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Jamaica and Spain, 18th century tensions and trade


Extracts from The Gentleman's Magazine


1732, Foreign advices in July

From Jamaica, That Rear Admiral Stewart, had demanded of the governors of Campechy and Havana restitution for three ships taken and plundered by the Spanish Guard Costas, which, if refused, he declared he should, pursuant to his orders, make reprisals. Hereupon, upon the application of the South Sea Factors, a Guard Costa, belonging to one Henriquez, had been condemned and sold at St Jago de Cuba and the money paid to the said factors towards making good the losses they had suffered by him. One of the Spanish governors had been sent home to answer for his misconduct, and another confined in the castle of Cuba.



Campechy – Campeche, Mexico; a port on the Yucatan peninsula

Guarda Costas – Spanish coast guard vessels, in this case commissioned privateers

South Sea Factors – the South Sea Company, by an agreement with Spain in 1716, held a monopoly for the import of slaves to the Spanish colonies as well a right to export a limited quantity of goods to Spain



Many of those signing this petition, or their families, were prominent West Indian proprietors . Others were merchants in Britain who provided finance to planters or who had mercantile interests with the colonies.


1737, A Petition to the King

Petition of the merchants and planters in behalf of themselves and others trading to and interested in the British colonies in America, to the King. The fair and lawful trade of your subjects to the British Plantations in America has been greatly interrupted for many years past not only by their ships having been frequently stopped and searched but also forcibly and arbitrarily seized on the high seas by Spanish ships fitted out to cruise under the plausible pretence of guarding their own coasts. The commanders thereof with their crews have been inhumanly treated and the Ships carried into some of the Spanish ports and there condemned with their cargoes in manifest violation of the treaties subsisting between the two crowns. Notwithstanding the many instances made by your ministers at the Court of Madrid against this injurious treatment, the late and repeated insults of the Spaniards upon the persons and properties of your subjects lay your petitioners under the necessity of applying again to you for relief. By these violent and unjust proceedings of the Spaniards the trade to your Plantations in America is rendered very precarious, and if any nation be suffered thus to insult the persons of your subjects and plunder them of their property your petitioners apprehend it will be attended with such an obstruction of that valuable branch of commerce as will be very fatal to the interest of Great Britain. Petitioners pray the King to procure satisfaction for losses, that no British vessels be detained or searched, and that the trade be rendered secure.



Peter Delamotte,

William Baker,

John Harries,

John Seale,

Nathaniel Bapnett,

Roger Drake,

James Knight,

John Ashley,

James Douglas,

George Spence,

Richard Boddicott,

Stephen Winthrop,

Charles Hallifax,

Thomas Somers,

David Barclay & Son,

John Scott,

William Black,

Samuel Stanfield,

Samuel Sydebothom,

John Chapman,

Thomas Butler senior,

John Wilmer,

Thomas Hyam,

Richard Fenton,

John White, T.

