An Intangible Legacy: The Scarth Family of London and Ilford
By Doreen Skala
Please note that this case study was first published on blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah in July 2014. The case study was last checked by the project team on 19 August 2014.
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The Scarths of London and Ilford were a family with two generations of trade connections with the East India Company during the first half of the eighteenth century. The Scarths were not nabobs; they were wealthy Quaker merchants. They left no surviving grand country house or any other trinkets or treasures. In fact, they left no material evidence of their lives or their connections with the East India Company, but both the family and its East India Company connections can be traced through historical documents which allow us to create a Scarth family portrait. This case study shows the economic, social, and domestic history of this family and how three generations of Scarths were affected by the family’s connection with the East India Company. One generation bought goods from the East India Company and traded them westward across the Atlantic, and the next engaged in trade for the East India Company in the East. Partly as a result of his connections with the East India Company, the elder Jonathan amassed a family fortune, including a country house in Ilford, Essex, now gone. His son Jonathan’s deeper connection with the East India Company disrupted his family life so that at the age of forty-one he left his daughter an orphan after being away on company voyages for years at a time. With risk can come great reward, but also calamity. This family experienced both as a result of their connection with the East India Company. The Scarth family represents the thousands of nameless English families whose homes were touched by this grand enterprise.
Jonathan Scarth was born into a Yorkshire family of Quaker merchants and mariners. After marrying Ann Warren in 1690, he relocated to London to start his own mercantile business. Jonathan and his wife became members of the Devonshire House Monthly Meeting, held at the Gracechurch Street Meeting in London, remaining members over three decades. The members of Meeting were renowned as some of the ‘richest trading men in London’. In the late 1690s and early 1700s, Jonathan became a London-based transatlantic merchant.
Jonathan Scarth the Younger continued to embed the Scarth family within networks of Quaker merchants by marrying Ruth Grove, the daughter of eminent Quaker merchant Silvanus Grove, in November 1729. Jonathan also expanded the mercantile connections of the Scarth family by working for the East India Company. In 1739, Scarth was named as a supercargo for the East India Company’s 1739–40 season and again for the 1741–2 season.
The Scarth family had a multi-generational connection to the East India Company, each generation’s experience different in substance and in result. The Scarth family’s story shows an early ‘swing to the east’, perhaps earlier than many of their countrymen, trading first with the American colonies and then with China.
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The text and research for the Scarth Family Case Study was primarily authored by Doreen Skala.