Tag Archives: planter

Blocking Legacies to Negroes and Mulattoes

 

In December 1761 the Jamaican Assembly passed an Act, which was subsequently ratified in London, “to prevent the inconveniences arising from exorbitant grants and devises, made by white persons to negroes, and the issue of negroes; and to restrain and limit such grants and devises.” It is sometimes referred to as the Devises Act.

You can read the full text of the Act here.

Owing in part to the shortage of white women settlers in Jamaica, and to a more relaxed attitude to marriage than would be the case a century later, many white planters and other European migrants formed relationships with non-whites both free and enslaved.  The children resulting from these relationships were often brought up in what amounted to a stable family situation, and their education and welfare was provided for in the Wills of their white fathers.  In many cases the children were apprenticed to a trade, or sent to England for a liberal education in one of the professions.  Many had careers in the Army or Navy, as merchants, or later in the 18th century in the developing colonies of south Asia.  Where there were no legitimate offspring to inherit the wealth the father had accumulated in Jamaica, that wealth and property, including slaves, was often left to their illegitimate mixed race children.  It was this that the act of 1761 was designed to prevent or at least to limit.

Under the act the amount that a child could inherit was to be limited to £2000 which although it was a large amount of money, equivalent perhaps to £286,000 today using the retail price index, or £2,850,000 relative to average earnings[1], was a mere fraction of the total of some of the larger estates.  The act was designed to prevent the leaving of a larger legacy to “any negro whatever, or to any mulatto, or other person not being in their own issue born in lawful wedlock, and being the issue of a negro, and deemed a mulatto.”  This therefore restricted legacies, even if left to a legitimate child, where that child was mixed race and at least one eighth black.  Nor could the restriction be avoided by leaving the property in trust to a white person on behalf of such child.  The  limitation of £2000 even extended to property left by such a mixed-race person to their children.  The only exception related to those mixed race Jamaicans who had already been granted the legal status of white persons.

In the event, until this act was later repealed, it was possible for white planters and others who had made their fortune in Jamaica to apply for a private act of the Jamaican Assembly to permit them to transmit their inheritance to their children, or to remove their property from Jamaica.

Robert Cooper Lee who had four mixed-race children born illegitimate in Jamaica, and was responsible as a trustee and guardian for his illegitimate mixed-race nephews, made such an application in December, 1776, in an Act “to authorize and enable Robert Cooper Lee, late of the Island of Jamaica, but now of the kingdom of Great Britain, esquire, to settle and dispose of his estates, both real and personal in this island, by deed or will as he shall think proper, notwithstanding an Act of the Governor, Council and Assembly of this island, intituled, an Act to prevent inconveniences arising from exorbitant grants and devises made by white persons and the issue of negroes and to restrain and limit such grants and devises.”

What is in many ways most interesting, is that three members of the Assembly dissented from the act and a copy of their objections remains at the East Sussex County Record Office at Lewes as part of the Jamaica papers of Fuller family of Rosehill in Brightling – ref: ESRO SAS/RF 20/66.  A transcription of this is included at the end of the text of the 1761 Act.

The three dissenters were Norwood Witter, Edward Clarke, and William Wynter.  Witter and Clarke were both members of the assembly for Westmorland, and William Wynter served on the Assembly as a member for St Thomas in the Vale, St Thomas in the East, and St Catherine at various times.  In 1757 he became a member of the Jamaican Council. He has already been mentioned here as the father of Thomas Wynter, mixed race son of Mary Johnson Rose.

In a clearly set out document they argued that the proposed act was unconstitutional because it restricted the right of a British citizen to leave his property as he wished; that it would encourage vexatious law suits based on the mere suggestion that someone’s ancestor was of mixed race; that limiting the financial transactions that could be made by mixed race Jamaicans might encourage them to take their money out of the island and even to emigrate; and that it restricted a father from providing for his children even where they had received a liberal education and looked white.  They also regarded it as unreasonable to penalise “a quiet and peaceable people who have ever shown themselves true and faithful to the White Inhabitants” and who had shown themselves highly supportive during the recent slave uprising.  In summary, they said:

We think it unreasonable.

