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Spencer Mackay [28 Dec 1764 – Feb 1846] was a London-born plantation owner who was active in Demerara by 1794 and was part of the same network as James Baillie, George Inglis, Fraser of Belladrum and Lachlan Cuming. By 1799 he owned plantation Friends on the east side of the Berbice river and Voorburg, a 250-acre coffee plantation on the west side of the Demerara. The previous year he had described how droughts in Demerara had ruined the coffee blossom and wrecked the plantain harvest, obliging him to spend £2500 on provisions for his two plantations. The same drought had reduced the sugar crop on Hermitage, near Voorburg, to just 40 casks, from its normal 80 to 100 casks, and he predicted that it would reduce the coffee crop in Demerara to a quarter of its ordinary level. [Simon Smith ‘Coffee planting in the British West Indies’ in The slavery reader, by Gad J. Heuman, James Walvin (London, 2003)]
Nevertheless, Mackay went on to make his fortune in Guyana. In 1812 he married Bell Ryan, in Liverpool – in 1807 he had donated £5 to the Liverpool School for the Blind, suggesting an earlier connection with the city. The couple had five children – Spencer, Thomas, Alexander, Bell and Rosanna. In 1803 he bought Holly Grove House, near Windsor, but sold this in 1807 and is later referred to as ‘Spencer Mackay Esq. of London’, owning property in Harley Street. In 1844 it was reported that:
Mrs Spencer Mackay’s ball, in Harley-street, on Tuesday, was attended by upwards of 200 fashionables; it was a delightful party. The Era (London), Sunday, May 12, 1844.
He continued to own plantations in Demerara until his death .
Bell Ryan, wife of Spencer Mackay
It seems that he managed his estates in Guyana through an agent. In 1818 he received a letter from the colony describing an uprising among slaves which resulted in the killing of two white overseers [The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 Oct 1818].
From fifty to one hundred negroes have absented themselves for some time to the back lands, near Mahaica, but particularly from the estates of Beehive and Greenfield, alleging for cause, that the manager had exacted too much labour. The Greenfield negroes having returned, on condition that the manager should be discharged, and other negro-drivers appointed, and which was complied with, the remaining negroes were occupied during the nights in conveying into the woods plantains and a good many cattle.
Young Van Brucle, and another young man on the estate, had repeatedly attempted to bring home the runaway negroes, and partly succeeded; but, finally, these young men were decoyed by a party of the estates' negroes (who had not absented themselves) to make a last attempt, and in this affair they were murdered in the most savage manner, their bodies being mutilated and their heads and limbs carried in triumph round the camp. This affair took place four days ago (the 16th of March). Every exertion is now making to send a formidable party of whites and Indians to endeavour to destroy them.
At emancipation Mackay received £10,696 7s 8d for his half share of the 408 slaves on plantation Lusignan and £12,772 18s 1d for the 240 slaves on plantation Cane Grove.
Although he was London-born, Spencer Mackay's tombstone has the symbol of Clan Mackay carved on it - a hand holding a dagger. His sister, Sarah, was married to James Gordon, from Strathnaver, who owned plantations in Tobago.
Thanks to Eric Øgaard for images on this page.