I have traced my husband’s Cannonier ancestors back to the British island of Montserrat. His 2nd great grandfather, John Henry Cannonier, was born about 1832 and died young in St Kitts in 1868. I have yet to establish a definite link between the Cannoniers of Montserrat and John Henry Cannonier, or for the many people with that surname who show up in the St Kitts in 19th century records. But there are hints at links, and they show up in lots of small details.
In an attempt at organizing all the Cannoniers (and in hopes that patterns will emerge), I can break them down into generations. Those born before 1800 (the Montserrat group), start with John Cannonier Senior, of the oldest generation. His children, John Junior, Andrew, Thomas, Tobias, Antoinetta Theresa, and Mary form the 2nd generation in Montserrat. It’s very likely that this Andrew Cannonier is the same Andrew that appeared in the British registry as a proprietor of enslaved people for St Kitts, in 1817. Andrew died between the 1825 and 1827 registries.
What about the next generation: any Cannoniers of St Kitts that were born between 1800 and 1825? There are a number of them.
- Andrew Cannonier (I’ll call him the registrar, as he performed that duty for several years) – when he died in 1865, his birth date was given as about 1804 (based on his supposed age at death). Andrew was listed as a white planter (planter meaning he either owned or ran an agricultural estate). His death was reported by George James Goater, also a planter (who just happens to have been married to a Susan Cannonier). Who were Andrew’s parents? Could his father have been Andrew of Montserrat? Or one of Andrew’s brothers?
- Thomas Tobias Cannonier – when he died in 1870, he was recorded as 52 years old, so born about 1818. The death record only shows him as Thomas Cannonier, but I believe it is the same Thomas Tobias who appears many times in Kittitian records, as a father of several children. He was also listed in the 1825 slave registry as owning an enslaved person. Thomas Tobias had a guardian, so he was a minor in that year. In his death record, Thomas’s “complexion” is colored, so he was of mixed race. The fact that a mixed race child owned a slave clearly brings up lots of questions. Through some research of the records, and some information from Cannonier descendants in St Kitts, it is clear that there was a close association between Thomas Tobias’s family and my husband’s family. The fact that his two given names correspond to two of Andrew Cannonier of Montserrat’s brothers’ names points to a direct relationship to the Montserrat family.
- Miles Cannonier was a carpenter who lived from about 1824 to 1864. His descendants show up as a distant cousin DNA match with my husband.
- William Cannonier was a planter who had a large number of children in St Kitts. He lived from about 1823 until his death in 1861. He was listed as a planter of mixed race. His descendants also have distant DNA matches with my husband.
The “complexion” or racial designations can be important for people born before the abolition of slavery in 1834 in the British West Indies. It leads to the question of whether someone was born into slavery, if they were listed later in the 19th century as mixed race. The law at the time was that a child born of an enslaved mother was automatically enslaved (whether or not the father was free or of European ancestry). I have seen records of several people freed by Cannoniers in Montserrat. Could the same thing have occurred in St Kitts? The Cannonier people I’ve listed so far could have been in the middle class (or even higher on the socioeconomic scale) given their occupations. Did they start life with advantages due to their parentage?
Moving on to the next generation, those born somewhere in the 1825 to 1850 range, brings us to John Henry Cannonier and his contemporaries. John Henry was recorded as a mixed race planter when he died in 1868. At his 1865 marriage to Madeiran Eliza Cabral, his two witnesses were H C K (Henry Charles K) Cannonier and George James Goater. H C K was born about 1841. G J Goater’s wife Susan Cannonier was born about 1831. Another Andrew Cannonier I refer to as Andrew The Immigrant, as he relocated to New York City in the 1860s. Some of William Cannonier’s children were born about this time. Were all these people cousins, and some siblings? It’s likely. A daughter of Thomas Tobias inherited a valuable plot of land in St Kitts, from William’s wife.
Those whose deaths were recorded in St Kitts were listed as mixed race, but the two that died in the United States (H C K and Andrew The Immigrant) were classified as white. That could mean that they were of 100% European ancestry, or that they had light complexions and were assumed to be white. I keep track of all the data I can find in a big spreadsheet of Cannoniers – their birth and death dates, known family relationships, their racial identification and occupations. Some day all the puzzle pieces may form a clear picture.
- familysearch.org, St Kitts and Nevis, Civil Registration, 1859-1932
- Ancestry.com. Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers, 1813-1834 [database on-line]
- Keywords of Register of Deeds 1667-1832, Montserrat National Trust