My husband’s great-grandmother was Margaret Johanna Cannonier (1868-1940) of St Kitts. Documenting her family tree back past her father John Henry Cannonier (abt. 1832-1868) has presented a brick wall. There were a number of Cannoniers in St Kitts in the first half of the 19th century, but their relationship to John Henry and daughter Margaret Johanna is still a mystery. Some pieces of the puzzle appear to reside in the British West Indian island of Montserrat.
Indexes to two Registrar’s Books of Deeds created by the Montserrat National Trust are available online. There are quite a few references to deeds involving the surname Cannonier. The early indexes (18th century) concern only a few Cannoniers, while the later entries (19th century) point to the growing family of presumably related Cannoniers on the island. The earliest record concerns “John Cannonier jnr” buying a schooner for £160 in 1776. I believe this is the same John Cannonier I’ve written about in connection to Andrew Cannonier of St Kitts. An entry from 1789 deals with the appraisal of the estate of John Cannonier senior, which included several small boats.
Using bits and pieces of information from the deed indexes that give family relationships, I’ve come up with a hypothetical family tree for the early Cannoniers of Montserrat (incorporating some assumptions I’m making for now).
Several mentions of the Cannoniers from the Court of King’s Bench and Common Pleas [1790-1800] documents in the British Library add a few more names and dates. John Cannonier junior appeared from 1776 through to the 1820s. He is listed in the British slave compensation records for Montserrat in 1836, receiving payments from the British government. John’s brother Tobias appeared up until the appraisal of his estate in 1829, while brother Thomas last appeared in 1824 when he’s appointed attorney for Hugh Riley Semper. Andrew Cannonier, however, appeared in the Montserrat records I’ve been able to find only during the years 1793 to 1808. My leap of faith is that Andrew was John junior’s brother, and he relocated to St Kitts at some point, showing up there in the 1817 Slave Registry for St Kitts. I base the assumed sibling relationship on the fact that John and Andrew appear constantly together in business and legal endeavors in the old Montserrat records, and that in the St Kitts Slave Registers, their names are linked several times as they moved enslaved people back and forth between them on the two islands.
So how do the early Cannoniers connect to pirates? I recently found a 1799 reference in the Montserrat deed books, with indexing information:
“Prize Court judgement re ship seizure. Names of ships & commanders, inc Cannonier and Molineux”
With no idea what the Prize Court was, but interested in the Cannonier ship commander detail, I did some further research. The Prize Court refers to a British court used to appeal the seizing of a ship, its crew and goods by privately-owned, armed sailing vessels, called privateers. The British government had a policy of granting permission to privateers to prey on ships belonging to enemy nations, allowing them to share the spoils with the British treasury. This was a relatively inexpensive way of policing shipping lanes during war time, as well as generating revenue, without the use of navy resources.
The UK’s National Archives provided more information about the 1799 case. The appeal challenged the 1798 seizing of a Danish ship that was sailing from St Thomas to Altona (now a city in Germany, but at that time governed by Denmark). The ship was the Skionne Dorothea, captained by Jens Poulsen Smidt. It was carrying sugar, coffee, and tobacco when it was overtaken by privateer ships, the Warspite (John Mollineux commanding) and the Dagnam (commanded by Andrew Cannonier). The ship was brought back to Montserrat. The seizure appeal was made to the Prize Court by Christopher Kilby Allicocke, identified as a merchant of St Thomas (Allicocke was actually based in New Haven, Connecticut). The appeal was successful, and the valuable cargo was returned to its owners.
Like other privateers of the time, Andrew Cannonier was riding a fine line between privateer and pirate. Privateering required explicit government permission, called Letters of Marque, which were only supposed to be used against enemy vessels during war. The archive listing summarizing Andrew’s case doesn’t state why the seizure wasn’t approved by the court. Without the British government permission, Andrew may have exposed himself to being branded a pirate. Perhaps he would even have suffered the fate of the notorious pirate, William Kidd. Kidd also pushed the limits of privateering in the seas around the East and West Indies, as well as off the coast of Long Island in the United States. When the British government decided he had gone too far, he was tried and hanged in England in 1701.
Apparently Andrew Cannonier escaped that fate, assuming I am correct that he is the same man who was living in St Kitts by 1817.
- 37 Volumes of Books of Deeds from Government Registry (dating from 1749 up to 1892), Montserrat National Trust, 2018
- Cannonier – what’s in a name?, cornerofgenealogy.com blog, 2019
- Court of King’s Bench and Common Pleas [1790-1800], British Library Endangered Archives Programme
- Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers, 1813-1834, ancestry.com 2007
- Printed prize appeal from the Vice-Admiralty Court of Montserrat. Captured ship: Skionne…, The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Great Britain
- Captain William Kidd, Historic UK