As we apprehend it lays the Penalty on the innocent, We deem it severe

As we apprehend it tends to depopulate the Country, it is impolitic

As we apprehend it takes away the Right of Free Born Britons, it is unconstitutional

And as it lays a restraint on the parental affection it is unnatural

And on the whole we think it equally Inconsistent with Liberty, sound Policy, and pure Religion. 

Their objections however were overruled and the bill was passed into law on the 19th of December 1761.

Between 1768 and 1790 thirteen private Acts were passed giving the right to dispose of property as the person thought fit, including the example of Robert Cooper Lee above. They included Thomas Wynter, and in some cases also listed the names of the children who were at the same time being granted the rights of white people.

Perhaps the most interesting is that of 1784 granting the right to dispose of her property to a free quadroon, Sarah Morris of Kingston. She left her estate to her natural daughter Charlotte Stirling (daughter of a wealthy Scottish planter Robert Stirling) who was also granted the rights of a white person. During that period she was the only woman to obtain such a right.

The others who obtained the rights were:

1768 William Patrick Bourne of St John

1775 George Brooks of St Elizabeth

1776 Robert Cooper Lee

1777 John Williams of St Ann

1783 Thomas Wynter,  and William Wright of Portland

1784 Sarah Morris (as above), Patrick Duncan of St Ann and Thomas Roper of Portland

1787 John Angwin of St Ann

1788 John Russell of Clarendon

1789 George Lesslie of Westmorland

1790 George Bedward



[1] Source: http://www.measuringworth.com

William May – Vicar, moralist, a father bereft

The Chequer Inn at Ash in Kent, little changed since the time of William May

© Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

William May had rather sad life although he had a firm trust in divine Providence, and his own superior social background, which carried him through the most difficult of times. He came from Ash in Kent and studied at the University of Cambridge.  He was ordained by the Bishop of London on the 20th September 1719 and left for Jamaica on October 22nd spending thirty-two years as the vicar in charge of the parish of Kingston. It is possible that he had an uncle already in Jamaica as there is a marriage record for a William May and Margaret Rose who were married in Spanish town in 1670.

William found many of his parishioners a grave disappointment and he is probably best remembered for a much quoted letter that he wrote home to the Bishop of London soon after his arrival.

He didn’t think much of the quality of the early colonists, writing  “There is not six families who are well descended as gentlemen on the whole Island. . . And as for those Englishmen that came as mechanics hither, very young, and have now acquired good Estates in Sugar Plantations and Indigo, etc., of course they know no better than what maxims they learn in the Country. To be now short & plain, Your Lordship will see that they have no maxims of Church or State but what are absolutely anarchical.”

Church attendance did not feature much among the planter community who preferred to spend Sundays on their plantations or enjoying socialising. Even those who did attend often walked out early “any pragmatic fellow; an Officer or Justice, when he thinks fit, will go out of our churches before sermon is ended, to disturb our Congregation”.

Many colonists had relatively humble beginnings and he commented on the then Governor of Jamaica, Sir Nicholas Lawes, who had been apprenticed to a shopkeeper in Jamaica when he first arrived there – “there are people alive now, who remember that he went barefooted, & bare leg’d, with shoos on, as was the custom for most young shop-keepers & planters in those dayes.”

Colonel Rose he said had been a cooper by trade, Jonathan Gale had earned his living as a horse catcher and several prominent men were illiterate.

Of the Beckford family he had nothing at all good to say “Mr. Beckford’s brother, Tom, Colonel too, is a Libertine, and of the country principles, & has a great Estate. He has killed his man and so has his Brother Peter, but this makes neither a bit more Religious. He was a Councillor in Colonel Heywood’s time, and his graceless son was Governor of the Fort at Port Royal, a post worth £500 at least (Libs.) per annum. And so these Estated men govern the Island at this rate.”

Altogether young William May had found his parishioners a serious disappointment and an affront to his anti-Papist soul.

“Tavern-Keepers, Taylors, Carpenters, Joyners, are infallibly Colonels, Justices of Peace, as soon as they purchase Plantations, & our Printer, in his papers, styles them every man Esqrs, & Lt.-Collols, Honourable, prints Elegies on men who never were communicants with the Church in any part of her communion, & who liv’d & dyed keeping variety of women, as James, a sailor by breeding, but dy’d a rich merchant.
N.B.-The Papists everywhere are caressed, and those who are true Lovers of our Constitution dare not own it, or they must expect no honey in this country, but instead of it gall.”

