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Irish planters & merchants: McCalmonts

The McCalmonts had an involvement in Demerara from 1790 and in Berbice from about 1799, when McCalmont, Crafts & Co owned two plantations on the west sea coast. ‘H McCalmont’ was a signatory of an address to the Governor of Berbice in 1803 but in 1805 [van Batenburg, Kort Historische] his interests there were represented by John McCamon.

Hugh McCalmont (1765-1838) of Abbeylands, Co Antrim.

A series of letters to Hugh McCalmont from a Dr John Crawford in Baltimore, written between 1798 and 1805, are addressed to him variously at Demerara and London [Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, ms 1246]; and other letters are addressed to him at London from 1803.

In 1814 one of McCalmont’s slaves, February, was rewarded with a silver medal, presented by the Court of Policy of the colony, for his role in revealing a plan for an uprising of enslaved Africans. February was a slave on Plantation No 19 on the west sea coast.

From 1819 a Hugh McCalmont owned plantation Hope & Experiment (lots no 15 & 16) on the west sea coast, with 285 slaves. The returns were made on his behalf by John Maclennan but a Hugh McCalmont was certainly in the colony in 1823 when he wrote the following letter:

Since I last wrote you I was on a Bush expedition for twelve days in search of Quamima (of Pln Success) & other ringleaders in the late insurrection, on the Morning of the fourth day we fell in with an immense Camp they had made - Corn & Rice were beginning to spring all round it - they fled long before we reached having a large swamp area to cross they seen us - we destroyed everything & came back to the back of Pln Mon-Repos & renewed our search the next day - when we fell in with him & six more - We shot him & took him - the other, Richard - a head ringleader got away & is not yet taken. We gibbeted Quamima in front of Success Estate - all the others have since been hanged.

[Hugh McCalmont to this namesake, Nov 28, 1823, unpublished private letter in the author’s possession: Empire, enslavement, and freedom in the Caribbean, Michael Craton, (Kingston 1997)]

Quamima hanging at Success [Joshua Bryant, 1823]

This letter was from a Hugh McCalmont to a Hugh McCalmont, suggesting that by this date it was a younger relaton who was managing the family’s interests in Guyana. This was probably the Hugh McCalmont (1811-38) who drowned travelling from Berbice to Demerary on 7 September 1838 and who is commemorated in St Andrew's, Georgetown, as 'late Mayor' of the town and an elder of the church  


In 1826 there is a letter from a James Calley, manager of a plantation in Berbice, to the owner Hugh McCalmont in Belfast [National Galleries and Museums on Merseyside, Maritime Archives and Library: 1995 Accessions (DX/1544)]

Hugh McCalmont's family [link to family tree on Ancestry.com - subscribers only]

Hugh McCalmont (1765-1838) married Elizabeth Allen Barklie in 1807. There son Hugh McCalmont (1810-1887) was, at his death, one of the richest men in the country, leaving over £3m, acquired through the merchant bank McCalmont Brothers of London.

This latter Hugh McCalmont was an uncle of the Unionist politician Hugh McCalmont MP (1845-1924).


The McCalmonts are a striking case of the transfer of wealth from the slave economy into Britain's financial sector just as the City of London rose to dominate the mobilization of international capital. The scale of their success was atypical, and slavery was one of a number of sources of funding for the City, but the evidence increasingly suggests that the McCalmonts were representative of broader processes at play in the redeployment of slave-derived wealth into the wider British national and imperial economy of the nineteenth century.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


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