Avery, Rose and Minnie [Becca Richards]During the last two months of 1857, there were several articles in the newspapers in London, England, about two fugitive slaves from Kentucky said to be named Rose and Minnie Avery. The young women were between 18 and 20 years old. In November, the women were seen begging on Black-man Street, both were said to be dressed in the white attire that U.S. slaves wore. The women were taken to the police station by Constable Hinchliffe, 85M, who said he had witnessed one of the women carrying a box used to collect money, and the other woman carried a placard that read "Fugitive Slaves."
At the Southwark Police Court, the women said that they were fugitive slaves from a plantation in Kentucky and had escaped to Philadelphia, PA, after their father died and their mother was sold. They said that a benevolent person and free colored persons had taken care of them and later paid their passage on the ship "Jane" that took them to Greenock, England. They supposedly had arrived the previous spring and had not been able to find employment in domestic services in Greenock, so they had walked to London and were living on Bishopsgate-street with a Mrs. Flynn and her husband Mr. Flynn who was a laborer. The women said that they still had not found employment and had resorted to begging on the street. When ask if they had any skills, they said that they could knit. The women had one shilling and the magistrate gave them 4s from the poor box.
The news of the slave fugitives from Kentucky was soon printed in the newspapers. The women were described in the North Wales Chronicle newspaper as very attractive, well educated, quadroons who were half-castes ["Story of two Kentucky fugitive female slaves," 11/21/1857, issue 1607]. The police station received numerous letters with small sums of money and offers to take-in the young women. The women had already received a portion of the money, and they were to buy wool for the making of gloves and caps, which they were to sell rather than begging on the streets. Each week, they received money from the donations received at the Southwark Police Station. In December, on their return to court, the women said that they had rented a room from a Mrs. Smith in Crown-court, Wentworth-street, for 2s per week. This was verified by the constable. The women presented the gloves and caps that they said they had made, and they showed how much money they had in their possession. They said that they had been given 5s and 10s from strangers who had heard about their plight, but most of their money had been used for food and a few clothes.
The magistrate ordered that they be given a few more shillings from the contributions sent to the court on their behalf. The women also presented a letter that was supposedly from a man in Brighton who wanted to take them in as a nurse and to work in his shop, but the letter was not signed. The magistrate ask that the women report back to court in a week, and return sooner if the man who wrote the letter came back to see them. In the mean time, the women's story would continue to be investigated by the Mendicity Society and the Southwark Police Court. As the women were leaving court, a New York merchant gave the constable £2 with which to purchase clothing and boots for the women. The women received the items.
When they returned to court, there were three reports, one from the Mendicity Society, one from police investigator Officer Hewett, and one from the M division of the police department. According to the reports and the witnesses who were also in the courtroom, the women were impostors. The older of the two women lived with a black man on Crown-court, Wentworth-street. She may have been from America, but only recently arrived in England. The younger woman lived with an Irish woman who may have been her mother. Her father was an older black man who lived at St. Luke's Workhouse, Chelsea, and the younger woman had visited him and given him money. She had also written a letter to him and signed her name as Becca Richards.
Also, the ship "Jane" that had supposedly brought the two women to England, had not been in Greenock for 18 months. The younger woman and the older black man denied knowing each other, though witnesses in the courtroom identified her as the person who had visited him several times and said that she had written the letter. The magistrate concluded that the younger woman was a fake, and therefore, both women were fakes. The women were directed to leave the court and were warned that if they were picked up again for begging, then they would be severely punished.
Benevolent persons who had sent money to the courts and the police station for the women's care would be contacted and asked if they wished their money to go to the women through application, or have the money added to the poor box.
For more see "Southwark. - Kentucky Fugitive Slaves," The Morning Post, 11/18/1857, p.7; "Southwark," Daily News (London, England), 11/18/1875, issue 3591; "Fugitive slave girls from Kentucky," The Morning Chronicle, 11/26/1857, issue 28371; "Fugitive slave girls in London from Kentucky," Hampshie Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, 11/28/1857, p.3; "The Fugitive slaves from Kentucky," The Morning Chronicle, 12/1/1857, issue 28375; "Kentucky fugitive slaves; extraordinary deception," North Wales Chronicle, 12/12/1857, issue 1609; and "The Kentucky fugitive slaves turn out to be impostors," Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, 12/12/1857, p.3.