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William Fraser (Cromarty)

For family tree see William Fraser on Ancestry (subscription required)

William Fraser of plantation Goldstone Hall, Berbice, was born in Cromarty in 1787 [OPR OPR 061/00 0010 0156] and died in Tain in 1830, leaving £100 to the poor of the town of Cromarty and granting freedom to twenty of his slaves in Berbice. He had returned to the UK in 1823 after twenty years in Guyana, where he had owned, in partnership, five or more plantations.

He had five children with two free coloured women. The mother of Anna Maria (born c1810 in Barbados) was a woman called Mary Stuart (or Stewart). The others were the children of Elizabeth Swain Bannister in Berbice - John (b1810), George (b1815), Elizabeth and Jane. In 1823 he succeeded in obtaining letters of legitimisation from the Secretary of State, in London, so that his four surviving childen, Elizabeth having died, could inherit his property ['The Shadow and the Substance', Rawle Farley, Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 2 (December, 1955), pp. 132-153]. At this point John and George were at school in Paisley (John was among the prize-winners at Paisley Grammar School in 1827 [History of Paisley Grammar School p523]), Jane was at school in Liverpool, and Anna Maria was with her mother in Barbados. In 1826 Elizabeth Bannister's daughter, Jane was at school in Glasgow, maintained there at her mother's expence. Anna Maria died in Inverness in 1892.

In his will William Fraser divided his estate between these children, Elizabeth Munro in Munlochy [Ross-shire] and his sister, Elizabeth Bain in Cromarty. In 1832 a John Fraser of Berbice, residing in Cromarty, was indentured as an apprentice to George Gordon Smith, surgeon in Cromarty. This may be William's son John, whose closest relation in Scotland, after his father's death, was his aunt Elizabeth (Bain) in Cromarty.

Children of William Fraser and Elizabeth Swain Bannister

Before leaving Berbice, William had bought L’Esperance, a sugar plantation in the neighbouring Dutch colony of Surinam, where slavery would not be abolished until 1863. His son George managed this on behalf of William’s executor, John Cameron, from 1838 to 1840, and George then purchased the plantation. It was sold in 1843 to James Tyndall but George was still a slave-owner in Surinam in until at least 1859.

In 1832 a John Fraser ‘of Berbice’ was indentured as an apprentice surgeon to George Gordon Smith in Cromarty, William Fraser’s home town where his sister, Elizabeth Bain, still lived. This may have been William’s son. In 1839 John Fraser was living in Glasgow and must have become incapacitated because his brother-in-law, Giles Fraser, was appointed curator bonis. He died sometime before 1845, when his siblings Jean and George were granted a ‘gift of bastardy’ by the Court of Session, allowing them to inherit from him.

Jane (also known as Jean), married Giles Dixon, an English-born merchant and manufacturer, in the Episcopal Chapel in Glasgow, on 20th June 1838, and in 1841 she was living in Princess Street, Rothesay, with her husband, a one-year-old daughter Maria, and her half-sister Anna Maria. They moved to Weston Cottage, Honiton, Devon, the following year. A son John was born c1850, Jane subsequently died and her husband Giles Dixon emigrated with his children, Maria and John, to Chicago, where he worked as a painter and subsequently a book-keeper.

Anna Maria Fraser - daughter of William Fraser and Mary Stewart

In 1834 Anna Maria Fraser had written from Douglas Row, Inverness, to the colonial secretary in London stating that ‘the only money I possessed I laid out in the purchase of a negro slave’ and seeking advice on claiming compensation following emancipation. She received £35 9s 10d. In 1841 she was with her half-sister, now Mrs Dixon, in Rothesay and moved with the Dixons to Weston Cottage, Honiton, Devon, the following year. Anna Maria had returned to Inverness by 1881, to live in Douglas Row and later Church Street, and died, unmarried, in 1893.

For further details and sources on these children see my forthcoming article 'A Hidden Diaspora' in Northern Scotland, Vol 6 [2015].

William Fraser's treatment of slaves

In 1819 Fraser was fined by the fiscal in Berbice for the excessive punishment of a slave, Tommy, who was accused of stealing sugar from the boiling house on the estate.

Evidence of William Fraser: Do you not know, you are not allowed to go into the boiling-house to take sugar ? you also know, if I found you out at such work, I would punish you; had you come and asked me for sugar, I would have given it to you ; you also know, I never forgive lying or stealing, and therefore I must punish you. The overseer and driver were about the door; I directed the driver to flog him; and tied him to the stakes and flogged him; and in consequence of the fault he had committed, I gave him such a punishment as I, as owner of that slave, considered myself in duty bound to do; always bearing in mind the laws of the colony with respect, and I gave him thirty-nine lashes.

At his death, William Fraser was in financial difficulties and the 'poor of Cromarty' never received his legacy.