt upright, with a Plaisterer's Lathing-hammer in his Hand. I Knock'd him down, and catch'd him by the Collar as he fell. His Head run with Blood, and I was sorry to see it; but I thought it was better so, than he should serve me worse with his Hammer. I took the Hammer from him – Here it is – And this Knife, but it is not worth a Fill of a Farthing. When I had pull'd him out and secur'd him, the Watch came in to my Assistance.”

14. This was very probably the house where Robert’s granddaughter Sarah was living before her marriage to Josiah Jefferys in 1728. As recounted by Josiah Gilbert, “Josiah Jefferys had, at the age of eighteen, married a Miss Hackshaw, aged sixteen, as she was on her way to market.” [Hoxton Market is very close]

Her father, then a man of substance, with a rent roll from an estate near Raleigh of 1000 per annum, was extremely angry, and told her that, being his child, he would not turn her out of doors, but that if she ever went beyond them she should never return. Upon these strange terms she remained two years under his roof, when her brother interceded, and persuaded her father to set the young husband up in business as a cutler, in which, as appears above, he prospered. Her father, on the contrary [Robert’s son] … after mortgaging his estate, fell further into misfortune, and died of grief.”

Robert junior’s money worries emerge clearly from his 1738 will, written at a time when Robert’s own estate had still not been settled. [See below]

Other Hackshaw merchants

15. Robert’s older brother John and his cousins Alan (Alling) and Humphrey (sons of Robert’s uncle Humphrey Hackshaw) were also successful merchants. John, like Robert, was a member of the Skinner’s company; his wine merchant’s business, Hagshaw (sic) and Turner was listed in the 1677 directory in Suffolk Lane.

John served as a Common Councilman in the 1680s.* [*The Rulers of London 1660-1689 Woodhead 1966] but left London in around 1700, probably for the West Indies. In July 1707 he was appointed to the Royal Commission on St Kitts*, but by November that year was reported to have died there. [*Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 23: 1706-1708 (1916), pp. 494-518, pp. 602-614].

Alan was a “citizen and fishmonger”*.[*Prob/11/449)] Humphrey, a vintner left* stock in the Bank of England and the East India Company. [*Prob 11/574]

Robert Hackshaw’s will

16. Robert Hackshaw’s will dated June 16, 172241 describes him as being “of Chiswell Street in the parish of St Giles Cripplegate”. It refers to his wife’s property interest in an Inn at Little Moorfields and to land that he had purchased in Hockley and Raleigh in Essex (the latter – in his son Robert’s name – was never to be sold).

He mentions his wife Sarah, three sons, Robert [d 1738], Edward [Hoxton sugarbaker d 1726] and Richard, and his daughter Elizabeth. Only Robert and Edward were named executors; in fact Richard was cut out of his inheritance, Robert providing instead for Richard’s children. His explanation was that, “whereas I have not only given to my son Richard Hackshaw a portion but have also paid for him or lost by him about one thousand pounds which I hereby forgive him, my will is that he shall have not further part or share of my estate save only that I give to him ... twenty pounds for himself and to his son Richard and his three daughters his children’s money to remain in the hands of my executors till they come to age or are married ...”

Robert realised that there would be problems with the will: “Whereas my estate consists of sundry particulars which may occasion disputes amount my children ... my dying charge to them all is never to go to law about dividing my estate but if they cannot agree among themselves that they trust two or three persons and stand and abide by their arbitration or award.”

17. As Robert feared, his will was disputed, and it was not until August 18. 1768 (more than  40 years later) that Elizabeth was authorised to administer the will. His sons Edward and Robert had died, then John Buckle (one of Robert junior’s executors) had died, and Robert junior’s other executors Robert Lewin and William Stevens renounced their executorship, so Elizabeth had the unenviable job.42 

18. The will43 of his son Robert “of the parish of St Stephen Coleman Street” had also been contested. This was partly because of the outstanding issues with Robert’s own will. Robert junior clearly had many outstanding debts: he suggested that his executors should persuade his creditors to accept “ten shillings in the pound” in final settlement. On the credit side, as well as money owing him from members of his family, there were matters outstanding with contacts in New England, and money due from a Mr Busby’s estate (of which he was a beneficiary).

