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English planters & merchants: Henry Smithson

By 1799 Henry Smithson owned eight plantations in Berbice, six on the east sea coast and two on Canje Creek. In 1807 he sold one of the Canje Creek lots to Peter Fairbairn, Lord Seaforth’s manager. Fairbairn wrote that Smithson had ‘plantain and coffee lands’, which were likely to cost 25000 guiders (£2083) [NAS GD46/17/24 p327]. It is not clear what Smithson’s source of capital was, nor from where he came.

Smithson has three ‘reputed’ (i.e. illegitimate) daughters, Catherine (born 1st March 1800 in Berbice),  Elizabeth (born before 1806 in Berbice) and Harriet (born between 1810 and 1815, place unknown).

By 1817 Smithson owned two plantation, Smithson’s Place (with 137 slaves) and New Forest (with 97 slaves), but was no longer resident in the colony, the estates being managed by his attorney, John Cameron. Many were branded with the letters ‘HS’ on their shoulder.

His daughters Catherine and Elizabeth both owned slaves in Berbice in their own right, two and six respectively in 1818, but only Elizabeth was in the colony.

Smithson had returned to England, presumably with Catherine (who died there in 1825), and with a Berbice-born slave named Ned. He married an Ann Tate in England in 1821, adopted his third daughter, who took the name Harriet Tate Smithson and, at some point, bought Moreton Lodge, in Maid’s Moreton (Buckingham-shire).

In 1826 he manumitted (freed) two of his slaves in Berbice, Mary Burrows and Maria Parker.

In 1828 he returned to Berbice, accompanied by his recently hired footman, Thomas Burnell, who was to become an overseer and clerk there. Smithson took the precaution of making a will before he left. He returned in May 1829, bringing Burnell, who had been reluctant to stay in the colony, with him.

Smithson died at Moreton Lodge in 1833 and the trustees of his estate pursued a claim for compensation after the emancipation of slaves in 1834.

[Thanks to Jane Wood, Lyn Robinson and Fran Gibbs for information on Smithson.]


December 1827: Complaint of the slaves Bella, Emma, Accouba and Sybella

These four slaves on Smithson's Place complained of being forced to work at sugar boiling through the night and then on through the net day in the field, having only three hours rest in thirty-six hours work. After they complained to the manager they were confined in the stocks in the 'darkouse' for three days, in solitary confinement, over the Christmas holiday.

The manager who imposed the punishment was Alexander Macdonald and the overseer H M Nicholson.

[Protector of Slaves Reports (1829) and The Slavery of the West Indies Delineated]


For goods shipped from London by John Marsh for Henry Smithson in 1807 see this link


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