Tag Archives: Monmouth Rebellion

Scots in Jamaica

Robert Burns, the most famous Scot who never went to Jamaica!


Family commitments over Easter mean this week’s piece will be a short one, but as I am half Scots I have a particular interest in the role of Scots in eighteenth century Jamaica.

It is sometimes said that most of the planters in Jamaica were English in origin whereas the Scots supplied the bookkeepers and overseers on the estates.  Like all generalisations this is only partly true.  There were Scots such as Hercules Ross, James Wedderburn, Colin McKenzie and others who were highly successful planters and merchants, just as there were English bookkeepers and overseers.  There were also many Scots doctors in Jamaica some of whom, in addition to providing medical services, were also planters.

The events that drove Scots to seek a future in Jamaica were however rather different from those motivating the English.  Deportations of Scots to Jamaica by Cromwell, and following the failed Monmouth rebellion in the 17th century, were augmented by three huge historical events that resulted in the young Scots arriving in Jamaica.

The first of these was the Darien disaster, a “noble undertaking” of Scots empire building that envisaged a New Caledonia linking the Pacific and the Atlantic in Central America.  Vast sums of money were raised in Scotland, and a large fleet fitted out.  When the whole affair ended in disaster and enormous financial losses to the backers in Scotland a handful of survivors ended up in Jamaica.  If you are interested in reading more, The Darien Disaster by John Prebble[1] provides an excellent account.

Scots also suffered from the failure of two Jacobite rebellions, in 1715 and 1745, both of which resulted in migrations to Jamaica.  James Wedderburn, already mentioned, left for Jamaica after watching his father hanged, drawn and quartered in 1746 following the defeat at Culloden Moor. The family estates were confiscated and sixteen year old Wedderburn was left to make his own way, something he did with conspicuous success, returning to Scotland a very wealthy man.

In this he was far from alone.  Edward Long in his “History of Jamaica” in 1774 wrote that:

Jamaica, indeed, is greatly indebted to North Britain, as very nearly one third of the inhabitants are either natives of that country, or descendants from those who were….. To say the truth, they are so clever and prudent in general, as, by an obliging behaviour, good sense, and zealous services to gain esteem, and make their way through every obstacle.

According to T.M.  Devine, in his book Scotland’s Empire 1600 to 1815[2], in the period 1771-1775 Scots accounted for nearly 45% of all probate inventories valued above £1000, and about 40% of personal property inventories were those of Scots.

Another book that tells the story of Scots in the Caribbean in the latter part of the 18th-century is Scotland, the Caribbean and the Atlantic World 1752-1820[3] by Douglas J Hamilton.

If you are searching for Scottish ancestors who may have been in Jamaica, you will find David Dobson’s book Scots in Jamaica 1655-1855[4] a very useful reference work.  It is an alphabetical listing with brief references to the sources of information on each individual, together with two pages of details of some of the ships that sailed between Scotland and Jamaica.

Oh, and in case you did not already know, Robert Burns was nearly lost to Scotland and poetry when he planned to migrate to work as a bookkeeper for Dr Patrick Douglas. Fate intervened, delaying the ship he should have sailed on in August 1786, until after the birth of his twin children and the sudden success of the ‘Kilmarnock Edition’ of his poems.

[1] The Darien Disaster, John Prebble, Pimlico, New edition,2002. ISBN-10: 0712668535, ISBN-13: 978-0712668538

[2] Scotland’s Empire 1600-1815, T.M.Devine, Penguin, 2004. ISBN-10: 0140296875, ISBN-13: 978-0140296877

[3] Scotland, the Caribbean and the Atlantic World 1752-1820, Douglas J.Hamilton,Manchester University Press, 2010. ISBN-10: 0719071836, ISBN-13: 978-0719071836

[4] Scots in Jamaica 1655-1855, David Dobson, Clearfield, Baltimore, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8063-5540-5

Mary Rose – a colonial snob

Georgian houses in Charterhouse Square London

reproduced by kind permission of the London Photo Project

Mary Rose is one of my Jamaican favourites, not because I can say she was a particularly good or nice person but because she was a much married survivor. She was also more than a bit of a snob.

