Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring- side view

His son John, I’m guessing, commissioned this mourning ring. His law career would have him fluent in Latin. He respects his father, loves him; he creates a memento to him. He wants to portray him as a great man, to have him remembered as a great man. He wants to elevate his father’s status to what he felt it should have been, and what Roger, as evidenced by his will and letters, was sure it was; enlightened, entitled, righteous, superior in mind, body, and spirit. Roger had felt his status would have been even higher, more noble, if not for the misfortunes that befell him, his King, and his great Country.

And yet, he was a broken man- broken in spirit, physically weakened and broken by the strenuous work that yielded him so little in the end, and broken financially- for a number of reasons, but laying blame almost fully on the Revolution. I quote from his will, which I have a copy of:

“…if my Estate should fall short and prove insufficient for this to me desirable purpose- my creditors as well as my son must impute it to no fault of mine, but to the inevitable misfortunes in which I have been involved in consequence of the late most accurs’d Rebellion. . .”

And now, we come back to the ring. A perfectly lovely ring in its simplicity, well-made, and with an admirable purpose behind it: for those who loved Roger Kelsall to honor and remember him by. It’s also piece of history, that is for sure. Of all the mourning pieces I have in which I’ve been able to find information relating to the person named there, this ring has yielded the most in the way of documents, letters, and related pictures. And yet, I don’t feel connected to Roger Kelsall at all. In fact, the more I find out about him, the less connected I feel, and to be honest, the less I like him. Here is a man who would treat a captive war prisoner badly, who would own hundreds of slaves and profit immensely off of their backbreaking labor, who would keep his own daughter and her mother enslaved, who would, after stating in his will that his creditors are not to blame him should his estate fall short of money, continue on to leave his “thirty-two Negroes” to his son and daughter. Thirty-two Negroes, and their “issue and increase” to his son and (white) daughter, and then to their heirs, “for ever, Amen, Amen”. No, I don’t think Roger Kelsall is an great man amongst men, strong of character and righteous, as the inscription would have us believe. No, I do not feel connected to Roger Kelsall.

Except for one thing.

In the end, he died.

And one day, I will die too.

Memento Mori

Related Articles:
> Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring, Part 1
> Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring, Part 2

John Kelsall, Jr.- Roger's son

Roger Kelsall’s father, John, of Scottish descent, came to the colonies from England and settled in South Carolina. He owned a large plantation near Beaufort. Roger and his younger brother, William, grew to be successful merchants like their father, and owned large plantations with numerous slaves to work them. Cotton is what Roger grew, even developing a special strain, called sea-island cotton which thrived on coastal lands, and commanded much higher prices than the inland variety. But due to conflicts with those fighting for their independence from the Crown, Roger Kelsall, a staunch Loyalist, moved from South Carolina to Georgia, where the English had a stronger hold. He settled in Sunbury around 1770, which quickly became, along with Savannah, a large and prosperous port city. Roger Kelsall, along with a Mr. James Spalding established a number of businesses there and was quite successful, becoming the leading Indian trade company from Georgia to East Florida. Though based in Sunbury, he also took 1,000 acres of land in British East Florida awarded by the Crown to its supporters, and established large plantations there. Despite all of this, he had to be always on alert, watching for the rebels. There were a number of skirmishes through the mid 1770s, with the British prevailing at times and the Americans at others, though the Americans never were able to completely wrest control of Georgia from the British. During this time, Roger served as a military colonel, and during one of the later conflicts, in 1779, Roger and another officer were captured at a plantation, but ultimately released in exchange for an American prisoner. The story goes that Kelsall was being escorted to the woods to be shot, when a local woman put up such a lament that the guard taking Colonel Kelsall agreed to let him go. But not before reminding him that several years earlier, their positions had been reversed, and Kelsall had treated his then-captive cruelly and with disrespect. Kelsall was then forced to admit that he had been less of a gentleman than the other man was.

The Loyalists continued to defend Sunbury from the Americans into the early 1780s, but their forces were spread thin around the area. Finally, after a few more conflicts of the same nature, by 1782, the British and their supporters had completely lost control of Sunbury and evacuated the town. The American Revolution was officially ended by a treaty with Great Britain in 1783. Roger Kelsall was forced to leave. He went to live and work exclusively in East Florida, where he’d still had property. But shortly thereafter, Florida reverted to Spanish rule and Roger once again packed up his remaining slaves and his cotton seed and sailed for the Bahamas. There, as in East Florida, the Crown had purchased most of the land there for those loyal to it to settle.

Roger Kelsall established himself in Nassau, and at an estate called Pinxton on Little Exuma, where he tried to grow cotton, but the soil was poor and rocky. He raked salt from a nearby lake in large enough quantities so that he could export it to Nova Scotia, Canada, and America. But it was not nearly as profitable as cotton had been, and Kelsall began to suffer financially.

