by: Treelines Team
Tricia Yearwood, singer and Food Network host, is interested in looking into the family of her grandmother, Elizabeth Winslett. Though she lived with her the last couple years of her life, she wouldn't talk about her own life, and her only son, Tricia's father, has since passed away. This part of the family is the mystery; the other side she knows well.
On her first day of searching she views a tree on Ancestry that takes her Winslett line all the way back to her 5x great-grandfather, Samuel Winslett, the one who came to the U.S. from England, where he was born. With his birthdate and hometown she heads to England to learn more.
By perusing the baptism register in Samuel's parish, Tricia learns more about Samuel's family. His parents, John and Mary, died by the time he was 14, leaving him and his three older brothers orphans.
The next mention of any of them in the historical records comes from 1765. "Action in the King's Bench, concerning Deer stealing at Shillinglee" is a set of documents related to the "killing, wounding, and felonious removal of 'several fat bucks' from one of Lord Winterton's paddocks on the Shillinglee estate." Samuel and two of his brothers are named as the thieves.
Six years after their father died... what has become of them?!
At the Shillinglee Deer Tower, once the center of Lord Winterton's hunting seat, Tricia learns that just a few weeks after the theft took place on May 25, Lord Winterton offered a 30 guinea reward -- a year's wages for a laborer! -- to anyone who could help solve the crime. By the end of June, the Winslett's brothers' accomplices confessed, implicating the worst on the Winsletts. Now the brothers faced... death?! How could that be?!
The Black Act, passed in 1723 after poaching from the great estates became prevalent during an economic downtown, made 200 minor, often poaching-related offenses punishable by death. Essentially, the poorest were punished to protect the property of the few elite. And now these three orphans would have to pay.
Samuel was reported to have said that though he hoped he would not be hanged, he had neither wife nor child nor father nor mother to cry for him, so it was no matter to himself. The desperation that led him to commit the crime, and now his heart-breaking state of mind... it all made Tricia want to cry.
At the British National Archives she learned that his and his brother's punishments had been commuted to fourteen years of servitude in the colonies. (This became common from 1718 on.) He would have been transported in chains to be auctioned off to business men and plantation owners whose treatment was notoriously harsh. He had a long sentence with no limits to how hard his new master could work him.
The next appearance of Samuel in the historical record is a land grant in 1770 of 100 acres in Georgia from George III. This is only four years after he arrived in the colonies... the likeliest possibility is that he escaped.
The land he received had recently been coerced from the hands of the Indians, and Georgian authorities were anxious to get settlers making the land productive. They handed out land grants to anyone willing to settle. For Samuel, it was a good way to make a new start without anyone checking his background.
Thereafter Samuel does quite well for himself. In May of 1784 when he is 40, he gets an additional tract of land bringing to holdings to almost 400 acres. Now he is the lord of his own manor, Tricia notes.
This new land grant, yet again, was taken from the Creek Indians under disputed terms, and Samuel's life in Indian territory would not be easy. In 1778 the Creek Indians stole a mare from him, and in March 1779 while away from home they took 700 lbs. of bacons and all his household furniture. In 1787-8 he lost 4 cows and calves and 4 head cattle. How ironic, Tricia notes, considering that his adult life began with the theft of Lord Winterton's deer!
It seems like only a small part of Samuel's property was taken, suggesting that he was really on the cusp of entering Georgia's elite planter class. And yet, he never learned to read or write!
Shortly before he died he sold all the land and moved his family into Eatonton, which is where Tricia's family resided up through the present day. The land is only 30 miles from where Tricia grew up!
Reflecting back on all that she has learned about Samuel, Tricia admires his resilience, strength, and courage and connects it to the drive she had as a small-town girl to leave home & make it big.