Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Chapter 14. The Third and Fourth Generations (Part 2)

As we pick through the surviving documents in chronological order, we find evidence of the progress of the cotton industry.  In 1712, the Surveyor General of Barbados and the Leeward Islands reported to the Council that Anguilla and Virgin Gorda made between 50,000 and 60,000 lbs of ginned cotton-wool per year.[1]  He complained that the majority of this was traded for household essentials either in the Danish island of St Thomas or in the Dutch islands of Statia and Saba.  These islands remained important depots for inter-island trade for centuries.  Statia was only closed down as an international free port, with which the British West Indians illegally traded in breach of the Navigation Acts, by Admiral Rodney in 1781.  St Thomas remained open to the Anguillians until recently.
The Surveyor General proposed that a customs officer be placed on each of these islands to ensure that this illegal trade was stopped.  No customs officer was, however, appointed in Anguilla for another sixty years.  The deputy governor was expected to perform this function as part of his duties.  We saw that deputy governor Arthur Hodge collected the powder money from incoming vessels, and never accounted to anyone for it, occasioning a suit against his estate in later years.  Deputy governor Benjamin Gumbs describes himself in the occasional document as the customs collector for Anguilla.[2]
Some light is shed on the system of government in the short period when Anguilla was informally grouped with the Virgin Islands by the Colonial Office.  In early 1716, the Committee for Trade and Foreign Plantations requested that Governor Hamilton send them an account of the state and nature of the Virgin Islands.  He was also to give his opinion on how far each of the islands might be made useful to the United Kingdom.  He was to give the fullest details on what type of trade was carried on between the British islands and the island of St Thomas.  He was also to explain how the deputy governors of Anguilla and Virgin Gorda were appointed, whether they received any salary, how many people were under them, and what controls existed over them.
Governor Hamilton replied to this enquiry on 3 October.[3]  From his response it is clear that government in Anguilla at that time was rudimentary.  The deputy governor, he wrote, functioned alone without the assistance of any Council.  He was never appointed by Royal Warrant, as was normal in the other islands.  He was instead informally appointed by the Governor-in-Chief.  The Governor chose one of the best persons available in the community.  He sent the deputy governor his instructions from time to time.  It was, he explained, sometimes difficult to select someone who was tolerably suitable from amongst them to put in authority.  There was only a handful of persons available to choose from.  He submitted in support of this statement a copy of the 1717 census of Anguilla.  The list showed Anguilla's population in 1717 to be a total of 1,354 persons.  He commented that at that time Anguilla was the heaviest populated of the Virgin Islands.  Indeed, he wrote, there were more people on it than all the rest of the Virgin Islands put together.
The chief produce of the island, he wrote, was the raising of small stock and a small quantity of cotton.  It is clear from his remarks that sugar was not yet produced in Anguilla.  With this dispatch, the Governor enclosed the 1716 list of the inhabitants of Anguilla that we have previously examined.[4]  The population at that time consisted of 89 white men, 103 white women, 342 white children, and 820 black slaves, of whom 414 were described as ‘working negroes’.  This is a more detailed and exact figure than the earlier one given by acting Governor Johnson in 1705, when he complained of having suffered a violent and malignant fever as a result of his visit to Anguilla.[5]  He reported that in Anguilla there were only 100 men suitable for the local militia in case of war.
It is noticeable that, as we saw in Chapter 10, after Abraham Howell led some 40 white men and 60 slaves from Anguilla to Crab Island in 1717, the former island showed no drop in the adult white population from the figures given for 1716.  The numbers found in Anguilla in 1717 were 97 white men, 154 white women, 234 white children and 824 black slaves, or a total population of 1,309.  Despite the exodus, the population increased from 1,309 to 1,354.  Only the children show a reduction in number.[6]  This is not unusual, as a high rate of infant mortality was a common feature of life in the Leeward Islands at that time.  It would appear, from the above, that persons continued to come to settle in Anguilla at a time when conditions were so difficult.
Two years later, the evidence is that the population has again increased, in spite of the long drought and the limited supply of agricultural land.  In 1719, Governor Hamilton wrote to the Council estimating that there was a maximum of 1,000 people including 100 men suitable for the militia on the island.[7]  From what he knew of them he had a high opinion of their abilities.  He described them as very industrious and careful.  He lamented that they might be of excellent use to his government of the Leeward Islands if only they were resettled on St Kitts, Antigua or Nevis.  He despaired of being able to keep them together much longer on Anguilla.  Some of them, including deputy governor George Leonard, were already removed to Antigua.  It was more than probable, he wrote, that others would follow.  For all that, the population continued to grow.  One concludes that there was some other attraction in Anguilla besides scratching for provisions in the inhospitable soil.
