Dr William Munro [1751/2-1832]
In May 1793 Dr William Munro, described as the former partner of Dr Colin Chisholm, was intending to sail from Grenada to Demerara, but was prevented by the presence of fever on the ship. By 1798 he owned Plantation Foulis, a 500-acre cotton plantation on the east sea coast of Demerara, named after a Munro estate in Ross-shire [Scotland]. His daughter Elizabeth, known as Eliza, was born in Berbice c1799.
In 1801 he joined with Lord Seaforth, Fraser of Belladrum, Fraser of Reelig, Anthony Somersall and Archibald Alves in buying several lots of land from the Dutch Society of Berbice. During the negotiations Munro and Alves travelled to Holland to complete the purchase. Munro’s allocation from this purchase became plantations Foulis and Novar. [Seaforth papers] It is probably this William Munro who, in November 1801, visited the manse at Kiltearn along with the Demerara planter Labalmondiere [NLS Ms 19331 f65 Anne Robertson, Kiltearn, to her daughter Christian (Mrs Watson), Crantit, Orkney, 23 Nov 1801].
In 1803, Fraser of Reelig’s son, Edward, arrived in Berbice and began to train as an overseer at Novar, from where he wrote a number of letters to his mother.
- 13th Nov 1803: I shall be very sorry to be treated better by Dr Munro than any other overseer as I should not wish to be under any obligation to him.
- 21st Nov 1803: Tomorrow will go down to Dr Munro’s to begin by new way of living.
- Christmas 1803: To return home little better than I came out would be for me more dreadful than never to return. Christmas Day – every person to watch very closely for fear of disturbance among the negroes.
- 15th Jan 1804: Melancholy – interrupted last night to see a 4-day old negro child with lockjaw – died in a few hours beside the mother whose situation you may conceive. Melancholy all the evening for which I was laughed at by Mr Arthur.
By 1816 a William Munro owned Plantation Novar in Demerara. In 1816 he raised a mortgage on Novar : By the Honble. Wm. Munro, a First Mortgage on Plantation Novar, situated on the East Sea Coast of the River Demerary, with all the buildings, cultivation, and a number of One Hundred and Sixty Negroes - in favour of Messrs. Thomas Daniel and Sons, of Bristol. [Royal Gazette]
In 1817 it was announced that ‘Wm. Munro will transport one hundred negroes from plantation Novar, in Abary, to the colony of Berbice, (names to be seen at this office,) being part of the gang on the said estate, in 14 days from Jan. 1.’
By 1823 Foulis had become a sugar plantation and complaints had been made to the Fiscal about Dr Munro: The Negroes of Plantation Foulis complain of Dr. Munro, their owner, that they are made to work in the boiling house from eleven or twelve o'clock at night, till eight or nine the next evening;. They complain also of want of food. The fiscal proceeded to the estate, where he says he ascertained that the complaints were in a large measure groundless, but that some irregularities were chargeable on the overseers, who were admonished, and threatened with dismissal if they were not more attentive in future. [Fiscal’s Reports]
At about the same time J.C. Cheveleyley referred in his diary to 'Dr Munro, an old Scotch physician and planter on the Berbice side' [Journal, Vol 2 p164 c.1824].
'W Munro Esq of Berbice' died of cholera in London in 1832 [Gentleman's Magazine]. In his will [Prob11/1803] he refers to his daughter Elizabeth (or Eliza, born 1799 in Berbice), the wife of Thomas Ansell. They had been married, with William present, on 26 September 1821 in London. He also left a legacy to Mary Munro, his niece Jessy Smith, and his grand-niece Helen Ross. Jessy had travelled south with him from Kiltearn in October 1800, after he had been on a visit to the area [NLS MS 19331 f57 Anne Robertson, Kiltearn, to her daughter Christian (Mrs Watson), Crantit, Orkney, 24 Oct 1800].
In July 1830, R F Munro Esq, son of Donald Munro of Alness, died at Plantation Foulis 'after a very short illness' [Scotsman, 30 Oct 1830]. Ronald F Munro, born in July 1801 [OPR 057/00 0010 0043], was the son of Donald Munro and Johanna Christie at Novar, Ross-shire.
A letter from Plantation Foulis
In 1830 a French-speaking relative of Dr Munro, Pierre Munro, wrote to his mother in Montreal describing live on the plantation Foulis:
(Addressed to Mrs M J(osephet) Ser(indac) Munro at Montreal, opposite the College Tower, Canada)
Berbice, Foulis Plantation, Sunday December 12 1830
My dear Mother,
Don’t be surprised if you have not heard from me for so long . . . there was no boat sailing to Quebec . . . I enjoy perfect health . . . doing to the best of my knowledge the tasks that were assigned to me . . . but now I am disgusted with doing this job when I think about it. I think about the noble profession (he had studied medicine) to which I had devoted myself and cannot resolve to leave it – exchanging the certain for the uncertain.
We are living here like hermits, being so few Whites in the place. You will probably not believe that I have not seen the face of a white lady for three months. At daybreak every morning, when the conch shell is blown and the morning star is fading, each of goes to his section of the plantation to supervise the work of the slaves. We have to walk about two miles. About 10 o’clock we come in for breakfast and go back to work until noon or 2 o’clock to rest for a few hours. We go back to work again and return after sunset . . .
Every second Sunday, it is my turn to serve the 367 slaves. We give each of them a bunch of plantains, which are used in this country instead of bread . . . and a pound and a quarter of dried cod, which is their ration for a week. At Christmas we give them a set of clothes. They have two days holiday then, when they dance the “Congo” and are treated with beef and pork. . . . we make 500 hundred barrels of sugar a year and 600 puncheons of rum.
The slaves here are divided into four divisions. The fist comprises men who are almost always digging trenches 12 feet wide, so that the punts (flat bottomed boats) towed by oxen can bring the sugar cane to the mill which is steam powered. The second division consists of young slaves who cultivate and weed round the canes. The fourth consists of less strong people who do similar work. The third is made up of strong women who cut the cane. The third and fourth groups are my responsibility, but each time Mr Ross (presumably the other field overseer – note the Ross-shire name) goes to Washington . . . I am responsible for all four groups. In the evening . . . we go to the manager’s house to receive orders for the next day, after which one of us goes to the stables to allocate the grass cut every day by the women slaves for the horses . . .
The slaves have only Sunday to work for themselves. They rear poultry which they always bring to the fields with them in specially made baskets . . . and which they sell for a couple of dollars during the year. This is enough for them to buy a white dress in which to dance during the two days at Christmas. They also have a piece of land on which the sow seeds. If they commit some offence, they are put into stocks face down on the ground with four stakes like a cross and whipped.
They cannot leave here without a note signed by one of us, otherwise they are liable to be captured and punished. They speak a poor dialect of English. Each family has a house. They take their meals in the fields from a calabash, using fingers instead of a fork . . .
. . . I have made up my mind to return to my native country after the summer, (having) neglected a profession at a time when I had the opportunity to improve myself . . . I am and always will be the most grateful and affectionate son.
P. Ant. C. Munro (Pierre Antoine Conefroy Munro)
[Transcription from Anthony Chamier, from a part of Clan Munro exhibition, 2007]