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‘An Oath of Secrecy’
The Fateful Pledge of Samuel Wiseman

Spellings in the following document are not adjusted into modern forms.

“I Samuel Wiseman doe hereby Voluntarily make Oath and Sweare, that I will not reveale, make knowne, or divulge unto ant person or persons whatsoever, any matter or thing, in writing or otherwise, Instrusted and committed to mee with charge of Secrecy and cloe-keeping by You, Herbert Jeffery Esquire, Sir John Berry Knt, and Francis Morison Esquire, his Majesties Honorable Commissioners for this present Expedition to Virginia, or any of you, But that I shall and will conceale and hold secret whatsoever you the said Commissioners shall from time to time soe charge and intrust mee with: And I doe also sweare Faithfully to observe and execute all such Orders and Directions, to mee to be by You given, in all things as by my Place and Trust of Principall Clerke to You the Honorable Commissioners aforesaid, I stande obliged and ought to doe. Soe helpe mee God.”

Samuel Wiseman, Esq.

Jurat 30 die Decembris

Anno Dni 1676, a GR

Who was Samuel Wiseman?

Samuel was a rare literate man of London who, despite his education was impoverished enough to accompany three powerful men on behalf of King Charles II to his war-torn Plantation of Virginia, to investigate the conduct of the rebels and Governor in the then ongoing war, to assess the conflict’s origins and to recommend measures to the acting governor, who would then return to London to report to the King while the man commanding the 1,100 man force sent to suppress the rebellion was to assume the governorship of the Plantation.

Samuel only accepted the clerk commission to the dangerous theater on the “assurance” of Secretary of State Joseph Williamson, “that this employment should be but an earnest to a better,” in other words, a sort of internship that would be rewarded either by payment or appointment to a paying office. However, such men as Joseph Williamson held their positions as a kind of graft fief from which they might wring a profit through corruption. So, the thought that the humble clerk who diligently produced this impressive record of investigation, would be left penniless and at the mercy of slavers and pressgangs in a society where being penniless, jobless or homeless were all capital offenses, punishable by death in bondage in the cruel plantations abroad, was merely an entry on the plus side of the duplicitous account book which was the conscience of 17th century English powerbrokers.

In the winter of 1678, unable to acquire payment or appointment for Wiseman, Jefferys concluded that the clerk was destitute and “that he cannot have a sixpence.”

So, what became of Samuel Wiseman, whose exhaustive account of America’s first major war between Englishmen, has been scoffed at by its foremost American historian, Wilcomb E. Washburn?

We do not know. However, over the spring and summer of the same year in which he was left penniless and adrift by his employers, another Englishman, Thomas Hellier, made his way to London ahead of his debtors and hired on with a ship’s captain to be employed as a paid school teacher in Virginia, only to be sold as a land clearance slave. After Thomas rebelled against his cruel mistress and master and murdered them, he confessed his sins to a very rare commodity in Plantation Virginia, a literate man. Might that man have been Samuel Wiseman, sold himself for a slave into the terrible pit of despair that was postwar Plantation Virginia?

Of course, this eventuality would be a matter of pure chance. But, having been placed in the position of the destitute rebels he had so recently interviewed as they labored or awaited their execution in chains, and having at least established himself as a loyal clerk before the eyes of the Virginia gentry, what did Samuel have left to him, other than chance?

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Stillbirth of a Nation: Caucasian Slavery in Plantation America: Part One

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