Grenada Heritage: Chasing William Macintosh

Who was Macintosh

Thanks to enterprising researcher I. Keighren (UoL) we get a little hint of this character and his place in Grenadian history.

William Macintosh was an eighteenth-century Scottish merchant, Caribbean plantation owner, world traveller, and controversial author of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782). He was a product of empire, but also sought to shape and influence Britain’s imperial project through persuasion and publication. This blog is a record of my efforts to recover Macintosh from the shadows and to throw new light onto his life and work in the production of a monograph provisionally entitled The forgotten radical: William Macintosh and the transnational circulation of seditious print in the Age of Revolution.

Macintosh’s life was one lived through the Republic of Letters and during the Age of Revolution. The list of those who met, read, or corresponded with Macintosh—Louis-Antoine, Comte de BougainvilleJacques Pierre BrissotEdmund BurkeAaron BurrOlaudah EquianoCharles FoxPhilip FrancisCatherine GrandWarren HastingsJohann Gottfried HerderThomas JeffersonAdam SmithWilliam Pitt the Younger, and George Washington, among many others—signals to his significance to the intellectual and political life of the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

Research began at the Archives départementales de Vaucluse – home to the largest single collection of primary material relating to William Macintosh. For reasons that still remain mysterious, Macintosh spent most of the 1780s there in Avignon, where he traded and ran a lodging house. Forced to leave the city during the Revolution, his papers were seized and deposited here. These records have never previously been referred to by any scholar working in English.

More there than expected, the information spreads across six large bundles of nearly 3,000 individual items of correspondence, memoranda, invoices, and legal documents. They cover part of Macintosh’s time as a planter in Grenada, his journeys around India in the late 1770s, and his residence in Avignon in the 1780s. Rather disappointingly, no reference so far is made to the book he published in 1782 based upon his travels in India, although there are preliminary notes and memoranda that eventually found their form in the book.
Archival bundle

Given that so little has previously been written about Macintosh, most of what is encountered is coming as a surprise, particularly the extent and complexity of his business dealings in the West Indies. Rather than simply a plantation manager, Macintosh had a number of official positions and governmental roles in the colony, including being Comptroller of His Majesty’s Customs in Grenada. In addition to his own business dealings, Macintosh served as attorney for several friends, and executor for others, so seems continually to have been involved in the purchase or disposal of land and assets.

There is evidence to suggest that, at certain times, Macintosh and his family (wife, son, and daughter) were together in Grenada, but it is clear that for the most part they were separated. One long and rather touching letter sent from Macintosh to his son, then aged 11, shows that, for Macintosh, parenting was something done at a distance, and most often by the written word. Although correspondence exits between Macintosh and his son and daughter, there seems to be nothing to or from Mrs Macintosh (although invoices for her domestic purchases, as well as clothing and jewellery attest to her existence).
Macintosh's commonplace book.

Macintosh was an ideas man, and had strong opinions about (as well as proposed solutions to) the various political problems of the late eighteenth century. Many of these took first written form in Macintosh’s letters and his commonplace book. The one for 1778 outlines various schemes, including a “Plan for preserving the health & lives, & for the better regulation of British seamen; for defending and securing the British commerce, and for manning the Royal Navy” and one (which has a clear contemporary relevance) for “reducing the national debt, without increasing taxes, & without exposing Government to any fixed or temporary inconveniences”.

Given the unexpected size of the collection, work is really only one of surveying and cataloguing, and the targeted transcription of key texts. There is much to be examined in detail at a later time. It seems clear, though, that Macintosh’s politics were shaped in the West Indies and particularly by what he saw as the corruption and mismanagement of British colonies there. Aside from the big questions of politics and economics, there are plenty of quotidian snippets in the archive too. One particular favourite is a long series of correspondence, culminating in legal proceedings, concerning a dispute between Macintosh and his French builder who, it seems, was a cowboy. Rogue traders were as much a feature of eighteenth-century life as they are today.

A family rift

Jean-Frédéric Perregaux, Macintosh's "old friend", trustee, and attorney

In November 1791, The Gentleman’s Magazine recorded the recent marriage at Ostend of William Macintosh’s daughter, Maria (or Mary), to Alexander Augustus, “the Chevalier le Sieur de Colleville, son to the present Marchioness de Colleville, of Normandy, a French officer in the infantry”. Maria, who had been born in Grenada in 1770, was then aged 21. The marriage was a fruitful (and, initially, happy) one. The couple had four children.

In his 1807 will, Macintosh appointed Alexander trustee and attorney together with the Swiss banker, and “old friend”, Jean-Frédéric Perregaux (1744–1808). The trust Macintosh placed in his son in law was, however, misplaced. In 1810 (or possibly 1816) Macintosh was forced to supply a codicil to his will, “revoking and annulling” Alexander’s claim and role. Alexander, it seems, had “abandoned his wife and family and Country in a manner highly disreputable and offensive without having had the least provocation”. With four children to raise alone, Macintosh appointed his daughter “sole heiress of all and whatsoever I may die possessed of in the first place for her own subsistence and the maintenance and education of her four Children”. Macintosh’s will and codicil were proved at London on 13 April 1816. Maria died in 1853.

