Three Men in a Canoe: Researching Caribbean Family History

Guest Blog by: Abigail Bernard[1]

My ancestors were enslaved on the Mount Pleasant Estate in Carriacou, Grenada. Whilst conducting research about them, I consulted three separate on-line resources that, when connected together, were able to give me an insight into the lives of three men who worked on the same estate.

The first resource I came across was The Third Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry into the Administration of Civil and Criminal Justice in the West Indies, dated 5 October 1826.[2] This was written by Sir Fortunatus Dwarris and presented to the House of Commons. Although the main report does not mention Grenada, the appendix includes a section on the island and deals with complaints by enslaved people to Grenada’s Guardians of Slaves.

Map of Grenada

The report reveals that three enslaved men named Gregware, Antoine and Dan, of the Mount Pleasant Estate in Carriacou, stole a canoe and sailed to mainland Grenada in September 1821.  They presented themselves to the Governor complaining of ill treatment and not receiving enough food allowance. Dan McKellar, David Logan and James Wilson, Guardians of Carriacou, denied these allegations. In a letter dated 24 September 1821 they said “we declare that none of these slaves, or any other from that property came to us with any complaint whatever; if they had we would have done our duty.”[3]  They also stated “we have been acquainted with the slaves of Mr [Thomas] Tarleton’s estate for a number of years and know them to be the most turbulent set of slaves in the island.” [4]

Depositions from Francis Preston, Cooper and Overseer and George McNab, Head Overseer dated 22 September 1821 and Thomas Davis, Manager dated 26 September 1821 supported the Guardian’s argument that no ill treatment had taken place and that there was no lack of food provisions.[5]

Francis Preston stated that he “found Gregware deficient in duty and deserving of punishment” and “Antoine to be of a most turbulent disposition, and the ringleader of frequent disturbances.”  He explained that on account of Antoine being absent from work, “he received a punishment not exceeding twelve lashes.” [6]

The names of Antoine and Gregware sounded familiar to me. Upon reviewing the Slave Register of Grenada for 1821, I saw that their names were listed under the decrease table as being sent to Trinidad.[7]  Dan, the third escapee, remained on the Mount Pleasant estate as the Guardians stated “he had no complaint and was prevailed on by the other two to accompany them.”[8]  At the time of being banished to Trinidad, Antoine was recorded as being aged about 34 and Gregware was said to be 38.[9] The names of their family members they left behind are unknown.

Mount Pleasant Estate Decrease, Grenada Slave Register 1821

Further searches of Trinidad slave registers on were made to find out where they were sent. There were very good matches for them in the slave registers of 1822 and 1825, in two men named Antoine Logan and Gregware Todd at the estate of Alexander McMillan.[10] The ages recorded for these men in 1822 were younger than those found in the Grenada return of 1821; They were listed as being 28 and 32 years old respectively. Additionally, they were listed as being born on the island of St Vincent, not in Carriacou. This makes me wonder: How much was McMillan aware of their past?

Return of Alexander McMillan,Trinidad Slave Register 1822

The LBS database gives useful background information about claims associated with the estates of Sir Fortunatus Dwarris, Alexander McMillan, and Thomas Tarleton. Sir Fortunatus Dwarris, the author of the Third Report, owned enslaved people on the Golden Grove Estate in St. George, Jamaica.  He and Sarah Dwarris shared the compensation claim of £3,277 18s 3d for 175 enslaved people.3  Interestingly, two years after writing the Third Report, Sir Fortunatus wrote a pamphlet in which he argued for the improvement of the conditions of enslaved people and the gradual abolition of slavery.[11]

Two of the slave-owners, Thomas Tarleton of Carriacou and Alexander McMillan of Trinidad, were both deceased by the time claims were made in 1836 and 1838 for compensation of the enslaved people on their estates.  Mary McMillan of Scotland made a claim for the 31 enslaved people who were on Alexander McMillan’s estate at emancipation and who were valued at £1,785 3s 2d.  Meanwhile, Thomas Tarleton’s son, Rev. John Edward Tarleton received £6,526 2s 0d for the 256 enslaved people on the Mount Pleasant Estate.

My three times great grandfather, York Quashie, was one of those 256 people.  Looking at the 1821 slave register, I can see that he was 11 years old when Gregware and Antoine departed.[12]It has left me reflecting on how much this event would have affected him and his family.

I’d previously viewed the letter book from the Mount Pleasant Estate, but was unable to read the poor handwriting. Therefore, this was the first time I had read any primary resources about the estate where my family was enslaved.  With more records being made available on-line, the task of finding your family and learning about where, how and with whom they lived can become less arduous.  Having such records available electronically has opened up new avenues of further research for me.

[1] The LBS Team would like to thank Abigail for this guest blog. Abigail is a researcher who specializes in community heritage, oral and social history, genealogy and factual television research.

[2] The Third Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry into the Administration of Civil and Criminal Justice in the West Indies (1826) by Sir Fortunatus Dwarris

[3] Dwarris  p.282

[4] Dwarris  p.282

[5] Dwarris  p.281 & 282

[6] Dwarris  p.282

[7] Grenada Slave Return 1821: All except St. George, TNA T 71/276

[8] Dwarris  p.282

[9] TNA T 71/276

[10] Trinidad Slave Return 1822, T 71/510/529 and Trinidad Slave Return 1825, T 71/513/376

[11] Sir Fortunatus Dwarries 1828 The West India Question Plainly Stated

[12] Grenada 1821: Carriacou Island: list of slaves, T 71/275 p.105