Saturday, November 12, 2016

Francis Posey (aka Fancois Poschet)

 1615 - 1654

1 Francis Posey, 2 John Posey, 3 Susanna Posey, 4 Edward Philpott, 5 Charles Philpott, 6 David Philpott, 7 Enos Philpott, ,Rebecca Philpott , 9 Lula Jane Johnson, , 10 Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr., 11, Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr.
While some genealogists believe that he was named Francois Pouchet and born in Cambrai France, an attractive town with a rich history going back to Roman times, others are convinced that he was an Englishman named Francis Posey, born somewhere in England.  I,  however, have found myself with a foot planted solidly in each argument, and have come to believe that Francois and Francis are actually one and the same man whose name was changed to fit the circumstances he encountered throughout his life. 

Many of the pieces of my theory seem to fall into place when one simply accepts the supposition that Francois was born in France to the Poschets, a Huguenot family forced to flee their home because of escalating religious persecution which threatened their very existence.

John Calvin
Their Huguenot (aka "French Protestant") religion had been founded by John Calvin, an influential French theologian who preached a message critical of many of the religious practices of the Roman Catholic church (the official religion of France at that time). 
Although Calvin's message resonated with up to a million followers in just 100 years, it was reviled by the royal and religious powers of France.  Even after Calvin's death in the mid-1500s, his followers continued to  strongly criticize the French King for the hardships he and the Roman Catholic Church imposed on the Protestant population. 

So it isn't surprising that eventually young King Louis XIII lost whatever patience he had and imposed terrible penalties on the Huguenots, such as the loss of their homes and whatever privileges they might have attained over the years.  However, they were assured that all they had lost would be restored to them when and if they accepted the “one true church” and pledged their loyalty to the King. 

Despite those continuing threats and promises, however, most of the Huguenots remained steadfast in their faith and refused to accept Catholicism, a position which finally forced them to flee their homes and seek safety in another country.

The Poschets were among those who refused to give up their faith.  Such a stand involved great sacrifice, including selling or giving away all their possessions before they fled France forever. They were desperate people who probably believed that they would be able to rebuild their lives and fortunes simply by crossing the English Channel. But that was not to be!  Life in England could also be dangerous - as they discovered the hard way.

History is unclear about what happened to the Pouchet family after they left France, but it couldn't have been good!  What is known is that a 12 or 13 year old boy now known as Francis Posey was living on the streets of London either as a beggar - or thief - or both. 

Although the name Francis Posey seems at first glance to be very different than the one he had been given at birth,  it's likely that the change came about either because the English couldn't spell or pronounce "Francois Pouchet" correctly or he was illiterate and simply didn't know how to write the name he had been given.  It's even possible that this was his way of leaving his French heritage behind and turning himself into an Englishman.
Bridewell Prison and Hospital
Supporting the assertion that Francis was in serious trouble with the English authorities before turning 13, his name can be found in the "Minute Book of Governors in London".  The entry was dated July 19, 1628 and signed by Sir Richard Deane, the Lord Mayor of London.   It reveals that a Francis Posey was to be imprisoned in Bridewell Prison and Hospital until attaining the age of 21.  (Although Bridewell had originally served as a royal palace, by the 1600s it was used solely to house  both the disorderly poor accused of petty crimes and the homeless children found on the streets of London.).  Francis could have been either or both of those, but sadly there is no record clarifying the reason for such a sentence.
In the meantime, the authorities obviously weren't all that thrilled about putting freed inmates like Francis back on the streets where they would probably revert to their old ways.  An answer to that dilemma seemed to rest in what they considered their "dumping ground", aka America - a place where they could get rid of their "refuse yearning to be free . . ."

They even worked out a way to get rid of  those prisoners without having to spend much, if anything. That answer came in the form of American settlers who desperately needed more bodies to work their land and build their homes.  These colonists were willing to pay the fares of non-violent prisoners in return for not only refreshing their supply of laborers, but also obtaining additional land of their choosing.

It was a good deal for both of the  contracting parties, but not  necessarily that great for the prisoners who had been hoping to be freed after serving their sentences in Bridewell.

So, with contracts signed and money paid, Francis Posey and 39 of his fellow Bridewell prisoners were marched onto a ship which would eventually dump them off on the shores of America.  The journey had been arduous and dangerous, with many of the prisoners falling ill or dying before even setting foot on land. 

However, despite their dire circumstances, these former prisoners did have something to live and work for.  That "something" was the assurance they had received that in return for their loyalty and hard work, each of them would eventually be granted not only their freedom, but also 50 acres of land and a small stipend to help them get started wherever they wished.

William Farrar
What a sight it must have been to see these bedraggled and weakened prisoners finally being marched off the ship and introduced to their new owner, William Farrar of Henrico County, Virginia, who - besides receiving new laborers would be granted 2,000 acres of prime land by the government.  

There's little doubt that although these former Bridewell prisoners would have been relieved to finally set their feet on dry land, fear would have trumped relief because: A) they already knew that their lives would not be their own for years to come; and B) they had  no idea how they would be treated - or even if they'd live through the experience.  

