Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library
These are some notes and comments on occupations and professions that appear in the Jamaica Almanacs, Registers, and other documents.
Many of the proprietors of large estates resided in Great Britain. They are found in the Patents and Plat Books [see Glossary] as receiving large grants of land. The "Returns of Proprietors and Properties" which appear in the Almanacs, for example, contain many names of knights and baronets who did not reside in Jamaica.
The less opulent proprietors resided on their estates on the island. Some were useful to the community and diligent in their private affairs. Those were probably the most respected people on the island. Others were fond of "wine, women and song", and often ended up in financial difficulties. Money was often borrowed at high rates of interest to purchase and cultivate estates.
The small proprietors were settlers, who had either a small pen [see Glossary], or a coffee or pimento walk. Some had a few slaves, or they would occasionally hire slaves. Some of these men rose to be large landed proprietors.
The non-resident proprietors hired an attorney (one who had a 'power of attorney') to manage their properties. The term, in this usage, did not imply that the person was a lawyer. The attorney might be a resident proprietor, a merchant, a lawyer, a doctor, or an old experienced overseer. They were sometimes referred to as "planting attorneys." An attorney sometimes had fifteen or twenty properties under his sole care, some of them large distances apart. Examples of these can be found in the "Returns of Proprietors and Properties" in the Jamaica Almanacs. In some of the Almanacs they were not identified as attorneys, but just listed as the person in control of the property.
The job of actually superintending the planting and work on the estate fell to the overseer. He occupied a large house on the property, where he was personally attended by a number of servants. He had charge of the overall maintenance of the property.
Under the overseer's control and direction were the bookkeepers. The bookkeeper's task had little to do with accounting. His job was to directly supervise the agricultural laborers in the field. It was the least enviable position in the early nineteenth century. Paid a paltry salary, he could barely support himself and wear decent clothes. Some estates would fire a bookkeeper who married, as his salary would not properly support a family. There seemed to be no objection to his maintaining a colored female companion and their children.
Persons in the legal profession were referred to by several different terms. Barristers pleaded cases in the higher courts. Lawyers practiced law in the lower courts. The term attorney-at-law was used to distinguish them from planting attorneys. An articled-clerk was the term for a law student who was articled to a lawyer for a term of 4 or 5 years, at the end of which the clerk examined and admitted as a lawyer. Their names often appear as witnesses on wills and other legal documents.
Every man was bound by law to serve in the Militia. In the 1730's a report said that it drew from a white population comprised mostly of hired servants and indentured laborers. It was never a strong well-disciplined militia. All males over the age of 16 who had been resident in the island for over one month were enlisted. Most militia members were on inactive duty. Every company had musters once a month, every regiment once a quarter, as well as annual inspections. The 1808 Almanac Militia list showed separate companies for Jews, free males sorted by color in separate companies, all commanded by white officers. All except commissioned officers served without pay. The non-commissioned officers were generally from the white population, but some were colored people of good character. Later in the 19th century the qualifications for being a member of the militia were stricter, requiring either property-ownership, payment of a minimum rental for housing, or a certain income.
MINOR CHURCH OFFICIALS
In the Parish Church the beadle was in charge of preserving order in the services, ushering, and other duties. As a child I thought his only job was to walk in to the services at the head of the procession bearing a rod with an insignia on top. No doubt it was a symbol of his office.
The sexton was a paid minor church official who took care of the church property, rang the bell for services, dug graves, etc.
Merchants and storekeepers - In the early nineteenth century Jamaica traded either with Great Britain, or with America, and sometimes with both. The shop-keepers were also called store-keepers. They received regular supplies of goods from Great Britain, for which they demanded their own price, according to the demand. Some dealt chiefly or solely in merchandise adapted for the use of the Negroes, for which they received cash alone. This was often preferable to extending lengthy credit, especially to property owners whose land was heavily mortgaged.
Surveyors had abundant employment in the early years, and were paid handsomely for their labors.
Wharfingers - were the owners or keepers of public wharves for the shipment and storage of goods. The rates of wharfage were fixed by law (these rates were listed in the annual Almanacs).
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