An Empire Divided
The American Revolution and the British Caribbean
Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy
2000 | 376 pages | Cloth $55.00 | Paper $29.95
American History | Latin American/Caribbean Studies | History
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Maps: The Greater Antilles
Maps: The Lesser Antilles
PT. I. FOUNDATIONS OF LOYALTY
1. British Sojourners
2. Black Majorities
3. The Sugar Islands
PT. II. DIVERGENT PATHS
4. Sons of Liberty?
5. Winning the Initiative
PT. III. THE IMPERIAL CIVIL WAR
6. The Crisis of American Independence
7. The Groans of the Plantations
8. Rule Britannia
PT. IV. THE DIVISION OF BRITISH AMERICA
9. The Other Road to Yorktown
Conclusion: Revolutionary Legacy
List of Abbreviations
Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]
At the outset of the American Revolutionary War, a French visitor remarked on the differences between the island and mainland colonies of British America: "Far from settling in the islands," the white colonists regarded them "as a land of exile, never as a place where they plan to live, prosper, and die." In contrast, the Anglo-American colonists of the mainland were "permanent, born in the country and attached to it; they have no motherland save the one they live in."
Writing a century earlier, a Barbadian planter spoke of this umbilical attachment in which "by a kind of magnetic force England draws all to it.... It is the center to which all things tend. Nothing but England can we relish or fancy." In 1760, Charles Townshend favorably contrasted West Indians to North Americans because they "never consider[ed] themselves at home" in the islands and they sent "their children to the Mother Country for education." They eventually returned to Britain "to recover their health or enjoy their fortunes" for, if they had ambition, "tis hither they come to gratify it."
In 1764, following the end of the Seven Years' War, a Nevis author reflected on the transient quality of white society in the islands: "Tho' detained from their native land by mercenary Pursuits and Views of Interest, yet [they] consider their Absence from Britain as an Exile, and incessantly sigh for a return." Upon joining his regiment in Jamaica, Lord Adam Gordon commented that "the generality of its inhabitants look upon themselves there as passengers only." Bryan Edwards similarly described how "it is to Great Britain alone that our West India planters consider themselves as belonging." He added that "even such of them as have resided in the West Indies from their birth, look on the islands as their temporary abode only, and the fond notion of being able to go home (as they emphatically term a visit to England) year after year animates their industry and alleviates their misfortune."
Colonists throughout British America spoke of Britain as their home. The expression was more meaningful in the British West Indies, however, where the white settlers were primarily a society of sojourners who aimed to return to Britain and identified themselves culturally with Britain. I shall argue that the strength of the social and cultural ties with Britain restrained the development of a nationalistic creole consciousness among whites and was a contributory factor in the failure of the British Caribbean to support the American Revolution.
* * *
Whites in the British Caribbean were creoles, if we mean simply that they made cultural adaptations to their new environment. Like European settlers elsewhere in the Americas, they possessed distinctive characteristics in their speech, diet, dress, architecture, values, and behavior that were peculiar to the Caribbean. They developed an attachment to their islands, which was reflected in the numerous prerevolutionary local histories and a literature praising the tropical landscape. They were often ambivalent about their British identity when they actually returned to the mother country.
But West Indian whites were not committed to permanent settlement, and their ideal of returning home to the mother country gave white society a transient quality. They treated the islands as little more than temporary abodes to facilitate their spectacular reentry into British society. Throughout the eighteenth century, an increasing proportion of West Indian planters returned to live off the income of their plantations as absentees in Britain. The trend varied among islands, often in relation to the respective expansion and profitability of sugar production. It began in Barbados soon after the Restoration of Charles II (1660). In the last two decades of the seventeenth century, some three hundred west Indians were annually going back to Britain "with this advantage that their fathers went out poor and the children come home rich." Over one-third of Jamaican planters were absentees by 1740.
In the 1730s, absenteeism was still quite rare in the Leeward Islands (Antigua, St. Kitts, Montserrat, and Nevis). Thereafter it reached chronic levels in St. Kitts, where absentees owned half the property in 1745. Absenteeism was also prevalent in the Windward Islands (Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, and Tobago) from the time of their acquisition by Britain in 1763. Tobago had only twenty resident planters out of a total of seventy-seven proprietors. Absentee estates in Grenada were worth upward of a million pounds of sterling in 1778.
