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.






Colin Campbell of New Hope, Westmoreland, to James Campbell of Kaims, 22 August 1757.


Dear Cousin

I answ[ered] yours Nov:26 1755 & that of April 11th 1756, the latter I rec[eived] in June 1756 Via Kingston & answer’d both the 6 Sepr. 1756 to which I referr. I rec[eived] none since the above dates which gives me some uneasiness, fearing it sho[ould] be from an afflicted State of Health; However I wait with Impatience to hear from you. I am now to inform you that Cuss: John Black River[1] left this Island the 18 Ap: 1756 for N[orth] America owing to a bad State of Health, & left me the direction of his affairs, w[hich] no doubt led you to think I would have Discharg’d your Demand w[hich] I have the greatest desire imaginable to do, but the unhappy turn the affairs of this Island has taken for want of Goverm[ent’s] taking due notice of us in time to put our Mercantile State upon the most Rigid Methods to recover their Debts as you are too Sensible of the Situation you left us in, you may believe I have met with no lenity & indeed is the reason I have not been able to make any paym[ments] to the Lucea House[2] on your acct; However I flatter my Self I shall be able to pay a large part of it in 1758. – It has not been in my Power to do any thing in regard to your part of the Ship, as there has been Nothing but Dissappointmts & oppression these 12 mo[nths] last past. I find Cuss: Duncan[3] proposes to have her sold on his getting home & procured a Power from me to transact my part of her; if this sho[ould] be the Case I dare say He’l acco[unt] justly with you, what Schemes He’s upon, I’m a stranger too, but no doubt will inform you on his getting home. Cuss: John Salt Spring [4] is his Passenger & will write you fully of your friends here which prevents my taking up your time with what you must have before this comes to hand. – Long before Cuss John went off He solicited an Int[erest]: in Mrs B-gr-e [5] but to no effect, & is determined to Continue in the same Scituation till her Sons affairs are Settled & then be the only Creditor. I believe next Crop will go very nigh Discharging the whole & this from the Produce of the Estates only, so there is nothing of the Personality yet receiv’d; This wth the Com[missions] as Administratrix & Guardian to her Son will make her in a very few years a very Considerable Subject; She seems to have a very great  inclination for Great Britain to give her Son[6] an Early Advantage of a Liberal Education, how far her Bror & Cuss: young K-k-y [7] can influence her is yet uncertain, tho’ it is surmised her Brother would willingly have her have a further Connection there, & it is said there must be some such Scheme led at home before K-k-y wou’d agree to let his only Chick come this length a Fortune hunting, of this I shall be able more to inform you in my next. – I am now to give you some little Account of my Self. – in October last I was seized with a little fitt of the Gout less or more till Decemr when I recover’d a little & being desirous to go to Luan to see Stock sold, Cuss: John Salt Spring accompanied me that length, so far in his way to Windward & indeed a general Tour. He propos’d w[ith] Mr Harvey to St Thomas in the East & from thence to St. Mary’s.[8] I spent a week very agreeably in the different Pastures, Mountains & up as far as Mr Briscoes,[9] & returned I imagined pretty well; I was within a few Days from staying out late at Night & getting wet seiz’d w[ith] a smart fit of the Gout for above 3 weeks w[hich] so alarmed my wife[10] tho’ within a month of being in the Straw, that She came up from her own House by 10 o’ Clock and Staid with me for ten days & at least being apprehensive of her own Situation, got me Conveyed home by Water, & since I have been less or more Confin’d & have not been from my own House above 3 Miles since that time. – I am now getting pretty well & propose in a few Days to Visit our N. Side Friends  w[hich] I have not been able to do since Novr last. – My Wife Continues in her old Industrious way: She has blest me with another Girl now 7 M[onths] old; they say She’s rather hansomer than any of the rest; Her name [11] Marg[aret] By this Increase you’l see there’s little hopes of my being able to pay you a Visit agreeable to my inclinations, therefore must be satisfied with my hearing from you at a Distance, & that as often as can be convenient for you, tho’ I’m sensible you’l Retort my own Remissness on this Head. Being at a Distance from our Cotton Merch[ants] & my own Confin’d Situation prevented my sending you the Cotton this year & may depend if I live that you shall have both the Sugar and the Cotton by either Hutchison or Walkinshaw. I have already bespoke the Cotton to prevent a Disappointmt – I rec[eive]d the Carp[enter] Duncan Morrison c/o the Hawk Capt. Campbell. – I’m sorry to tell you He’s the most worthless Fellow that I ever met w[ith]; neither able or willing to do any thing, Sorded in his Disposition & a Drunkard to the greatest Degree. I propose to give him his Ind[entures] to be quit of him.[12] His Shipmate w[ith] Cuss: Salt Spring is a tolerable Workman very willing & perfectly good Natured. – I observe what you say about the Articles of Medicines in Morrisons Ind[entures] which will of Course drop of if I turn him off & I believe will be the case soon. – My nephew Lachlan was here with me a few days agoe, telling me they were greatly Distress’d this year from the large Credits given for Negroes in Hanover, St. James’s and St. Ann’s & no paym[ents] made. The Credit of the Island is totally Sunk as these two last years Sugar & Rum fell at our Markets here to a pistole to 26/6, the best Rum 2/ & 2/3; This you’l own to be as Considerable Downfall to what they were several years before you left the Island. This Disappointm[ent] prevented their sending for any Cargoe this year, & do’s nothing now but collect their Debts. – Malcolm[13] very Easy on the occasion as Laird of Pell River & in perfect Health; He has some tho[ughts] of going home & join Giblets with some Healthy young Girl in Argyleshire, so that you may be looking out some proper Object for him. – I’m obliged to you for the Notice & Supply you gave to our old Nurse. – I shall be glad to see her Grand Child if you think He’s Capable of doing any thing for himself, & if free of Vice I can be of some Service. – Distiller Dugald proposes a trip home. He’s now worth £1,000 St[erling], tho’ not worth a Shilling the Day he came to me. – I could put that young fellow in the same way which w[ould] soon make him a Man, in your next I shall be glad to know how the Old Woman’s Sons and Dau[ghters] are provided for. Having now wearied you  by a long Scrawl Concludes me with my best Complim[en]ts to your Brother Mrs Campbell & your wife all other your Connections & that my Wife and little Family joins me in our Love & Sincerest regard for yourself & that I am, Dr Cuss your m[ost] affec[tionate] & most oblig’d h[onourable] Serv[ant]  Colin Campbell

