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Nathaniel Neilson (1760-1834)

NOTE:- The following article was received by JamaicanFamilySearch from Fergus Neilson of Australia, a direct descendant of Nathaniel Neilson who lived in Jamaica from 1785 through 1808. JFS has made no attempt to verify the accuracy of the information in this article. It is presented here to support the portrait of Nathaniel Neilson, and to perhaps be of help to persons researching this family. It will be the task of the researcher to verify any information contained in the article which you may use.

Nathaniel Neilson left his father's home at Dornal, Scotland, for Jamaica in 1785. The documentary evidence of his time in Jamaica is sparse; but there are suggestions of a career in trading and surveying, as implied by the surveying protractors in his portrait. There is also a reference in the Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution Through the Civil War (Virginia Historical Society) to a bill of lading issued in 1805 to Christopher & William Lynch & Co. of Funchal, Madeira, by Nathaniel Neilson for one pipe of wine shipped to George Carter in Baltimore, Maryland. There is perhaps a more sinister implication in Nathaniel's friendship with the family of Sir William Douglas, the founder of the town of Castle Douglas. William Douglas made his fortune in the 'American Trade' - a term often used as an euphemism for involvement in slaving. The British parliament passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807 to prohibit the slave trade in the British Empire (but slavery itself was not outlawed in British possessions until 1833).

We can draw our own conclusions as to the timing of this Act and a letter dated 2 May 1807 from Nathaniel's half-brother William 'the Postmaster' Neilson to William's full brother the Honourable John Neilson in Quebec states:

"Brother Nathaniel was home last fall from Jamaica. He was with us for about two months. He is again sailed from Cork for the West Indies in the month of March. He means to return in the course of a year to his own Country for life. It is said that he has made a considerable fortune. Sister Mary receives from him about £30 yearly. Your Affectionate Brother."

Nathaniel was settled back into to Scotland by 1810 with sufficient wealth to acquire a small estate at Springfield near Castle Douglas for £3,000 (calculated worth at around £2.0 million on PPP value for 2009). Initially, as noted in a letter from William 'the Postmaster' to the Honourable John dated 28 February 1811, he fathered one child by his housekeeper.

"Brother Nathaniel lives at Springfield, an Estate which he bought after his return from Jamaica which cost about three thousand pounds. He is single and had a child with his housekeeper last summer. The child is since dead. Our Mother, our Sister Janet and her husband Charles McKeand and me live here at Gatehouse-of-Fleet. News tells that the Isle of France and Banda are taken by the British. We have a Prince Regent as the King gets no better. No news of late date from Portugal. The headquarters of Wellington on the 12th inst was at Cartaxo. The French are said to be at Santarem. A great many failings on this Country. Trade almost at a standstill. Roman Catholics in Ireland are very restless. This winter has been very stormy with great damage among the shipping. Provisions of all sorts expensive. Great issue of paper money. Bullion very scarce. Things at present do not appear very healthy. My brain is almost too tired to think what is to be done."

Nathaniel Neilson then married Barbara Agnew (1791-1865) on 6 January 1812. Nathaniel and Barbara had 11 children over the next eighteen years :

# William Cunningham Neilson - born Springfield 1813 died Mhow, India, 1862, married to Florence Brereton (leading to 'our Family' of Neilsons);
# Anne Neilson - born Springfield 1814 died 1841 (possibly in childbirth), married to William Barbour;
# Mary Allen Neilson - born Springfield 1816, married to the Rev George Brown;
# Nathaniel Agnew Neilson - born Springfield 1818 died 1847 near Edinburgh;
# George Agnew Neilson - born and died an infant at Springfield 1820;
# Agnes Hawthorn Neilson - born Springfield 1821 died Castle Douglas 1905, married to Ebenezer Gladstone, wine merchant;
# David Agnew Neilson - born Springfield 1822 died Springfield 1837, while apprenticing with a lawyer in Castle Douglas;
# Euphemia Douglas Neilson - born Springfield 1826 died Castle Douglas 1899 married to Richard Hewat;
# Georgina Agnew Neilson - born Springfield 1826, only ten months after Euphemia, and died there 1858;
# Barbara Rome Neilson - born Springfield 1830 died Springfield 1855; and
# Andrew Rome Agnew Neilson - born Springfield 1831 died at Rosebank House at Castle Douglas 1895 while visiting from Australia.

A letter from Nathaniel Neilson to his half-brother, the Honourable John Neilson in Canada, dated 29th July 1834 states:
"Our Son William has been studying Physic for these six years past in Edinburgh . About eighteen months ago he took out a Diploma as a Surgeon. He is at present in England. May I beg the favour of you to inform me if there is any encouragement for a young man of his profession in Canada. I am much against his going to the West Indies, the only place I have any interest in.
Nathaniel Neilson."

Letter from William 'the Postmaster' Neilson to his brother the Honourable John Neilson in Canada, dated 26 October 1834 informs John of the death of his half-brother Nathaniel at age 74. The letter also states:
"He has left a Widow and ten children to deplore his loss, six Girls and four Boys ... the oldest son William is a Surgeon (and said to be clever) who sailed a few weeks before his father's death from Liverpool as Doctor on board of a vessel bound for the East Indies. He is not expected back for fourteen or fifteen months. Nathaniel, a younger brother, is with a Mr Liddendale learning to be a writer (solicitor) in Castle Douglas. David and Andrew are at home at schools. Anne and Mary are grown up women at home, the other four Girls are young. The oldest not above twelve years of age. The property left is about nine thousands which, with industry and economy may be of the greatest importance to the family and more so as they appear to be active children learning . . . You will have heard before this that both Houses of Parliament are burnt to ashes in London. It took place in the evening of Thursday and was eight days burning . . . My Sister Janet and I still living together at Gatehouse-of-Fleet . . . Reform going on but slowly in this Bishop Governed Land."

Nathaniel died at Springfield House on 1834 at age 74. Most of his children were less than 12 years of age at the time.

Text in a different section of The Corsock Neilsons reads as follows:
We are a family of many nations and wonderfully mixed blood from all parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world. We are a family that has cousins whom the politically coy would describe as being 'of colour'. The Turners are of Scots and Creole descent (see Volume 4: Skeens, St Johns and Mistress Swynford). Nathaniel Neilson was 25 years in Jamaica before he returned to Kirkudbrightshire for an approved marriage and 11 children in 22 years. In all probability there will be cousins in Jamaica. As the baptism records for Kingston in 1810 suggest:
# Robert Maclellan was baptised 17 October 1810, born 9 June 1810 to Emily Packer, a free quadroon, by Robert Maclellan; and
# Robert Neilson was baptised 17 October 1810, born 31 May 1810 to Eleanor Lloyd, a free quadroon, by John Neilson.

Portrait of Nathaniel Neilson

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