Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library

Jamaica Campbell letters, 1747-1757


The following letters are from the MacTavish of Dunardry Papers, which are held in the Argyll and Bute archives in Scotland. They give some detail about the Campbells of Western Jamaica, their activities and their family and commercial connections on both sides of the Atlantic – mostly from or in Argyll. This earlier series of Campbell letters complements those by London merchant Duncan Campbell and others, which are already available on this site. The early career of ‘Skipper Duncan’ as merchant mariner, is touched upon several times during this period.


The Campbells who settled in this part of Jamaica were, essentially, one family who were all closely related to Colonel John Campbell of Black River. As a measure of their influence after 50 years, five cousins represented only one percent of landowners in Hanover, Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth yet owned ten percent of all the cultivated land in the three parishes. Colin Campbell of Black River was appointed to the Council of Jamaica shortly after his father’s death in 1740. In later years, John Campbell of Salt Spring and John Campbell of Orange Bay several times represented Hanover in the Assembly and each in turn was also appointed Custos of the parish. Their cousin, John Campbell of New Hope, Westmoreland, became a Supreme Court judge and was also appointed to the Council.






Duncan Campbell to Duncan Campbell of Kilduskland, 1748


Duncan Campbell began his career as a merchant seaman, became a master mariner and then settled in London as a merchant in the Jamaica trade. He married, in Jamaica, in 1753, his cousin Rebecca Campbell, the second daughter of Dugald Campbell of Salt Spring, Hanover.


Dea[r Uncle]                                                                                                              9th[…..]1748

I most Earnestly Beg your pardon for not writing to you Sooner Tho I Delayed some time expecting ships from Jama[ica] with accts from My Uncle James. His last letters Say that He intends to be home this year at all events So that we expect him By the first fleet.

No Doubt but you have heard of my Double Misfortune Before this time, of which Shall give you a short relation. I was Coming home Chief Mate of a ship named the Betty Galley, But in ye Latt of 47 and about 15 Deg west from England we meet with a Most Severe Gale of wind (on the 1st of Feb[ruary] last) in which we Unfortunately lost our rudder which had likes to have proved fatall to us all, for the Rudder By going away tore the Rudder Irons from the Ship’s Bottom, Drawing all the Large Nails out with it. The Ship then all of a Sudden Made an Imense Deal of Water, Insomuch that we could hardly keep her free with both pumps working Constantly. In this Condition we continued for six Days (I having only nine hands With me to work at that Rate a ship of 800 tons, the Master being Sick in his Cabin and severall of our people a dying, some we Burried) having hove good part of our Cargoes over Board to lighten the Ship.

    On ye 7th of Feb[ruary] we were Lucky taken up by a french Letter of Marque Ship Bound to the West Indies. But our Ship having at that time about 4 feet water in her hold they abandoned the Ship. The Day after they took us up they Met with a small South Carolina Ship Bound to London which they took, but the Commander Ransomed the ship again.[1] This was lucky for us Because we all went aboard that ship to Come to England. But when we had got within forty leagues of the Lands End, Met with the Dover, Man of War, they being in want of a Mate and Men pressed me & our people.[2]

    I continued […] months During which I acted as mate But General John[3] Got Me My Discharge so then I left her.

    My Being Detained so long aboard a Man of War was a Great Disappointment to me, for had I Got home at that time I might had the Command of a Ship to Jama I am now staying here with Cous: McLachlan [4] whose wife  has not been very well for some time. He thought the Country air conduce with her health, which has had a very Great effect for she is now a great deal Better.

    Mr Currie and Lachlan are Concerned with Mr McNeil in a Ship now in Jam[aica] which we Expect home on 2 Nov. They have Given me their promise of the Command of her when She Comes home. By their desires & that view I stay tho I might have Gone out first Mate of a very good ship to Jam[aica].

    Indeed honest Lachlan has been so kind to Me that I cannot try to Express it. he thinks himself under great obligation for the Civilitys you have shown his Mother. I have stayed with him ever since I came home. The country air has been of great service to my health which was in great measure hurt, what with fatigue and what with vexation. I wrote some time ago to Neil McNeil [5] wherin I mentioned Mr Currie & Lachlan’s proposals about ye ship. But I’ve had no answer which makes me Believe that he Did not get my Letter. I need not Doubt but what you corresp[ond] with him So should beg you to mention their affair to him. It was Lucky for you that you was not my partner as I proposed last year, Because I’ve lost all again Coming home. But I hope Good Luck will have its turn now, as I’m sure Misfortunes have had theirs.

    There are…………………we expect in a month if we have any accts from Uncle James I shall acquaint. I need not tell you how I was when I left Jam[aica] because I left in Novr last so that you have had Letters from him since that. I can’t say But I long much to see him for he has been like a father to me Ever since I saw him. I pray make My Comp[liments] to Dunardary & his spouse and also to all our friends about you.

    Lachlan and Jamie who has been up very nigh a month Desires their joint Loves to you, & I am, dear Uncle, your most obed[ient] and affec[tionate] nephew

Duncan Campbell

    We are about 20 Miles from London, it is a most Delightful place.

    I shall expect to hear as soon as you Receive this, which give me Great pleasure. Direct for me to be left at Mr David Currie, Merch[ant] in London.


[1] The capture of these two ships was reported in London newspapers in early March

[2] Although technically illegal, ehe Royal Navy often pressed experienced men from returning merchant ships

[3] General John Campbell, later 4th Duke of Argyll

[4] Lachlan McLachlan son of Lachlan McLachlan  and Elizabeth Campbell, daughter of Dugald Campbell of Torbhlaren.

Lachlan McLachlan later went to Jamaica where he managed estates for the nephew of John Campbell Orange Bay, John Blagrove. in 1757, he had also leased, Lacovia plantation in St. Elizabeth’s parish but, by 1765, had run into deep debt with his London merchants. John Campbell of Orange Bay, Capt. John Campbell, Colin Campbell of New Hope, John Campbell of Salt Spring, and Dugald Malcolm of Pell River had all stood surety for McLachlan who died in 1768.  McLachlan’s guarantors and their heirs found themselves involved in a string of lawsuits which began in Jamaica, moved to Edinburgh in 1807, and were still being argued in 1818 when the lands of Duchernan in Argyll were also claimed by the creditors.

[5] Neil McNeil was at Carsaig, Argyll, in June 1748 where he wrote a will. He described himself as ‘late of the parish of Hanover Island of Jamaica’ (he was there in 1744 when James Campbell of Orange Bay died). He was in Glasgow in late March of 1749 where he added a codicil to the will, it was probated in London on 3 October 1749

For more of the Early Campbell Letters, please go to:
     Early Campbell Letters # 1
     Early Campbell Letters # 3
     Early Campbell Letters # 4
     Early Campbell Letters # 5
     Early Campbell Letters # 6

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