    P.S. whatever charges you are w[ith] our Nurses Grandson I’ve Discharg’d

    My kind Complim[ents] to Dunardre[14]. I wish I had it in my Power to serve his son. He’s at present in St. Thomas in the East. In what Scituation I know not when I was in Kingston in June 1756, cou’d then learn nothing of him, tho’ I made the Strictest Inquiry: Mr Duncan Tomson his Friend is remov’d from Leguinea to Biscany Estate in St. Elizabeth’s, by John Harvey Esq. of Kingston Merch[ant] & one of the acting Exec[utors] of Alexander McFarlane.[15] It is said he died £100,000 in Debt and notwithstanding a few years will Discharge it without Disposing of any of his Property; So you see there are other Great People that owes as much as we do, We have Discharg’d £30,000 out of the £64,000 due so as I hope Cave Valley[16] will make Sugar this year (as we have drawn all the Black River Negroes from thence) three or 4 years more will make us pretty clear if the Proprietor [17] keeps within Reasonable [bounds]


[1] John Campbell, eldest son of Hon. Colin Campbell, ‘the Councillor’, who had died in Jamaica in 1752. John Campbell had only come of age to take up his inheritance in January 1756 [b. January 1735 in London]

[2] The Lucea House, a merchant partnership at Lucea, Hanover (perhaps Kerr & Co referred to in 1747)

[3] Capt. Duncan, in 10 years, had progressed from first mate to master, to owner and master.

