Sunday, July 09, 2017

Chapter 10. Crab Island Revisited



In Chapter 9, we looked at how in the year 1683 the first deputy governor of Anguilla, Abraham Howell, led a party of Anguillians to claim and to settle Crab Island.  Crab is a small island, now called Vieques, a few miles from the east coast of Puerto Rico.  That 1683 settlement of Crab Island was not authorized by the Governor-in-Chief Sir William Stapleton, and it was short-lived.  We saw that the following year, Abraham Howell was back in Anguilla, granting John Lake a patent to land at Statia Valley.


1. Map of Vieques
We also saw that in 1688, the visiting Scotsman, William Pellett, apparently with Abraham Howell’s support, drew away some of the Anguillian settlers in a second attempt to settle and hold Crab Island.  Howell did not go with them.  Governor-in-Chief Christopher Codrington Sr held Howell responsible for failing to restrain his people from sailing off to Crab Island.  Whether for this reason or some other, Howell fell out of favour with him.  Codrington revoked Howell’s commission as deputy governor in 1689 and appointed George Leonard to be deputy governor of Anguilla in his place.  Howell, in the meantime, as we shall see, continued to enjoy considerable local support.
As the long drought persisted into the eighteenth century, Anguillians continued to migrate westwards towards the Virgin Islands.  During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the colonial authorities classed Crab Island among the Virgin Islands.  We have seen that Chief Justice George Suckling has credited Anguillians with being the first settlers in the Virgin Islands.
Southey records for the year 1694 that
About this time some Englishmen with their families removed from Anguilla to the Virgin Islands, where they made considerable improvements:  they were governed by a deputy governor and Council, nominated from among themselves.  There were no taxes.  Money, when wanted for public purposes, was raised by voluntary subscription.[1]
Howell, in spite of his repulse from Crab by the Danes in 1683, and the destruction by the Spaniards of the subsequent Scottish settlement in 1688, still set his eyes on the wooded valleys of Crab, lush in comparison to Anguilla.  Some of the Anguillians who trickled into the English Virgin Islands chose to move on to Crab Island in an attempt to settle it.  These movements into the Danish Virgin Islands were unauthorised and exposed the settlers to attack from the Spanish and the Danes.  They were desperate men to choose such a dangerous course of action.
In April 1716, Governor Walter Hamilton passed on to the Privy Council Committee for Foreign Plantations an Account of the Virgin Islands sent to him by the deputy governors of Anguilla and Spanish Town,[2] Abraham Howell and Thomas Hornby.[3]  In the Account we see Abraham Howell at his best.  Howell and Hornby described each of the Virgin Islands, starting with Crab Island, in terms of its agricultural potential, the value of its harbours to both trade and to the navy, and the quality of its timber for building and for export.  The old patriarch showed himself to be not only literate, but an explorer, geographer, mariner and military strategist.  He was by this time an old man.  He was probably an infant among the first settlers of 1650.  He was elected to be the deputy governor of Anguilla in 1666.  In 1716, about the age of eighty years, he was still a visionary and a leader of men.  He continued to carry the courtesy titles of captain of the militia and deputy governor.  His purpose in writing the Account was to persuade the authorities to extend the protection of the Crown to the English settlers on Crab Island by declaring it to be a part of the colony of the Leeward Islands.
Howell and Hornby described Crab Island as the best of the Virgins.  The land, they wrote, was extraordinarily good, nearly all of it being cultivatable.  The soil was very rich and the land was level.  There were two good roadsteads, and two better harbours.  They played down the attributes of the remainder of the Virgin Islands.  The soil of Tortola and Virgin Gorda, they wrote, was poor, and the harbours inadequate.  This Account may be considered a sort of brief for their main argument, which was that the Governor ought to permit the starving Anguillian settlers to emigrate to Crab Island.