The main pursuit of the small planters on the island, in this early part of the eighteenth century, was the growing of food crops for subsistence, and of cotton for export.  The principal food crops were pigeon peas, corn, and sweet potatoes.  Fishing was, as always, a sure source of relish.  Goats and sheep were the main small stock kept, as there was seldom enough rain for cows.  But, the more enterprising of the Anguillians found other outlets for their entrepreneurial energies.  We will recall Governor Codrington's description in 1701 of Anguilla being then a hotbed of smuggling.  The sloops and schooners of Anguilla, then as later, provided her people with a lucrative alternative to agriculture:  smuggling.
Anguillian seamen did not confine the trade of their sloops to nearby islands.  Even the Atlantic posed no barrier to their enterprise.  There was a well-recognized route, via Bermuda, across the Atlantic for the sloops of the Leewards.  Bermuda did a good business in providing fresh meat and provisions for boats setting off eastwards across the Atlantic.  In November 1706, the Governor of Bermuda wrote to the Committee for Trade and Foreign Plantations that he was taking the opportunity offered by a sloop that touched there to take on water on her way from Anguilla to England to send his latest dispatch to the Committee.[8]  In the Colonial Office records there is at least one later instance, in 1711, when the same deputy governor of Bermuda is mentioned as having issued a clearance for a sloop, bound this time in the other direction, from London to Anguilla.[9]  Impressively, Anguillian sloop captains were at this time regularly embarking on their vessels across the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of trade.
Trade with neighbouring islands was much more common than was trade directly with Britain.  It required an exceptionally brave captain and crew to sail a small inter-island schooner across the Atlantic to a port in Britain.  In May 1726, Governor Hart wrote from St Kitts to the Committee about an amending Act passed by the St Kitts Assembly.[10]  This episode tells us something of the Anguillian trade with St Kitts.  It appears that the original Act, passed four years earlier, imposed a 'powder money' tax on the arrival in Basseterre of ships intending to trade.  The tax was known as ‘powder money’ because it was intended to purchase guns and gunpowder for the defence of the island in time of war.  The 1726 amending Act provided that the tax no longer applied to vessels belonging to Anguilla and the other Virgin Islands.  Anguillian vessels were now free to enter port in St Kitts to sell their cargo of corn, peas, sweet potatoes, and goats.  We may be sure that the St Kitts Assembly was not passing the amending Act as a favour to the Anguillians.  It was solely for their own relief and benefit.  It is likely that the tax resulted in the reduction or even cessation of trade from these islands.  In the sugar islands such as St Kitts, all cultivable land was under sugarcane production.  All food for both slave and planter was imported.  The livestock and provisions that the Anguillians and Virgin Islanders previously brought to St Kitts to sell were sorely missed by the planters of St Kitts for them to repeal this tax on Anguillian trading sloops.
The powder money was not collected in Basseterre alone.  It was supposed to be collected in Anguilla as well.  We saw earlier that deputy governor Arthur Hodge of Anguilla collected the powder money in Anguilla.[11]  He applied it to recoup his expenses in going to England with the Anguilla petition for the retention of the St Martin lands.  By what authority the tax was collected in Anguilla is uncertain as taxes can only be imposed by a legislature.  In the absence of an Assembly to pass laws for Anguilla, there would be no taxing statute empowering Hodge to impose the tax.  The tax was an unauthorised or illegal imposition in the case of Anguilla.  It was really no more than a voluntary payment, extracted by the deputy governor acting as chief customs officer.  He collected it by the force of his own will and personality.  It helped that the tax was being collected in all the other islands.  Few captains of visiting ships would challenge its legality.  In Anguilla, the tax was treated as one of the perks of the office of the deputy governor.
