About Rebecca Hussey
The Charity of Rebecca Hussey for Africans and Rebecca Hussey’s Book Charity dispense thousands of pounds each year. Despite this, all knowledge of the identity of Rebecca Hussey had been lost. It was not known when or where she lived. Extensive online searches found references to other charities bearing her name, most notably, one for the relief of prisoners and another that was established in St Helena in 1865 but there was nothing about Rebecca Hussey herself. A bookplate, found online recently, provided the very first clue to the identity of Rebecca Hussey.
On it she is described as ‘‘Mrs’ Rebecca Hussey, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Hussey, Bart, late of Doddington in the county of Lincoln‘. As her father was also a Hussey, it seems she had been given the honorary title of ‘Mrs’ (mistress) and subsequent research confirmed the fact that she was unmarried.
With this information it was not difficult to establish that Rebecca’s father, Sir Thomas Hussey (1639 – 1706) lived at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire.. Sir Thomas Hussey and Sarah Langham were married at Great St Helen’s church, London on 22nd February 1660/61. It is believed that Rebecca was born circa 1668 but no record of her baptism has yet been found. However, the bookplate is probably wrong to describe her as the eldest daughter as it would seem she had an older sister, Rhoda, who died in 1689, and who is clearly described as ‘the eldest daughter’ on her memorial stone in St Wilfrid’s Church, Honington. Although Rebecca’s parents had six sons, it was their third daughter, Sarah who eventually became sole heir to the Doddington estate following the deaths of her six brothers and three sisters, Rhoda in 1689, Rebecca in 1714 and Elizabeth in 1724.
Rebecca Hussey was in her mid forties when she died unmarried on 21st August 1714. She was buried at Honington, Lincolnshire, where her parents and a number of other Hussey family members are buried. Rebecca is commemorated together with her mother, Sarah, who died in 1697, and her sister, Elizabeth Ellis, who died in 1724, on a Wall Memorial in the Hussey Chapel at St Wilfrid’s church, Honington, Lincolnshire.
This memorial was erected in 1730 by Sarah the sole surviving child of Sir Thomas & Sarah Hussey.
Part of the memorial to Rebecca and her sister, Elizabeth (inscribed on the monument to their mother Sarah) in St Wilfrid’s, Honington
Extracted from notes in the registers of Doddington Pigot, Lincolnshire
St Wilfrid’s Church, Honington, Lincolnshire where Rebecca Hussey was buried on 27th August 1714
Although Rebecca had inherited Doddington Hall with her two sisters on the death of their father in 1706, it is clear from her Will, written in 1713, that Rebecca also had a home in the parish of St Martin’s in the Fields.
Doddington Hall, a magnificent Elizabethan mansion near Lincoln, has survived relatively unchanged since the time of Rebecca. The rest of the world may have forgotten her but Rebecca is still remembered at her former home where her portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller still hangs.
Portrait of Rebecca Hussey by Godfrey Kneller (courtesy of James Birch of Doddington Hall)
The portrait guide at Doddington Hall records that she was known as ‘Saintly Rebecca’ as she never married and left most of her money to charity. Her saintliness is also recalled in the words on her memorial in St Wilfrid’s, Honington which state that she died ‘after a life principally employed in devotion and acts of charity’.
From her Will (deposited at the National Archives) it is clear that Rebecca was indeed a saintly person, showing real compassion not only for slaves (she left a thousand pounds to pay for ‘the redemption of slaves’ ) but also for ‘prisoners that are confined for small debts for themselves or have unhappily been bound for other folks’ (for whom she left another thousand pounds) She left a further three thousand pounds for the relief of ‘old maids’ and two thousand pounds for ‘a fund for publishing and propagating spiritual and religious books’.
About 150 years after Rebecca Hussey’s death, the Attorney – General discovered large funds belonging to her charities in the Court of Chancery. There are notes added to her Will which, although largely illegible, seem to refer to attempts in the 19th century to fulfil Rebecca Hussey’s intentions. This might explain why the St Helena Fund (for the education and relief of former slaves on the island of St Helena) was established in the 1860s. This letter published in 1861 also indicates that attempts were being made to fulfil her wishes regarding prisoners confined for small debts.
Over the last three hundred years, there must have been many hundreds of people, living in desperate situations, who had reason to be grateful for the generosity of this remarkable woman. In this year of the tri- centenary of Rebecca Hussey’s death, she surely could not have imagined that so long after her demise, one of the charities established in her name (The Charity of Rebecca Hussey for Africans) would still be in existence and supporting ‘the most vulnerable, poor or excluded’. It is to be hoped that her name, and her identity, will never again be forgotten.