Category Archives: Grenada

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.

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Another Scot travelling from Carenage to Carriacou

A stroll around the Carenage area of St George’s, Grenada allows one to get an understanding of the hustle and bustle of a working port in the early nineteenth century. SAM_1705We know that Leitch & Smith – one of the premier Glasgow merchant firms on the island in this period – purchased one acre of land here around 1810, no doubt to facilitate the transfer of cargo and produce from their warehouses to the waiting ships destined for Glasgow [1]. Representatives of the firm on the island transported the sugar and the cotton from estates across the island and the broad Scots accent would have been a familar sound. Carenage was also the main departure point for many Scots adventurers who made the short journey up to Carriacou, an island of the north coast off Grenada. As I knew about the strong Scottish connection, I decided to recreate this journey – and I wasn’t disappointed. SAM_2919The map here shows my rough route.Carriacou map Carriacou (population approx. 7,000) is an enchanting little island of 13 square miles and mainly untouched by the commercialism of the larger resorts. I travelled from the capital, Hillsborough, looking for Scottish owned cotton plantations Craigston and Meldrum which were owned by the Urquhart family of northeast Scotland. They followed the pattern of naming their estates after places at home [2]. Much of Craigston has been broken up today for housing although Meldrum seems to be intact and the map here illustrates the location of both. CCOU2The Legacies of British Slaveownership project reveals that William Urquart claimed over £8,000 compensation for enslaved peoples on the emancipation of slavery in 1834.

Meldrum Estate, 2014
Meldrum Estate, 2014

I also made the trip up to Windward in the north of the island, where I was told there is a small, white community – much like the ‘redlegs’ of Barbados –  who are said to be descended from Scots and who retained traditional shipbuilding skills from the eighteenth century. It was marvellous to see a half built ship near the beach. SAM_2966Speaking to many locals there is an understanding that Scots were involved in Carriacou and I received a great welcome. But it was quite surreal sitting in the Sportsman Bar on the beach discussing the impact of Sir Alex Ferguson on English football! Wonderful amazing place with warm, friendly people and I’ll be back.

1. Stephen Mullen, ‘A Glasgow-West India Merchant House and the Imperial Dividend, 1779-1867’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, (2013), pp.196-233.

2. See H. Gordon Slade ‘Craigston and Meldrum estates, Carriacou 1769-1841’ Proceedings of Society of Antiquarians of Scotland 114 (1984), pp. 481-537.

Scots in the parish of St Patrick, Grenada

My introduction to Grenada has been made a lot easier by a chance meeting in Maurice Bishop airport with another Scot; this time a lady from Cambuslang.

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Two Scots in Dunfermline, Grenada

With her two friends – a Catalonian and a South African – we explored the island of Grenada in a 4×4 jeep. Along the way, the two Scots managed to stop for a photograph at Dunfermline, Grenada. The Scots eighteenth century  habit of naming their estates after places back home has left an indelible legacy across the Caribbean.

Map of Grenada, 1826
Map of Grenada, 1826

In this enclosed map, the yellow line roughly represents our journey. The estate marked in green was owned in 1826 by the Glasgow firm John Campbell Senr. & Co. of Glasgow (which we didn’t visit) and the estate marked in red was owned by the ‘heirs of the Houstons’ (which we did visit). This estate, known as Belmont, had been the property of a Scot, Mr Aitcheson, before being purchased c.1780 by Robert Alexander Houston, the son of Alexander Houston of Jordanhill. Alexander Houston & Co. were the the premier sugar merchants in Glasgow, before their spectacular bankruptcy in 1801 [1]. Despite the failure of the merchant firm – essentially due to a lack of liquid capital – the Houston’s retained Belmont beyond this period.

Belmont Estate, 19 April 2014
Belmont Estate, 19 April 2014

Indeed, the Legacies of British Slaveownership project reveals that after the emancipation of slavery in 1834, Robert Houston was a large scale-claimant of compensation and was awarded £5024 for 194 slaves on Belmont Estate on 16 November 1835. Belmont estate is still in use today. However, before emancipation, sugar was the main crop and chattel slaves provided the labour.

