Searching for the Dawkins Family’s Physical Legacies in Jamaica

By: James Dawkins

One of the key avenues of research currently being pursued by the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project is the physical footprints left behind by slave-owners. In the case of the Dawkins family one of the most conspicuous of these are the ruins of their former sugar estates. For them and other slave-owning dynasties, plantations and enslaved labour were critical sources of production which were harnessed for the manufacture of sugar and rum that was shipped and sold in Britain.[1] The revenue generated from the Dawkins’ Jamaican holdings became the family’s primary stream of revenue up until the abolition of slavery in 1833.[2] As part of my investigation into the physical legacies, I undertook 3 months of field research in Jamaica on the Dawkins family and their historical link with the island through slavery. This included visiting sugar work ruins on four of the estates that they possessed and a trip to St. Paul’s Anglican Church where the remains of three family members were reinterred after their estates were sold off in the early 1900s.

Between 1665 and 1833 the Dawkins family acquired a total of 17 plantations. The majority of these were located in the parish of Clarendon in Jamaica and covered over 25,000 acres of land.[3] Their seven most productive estates were Friendship, Old Plantation, Parnassus, Suttons, Windsor, Caymanas and Tredways; the latter two were situated in the adjoining parishes of St. Catherine and St. Thomas-in-the-Vale respectively. I am currently researching the acquisition, development, management, productivity and labour organisation across the family’s estates and so I have spent much of my time examining the crop accounts, financial indexes, maps, land surveys, and registers of enslaved peoples to help me understand the family’s activities in this respect. To get a better understanding of the scale and workings of these estates, I took a day-trip, arranged by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, to Caymanas, Parnassus, Suttons, and Friendship.Locations of the sugar estates visited

Great House Ruins, Caymanas Plantation, St. CatherineSetting off at 6am in the morning my first stop was at Caymanas which lies halfway between Kingston and Spanish Town. It is still used for the cultivation of sugar cane today and has been merged with several other estates to form one large plantation. Not much is left in terms of the sugar factory, living quarters or other outhouses such as stables, with the only ruin that I could see being the large set of steps in photo 1. A resident informed me that the staircase formed part of the main entrance to the overseer’s house which disintegrated after a severe storm many years ago. I have seen an old photo of this residence, which was taken in 1881, and the ruins match up with the original structure as shown in the old photo partially confirming the ruins as the site of the overseer’s house.

Steps Ruins, Parnassus Plantation, ClarendonThe next stop was Parnassus plantation which is located approximately 45 miles South West of Caymanas in the parish of Clarendon. The estate lies in the lower reaches of the district on the flood plain of the River Minho and is presently used for the cultivation of sugar cane.[4] A labourer I met said that after the abolition of slavery, the estate converted to banana farming and then resumed producing sugar cane. In terms of physical remnants, the only ruins that I encountered were a series of concrete steps surrounded by outlying rubble. These remains were situated on top of a hill about 30 metres above the surrounding cane fields. It is difficult to determine which part of the estate they belonged to, possibly the great house which is likely to have been strategically situated to provide the overseer/slave-owner with a clear view of the estate and the activities taking place on it. According to a colour map of the estate, composed by the surveyor James Craddock in 1758, Parnassus contained several mills which were reliant upon wind, water and animal power.[5] The plantation was connected another estate possessed by the Dawkins’ called Sandy Gully which I never visited as there were no reported ruins on there.

Waterwheel House, Suttons Suttons Plantation, ClarendonUpon leaving Parnassus I headed north to Suttons which lies just west of Chapelton and around 2 miles North East of the Lucky Valley plantation once owned by Edward Long.[6] The River Minho runs along the boundary of the estate and a large aqueduct was built to transport the water from the river down to the large wheel that no longer exists at the sugar factory which is situated roughly 300 metres from the river. The crop accounts at the Jamaica Archives show Suttons to be the second most productive sugar estate possessed by the Dawkins’ with an average output of 211 hogsheads of sugar and 89 puncheons of rum per annum between 1763 and 1800.[7] The most productive was Old Plantation which produced an average of 244 hogsheads and 95 puncheons per year.[8] Sutton’s boiling house still exists along with three concrete chassis which held the large copper pans that were used to heat the juice extracted from the sugar cane. Rays of sunlight shone through the canopy of banana and cocoa trees which were growing throughout the ruins along with the vines which have embedded themselves amongst the cracks and crevices of the walls. I walked around the perimeter of the sugar works which took about 15 minutes marvelling at the extensive area it covered and its great height. This experience in particular has encourage me to consider the extent to which the architecture, productive capacity, labour organisation and management of Caribbean sugar factories acted as a blue print for the factories that were established during Britain’s industrialisation.[9]