We know very little about the size or cargo of the Anguillian schooners and sloops of the period.  One source of information is the series of customs returns from the various islands.  A few of them are preserved in the Colonial Office records in London.  They recorded the names and certain particulars, such as the size, crew, cargo, and destination of all the ships leaving port.  When a ship arrived, the return indicated which port it came from.  It showed the goods declared on the ship’s manifest.  It is possible to pick through the Antiguan returns and list each vessel entering Antigua from Anguilla, or departing Antigua for Anguilla.[12]  No one seems to have made a similar return for an Anguillian port until much later in the century.  There is none from Anguilla included in the shipping returns of our period.  The names of the Anguillian sloops and their captains listed on the Antigua returns were:[13]
1706 - Merit                             Charles Keagan, master;
1707 - Elizabeth and Mary      Paul Ruan, master;
1708 - Content                        Richard Richardson, master;
1712 - Sea Flower                  John and William Downing, masters;
1714 - Susanna and Mary       William Downing, master;
1715 - Elizabeth and Sarah    John Downing, master;
1715 - Mary                             Thomas Hodge, master.
These Anguillian sloops are noticeably smaller than the sloops of other islands trading with Anguilla.  The biggest was 10 tons.  The Sea Flower was only 2 tons.  Their cargos are particularly revealing.  Their freight was cotton, yams, hammocks, livestock, a little tobacco, and turtle.  The hammocks were not only for the navy, they were for domestic use as well.  Proper beds would not become common in the islands for many more years.  These were all the goods that were recorded as exported from Anguilla to Antigua between the years 1704 and 1715.
If there were substantial profits to be made in trade, whether lawful or unlawful, between the islands, the Anguillian sloops also put up with hazards that were at least equal to the profit.  In one report in 1735, we learn something of what it was like to be an Anguillian ship’s captain at that time.[14]  Captain Adams testifies that he was bringing his sloop laden with timber from St Croix to Anguilla.[15]  At about midnight on 27 February, he came upon a pirate ship.  Heavily laden, he was unable to escape from the pirate who hoisted out its ship's canoe with thirty men on board, twenty five of them armed with muskets, and five Indians with their bows and arrows.  The pirate captain forced Adams to pilot him into Lime Trees Harbour on St Croix.  There, he took another sloop captained by another Anguillian, one McDonnogh.[16]  There is no record of what happened to either of Adams' or McDonnogh’s sloops.
We also saw earlier the unnamed Anguillian sloop "bound for Rocas turtling" captured by a Spanish sloop.[17]  The catching of turtles and the extracting and preserving of their meat was a useful sideline for Anguillian sloop owners.  Turtles were a staple meat of the planters in the West Indies in the eighteenth century.  Live turtles were also essential for the long sea voyages back to Europe.  They were kept on deck to be butchered and eaten as needed.  The preserved meat was sold for export to Europe and America.  When properly prepared, it was esteemed by the planters of the islands further south.  The turtle capital of the West Indies was the Cayman Islands.  There, towards the end of the seventeenth century, one hundred and eighty sloops supplied the turtle market at Port Royal in Jamaica.  The salted turtle of the Leeward Islands was always considered an inferior product, so crudely prepared that it was often found mixed with sand.  Those butchers of the Cayman Islands who salted the meat commercially took more care than the fishermen of the Leeward Islands who prepared the meat on the beach and in the open air.
An early West Indian remedy for kidney stones was the pisle of a green turtle.[18]  Richard Ligon described how the planters in Barbados viewed this delicacy.[19]  He called it the best ‘fish’ that the sea produced.  The fishermen caught them by turning them on their backs in great numbers with staves.  He was sure that there was no creature on earth or in the sea that was more delicate in taste or more nourishing than the turtle.  He rhapsodised over the island cure for kidney stones.  The penis of a green turtle was dried and pounded in a mortar to powder.  He took as much of this powder as fit on a shilling.  In a short time it cured him of his kidney stone.  He described in detail how the medicine worked.  After fourteen days of being unable to pass water, he tried the island cure.  Within ten hours, he wrote, the remedy broke up and brought away all the stones and gravel that stopped his passage.  His water, he wrote, came as freely from him as ever, and carried before it such quantities of broken stones and gravel as he never before saw in his life.  The treatment was probably less hazardous to health than the infusion of goose dung prescribed by other doctors at the time.