On the eve of the American Revolution, planter-historian Edward Long estimated that there were some two thousand nonresidents, annuitants, and proprietors, "who of late years" and "beyond the example of former times" had flocked from Jamaica to Britain. A visitor found St. Kitts "almost abandoned to overseers and managers, owing to the amazing fortunes that belong to Individuals, who almost all reside in England." Absentees made up 80 percent of the elite families of Antigua, and two-thirds of the planters in Jamaica were absentees by 1800. Absenteeism was also common among military officers, the clergy, and patent officeholders.
These British sojourners consequently bequeathed shamefully little toward developing an infrastructure in the islands, such as schools, colleges, roads, and missions. The most enduring visible monuments to the presence of the British in the Caribbean were those commemorating the deaths of individuals who died before achieving their ambition of returning home. Some were crafted by the best English sculptors, such as Henry Cheere and John Bacon. They all shared a common feature in the complete absence of any depiction of tropical life in the West Indies. The patrons clearly wanted to be commemorated by monuments exactly like those of an English country churchyard. These decaying monuments remain English corners of a foreign land.
The transience of white West Indian society was reflected in the paucity of architectural remains. Edward Long spoke of the "make-shift" appearance of the architecture in Jamaica, and Bryan Edwards described the "meanness of their houses and apartments." There were "few of the Beauties of Architecture to be seen in Jamaica" despite the opulence of its planters. James Anthony Froude, a nineteenth-century historian, was appalled at the difference between Kingston, the largest town in the British West Indies, which "has not one fine building in it," and Havana, the Spanish capital of Cuba, which "is a city of palaces, a city of streets and plazas, of colonnades and towers, and churches and monasteries." The most impressive architectural eighteenth-century legacies were not private residences but fortresses, naval dockyards, and military barracks. "We English," Froude concluded, "have built in those islands as if we were but passing visitors, wanting only tenements to be occupied for a time."
West Indian fortunes nurtured several noted writers and scholars, but they too were often sojourners. They included bibliophiles, historians, political pamphleteers, constitutional authorities, political economists, travel writers, natural historians, botanists, and agricultural commentators. There were West Indian members of the Royal Society, the Dilettante Society, and the Royal College of Physicians. The first complete oratorio in the Americas was composed and performed in Jamaica in 1775. There were also poets, landscape artists, actors, architects, and connoisseurs. Spanish Town in Jamaica had a theater, circulating libraries, a literary society, an agricultural society, and social clubs in the 1770s. West Indian literary and artistic work may indeed have "fostered local pride," but most of these authors and scholars were either visitors, temporary residents, or absentees. They also were often transients, thereby creating the popular misconception that "in literature, science and the arts, the history of the British West Indies is almost a blank."
It was the ephemeral nature of white settlement that so concerned Edward Long, the most incisive of contemporary commentators. His History of Jamaica (1774) pleaded for greater self-sufficiency and the development of local institutions. He advocated legislative action to fund schools, a medical college, white immigration, improved military defenses, and a stronger church foundation. His emphasis on greater self-sufficiency was his most original intellectual contribution "not his political ideas per se" or his "constitutionalism." However, even Long succumbed to the temptations of absenteeism and returned to Britain.
Only in Barbados did the British come close to developing a creole society of committed settlers in the Caribbean. This was due to the high proportion of whites, less reliance on immigration, the belief that the climate was more healthy, lower rates of absenteeism, lower sugar profits, lower rates of "miscegenation," less danger from foreign attack (owing to the windward position), and complacence about the threat of a black rebellion. Barbados contained the largest proportion of small and middling planters, numbering some four thousand resident landowners in 1765. It had a better infrastructure with the oldest assembly in the British Caribbean, the first printing press, schools in every parish, the first newspaper, and a well-supported Anglican Church.
Barbados has been used as a case study to show the early development of a creole mentality in the eighteenth-century British Caribbean. Even in Barbados, however, the white population was in a minority. Almost one-third of the planters were absentees like Samuel Estwick, Philip Gibbes, John Gibbons, and the Lascelles. The Barbadian elite preferred to be educated in Britain; thus Codrington College never "promised to make it unnecessary for Barbadian youths to travel to England for advanced education." It closed as a school between 1775 and 1786 and was not a university or even a seminary until 1830. The yeoman class of small landholders lacked the confidence to politically challenge the planter elite until the early nineteenth century.