He attempted by his will to get the beneficiaries of his father’s will to reach a settlement. This was never going to be easy. His approach was dictatorial rather than consensual: for example, he specified that his daughter should benefit “for her separate means and not to be intermeddled with by her husband” (Josiah Jefferys). Shortly after making the will he also drew up a most extraordinary codicil setting out his wishes, including detailed instructions on the conversion of a warehouse by adding new windows and shutters, replacing locks, and “knocking down the partition between the stable and the warehouse provided Mr Jackson’s partition above it can be well supported without it”.

This must have made the executors’ task extremely difficult. But there was apparently no evidence that he had been of unsound mind at the time. The same year there was a judgement44 in favour of John Buckle, an executor, (who was possibly his wife’s brother) upholding the validity of both the will and the codicil against the claim of Josiah Jefferys on behalf of his wife, Robert junior’s daughter.

The younger Robert’s will was also not settled until 1768 when his granddaughter Sarah Taylor was appointed to administer the estate. This sorry story is consistent with Josiah Gilbert’s claim in his introduction to Ann Gilbert’s autobiography that Robert junior “died of grief”.

19. There is circumstantial evidence that the first Isaac Taylor benefited substantially from that settlement, since in 1770, he was wealthy enough to buy the business of the successful booksellers and publishers A. and Henry Webley45 and, at around the same time, to lose the enormous sum of 1000 in supporting John Wilkes without ruining himself.46 It seems very unlikely that wealth on this scale would have been acquired from his work as an engraver alone.


1. Prob 11/345
2. Admitted to the Grocers’ Company in 1646 after apprenticeship to Joseph Alfred.
3. Prob 11/348
4. The Rulers of London 1660-1689. Woodhead 1966
5. Heralds’ Visitation of Somersetshire
6. Suffolk Record Office HD 588/1/40, HD 588/1/49
7. PRO C 204/58 Prob11/414
8. Prob 11/468, Prob 11/211, Prob 11/308, Prob 11/352
9. Prob 11/567
10. Alan’s will Prob/11/449
11. DE/Bw/28223 dated November 10, 1583 Hertfordshire Archives
12. Calendar of State Papers Domestic: William III, 1696 (1913), pp. 157-209
13. Treasury Warrant Book: April 1712, 11-19
14. Calendar of Treasury Papers, Volume 3: 1702-1707 (1874), pp. 1-20
15. PRO E 190/847/3
16. PRO E 190/1070/12
17. PRO E 190/857/4
18. Lawrence H. Leder, Robert Livingston, 1654-1728: And the Politics of Colonial New York
19. Statutes of the Realm: volume 6: 1685-94 (1819), pp. 405-410
20. Roxanne K. Carkhuff New Jersey Genealogical Magazine, Vol.70, p.126; Edwin Platt Tanner The Province of New Jersey 1664-1738 Page 17
21. Calendar of State Papers Domestic: William and Mary, 1691-2 (1900), pp. 344-393; see also Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 11: 1696-1697 (1933), pp. 414-425
22. West Jersey Records – Liber B, Part 1
23.  Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 18: 1700 (1910), pp. 64-73
24.  PRO, CO. 5:860, no. 62; Commons Journal, XIII, 18-19
25. Singleton, Dutch New York 339
26. John Wesley Brinsfield, Religion and Politics in Colonial South Carolina
27. Lee and Major A collection of the names of the merchants living in and around London 1677
28. Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1684-5 (1938), pp. 271-306
29. Horwitz et al London Politics 1713-1717 page 90.
30. Thomas Bayly Howell A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason ... to the Year 1783, page 902
31. Congregational Historical Society Transactions 136
32. Prob 11/588
33. Chester Noyes Greenough Collected Studies footnote 286
34. Letter set out verbatim in Chester Noyes Greenough Collected Studies 138–139
35. Chester Noyes Greenough Collected Studies footnote 286; Wendell Cotton Mather The puritan priest
36. Survey of London page 74
37. London Metropolitan Archives Q/HAL/230 17th Dec 1683
38. Parish of Saint Leonard, Shoreditch Q/UL/A4/95-107
39. Four Shillings In The Pound Aid 1693/94
40. Old Bailey website
41. Prob 11/588
42. Marginal note Prob 11/588
43. Prob 11/693, 185
44. Prob 11/693, 344
45. E. Harris, British Architectural Books and Writers, 1556-1785 (1990)
46. Autobiography of Mrs Gilbert, vol. I, p.184] 

April 2009


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