While messing about with family history this weekend I’ve finally found a Jamaican connection.
As you may remember, I’ve long been puzzled about why there quite a few people who are the descendants of enslaved people in the Bahamas with the same (unusual) surname as me.
However, I’ve come across the Honourable Robert Fairweather, who lived in St Mary’s in Jamaica and died there in 1843.
Not one of my direct predecessors, but a cousin by marriage – the brother of my great^n grandfather’s wife
Born into relatively humble circumstances at Stracathro in what is today Angus in Scotland, he went to Jamaica and became what was described as a planting attorney – not a lawyer as we might think, but an estate manager who held power of attorney over the business of the estate – something which made sense when the owner could conceivably be on the other side of the ocean in London or enjoying the waters in Bath.
Robert Fairweather was a slave owner – he was registered as owning slaves and obtained compensation when slave owning was abolished.
So far, so embarassing.
However, if you delve a little deeper, the story becomes more complex.
When he died, he left fifty pounds to each of his siblings who were still in Scotland, and the balance was to be shared between his six children and his ‘good housekeeper’ Catherine Allen, who was incidentally the mother of his children.
In his will his children are described as free quadroons, meaning that they had one white parent (Robert) and one mixed heritage parent (Catherine) and were not themselves enslaved. It also implies that Catherine herself had one white parent and one black parent.
Given her rather Scottish sounding name, I’m presuming that one of Catherine’s parents was also from Scotland and may have known Robert already.
Then it gets murkier.
John, interestingly, had a private act passed in the House of Assembly to be granted the rights and privileges normally accorded to a white person, and went from being described as a carpenter in a census in the mid 1820’s to a gentleman by the early 1830’s. I’m guessing that John acquired some wealth and position through his marriage and moved up in the world.
What this shows is not only how pervasive slave ownership was in Jamaica, but also that it was not restricted to the white elite – there was a developing middle class of people of mixed descent, some of whom clearly aspired to status, as shown by John’s becoming a gentleman, and going to the expense of having a private act passed to accord himself the rights of the white population …