* * *
How do we explain the transience of British society in the Caribbean and the almost universal desire of whites to return home to Britain? Frank Wesley Pitman argued that the absence of religious motives among the first English settlers in the Caribbean created a transient society, which was in contrast to North America, where religion inspired ideals of a new society divorced from England. He also suggested that the settlers in the islands were drawn from "the capitalist class . . . [who] were often connected with the landed gentry, were Anglicans, and championed the social and political conceptions held by the rural aristocracy of England," in contrast to the North Americans, "who came largely from the middle and nonconformist class in England . . . [and who] had imbibed democratic and republican ideas."
Pitman, in an error common among his generation, treated the history of colonial America as synonymous with the Puritan colonies of New England and ignored the more populous plantation colonies of the Chesapeake (Virginia and Maryland). There was in reality little difference in the motives and background of the early English emigrants to the Caribbean from those of the Chesapeake. The plantation colonies of the islands and the southern mainland shared a common ethos, which was materialistic, individualistic, competitive, exploitative, and comparatively secular. It was the universal aim of most settlers in all the plantation colonies to make quick fortunes and to return to a life of genteel leisure in Britain.
The peculiar transience of British society in the Caribbean can be attributed in part to demographic failure. The white population was not sustained by natural increase, unlike the mainland colonies where the white population was doubling every twenty-five years after 1700. Deaths exceeded births in the Caribbean. The migration of a little under half a million Europeans to the British Caribbean was "roughly comparable" to that of British North America before the American Revolution. Yet there were fewer than fifty thousand whites in the British Caribbean, compared to two million in North America, in 1776.
The demographic failure of white society in the islands was linked to the high mortality rates: "The low life expectancy of white men in the tropics goes far to explain the large number of absentee proprietors" and the small size of the white population. Jamaica was "considered the most unhealthy [place] . . . in the world." Over one-third of white immigrants died within three years of arriving in the Caribbean. A posting in the islands consequently occasioned sudden rises in the military sick lists and even mutinies in the army in Britain. Being stationed in Jamaica became a form of punishment. The danger of sudden death was a constant topic of conversation among passengers on a voyage to the West Indies in 1775. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur wrote of West Indians who at the age of thirty were "loaded with the infirmities of old age" and losing the "abilities of enjoying the comforts of life at a time when we northern men just begin to taste the fruits of our labour and prudence." The grim prospect of a premature death was a powerful deterrent to living in the Caribbean.
Influenced by the humoral theory of medicine, European settlers feared, above all, the tropical "climate of our sugar islands," which they found "so inconvenient for an English constitution that no man will choose to live there, much less will any man choose to settle there [in the Caribbean]." They blamed the heat for causing high mortality rates, but in reality, the majority fell victim to malaria and less commonly to the more lethal yellow fever epidemics. Whites had less immunity to these diseases than did blacks.
The high mortality rates of native whites were a cause of fragile family formations that also contributed to the transience of white society. Premature deaths cut short marriages, which typically lasted little more than eight years in Jamaica. The majority of children died in infancy or in childhood. The size of families was consequently very small.
Even so, British immigrants continued to be a major component of white society in the Caribbean. Opportunities were good in the professions and in trades, owing to the demographic failure of the native white population, the lack of skilled white artisans, and the limited educational infrastructure within the islands. Furthermore, Jamaica and some of the Windward Islands were still frontier settlements with uncultivated land before the American Revolution.
Young white immigrant males from Britain were a dominant element in the white population of Jamaica. Their presence contributed to the unbalanced sex ratios and compounded the problem of fragile family formations. There was "a whole parish [in Jamaica] without a married Man" and another parish where there was "not to be found above one married couple." Young British males who arrived as indentured servants were often more highly skilled than those of the southern mainland colonies.
The Scots were the second largest group of immigrants after the English. They made up one-third of the white population of Jamaica and were the most numerous of the British immigrants in Grenada and Tobago. Their ambition of making a fortune to return home was identical to that of the English.