Anguilla offered few other avenues for profit even to the most enterprising of her settlers.  There was trading with the buccaneers, and with the French, Dutch and Danes.  Such trade was contrary to law and could result in hanging.  We have mentioned dye-wood lumbering, salt reaping, the turtle trade, and the cultivation first of tobacco and later of cotton.  There was some minor Indian trade and Spanish slave traffic.  Profits were never as significant in these activities as in the two new occupations of the Anguillians as the century progressed: sugar manufacturing, and privateering.  This last activity flourished during the Rebellion in the Northern Colonies, as the British at the time styled the event later known as the American Revolution, and in the wars that followed.  Sugar enjoyed a very short life in Anguilla.  It flourished in the period 1740-1776, when the increased rainfall encouraged some Anguillians to risk everything on become West Indian sugar planters.  The American Revolution, and Admiral Rodney’s blockade of maritime trade, as well as the resumption of drought in the 1780s, brought the Anguillian sugar planters to breaking point, and the sugar estates all failed.
Richardson's 1738 will tells us something about the currency in use at the time.  Of the many bequests of money to his children and grand-children, not one is expressed to be either in ‘pounds sterling’ or in ‘local currency’.  The gifts of money are all expressed in ‘pistoles’.
At this time, the supply of British coins was very limited throughout the West Indies.  The copper coins of Britain were huge and cumbersome until they were replaced by the smaller bronze coinage of 1860.[20]  In any event, it was only in 1838 that large numbers of copper coins were minted for use in the West Indies: the one and a half pence,[21] the two pence, and the three pence coins.  Silver and gold coins from the six pence up were smaller, but hoarded by those that were lucky enough to acquire any, and not widely in circulation.
The principal coins current in the Leeward Islands in the eighteenth century were the Portuguese gold johannes and half-johannes, Spanish gold doubloons, French pistoles, and Spanish silver dollars.  The half-johannes was valued in England at thirty six shillings, and in the West Indies at fifty five shillings.  The doubloon was worth five pounds five shillings.  The dollar was worth six shillings and eight pence.  One hundred pounds sterling was equivalent later in the century to one hundred and forty pounds local currency.
As one of the most common circulating coins used in the first half of the eighteenth century, the pistole is frequently mentioned in the deeds.  It is difficult to express eighteenth century values as twenty-first century equivalents.  A pistole probably amounted to around the purchase price of a cow, perhaps as much as between US$500.00-$1,000.00 today.  It was thus a not inconsiderable sum.  It is worth noting that the pistole was described as ‘current cash of this island’ in John Richardson’s 1741 deed.  The expression means that it was accepted as legal tender by the Anguilla Council in disputes.
With French St Martin lying just ten miles off the coast of Anguilla, and with the family and business connections and interests that tied the planters of St Martin to those of Anguilla, when they were not invading each other, one imagines that pistoles were relatively easy to come by.
There is a series of court judgments in the Anguilla Archives which illustrate the shortage of coin in circulation on the island.  Due to a lack of coin, the local cotton planters of the eighteenth century paid their debts by barter in cotton.  This was the normal and recognised way to pay one’s debts.  From time to time, some merchant would refuse to accept barter and would demand cash.  The case would go to court.  The Council consisted principally of cotton and sugar planters.  They would give the expected judgment.  So, in one case in 1752, two newly established merchants, Nicholas Dunbavin and George Dunbavin, sued Mary Arrindell for thirty seven pounds, fifteen shillings, five and a quarter pence.  The Dunbavins would become important players in Anguilla later in the century, but they were as yet unaccustomed to local ways.  The court record reads:
Anguilla                                ]
May the 5th 1752                ]               At a meeting of His Majesty's Council, being present
The Honourable Benjamin Gumbs, Esq
John Hughes                     ]
Benjamin Roberts            ]
Joseph Burnett              ]               Esqs, and Members of the Council
Thomas Gumbs                ]
Edward Payne                   ]
Nicholas and George Dunbavin
versus
Mary Arrindell
Action for £37 15s 5¼d
Judgment with costs of suit that Mary Arrindell be obliged to pay cash or merchantable cotton wool at cash price for the contents of the bond, and that Nicholas Dunbavin shall be obliged to take cotton at the price that cotton pays debts in this island.
Signed by command
Edward Payne
Table 1: Nicholas and George Dunbavin v Mary Arrindell. (Anguilla Archives)
The meaning of the court order was that the court found that she did owe the amount.  She was given a choice of paying it in either cash or in cotton wool of a reasonable quality.  The court found that the plaintiff was not permitted to demand cash.  He was obliged to accept cotton wool at the established price if it was offered.  Cotton wool was legal tender in the island’s cash-strapped economy.  The court ordered payment in the very form the Dunbavins rejected, and that caused them to bring the suit.  In their mind and in the eyes of observers, they lost their suit.  The island Council reaffirmed the local way of doing business, tender by barter.  In the absence of coin and bank notes, tender by barter was the only realistic way to pay for goods and services.
