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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree April 2019 > The Hill that scaled a mountain to get home

The Hill that scaled a mountain to get home

Family historian Theresa Green was astonished to chance upon the case of a young Derbyshire orphan who was cruelly banished to a life of slavery in the New World by his fraudulent great-uncle, a man of the cloth. Using 18th century Chancery records held in The National Archives, she pieced together this remarkable story…


I came across this information entirely by accident during my search for the Hill family of South Wingfield in Derbyshire.

It is an incredible story of a little boy named Hugh who was left a legacy by his grandmother. He ended up being exiled and shipped off to Virginia at the age of seven (c1690) by his greedy great-uncle, the local vicar! It is a story that could have been written by Charles Dickens, with an added touch of the Brothers Grimm – except that it took place over 200 years earlier!

I was astonished to find such an account. It’s all too easy to look back with an almost romantic view of our past, but this is a stark reminder that people then, like today, come in all shades – the good, the bad and the darn right ugly! If you were captivated by the book or film 12 Years a Slave, keep reading…

Immersed in Chancery records

I’d spent days transcribing (line by line) several large Chancery documents that I’d purchased copies of from The National Archives (TNA). I have not been able to transcribe all the text (much of which concerns properties, lands and so on) and I should like to add I am no expert reader in old English, Latin or script, so had to improvise between some of those lines in order to tie events together.

However, I believe I have been able to extract enough information to give an outline of Hugh’s story, over many hours spent with a magnifier! I hope I’ve done him justice – from what I read, he deserved that at least. Hugh’s claim involved his inheritance, which was stolen by his great-uncle, Francis Hill (brother-inlaw of Hugh’s grandmother Elizabeth). Francis died just about the time that Hugh returned to South Wingfield from Virginia – some 33 years after he was exiled. So, the case was brought against the son of Francis Hill (Hugh Hill, who inherited Francis’s assets), and an accomplice, Joseph Allwood. The case was brought before the court in 1736, as the documents held in TNA show:

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About Family Tree

Do you know what your surname means and where it's come from? You don't? You've come to the right place. With the April issue of Family Tree we've got a cracking 32 guide to help you learn about your family names. From surname super-sleuth organisation the Guild of One-Name Studies, it's packed with advice to research your family surnames - wherever in the world they come from... Plus - inside the mag - we've got 10 top family history projects to help you organise your research, university research into our ancient 10,000 year old ancestor (he's the great-grandpa of us all) and the tale of an orphan, disinherited and banished into slavery - and his 30 year fight to regain what was rightfully his!