Saturday, August 13, 2011


I’ve been curious about this, which I presume was copied from a family bible at some time, and passed on to Winning Pendergast who included it in her family history of the Sutherlands:

“John Sutherland Sr.... died on his way home from Black River, Jamaica, W. I. on Board the ship Williams, Captain Wheatley off the Island of Cuba, June 21, 1765 in the 59th year of his age which would place the year of his birth 1706.”

I have found references to a Captain Wheatley, in charge of the ship Williams in the 1770s, which seemed to be doing the Jamaica to Bristol run. Jamaica depended on enslaved labour to produce sugar; England increasingly relied on sugar as it became more available and less costly. Once the Williams emptied its hold, it would have returned to Jamaica with the trade goods produced in England by its increasingly underpaid workers. While some ships also included a third stop at one of the slave forts on Africa’s coast, research by Kenneth Morgan of Brunel University demonstrates that by mid-century Bristol merchants “increasingly favored regular, direct routes instead of multilateral voyage patterns” (4). Black River, Jamaica would have been a likely destination as it was the principal British settlement in the region. I am intrigued that it was also known for producing: “cocoa, ginger, pimento, or as it is called Jamaica pepper, and vulgarly allspice; the wild cinnamon, the machineel, whose fruit though uncommonly delightful to the eye contains one of the worst poisons in nature; the cabbage tree” and other various items. However, Black River was not uncontested, and tensions with Spain in particular would have been a source of some anxiety for travelers and merchants alike.

I’ve generated a list of possible Captain Wheatleys. It wasn’t an uncommon name at the time, and there were a number of seafaring Wheatley families, which complicates matters a bit. I have been able to rule out the Captain John Wheatley who purchased a young enslaved woman who would come to be known as the poet Phillis Wheatley (coincidentally I’ve just published about her). Additional possibilities exist, but I’d have to go into archives on other continents. Unfortunately, as Morgan points out, Bristol‘s in-and-out letter books were destroyed in 1814, and the Bristol customs records in the Reform Bill riots of 1831. Strangely, the best records for eighteenth-century Bristol shipping are apparently in Melbourne. Since I’m not going to Melbourne, I’ve accepted that I’m not going to resolve this one.

That said, given all that I’ve read, it is interesting to imagine John Sutherland in Black River, a world so radically different from Sunbury on Thames. Was it his first trip? I don’t know; if not, he would have brought back tales that might have been passed down in the family of what was understood as the new world. Such a precedent might even explain the willingness of Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) to relocate multiple times in his life, from England, to Edinburgh, to Canada.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I have to admit, when I began, I had no idea that I would find any accounts of Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) as an individual. But here a family member provides some insight into Sutherland’s motivation for emigration:

“He was a man of some originality and force of character. He was much dissatisfied with the then unprogressive character of political affairs in this country, and having resolved to try his fortune in newer and less conventional fields, he emigrated to Canada West during the first quarter of the century, and he there founded a district and colony now known as the district of Sutherland on the St. Clair river.”

As this relative remained in Scotland, this note is additionally intriguing: he’d never met Thomas Sutherland, who was long dead when he wrote this, and yet the stories about TS must have been tremendously compelling. In regards to his politics, I’m assuming this is in reference to the radical reforms of the 1820s. (Otherwise, the only thing I’ve encountered is the possibility that he actively identified as a Jacobite.)

Surprisingly, another record of TS’s emigration survives. According to one who had read his letters home to Edinburgh, “he took a large lot of miscellaneous goods with him, the greater part of which he advantageously sold at Toronto; but he does not recommend emigrants to follow his example in attempting this kind of trading speculation. From Toronto he removed to a fine tract of land, consisting of about 1500 acres, lying on the river St. Clair, which is at the extreme west of the settlements. This land he purchased a great bargain, and he mentions that he could already sell it for double what it cost. He describes the climate, even during the winter, as agreeable, and speaks with a great degree of gratification of his removal to and settlement in this delightful portion of the province.”