Waking the Dead

Double Agent, sea Captain, Royal Navy Master, lothario and bankrupt – Captain Joseph Hynson led a colourful and exciting life. Born in Maryland USA circa 1744, he died in London in 1817. Working secretly for both sides in the American War of Independence, Joseph stole 8 months worth of dispatches destined for the American Congress, and handed them to the British. His reward from the then Under-Secretary of State, William Eden, was £1,000 and a job with His Majesty’s Royal Navy.

Joseph was my great, great, great, great grandfather and I have been researching him for a while now. His story is one of intrigue, double dealings, questionable morals and tales of the high seas.

Living on both sides of the Atlantic, and for a time living the high life in Paris, he gathered information from American diplomats and influential people for his new British paymasters. His mistress at that time was a young woman called Isabella Cleghorn.

Amazingly, 5 years after his theft of the dispatches, Joseph married none other than the sister of Isabella, Elizabeth Cleghorn. They had children together and lived at no 9 Stepney Causeway until his death in 1817.

During his career with His Majesty’s Royal Navy, he rose to the rank of Master. Finishing his career on half pay, Joseph was also bankrupted in 1807 after one too many deals gone awry. It’s not clear at this stage what all of his dealings were, there are many gaps in the time line of his life.

From a geneological perspective, I’m very lucky that Joseph had such escapades that were recorded. They are the bones of his story – what is missing is the meat on the bones. What about the person? What was he really like? His character is slated in the history books, he was a double agent after all – is it too ambitious to try and paint a better picture of him? Am I being a hopeless romantic in trying to make him look like an 18th century James Bond? I have none of those answers, and perhaps I never will.

What I do have though is the Tarot. Recently I decided to try and put some meat on the bones of Joseph’s story. I used a Free Association Exercise to try and find out more about the man. I used specific headers to represent an area of his life, and shuffled afresh for each section. Taking one card at a time, I free associated with each card. The following is an account of what happened.

Read more about Joseph and how you can utilise the Celtic Cross Spread to find out more about an event retrospectively.

Personal Relationships


8 of Swords – skull-duggery, a duel, being in control, ruling with an iron fist or rod, having a handle on things, being the leading light, suffocating those around you, having many different faces, infidelity.

His Career


10 of Disks – money, success, a treasure chest, treasure, a bag of coins, money for old rope, gold, lost treasure, a new job or commission, promotion, pay rise, being paid in full, satisfaction, only revealing half the pay.

The Family


Prince of Wands – the leader, protector, driving force behind them, vulnerable to them, hot tempered, warm, an exciting environment, being distant, an ever growing gap of familiarity, untouchable.

Health Issues

2 of Wands – swollen legs, emphysema, infections, skin diseases, heartburn, open wounds, splinters, a wooden leg.


3 of Wands – consistent, improving, good at throwing darts or knives, inconsistent, missing the target.

Journeys Abroad

6 of Disks – sailing, the ocean, islands, going round in circles, navigation, fleets.

House Moves

9 of Cups – moving many times, not staying for long in any one place, happy homes, gardens, ships, moving easily.

Personal Growth

8 of Cups – being ruined, not learning from errors, being closed off, stagnating, selfish, unkind, unsharing, dark and brooding, running away and not learning, seeing the personal goal but not rising up to it.

Wow, there were some real corkers in there! Seeing as he had relations with two sisters, you have to ask the question – was there infidelity? I would certainly think there was some sword fighting going on. As for treasure, there is a family story of a lost chest which contained family heirlooms, daggers, bagpipes etc, that were lost over the years. It makes me wonder how much of it came from Joseph’s sailing days. I found the health associations particularly helpful in visualising him – I have no idea if he had a wooden leg, but skin rashes on ships back then were commonplace. The 6 of Disks gave me some nice visuals when I looked at the card, I could really see the islands with shallow water, it gave me a sense of an archipelago.

I was disappointed by the 8 of Cups though. When you consider what a rich and varied life Joseph lived, you would hope he would have grown from those experiences. But let’s not forget he was a spy, he would have been very hard to figure. Life on the ocean waves would have been hard, and a certain exterior would be developed that would be hard to soften. In this modern age of self development, it’s difficult to think of a person not learning and growing from their experiences, but rewind 200 years, and things were very different. I take solace from the fact there was a vulnerability shown by the Prince of Wands with his family (his nakedness) and feel that behind closed doors, they would have seen a different side to him.

While this exercise never satisfied the romantic in me, I had hoped to see some better cards than these in certain positions, I am really excited at what came out. I had hoped to paint a better picture of Joseph, one different to the history books, but from these cards and associations, that is looking increasingly difficult. However, what I must remember is that I approached this lightheartedly and without any serious overtones. Still, the information I have obtained from this exercise is nonetheless an eye opener and satisfying in its own right. There are confirmations for me personally and also a few things that never occurred to me that now leave me getting out my ancestry files and taking another look at Joseph and his life.

There is no doubt this exercise has proved really useful in helping me to discover what kind of man my great, great, great, great grandfather was. I’ve felt he’s been calling me from beyond the grave for a long time now, to right the wrongs of how he is portrayed in the history books, and while I can’t do that based on what I have discovered here, I am heartily encouraged to dig deeper and approach this with the sensitivity and seriousness it deserves. I’ll let you know how I get on.

After I did this free association exercise about Joseph’s life, I then did a Celtic Cross reading about him and you can read about that here to further see how geneology and tarot are such complementary tools.

Tarot deck used – the Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris

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2 thoughts on “Waking the Dead”

  1. OMG I thought I was the only person who did this sort of thing:-) I have even ordered some “cultural” Tarot decks to connect better with my ancestors from certain countries.

    • Hi Helen – Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Tarot Elements!
      Seems I have a partner in crime ;) I’m a big fan of genealogy and have studied my family tree (with the help of my ‘global’ family) for many years. I’m fortunate enough to have ancestors recorded in the history books, and who were also colourful enough to have found themselves noted in newspapers for bankruptcy and court appearances etc. I have one side of my lineage dating back to the 17th century, and yet on the other the trail goes cold at my great-grandparents. I’ll keep searching though :)
      Seeing as you’re so interested in the subject of ancestors, I recommend you read this guest post by author and tarot reader, Nikki Mackay, called Ancestral Patterns of Life: In Tarot. Nikki uses the Tarot to explore family karma and provides a Tarot spread so you can also explore your own. She has also written a book about the subject should you wish to really delve into his area of genealogy.
      I would love to hear how you get on with your own ancestral searches, especially within Tarot – please stop by again and share your experiences with me :)

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