The first Camp­bell in Ja­maica (Part 2): John Camp­bell Black River

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - An­thony Gam­brill

THE JA­MAICAN au­thor­i­ties of­fered no as­sis­tance, still fol­low­ing the in­struc­tions from King Wil­liam to deny the Scots any sup­port de­spite their wors­en­ing con­di­tion. Ja­maican mer­chants de­nied them credit. Many sea­men and colonists died over the few months, and many sold them­selves for food and cloth­ing, en­ter­ing into con­tracts as in­den­tured labour­ers.

It is John Camp­bell’s tomb­stone in Black River, a few miles from Blue­fields Bay, that records his ar­rival from Darien in 1700. With his ex­pe­ri­ence and skills honed as a mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, it would not have been dif­fi­cult to ob­tain a post as an overseer on a plan­ta­tion, but, again, as the tomb­stone re­veals, he is shown as hav­ing the good for­tune to have mar­ried Kather­ine ‘Clay­born’ in the year of his ar­rival.

Kather­ine was the daugh­ter of Leonard Clai­borne, a land sur­veyor, of Vir­ginia. Lit­tle is known of Leonard’s life in Ja­maica, al­though in the min­utes of the Privy Coun­cil of Ja­maica in 1692 he is re­ferred to as colonel. He died on May 15, 1694, valiantly re­puls­ing the French at Carlisle Bay, Claren­don. Kather­ine and her sis­ter, El­iz­a­beth, would have ben­e­fited from a rich in­her­i­tance, in­clud­ing land hold­ings in Vir­ginia and Ja­maica, such as a house in Kingston.

On Septem­ber 13, 1706, John Camp­bell be­gan ac­cu­mu­lat­ing land in Ja­maica when he patented 300 acres in Black River and an­other 575 acres in St El­iz­a­beth within nine years. In 1703, the par­ish of West­more­land was split off from St El­iz­a­beth. In West­more­land, he ac­quired New Hope (2,350 acres) and Albany (700 acres). In 1723, the par­ish of Hanover was par­ti­tioned out of west­ern West­more­land. Here, John Camp­bell owned land in Or­ange Bay and Fish River that he willed to his el­dest, Colin, who was also later to get £150 a year to man­age his Black River es­tate. Ann was born early in the same year as her par­ents were mar­ried, which sug­gests that John Camp­bell and Kather­ine had met ear­lier, per­haps when he was in Kingston ob­tain­ing sup­plies for the colony in Panama.

John and Kather­ine had seven chil­dren be­fore she died in 1715: Leonard, Dun­can, John, El­iz­a­beth, Colin, Ann, and Wil­liam, who was ap­par­ently men­tally in­ca­pac­i­tated and saw out his life in the care of Archibald Camp­bell in Ar­gyll­shire.

En­thused by the prospect of farm­ing in trop­i­cal Ja­maica, John Camp­bell took lit­tle time be­fore per­suad­ing his neph­ews to join him in the is­land. His brother, Du­gald, pro­vided four sons: James of Or­ange Bay, Peter of Fish River, Colin of New Hope, and John (a ship’s cap­tain) of Or­ange Bay. His sis­ter, Bessie, had two sons des­tined to em­i­grate in the is­land: Du­gald of Salt Spring and Peter of New Hope.

So many re­lated Camp­bells set­tled in west­ern Ja­maica that they were fre­quently known by the places they came from. John Camp­bell Black River was how the Darien sur­vivor was com­monly called. This was a con­ven­tional means of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in Scot­land, where the farm or place name was added to one’s own, not as a form of snob­bery, but out of prac­ti­cal ne­ces­sity.


The ac­qui­si­tion of land in Ja­maica was a pri­or­ity for the Camp­bells, al­though there were those who planned to re­turn to Scot­land and set­tle fi­nally in their tra­di­tional homestead. Yet some mort­gaged their Ar­gyll­shire prop­er­ties in or­der to ex­pand their hold­ings in Ja­maica. Peter of Fish River and Peter and James of Or­ange Bay, also neph­ews, mort­gaged land in Scot­land for that pur­pose. By 1745, Scots con­sti­tuted a quar­ter of the is­land’s land­hold­ers. It was said that no fewer than 100 had the name Camp­bell, claim­ing al­liance with the Ar­gyll fam­ily.

As the years went by, John Camp­bell Black River, as well as amass­ing sub­stan­tial land hold­ings in south­west­ern Ja­maica, earned an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion for pub­lic ser­vice. In 1717, he was ap­pointed a mem­ber of the Ja­maican As­sem­bly and by 1722 was a mem­ber of the Privy Coun­cil. He held the post of cus­tos of St El­iz­a­beth and colonel in the St El­iz­a­beth Mili­tia. In 1718, three years af­ter his wife, El­iz­a­beth, died, he mar­ried El­iz­a­beth Games, with whom he had no more chil­dren.

The tes­ta­ment to his life’s work is in­scribed on his tomb­stone in Hodge’s Pen, near Black River. In part, it states, “Thro’ his ex­treme gen­eros­ity and as­sis­tance, many are now pos­sessed of op­u­lent for­tunes. His tem­per­ance and great hu­man­ity have al­ways been re­mark­able. He died Jan­uary 29th, 1740, aged 66 years, uni­ver­sally lamented.”

John Camp­bell Black River wrote his will in Au­gust 1739, which gives us some idea not only his worth, but also the re­la­tion­ships that he fos­tered.

Al­though he ap­par­ently died on his property at Or­ange Bay in Hanover, his res­i­dence was at Hodge’s Pen, which he be­queathed to El­iz­a­beth. This be­quest in­cluded the land, an­i­mals, eight horses with “a coach char­iot” and chaise, a gold watch, books, fur­ni­ture and plate as well as £450 an­nu­ally.

He made pro­vi­sions for her to keep his coach­man and house­hold staff. His will in­structed his wife to man­u­mit (set free) one Ma­rina and a mu­latto child, a daugh­ter by an­other woman, Cuf­fee, be­fore or af­ter El­iz­a­beth’s death, with an an­nual stipend to Ma­rina of £five. It is

pos­si­ble that he had in­ti­mate re­la­tions with both women. His wife’s maid, Mu­latto Nelly, was also to be set free af­ter El­iz­a­beth’s death “if she be­haves well and is faith­ful to her mis­tress”.

As was the cus­tom at the time, an of­fi­cial in­ven­tory had to be made of the de­ceased’s worth. Reg­is­tered on Septem­ber 30, 1740, this de­tailed his pos­ses­sions – hu­man, live­stock and goods – but not his prop­er­ties. The to­tal came to PS5,771.18, in­clud­ing 66 male slaves at £40 each, 46 women at £38 each, and 24 boys and girls at £10 each. His live­stock con­trib­uted PS953 to the to­tal and in­cluded 16

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