Ann Powell (1785?-?)

by Cheryl Griffin


Fifty year-old black Jamaican Ann Powell’s problems with the law began on 27 November 1834 when apprenticed labourer Rochester Cole stole 50 pounds (23.5 kilograms) of coffee from the large ‘Mount Pleasant’ plantation owned by Miss Frances King. It was alleged that William Mullings, a free man, and Ann Powell, a free woman, received the coffee knowing it was stolen. Mullings was described at Ann’s trial as her ‘sweetheart’, but it is unclear whether he lived with her at ‘Paradise’, part of her son Thomas Burton’s property, ‘Euston’. From the evidence of Miss King’s manager, it appears possible that Mullings was the culprit, not Ann Powell. She claimed to be unaware that several coffee bags marked ‘Mount Pleasant’ were found in an outhouse behind her house. Besides, when Miss King’s manager arrived at ‘Euston’ with a policeman, Mullings ran off down a gully and got away. Then there was a witness who said he gave the coffee to Mullings on behalf of the thief, Rochester Cole, and Ann Powell was not there at the time. To further muddy the situation, Ann Powell’s son, Thomas Burton, grew small amounts of coffee on the property, so it is possible that the coffee found at the house had been grown by them, as Burton claimed, and was not stolen at all.

Nevertheless, Ann Powell was convicted of receiving stolen goods on 9 February 1835 and sentenced to 14 years’ transportation. She sailed to England with two other black convicts, Celia Williams and Priscilla, and the three of them were received onto the Prison Hulk Hardy on 4 May 1836.

Shortly after her arrival in England, Ann received a free pardon on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence in the case. It is possible that she had an influential benefactor who interceded on her behalf, maybe even her son Thomas Burton’s father, who had given his son the property at ‘Paradise’. In all likelihood, Burton senior was a plantation owner, but without further research it is impossible to know.

It is not known what became of Ann Powell after she received her pardon. 

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