The transitory quality of white society was reinforced by dramatic increase of black slaves. Whites became a besieged minority in a majority black population. The displacement of white indentured servants as field laborers by slaves occurred earlier in the Caribbean than in the Chesapeake primarily because sugar plantations were more labor intensive and wealthier than tobacco farms of Maryland and Virginia. The cultivation of sugar was followed in all the islands by a massive rise in the import of black slaves from West Africa. On the eve of the American Revolution, three-quarters of the English slave trade was destined for the Caribbean. Jamaica was the largest slave society in British America after a twenty-fold increase in the number of blacks, compared to a mere doubling of the white population, between 1673 and 1774. Blacks outnumbered whites in the British Caribbean by a ratio as high as twenty-two to one. Barbados had the lowest proportion of slaves, but they still represented 73 percent of the population, a higher percentage than that of any of the mainland colonies: only South Carolina possessed almost equal numbers of blacks and whites on the eve of the American Revolution. The 50,000 whites in the islands were a minority in relation to a black and free colored population of some 416,000. The ratios were inverted in North America, where there were 2,000,000 whites and 460,000 blacks on the eve of the American Revolution.
The rise in the proportion of blacks and the frequency of slave rebellions created a garrison mentality among the whites, who became more dependent for their protection on Britain. The white population of the islands was too small to effectively police the slaves, and their vulnerability was becoming more apparent. This climate of fear was reinforced by the additional uncertainty of hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, foreign invasion, and disease, all of which were hazards of life in the Caribbean.
The racial imbalance preoccupied whites, who tried various schemes to reverse the trend. The island assemblies attempted to mandate white immigration by requiring planters to hire whites in proportion to their slaves. These "deficiency acts" failed and became nothing more than another revenue device with planters preferring to pay higher taxes in lieu of hiring white employees. Like the Irish Parliament, the West Indian legislatures tried to impose additional taxes on the estates of absentees, but such measures were prohibited by the imperial government. In order to maintain the size of their white populations, the island colonies were unique in winning exemption from naval press gangs. Jamaica offered generous headright grants and financial inducements to white immigrants. After the mid-eighteenth century, Jamaica tried to raise the duties on the slave trade to discourage new imports. These measures failed because they never tackled the fundamental causes of this racial imbalance, which was due to high mortality rates, unbalanced sex ratios, fragile family formations, and the expansion of labor-intensive sugar plantations that employed few whites.
Whites sought to remove themselves from black influence by identifying with Britain or by removing to Britain. They found difficulty in replicating British society in the Caribbean in opposition to the powerful cultural influences exerted by the black majority. Whites "by insensible degrees . . . almost acquire[d] the same habit of thinking & speaking" as the blacks and those "singularities" of the blacks "in speech or deportment, which are so apt to strike the ears and eyes of well-educated persons on . . . first introduction." George Washington found the ladies of Barbados "very agreeable but by ill custom or wit . . . affect the Negro style." The character of Miss Prissy, a West Indian heiress living in London, was represented in Isaac Bickerstaff's Love in the City (1767) as tomboyish because of growing up "in the plantations" where she was among the "blackamoors."
Whites were in closer contact with blacks in the Caribbean colonies than in the Chesapeake, where interactions were more limited. This was reflected in the frequency of sexual relationships between white males and women of color, which were more accepted in the islands than in the southern mainland colonies. The islands consequently possessed a significant colored population whose mixed racial ancestry often conferred privileges. The mainland colonies, on the other hand, made no such distinctions between gradations of race and treated all people of color as black. In a law of 1733, Jamaica became the only colony in British America "to give legislative countenance to the rise of mulattoes" and to enable colored people to pass as whites if they were three generations removed from black ancestors.
The wealthiest planters sought to retain their racial exclusivity by leaving the "scenes which destroy their own comfort" and "injure the tempers and morals of their children." The elite educated their children in Britain in order to keep "children from the company and conversation of Negroes as much as possible." Daughters educated in England retained "very good [pale white] skins . . . and very good complexions, without the least Tinge in the world of the Country they were born in." Whites feared that children raised by black domestics were susceptible to acquiring the "drawling dissonant gibberish . . . and with it no small tincture of their aukward carriage and vulgar manners." The boy who "diverts himself with the Negroes, acquires their broken Way of talking, their Manner of Behaviour, and all the Vices of these unthinking Creatures can teach." Girls who grew up "in sequestered country partes," without the "example or tuition" of other whites, dangled their arms "with the air of a Negroe-servant, lolled the day in bed, wore "two or three handkerchiefs" on their head, dressed loose without stays, and gobbled pepper pot sitting on the floor. Such girls became "conscious of . . . [their] ignorance" in later life and withdrew from society.
