Anthony Gambrill | Jamaica in Britain: Legacy of slavery and sugar #7 - Selling slaves to the Spanish
The Molesworth family originated in the mid-England county of Northamptonshire, but after John Molesworth was appointed auditor general by Queen Elizabeth, it moved to Cornwall and acquired a substantial property near Bodmin called Pencarrow. It was his grandson, Hender, who was to settle in Jamaica, eventually becoming governor of the colony.
Born in 1638, Hender Molesworth set himself up as a merchant, although by 1673, he had acquired 3,000 acres in several parishes. In 1680, he held the post of major in the Port Royal regiment, and over time traded with several vessels including a Spanish ship seized as a prize. Earlier, in 1670, he had been sworn in as a member the Assembly, inevitably bringing him into conflict with the planters.
He hosted Sir Thomas Lynch, who arrived in May 1680 to become governor when both his intended Port Royal and Spanish Town residences were in poor condition. It was to be the beginning of a remarkable friendship leading to Lynch recommending to King Charles II that he appoint now Colonel Molesworth lieutenant governor as he was "an intelligent, loyal, virtuous gentleman".
In 1684, Hender Molesworth befriended James Castillo, a Spaniard, who had the contract to purchase slaves in Jamaica destined for the Spanish colonies. By allowing Castillo the choice of the latest slaves to disembark, he earned 10,000 pieces of eight (one of Jamaica's accepted currencies at that time) for his assistance. Naturally, this attracted a barrage of disapproval. Notwithstanding his detractors' protests to the King, Molesworth proceeded to grant English citizenship to the resident Spaniard.
In June 1684, Molesworth sold two of his properties in St Mary to Sir Thomas Lynch, but two months later, Governor Lynch died.
On August 25, 1684, Molesworth was formally sworn in as governor. He was exhorted to continue the policies of Lynch, which he did to the dismay of Henry Morgan's faction by suppressing pirates in the cays off Cuba, castigating the Spanish and severely disrupting the supply of turtles on which Port Royal depended. He also had to deal with slave rebellions, Maroon disturbances, and the problem of how to raise taxes to ensure the island's security.
But his problems spiralled when the Duke of Albemarle was dispatched to take over as governor. Ruling arbitrarily, the Duke sided with the planters on every issue, accused Molesworth of duplicity over Spanish treasure, and drove Castillo out of the island. The Duke died just over a year later at 35, his life of overindulgence peaking in the company of Sir Henry Morgan.
Meanwhile, Hender Molesworth, now 50, had married Sir Thomas Lynch's widow Mary, who was just 22. He was again made governor of Jamaica after Albermarle's death and awarded a baronetcy for his administrative service in 1689 but died in the same year.
Pencarrow remains the Molesworth ancestral home. It is more than likely Hender Molesworth, who passed on a wealthy man, contributed to the elegant residence that it is today full of valuable family artefacts and paintings and open to the general public.
If you ever happen to be visiting the county of Cornwall in England and see 'Jamaica Inn' as a tourist attraction, don't be misled into thinking it's a little like home. Situated on the Bodmin Moor, it came into existence as a rudimentary inn in 1750 and was later extended to be a coaching hostelry for travellers crossing the moors.
The popular English writer Daphne duMaurier and a friend came across it after getting lost in a thick fog while out horseback riding. So intrigued by its reputation as a smugglers' haven she wrote an immensely popular novel Jamaica Inn. However, contrary to many theories, it wasn't called that after smuggled rum - brandy was the prized contraband - but presumably because the inn had originally been owned by the prominent Trelawny family. Trelawny's simple inn today is replete with a museum, gift shop, pub and rooms to rent and has taken on the appearance of a minor theme park, including, of course, a car park crammed with tour buses.
Edward Trelawny was born in 1699 and enjoyed early success in politics, earning valuable civil-service appointments as a result of supporting Sir Robert Walpole's ministry. In 1738, he was appointed governor of Jamaica, serving longer than almost every colonial governor.
He originally undertook an irregular enterprise while in office when he joined the naval and military expedition against the Spanish at Cartagena with his own regiment, which included a body of slaves. Although this venture was initially taken against his own advice, he saw it necessary to play a conciliatory role between an inept General Wentworth and an arrogant Admiral Vernon.
While in Jamaica, Edward Trelawny was known for being tactful but firm in manoeuvring the affairs of the Jamaica Assembly. He was credited with bringing about the peace treaty with Cudjoe's Maroons. By granting land and guaranteeing freedom to the former rebels, Governor Trelawny managed to secure a peace that was acceptable to the planters.
In 1747, he published a controversial pamphlet in which he proposed abolishing slavery, replacing it with villeinage, a system of feudal serfdom that resembled apprenticeship, which was ultimately instituted in 1738. This proposal was rejected.
Shortly before he returned to England in 1752, he married Catherine Penny, the widow of a former Jamaican plantation-owning attorney general who brought with her a fortune worth £30,000-40,000. He died a wealthy man two years later.
A second member of the family, Sir William Trelawny, held the governorship of Jamaica from 1768 until 1772, dying of fever, having, like his cousin, steered a conciliatory course through the Jamaican political scene. He left his name to a parish as his legacy.
- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright and historian. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.