Why I'm here I guess- sugar cane growing in Grand Etang park, Grenada
Why I’m here I guess- sugar cane growing in Grand Etang park, Grenada

Today cocoa is grown by wage labourers. We spent an interesting few hours finding out how cocoa is grown and harvested and the guide explained how some traditional methods have been retained. She also said she thought the Houston’s were English but I pointed out in broad Glaswegian they were Scottish! I noticed some pointers to the estates past as a sugar plantation.

Belmont Estate, 2014
Belmont Estate, 2014

The big bell might have been rung by Scots to wake up the enslaved peoples for work at 5am whilst the large bowls (imported from Europe) would have been used to boil the juice from the sugar cane into the semi-refined muscovado – perhaps destined for the Clyde. However, there is no source detailing the lives of the enslaved people who resident on the estate. A quick search of the Ancestry website which holds digitised images of the Slave Registers, which are held the National Archives at Kew, London, illustrates this side of the story. This record shows a female baby named Adelaide was born in 1831, and was thus registered by William Houston as an ‘increase’ in the resident slave population on Belmont in 1832. As a child under six, Adelaide would have been freed automatically (as long as her mother wasn’t destitute) under the terms of the Emancipation Act 1833. However, many others like her between 1807 and 1834 would have lived, worked and died on the plantation

Belmont, 1832
Source: Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 [database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Original data: Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission: (The National Archives, T71, 317)
This adds a poignant snippet of social history and illustrates the human dimension to what has recently been described by Prof. Hilary Beckles as ‘a crime against humanity’ in his powerful work, ‘Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide‘. Having written about these islands and plantations, this trip has really helped to shape my thoughts on the activities and location of Scots in Grenada and Jamaica as well as the legacy today.

[1] For a good account of this see Douglas Hamilton’s ‘Scottish Trading in the Caribbean: The Rise and Fall of Houstoun & Co.’, in Ned C. Landsman (ed),Nation and Province in the First British Empire: Scotland and the Americas, 1600-1800 (Bucknell University Press, 2001), 94-126.

A Glasgow-West India Sojourn- Trinidad, Jamaica, Grenada

This blog article will be the first of several over the next month documenting a research trip to the West Indies. On 30 March 2014, I flew from Glasgow International to London then onto Port of Spain, Trinidad for a stopover and eventually Kingston. Including stopover, this took over 24 hours. In the eighteenth century, this journey would have taken six weeks and landfall would have usually been made further up the Lesser Antilles such as Antigua or Barbados.

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On his way to Jamaica, August 1786

Robert Burns, for example, was on his way from Greenock to Jamaica via Antigua in October 1786 before the Kilmarnock edition of his poetry became commercially succesful and he fortunately went to Edinburgh instead. In the period that Burns didnt go, up to 20,000 young Scotsmen did. All went in search of fame and fortune in the plantation economy of the Caribbean before, they hoped, to return to Scotland to purchase a landed estate. There are several parallels with my sojourn, including departure and arrival points. I am here to uncover evidence of the activites of Scots in Jamaica and Grenada although I am inoculated against the tropical diseases from which so many of them perished (Yellow Fever vaccination is essential if travelling via Trinidad to Jamaica, which I discovered at the very last minute, ten days before travel). Hopefully I’ll be coming home from the Caribbean with treasure of my own although this will be archival material and the less tangible riches of social capital.

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Outside Piarco International Airport, Trinidad

When I arrived in UWI Mona last night, I was told about another Scotsman, whom I am now trying to find. Scots abroad operating in networks has as much resonance today as it did in the eighteenth century although for vastly different purposes. As I arrived in Trinidad yesterday, I saw a large montage of former Prime Minsters. Dr Eric Williams, was, of course, the first P.M. after independence on 31 August 1962. Before this, he was an academic historian and published the influential Capitalism and Slavery, a wonderful text which continues to influence researchers today.

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Eric Williams looking over travellers arriving at Trinidad

Despite Glasgow (and the McDowall’s in particular) featuring surprisingly prominent in the text, the Scottish-West India historiography remains in it’s infancy. I’d like to think Eric would be pleased about the new research underway on Scotland, including my own and Michael Hopcroft at Glasgow Caledonian (@michaelhopcroft).