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A Confederate Englishman.  

Henry Wemyss Feilden 1838-1921. 

By: Dr. Roger Smalley 

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Profits from Textile manufacture made the Feildens a family of power and influence in nineteenth century Blackburn. William Henry Feilden bought the Witton estate and feniscowles, became a baronet, a JP, and deputy lieutenant of Lancashire. He devoted much of his time to military affairs, an interest inherited by his second son Henry Wemyss who, after Cheltenham and Sandhurst, took up a commission with the Black Watch in 1856.

Henry’s regiment saw service in India during the Mutiny of 1857-58, and after its suppression Feilding transferred first to the Eighth Regiment of Punjabi Infantry which fought in the Second Opium War, and then to the East Sussex Regiment of Foot. However, he resigned from the British army on the outbreak of civil war in America in order to help the Confederacy in its struggle for independence. Like many of his social class and textile manufacturing background he sympathised with the southern states which supplied their mills with cotton, a source the Union blockade threatened to disrupt. But Feilding also saw the war as an opportunity to enrich himself by running the blockade with European goods that would fetch high prices in Confederate markets.

On 8 September 1862, he was on board the ‘Flora’ when it slipped past Union patrols and reached Charleston, South Carolina, early the following year. He immediately sought a role in the Confederate army and was appointed captain and assistant adjutant with the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard. Much of Feilden’s work involved writing letters transmitting orders to troops within the Department and supervising the movements of civilians. Surviving documentation suggests he acquitted himself well in front line fighting also.

Feilding was undoubtedly committed to the Confederate cause and believed in the institution of slavery, but he used his position to profit from regular blockade running with cotton bought cheaply in South Carolina and sold for much more in Nassau.

In December 1864, Feilden married Julia McCord, the daughter of a Chareston lawyer, but, sonn after, they were forced to evacuate the city because of the arrival of Union troops, part of Sherman’s March to the Sea. So Feilden fought in the wars’ final battles with General Johnson’s army and surrended with it on 26 April 1865. It was not until the following year that he was able to arrange passage to England for himself and his wife. They were back in Blackburn by July 1866.

Julia stayed at the family home, Feniscowles New Hall, whilst Henry resumed his career with the British army. In 1875 he was appointed naturalist to the British Arctic Expedition in search of the North Pole and his contribution earned him recommendation for the award of Companion of the Order of the Bath, and further scientific work. He also fought in the First Boer War in 1881 before retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1890. The Feilden’s finally settled in Sussex where their neighbour was Rudyard Kipling. Both men acted as recruiting officers when war broke out in 1914.

Henry Wemyss Feilden’s military career was, perhaps, unusual because of his service in the Confederate army. No biography has been written, but a selection of his letters was published in 2013. The editors take a sympathetic view of Feilden’s work in America and are keen to endorse Kipling’s opinion that Feilden was, ‘the gentlest, gallantest English Gentleman who ever walked’. Whilst this may be true of much of his character and behaviour it ignores the fact that he was a racist who thought African Americans were better off enslaved than free. This was a common enough attitude amongst the British elite, especially those with connections to textile manufacture. It contrasts with the support famously expressed for the Union and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by Lancashire cotton mill workers. Are there any cases or workers going beyond enduring unemployment and starvation? Did any of them take a further step and crossed the Atlantic to enlist in the Union army?

These questions and Henry Wemyss Feilden make this particular part of Lancastrian history most intriguing and as of yet still much uncovered.


Dr Roger Smalley.

The early Mormons in Lancashire

The Mormon church, or to give its formal name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was formed in New York state in 1830, by Joseph Smith. Its centre moved westward  over the next fifteen years or so, mainly owing to successive periods of persecution. It finally settled in near virgin territory in the Salt Lake valley in what became the territory then state of Utah. Missionaries came to the UK in 1837, landing in Liverpool. Over the next 18 months or so they established groups known as branches in many parts of the country, strongest in Lancashire. The American missionaries largely returned home after this period, but had set up a sufficiently robust system to exist and indeed to an extent flourish without them. From 1840 numbers of Americans returned, and the Church thrived, particularly perhaps for the next two decades. There were also successes in Europe, notably in Scandinavia. A principal aim was to encourage emigration, to build up numbers in America. This started in 1840, and remained official policy until quite late in the century. The well known belief in and practice of polygamy (in America) would of course also have the effect of increasing numbers ! Part of the success of this novel religion can no doubt be put down to excellent organisation by the American leaders. For example the organ ‘Millenial Star’, for the UK, started production in 1840, and emigration was largely on chartered ships, on which conditions and discipline were regarded as superior to other ships.

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The first ten years or so, from 1837, coincided with a period of severe economic conditions in the UK, eventually eased somewhat later in the 1840s with the repeal of the Corn Laws, improvements in living conditions in towns and cities owing to municipal action, and for other reasons, though of course this easing was very gradual. The Mormons brought the promise of a better life across the sea, and hard though the crossing and travel within the USA might be, along with ‘pioneer’ conditions to start with on arrival, they might well have had a point. Many early British Mormons were perhaps of ‘artisan’ class, and in quite a few cases formerly Primitive Methodists. There are examples of Primitive Methodists being Chartists, and these connections give an idea maybe of the type of individual to whom Mormonism might appeal. Of course when an adult became a member, any spouse and children would often follow. Having said that, there were sadly cases of families splitting because only one parent followed the new faith. (Not that this was confined to Mormonism.)

There is plenty written on the Mormons in America, mainly of course by Americans, often themselves Mormons. This includes the epic stories of the handcart and other journeyings westward : the railroad to Utah was not completed until 1869. There is literature too on the Atlantic crossings. When it comes to life in Britain for the members of the Church there is a relative paucity of material. There are works on particular areas, on particular families, and at least one collection of miscellaneous essays. But any comprehensive academic study remains to be written, there is no definitive work. Yet the sources are plentiful. Foremost amongst these are detailed membership lists, surviving for many branches, Also, branch meeting minutes exist in many cases, though access to these is restricted by the Church.

There are also diaries and journals written by Church members (see picture of first page of one such), and much in local newspapers. Many journalists were most disparaging through much of the remainder of the century about the religion. Below I give some of the major sources. My own view is that we are dealing with an important social as well as religious phenomenon.

My own family history contains members of the Church, some of whom emigrated. These were in the Middleton area, and I was led to research and write the story of early Mormon activity there. See ‘Mormons in Mid Nineteenth Century Middleton (Lancs) and Vicinity’, 2013. Other sources include the following.

P.A.M. Taylor, Expectations Westward ; The Mormons and the Emigration of their British Converts in the Nineteenth Century, 1965.


Conway B. Sonne, Saints on the Seas ; A Maritime History of Mormon

Migration, 1983. (Eds) Richard L. Jensen and Malcolm R. Thorp, Mormons in early Victorian Britain, 1989 (sixteen essays on a variety of aspects).


(Eds) James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander, Manchester Mormons ; The Journal of William Clayton, 1840 to 1842, 1974 (Clayton was from the Manchester area.).

James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin and David J. Whittaker, Men with a Mission, 1837-1841 ; The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1992.


Rex Watson

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