A later case in the same year illustrates the danger of a merchant rejecting payment tendered in the form of barter.  Another stranger, George Warden, sued John Welch for thirty eight pounds, six shillings and seven pence.  The court record reads:
Anguilla
June the 6th 1752
At a Meeting of His Majesty's Council, being present
The Honourable Benjamin Gumbs, Esq
John Hughes                       ]
Benjamin Roberts              ]               Esqs, and Members of Council
Joseph Burnett                    ]
Thomas Gumbs                 ]
George Warden on behalf of James Brown
versus
John Welch
Action for £38 6s 7d
It is the opinion of the majority of the Council that George Warden shall be obliged to receive cotton from Mr John Welch at 22d per lb as it was the currency when tendered, and that George Warden be obliged to pay costs of suit, and, furthermore, we do certify it was given by the majority of the dealers in that product.
Table 2: George Warden v John Welch. (Anguilla Archives)
The meaning of the order is that the plaintiff was obliged to accept cotton tendered by an Anguillian planter at the rate of twenty two pence per pound.  This was the price accepted by the majority of dealers in cotton at the time the payment was tendered.  George Warden was ordered to pay the costs of the law suit, as he wrongfully refused to accept the cotton wool when it was offered to him.
David Derrick’s 1752 deed sheds light on the fluctuating value of land in Anguilla at this time.  He purchased Richard Richardson Jr’s Little Dix Plantation for the sum of two hundred pounds ‘current money’.  Little Dix was a substantial estate at this time.  A mere three years later, the Derrick sold the plantation for the lesser sum of one hundred and fifty pounds ‘current money’ to Isaac Arrindell.  There is no explanation for the 25% fall in its value in such a short period of time.  The 1750’s was the dawn of Anguilla’s short-lived sugar plantation period.  We can only assume that then as now Little Dix Plantation was not suitable for growing sugar cane, and was only suitable for raising small stock and growing the usual subsistence crops of maize, peas and sweet potato.
And so from the documents in the archives we get glimpses of living conditions in Anguilla during our period.  The overwhelming impression is that the Anguillians endured lives of relentless hardship.  The will to survive and prosper against all odds that characterizes the Anguillian of today was forged at this time.  The willingness to travel far and work in oppressive conditions began then.  Anguillians have never until recently enjoyed, if not an easy life, then at least the opportunity by hard work to save money.


[1]       Calendars of State Papers, citation misplaced.
[2]       See Chapter 18: Sugar Arrives.
[3]       CO.152/11, No 56: Hamilton to the Committee on 3 October 1716.
[4]       Chapter 10: Crab Island Revisited.
[5]       CO.152/6, No 39: Johnson to the Committee on 3 November 1705.
[6]       Chapter 10 ibidem.
[7]       CO.152/12.4, No 155: Hamilton to the Committee on 20 July 1719 with answers to their queries.
[8]       CO.37/7: Governor of Bermuda to the Committee on 8 November 1706.
[9]       CO.37/9: Governor of Bermuda to the Committee.
[10]     CO.152/15: Hart to the Committee on 17 May 1726.
[11]     Chapter 12: The French Wars.
[12]     Chapter 7: Anguilla and the Government of the Leeward Islands.
[13]     These vessels are deemed to be Anguillian if their captain carries an Anguillian name.  There are no vessels in the returns of our period that are declared to be registered in Anguilla.  They are all registered in Antigua, Bermuda, St Kitts or Nevis.  In the absence of a proper system of government, Anguilla was not entitled to maintain a Registry of Shipping.
[14]     Calendars of State Papers, citation misplaced.
[15]     The first of that name we meet on Anguilla.
[16]     Perhaps our George MacDonnah?  See Chapter 4: The First Generation.
[17]     Chapter 12: The French Wars.
[18]     According to the Oxford English Dictionary this word was originally of 16th century Flemish/Dutch origin and referred to the penis of an animal.  It is now mainly retained in ‘bull pizzle’, a flogging instrument until recently favoured in the West Indies by wife-beaters.  Students are required to answer the question, is this a case of us losing our culture?
[19]     Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1657).
[20]     The new bronze coinage continued out of habit to be called ‘coppers’ until pounds, shillings and pence were abolished in 1971, and replaced by decimal currency.
[21]     Also called a ‘three half-pence’.