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Colonel Despard

We at Radical Stroud have been marking the Terminalia Festival of Psychogeography on the 23rd February in various ways over the last few years, exploring ‘boundaries’; see for an overview and our contributions to the global festival.

Our explorations of boundaries have been topographical, historical, literal and figurative. We have done this through group-walking. This year is different however. Radical Stroud will explore Terminalia individually or in pairs. Bob Blenkinsop and I propose to explore hidden imperial and colonial boundaries in two of the five valleys and along Nelson Street. We shall remember John Thelwall (radical visitor here in the summer of 1798), Colonel Despard (executed February 21st 1803) and Catherine Despard, African-American political activist.

Places to visit and remember: 1. Nailsworth retirement village. 2. Chalford Bottom. 3. Bowbridge. (all by bicycle to remember how John Thelwall challenged boundaries) 4. Nelson Street: (a.) where the future General Wolfe (killed at Quebec 1759) had troops stationed ready against local weavers. (b.) Nelson Street and Trafalgar House – what names tell us and hide – the boundaries of nomenclature and ‘the naming of parts’ - (hidden history: Nelson and Despard; Nelson and the saving of his life by ‘a woman of colour’, Cubah Cornwallis; Nelson and his support for the ‘West India Interest’ and plantocracy); Black Boy Clock; the Duke of York.

There will be readings, with a further textual and photographic record of the day. This excursion can be repeated in the future for groups after lockdown.

Colonel Despard’s speech before his execution, February 21st 1803, was co-written by his wife, Catherine; a woman of colour; an African-American. Hear her words once etched by quill on parchment; words at once both valedictory and, by implication, an appeal for future republican and egalitarian action from the populace at large.

Red Round Globe Hot Burning

Peter Linebaugh

‘” Fellow Citizens, I come here, as you see, after having served my Country faithfully, honourably and usefully, for thirty years and upwards, to suffer death upon a scaffold for a crime I protest I am not guilty. I solemnly declare that I am no more guilty of it than any of you who may be now hearing me. Bu though His Majesty’s Minister know as well as I do that I am not guilty, yet they avail themselves of a legal pretext to destroy a man, because he has been a friend to truth, to liberty, and to justice [a considerable huzzah from the crowd] because he has been a friend to the poor and to the oppressed. But, Citizens, I hope and trust, notwithstanding my fate, and the fate of those who will no doubt soon follow me, that the principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice, will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny and delusion, and every principle inimical to the human race.

[a warning from the Sheriff]

I have little more to add, except to wish you all health, happiness and freedom, which I have endeavoured, as far as was in my power, to procure for you, and for mankind in general.”

The speech was a joint production with Catherine, who had been in and out of his cell for days, carrying with him the writings of his petition for mercy.’

Catherine Despard was an African-American woman; gender, class and race personified and unified in freedom’s struggle.

Six others would die with Edward for so-called treason; thankfully hanged, but not quartered.

‘When I described Catherine’s role in mercifully mollifying Despard’s death sentence to the labor history seminar at the University of Pittsburgh, Dennis Burns, the South African poet, was moved to write a poem.

“For Catherine Despard, ‘the Mysterious Wife,’

on the signing of the Crime Bill, September 1994”

Hanged yes, but not quartered,

Not that, not that horror,

Spare him that agony,

Let him be condemned as a traitor,

Yes, yes, let that stand

Foe he made his choice

And would want the world to know,

He would want it said of him

That he was a friend to justice

That he was on the side of truth

That he was of the common man.

He will die, not anxious to end his life

But not unwilling to assert beliefs

And thinking that his death

And news of the cause for which he died

Will light a fire in the hearts of men

And women nurture flames with their clustered hands:

Many will look up to the scaffold and his dangling corpse

And walk away with their heads held high.

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