Joseph Peake




Joseph Peake

Joseph Peake, the son of William and Mary Smith Peake, was born in 1826 in Hinkley, Leicestershire, England, and died in 1876 in Wesson, Copiah County, Mississippi.  He first married Emma Parker in June of 1845 in Clerkenwell, Middlesex, England.  She died about 1856 in Jamaica.  After returning to England, he married Sarah Hickson in the third quarter of 1859.  She was born in 1827 in London, Middlesex, England.   

Possibly because he was the second son with little chance of inheriting much from the family bakery or perhaps from a sense of adventure and a desire to create a different life for himself, Joseph appears to have left home at about the age of 14 or 15 to seek his fortune in London.  He may have secured some sort of apprenticeship as for the rest of his life he had various clerk or secretarial type jobs.  Much of what we know of him comes from letters written by his son, William Alan C. Peake (at right with his wife), to Joseph’s granddaughter, Lucy Emma Richardson Beckenbach between 1907 and 1929. Much of what William tells up can be backed up with documents and historical events.  William writes,

“Pa married my mother Emma Parker in London and then he went to Jamaica to manage a sugar plantation.”

In its hey-day, Jamaica was one of "the jewels in the English crown" because of the fabulous prosperity it brought to the English plantation owners by way of its sugar plantations.  However, most of the land was held by English proprietors, living in England, who would employ an overseer to conduct the business of the plantation. In turn, each overseer would have one to three bookkeepers, as they were called, whose their duty, primarily, to keep the accounts, and incidentally, to act as checks upon the overseer.  It is probable that Joseph Peake was employed as one of these bookkeepers.

“I was born there and your mother Lucy and Brother Tom and Sister Mary and they and mother died there. My Mother died one Wednesday and brother died the next Wednesday.”

Cholera and Yellow fever were common in Jamaica at the time.  In 1850, while Joseph and his family were there, a cholera epidemic killed an estimated 32,000 people.  We don’t know the cause of Emma’s or the children’s deaths, but one of these diseases seems likely.

“After mother died, Pa, he then went back to England and went to London and carried your mother Lucy with him and left me with Aunt Hanna Jordon on a farm, and Aunt Mary kept house for Pa in London.  Pa was private secretary for G. Peabody.  It was the time that they layed the first Atlantic Cable.  Pa was on the ship when the first cable broke.”

George Peabody (pictured at left), founder of the Peabody Institute, was born in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 1795.  With only four years of formal education and no family connections, he achieved enormous international success as an investment banker in London. One of his investments was in the Atlantic Cable.  In its time the laying of the Atlantic Cable in 1866 was a far reaching technical achievement. It was an important historical event not only as an early example of international technical cooperation but it was important in science, technology, international relations and international business. In many ways the Atlantic cable helped make the modern world possible.   But it took five attempts to connect New York and London.  The first attempt, in which Joseph Peake was evidently involved, was in July of 1857.  The cable had been divided between the USS Niagara and the HMS Agamemnon. Both ships were to start from Ireland, one laying its cable, a splice made in mid-Atlantic, with the other ship laying its part of the cable to Newfoundland.  Both ships set out from Ireland, each loaded with the 1,250 mile long carefully coiled cable. However, on August 6, 1857 the cable caught in the braking machinery and broke. It was spliced and the brake speed was adjusted but on August 10, after 400 miles had been laid, it broke again and sank.

It appears that Joseph stayed in London for five or six years before returning to Jamaica.  He and his family are found on the 1861 census of England and Wales, living in St. Mary’s Parish, just outside London.  He is listed as working for the Trade Protection Society, a union organization.  The household consisted of Joseph, Sarah, his second wife, his ten year old daughter, Lucy, and a five month old son named Charles.

"Pa went back to Jamaica and the niggers broke out and killed a lot of white folks, about 500, but an old nigger told Pa about what was happening and he got away and went over to British Honduras." 

William is probably referring to the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 although his report of the death toll is greatly exaggerated.  Slavery ended in Jamaica on August 1, 1834. However, most blacks remained desperately poor.  A two-year drought preceding 1865 made economic conditions still worse for the population of former slaves and their descendants, and rumours began circulating that white planters intended to restore slavery.  On October 7, 1865 a black man was put on trial and imprisoned for trespassing on a long-abandoned plantation, creating anger among black Jamaicans. A few days later on October 11, a group of protesters marched to Morant Bay. When the group arrived at the court house they were met by a small volunteer militia who panicked and opened fire on the group, killing seven black protesters before retreating. The black protesters then rioted, killing 18 people (including white officials and militia) and taking control of the town. In the days that followed some 2,000 black rebels roamed the countryside, killing two white planters and forcing others to flee for their lives.  Those fleeing apparently included Joseph Peake and his family.

They first went to British Honduras but their stay there was brief.   The family arrived in New Orleans on the ship General Sherman on 10 Apr 1867, having traveled from Roatan Island, Honduras.  The New Orleans City directory for 1869 shows the following entry "Peake, Joseph, Enginery Commissioner, 35 St. Charles."  In 1870 he shows up in the directory as follows: "Peake, J. Sugar Planter, D.W. 230 Julia."  There is also the following entry in the 1870 directory: "Peake, Mrs. Sarah, Milliner and Dress Maker, 230 Julia." 

But Joseph wasn't content to stay in New Orleans.  Sometime between 1874 and 1876, he and his family, which at this point included his second wife, Sarah, their daughter, Alice, Joseph's son William and Joseph's granddaughter, Lucy Emma Richardson, relocated to the town of Wesson, Mississippi.  Wesson was founded in 1864 by Col. James Madison Wesson.  There he built the Mississippi Manufacturing company which produced a fine quality cotton fabric.  In 1871, he sold the mill to Captain William Oliver and Mr. John T. Hardy who renamed it the Mississippi Mills.  The mills became famous for the quality of cotton fabric produced which was dubbed "Mississippi silk."  Given Joseph's background, it is likely that he was in some way employed at the mill.  Unfortunately, Joseph Peake died in Wesson in 1876.

Following his death, his second wife, Sarah, returned to England with her only surviving child, Alice.  She left Joseph's son, William, and granddaughter, Lucy Emma, in Mississippi.  Sarah and Alice are found on the 1881 census of England living back in St. Mary's Parish outside London where Sarah was working as a seamstress.  I have not found either Sarah or Alice on any subsequent records.

Children of Joseph Peake and Emma Parker were:

1.  Mary Peake was born in Kingston, Jamaica and died there sometime before 1857.

2.  Thomas Peake was also born in Kingston, Jamaica and also died there.

3.  William Alan C. Peake was born in 1849 in Kingston, Jamaica and died about 1929 in Rockport, Copiah County, Mississippi.  He married his wife, Emma, in December of 1900.  They had no children.

4.  Lucy Charlotte Peake was born in 1851 in Kingston, Jamaica and died Bet. 1880 - 1883 probably in Galveston, Texas.  She is the subject of the next generation.

Children of Joseph Peake and Sarah Hickson were:

1.  Charles Hickson Peake was born in October of 1860 in London, Middlesex, England and probably died young because, although he is found on the 1861 census of England, he is not found on any subsequent documents.

2.  Alice M. Peake was born in 1864 in Jamaica, West Indies.  When her father died in 1876, she returned to England with her mother.  We know nothing further about her.


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updated 12 December 2011