And so it was that “ffrancis Posey” (as his name appeared on the manifest) arrived in Virginia, knowing full well that while his new life would probably be hard, it would surely be no harder than it had been when he was an orphaned child on the streets of London or incarcerated in Bridewell.  He had also been warned that his eventual freedom depended on his successfully completing his obligation to Mr. Farrar.  

Based on what we know about his tenure as a slave in Virginia, it is obvious that he was a smart man who used his time to learn everything he could about the land in which he was being planted.  At some point during those early years, his research convinced him that the best place for him to settle would be along the Potomac River in Maryland, and he started planning for that eventuality.

He had even identified the person with whom he wanted to share that life.  Her name was Elizabeth (her last name is unknown).  She had just started her period of indenture for Cuthbert Fenwick, a well known Roman Catholic and former indentured servant himself.  Whatever plans they had, however, would have to wait until Francis could build a home and earn enough money to buy out Elizabeth's contract.

The first stage in that plan was achieved when Francis finally earned his freedom and was awarded a warrant for 100 acres of land, which was double what was usually granted to indentured servants who had completed their contract.  Taking that and the stipend he had been paid for his service, he put his research to good use and bought rich farmland about 100 miles northwest of Henrico, Virginia in Charles County, Maryland.  

That decision possibly meant more to him than simply attaining land on which to build his future.  One has to wonder whether it also brought peace to a man whose family had probably owned land in France before having to leave it all behind because of their religious beliefs. 
During his first several years of freedom he often traveled between Virginia and Maryland in order to hire dependable manpower and begin to build the home of his dreams.  But his strongest tie to Virginia was obviously his deepening relationship with Elizabeth, who still had several years remaining on her indenture contract before she would be free to follow her heart.

It was only after having selected the land and built a home in which to settle his future family that Francis entered negotiations to buy Elizabeth from Mr. Fenwick.  It's obvious that by that time, he had become a skilled negotiator  because when the dust cleared, he not only "owned" and married Elizabeth, whose indenture contract promised a warrant for 50 acres of land, he negotiated to buy Thomas, an indentured manservant who also came with a warrant for 50 acres of land.  With both purchases, Francis, was finally ready to leave France and England behind him and give his heart to America. 

So, after  packing up his expanding family and their few personal possessions, he headed back to Maryland, where he  proceeded to sink his roots and build a productive life.  After all, he no longer had personal ties to France, England - or Virginia -  to hold him back.

To solidify this commitment, he signed an "Oath of Fealty" (aka oath of allegiance) to the “Lord of the Manor and Crown”.   This oath was considered evidence of a person's loyalty to England - even while living in one of the colonies.  Thanks to that commitment, he became a citizen only one year after settling in Maryland.
Francis took his citizenship very seriously, as shown by his willingness to serve on juries and even as a deputy sheriff at one point.  Those commitments must have been especially meaningful to him whenever he remembered the tragedies and heartache in his former life.  In addition, he sank his roots deeper all the time in Maryland through buying 3,450 acres of land on which to grow his tobacco and continued to travel back and forth between Maryland and Virginia in order to honor his commitments.
One of those commitments took the form of his assuming a leadership role in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1641 to 1650.  (The House of Burgesses was the first legislative assembly of elected representatives in North America. It had been established as a way to encourage English craftsmen to work  in North America, while still  retaining their loyalty to the “Old Country”, thus making conditions in the colony more agreeable and comfortable).

Ironically, this French Protestant man - despite all he had suffered during his early life - remained true to his Huguenot faith, even though he once more found himself living among a large population of Catholics in Maryland. Thankfully America - even then - showed its colors of tolerance towards people of different faiths. 

35d Lord Baltimore (1647-1715
This became a point of pride for Francis who publicly declared a few years before his death that despite the heavy Catholic population in the area, the Protestant inhabitants always received fair treatment from the administrator, Lord Baltimore, and had never been forbidden to worship as they pleased (good news indeed for a man whose family had lost everything for proclaiming their faith).

Francis and Elizabeth had only 7 years together before he died at age 42 in 1657, leaving behind his widow, two young sons, (Benjamin and John) and a fine estate on the west side of the Wicomico River.   

Wicomico River
His was truly an American story! Exiled from the land of his  birth, orphaned and living on the streets of London, imprisoned in an old palace, and then enslaved in a foreign land.  Others might have just given up the fight long before those last chapters, but he was obviously a man of great spirit and brilliance who, during his 42 years of life, overcame all adversities and made a huge impact on the lives of others through the example he set for perseverance.

 His children followed in his footsteps. Despite losing their father while they were still young,  the Posey children continued to live where their father and mother had planted them, and become respected family men and planters.  However, in later years, while some of his descendants retained their French identity in both civil and church records, many drifted away from their Huguenot heritage and were eventually assimilated into other Protestant denominations.  

For more information on the Poseys and the Huguenot religion, you might want to check out:  
Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania
Huguenot Society of America