The American War of Independence, Liverpool and the Dollar sign!

Born at opposite ends of Dale Street Liverpool and fighting on opposite sides of the American War of Independence this is the story of two Liverpudlians’ involvement in a momentous struggle 3100 miles away that changed the course of world history.

Robert Morris was born in Chorley Court, just off Dale Street in 1734 he became known as the Financier of the American Revolution and Banastre Tarleton was born at 7 Water Street in 1754 (now the site of Il Palazzo) he became MP for Liverpool, a Baronet and an Army General, however, in the USA he is known as ‘Bloody Ban’ or ‘Ban the Butcher’.

Robert Morris lived his early life in Liverpool but at the age of 13 he left to join his father who was a tobacco trader in Oxford, Maryland. He was sent to Philadelphia to study and it was here that he was apprenticed to the shipping and banking firm of Bristol born Charles Willing who twice became Mayor of Philadelphia. After the death of Willing his son Thomas invited Morris to become a partner and they established the successful shipping-banking firm of Willing, Morris & Co. The company was involved in various trades including the infamous triangular trade of sugar, tobacco and slaves.

Morris began his American public service in 1765 serving on local merchant committees, he was a staunch believer in free trade and although remaining initially loyal to the crown he supported the view that taxation without representation violated the colonists’ rights. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, and participated in many of the committees involved in raising capital and provisions for the Continental Army including negotiating bills of exchange. Oddly enough one of his most successful money raising schemes was lotteries! The war quickly drained the coffers of the Colonies and in late 1776; the Continental Army was in a state of severe deprivation. Morris loaned $10,000 of his own money to the government for provisions for desperate troops. His company’s ship the Black Prince under the name Alfred was fitted out as a man’o’war and was the first Continental Navy’s ship. Throughout the war he personally underwrote the operations of privateers as well as continuing to finance George Washington’s Army. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Bank of North America, an institution that brought stability to the colonial economy. He is also credited with being the first person to use $ as the sign for the dollar.

Such was Morris’s stature that he was one of only two people to sign the three significant founding documents of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. After the war Morris became a senator, however, he lost what was left of his fortune in land speculation deals and died in relative poverty in 1806 aged 73. He is buried in the family vault at Christ Church, Pennsylvania. He has a number of monuments in America commemorating his life including a statue at the Independence National Historical Park Philadelphia.

Banastre Tarleton was the son John Tarleton who was Mayor of Liverpool in 1764 and a merchant. He was educated in London and in 1771 went on to study at Oxford University. At the age of 19, on the death of his father he inherited £5,000, which he squandered in less than a year on gambling and women. His widowed mother purchased for him a commission as a Cornet in the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards and he embarked for American as a volunteer with General George Cornwallis. Here he promptly ran up another £2,500 in debts, however, he proved to be a gifted horseman and leader. Due to his abilities, he swiftly worked his way up through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel. One night whilst out on patrol he was instrumental in capturing American Major General Charles Lee in his underwear by threatening to burn down the building he was sleeping in! He took part in the New York Campaign of 1776 and aided in the capture of Charleston, SC. In 1778 he was made Lieutenant Colonel at the age 24 and was put in command of the British Legion a group of around 500 Loyalist Americans, who wore green rather than the red of regular British army and soon became known as Tarleton’s Raiders. It was in the Carolinas that the ‘raiders’ earned their reputation not only for their relentless pursuit of rebel militias and guerrillas but also for plunder, arson, rape, brutality and terror! It was at the battle of Waxhaw’s on the North Carolina border that Tarleton came to cement his reputation for ‘ruthlessness’, there are numerous versions of what actually happened, however, traditionally, he was seen as a “butcher” when, it was said, America forces under Colonel Buford laid down their arms in an attempt to surrender but the ‘raiders’ continued their assault despite white flags, killing over 100 men. From then on, his reputation grew and “Tarleton’s quarter”, in effect, came to mean no quarter was given and was often used as a rallying cry by Revolutionary troops. After the battle Tarleton is said to have sent a message to Cornwallis which read ‘I have cut 170 officers and men to pieces’. He was captured at the surrender of Yorktown in 1781. In negotiating the surrender, special arrangements had to be made to protect him due to his unsavoury reputation. He later served in Portugal and Ireland attaining the rank of general.

Returning home in 1781, he entered politics and was initially defeated in his first election attempt, however, in 1790, he was more successful and went on to represent Liverpool as MP for seven terms He was an ardent supporter of the slave trade largely due to his brothers’ and other Liverpudlian ship owners involvement in the trade.

He often boasted that he “had killed more men and ravished more women than any man in America”. He died aged 79 at his estate in Shropshire in 1833. A Hollywood version of Tarleton appeared in the shape of “Colonel William Tavington” who coincidentally was played by Liverpool-born actor Jason Isaacs, in the 2000 Mel Gibson film “The Patriot”.