* * *
The West Indian elite were able to make good their ambition of returning home to Britain because the fortunes of sugar planters in the Caribbean were greater than those of the tobacco planters in the Chesapeake: "Our Tobacco Colonies," wrote Adam Smith, "send us home no such wealthy planters as we see frequently arrive from our sugar colonies." South Carolina began to produce fortunes sufficient to allow some planters to live in Britain, but their numbers were not comparable to those from the British West Indies. Furthermore, primogeniture (in which the oldest son inherited most of the estate) was more commonly practiced in the Caribbean than in North America and which concentrated wealth.
Absenteeism created a special bond with the mother country by establishing a large West Indian community in Britain, where they were nicknamed "creoles" or "pepper pots" and their lodgings "pens." West Indians dominated parts of London, Bath, and Bristol. They congregated at favorite haunts in London like the King's Arms Tavern in Cornhill, the Mitre Coffee House in Fleet Street, and the London Tavern in Bishopsgate Street. They inhabited the fashionable new developments north of Oxford Street in Marylebone, including Wimpole Street, Welbeck Street, Portman Square, Portman Street, and Montagu Square. John Baker, solicitor general of the Leeward Islands, continued friendships in England that he had forged in the West Indies. His diary reveals a great network of West Indians distributed throughout Britain like the Mannings and Akers of St. Kitts, the Skeretts and Kirwans of Antigua, the Tuites of Montserrat, and the Maynards of Nevis.
West Indians possessed impressive landed estates, which adorned the British countryside. Harewood House in Yorkshire, the country seat of Edwin Lascelles of Barbados, was designed by John Carr with interiors by Robert Adam, furniture by Thomas Chippendale, stuccos by Joseph Rose, and decorations by Angelica Kauffman. Dodington Hall in Gloucester, landscaped by Capability, Brown and designed by James Wyatt, was the home of Sir William Codrington of Antigua. Standlynch near Salisbury was the home of Henry Dawkins of Jamaica and was later purchased by the nation as a gift for the heirs of Lord Nelson. Fonthill Splendens, set amid a five-thousand-acre estate in Wiltshire, was the home of William Beckford of Jamaica. Lord Shelburne declared in 1778 that "there were scarcely ten miles together throughout the country where the house and estate of a rich West Indian was not to be seen."
West Indians were painted by the foremost British portrait artists. Harewood House in Yorkshire contained a seventy-five-foot-long gallery to display family portraits of the Lascelles of Barbados by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In contrast, the elite in North America were painted by resident or itinerant artists of whom the most distinguished was John Singleton Copley. There was no comparable tradition of local portraiture in the British West Indies, where Copley turned down the opportunity of a visit to Barbados even though there was "but one painter" in 1766. The painter was William Johnston, who had to supplement his income as a church organist. Similarly, Philip Wicksted was unable to find sufficient patronage as a portrait painter in Jamaica and turned unsuccessfully to planting. West Indians preferred to be painted by the fashionable portrait artists in Britain.
Absentee West Indians were sufficiently familiar in metropolitan society to be caricatured in broadsides, newspapers, cartoons, novels, and plays. Their social pretensions were ridiculed by Tobias Smollett, who had lived in Jamaica and married a Jamaican. Samuel Foote's farce The Patron (1764) featured Sir Peter Pepperpot, "a West Indian of an overgrown fortune," an ingenuous and absurd character who dreams of a woman who is "sweet as sugar cane, strait as a bamboo, and [with] teeth as white as a negro's . . . a plantation of perfections." West Indian wealth and prodigality also attracted moral censure. Their ownership of slaves was beginning to attract adverse comment, like the press reference to the Jamaican lord mayor of London as "negro whipping Beckford." Samuel Johnson derided the planters and the system of slavery that supported them and toasted the next slave rebellion in Jamaica.
Nevertheless, the West Indian elite successfully entered British society. West Indians were more likely than North Americans to possess minor titles like baronetcies (Table I). Charles II created five baronetcies in Barbados alone, which was almost twice the number created among North Americans before 1776. West Indians successfully intermarried with the nobility and gentry, including the duke of Ancaster, the earl of Effingham, the earl of Buchanan, the earl of Abercorn, the earl of Home, the earl of Carlhampton, the earl of Radnor, the earl of Portmore, Lord Rivers, and Lord St. John. Flattering portrayals of West Indians appeared in Sir John Hill's Adventures of Mr. George Edwards, A Creole (1751) and Mrs. Scott's History of George Ellison (1765-66). The rise of West Indians in British society defies claims of a closed elite in eighteenth-century Britain.
