Jamaica Fiwi Roots

The Arrival of Scottish Settlers in Jamaica

On the Scottish in Jamaica, Edward Long, the 18th century English born historian, plantation owner and Jamaican jurist, wrote:

The offspring of this part of Britain [JTL: Scotland] are extremely numerous and flourishing in Jamaica. I have heard a computation of no fewer than one hundred of the name of Campbel only actually resident in it, all claiming alliance with the Argyle family...
...Jamaica indeed, is greatly indebted to North-Britain, as very near one third of the inhabitants are either natives of that country, or descendants from those who were.
The natives of Scotland and Ireland seem to thrive here much better than the European English.
--The History of Jamaica, Vol 2, Edward Long, 1774

"Near one third", is not a precise number but it clearly communicates that the Scots were a sizable portion of the Jamaican populace in the 1700s. It is unsurprising then, that even today, Scottish surnames are very common on the island.

The First Scots in Jamaica

The journey of the Scots to Jamaica takes a very similar one to that of the Irish. They were both initially forcibly brought as convicts or as indentured servants in the 1600s, and in the subsequent years after serving their contracted time, stayed on to make a life, slowly building their wealth and status.

In the years between 1655 and his death in 1658, Oliver Cromwell in an effort to make the most of Jamaica that he had won from the Spanish as an after-thought, having failed at the objective to win the much bigger prize of Hispaniola, sent appeals for settlers in English colonies such as America and Barbados to consider moving to Jamaica. Finding willing settlers was essential to the island becoming a self-sufficient economy, one that would transform the land into fertile plantations producing crops that would augment the wealth of the British Empire. So he announced that any male subject of England that was willing to settle in Jamaica would receive 20 acres, and another 10 acres would be allocated per woman and child.

He also ordered a thousand Irish boys and another thousand Irish girls under 14 to be sent to Jamaica and sold as indentured servants [see Irish in Jamaica]. He further ordered that all known idle, male or female masterless robbers and vagabonds in Scotland, should be rounded up and shipped to Jamaica, making them the first Scots to arrive in Jamaica. An additional batch arrived in 1687, when the Scottish participants of the failed rebellion to overthrow King James II were sent to the island, and again in 1745-46 after the failed Jacobite rebellion and the battle of Culloden in Scotland.

Jamaica was the Wild West on steroids during the 17th century. It had a reputation of ill-repute and a high mortality rate during the time of the buccaneers. Very few people wanted to settle there, but, by the end of the century, things began to slowly change; pirates were declared persona non grata, and the sugar plantations began seeing success. By the mid-18th century, the economy had entered a period of sustained growth with fortunes were being made. Many more Scots began moving to the island with their own hopes and dreams of making their own fortune.

Fortune Seekers

It is evident that by the time Long's book was published in 1774, the Scottish represented a large percentage of Jamaica's population. Jamaica had gained a reputation for being a place to earn a quick fortune, and the Scottish belief at the time was that the surest way to wealth in Jamaica, was to enter the island with a profession.

Scotland had a high standard of education. The law required every parish to have a school, and families who could not afford the fees received financial help from the local authorities. As a result of this focus on education, many Scots became qualified for professions at a time when the Scottish economy could not support all these professionals. So, many embarked to the colonies to apply their skills with the hope of making a quick fortune.

Edward Long, made the following observation of the Scots in the 1700s:

"Many have come... less in quest of fame, than of fortunes; and such is their industry and address, that few of them have been disappointed in their aim. To say the truth, they are so clever and prudent in general, as, by an obliging behaviour, good sense, and zealous services, to gain esteem, and make their way through every obstacle."
--The History of Jamaica, Vol 2, p.287, Edward Long, 1774

The Scots were involved in a variety of professions on the island; from attorneys and overseers to merchants and shopkeepers. So much so, Lady Nugent, the wife of George Nugent, Jamaica's governor (1801-1805), made mention of the Scots in her journal written during her stay on the island. She saw them as hard working and industrious.

She said:

Almost all the agents, attorneys, merchants and shopkeepers are of that country [JTL: Scotland] and really do deserve to thrive in this, they are so industrious."

Scottish Landowners in Jamaica in 1754

The Scots also made up a large number of the plantation owners in Jamaica.

The table below shows the number of Scottish landowners across the island in 1754. Westmoreland had the highest number of Scottish landowners, 30 in all, but the total acreage held between them ranked them #3 in the total acreage owned by Scots. St James had the second highest density of Scots owning land, 29 in total, but their combined total acreage ranked them 4th in acreage. By contrast, there were 11 Scottish landowners in Clarendon, but their combined acreage ranked them #1 in total acreage.

So of all Scottish landowners in Jamaica in 1754, Westmoreland had the largest number of Scottish landowners followed by St James then St Andrew. But the parishes with the largest parcels of land owned by the Scots were, Clarendon, followed by St Elizabeth then Westmoreland. Kingston had no Scottish landowners and Port Royal had one.

Note: There were 19 parishes 1754 and some that exist today looked very different then. See Transformation of the Parishes.

ParishNumber of Scottish landownersRank (Number Scots)Rank (Acreage Held)
Westmoreland 3013
St James 2924
St Andrew1837
St Elizabeth 1642
St Thomas in the East15 55
Vere 14613
St Mary 1466
St Catherine 13 88
St Ann 12910
Clarendon 11101
St Thomas in the Vale 10119
Hanover 81212
St John 71311
St David 51416
St George 51414
Portland 3 1617
St Dorothy 21715
Port Royal 1 1818
Kingston 0 1919

Source: Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740-1800 / Jamaica Landholders in 1754

Jamaica's Parishes in 1754

Source: FiwiRoots - Transformation of the Parishes

The First Campbell - Col. John Campbell of Black River (1673- 740)

It is said that the name Campbell is the most common surname in Jamaica. It is widely believed that the first Campbell to have settled in Jamaica, was Colonel John Campbell, who was born in Inveraray in Argyllshire in 1673, and decided to settle in Black River, St. Elizabeth, in 1700, after participating in an unsuccessful attempt to start a Scottish colony at Darien, Panama in 1698.

He started the Black River estate and later encouraged relatives to join him in the venture. He died in 1740, and was buried in St Elizabeth. His Memorial inscription, reads:

"Here lies the Honorable John Campbell, born at Inverary in Argyleshire, North Britain, and descended of the Ancient family of Auchenbrock, when a youth he served several campaigns in Flanders. He went as Captain of the Troops sent to Darien, and on his return by this Island, in 1700, he married the daughter of Colonel Claiborne by whom he had several children. In 1718, he married Elizabeth (now alive) relict of Col. Garnes. He was many years member of the Assembly, Colonel and Custos of St. Elizabeth. In I722, he was made one of the Privy Council. He was the first Campbell who settled in this Island, and thro his extream generosity and assistance, many are now possessed of opulent fortunes. His temperance and great humanity have always been very remarkable. He died January 29, 1740. Aged 66 years. Universally lamented."