In the UK there are a number of portraits of Tarleton including one by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the National Gallery London and in Liverpool Banastre Street (formerly L3) and Tarleton Street L1 were both named after the family, however, of tributes to Robert Morris in his home city there are none!
Robert Morris

Photo credit:

Banastre Tarleton

Courtesy of

Next month read about Liverpudlian Edward Rushton the founder of UK’s first School for the Blind

Liverpool’s 1919 Race Riot Victim’s Lost Grave Found.

The 5th June 2018 marks the 99th anniversary of a shocking episode in Liverpool’s history.

In the first half of 1919 a series of race riots took place in major ports across Britain resulting in a number of deaths, including the death of Charles Wotten* in Liverpool. This is his story and the search for his grave.

Liverpool is proud of its multi-racial and multi-faith background. Over the centuries many nationalities have made their home here, but the relationship hasn’t always been harmonious.

Barely nine months after the First World war guns had fallen silent and with more than two million soldiers being demobbed, they returned home, not to a ‘Land fit for Heroes’ as promised by LLoyd George, but to a post-war slump with labour markets flooded and racial tension rising. In Liverpool black people were made scapegoats for the deep frustration and economic plight felt by the white Liverpool community, with some whites refusing to work with black workers. This resulted in black workers being sacked, leaving many of them destitute and starving. Liverpool’s pre-war economy had been built on world-trade but new competitors, markets and suppliers meant that the port’s 1919 tonnage had fallen below its 1901 level, disaffection was rife in the city, so much so, that army chiefs were working on a plan ‘in the event of Soviet government in Liverpool’!

In Liverpool in the run up to June 1919 there had been isolated attacks by whites on blacks and by blacks on whites with many victims being taken to Liverpool’s Southern hospital. However, in early June 1919 a bar brawl was to be the catalyst that led to a series of racist attacks, the looting and burning of their homes and lodgings, and expose institutional racism in Liverpool and cause the death of a West Indian mariner called Charles Wotten.

On the 4th June 1919 John Johnson a black man from 48 Nelson Street was attacked and hospitalised by two white seamen said to be Scandinavians for allegedly refusing to give them a cigarette. Reports state that the next night in the Liverpool Arms on Bailey Street a number of white and black men were drinking albeit in separate companies. Witnesses state a black man in a naval uniform entered the parlour and after a short time picked up a glass belonging to a Russian sailor and hurled it at a group of Scandinavian sailors drinking there. Fearing more trouble the licensee shut and emptied the bar. Outside, fighting broke out between blacks and whites and spread into the nearby streets. In an attack on the Scandinavian Sailors Home at 33 Great George Street Swedish sailor Thomas Johansen was stabbed. At 10 pm word reach the Bridewell in Argyle Street and the police arrived to separate the two groups. The police report claim’s that the white crowd dispersed but the black crowd did not, the police then drew their truncheons and charged the black group. In the ensuing melee a policeman PC 245C Brown was shot through the mouth and a number of black men and police were injured. The man who shot PC Brown was later arrested and identified as James Williams from Falkner Street.

After the disturbance had subsided D.I. Burgess in order to arrest the perceived black protagonist authorised the raiding of boarding houses used by black seamen. D.S. Case and 12 police officers raided the one above the Hung’s Laundry at 18 Upper Pitt Street. This boarding house had been run by Abraham Lawrence an ex- Jamaican sailor, since the 1890s, who earlier in the 1870s and 1880s had lived with his family in Gilbert and then Kent Street. He died in 1914 but his second wife Margaret and their young family continued to run the boarding house and this was the place Charles Wotten was lodging on that fateful night.

The police report states that when they raided 18 Upper Pitt Street the door was barricaded and there were a number of black men in there. The police burst the door down and a fight broke out in the hallway between the lodgers; James Clark, Charles Maffin, James Edwards, Eddie Scott, Henry Howell and Enslie Blundel (who were all subsequently injured), and the police. However, Charles Wotten escaped out of the back of the house probably in to White Street. From there he was pursued by PCs Higham and Atkinson plus an estimated mob of between 200-300 people. Frightened and scared Charles Wotten headed for a place he knew – the docks; running either right down Cornwallis Street and Blundell Street past the Wapping Goods Railway station or left down Nelson Street and Bridgewater Street past the Queen’s Stores Company. We know, however, that PC Higham overtook and arrested him about 8 yards from the Queen’s dock wall. The police claimed that the mob surged around both men beating Charles Wotten and he was wrenched away from PC Higham. Charles Wotten either fell or was pushed into the Queen’s dock. Whilst in the water, the mob threw stones at him and were heard to shout ‘let him drown’! On 6th June 1919, the Liverpool ECHO reported that while a detective was attempting to rescue him from the dock a stone thrown from the middle of the crowd hit Charles Wotten on the head and he sank. The nearby M.D. & H.B. Floating Crane Atlas also lowered a ladder into the water to try and save him but to no avail. His body was recovered later that night. No one was arrested for his murder. At his inquest there appears to be no mention of the head wound he sustained and the coroner recorded a verdict of Death by Drowning and stated that there was not sufficient evidence to show how he got into the dock. A verdict later described by David Olusoga as ‘near meaningless‘!

