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Plantation Weilburg

Weilburg was one of the first estates in Demerara in Scottish ownership.

James Douglas (1703-1787), a naval officer - later Admiral - served in the Caribbean in the 1760s and acquired plantation Weilburg in Demerara by 1762, at a time when British colonists were encouraged to settle by governor Storm van’s Gravesande. This is an example of how the Seven Years War (1756-63), which was fought across many continents, created opportunities for trade and colonialisation.

In 1750 James Douglas bought the estate of Bridge End near Kelso in Scotland, and renamed it Springwood Park. In 1753 he married Helen Brisbane (d1766), daughter of Thomas Brisbane of Ayr.  He served as the MP for Orkney and Shetland (1754-61 and 1761-68) and was knighted in 1759 [History of Parliament].

 

Weilburg was managed first by a Thomas Grant, with Lachlan Maclean as attorney. Maclean headed one faction of the deeply divided white community in Demerara and Essequibo.

In 1765 Douglas sent his brother-in-law, William Brisbane of Ayr, to replace Maclean as attorney. Brisbane was married to Elizabeth Young, the daughter of a Jean Gordon, who died, a widow, in 'Demerary Dutch Settlement' in, or soon after, 1766 [Will of Jean Gordon PROB 11/941, daughter of Sir Thomas Gordon]. In August 1766 James Douglas wrote to Brisbane saying 'for God's sake Willy don't run me into any more expenses than are absolutely necessary'. Brisbane's failure to do so was blamed, by his successor Robert Milne, on his illness and the fact that 'everything is done under the instruction of his wife [Elizabeth Young] . . . who carried herself so haughty to every person that presumed to advise her husband'.

Robert Milne travelled out, by Barbados, to replace Brisbane in 1767. While on route he heard rumours that Brisbane had held a 'celebration of the Pretender's birthday', that is, that he was a Jacobite. These turned out to be false but they were further evidence of the factions among the colonists.

Weilburg was supplied with slaves and provisions by Gedney Clarke jnr, the gross value being £5588 during an eighteen-month period in 1767-68, when Milne was attorney [S.D. Smith, 'Gedney Clarke of Salem and Barbados: Transatlantic Super-Merchant' in The New England Quarterly, Vol. 76, No. 4 (Dec., 2003)].

[For other sources see Douglas Hamilton, Scotland, the Caribbean and the Atlantic World, 1750 -1820 p50 and Simon David Smith, Slavery, family, and gentry capitalism in the British Atlantic, p117.]

At the same time James Douglas's brother, Lt Col Robert Douglas, a Scots soldier serving in the Dutch army, was second-in-command in the expedition which suppressed the Berbice slave rising of 1763. According to Netscher’s History of the Dutch in Guyana, he had married into a prominent Dutch family, de Brauw. Simon David Smith refers to promotions and honours he later received in both Holland and Britain - and to his involvement in slave trading.