Governor Hamilton commented on this aspect of the Account in his 1716 dispatch to the Committee for Trade and Foreign Plantations.[4]  He noted that though the land as they said was very good for agriculture, yet it came with the disadvantage that it was very close to Puerto Rico.  The Spanish claimed sovereignty over it.  They considered the West Indian homesteaders to be trespassers.  As Hamilton observed, the result was that no settler would be safe in his property.  He reminded the Committees of the earlier incident of 1688 when the settlement under the command of William Pellet was destroyed by the Spaniards.  He put forward an alternative solution on the Committee.  He urged that consideration be given to the need of the Anguillians to be resettled elsewhere.  His proposal was to allot them small plantations from the late French half of St Kitts.  The French lands were captured by the British in Queen Anne’s War, and confirmed as entirely British by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
Hamilton reported that the Anguillians petitioned him to permit them to go and settle Crab Island.[5]  From this, it is clear that the Anguillians under Howell did, at least, seek the Governor’s consent before they decided to take action.  They were not ignorant of the legal consequences of an unauthorized settlement on foreign soil.  Hamilton enclosed a copy of the Anguilla petition with his dispatch (see illus 2).


2. An extract from the 1716 Anguilla petition to settle Crab Island. CO.152/11. (UK National Archives®)
This petition was the formal application of the Anguillians for a commission to found the settlement on Crab Island. From the style of its writing, it was almost certainly written by Abraham Howell himself.  Such a commission would legalise the settlement and bring it under the full protection of the Crown, or at least of the man-of-war stationed in Antigua.  The original is very faint and difficult to read.  With some effort, you can discern that this is what he wrote:
To his Excellency Walter Hamilton Esq, Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over all His Majesty's Leeward Caribbee Islands in America
The humble address of His Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the inhabitants of His Majesty's Island of Anguilla
HUMBLY SHEWETH unto your Excellency that for several years last past the Island of Anguilla hath been attended with insupportable droughts, that the land of the same being very poor and barren by means whereof not capable of production sufficient for the inhabitants thereof to subsist on; many of them ready to perish and starve for want of food, which we the said inhabitants desire to remove to the island commonly called Crab Island and there to endeavour to cultivate the same in planting necessary food for our relief and sustenance rather than utterly perish;
WHEREFORE we the said inhabitants, His Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, in most humble manner commend the premises to your Excellency's mature consideration and pray that your Excellency would please of your abundant goodness and compassion to protect us in the quiet and peaceable enjoyment of the said island, otherwise we must inevitably perish.
And in duty bound we shall ever pray for your Excellency's long life in health and prosperity long to reign -
Christopher Hodge                   Benjamin Arrindell
Thomas Hodge Sr                    Isaac Arrindell
Benjamin Hodge            Andrew Watson
Arthur Hodge                           Samuel Floyd
Peter Hodge                             Samuel Lloyd
Nehemiah Richardson              John Richardson
Jeremiah Richardson               William Richardson
George Richardson                  Joseph Mason
John Richardson                      Daniel Bryant
William Chalwill Sr                 Rowland Williams
William Chalwill Jr                  Henry Osborne
Abraham Challwill                  Thomas Allen
William Gumbs                        George Garner
Thomas Gumbs                        David Derrick
Thomas Coakley                       William Smith
Ceasar Coakley                        Cornelius Harrigan
Edward Coakley                       Peter Harrigan
John Richardson                      William Beal
Abraham Wingood                   Bezaliel Howell
Thomas Lake                            Abraham Howell
John Lake                                 Joseph Lake
We learn from this petition that for several years before 1716 Anguilla suffered a severe drought.  As a result, the land became very poor and barren and incapable of producing the minimum of crops for the people to subsist on.  Many Anguillians were on the verge of dying from starvation.  For this reason, they craved the Governor-in-Chief’s consent to their removing themselves to Crab Island.
Governor Hamilton however refused their pleas.  He was well aware that the wholesale settlement of the small Puerto Rican dependency of Crab Island would start an international incident.  There was no way that he was going to risk being the cause of a war between Spain and Britain without direct and explicit instructions from London.
