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Faces of Fulham Palace: Eleanor Hex

Written by Eleanor Hex, PhD researcher.

I am a first-year CHASE funded PhD Researcher at the University of Kent working on Fulham Palace’s project ‘The Church and the Plantations: An Examination of the Bishops of London and their Workforces in the Tobacco Colonies, c.1680-1800.’ Originally from Dumfries and Galloway in South West Scotland, I studied my undergraduate MA & postgraduate MSc in History at the University of Glasgow. It was during my studies there that I first thought about combining my two main historical interests, Transatlantic Slavery and Christianity. This interest developed from learning that in 1807 British publishers Law and Gilbert produced Select Parts of the Holy Bible for the use of the Negros Slaves in the British West Indies. The so-called ‘Slave Bible’ is a heavily edited edition of the King James Version, containing roughly ten percent of the Old Testament and around fifty percent of the New Testament. This led me to ask questions about the forms of Christianity that enslaved people were exposed to. Christianity was altered and changed in order to enforce a system of obedience and control but did not speak about the freedom that one could be afforded in a relationship with Christ. This project allows me to pick up these questions and interrogate those who made these systems, such as Bishop of London Beilby Porteus who in 1794 established ‘Society for Conversion and Religious Instruction and Education of Negroe Slaves in British West Indies’, and apply this to what was happening at grass root levels in the North American tobacco colonies of Virginia and Maryland.

Having begun the project in September 2023, I am in the second term of my PhD and am starting to settle into the swing of research! For the first term, focus has been placed on getting to grips with how the church functioned during the time period, interrogating its development as a colonial powerhouse. Important to fully grasping an understanding of this has been tracing the development of the Bishop of London’s jurisdiction, an issue that came fully to light in 1675 when Henry Compton was translated to the see of London. Historians have shown great interest in following this line of power over the following century; however, my hope is to problematise and decolonise this narrative in order to bare witness to its effects within the plantations themselves. The next stage in my research will be to garner a deeper understanding of the plantation systems that developed in 17th and 18th century Virginia and Maryland. This will allow me to contextualise the way in which parishes were formed and the pressures that the Church of England met in these areas during the colonial period.

I am extremely privileged to already have had interest shown in my work by senior members of the Church of England who are part of efforts to detangle the colonial narrative of the church. I have been lucky enough to meet both the Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin and the Bishop of Croydon, Rosemarie Mallet. Both bishops are a powerhouse of knowledge on the church’s complicity in slavery and are keen to help develop conversations on this issue in order to shine a light on the legacies of slavery today. The aim is to keep these conversations flowing throughout the course of my PhD in order to develop a piece of academic work that breaks down colonial narratives to bring honour to those who are often forgotten in scholarly interpretations.

Interested in learning more?

The Church of England was deeply implicated in Britain’s colonial expansion and the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans. Learn more by visiting our latest exhibition ‘The Bishops of London, colonialism and transatlantic slavery: resistance’.