West Indians formed the most powerful colonial lobby in London. Lord North, the prime minister during the American Revolution, "was used to say that they were the only masters he ever had." After 1760, the lobby evolved from an informal group soliciting political favors into a more organized impersonal body that foreshadowed the economic interest groups that have proliferated in modern times.
The West India lobby in Britain had four major components. First, the island agents in London were the principal actors in the lobby and were in many ways the precursors of modern-day professional lobbyists. They received salaries and were sometimes individuals, unconnected with the islands and selected on the basis of their political skills. There were ten active agents representing the islands in 1774. The island agents became more active, especially Stephen Fuller, who was the chief broker in orchestrating the West India interest during his thirty-year career as agent for Jamaica between 1764 and 1794. He transcended "his predecessors in office" of whom none had shown comparable "vigilance to the welfare of the colony represented, or so intelligent and perfect a comprehension of its essential interest."
A second component of the West India interest in Britain were the London merchants trading with the West Indies. A formal organization called the Society of West India Merchants emerged during the 1760s. Its origins are obscure; there are no minutes for the meetings before 1769. The society, which had a chairman, a salaried secretary, and an honorary treasurer, was funded by a charge on trade; Its activities were largely confined to commercial issues, especially sugar duties and rates of freight.
The Society of West India Merchants was interlinked with the City of London, numbering several aldermen among its members, including Samuel Turner, William Beckford, Richard Oliver, Barlow Trecothick, and Benjamin Hopkins. Beeston Long and Richard Neave, the chairmen of the society, were also governors of the Bank of England. The society met about once a month and attracted an average of ten merchants. The influence of the society in London was replicated in the outports, especially Bristol, where merchants engaged in the West India trade were prominent in civic offices and in the Society of Merchant Ventures.
Third, there were the absentee West India planters living in Britain whose numbers cannot be precisely calculated. The most prominent of these was William Beckford, who was born in Jamaica where his father was speaker of the assembly. Beckford was successively an alderman (1752), sheriff (1755-56), and twice lord mayor of London (1762-63, 1769-70), where his public banquets were said to have been the most lavish since the reign of Henry VIII. Beckford, like many absentees, was a member of the House of Commons (Shaftesbury 1747-54 and London 1754-70). He was an ally and close associate of William Pitt the Elder. Following the death of Beckford in 1770, the city of London commissioned a statue of him, which still stands in the Guildhall.
Members of Parliament with West Indian connections and interests were a fourth component of the West India lobby. The agent for Massachusetts Bay thought that "50 or 60 West India voters can turn the balance on which side they please." An anonymous correspondent of the Gentleman's Magazine calculated in 1766 that "there are now in Parliament upwards of forty members who are either West Indian planters themselves, descended from such, or have concerns there that entitle them to preeminence." An important contemporary source is that of Stephen Fuller, the agent for Jamaica, who listed forty-eight West Indian "colony" members of the House of Commons in 1781. However, calculations of the size of this parliamentary lobby vary according to the different operational definitions used to distinguish West Indian members of Parliament. Nevertheless, the West India interest was a formidable lobby, causing Benjamin Franklin to complain that the "West Indies vastly outweigh us of the Northern Colonies" in Britain.
* * *
There was no comparable West Indian presence in North America despite the proximity of the mainland colonies and despite the considerable ties that developed through trade. South Carolina was settled by Barbadians who introduced slaves, the plantation system, a slave code, speech patterns, and possibly architectural styles from the Caribbean. Nevertheless, only a few absentees lived in North America, such as Abraham Redwood of Antigua in Newport (Rhode Island) and Isaac Royal of Antigua in Massachusetts. The Middletons, Bulls, and Colletons of South Carolina owned plantations in Barbados and Jamaica. The Sandisfords of Rhode Island and the Kingslands of New Jersey had estates in Barbados. Their numbers were negligible in comparison to the absentees in Britain and they tended to be natives of North America. Some West Indians owned estates in North America, like Thomas Benson of Jamaica who owned land in Philadelphia, but many more owned estates in Britain.