Taking account

David Lambert‘s new monograph Mastering the Niger, which was published late last year by the University of Chicago Press, concerns a number of themes, including the production of geographical knowledge, the role of observation and testimony in the making of geographical fact, and the production and evaluation of credibility. His biographical focus is on the Scots Caribbean planter turned Glasgow merchant and businessman, James MacQueen (1778–1870).

Although Macintosh was born a generation earlier than MacQueen, there are a number of interesting parallels between their lives. Both were part of the wave of Scots who took the opportunities afforded by the Act of Union in 1707 to forge their careers in the British Empire; both were planters in Grenada; both had important dealings with Sir William Pulteney (1729–1805); both were skilled and enthusiastic proponents of double-entry bookkeeping. In Macintosh’s case, he had had, from the age of 18, “the highest charge of money, papers, & books of accounts”.

In Mastering the Niger, David offers a fascinating discussion about the parallels between double-entry bookkeeping and processes of geographical inscription and abstraction (see Chapter 3) and between the notion of “balance” and MacQueen’s own ideas about the nature and direction of the British imperial project. The analogy is an exciting and interesting one, not least because it so well captures William Macintosh’s own practices and perspectives in relation to these matters.

Macintosh was a thorough and committed record keeper (particularly so in relation to financial matters). This concern was not limited to his personal finances, but to those of Grenada, India, and the British Empire more widely. The day-to-day practices of taking account were so significant to Macintosh that he prescribed them in a letter to his son, in which he laid out what he considered the indispensable skills for his son’s life: “I would wish you to know…[a]ll the common rules of arithmetic. Book-keeping as practiced by merchants, with double entry. The principles of mathematics. Geography. A just idea of astronomy. The principles of laws. And ancient and modern histories. Indeed, a man of business, cannot be competent without them”.

Macintosh’s commitment to accounting means that we have a reasonably good insight into his own financial standing at various points in his life. For instance, in 1775 he applied to the Dutch bank Hope and Company (founded by Scots) for a loan of £20,000, and, in so doing, set out his financial position at that point. His collateral, detailed below, was calculated at more than £45,500, comprising plantations (or shares of them), various mortgages and bonds, a number of slaves, his house, and his annual salary of £300 for his role as Comptroller of His Majesty’s Customs for the Port of Grenville in Grenada.
Macintosh's collateral in 1775

Macintosh and the Grenadian pamphlet war

Audi alteram partem (1770)

A recently-published article appeared in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History by a graduate student (Aaron Willis) at the University of Notre Dame called “The standing of new subjects: Grenada and the Protestant constitution after the Treaty of Paris (1763)”.

Willis’s paper concerns the political difficulties which surrounded the incorporation of French Catholics into the British Empire following the ceding of Grenada at the end of the Seven Years’ War. In broad terms, opinion was divided among islanders as to the extent to which political rights which applied to British Protestants should be extended to French Catholics. These divisions resulted in political stalemate which lasted through much of the late 1760s and early 1770s. Willis offers a neat summary of the principal pamphlets which were issued during this period and argued, at turns, for and against the rights of French Catholics.

There is some evidence to suggest that one of these pamphlets—Audi alteram partem (1770)—which Willis describes as being “[t]he most sustained defence of Catholic rights” was co-authored by Macintosh. That, at least, was the opinion of an anonymous reviewer writing in The Political Register (May, 1770) who notedIt is almost needless to add, that Mr. Mackintosh [sic], Col. [James] Johnstone, and Mr. Scott are the Authors of Audi Alteram Partem…and are the agents and abettors of the Romish party there”. Clearly it will require some digging to determine whether or not there is any validity in this claim, or that Macintosh wasknown to be zealous in the cause of the Roman Catholic French subjects at Grenada”.

When Macintosh met Equiano

Frontispiece and title-page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)

In efforts to piece together, from secondary fragments, the trajectory of William Macintosh’s life, one is sometimes surprised by the strange coincidences and unexpected moments of encounter which are revealed. One such is contained in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789).

