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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Stoke and Staffordshire

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Sarah Wilson was born in a Staffordshire village in 1754, the daughter of a bailiff. The family was in need of money so, at the age of 16, Sarah was sent to London to look for work. After only a few weeks in the city she had the fortune to be employed as a maid to Miss Caroline Vernon, a lady-in-waiting to the German-born Queen Charlotte. Miss Vernon seems to have admired the young girl’s intelligence and conscientiousness.

At the 'Queen's House' (where Buckingham Palace now stands) she frequently saw Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, and learned much about private royal affairs and life at Court. But soon this quick-witted girl began to grow envious of all the wealth and finery surrounding her.

Caught in the act

One day, when alone in the Queen's closet, she broke open the cabinet and stole some jewellery, a miniature portrait of the Queen, and one of the Queen's dresses. Perhaps she thought such relatively minor theft would go undetected, but the Queen was in the habit of counting her most valuable pieces and noticed some were missing. She had the closet watched to find the culprit. A few days later Sarah again went to steal from the same place, but this time she was caught in the act. She was charged with theft and violation of the royal privacy, and sentenced to death.

It was an anxious time for Sarah, but after Caroline Vernon's pleas to the Queen on her behalf, the punishment was commuted to transportation and, in July 1771, at the age of seventeen, Sarah was taken by prison ship to Baltimore, Maryland.

Words: Brian Haughton

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