Extracts from a letter to Mrs. Joyce Puren from her Aunt Mrs Sarah Sherwood (nee Whitfield) dated 20th January 1957
"I do know that my father[John Whitfield, son of Charlotte Whitfield and John Brown] was born in London, that originally the family came from Lancaster in England. One of my father's uncles went to Jamaica and made a fortune from sugar plantations. That is where the money came from after the big law suite which lasted 16 years because the money was willed to John and Charlotte Whitfield but they had come out to Africa and the lawyers could not trace them until a Mr. Justice Barry went to England and was asked at the Inns of Court (the big legal offices in London) if he knew of any Whitfields in South Africa. And as Justice Barry knew my father through a court trial in King Williams Town in which my father was being tried for shooting a native who was stealing his cattle during the period when father was first farming at Fish River. I know that father's mother's name was Charlotte Turkington. That after father's father died she bought property at Fort White, established a farm there and the youngest son who was born in Africa was called Leo Africanus lived there with her and farmed the property. As far as I know father who was the eldest, John, his two sisters Mary and Charlotte and the other brother William Henry Lancaster were born in England. Father's mother was a rich woman and they came out to South Africa in a sailing vessel which took five months for the voyage. I think the youngest son Leo Africanus was born in Cape Town. I remember that during the law suite my father saying they could not get his birth registration because all the records were destroyed when what is the new St. Georges Cathedral in Cape Town was burnt down.
The first farm I remember living on was at a place called "Clay Pits" near Grahamstown. You will find a record of it in a book called "Assegai over the Hills" in which my father gave the details to Professor Craig (?) who was writing a book "The Rise of South Africa". My father was the first white man (he was only 14) who crossed the Fish River at Kaffir Drift when the Hottentot leaders of the troops wagons under Col. Harry Smith refused to lead the oxen through the river (the Kaffirs were ambushed in the wooded hills across and were shooting at the advancing troops with assegais. The officer called for a volunteer to lead the first wagon through and my father jumped out and took the lead. It was for this that he was awarded the farm at Fish River and was supposed never to be sold but always to be kept in the Whitfield family. As far as I know there were three brothers and two sisters. The eldest was John, then William Henry Lancaster, then Mary, next Charlotte and the youngest was Leo Africanus, the only one born in Africa.
Father married Anne Wallis (Scotch). William married Emily Cawood, Charlotte married William McCarter, Mary married William Blackbeard and Leo Africanus married Charlotte Phillips. When my father was only 19 he first married Jane Cawood who died in child birth after they were only 13 months married. The infant David only lived 18 months. It was many years afterwards that father married my mother. Her parents had come to Africa and opened a hotel on the Kowie road at Manley flats. They went back to England and left my mother, her sister Louisa and the brother James with their aunt Mrs. Robey, who took over the hotel. They, my mother's parents were intending to return, but they never did and it was whilst my father was transport riding from Cape Town to Kimberley that he met my mother there. The other sister Louisa married a Mr. McCarter and went to the Kimberley diamond fields where Louisa died of typhoid and mother adopted the child who was known as Annie McCarter. She afterwards married my father's nephew Harry Blackbeard. The brother James never married and lived a loving life doing all sorts, principally transport until he got too old. He died in Grahamstown. I remember my mother telling me that father's mother was a great autocrat and in my mother's early married life she was afraid of her. She came from a wealthy and aristocratic family and father's people were also of the same class, but my poor old mother said "her people were in the trade". Father's mother is buried in Fort White where she bought a farm and her son Leo Africanus lived with her., where he married and had a large family, and died and is buried there too.
Henry Lancaster was killed in the Kaffir wars and his body was never found. My father thought the Kaffirs buried it. His mother went with a wagon and her hottentot servants to search for it after the Kaffirs had been driven back but unsuccessfully. Aunt Emily Cawood also lost her husband in the Kaffir wars. They had lived in Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp. She had three sons, Colin, David and Alfred.
Uncle Leo had a large family, 5 sons and 7 daughters. John, Leo, Oscar, Wallace, Bruce, Charlotte, Jane, Cordelia, Edith, Viginia, Mary and Ada. Aunt Mary married William Blackbeard also killed in the Kaffir wars. He had 3 sons Seymore, Henry and Fred and two daughters Elizabeth and Mary. Aunt Charlotte first married Henry McCarter, then William Manley both died before her - no family.
Now my own father's family as far as I can remember it from the Family Bible which I think Ruth had is as follows. John Whitfield born London 25/2/1828 married first Jane Cawood died early second Anne Wallis born Essex, Kent 13/3/1841 married 2/9/1862. Ellen Jane unmarried from 26/9/1863. Kate Louisa 4/12/1864 married David DFavies. James Edwin 22/12/1866 married Ethel Norton. Leo Henry 14/8/1868 married Lilian Jane Robinson. John George 22/6/1870 married Mary Elliot. Still-born son. Mary Elizabeth 1874 died at the age of 6 years. Sarah 17/3/1876 married William Sherwood. Rose 21/1/1878 unmarried. Ivy Alice 13/9/1880 married Arthur Norton. William David 9/6/1882 died in Boer war. Ruth Wallis 26/4/1885 married Fred Ashdown."