You can read the full transcription of the letter in Caribbeana Volume 3 page 5.

William’s personal life was full of sadness.  He married the unusually named Smart Pennant, herself already a widow,  not long after his arrival, but she was killed on the 28th of August 1722 when a hurricane destroyed the house where she was in Kingston.

His second wife was Bathshua Vassall.  I love the name Bathshua which I had not heard of until I came across several of them in Jamaica at around this time.  It is a variation on the name Bathsheba and means ‘daughter of abundance’.  Bathshua Vassall fulfilled the promise of her name and with William May had eight children. Sadly five of them died young and two older sons died on sea voyages while travelling to America in the hope of recovering from illness. Only one son Rose Herring May lived to grow up and have children of his own.

Bathshua died in July 1746, but William lived to what was a good age for white colonists in Jamaica, dying in January 1754 at the age of 58. His health had been poor for some time and in 1748 he had petitioned his Bishop for the assistance of a curate as he was suffering from both gout and asthma.  Some years earlier William had hoped to return to England with his children for the sake of their education as he considered, probably with some truth, that there were no good schools in Jamaica.  He was offered a living in England in 1740 by Robert Hamilton but by the following year this had fallen through and he became resigned to remaining in Jamaica. He did however send his youngest son Rose to school at Eton which is where he was when William died.

The family monument in Kingston Cathedral is one of the more informative to have survived, and this transcription is taken from Monumental Inscriptions of the British West Indies compiled by J.H.  Lawrence-Archer and published in 1875.

HERE LIES INTERR’D YE BODY OF THE REVD. MR. WILLIAM MAY, BORN IN THE PARISH OF ASH IN KENT, YE 29th OF AUGUST, 1695. EDUCATED AT ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, IN CAMBRIDGE, COMMISSARY OF JAMAICA, AND 32 YEARS MINISTER OF THIS PARISH. HIS FIRST WIFE WAS SMART, YE DAUGHTER OF EDWARD AND ELIZTH. PENNANT, OF YE PARISH OF CLARENDON; HIS SECOND WIFE WAS BATHUSA,YE DAUGHTER OF FLORENTIUS AND ANN VASSALL, OF YE PARISH OF ST. ELIZABETH, WHO WAS BURIED IN SPANISH TOWN CHURCH BY YE GRAVE OF HER MOTHER ON YE 22 DAY OF JULY, 1746, BY WHOM HE HAD ISSUE SIX SONS AND TWO DAUGHTERS, FIVE OF WHICH ARE ENTERRED UNDER THIS STONE, VIZ. PETER,WILLIAM, ELIZABETH, GEORGE, AND ITHAMAR. TWO DIED AT SEA GOING TO BOSTON FOR YE RECOVERY OF THEIR HEALTH, VIZ. RICHARD, ON YE 28’th OF AUGUST, 1745, IN YE 21st YEAR OF HIS AGE, AND FLORENTIUS, YE 4th OF JUNE,1747, IN YE l6th YEAR OF HIS AGE. HIS SON, ROSE HERRING MAY, IS THE ONLY CHILD THAT SURVIVED HIM, WHO IT IS HOPED WILL INHERIT HIS FATHER’S VIRTUES, AS WELL AS HIS FORTUNE.

I’m not clear how large a fortune William left to his son Rose, but he did own property in Kingston and had a pen, or stock ranch, in the parish of Clarendon remembered today as the town of May Pen. Under his Will he freed his slaves James and Elizabeth and left them pensions of five pounds a year. It is likely that he also owned other slaves who worked on the pen.

Most of the clergy had yet to discover a conscience in relation to slavery.

Spanish Town Census 1754

 

Reproduced by kind permission of the East Sussex County Record Office ref: ESRO SAS/RF 20/7

 

Held at the East Sussex County Record Office at Lewes as part of the Jamaica papers of Fuller family of Rosehill in Brightling, is a copy of a census of Spanish Town, otherwise known by its Spanish name of St Jago de la Vega; its reference is ESRO SAS/RF 20/7.

