My Sussex Blackman Family History


I knew little about the Charlotte Blackman who had married my ancestor Charles Shelley in Alfriston in 1818 until I came across the transcript of a lawsuit that was filed against Charles and Charlotte Shelley by the Gladman family in 1830.

The lawsuit stated:

  • that Charlotte was the illegitimate daughter of Mary Blackman and was born in the year 1796
  • that Charlotte who went under the name of Blackman was put out to nurse for the first year after her birth with the parents of Mary Blackman’s first cousin Mary Gladman.
  • that Charlotte, after the marriage of Mary Gladman, went to live with John Gladman and Mary Blackman whom he had married.
  • that James was the only legitimate son of Mary Gladman nee Blackman who had married John Gladman.
  • and that this Mary had died in 1827 and willed her inheritance to her children.

The court had to decide whether the term children could include illegitimate as well as legitimate children.  It apparently decided that it could.

Then I found that this Blackman family was a long-established Sussex family with records going back to pre-Elizabethan times.  Their family history account follows here.

Early Blackmans

There has been some suggestion that these Blackmans originated in Kent.  However, the first sighting was the birth in 1515 of Johannes Blackman in Sompting, which is near Worthing in West Sussex.  His son William moved east in Sussex in the 1560’s when he married Margaret Slybery from Crowhurst, a small village somewhat to the north of the present-day town of Hastings.  His grandson Simon got married in the nearby town of Battle in 1627 and that was where these Blackmans were to be found for the next hundred or so years.

The town of Battle had grown up around Battle Abbey, built by William the Conqueror to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Hastings.  However the Abbey had been torn down by Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and Battle then became known for something else – the manufacture of gunpowder.  Daniel Defoe remarked in 1722: “Battle is remarkable for little except making the finest gunpowder, perhaps the best in Europe.”

The quality of this gunpowder was already known in 1605 at the time of the Gunpowder Plot.  It was probably operating as a cottage industry then.  In 1676 John Hammond constructed the first proper gunpowder mill in Battle and four others soon followed.  For over two centuries this area was the prime source of gunpowder for the British army and navy.  The mills here were profitable.  But for those employed, it was dangerous work.  Explosions were frequent and would often result in fatalities.

We have little record of the Blackmans in Battle.  Were they involved in the gunpowder business?  We don’t know.  But the likelihood is that they were in some form, either directly or indirectly, given its omnipresence in the town.

Blackmans in Hooe

Hooe is a Sussex village some six miles southwest of Battle and a village that developed a reputation for smuggling in the 18th century.  James Blackman was the landlord of the Red Lion in Hooe from 1733 to 1749.  He was apparently heavily involved with the Groombridge gang of smugglers there.  Outside his inn were six lime trees which indicated to the smugglers that this was a safe house.

The Benjamin Blackmans presented a more respectable front and lived in one of the larger houses, The Grove.  The father had come to Hooe from our line in Battle sometime in the 1730’s.  Benjamin the son, born in Hooe in 1742, married Elizabeth Gilbert, the daughter of a local farmer, at St. Oswald’s in 1769.   They had two sons, John and Benjamin, and then two daughters, Mary and Charlotte.  Our line continued with Mary.

Reader Feedback – Blackmans in Hooe.  I’m descended down from the Blackman family. I can go back to a William Blackman from Catsfield who was born in 1550. I’m also related to the infamous smuggler James Blackman as he’s my six times great grand-uncle.

My line comes down from his brother Thomas who could have also been involved with the smuggling side of the family. In January 1736 The Northampton Mercury had reported that a Thomas Blackman, who farmed near Battle, had been brought before the magistrates for trying to conceal a larger quantity of smuggled tea in his barns.  Richard Blakey.

Mary Blackman and Her Daughter Charlotte

The story of Mary Blackman is that in 1796, at the age of nineteen, she became pregnant outside of marriage and had the baby, a daughter named Charlotte, in the village of Catsfield some three miles away from Hooe.  Five years later she married John Gladman in Catsfield and they had a son James.  When Mary died in 1827 she had an inheritance, perhaps from her father, of which a share was willed to her illegitimate daughter Charlotte.  That was the share that the Gladman side of the family disputed in their 1830 lawsuit.

Her daughter Charlotte meanwhile had married Charles Shelley at the Ebenezer Church in Alfriston in 1818.  Charles Shelley set up a tailor’s shop on the High Street there and perhaps Charlotte’s inheritance helped in the funding of this shop.  Charles and Charlotte raised nine children in Alfriston, all but one of them baptized in the Ebenezer Church. They must have been a life-long supporter of this church as there is an exquisite plaque, in pristine condition today inside the church, of them and their family.

Charlotte Blackman’s Family Tree

  • Johannes Blackman (1515-1563) of Sompting m. Elizabeth Tredewolfe (1518-1557)
  • – William Blackman (1535-1593)
  • – John Blackman (b. 1540)
  • William Blackman of Sompting and then Crowhurst m. Margaret Slybery (1538-1596)
  • – Thomas Blackman (1564-1618) m. Joan Westbroke
  • – Edmund Blackman (1570-1662)
  • – William Blackman (1574-1618) m. Tamasin Honeysett
  • – Ellen Blackman (1578-1662)
  • Edmond Blackman of Crowhurst m. Bridget Harrison (1575-1618)
  • – Mary Blackman (1600-1657)
  • – Simon Blackman (1605-1662)
  • – Thomas Blackman (1610-1668)
  • Simon Blackman of Battle m. Alice Brightridge (b. 1606) in Battle in 1627
  • – Thomas Blackman (1628-1689) m. Mary Scyver
  • – John Blackman (1635-1702)
  • John Blackman of Battle m. Grace (1645-1677) in Battle
  • – David Blackman (1675-1750)
  • David Blackman of Battle m. Martha Hyland (1682-1757) in Hastings in 1704
  • – David Blackman (1713-1795)
  • – Philip Blackman (1715-1786)
  • – Joseph Blackman (1717-1761)
  • – Benjamin Blackman (1721-1771)
  • Benjamin Blackman of Battle and Hooe m. Elizabeth Venice (1721-1760) in Battle in 1741
  • – Benjamin Blackman (1742-1824)
  • – Mary Blackman (b. 1746)
  • Benjamin Blackman of Hooe m. Elizabeth Gilbert (1747-1825) in Hooe in 1769
  • – John Blackman (1773-1849) m. Frances Postlewaite
  • – Benjamin Blackman (1775-1838)
  • – Mary Blackman (1777-1827)
  • – Charlotte Blackman (b. 1779) m. Thomas Wilkinson
  • Mary Blackman of Hooe and Catsfield m. John Gladman in Catsfield in 1801
  • – Charlotte Blackman (1795-1855)
  • – James Gladman (b. 1802)
  • Charlotte Blackman of Catsfield m. Charles Shelley (1792-1870) of Alfriston in Alfriston in 1818


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Written by Colin Shelley

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