While he waited for word from London, in October 1716 Governor Hamilton produced a list of the names of the free male inhabitants of Anguilla.[6]  This is the first detailed and accurate census of Anguilla.  In the style of the time, it names the free white men, the numbers of adult white women and white children in their households, the total number of slaves, and the numbers of slaves able to work:
Men’s names
White
Men
White
Women
White
Children
Negroes
Working
Negroes
Capt George Leonard
1
1
5
33
20
Capt Abraham Howell
1
1
2
15
10
Arthur Hodge
1
1
7
13
8
John Rogers
1
1
5
26
16
Dar. Downing, Wid
0
1
7
12
10
Isaac Thibou
1
1
0
4
3
Isaac Aderly
1
1
1
6
4
Charles Kagen [ie, Keagan]
1
1
1
2
2
Peter Rogers
1
1
0
10
4
John Chapman
1
1
1
3
3
Elli. Connor, Widow
0
1
3
3
1
Paul Rowan [ie, Ruan]
1
2
0
13
7
Timothy Connor
1
1
5
0
0
Joshua Newton
1
2
4
9
4
Peter Downing
1
1
1
7
4
Jeremiah Spencer
1
1
1
6
2
Catherine Downing, Widow
0
1
1
14
10
Deborah Gumbs, Widow
1
1
5
27
17
William Chalwill [ie, Chalville]
1
1
5
21
13
John Pain [ie, Payne]
1
1
2
7
5
John Haragin [ie, Harrigan]
1
1
1
6
3
Jeremiah Martin
1
1
5
3
4
George Leonard
1
1
5
5
4
Sarah Leonard, Widow
0
1
3
1
1
Bezaliel Howell
1
1
6
22
10
Thomas Flanders
1
2
0
7
4
Richard Downing
1
1
2
9
5
David Darick [ie, Derrick]
1
1
6
9
4
Charles Kagen [ie, Keagan]
1
1
5
5
4
Cornelius Harragan [ie, Harrigan]
1
1
10
3
3
Briant Makdonaha [ie, MacDonough]
1
1
8
2
2
And. Tellies
1
1
2
0
0
Samuel Floid [ie, Lloyd]
1
1
4
9
4
William Gumbes [ie, Gumbs]
1
1
3
7
7
Edward Leake [ie, Lake]
1
1
6
19
10
Doriy. Py, Widow
0
1
0
3
2
Thomas Loyde [ie, Lloyd]
1
1
5
6
6
John Richards
1
1
6
4
2
Thomas Howell
1
2
7
24
17
Daniel Briant [ie, Bryant]
1
1
4
13
7
John Leake [ie, Lake]
1
1
4
8
5
Abraham Arundell [ie, Arrindell]
1
1
4
4
2
William Roberts
1
1
6
1
1
John Bryant
1
1
3
7
5
Richard Roberts
1
1
5
5
1
Thomas Leake [ie, Lake]
1
1
5
5
5
Rowland Williams
1
1
1
4
2
Ann Williams, Widow
0
1
1
3
2
Micl. Rowan [ie, Ruan]
1
1
1
12
7
Bazaliell Rogers
1
1
1
2
1
Jone Leake [ie, Joan Lake]
0
1
0
4
3
Jane Leake [ie, Lake]
0
1
0
0
0
John Welch
1
0
0
1
1
William Farrington
1
1
8
7
4
Alice Flight, Widow
0
1
1
2
1
Richard Arthur
1
1
6
5
5
Richard Richardson
1
1
2
10
5
Thomas Rumny [ie, Romney]
1
1
2
8
4
William Long
1
1
0
4
1
Darby Carty
1
0
4
3
3
William Howell
1
1
3
11
6
Abednigo Pickren [ie, Pickering]
1
1
3
10
5
Edward Coakley
1
1
0
4
3
John Rumny [ie, Romney]
1
1
4
5
4
John Downing
1
1
0
2
1
Grace Leonard
0
1
2
7
3
John Morgan
1
1
4
4
3
John Powell
1
1
7
3
1
Peter Frare
1
1
2
5
3
Samuel Vincent
1
1
1
4
1
Thomas Hughes
1
1
7
4
4
Robert Lockrum
1
1
5
3
3
Thomas Rumny [ie, Romney]
1
1
7
0
0
Thomas Coakley
1
1
9
22
9
Edward Coakley
1
1
5
12
9
John Thomas
1
1
3
11
6
James Richardson
1
1
2
2
2
Thomas Richardson
1
1
5
7
5
Jacob Howell
1
1
2
17
12
Thomas Hodge
1
1
8
18
12
Christopher Hodge
1
1
6
21
13
Peter Hodge
1
1
2
3
2
Benjamin Rogers
1
1
0
6
4
Henry Hodge
1
0
0
9
7
Susannah Manning
0
1
0
1
1
Oliver Downing
1
1
3
8
6
William Bale [ie, Beal]
1
1
0
1
1
Thomas Rogers
1
1
7
28
16
Bezaleel Rogers
1
1
1
11
8
Jeremiah Richardson
1
1
9
13
11
Nehemiah Richardson
1
1
2
15
9
Edward Welch
1
1
2
6
3
Ann Arrindell
0
1
2
3
1
Mary Watson
0
1
5
0
0
Joan Gladden [ie, Gladding]
0
1
0
1
1
Benjamin Arrindell
1
1
0
5
5
Thomas Hancock
1
1
7
1
1
Samuel Kentish
1
0
0
1
1
John Richardson
1
1
9
32
22
Abraham Wingood
1
1
0
3
2
Henry Leonard
1
1
2
11
7
Totals
89
103
342
820
514
Table 2: Anguilla’s first census.  Governor Hamilton's 1716 List of the Inhabitants of Anguilla: CO.152/11.
