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James Fraser (carpenter)

James Fraser was a carpenter from Inverness who went to Demerara and worked for several years at plantation Dochfour, which belonged to James Fraser of Belladrum. He built up his own gang of slave carpenters and was prosperous enough to subscribe 10 guineas (£10 10s) to the Northern Infirmary, in Inverness, in 1798. He was joined in 1799 by his brother Sandy [Alexander]. Sandy died on 5 August 1800, after a three-week illness, and James died of fever on 1 July 1801. A third brother, Simon, came out to Demerara in 1802 in an attempt to settle James's affairs, then went to America and by 1807 was presumed by his family to be dead. Their uncle, Hugh Fraser, who had been first in Tortolla (from about 1780) and then in Demerara, died a month before James.

In his will James freed an young enslaved woman and their child, both of whose names are unknown.

Before his death James had written to his relations in Inverness saying that he reckoned himself worth about £5000 and it was generally agreed that he ‘died with considerable property’. His estate in Demerara was managed by his executors Alexander Gray, a saddler, and Donald Macrae, a tailor.

Donald Mackay, who had arrived in Demerara from Inverness in the year of Fraser’s death, was granted a power of attorney from Fraser’s heirs to enable him to recover the property. He later claimed that ‘the Power of Attorney was deficient in the Solemnities required by Dutch Lawyers’. In 1803 Mackay wrote to Provost Grant in Inverness saying that he had been ‘very pressing with the Executors to account’ and had been forced to begin legal proceedings. Alexander Gray blamed Donald Macrae, who owed money to Fraser’s estate which Mackay reckoned, once all debts were paid, would be worth about £1200 – ‘notwithstanding of the exaggerated accounts formerly given of it’.

By 1804 one of Fraser’s heirs, his brother-in-law John Mackenzie (shoemaker in Inverness), had written to Mackay in strong terms accusing him of mismanaging the affair. Fraser’s cousin, Alexander Fraser (merchant in Inverness), then wrote to Mackay attempting to smooth over the dispute and encouraging Mackay to continue his efforts, praising him in these terms: ‘although many young men have come from this neighbourhood I know of none so fit as you to make the best of a bad job of this kind’.

However, in 1807 a new power of attorney was granted by the heirs to John Haywood and Arthur Mackenzie, paymaster in Demerara. James Calder assisted them and in 1808 Haywood reported to Alexander Fraser that:

Mr Calder has shown me a list of moneys really recovered by the executors of 12,378 guilders equal to £1300 stg. The executors & people who received & recovered the above sums are now either dead or bankrupt. If Mr Donald Mackay & others would have exerted themselves three years ago, the greatest part of it would have been recovered. The whole concern has met with cruel neglect and bad management, a good deal might have been recovered that is now irretrievably lost.

The dispute rumbled on with one of the heirs, Duncan Matheson, writing of Mackay that ‘he cannot but put a person in mind of the cruelties of Nero’.


Letters of Donald Mackay, NAS GD23/6/391

Letters to Alexander Fraser, merchant, Inverness: Highland Council Archive D122/2 /3


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