In July and August 1754 Charles White undertook the task of surveying the whole of St Jago de la Vega in order to create a census of all the white population and the free Negroes and Mulattoes. The only persons excluded were those gentlemen who were occasional residents during the sitting of the Assembly and the law courts. White attested that he had taken

Particular Account of the Houses and the Annual Rents or Estimate of Rents of the said Houses in and belonging to the said Town and Suburbs of St Jago de la Vega and of the Number of people of free Condition in each Family by going thro the different Streets Lanes Allies and Places thereof and by calling at or enquiring concerning each respective and Distinct Tenement and concerning the Number of People in each Family and that the annexed Account is the most exact he could with his utmost diligence procure of the Number of houses and the Rents of them and of the Number of persons of free Condition that were in the said Town att the time he took the said Account, exclusive of Gentlemen who appear by the said Account to have Houses therein and who come there occasionally to attend the Service of the Country as Members of the Council and Assembly and Judges of the Suprem(sic) Court of Judicature.

In total he recorded 866 white people and 405 free Negroes and Mulattoes. Slaves were of course not included. He also recorded the rental value of each property, the names of the owner and the occupier and the occupation of the latter. Additional notes give us information about the owners, for example that they were normally resident in Kingston or owned a plantation in some other parish than St Catherine.

You can find the full transcription of the census here, but in the meantime here is a quick breakdown.

 

The occupations of the white residents are recorded as follows:

11 Attorneys, 5 Barristers and one councillor at law

2 Bakers, 2 Barbers, 2 Blacksmiths (one who was also a provision planter)

1 Bookbinder and 3 Bookkeepers

2 Bricklayers (one of whom was also a provision planter)

9 Carpenters, of whom one combined his work with being Coroner, farmer and provision planter

13 Clerks working in offices, for merchants or the courts and two of whom were also planters

1 Deputy Marshall, a Deputy Clerk of the Peace and a Dancing Master

2 Factors, a Fisherman and a Gardener

5 Gentlemen (one a planter and Justice of the Peace)

1 Housekeeper

20 Hucksters (who would have sold their wares on the street or from booths), one also a carpenter

2 Iron Mongers

1 Jew Butcher

8 keeping Lodgings

2 Mantua Makers

6 Merchants (one combining it with being a planter and farmer)

2 Midwives

2 Millwrights (one combining with being a provision and ginger planter)

1 Music Master and Organist (who had died between Charles White taking the census and writing it up)

John Venn the Parish priest who was also a planter

1 Penkeeper and a Peruke Maker

3 Physicians who were also planters; 4 physicians who were also surgeons (2 being provision planters); and 2 Surgeons

85 Planters, of whom one was Island Secretary, one a Member of the Assembly, one combined it with being butcher, one was clerk of the vestry and one a shopkeeper.

2 Provision Traders, a Retailer and a Riding Master

3 Sadlers

4 School Mistresses and 3 School Masters (one also a planter)

3 Seamstresses

3 Shoemakers, one a provision planter

23 shopkeepers, one resident in Kingston, one with a provision mountain and one a provision planter

1 reader to the Synagogue

3 Silver Smiths and a Surveyor

5 Tavernkeepers who variously combined it with being a silversmith, shoemaker, planter and pen keeper

4 Tailors (two of whom were also planters)

1 Upholder (i.e. upholsterer)

3 Watchmakers and a Wheelwright

11 households were made up of Orphans and there were 18 Widows

One man was Blind and 27 Properties were untenanted.

Three people in the survey of whites were recorded as being “free Mulattoes or Descendants from them admitted to the privileges of white people by Acts of the Legislature”. They were Mary Rose, her son Thomas Wynter, and Susan Hosier.

 

Of the free Negro and Mulatto inhabitants their occupations included:

4 Bricklayers

17 Carpenters (including 4 planters and one who was also a cooper), 1 cooper, 1 Sawyer,

1 Coachman, 1 Fisherman, 1 Hawker and 1 keeping Lodgings

2 Doctors, 1 Midwife, 1 Nurse (who was also a provision planter)

1 Cook and 3 Pastry cooks

1 Planter

4 Poulterers,

1 Mantua Maker, 29 Seamstresses and 9 Tailors

1 Schoolmistress, 1 Servant

4 Washers

2 Wheelwrights

4 Widows, 2 Orphans , and 19 persons for whom no occupation is recorded.

64 of the total proprietors in this group are women and 50 are men, but a few appear to be duplicates, with the same or a very similar name owning more than one property. This may reduce the total to 60 women and 45 men.