[4] John Campbell Salt Spring, the son of Dugald Campbell of Salt Spring [d.1744] and Anne Launce of Jamaica

[5] Mrs Blagrove was Elizabeth Campbell, sister of John Campbell of Orange Bay. Her husband, Thomas Blagrove had died suddenly in Hanover in July 1755 at the age of 21. She later married William Witter of Jamaica, but died unhappy in London in 1776. She retained full control of her son’s large inheritance

[6] John Blagrove,  for his ‘liberal education’, was sent to Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (his uncle John Campbell Orange Bay had also gone to Trinity College in 1748). Blagrove married, in Jamaica, Ann Shakespear, a great granddaughter of Colonel John Campbell 1 of Black River [d.1740]. He inherited Orange Bay from his uncle in 1808

[7] Young K-k-y: Archibald Campbell, son of Archibald of Knockbuy. In 1759, Young Archibald married in Jamaica Ann Brown. In the parish of St. Ann, he established a stock pen, Minard, named after Minard on the shore of Loch Fyne

[8] Perhaps a visit to relations. An Alexander Campbell had property in St. Thomas and a Daniel Campbell property in St. Mary

[9] Wastel Briscoe, merchant and planter from Cumbria, owner of Holland in St. Elizabeth, who married Deborah Woodstock, the widow of Peter Campbell 1 of Fish River [d.1739]. Briscoe took charge of the estates that Deborah Campbell had inherited from her brother, Barnard Andreis Woodstock, his late business partner. The family of Peter Campbell 2 Fish River thrived mainly due to Briscoe’s later generosity

[10] Wife: Mary Graham. The Westmoreland parish register records only the marriage of Colin Campbell & Mary Tomlin, in 1739.  The baptisms of all of Colin Campbell’s children are also recorded. The possibility exists that Mary Graham was either the young widow of ____ Tomlin or Campbell’s second wife.

[11] Margaret Campbell, baptised 28 January, 1757. Her married name and title was Lady Hay. She was widowed by 1801 and died in April 1837, at Boulogne, France.

[12] Indentured tradesmen were particularly sought after, especially carpenters, millwrights and masons. After serving their time, they often set up on their own, buying slaves whom they trained in their trade.

[13] Dugald Malcolm of Pell River,  Hanover

[14] Dugald McTavish of Dunardry

[15] Dr Alexander McFarlane had been a close acquaintance of Councillor Colin Campbell; both men were members of the Royal Society

[16] A plantation in Hanover parish adjoining Campbelton (John Black River’s) and Fish River (Peter Campbell’s)

[17] John Campbell 3 of Black River. Colin hints here that the young man enjoyed money. John Black River married in Virginia but returned to Jamaica on his own, in 1767, to sell his property and clear the debts he had run up in America. A letter to his wife, in 1767, records the predicament. According to court records in Virginia, some £70,000 was owed on Salem plantation alone. He returned to Virginia in 1770 but left for the last time in early 1776

There may have been something of a black sheep about him:

1777: in London, he disappointed ‘Skipper Duncan’ by his behaviour over bills that were owed and his younger brother, Colin, ‘flatly refused’ to stand security for his remaining debts

1783: he was somewhere abroad when his mother died; her only legacy to him was a ‘chintz counterpain’; Colin was made executor and inherited the rest of her assets (her widow’s annuity since 1752  had been £1,000)

1793: when Colin died, John was left with a seemingly generous £1,000 in cash but his cousin, Thomas Foster-Barham, a wealthy Jamaica proprietor, was left the remaining £5,000. The Jamaican lands which Colin inherited had been sold already. There is evidence to suggest that John Campbell lived in Brussels for a while but died in Paris before 1802

For more of the Early Campbell Letters, please go to:
     Early Campbell Letters # 1
     Early Campbell Letters # 2
     Early Campbell Letters # 3
     Early Campbell Letters # 4
     Early Campbell Letters # 6

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