We observe that he lists in the first column the names of the white men who are the heads of households.  The second column shows if they are alive and present on the island.  If they have died, or are absent, or the head of the household is a woman, no number appears in this second column.  In the third column appears the number of adult white women in the household.  We are not given their names, nor whether they are a spouse or an adult daughter.  Most probably they are the spouses.  In the remaining columns appear the numbers of white children and the numbers of African slaves, both generally and showing those who are of working age.
Howell’s enthusiasm for the attractions of Crab Island was not confined to his written Account.  He was modest when describing his personal accomplishments.  But, he was ready to lead his desperate people in their search for improved living conditions when their own deputy governor, George Leonard, and the Governor-in-Chief refused them permission to chance their luck on Crab Island.  On the 26 August 1717 with several sloops he moved half the men of Anguilla to Crab Island against the express wishes of the colonial authorities.  These did not wish to antagonize the Danes, who claimed Crab Island.  Nor did they have the stomach to stir up the Spaniards on Puerto Rico, who possessed the means to resist a settlement on the little island to which they also claimed ownership.
In August 1717, deputy governor George Leonard reported the exodus to Governor Hamilton.[7]  Howell went off to Crab Island, he wrote, taking with him some 40 white men and between 20 and 30 black men, and without consulting him (see illus 3).  He wrote:
May it please your Excellency,
In your last to me, your Excellency's desire was that I should use all endeavours to keep the people of this island together until your Excellency had an answer from home, which accordingly I did use all arguments with them that I could produce, and I showed them what a fatherly care your Excellency had taken for them and your Excellency's promise in continuing your care over them until your Excellency had orders to settle them to their content.  But all would not do with sinking men, for having no orders to restrain them, they laid hold of any twig.
What orders Captain Abraham Howell brought from your Excellency I know not, neither was he so civil to inform me.  I sent and signified your Excellency's instructions to me to him, but I don't understand he had any regard for it, but went away to Crab Island and carried away forty odd white men and between twenty and thirty Negroes with him. 
I wish them well, but the success of such rash actions are always to be doubted.
As for Mr Merine of Spanish Town, he proceeded from Dutch extraction and was born at Statia and of a Protestant religion.
So, concluding with humble thankfulness for ye sorrow your Excellency was pleased to express for the death of my son, I beg leave to subscribe myself your Excellency's most humble and obedient servant.
Anguilla.  August the 12th 1717.
(sd) George Leonard
To his Excellency Walter Hamilton Esq, Captain General and Commander in Chief over all his Majesty's Leeward Carribbee Islands in America
As he wrote, he used every argument to keep the people of the island together until the Governor received an answer from London on the question of giving them land in St Kitts.  But, he explained, nothing worked with desperate men.  They held on to the one small chance they saw of survival.  They left for Crab Island in spite of the Governor’s specific instructions to the contrary.  Their attempt to occupy Crab Island was a desperate move, driven by drought and starvation in Anguilla.  As they saw it, their only chance of survival was to take and hold an alternative place of settlement.  He wished them well, but as he wrote prophetically, the success of such a rash action was to be doubted.
For an old sloop captain and cotton farmer, Leonard shows himself in his letter to have a way with words almost to match Abraham Howell.  These were not uneducated men.  Leonard’s letter shows a use of graphic metaphor, couched in the most dignified terms, describing what was a very difficult time.  The events that were about to enfold would tear apart life on the island.  One half of his little settlement was falling away from under his feet.  Family and business relationships on the island were disintegrating due to the impossibly harsh living conditions.