Portia Kelsall

He was also alone; his wife had died over a decade ago, and his two children, John and Anne, had been sent to England to be educated. Roger took up with one of his slaves, Nelly, and she bore him a daughter, Portia. Apparently, at least for some time, Portia was accepted as one of the family by her half-siblings and cousins. But her mother was a hard drinker, and resentment of Nelly and her daughter by other family members made things very difficult. Because her mother was a slave, so Portia was also a slave. As the family fortunes dwindled, Portia faced a real threat of being sold. Though most of the family distanced themselves from her and her mother, her half-sister finally purchased her and her mother’s freedom in 1807. Not much is known about her after this time, but a portrait of Portia remains. A picture of it was sent to me by one of Kelsall’s descendants- someone I had contacted though a genealogy forum. Portia, in a simple dress and head wrap, stares out at us with large dark eyes from a shadowy canvas. Just a part of her face and upper body are illuminated. I find the picture strangely haunting.

Along with Portia’s portrait, came pictures of portraits of Roger Kelsall’s son, John, and John’s wife, Lucretia. John had earned his law degree from Cambridge and married the beautiful Lucretia Moultrie, daughter of John Moultrie, former lieutenant governor of East Florida. By contrast, their portraits, perhaps a marriage portrait set, are brighter, with both of them in the elegant clothes of aristocrats, though they each stare out at us as well. John and his sister Anne both settled in the Bahamas after their father’s death. Anne married a doctor and John became Vice-Admiralty Judge and Speaker of the Assembly before dying at an early age in 1803.

Lucretia Moultrie Kelsall

So, into this sparsely-populated, sea-based colonial island, came Roger Kelsall, having run from one place to the next, losing more of his wealth as he went, embittered by his losses, most likely with feelings of superiority toward the old inhabitants who were easy-going, and accustomed to quite a different life than Roger had, and than Roger wanted. Different too were the master-slave relationships here, and it was a place with a large free black population that outnumbered the whites. Here he was, with his driving ambition to remake his fortune and to assume positions of leadership within the community and perhaps within the government. Here he was, alone, with his cotton crops failing, clearing land for more planting that would also fail, and not knowing what else to do. And so he set sail one final time- this time back to England in 1786. I’ve not been able to uncover what he did while he was there. It seems he was exhausted and sick. He wrote his will on 29th of July, 1788. On 5th of December of that year, he died- 51 years after he was born.

It seems that we, as mortal beings, with hopes and dreams like any other human, find a connection with the past and with other human beings, when we learn about their lives, and sometimes their deaths, through researching the name that appears on a piece of mourning jewelry. Maybe it comforts us, knowing that we too must die one day, to have a piece of someone who once was (the hair), and tangible proof that that person who once was, was loved, respected, and remembered (the dedicated jewel); in short, to have those parts of them still remain, both physically and emotionally. This window that opens onto the past through discovering the life behind a name usually elicits for me feelings of a shared humanity, of a certain closeness, simply because that person too was a person who moved in the world, had connections to people and places, and to history, and ultimately was a fragile human being, because they died, and we too share the same fate, no matter who we are. It’s easy then to find some connection and even like that person, as little as we really know them, if only for the shared commonality of being human and being mortal. These are the feelings I’ve had with all of the mourning pieces I’ve researched and connected to a once-living being. That is, until I found this ring.

Here we have a simple, almost austere, mourning ring of the late 18thcentury. Its shape is an elongated oval,

Inscription in Latin

almost a navette. The shank is tapered, and of plain gold. A gold bezel, with just a touch of decoration to the edge, a band of black enamel, and a thin beaded border suffice to frame the simply woven hair memento; hair that’s almost lost its color, having more white than brown in it. This is a perfect example of a basic, typical mourning ring of its day. However, underneath, there is engraved, in elegant script, a dedication entirely in Latin. This is not the shortened Latin using obit (died) and aet (for aetat- at the age of) that we normally find on mourning rings, but a more complete dedication which states: Rogerus Kelsall diem obiit 5 Decembris ’88 circiter 51 annos natus. Translated this means: Roger Kelsall died on (the day of) 5 December ’88 (1788) approximately 51 years after he was born. So, why the more elaborate Latin? I have a few ideas, one based on an educated guess having to do with the person who probably had this ring commissioned (which I’ll get to later), and one simply because it lends the memorial a feeling of high respect; it imparts the sense that this was a great individual,both intellectually, morally, an even physically, by relating it to the Classical age of poets, philosophers, statesmen, great military commanders.

Well then, who was Roger Kelsall? There is quite a lot of information about him out there, much of it I have not yet delved into. In the next post, I will explore more about the man’s history.

You’ve discovered a treasure: unique, beautiful, interesting, an asset to your collection and within your fiscal reach! Buy, buy, buy! Well, that is all very well and good isn’t it? But what of that dilemma when there is a lovely group of options on the market – all comparable, all lovely – of which you can only afford one? Hmmm? That’s where it gets a bit tricky.

