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Anthony Gambrill | The first Campbell in Jamaica (Part 2): John Campbell Black River

Published:Sunday | October 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM

The Jamaican authorities offered no assistance, still following the instructions from King William to deny the Scots any support despite their worsening condition. Jamaican merchants denied them credit. Many seamen and colonists died over the few months, and many sold themselves for food and clothing, entering into contracts as indentured labourers.

It is John Campbell's tombstone in Black River, a few miles from Bluefields Bay, that records his arrival from Darien in 1700. With his experience and skills honed as a military officer, it would not have been difficult to obtain a post as an overseer on a plantation, but, again, as the tombstone reveals, he is shown as having the good fortune to have married Katherine 'Clayborn' in the year of his arrival.

Katherine was the daughter of Leonard Claiborne, a land surveyor, of Virginia. Little is known of Leonard's life in Jamaica, although in the minutes of the Privy Council of Jamaica in 1692 he is referred to as colonel. He died on May 15, 1694, valiantly repulsing the French at Carlisle Bay, Clarendon. Katherine and her sister, Elizabeth, would have benefited from a rich inheritance, including land holdings in Virginia and Jamaica, such as a house in Kingston.

On September 13, 1706, John Campbell began accumulating land in Jamaica when he patented 300 acres in Black River and another 575 acres in St Elizabeth within nine years. In 1703, the parish of Westmoreland was split off from St Elizabeth. In Westmoreland, he acquired New Hope (2,350 acres) and Albany (700 acres). In 1723, the parish of Hanover was partitioned out of western Westmoreland. Here, John Campbell owned land in Orange Bay and Fish River that he willed to his eldest, Colin, who was also later to get £150 a year to manage his Black River estate. Ann was born early in the same year as her parents were married, which suggests that John Campbell and Katherine had met earlier, perhaps when he was in Kingston obtaining supplies for the colony in Panama.

John and Katherine had seven children before she died in 1715: Leonard, Duncan, John, Elizabeth, Colin, Ann, and William, who was apparently mentally incapacitated and saw out his life in the care of Archibald Campbell in Argyllshire.

Enthused by the prospect of farming in tropical Jamaica, John Campbell took little time before persuading his nephews to join him in the island. His brother, Dugald, provided four sons: James of Orange Bay, Peter of Fish River, Colin of New Hope, and John (a ship's captain) of Orange Bay. His sister, Bessie, had two sons destined to emigrate in the island: Dugald of Salt Spring and Peter of New Hope.

So many related Campbells settled in western Jamaica that they were frequently known by the places they came from. John Campbell Black River was how the Darien survivor was commonly called. This was a conventional means of identification in Scotland, where the farm or place name was added to one's own, not as a form of snobbery, but out of practical necessity.

The acquisition of land in Jamaica was a priority for the Campbells, although there were those who planned to return to Scotland and settle finally in their traditional homestead. Yet some mortgaged their Argyllshire properties in order to expand their holdings in Jamaica. Peter of Fish River and Peter and James of Orange Bay, also nephews, mortgaged land in Scotland for that purpose. By 1745, Scots constituted a quarter of the island's landholders. It was said that no fewer than 100 had the name Campbell, claiming alliance with the Argyll family.




As the years went by, John Campbell Black River, as well as amassing substantial land holdings in southwestern Jamaica, earned an enviable reputation for public service. In 1717, he was appointed a member of the Jamaican Assembly and by 1722 was a member of the Privy Council. He held the post of custos of St Elizabeth and colonel in the St Elizabeth Militia. In 1718, three years after his wife, Elizabeth, died, he married Elizabeth Games, with whom he had no more children.

The testament to his life's work is inscribed on his tombstone in Hodge's Pen, near Black River. In part, it states, "Thro' his extreme generosity and assistance, many are now possessed of opulent fortunes. His temperance and great humanity have always been remarkable. He died January 29th, 1740, aged 66 years, universally lamented."

John Campbell Black River wrote his will in August 1739, which gives us some idea not only his worth, but also the relationships that he fostered.

Although he apparently died on his property at Orange Bay in Hanover, his residence was at Hodge's Pen, which he bequeathed to Elizabeth. This bequest included the land, animals, eight horses with "a coach chariot" and chaise, a gold watch, books, furniture and plate as well as £450 annually.

He made provisions for her to keep his coachman and household staff. His will instructed his wife to manumit (set free) one Marina and a mulatto child, a daughter by another woman, Cuffee, before or after Elizabeth's death, with an annual stipend to Marina of £five. It is possible that he had intimate relations with both women. His wife's maid, Mulatto Nelly, was also to be set free after Elizabeth's death "if she behaves well and is faithful to her mistress".

As was the custom at the time, an official inventory had to be made of the deceased's worth. Registered on September 30, 1740, this detailed his possessions - human, livestock and goods - but not his properties. The total came to PS5,771.18, including 66 male slaves at £40 each, 46 women at £38 each, and 24 boys and girls at £10 each. His livestock contributed PS953 to the total and included 16 steers, 34 mules, two horses, a bull, three calves, and three cows.

It is an ironic conclusion to the story of John Campbell Black River that his son, Colin, had no heirs, and his father's estates were the first Campbell holdings to be broken up. In anticipation of avoiding this, Colin had inserted into his will a clause that if his daughters wished to retain their inheritance rights upon marriage, any future husband was required to obtain an act of Parliament to use the Campbell name and no other. In the end, none of his children produced heirs to accomplish this.

- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright and historian. Email feedback to