People would die as a result of this desperate adventure.  Yet, there was hardly a bitter word against Howell in his dispatch.  He made no attempt to place any of the blame for the crisis in his little island government on his predecessor.  The two men were not rivals for authority in Anguilla.  When called upon, each tried in his own way to perform his duties to his people as he saw them.
Governor Hamilton explained to the Committee that nothing that he or Leonard said to the poor people of Anguilla was successful in restraining them.[8]  He was apprehensive that the mischief of this unauthorised settlement on Crab would not stop with the Anguillians.  He learned that several of the poor inhabitants of the other islands were talking of also removing themselves and their families to Crab Island.  This he feared would weaken the military strength of the British islands in case war broke out.


3. Leonard’s letter to Governor Hamilton of 12 August 1717: CO.152/12/1. (UK National Archives®)
The populations of Nevis, St Kitts and Montserrat were greatly reduced as a result of the devastations of the French in the just ended war.  Hamilton’s main concern as the head Leeward Island administrator was to keep the four main islands as well settled as possible so that there would be sufficient men to serve in the militia in time of war.  Any leeching away of the populations of Antigua, Montserrat, Nevis or St Kitts to Crab Island would only serve to weaken their defences.
Meanwhile, Abraham Howell’s 1717 action, though he would never know it, caused a minor collateral diplomatic crisis between London and Copenhagen.  Whitehall reacted, even though very sluggishly, to the pressure being brought from Anguilla to permit settlers to go to the other less inhabited Virgins claimed by Denmark.
In August 1717, the Board of Trade asked the Danes for an explanation as to their settlement on the island of St John.[9]  Baron Sohlenthal, the Danish Ambassador, responded in July 1718.  He reminded the Privy Council of the instructions given since September 1672 by the Committee for Foreign Plantations to Governor Stapleton.  They told him then to exercise every mark of friendship towards the Danes in St Thomas and the other Danish Virgin Islands.  Baron Sohlenthal objected to the pretended claim of the Anguillians to Crab Island since that time.  The Danes were, he wrote, the first nation to take possession of those islands, and always successfully opposed the attempts of the British settlers to establish themselves there.  He made a pointed dig at his readers in Whitehall, which could not have failed to influence the eventual attitude of the authorities in London as they dwelt with the Anguillian request to be granted patents to land in the Virgins.  The British, he wrote, previously thought the Virgin Islands not worthwhile settling for a nation which possessed such vast and fertile lands in America.  He suggested that the Danes were satisfied with the crumbs left over for them in the West Indies.  This, he suggested, made even less justifiable the 1717 landing by the Anguillians on Crab.  Therefore, on behalf of his King, he insisted in the strongest possible terms that they should be immediately ordered to leave the island.  This was not the first nor would it be the last time developments in Europe, about which the Anguillians were not aware, would decisively influence their fate.
[Continued in Part 2]


[1]       Thomas Southey, A Chronological History of the West Indies (3 vols, 1827) Vol 2, p.3-4.
[2]       Spanish Town was the original name of Virgin Gorda, being the name of the main settlement on that island, and is still the name of the town on its north-west coast. For consistency, and to avoid confusion, wherever a dispatch refers to Spanish Town, it is rendered as Virgin Gorda in this work.
[3]       Chapter 15: The Settlement of St Croix.
[4]       CO.152/11, No 6: Hamilton to the Committee on 10 April 1716, enclosure 5: Account of the Virgin Islands.
[5]       CO.152/12/1, No 67: Hamilton to the Committee on 6 January 1718, enclosure 5: Humble Address of the People of Anguilla.
[6]       CO.152/11, No 56: Hamilton to the Committee on 3 October 1716, enclosure: List of the Inhabitants of Anguilla.
[7]       CO.152/12/1, No 54: Hamilton to the Committee on 26 August 1716, enclosure: Leonard’s letter of 12 August 1717.
[8]       CO.152/12/1, No 54: Hamilton to the Committee on 26 August 1717.
[9]       CO.152/12/3, No 101: Craggs of 3 July 1718.