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Rachel Caddy (1825-1869): Biography

Note: This brief life sketch, written during November 2008, by W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah, based on what is currently known regarding Rachel Caddy, seeks to understand her life and times. A bibliography of sources appears at the end.

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Just like her husband as well as both sets of parents before them, Rachel Caddy grew up and lived most of her life in the small farming community of Broadwindsor, Dorset, England. But, other than this information as well as her vital records and knowledge that she was a poor farm laborer, was married to a poor farm laborer, and descended from a long line of poor farm laborers, we know little about her.

On the other hand, the fact that she did descend from poor farm laborers should not be surprising, since most people with English ancestry have one or more family lines that progressed similarly. It was honorable work. Indeed, as one author observed:

…The chances are that many of your ancestors found employment on the land. In England in the 1700’s, 75% of the total work force were labourers. Then the farm worker had, for the most part, to rely on the strength of his body and perhaps a horse if he was fortunate enough to have access to one. Ploughing, sowing, weeding or harvesting, or tending to sheep, cattle or other livestock were all labour intensive. 1


Rachel was baptized 13 March 1825, in Broadwindsor, Dorset, England. 2 She was the sixth of ten children, five boys and five girls (including two sets of twins) born to John Caddy and Sarah Sibley of Broadwindsor. 3 She married Henry Pearce, twelve years her senior, at age nineteen, on 22 October 1844, at Broadwindsor. 4 Between them, they then had six children, three boys and three girls. 5 She died 25 October 1869, at Poxwell, Dorset, England—cause unknown. At the time of her death, she was listed as being only 45 years of age. 6

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The status and circumstances of farm laborers in 19th century England has already been covered at some length in related biographical sketches on this website, namely her husband, Henry 7, and her daughter, Susan Jane. 8 However, to now examine specific daily duties and activities of farm workers of the era in a bit more detail, especially female workers, seems both useful and enlightening as we attempt to understand Rachel and her world.

Concerning the end of the 18th century and the first part of the 19th century when Rachel was born:

At the beginning of the 18th century in England, in most households it was necessary for the whole family to contribute to the production of an adequate subsistence and not simply rely on the efforts of a single breadwinner. The labourer’s wife was usually a working woman, and children too were put to work at an early age. The children would be plaiting straw for several hours in the early morning, scaring crows, or weeding and picking stones from the fields. The girls were expected to work alongside their mother in a variety of handicrafts and household chores, including sewing, weaving and feeding hens. The boys, from about the age of seven, as they became stronger, would be working beside their father 10 or 12 hours a day, doing a full day’s hard work contributing to the family budget….

Most families lived in small villages or hamlets, much smaller than we know today, and they depended on the land to support them. Their dependence was mainly due to their rights of access to common land where they could raise a cow or two or some pigs or sheep at no cost at all. They also enjoyed the privilege of gathering fuel, by cutting bracken turf, peat or brushwood. The hedgerows provided berries that could be eaten or turned into wine or pies, and nuts that could be gathered and stored. Rabbits, fish and birds could be taken, sometimes by poaching, all of which added to the limited resources of the agricultural labourer.

Even where common land rights did not exist, most people had a small garden where they could grow potatoes, beans and cabbages, or keep a pig, or a few chickens or geese which could be fed on almost anything. After the harvest was gathered in, gleaning the fields was another right, going back to Biblical times, providing enough for a few loaves of homemade bread and some straw for bedding.

Self sufficiency was the order of the day. Nothing was wasted. We hear much about recycling but, to the agricultural labourer, right up to the 19th century, everything was used until it was finally completely worn out, after many attempts to repair and rejuvenate it. Old nails were put to one side and straightened to be used a second or third time. Rugs were made from old pieces of clothing—preferably from wool, which was more hard-wearing than cotton—which were cut into strips and hooked into pieces of sacking. In fact anything that could perhaps find a use in the future was put to one side and saved. It was a hard existence and not the idyllic life that some romantic novels might suggest.

The family home would probably be a small rented cottage, with no water tap, sink or washing machine—indeed, no water supply at all, other than a single pump situated in the village and serving the whole community. Washing clothes was a communal activity for the wives and daughters of the village, but hygiene and cleanliness were little understood, so illness and injury took their toll. Many children died before they reached the age of five. Slight injuries became infected and often crippling, simply because medicine and cures were, largely, unknown. Epidemics spread like wildfire and devastated whole communities….

