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Edward James Eliot: Early Years

Edward James was born at his ancestral home (Port Eliot) on Thursday, the twenty-fourth day of August in 1758. Just three days later, his proud and happy parents celebrated his christening — presumably with the customary feast given by many Eliot parents on such occasions. What a shame that no letter survives to document this particular celebration, as they do for others. This little baby was born less than a year after the death of his older brother, also called "Edward James", who was taken to Heaven at just five weeks of age. The joy which Edward and Catherine Eliot must have felt at the birth of their second son can only be imagined, but they were definitely proud enough to publish this birth announcement (the first such announcement for any of the Port Eliot family babies) in papers across the country:

1758 Birth Notice for Edward James Eliot

After years of researching and imagining a character who lived and died more than two hundred years ago, it's easy to lose sight of the actual differences between the modern world and theirs, so it's always good to acquaint (or refresh) yourself with those facts. Edward James was born into a world engulfed in the midst of the Seven Years' War, when Britain still ruled the American Colonies. England, Scotland and Ireland were individual countries, and no one had given a thought to anything like the "United Kingdom". The world was just entering an era of great change and discovery — Johnson's dictionary was still new, scientists across the world had only just agreed on standardized species names based on work by Linnaeus, and oxygen was years away from being "discovered" as a chemical element. Turnips were unknown in England, and potatoes and tomatoes were thought to be poisonous and inedible. As basic as many of these things seem today, the world in 1758 seemed modern and enlightened to those who lived in it.

1758 Shilling

Just like other little boys in his family for a hundred years prior to his birth (and many of those to come), our hero spent most of his childhood in the country at Port Eliot. His father did not like to go to London and stayed at home as often as possible, occupied with Cornish affairs. Edward James grew up in the company of two younger brothers, both of whom stayed close to him all his life. Sometimes, when researching a particular individual, it's easy to isolate them in your mind and forget that other people were part of their lives. Edward James was surrounded by family, both close and extended, including his many aunts (one of whom actually lived with the family at Port Eliot), two uncles and numerous cousins, as well as both his paternal grandmother and great-grandmother. As a boy, young Edward James attended Liskeard School, and a darkened portrait hanging in Port Eliot shows him as a red-headed, curly-haired little chap playing with a wooden top and a very large dog. Since neither he nor his brothers left home until college days, there was no need to write letters home to his parents, so details of his childhood are shrouded in silence. This may have been a fabulous situation for him, but it certainly makes it difficult for those of us who, more than two hundred years later, would like a glimpse or two of his early life. At any rate, the Eliots were a close family, and all signs point to a very happy home.

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