Equiano’s significance, as a freed slave, to the eighteenth-century abolitionist movement is well documented, but many are unaware that he and Macintosh had encountered one another in Grenada in 1771. Macintosh was, at that point, justice of the peace for the parish of St. Andrew’s and Equiano came to him to seek redress (unsuccessfully) over an unpaid debt. Equiano records the incident in his autobiography thus:

In April 1771 I shipped myself as a steward with Capt. Wm. Robertson of the ship Grenada Planter, once more to [end p. 95] try my fortune in the West Indies; and we sailed from London for Madeira, Barbadoes, and the Grenades. When we were at this last place, having some goods to sell, I met once more with my former kind of West India customers. A white man, an islander, bought some goods of me to the amount of some pounds, and made me many fair promises as usual, but without any intention of paying me. He had likewise bought goods from some more of our people, whom he intended to serve in the same manner; but he still amused us with promises. However, when our ship was loaded, and near sailing, this honest buyer discovered no intention or sign of paying for any thing he had bought of us; but on the contrary, when I asked him for my money he threatened me and another black man he had bought goods of, so that we found we were like to get more blows [end p. 96] than payment. On this we went to complain to one Mr. M’Intosh, a justice of the peace; we told his worship of the man’s villainous tricks, and begged that he would be kind enough to see us redressed: but being negroes, although free, we could not get any remedy; and our ship being then just upon the point of sailing, we knew not how to help ourselves, though we thought it hard to lose our property in this manner. Luckily for us however, this man was also indebted to three white sailors, who could not get a farthing from him; they therefore readily joined us, and we all went together in search of him. When we found where he was, I took him out of a house and threatened him with vengeance; on which, finding he was likely to be handled roughly, the rogue offered each of us some small allowance, but nothing near our demands. This [end p. 97] exasperated us much more; and some were for cutting his ears off; but he begged hard for mercy, which was at last granted him, after we had entirely stripped him. We then let him go, for which he thanked us, glad to get off so easily, and ran into the bushes, after having wished us a good voyage. We then repaired on board, and shortly after set sail for England (vol. 2, 95–98).

It’s a wondered quite how Macintosh, raised in the bracing climate of the highlands of Scotland, adapted to life in the tropical warmth of Grenada.

Macintosh and the Maroons

Detail of A new plan of the island of Grenada (1780).

Whilst there is a certain liberality of sentiment in Macintosh’s political philosophy, particularly as it concerned individual rights, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that Macintosh was both a slave owner and a tool of imperial control and repression in Grenada. Although the Maroons of Grenada (i.e., those slaves who had escaped from subjugation and who lived in isolated communities in rural areas) were never considered by British colonial administrators to be quite the threat that their counterparts in Jamaica were, Grenadian Maroons became a particular source of concern during the late 1760s as their numbers increased.

The late Grenadian politician George Brizan, in his 1984 volume Grenada: island of conflict, demonstrates that Macintosh had a particular role in the repression of Grenada’s Maroons during this period. Brizan (p. 97) notes that:-

As more and more runaway slaves joined their ranks the numbers of Maroons increased, and their sporadic acts of depredation [i.e., cattle theft] continued. In the latter part of 1769 these were the cause of great alarm in St. Andrew’s. By 13 December 1770, the situation was such that [Robert] Melville had to despatch an officer of the militia with 20 men to assist the inhabitants of St. Andrew’s, whom the Governor instructed to form groups and patrol the area in an attempt to suppress these “internal enemies”. The Justice of the Peace in the St. Andrew’s area, William McIntosh [sic], featured prominently in the organisation of these activities.

Determining what, precisely, Macintosh’s role was, will require some unpicking. Brizan’s supporting endnote for this information is unhelpful, listing only “Letter Book 1765-66“. The bibliography is not any more helpful, referring only to “Letter Books; 1763-1895. Selected Volumes: 1763-71, 1771-99, 1815-95” under the subheading “Grenada”. In his acknowledgements, Brizan does thanks the librarian of the Grenada Public Library, so it is the only clue that this is where the letter books were once held.

As we are all now well aware our library (also once containing our Grenada National Archives), had its collections badly damaged by the 2004 hurricane “Ivan”.  Sadly, the letter book covering the early 1770s has not  been digitised as part of the the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.

Once again, William Macintosh resists straightforward investigation.

Macintosh in Caribbeana

Title page of Caribbeana, volume 1.

In 1909 a new quarterly periodical focussing on Caribbean genealogy was launched by the wonderfully named English genealogist Vere Langford Oliver (1861–1942). Oliver’s journal—Caribbeana—ceased publication only ten years later in 1919 after six volumes and three supplements. Caribbeana has been digitised as part of the Digital Library of the Caribbean and is an important work of reference for scholars working on the history of the Caribbean. Macintosh makes a few, small appearances in the pages of Caribbeana.

Under the heading “A List of West Indian Deeds on the Close Rolls”, volume 1 of the journal records the following, for example: “George Johnston, John Rae by William Macintosh, Ann his wife. Grenada [1764], 14-12-13”. Read out of context, and in this abstract form, the information is not obviously revelatory. This snippet is interesting, however, because it dates Macintosh’s acquisition of land in Grenada and records the name of his wife (the first source seen which does so).

It is not immediately clear where these deeds are now stored. Assuming they were Public Record Office documents originally, it will take a bit of detective work to determine how they are now classified and where they are located on our island.



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