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Adam Lee

Eric Trudgill    -    4 August 2013

Adam Lee was a well-known criminal around the turn of the nineteenth century in W Kent, S London and E Berkshire. In October 1795 the press reported Stephen Lee and his sons, John, Robert, Thomas and Adam, plus Ambrose Boswell, all of Norwood, Surrey, had been arrested on suspicion of having committed footpad robberies in the neighbourhood of Norwood; and in 1812 the press reported the trial and conviction of Adam Lee, his son Thomas, and Eleanor, Thomas’ wife, for having committed a brutal highway robbery between Walton and Esher, Surrey (Adam and Thomas were hanged, Eleanor, the mother of an infant, sentenced to transportation for life).

In September 1799 Stephen, Adam and Thomas Lee (plus one Mary and two Elizabeth Lees, one Adam’s daughter) and three Coopers (the famous Elisha and his brothers, William and Daniel) had been examined as rogues and vagabonds after being arrested in Tonbridge, Kent. Stephen claimed to have been born in Hayes, Kent (near Norwood, Surrey), and to have occasionally lived in Southwark, Surrey, working in different parts of London as a tinker; Thomas claimed to have been born in (I think) Kensworth, Hertfordshire, and to have worked for a while in Norwood; and Adam claimed to have been born in Old Windsor, Berkshire, and to have lived occasionally in the neighbourhood of Wandsworth and Putney, Surrey, plus Old Windsor in the winter.

From this it’s clear Adam Lee had at least eight children, all presumably by his wife, Eleanor: Elizabeth Lee (born, she claimed in Old Windsor, about 1784), who married the Daniel Cooper she was with in 1799, brother of Elisha, and had a George Cooper, christened in Lewisham, Kent in 1815; Eve Lee (baptised in Arborfield, Berks in 1787 daughter of Adam and Hannah), who married George Cooper, brother of Elisha, and had a Samuel Cooper christened in Streatham, Surrey in 1816 “second son of George and Eve, late Lee”, Joseph Cooper christened in Croydon St John, Surrey in 1819, and Riley and Arthur Cooper christened in Reigate, Surrey in 1821 and 1824 respectively; Lucas Lee, baptised in Marden, Kent in 1790 son of Adam and Knell; Ruth Lee, baptised in Shinfield, Berks in 1793; Cinder Lee, baptised in Dulwich College, Dulwich, Surrey in 1795 “a gypsy child of Norwood”, and buried there six days later aged five months; Cinderella Lee, baptised in Shepperton, Mdx in 1796, and buried in Wimbledon, Surrey in 1798 aged one year and three months; Mener Lee, baptised in Egham, Surrey (very close to Old Windsor) in 1799; and Maria Lee, baptised in Egham in 1803.

I can’t identify the birth-family of Adam’s wife (it’s possible of course she was a Cooper, sister of Elisha), but we can identify Adam’s birth-family, thanks to discoveries made (and generously shared, as always) by Keith Chandler and Sharon Heppell. Not long before Adam’s final arrest, he was examined as a rogue and vagabond in Deptford, Kent, and claimed settlement in Wanson, Hampshire, which makes him the Adam Lee baptised in Wonston, Hants in 1763 base born son of Leonard and Mary travellers (his mother, or perhaps his sister, the Mary Lee arrested with him, Stephen and Thomas in 1799). It’s clear we should no more trust newspapers published in 1795 and 1812 to get their facts right than newspapers published today: Stephen Lee in 1795 wasn’t Thomas and Adam’s father (in 1799 they heard him claim to have been born in Hayes, Kent, and both said they didn’t know where their father was born), any more than Thomas in 1812 was Adam’s son (when the two of them were buried after their hanging, their ages were given respectively as 49 and 56).

Stephen was surely Adam’s elder brother: the Steven Lee of Chatham, Kent who in 1778 acted as bondsman for the marriage licence of Isaac Draper and Sarah Boswell in Wokingham, Berks, very close to Arborfield and Shinfield, where Adam christened children; and the Stephen Lee, husband of Tryphena, who christened a daughter in 1784 in Welham, Leics “travellers of Newington Butts, London” (next to Southwark, where the Stephen Lee of 1799 claimed occasionally to live); perhaps Stephen was temporarily on the lam in Leicestershire. Likewise the Thomas Lee, reported to be Adam’s brother in 1795, was his brother too in 1799 and 1812, and the husband, like Adam, of an Eleanor (this the press did get right): a Thomas and Ellen Lee, “gypsies”, christened a Carolina Sophia in 1804 in Stanwell, Mdx, which is very close to Old Windsor.

So even without baptisms for Stephen and Thomas, I think we can draw up the following roster of children for Leonard and Mary: Stephen Lee, born in Chatham or perhaps Hayes, Kent about 1751; Mary Ann Lee, baptised in Strood, Kent in 1753; Catherine Lee, baptised in Chatham in 1754; Olive Lee, baptised in Leatherhead, Surrey in 1759; Lewenny Lee, baptised in Portsea, Hants in 1761; Adam Lee, baptised in Wonston, Hants in 1763; Thomas Lee, born between 1765 and 1770 (depending on whether we take the age given at his death orhis age at that point relative to Adam’s). There’s room there too for the John and Robert Lee of 1795, and given the progression in the baptisms of the other children from Kent through Surrey to Hampshire, we might well find Thomas, John and Robert in the still under-researched parishes of Dorset.

Who Leonard Lee’s parents were we’ll probably never know, but it’s intriguing that Dulwich College, an unusual place for a Gypsy christening, was used not just by Adam Lee in 1795, but by the unnamed parents of Zacky Lee, “a gypsy child”, in 1734.

Copyright © 2013 Eric Trudgill