The Rose family came from Mickelton in Gloucestershire. Mary’s father John Rose was a merchant, based in London, who traded with Jamaica and made some of his money by transporting convicts captured after the 1685 Monmouth rebellion.

9 December 1685 –
Invoice of sixty eight men servants, shipped on board, Capt
Charles Gardner, in ye Jamaica Merchant (ship) for account of
Mr.Rose and Comp.,they being to be sold for ten years.
The men whose names are contained in the within written list, as
shipt upon the account of John Rose and Company, on board the
Jamaica Merchant, to be landed and disposed of in Barbados or

Born in the City of London on the 17th of May 1681, she was baptised on the 29th of  May at the church of All Hallows Barking by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London. She was the fifth of fourteen children born between 1676 and 1694. Her uncle Dr Fulke Rose had gone to Jamaica around 1670 and his brothers Thomas and Francis joined him there. So Mary already had family in Jamaica when she went there in her early teens.

On the 18th of  December 1697 aged sixteen, Mary married Thomas Hals (or Halse) in Spanish Town. Thomas was the great grandson of Sir Nicholas Halse of Cornwall, England and was heir to the Halse Hall estate in the parish of Clarendon. It was a sad fact of life in Jamaica that marriages were frequently cut short by the death of one partner, and on 24 Aug 1702 Thomas Halse died barely six months after his father, and was buried at Halse Hall. He left behind him one son, also called Thomas, and a rich widow.

Rich young widows in Jamaica did not long remain unmarried and within three months Mary had married again, this time to John Sadler whose father Charles Sadler was prominent in island politics. Mary and John had at least three children – Mary baptised in 1705, John Charles baptised in 1709 and Francis baptised in 1711.

In the early years of the eighteenth century Mary was joined in Jamaica by two of her sisters – Elizabeth who married Samuel Heming and Frances who married Dr John Charnock – he and their two young daughters died in Jamaica and Frances returned to England. Elizabeth left at least three children – Richard, Mary and Samuel – who lived to grow up. Mary also had several cousins in Jamaica, William the son of her uncle Thomas (who had died in 1679) and the family of her uncle Francis who lived until 1720.

Mary was luckier in the length of her second marriage which lasted over a quarter of a century. John Sadler, who like his father  took an active part in island politics, was a Member of the Assembly for Clarendon in 1704, 06 and 09,  St. Ann in 1707 and  St. John 1711. He was later also a Member of the island Council. Although it seems likely her children Mary and John died young, her son Francis went on to play a particularly dramatic part in island history – of which more another time.

After the death of John Sadler Mary returned to England where she was now the only surviving child of her mother Elizabeth. Captain John Rose her father had died in 1703 and was buried at All Hallows Staining in London. Her sister Martha who had married Jamaica merchant and agent John Serocold had died in childbirth in February 1716/17.

For a time Mary went to live with her mother who by now was in her seventies, but on the 12th of February 1731/32 at St Dunstan and All Saints she married for a third time as the fifth wife of John Styleman an East India merchant who was by then aged nearly eighty. When Mary was a small child and her siblings were baptised at All Hallows Staining there was a Styleman family in that parish and it is possible that the families had known each other for half a century. John Styleman had spent three decades in India, married there and buried at least two daughters there before returning to England in 1699. His first wife died in 1704 and he went on to marry three more wives before Mary.

John Styleman died in 1734 and Mary lived out her life in his house in Charterhouse Square in London. She died about May 1750 and opted to be buried with her last husband and three of his wives at Bexley in Kent where he had built almshouses that still exist today. You can read Mary’s Will here. It makes fascinating reading being full of very specific instructions such as leaving the marble fireplaces in the garrets of the house in situ!

Sadly I don’t know exactly which house in Charterhouse Square she lived in, though it could have been one of the ones pictured, and I have no idea where the two portraits of herself and John Styleman now are, if indeed they still exist.

And the reason I called her a snob? In her Will she left her silver plate and jewels to her son Francis but specifically requested him not to use them in Jamaica, and in respect of her other household goods  “I likewise earnestly desire and request that he will not use them at Spanish Town which place is my Aversion for a Planter to live in” .