(?) Douglas,

J. Bowers,

Isaac Dias Fernandez,

Moses Nunes Brandon,

Judah Supino & Son,

Samuel Baker,

William Rider,

Robert Marsh,

Simon Jacob,

Robert Holmes,

Henry Davy,

David Wilkie,

Edwin Somers,

S. Bethell,

John Warner,

Thomas Hebert,

Samuel Turner,

David Currie,

Beeston Long,

Thomas Tryon,

Alexander Dundas,

Thomas Delamotte,

Benoni Hancock,

John Locke,

Smith & Bonovrier,

Augustus Boyd,

Robert Lidderdale,

William Fenton,

Benjamin Ball,

Charles ( ?) Hooper,

David Miln,

David Barclay junior,

Ro[bert ?] Cooke,

E. Wright,

Robert Scott,

Richard Buller,

Robert Bostock,

Thomas Pitts,

Alexander Johnston,

William Higgins,

H. Bendysh,

Richard Friend,

Thomas Sandford,

Edmund Boehm,

Marmaduke Hilton,

James Buchanan,

John Gregory,

Alexander Coutts,

John Spieker,

John Browne,

Rowland Frye,

Lawrence Williams,

Henry Lyon,

William Tryon,

William Barnett,

Colin Campbell,

John Keith,

William Perrin,

Samuel Bonham,

Richard Coope,

William Coleman junior, Abraham Payne,

Samuel Pennant,

C. (?) McDowall,

John Paul,

Alexander Roberts,

David Crichton,

Timothy Cockshall,

William Jones,

Henry Norris junior,

Lane & Smethurst,

Moses Lainez (?),

Plomer, Gardiner & Rolleston, Da. Barclay,

William Adair,

George Newland,

Richard Wainhouse,

Clere Talbot,

Barrington Buggin,

Peter Du Cane,

Richard Du Cane junior,

John Billers,

Charles Pole,

Francis Janssen,

William Bowden,

William Crombie,

Thomas Ayscough,

John Thomlinson,

Thomas Truman,

Daniel Flexney,

Eliak. Palmer,

Henry Barham,

Jeremiah Allen,

Henry Lang,

Edward Clarke Parish,

T. Hanbury,

John Gibbon,

Davy Breholt,

Peter Simond,

William Coleman senior, William Wilson,

Samuel Frye,

John Eliot,

John Small,

William Braund,

James Randall,

William Fenton,

John Bell,

Thomas Beckford,

Papillon Ball,

Samuel Osborne,

Benjamin Fisher,

James Henckell,

John Dover,

John Curtin,

Thomas Sentence,

Samuel Gibbs,

Calverley Bewicke,

Richard Beckford,

John Beach,

John Fowler,

George Lewen,

William Whitaker,

Abel Fonnereau,

John Godfrey,

William Dunbar.

[Presented to H.M. 13 October 1737. Colonial Office entry, 4 November, CO 5.5. f.145a.]



Extracts from other Sources


By 1739, Britain and Spain were at war. Hostilities officially ended in 1748 but relations between British and Spanish colonies in the West Indies remained unsettled. According to the following extract of a letter published in the Virginia Gazette, the Jamaican economy was deeply affected.


1751, a gentleman in Kingston to a friend in London, dated Kingston Jamaica, June 16

I am sorry to say there’s very little trade or money now and no prospect of an alteration of affairs. Ten to one more people going off the island than comes on it, besides being a very sickly time and people dying very fast; by which you may imagine plenty of empty houses: in short the credit of the island is lost and we are look’d on as in a very bad plight. Desolation, misery and ruin appears in all our faces and without the government in England will permit us to make reprizals against the Spanish we shall be absolutely undone to all intents and purposes, being now, for want of cash, obliged to barter rum and sugar for what necessities we want, and can hardly do that, people not knowing what to do with it, the money being almost drained off by remittances to England and the continent of America.


During the Seven Years War, hostilities between Britain and Spain resumed in 1761. Although this ended in 1763, the economic effects were still being felt in Jamaica four years later.


1767, from John Campbell III of Black River to his wife in Virginia, in the Spring

The present situation of this Island affords as gloomy a prospect as ye country I have left behind. No money to be had, the trade with the Spaniards, the principal source from whence the Merchants here draw their cash, is reduced very low. Goods are daily selling at publick sale for little or nothing


With Spain declaring war against Britain in 1779, Jamaica was again subject to raids by sea, mostly from neighbouring Cuba, which added to the restrictions on trade resulting from the American War. The two following articles are from 'The Cornwall Chronicle and Jamaica Public Advertiser'.


1781, Montego Bay, 1 SeptemberMonday last his Majesty’s sloop of war Du Guay Trouin, Captain Fish, carried into Lucea one of the three row gallies this side of the island has been threatened with from Trinidad in Cuba...she is the first adventurer...upon a large scale destined for depredations upon the coast of this island, on shore, as well as by sea.


1781, Montego Bay, 15 September

The schooner belonging to Messrs. Monteaths of Green Island carried another pickaron into that port (sloop rigged)…mann’d with 18 pounders. Though but of very small force, this trip made her twelfth visit to this coast, during all which she has taken 12 vessels, and 35 negroes...The Commander is one Signor Cuban, an active, smart, enterprising fellow.

The services of Messrs. Monteath’s vessels has performed are too recent to need recollection: we wish that the gallant volunteers, who, upon every alarm, and appearance of an enemy, have boldly stepped on board for the defence of the sea coast of this country, may meet the just reward their merit deserves by a general subscription throughout the County of Cornwall, for their encouragement.

Note: William and Thomas Monteath were two Scots merchants trading at Green Island


Ironically, British forces had captured the Cuban capital, Havana, during the Seven Years War, in 1762, but the city was returned to Spain at the end of hostilities. Although Spain at first allied itself to Britain at the start of the French Wars in 1793, the last few years of the century saw the two countries at war once again – with the usual consequences.


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