Holding Tank, Friendship Plantation, ClarendonThe final estate that I visited was Friendship. This is estate is roughly 8.5 miles north-west of Suttons and 7 miles west of Trout Hall, another estate possessed by the Dawkins’, which has become prominent for its oranges. Similarly to Caymanas and Parnassus, the ruins at Friendship are few and far between. Much of the estate is now overgrown with all sorts of vegetation and the only remaining ruins that I managed to locate were an unmarked grave and a rectangular structure which looked like a holding tank. There is an old dam approximately 2 miles uphill from the estate which originally fed water into an aqueduct that transported it downhill to the mills at the estate, as shown in Richard Craddock’s 1758 plan of the Friendship estate.[10]

St. Paul's Anglican Church, Chapelton, ClarendonAn entry for the slave-owner James Dawkins (1722-1757) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that he, his father, Henry (d.1744), and mother, Elizabeth (nee Pennant) (d.1757), were initially buried at a family estate called Old Plantation and that their remains were moved and reinterred at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Chapelton in 1922 when the estate was sold off.[11] I was interested to know whether or not the graves were still there and stopped off at the church to see if I could find them. It was locked up when I arrived and just as I was about to turn back I spotted the caretaker, Mr Abner Watson, who kindly allowed me to enter the burial grounds to search for the graves. Unable to find them after a meticulous scan I was ready to leave when Mr Watson said that there were a few people buried inside the church. Kindly agreeing to give me entry, he unlocked the door, walked up the central aisle and pulled back the long dusty brown carpet that ran the full length of the aisle revealing the graves of Henry, Elizabeth and James Dawkins. I was surprised to see them there and later realised that their conspicuous position was symbolic of their social prominence in Clarendon. The church is said to have been constructed in 1666 as a chapel-of-ease, making it more convenient for the local planters to worship as opposed to travelling down to the main parish church at Vere which was some distance away.[12] Several individuals of high social standing, who died in the early 1700s and could have been other slave-owners, are buried directly beside the exterior walls of the church.The Grave of James Dawkins, St. Paul's Anglican Church, Chapelton, Clarendon

This was a revealing trip that brought some of the physical legacies left behind by the Dawkins family to life. The intactness of the plantation ruins, particularly those at Suttons, are tangible evidence of the large scale sugar production which took place across Jamaica during the period of slavery and the extensive labour force needed to operationalise estates of this size. Moreover, the tombstones and their conspicuous location inside the church are an example of the self-commemorative monuments erected by slave-owning families who wanted to be remembered within their respective communities.

I had a fascinating day and am very grateful to Ms Audene Brooks and her colleagues at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust for organising and making this trip possible. I am also thankful to Mr Watson, Mr Laurel Robinson and all of the residents who provided me with directions to, and knowledge on, the whereabouts and history of the plantation ruins and Dawkins family monuments. Thank you.

[1] Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994)

[2] MS.181A, Accounts Current with Drake and Long, (volumes 1 and 2), (Kingston: National Library of Jamaica)

[3] MS.12436, Long. E., Long Papers (A List of Landholders in Jamaica, Together with the Quantity of Acres of Land Each One Possesses & the Quantity Supposed to be Occupied & Planted), (London: British Library, C.1750)

[4] B. W. Higman, Jamaica Surveyed: Plantation Maps and Plans of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2001), p.95-96

[5] Ibid, p.95

[6] Ibid, p.84-91

[7] 1B/11/, Accounts Produce or Crop Accounts, 1740-1928, (Spanish Town: Jamaica Archives); Hogsheads and puncheons are types of casks used for the transportation of consumable foods and liquid goods respectively.

[8] Ibid

[9] For more information see: Sidney W. Mintz. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), p.50-52

[10] B. W. Higman, Jamaica Surveyed, p.92

[11] M. St. John Parker, ‘James Dawkins (1722-1757)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

[12] George Henry, ‘St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Chapelton’, The Jamaica Star Online, (Kingston: Jamaica Star, 2006); Christopher Serju, ‘How Clarendon’s First Capital Got Its Name’, The Gleaner, (Kingston: The Gleaner, 2012)