Introduction to the Cuningham Family

The contents of this folder:  
  Letters from John Newton to his sister-in-law Elizabeth Cuningham
  Letters from John Newton to his brother-in-law James Cuningham
  John Newton’s account of the death of his niece Eliza Cuningham
  Elizabeth Cunningham’s account of the death of her son John Cuningham
  extracts from John Newton’s message for the dying Susie Cuningham
The letters show Newton gently leading his brother and sister into personal faith.

His love and concern for the spiritual lives of their children Jacky, Susie and Eliza shines through the letters and the accounts.

[Normally the latter would be under 'printed' magterial, but it seems helpful to combine the family data in one section.]

Who’s who

The interchange of personal names in this section can be quite confusing. It was common to drop the term ‘in-law’, so that while Elizabeth Catlett was Polly’s sister, and strictly speaking John Newton’s sister-in-law, Newton referred to her as his ‘sister’, and to James as his ‘brother’.

There is also a fair amount of repetition of children’s names between the families.
Catlett family:  
George (snr) Catlett (1701-1777) married Elizabeth Churchill  (1704-1773) in 1727.
Their children were:  
  Mary (Polly) Catlett (1729-1790), who married John Newton (1725-1807)
John Churchill (Jack) Catlett (1731-1764)
Elizabeth (Eliza) Catlett (1730-1783), who married James Cuningham (c1723-1782)
George (jnr) Catlett (1742-1774), who married Sarah (Sally) Kite (d. 1773)
Cuningham family:  
James Cuningham (c1723-1782) married Elizabeth Cuningham (1730-1783) at St Mary’s Chatham in 1764. On their marriage certificate Elizabeth signed her name as ‘Eliza’. They lived in the parish of St Margaret's Rochester.
Their children were:  
  John (Jack) Cuningham (1765-1777)
Susan (Susie, Sukey) Cuningham (1768-1782)
Elizabeth (Betsy, Eliza) Cuningham (1771-1785) – adopted as an orphan by the Newtons
Also featuring in these letters are:
Susanna Churchill (d 1782), sister of Polly’s mother Elizabeth Catlett. Susanna married William Eversfield. After his death she married, in 1749, Jonathan Soan (c.1690-1768), Head Master of King’s School Rochester and curate of St Margaret’s Rochester (in which capacity he performed the marriage ceremony for John Newton and Mary Catlett). Susanna is Aunt Soan. She shared her home in Five Bell Lane with the Cuninghams. After much deliberation, she was eventually persuaded to join the Cuninghams in Scotland.

Elizabeth (Besty) Catlett (1769-1834), the daughter of George Catlett jnr and Sarah. She was adopted as an orphan by the Newtons.

Miss Cowie – seemingly a companion to Elizabeth Cuningham when they removed to Scotland. She accompanied Eliza from Scotland to London to live with the Newtons.

Cuningham Family Background

James Cuningham married Elizabeth Catlett, the sister of Mary (Polly) Catlett – who by then was Mrs John Newton.

James was a shipwright. Back in 1747 he met with ‘hurt got by a fall when working on his Majesty’s ship the Launceston … she then a-building in his Majesty’s Dockyard at Woolwich’. He ‘fell from the upper deck down to her keel in the hold’, sustaining injuries which he felt returned to plague him in later life.

In a letter to Newton he listed the ships he served on (perhaps also in other capacities):

the Salamander; the Hussar; the Aesolus; the Experiment; the Revenge; the Sandwich; the Falklands; the Barfleur; the Enterprize [Enteprise?]; the Dorsetshire.

The dates in his list need checking against ships’ logs before transcribing his amended list.

Initially the Cuninghams lived in Rochester in Five Bell Lane, only a 6 minute walk from the Catlett’s home in Chatham.
 St M old    St M new
St Margaret's 18th century and present
Chatham and Rochester merge imperceptibly.
Dickens'If anybody present knows to a nicety where Rochester ends and Chatham begins, it is more than I do’.

Charles Dickens, The Seven Poor Travellers
Little Jacky went to live with Aunty and Uncle Newton at Olney for a year when he was only three years old. Nuncle-puncle left a deep impression on him, as may be seen in his mother’s Account. When Polly took him home to his parents, Newton wrote: ‘Give my love to Jacky – and tell him if he was here I would squeeze him.’ He had hoped that Jacky would return, but first an outbreak of smallpox in Olney prevented it, and then Jacky hurt his foot.
In 1774 James took his family to Scotland to live at the Cuningham family heritage, Pittarthie Castle in Anstruther, Fife.
In 1774 they moved to Scotland to live at the Cuningham family heritage, Pittarthie Castle in Anstruther, Fife. Newton wrote the hymn Jacob’s Ladder for them, explaining to Elizabeth:

‘Your removal led my thoughts to the subject of the following hymn and therefore you ought to have a copy.’

Olney Hymns,
Book 1, Hymn 9
Jacob's ladder 1


Lambeth Palace Library
Princeton University
Simon Ford


Marylynn Rouse, 14/08/2019