On the trail of James MacQueen at Westerhall Estate

WesterhallHaving made the acquaintance of another fellow Scot on Grenada, we decided on a visit to Westerhall Estate (formerly Baccaye) in the parish of St David. This was the fitting finale to an enlightening trip. The map shown here demonstrates the location on the south coast. According to one survey in 1824, the estate was a sugar plantation of 951 acres – one of the largest on the island – although today only rum is produced. I wasn’t here to sample the wares but instead to retrace the footsteps of James MacQueen (1778-1870) who worked on the estate when it was owned by the Johnstone family of Dumfries, Scotland [1]. It seems that William Johnstone Pulteney was involved with a disputed compensation claim for over £4800 for 176 slaves on Westerhall in 1837. MacQueen himself was a large scale claimant of compensation for enslaved peoples on St Kitts. SAM_3073However, today, I’m more interested in the earlier period which has been illuminated by David Lambert’s work on MacQueen’s imperial career, especially when he was the resident overseer on Westerhall, 1797-1810 [2]. MacQueen was part of a wider migration from Scotland during the period 1750-1800 in which up to 17,000 young men temporarily relocated to the West Indies in search of fame and fortune. SAM_3012He arrived on Grenada in the immediate aftermath of the failed Fedon’s rebellion of 1795 and Lambert cites correspondence outlining the damage done during the revolt: ‘most of the canes at Westerhall that were uncut had been burnt, together with the Dwelling House and Out Houses at the Point, and I have since learnt that the Works on the Estate, as well as on almost every other Estate in the Island, were also burnt’ [3]. The rebuilding of Westerhall thus represented a formative period in the Scottish sojourner’s life.  Originally from Crawford in Lanarkshire in Scotland, MacQueen entered into a decimated plantation economy and a colonial society divided by religion and nationality which, according to Lambert, shaped his conservative, anti-Catholic and anti-French outlook. SAM_3087According to Lambert, MacQueen oversaw the rebuilding of Westerhall in the aftermath of the rebellion for which he was paid £40 sterling per annum. His role in subsequent years as overseer would have included managing the estate’s enslaved peoples and promoting labour through the whip. His work complete by 1810, MacQueen travelled home and later became the editor of the pro-slavery Glasgow Courier and was employed by the Glasgow West India Association to disseminate similar propaganda in the 1820s. Today, Westerhall holds no record of MacQueen’s employment but there are lots of clues to the estates past. SAM_3005I could envision MacQueen walking through this boiling house (which would have been covered by a roof) up to the upper reaches of the estate where the ‘big house’ was situated and then down to the sugar fields nearby the sea. The date at the top left of this adjoining building (probably sugar works) outline it was built in 1800 just after the rebellion. SAM_3111I could almost hear MacQueen barking orders in a thick Lanarkshire accent to masons over from Scotland and to the enslaved persons employed in the works. The stills here are said to be a remnant when the estate was under French control sometime before 1763. The surviving mill and aqueduct illustrates the transition to heavy industry from slave labour after emancipation in 1834. SAM_3112The mills were made in Glasgow in 1860-1861 and this example underlines how Scotland profiteered in successive stages of the colonial economy. The primitive accumulation of capital was made in the New World which fuelled Scotland’s rise to industrial nation. By the 1860s, Scottish manufactories were exporting engineered goods across the British Empire. MacQueen lived a long life (dying aged 92) and would have seen many changes. I wonder how often his thoughts turned to Westerhall and the thirteen year period that shaped his life? SAM_3058Like MacQueen, my own sojourn to Grenada has unfortunately come to an end. By contrast, MacQueen returned with wealth based on the expropriation of labour from enslaved peoples which must have funded his activities in Glasgow. I return with a new understanding of Scots in the Caribbean and the legacy today.

[1] For a thorough account of the Johnstone family, see Emma Rothschild’s magisterial The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth Century History, (U.K.: Princeton University Press, 2011),

[2] See David Lambert, ‘The “Glasgow King of Billingsgate”: James MacQueen and an Atlantic proslavery network’ Slavery and Abolition 29 (2008), pp. 389-413 and his more recent account, Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen’s African Geography and the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013).

[3] David Lambert, Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen’s African Geography and the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013), p.247.


3 thoughts on “On the trail of James MacQueen at Westerhall Estate”

  1. Stephen it was great visiting Westerhall Estate with you and gaining so much more insight into the history of my fellow Scots in Grenada. Barbados is sometimes called “Little England”. It seems that Grenada could very well have been called “Little Scotland”

  2. Great to meet you John. Now updated to reflect your essential presence- Apologies! Many thanks for the warm welcome. I’ll reciprocate in Glasgow.

  3. Aye and that she was lady. And a proud son of Scotland I am. Trying trace my great grandmothers father’s, grandfather, Johnstone’s of St. David’s, the last of the last. My great grandmother was the last direct Johnstone descendant. Her Brother David a barrister had been murdered in the capital of St. Georges over land disputes.

    She married William Whiteman, and lived in Balmoral St. David’s until they died, her in the 1940’s, my Great grand father the 1970’s..

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