St Kitts land grab

Saint Kitts 1736 map

Saint Kitts 1736 map

Among the surnames of the St Kitts branch of my husband’s family tree is Maillard. Ann Francis Catherine Maillard (1828-1919) his 2nd great-grandmother, married William Mallalieu. William and Ann lived in the parish of Saint Ann, located on the northern half of the island.

Curious about how far back the Maillards may have gone in Kittitian history, I looked at some older sources and found references to a Mary Maillard, widow of Peter Maillard, in the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, America, and West Indies. Mary submitted a request for help in 1714, to London’s Whitehall Council Chamber:

“Petition of Mary Maillard for the King. Prays to be restored to a plantation in the French quarter of St. Kitts, possessed by her husband and herself, before they fled into the English quarter on account of the French persecution of Protestants. She has lived there since the English conquered that part.”

Mary also asked for a portion of her father Francis Meunier’s plantation, to be shared with her sister Arouet Guychard.

The French and the British both occupied areas of Saint Kitts at various times in the island’s history. The two countries divided the land between them in 1627, with the French given the north end (Capisterre) and the southern area (Basseterre), while the English claimed the middle section. They periodically fought over their shares for the next 150 years, until the British finally secured the entire island in 1782. The year before Mary’s petition, the Treaty of Utrecht had ceded all of St Kitts to England, which led to the British takeover of French owned land. French protestants felt that their lands shouldn’t be confiscated, as they had allied with the protestant British against the catholic French and Irish. A French protestant Kittitian named Stephen Duport formally complained to the British crown about ongoing tensions and land disputes:

“Several Irish and French Papists residing in the English part of that Island when the first war with France broake out in 1689, did fly from their habitations into the French quarter, took up arms and assisted the French in the reduction of the Island against your Majesty’s subjects, whereof many suffered thereby in their lives and estates, and at the reconquest of the said Island by your Majesty’s forces retired out of the same into the French Colonies, where they resided and continued to act in open rebellion, after which your Majesty’s Chief Governor for the time being and others since, did make grants of the said rebells’ lands and plantations as being forfeited by their rebellion to such of your Majesty’s faithfull subjects as did distinguish themselves in the defence and reconquest of the Island… many of the said rebells have return’d to the Island, claimed their former lands and plantations, and some of them recover’d the same from the late possessors and behave themselves there in such insulting dareing manner and threats that your Majesty’s faithfull subjects are much disturbed thereat and will probably occasion some considerable disorder if not timely prevented. Prays for H.M. speedy relief.”

Some of the British in power had other thoughts on how to dispense with the French plantations, however. The Council of Trade and Plantations pushed this agenda to Queen Anne’s government:

“…the settling of that Island will very much tend not only to the advantage of the inhabitants and trade thereof, but also to the increase of your Majesty’s Revenue by the 4½ per cent. there, and the customs here. And therefore we humbly offer that the same be done as soon as conveniently may be. We have been inform’d the French part of that Island does contain about 30,000 acres in all, whereof about 25,000 are good and proper for sugar canes, the rest being only fit for cattle. As to the properest method of settling the said French part, we humbly offer that it seems to us most for your Majesty’s advantage that the same be sold outright to the highest bidder…”

Some estates were apparently granted back to former French owners. A contingent of Kittitian landholders complained about this action, saying that they had invested time and effort on land forfeited by the French, and pleading:

“We pray H.M. directions that the French may either pay to us the value of their improvements, or that we be allowed a reasonable time to reap our labour… Otherwise many poor people whose labour on the ground is the whole support of their families will be reduced to misery and want, and all of us extreamly improverished, and must with regret see people from the other Islands (whose estates have less felt the ruin of warr) purchase away the sweat of our brows, etc. Signed, Walter Douglas, Mich. Lambert, John Davis, J. Panton, John Bourryan, John Willet, Geo. Liddell, Geo. Milward, Ralph Willet. Clement Crooke, Speaker, Thom. Payne, John Greatheed, Antho. Faln, Aretas Seaton, Richd. Haukshaw, Willm. Johnson, Jasper Verchild, John Sewell, John Seburne, Willm. Macdonald, Edwd. Gillard, Robt. Mullins, Geo. Taylor, Isaac Thomas, Wm. Fenton, Peter Banor, Timothy Hare, Gillires McArthur, T. Williams, John Garnett, Jno. Willet, Hen. Willet, Fran. Claxton, Tho. Young, Pre. Soulegre. “

It’s no wonder that these factions were all competing for land in St Kitts. By the mid 1700s, St Kitts was the richest British colony per capita, due to its rich soil, the high prices paid for sugar cane products, free labor provided by enslaved Africans, and a plantocracy composed of a small number of wealthy sugar estate owners.

Sources

  1. Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, America, and West Indies, British History Online website, America and West Indies: October 1714, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2017 (Mary Maillard’s petition)
  2. Four years’ residence in the West Indies by Frederic William Naylor Bayley, 1830
  3. The Treaty of Utrecht, 1713, Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador, 1998
  4. Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, America, and West Indies, British History Online website, America and West Indies: October 1714, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2017 (advice on selling land to the highest bidder)
  5. The Oxford history of the British Empire: the eighteenth century, by William Roger Louis, Alaine M. LowPeter James Marshall, Oxford University Press, 2001

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