Have you read this description: ‘…lustrous pearls surrounding a glazed locket compartment containing woven hair…’. I imagine that you have if are interested in mourning rings. It is a description of the classic Georgian pearl mourning ring, you know the ones, rectangular or possibly square thick glass under which there is woven hair of the deceased surrounded by pearls of varying quality, set in gold, ribbed band, split shoulders, and so on. I knew I wanted one. I felt it was important to have an example of this type of work. However, they were so popular at the time (early 19th C) that many have survived and there are a number of them available on the market. So which one should I get?

Classic Georgian Mourning Ring

I decided on this one and it was really a process of which one ticked the most boxes for my criteria. There you have it – know your criteria. What is it that you really value in the piece, in your collection, and why?

I respond much more strongly to pieces that have inscriptions. It is possibly my strongest criterion (after sheer beauty of course!).  This piece has two dedications making it even more delectable to me. I am also attracted to pieces that are dedicated to the young and/or unmarried. This ring is dedicated to a Miss Tylor 1797 and Miss Jane Tylor 1804. The condition of the ring is very good, most particularly the pearls are very white and lustrous and appear to be untouched. The ring is sound, solid and weighty. The split shoulders and ribbed band is a typical Regency era design. The mille-grain detailing on the bezel represents fine craftsmanship. The woven hair is blonde (rarer), the glazing thick and clean.

Detail of the split shoulders

Do you hear my felt-tip ticking the boxes?

Accurate dating is also a detail that appeals to me in a piece of jewellery because I enjoy researching the history of its time and, if I am very lucky, the subject or owner. This ring comes in its original box. Rundell & Bridge were very popular fine jewelers in the Regency period. Interestingly, Rundell & Bridge were appointed official Royal Jewellers in 1797, the same year Miss Tylor passed away. In the ring box there is printed on the interior silk a royal crown atop the jeweller’s logo. One can be confident therefore that this ring was made in 1797 or later. Possibly due to the placement of the inscriptions we can further assume that it was purchased in 1805 or shortly after, to fit both inscriptions so comfortably. I have a number of clues here so there is opportunity for me in the future to more thoroughly research the Miss Tylors.

The inside of the box lid also provides me with the jeweller's address

Decision making 101? Know thyself…okay, that might prove too difficult, but at least know your collection criteria!

P.S. I am happy with my choice.

– Marielle Soni

For those who visit this site and experience a new/different area of jewellery that is part of cultrual and social history, I welcome you and thank you for your time to read my ramblings.

Art of Mourning has been around for 6 years now and I’ve been collecting for a further 10. The idea for writing down my knowledge came about from my hope to educate, inspire and ignite a new interest in this wonderful area of social/art history to promote new collectors and even a new industry based around the culture of mourning and sentimentality.

This is a concept based upon love, not morbidity or the affectation of death, but love itstelf.

So, to commemorate the occasion, please click over to an interview with me at Collectors Weekly to discover a little bit more about myself, search through the archives of Art of Mourning or visit the parent site itself.

> Link: Hayden Peters Interview with Collectors Weekly

As usual with mourning, there is never an end, but a continuity and memory of everything before and we have much ground to cover. Keep reading, as there is much to come!

Read More:

Mourning and Sentimental Symbolism in Jewellery

Spotting Forgeries. Fakes and the History of Reproductions

Strange sized fingers and opening hinges while a jewellery historian binges on a wealth of fabulous examples of this odd construction technique.

modern hinged ring

modern hinge

Based on Monday’s Space Oddity; Understanding a Hinged / Locket Sentimental Ring with Hair, we need to understand that the implication wasn’t that this form of construction was never followed again, as to insinuate that a method of construction isn’t replicated considering that there are only limited ways to fit a ring to a finger is ridiculous, however, to consider this a style that was part of mainstream thought and a catalyst for a popular style is certainly not appropriate.

When pieces with unusual construction methods appear, the fundamental reason for them being unusual and not commonplace (though though produced in areas or by request) is that what the general populace takes for granted as being a ‘style’ doesn’t merge with what the technique that makes the piece ‘unusual’.

For example, these examples show a how the style was not necessarily adapted from the piece earlier in the week, but requested or specifically constructed for their purpose.


This piece separates past the shoulder, allowing the enamelled design to appear uninterrupted and also hide much of the hinge itself, except for where it joins at the bezel.


From this example, another form of the locket construction is quite different, separating and connecting from shoulder to shoulder, leaving the bezel free and completely obscuring the hinge itself.

What can be decided about these items is that they were commissioned for a reason.

This leaves two options, one must ask that in a world where rings were often made for the intended person, why would one construct a ring with a hinge? Consider these points and feel free to discuss!

1. The ring was created this way to overcome a large knuckle. If so, then by implication, a specific finger is required for that ring. Why would one finger be more important than another?

2. The ring was made and altered. Why would the ring be this way? Would you suggest that it may have been produced from the money allocated in the will and made to a generic size?

3. Would jeweller have experimented with this style?

4. Could it be created to preserve the band?

5. Perhaps a cultural phenomenon that was popular for a short while?

Courtesy and thanks: Marielle Soni, Verlaine Davies, rings from ‘Rings 1800… – 1910’, Write Designs, LTD, Ruidoso, NM, 2009 and the modern ring Sarah Nehama
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