I am delighted to welcome a new guest to all Things Georgian, Charmian Kenner, a researcher and writer on women’s history, with a special interest in Latin America, who lives in Hastings, and who is going to tell us about someone I had never heard of, but who led a most remarkable life. With that, I’ll hand you over to Charmian:
How did a young woman from Yorkshire meet a Venezuelan revolutionary in the year 1800? Sarah Andrews was born in 1774 in the East Yorkshire town of Market Weighton, while Francisco de Miranda began his life thousands of miles away in Caracas, Venezuela. Yet they were to become partners, and their London home served as a British headquarters for the struggle to liberate Latin America from Spanish rule.
There are monuments to Francisco de Miranda throughout Latin America. But we do not even have a picture of Sarah Andrews, and her grave in Kensal Green cemetery was unmarked and neglected until found by a descendant four generations later. Today her gravestone, placed by the Venezuelan government in 2013, commemorates Sarah as ‘a supporter of revolutionaries who changed the world’.
My book Revolutionary Partners: Sarah Andrews and British Campaigners for Latin American Independence tells Sarah’s story through letters she wrote to Francisco de Miranda when he was away fighting in Venezuela from 1805-1807, while she held the fort in London and raised their two sons Leander and Francisco. Sarah emerges as a resourceful activist, combining politics and motherhood in the face of poverty and discrimination. But how did she become involved in the Latin American cause?
Revolutionary ideas were rife around the world in the late 18th century. When Sarah was a teenager, the whole of England was in a furore about the French Revolution. She would have heard radical opinions via her shoemaker father John – shoemakers’ shops, along with pubs, were places where customers gathered to discuss the issues of the day. We know little of Sarah’s early life, but by 1800 she had moved to London, probably amongst the thousands of young women who sought domestic work in the capital.
Across the Atlantic, Francisco de Miranda had grown up in Caracas as part of the ‘criollo’ aristocracy, who were born in Latin America from Spanish origins but now chafing under the yoke of Spain. After fighting as a General in the French Revolution, he came to London on a mission. He wanted prime minister William Pitt to provide finance and troops to free Venezuela and indeed the whole of Latin America. The reward for Britain would be huge business opportunities in countries that currently could only trade with Spain.
We do not know exactly how Sarah and Francisco met, though it may have been through Sarah’s uncle Stephen Hewson, who was a portrait painter in London. On 9th February 1800 Francisco wrote in his diary that when he returned to his lodgings in New Road (now Euston Road), ‘Sally’ told him of a visitor who called while he was out. Sally was Francisco’s affectionate name for Sarah, and their relationship is intriguing.
It is not clear whether ‘Sally’ was a servant at this point or sharing Francisco’s home. There was a considerable age gap between them – Francisco was 49 years old and Sarah was 25. In 1802 they moved into their long-term home, 27 Grafton Street (now 58 Grafton Way), an elegant new house that they rented in the Fitzrovia area of London. In his will dated 1805, Francisco refers to Sarah as ‘mi fiel ama de llaves [my faithful housekeeper] Sarah Andrews’, recognising her important role in running the household.
By this time Sarah and Francisco were parents; their first child Leandro was nearly two and Sarah was pregnant with his brother Francisco. Were they married? No marriage certificate has ever been found, but Sarah was Protestant and Francisco was Catholic, so their marriage might not have taken place at an Anglican church as was then required. It may even have happened in secret.
Whether or not they were married, Sarah and Francisco were evidently committed to each other and shared a passionate dedication to the Latin American cause. Sarah wrote eloquently to Francisco in the hope that his 1805 expedition to Venezuela ‘will live a glorious example of Justice and Humanity and may your victories in the New World be a Pattern to all Nations, as you will be shown to reign in the hearts of the people, as you do, and ever will in mine’.
Meanwhile Francisco made it clear that Sarah was a valued partner in his campaign, writing that ‘I want you as much as anybody else to carry in execution, and terminate with success my schemes’. He depended on Sarah to maintain the Grafton Street household, the key point of contact for political and diplomatic supporters.
But Sarah had a herculean task. At times there was not enough money for food, and she sacrificed her own needs: ‘I live on and get a little bit of meat for my dearest Children and Servant, if there is any left I have it but [not] for a week together, until I am so weak, that I am always crying, and I cannot help it’.
Despite these harsh conditions and a threat of eviction, Sarah managed to keep the house and prevent Francisco’s beloved book collection from being sold. At six thousand volumes, it was the largest private library in London and a vital resource for campaigners. She also kept faith with her purpose as a radical mother, bringing up three-year-old Leander to believe in the Latin American cause.
Finally, Francisco returned on New Year’s Day 1808. His expedition – organised alone when support from Britain did not materialise – had been unsuccessful. However, Latin American nations soon began to declare independence from Spain, with Venezuela being the first in 1810. Sarah and Francisco hosted Simón Bolívar, the future Liberator of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama, at Grafton Street when he visited London with a Venezuelan delegation to meet British politicians and influential supporters.
Francisco de Miranda returned to Venezuela and became the country’s Generalissimo, its supreme military commander, but the Spanish mounted a huge campaign to retake their colonial possession and captured him in triumph. He wrote his last letter to Sarah from prison in Cádiz, Spain, where he was to die in July 1816. Addressing her as ‘my very dear Sally’, Francisco says ‘nothing gives me greater pain than knowing that you are in distress’. His final words are ‘Goodbye, dear and afflicted friend, and give my love to the little ones’.
Sarah’s distress must indeed have been severe, but she did not give up the fight. She is said to have kept a candle burning in the window of Grafton Street for the revolution. The house became an important recruiting station for the Legión Británnica, British volunteers who went to Latin America to fight with Bolívar from 1817 onwards. Such recruitment was illegal, but when government agents came to arrest the activists, Sarah barred the door against them.
The Legión Británnica scaled the icy heights of the Andes with Bolívar’s army to take the Spanish by surprise, and played a significant part alongside dedicated troops who finally achieved the liberation of their countries. Sarah’s mission as a radical mother was vindicated when both Leander and Francisco went to Latin America to join the struggle.
Sarah’s story is told in full, along with those of other British women who travelled to Latin America with the Legión Británnica and witnessed the dawn of a new society, in my book Revolutionary Partners, available FREE here (Click on the highlighted link).