…Schooling was almost unheard of for the labouring classes, and the few who were fortunate enough to receive any formal learning through charity schools and Sunday schools would only receive, at the most, three or four years education in elementary reading. It was not until 1870 that compulsory education for five to 13 year-olds became law in England….

In the 18th century, travel as we know it today was usually neither desired nor under-taken by the labouring classes, isolated in their village communities except for an occasional journey of a few miles to a nearby village or market town. Parish records show that many would be born, married and die within the confines of their small world, and our labourer would not have the level of national and world news that we enjoy today. He would have scant knowledge of the events of the time that molded the destiny of Britain and the world outside….Yes, there were newspapers, but [again] few agricultural workers could read or write…. 9

As the 19th century dawned and then unfolded in rural England, there were definite changes that came about, which would have affected Rachel and others of her gender:

…women made important economic contributions throughout the nineteenth century, though their participation in the formal labor market decreased at the end of the century….

…in thirty two different counties …women’s wages rang[ed] from one-third to one-half of male wages…. For the country as a whole women’s contribution to the family income, 12 percent, [was] only slightly higher than their contribution in the 1790’s, when it was about 9 percent….

…After 1850 the farm records do seem to indicate a decline in female employment, but female labourers do not completely disappear…many of the women employed by farmers were not listed as employed in the censuses….

Between 1870 and 1890 female servants earned about 60 percent as much as male servants. [There is evidence that] young men [replaced] women in the traditional female task of milking…with women servants increasingly confined to indoor, domestic labour and men monopolizing outdoor, agricultural work….

The evidence…seems to indicate that the extent of females as day-labourers was largely determined by the local availability of alternative female employment [e.g., lace-making and straw-plaiting. However, there was a wide variety of productive activities around the home.] ….

Women earned money by washing, sewing, and taking in lodgers. They gleaned and gathered fuel, nuts, berries, mushrooms, and acorns. They kept gardens and pigs. They maintained reciprocal ties with neighbors. They managed their family budgets carefully to make sure that everyone was fed on their limited income…even when they were not ‘employed,’ women were crucial to the economic survival of the family. 10

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So, restricted by the nature of the times in which she was born, Rachel’s life was limited and parochial. However, unaware of anything more glamorous or sophisticated, she certainly would have experienced a measure of happiness in her family and traditions.

All the same, passing-on to the next life at the relatively young age of forty-five, Rachel’s mortal life was short, hard and mundane. How much she missed and was denied by her position in the ongoing cavalcade of humanity.

And yet by living her life when she did, what grand opportunities she afforded her children and subsequent posterity.

We are grateful.

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1. Peter Talbot-Ashby, from The Agricultural Labourer. Found in Eunice Shanahan’s article, The Payment of Postage in the Early 19th Century.

2. Certificate of Baptism: Baptism solemnized in the Parish of Broadwindsor, in the County of Dorset, in the year 1825. Rachel, of John and Sarah Caddey, baptized 13th March 1825, in Broadwindsor. Document certified, 8 April 1974, by the Dorset County Archivist, and in possession of W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah.

3. Family pedigree records and family group record information of John Caddy and Sarah Sibley, in possession of W. Bart Christenson, Provo, Utah. See the World Connect section on this website for further details.

4. Certified Copy of an Entry of Marriage, MB 038744, No. 53, solemnized at the Parish Church, in the Parish of Broadwinsor, in the County of Dorset, 22 October 1844, between Henry Pearce, full age, bachelor, laborer, and Rachel Caddy, full age, spinster… in possession of W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah.


6. Certified Copy of an Entry of Death, DX 194092, No. 94, death in Poxwell, Upweg, Wemouth, in the County of Dorset, 25 October 1869, Rachel Pearce, female, age 45, wife of Henry Pearce, agricultural labourer… in possession of W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah.



9. Op. cit.: Peter Talbot-Ashby, from The Agricultural Labourer…

10. Joyce Burnette, book review of Rural Women Workers in Nineteenth-Century England: Gender, Work and Wages, by Nicola Verdon.

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