North Americans were a visible presence in the islands but only a few settled as permanent residents. The Gedney Clarke family in Barbados, friends of George Washington, were from Salem, Massachusetts. Philip Livingston, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, resided as a merchant in Jamaica where he married, and where his oldest son settled. Benjamin Franklin sent his nephew to set up the first printing press in Antigua and several of his former associates settled in the Caribbean. There was some intermarriage between prominent North Americans and West Indians: the Winthrop, Oliver, Vassal, Livingston, and Morris families in the British West Indies were related to the same families in Massachusetts and New York. However, such examples were few in comparison to marriage alliances of West Indians and British.
Cultural ties included itinerant artists, theatrical groups, puppeteers, and rope dancers who toured both the mainland and island colonies. The Hallam family began visiting Jamaica in 1754 and later became the "first American theatrical dynasty" in North America as the American Company of Comedians. Lewis Hallam attributed his success in playing roles of blacks to having "studied their dialect and manners in the South and in Jamaica." Colleges attempted fundraising in the West Indies. Dr. John Morgan, the founder of the medical faculty associated with the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania), raised £860 in Jamaica (1772), and William Smith, the provost of the College of Philadelphia, wrote a series of articles for the Antigua Gazette. Networks of religious dissenters engaged in social, business, and missionary exchanges between the Caribbean and North America. The majority of North Americans in the Caribbean, however, tended to be a transient community of mercantile agents, the crews of merchant ships, or visitors seeking a change of climate to improve their health. In addition, their commercial interests were shifting toward the French and Spanish Caribbean even before the American Revolution (see Chapter 3).
There were indeed important overlapping ties between the British West Indies and North America, but they were weaker than those with the mother country and tended to reinforce West Indian commitment to the integrity of the British Empire.
* * *
Many of the white island elite spent their formative years in schools and universities in Britain, not North America. Planters were willing to spend large sums educating their children in Britain. Most educated West Indians were sent "like a bale of dry goods, consigned to some factor, who places them at the school where he himself was bred, or any other that his inclination leads him to prefer." In Jamaica, three-quarters of the planters sent some three hundred children a year to be educated in Britain. One-third of these children never returned.
Edward Long regarded the "lack of educational facilities" in Jamaica as "one of the principal impediments to its effectual settlement." There were only four schools in operation in Jamaica in 1770. Codrington College in Barbados was "the only notable school in the British West Indies," but it was closed between 1775 and 1796. The clergy sometimes supplemented their stipends by teaching when "the Benefices here are but of small Accomt and indeed not sufficient to maintain the necessities of a clergyman." Bryan Edwards was taught as a youth "small Latin and less Greek" by a clergyman in Jamaica. However, Rev. Robert Robertson of Nevis found it "neither worth his or anybodys while . . . to teach school here," and Rev. James Ramsay of St. Kitts similarly gave up trying to find pupils in the 1760s. There were a few schoolteachers, but they were poorly remunerated and their occupation was not respected.
Like the children of the English gentry, West Indian children initially went to private tutors and small academies in Britain. Girls went to tutors like Mrs. Este's in Queen's Street in London or seminaries, especially in fashionable Chelsea. The two daughters of Nathaniel Phillips of Jamaica lived with their aunt in London and attended a seminary for girls in Greenwich in 1772. Fanny Rutherford met many of her Edinburgh boarding school contemporaries on a visit to Antigua, where they shared "many friends to talk of, many scenes to recollect" in 1775. However, planters were more likely to send their sons than their daughters to be educated in Britain.
In the early eighteenth century, West Indian boys increasingly began to attend the burgeoning public schools in Britain. Between 1698 and 1752, Eton attracted twice as many boys from the West Indies as from North America (Tables 2 and 3). During the second half of the eighteenth century, there was a sixfold increase in the number of West Indian boys attending Eton, which was displacing Westminster as the elite school in England. There was a similar trend at Harrow (Table 4). Eton College library was augmented by the magnificent private collection of books and prints given by Anthony Morris Storer of Jamaica. Several portraits of West Indians, which the wealthiest boys traditionally gave to the headmaster, now hang in the lodgings of the provost of Eton. By the end of the century, the duke of Clarence exclaimed that English public schools were full of the sons of West In