So who was Charles Wotten? In Liverpool’s 1919 Watch Committee minutes the Chief Constable describes him as a ‘24 year-old Trinidadian’. The Liverpool Echo 10th June 1919 wrote ‘The inquest was held on the body of Charles Wotten, a negro of twenty-four years of age, who had served until recently as a fireman in the British Navy’. The Liverpool Courier the next day wrote ‘Wootten who was 24 years old, was a native of Bermuda. He was a fireman and was discharged from the British Navy in March last’. L. Julienne & J. Savage in their book ‘Charles Wootton: 1919 Race Riots in Liverpool’ (1979) write ‘he was 23 y-o West Indian who had lived in Liverpool since he was young’. This description was echoed by Ashley Jackson in ‘The British Empire and the First World War’ 2017 who wrote ‘Wootton aged 24 was from Bermuda, he had come to Britain as a youth and originally worked as a ship’s fireman’, David Olusoga in his 2016 book ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’ describes him as ’a twenty-four year old sailor from Bermuda, who had served in the Royal Navy during the war’ and Ray Costello in his ‘Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships’ writes ‘Charles Wotten a young Bermudan ship’s fireman who had been discharged by the Navy in March was chased by a large white mob on 5th June 1919 after running from 18 Pitt Street’. In the burial records he is simply described as ‘Charles Wotten 24 year old mariner’.

So his details seem to be that he was named Wotten, Wootton or Wotton, he was 24 years old in 1919, therefore born around 1895. Originally from Trinidad/Bermuda/West Indies, he possibly lived in Liverpool from a young age however, there seems no doubt he was a mariner and served in either or both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy.

The UK 1901 and 1911 censuses do not identify a likely Charles Wotten (or derivatives) living in Liverpool. A search of Campaign medals awarded to WW1 Merchant seaman also proved fruitless. in their UK Royal Navy Register of Seamen’s Services, 1848-1939 do identify a Charles Carr Hilgrove Wotten who was born in Somerset Bermuda height 5’ 2” chest 29”, described as a ‘man of colour’, who first served in Royal Navy on HMS Terror 03/04/1908 – 15/01/1909 and then later HMS Melpomene 06/09/1911 – 16/03/1912 as a steward/domestic. On these records his birth date is given as 4th January 1890 (v potential 1895) and his previous occupation was a servant. As recorded birth years are notoriously unreliable it does not preclude this being him. records also lists Royal Navy sailors arriving in Quebec November 1915 with a Charles Wootton aged 17 (1898) on board; his own ship is listed as HMS Caesar a battleship which served on the North America and West Indies Station. Finally among the 1915 Crew Records in the National Maritime Museum Greenwich there is a 24 year- old Bermudian named C. Wotten who was fireman/trimmer on board Constantine & Pickering’s SS Lockwood. The Lockwood had been requisitioned by the Admiralty at the start of WW1 as a RFA collier. On Good Friday 1915 it was sunk by U24 in the English Channel, with the crew been given 10 minutes to abandon ship. This same sailor had previously sailed on another ill-fated ship the SS Tamele (torpedoed 16th July 1917) belonging to the British & African Steam Navigation Co. (part of the Elder Dempster Company), whose offices were in Colonial House, Water Street, Liverpool.

So the early life of Charles Wotten still remains unaccounted for, however, what we do know is that the body of Charles Wotten was laid to rest not in Toxteth cemetery as has been suggested but on the 11th June 1919 on a sunny afternoon in a service conducted by Rev E A Ejesa Osora, chaplain to the Elder Dempster African sailors’ Hostel in a public grave at Anfield cemetery. The grave remains but had a narrow escape when a communal grave for 554 victims of the 1941 Blitz was dug across a number of public plots in the cemetery literally just missing where his body lies.

So Charles Wotten’s grave is still intact and remains unmarked but having visited it no longer lost and hopefully his story not forgotten. However, his early life remains an enigma and resolving this to mark the 100th anniversary of his death next year may well prove a fitting reminder of the life and death of a man killed here in Liverpool because of his colour.

*Charles Wotten’s name has been spelt in a number of ways in the literature but we have used the official document’s spelling to be consistent.
Special thanks to the staff of Liverpool Record Office and Jimmy Brooks.

Charles Wotten’s Unmarked Grave

Position of Charles Wotten’s grave Anfield Cemetery


The British Empire and the First World War
Ashley Jackson
Routledge, 26 Jun 2017

Black and British: A Forgotten History
David Olusoga
Pan Macmillan, 2016 p456

Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships
Ray Costello
Liverpool University Press 2012 p156

Charles Wootton: 1919 Race Riots in Liverpool
L. Julienne & J. Savage

Next month read about two Liverpool men’s involvement in the American War of Independence

Liverpool Walking Tours – Walkie Talkie Tours

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