Grenada Heritage: Scots In Grenada (part 1)

Scots on Grenada in the Parish of St Patrick

An introduction to Grenada is often made a lot easier by a chance meeting in ‘Maurice Bishop’ airport with another Scot or even a friendly local or distant relation.

With your friends you can explored the island of Grenada in a 4×4 jeep. Along the way, any Scots will managed to stop for a photograph at Dunfermline, Grenada. Like many eighteenth century travelers, the Scots had the habit of naming their estates after places back home – leaving an indelible legacy across the Caribbean.

Map of Grenada, 1826
Map of Grenada, 1826

In this 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 you’re not visiting) and the estate marked in red was owned by the ‘heirs of the Houstons’ (which you should visit).  This estate, known as Belmont, was once 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, 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.

Sugar cane growing in Grand Etang park, Grenada
Sugar cane growing in Grand Etang park, Grenada

Today cocoa is grown by wage labourers. There you can spend an interesting few hours finding out how cocoa is grown and harvested and the guide explained how some traditional methods have been retained. Some mistakingly thought the Houston’s were English but you can point out they were definately Scottish!  You’ll also notice some pointers to the estates past as a sugar plantation.

Belmont Estate, 2014
Belmont Estate, 2014

The big bell may once 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. For example 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.  Don’t automatically conclude that all the enslaved were badly treated, this is entirely false –  many platation owner would not automatically mistreat their workers.

Belmont, 1832
Source: Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834, original from the Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission (The UK National Archives, T71, 317)
[now accessable on-line via Ancestry.com]

This poignant snippet adds an element of social history and illustrates the human dimension to what has recently been described by many writers. Having visited these islands and plantations, this trip can really helped to shape you thoughts on the activities and location of Scots in Grenada (and other islands) as well as their legacy today.

 

Reference

[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.

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