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. We 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 . 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. The map here shows my rough route. 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 . 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. The Legacies of British Slaveownership project reveals that William Urquart claimed over £8,000 compensation for enslaved peoples on the emancipation of slavery in 1834.
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. Speaking 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.
One of the first blogs about the Glasgow- West India trades concerns an English historian writing about a Dorset family who had plantations in Nevis and a merchant house in Bristol. Do bear with me…
In a period of historical research, the researcher sometimes finds a historian’s work that profoundly changes the way they think about their topic. In my own research, I have been very fortunate to be metaphorically standing on the shoulders (nanos gigantum humeris insidentes) of Richard Pares CBE (25 August 1902 – 3 May 1958). Described as the ‘the outstanding historian of his time’ alongside contemporary Sir Lewis Namier, Pares continues to shape the way historians think over half a century after his death.
A West India Fortune, published in 1950, altered my thoughts about the relationship between merchants and planters and their involvement with the West Indies. Pares used a small sliver of the voluminous Pinney Collection – most of it now held in the University of Bristol Special Collections – to trace the fortunes of successive generations of the Pinney family of Dorset, who owned plantations in St Christopher and Nevis. Pares set out to ‘practice what he preached’ by producing an economic history based on primary records of a representative family and West India merchant firm (A West India Fortune, p.vii). In doing so, he illuminated a two century long connection with the West Indies that started with a sojourner, Azariah Pinney travelling to Nevis in the late seventeenth century and ends with John Pinney operating a successful merchant house in Bristol after the 1780s. In between, Pares produced outstanding chapters on plantation management, West India finance, shipping and debt as well as the sugar market of Bristol. The text was later complemented by a shorter article on the London-West India merchant house of the Lascelles. Fortunately, Pares had worked on the Lascelles records in London before a German air raid in the Blitz of 1940 destroyed a lot of the material (although S.D. Smith recently studied the family in much more detail in Slavery, Family, and Gentry Capitalism in the British Atlantic). In his article, Pares outlined the business as well as the dangers for students returning from the West Indies to England for education: ‘Sam could not go back to school after the Christmas period of 1755, because he had been “unfortunately drawn into the embraces of a vile wicked Strumpet who gave him the foul disease”. He was reported to be a “sincere penitent”…when he was cured and ready to return to school’. (TheHistorians Business, p.217).
I was now hooked on Pares and the inner geek in me set out to try and acquire as many first edition as I could. Most of these are out of print, others are quite rare and all can be expensive. A retired Professor of History at the University of Glasgow gave me a pristine copy of A West India Fortune with cover, which is quite valuable to purchase but priceless to me. I also managed to acquire a signed copy of King George III and the politicians : the Ford lectures delivered in the University of Oxford, 1951-52 (1953), which contained a note evidently written when Richard was Professor of History at Edinburgh and lived in 7 Carlton Terrace, just off Calton Hill and a short walk to the University as well as to the Scottish Record Office and National Library. In the note, Richard thanked the recipient of the book, Molly, for the almonds before affectionately signing off Richard. This small piece of Pares family history in Edinburgh masks a personal tragedy. Just after taking the position at Edinburgh in 1945, he was diagnosed with Progressive Muscular Atrophy, and had to retire from duties in 1954. Richard returned to Oxford where he was appointed a Special Research Fellowship at All Souls. He used his limited time to work on material accumulated before 1939, resulting in Yankees and Creoles: the trade between North America and the West Indies before the American Revolution (1956) as well as a short monograph, Merchants and planters, (1960). Still at the height of his powers, Pares used the article to re-evaluate his views on the economic relationship with Great Britain and the sugar colonies and famously stated that Adam Smith was wrong as he viewed Empire as an economic drain. The text was published posthumously after Richard died on 3 May 1958. But what a legacy.
Selected Publications (incomplete- for now)
Public records in British West India islands, reprinted from Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research vol. 7 (1930), pp. 149-157.
War and trade in the West Indies, 1739-1763 (1936, 1963)
The economic factors in the history of the Empire Reprinted from: Economic history review, vol. 7, no. 2 (May 1937), pp. 119-144.
The manning of the navy in the West Indies, 1702-63 Offprint from: Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th ser., v. 20, 1937, pp. 31-60.
Prisoners of war in the West Indies in the 18th century Reprinted from. Journal of the Barbados museum and historical society (1937).
Colonial blockade and neutral rights, 1739-1763 (1938, 1975).
West-India fortune (1950, 1968).
King George III and the politicians : the Ford lectures delivered in the University of Oxford, 1951-52 (1953)
Yankees and Creoles: the trade between North America and the West Indies before the American Revolution (1956)
Essays presented to Sir Lewis Namier, Edited by Richard Pares and Alan J. P. Taylor (1956, 1971).
Limited monarchy in Great Britain in the eighteenth century (1957, 1967)
Merchants and planters,Economic History Review. Supplement 4. (1960)
The historian’s business, and other essays edited by R. A. and Elisabeth Humphreys; with an introd. by Lucy S. Sutherland. (1960).
Ponderings of a Glasgow historian of the Caribbean