Caribbean luxury - Sinclairs in paradise?
Was the 1700s era in the Caribbean sugar and tobacco trade like we imagine it? Was it like a luxury Caribbean resort today?
Tracking Sinclair history in the Caribbean
Everywhere I go these days, I pick up the local phone book and look for Sinclairs, Sinklers, Sincelers, and St. Clairs. When I was in St. Croix at The Buccaneer hotel, an amazingly beautiful Caribbean luxury resort, I did the same thing and actually called a few of them. (I'm pretty sure they thought I was trying to sell them something.) My goal was simply to learn more about their family histories: did they know their grandparents, g-grandparents, etc. So far, I've never found anyone who had a clear idea of their family history.
If you're been to St. Croix, and especially The Buccaneer, you'll easily believe that life there was like living in the lap of luxury. The old sugar mill, the beautiful beaches, the soft breeze fragrant with exotic flowers, the combination of such wonderful imagery makes you feel it must have always been this way. From what I've read, life wasn't much like we might picture it today, even for the sugar plantation owners. And yet, still the notions of an idyllic life, lived out in the peaceful serenity of a warm Caribbean island persist.
Once I found out that my ancestors crossed the Atlantic via the Caribbean, indeed most of our ancestors crossed the Atlantic via these islands, I began to research for any Sinclair connections here. It's not an easy thing to do. In the case of St. Croix, the island traded hands 5 times. The Spanish, Dutch, English, French, The Knights of Malta, and the United States all flew their flags over St. Croix. So finding records is very difficult.
"Caribbean luxury" is likely a modern idea.
Like my search for Templar Sinclairs, I continue to find little, if any, evidence of certain beliefs even as recent at the 1700s. The romantic notions of the Caribbean sugar plantation way of life seems to be an idea that began in the 1700s. In studying our history in the Caribbean, I began to suspect our modern ideas about life on a sugar plantation also began in the same period, in that style of writing which simply drips with adjectives.
With slavery, malaria, pirates, restrictive British taxes and other difficulties, I no longer think that life in these places at this time period was as romantic as the opening scenes of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Pirate attacks in these areas were plentiful. In St. Croix, where I stayed, Fort Frederik was built on the western side of the island in 1752 to protect the island against pirate attacks. If you think of how difficult it is to build a fort, the attacks must have been plentiful enough to warrant the investment. And, unlike the afore-mentioned movie, I highly doubt the pirates fell in love with the locals.
Early trade in the Caribbean
Square rigged ships of the 1600s and 1700s were not good at "tacking" against the wind. In order to reach the new lands in the west, they sailed directly away from the wind. When leaving Scotland or England, they progressed south "til the butter melted," then, with the Equatorial Current at their backs, they turned towards the West Indies. A smooth crossing usually required 4 or 5 weeks. After stops in the Caribbean, they’d go up the coast of America, making stops along the way. In Virginia, they’d trade their remaining slaves and some sugar for Tobacco, which they’d take back to Glasgow for a very handsome profit.
This early route worked out very well for trade and this trade route is documented as having included at least one of the Sinclair family. In the Bogle Papers, I found a Robert Sinclair traveling for the Bogles and on that ship was Arrack, a sugar product (liquor). From a letter by George Bogle Jr. to his father, London, 19 August 1727:
"Mr Carstaires writes me he has no receipt for the arrack? but that it was delivered to one James Hail/Hall sailing with Robert Sinclair. As to the tea"..........(source - Bogle Papers)
On this trade route, they’d use a good gained in one location to barter for the goods of the next. In Scotland and England, they’d stock up on beads, trinkets, and fabrics, all highly prized by the African leaders who would trade their people to acquire more of these goods. The ships would then head to the West Indies where the slaves were in high demand. They’d trade the slaves for sugar products. Then they’d take the remaining slaves and sugar and head up to the Carolinas and Virginia, where they’d trade the remaining slaves for tobacco. Following the Gulf Current, they’d head home with their hogsheads of tobacco and the promise of great riches.
Sinclairs were in the sugar and tobacco businesses, but not leading it.
The St. Clairs (descendants of Alexander Sinkler) of Virginia were certainly part of this trans-Atlantic trade route. Alexander was one of the larger growers of rural Northern Virginia. He did own over 10 slaves and had a thriving tobacco business which he bequeathed to his children. But I doubt he experienced much “luxury” in the part of Virginia in which he lived.
Some more recent Sinclairs in the sugar trade with the Easter and Wester Sugar Houses -
SINCLAIR, David G of Paisley (age 15) (broker's cashier) (35 West Stewart St) Greenock 1881 census CD
SINCLAIR, Dugald of Argyll (age 55) (labourer) (57 Shaw St) Greenock 1881 census CD
SINCLAIRE, Thomas - Stewarts, Thomson & Co Old Sugar House, Rosemary Lane Belfast 1760-93 Belfast Telegraph 14 Sep 1926
SINCLAR, Malcome of Scotland (age 40) (1 St Michael St) Greenock 1841 census 564/35/7
Sources & Further Reading -
Sugar slaves and Ireland, Cunninghams (especially Waddell Cunningham) of Ireland Click here >>
You can read more about this Waddell Cunningham at this link Click here >>
It seems Waddell stirred up trouble wherever he went.
Great site about the sugar and slave trades Click here >>
Sugar Refiners and Sugarbakers. An amazing resource for genealogical records Click here >>
Further from the same source Click here >>
Click the links, they’re amazing articles
Among the names of families connected to the St. Clairs of Virginia and also connected to the sugar business of the same period -
CRAWFORD George - - Balfour St Port-Gl'g'w 1777 Hutcheson
CRAWFORD Hugh - - Glebe Sugar House, Clarence St (Refinery 5) Greenock 1812 Hutcheson
CRAWFORD Samuel - Crawford, King & Co Balfour St Port-Gl'g'w <1789 Hutcheson
CRAWFORD William - - Balfour St Port-Gl'g'w 1777 Hutcheson
CRAWFORD William - Henry Tate Syrup Silvertown London <1890 Ronald Crawford - family research
CRAWFORD - - Crawford & King - Glasgow 1783 Hutcheson
DOUGLAS, Robert - - - Leith 1695 Hutcheson
Steel's - several, but only in the late 1800's and 1900's.
WAYMAN George - (21 Eyre St Hill, Holborn) London 1820-77
Peter Towey - family research
WILSON, Alex Greenock Sugar House Co Sugar House Lane (Refinery 1) Greenock 1765 Hutcheson
WILSON, Alexander Sugar House Lane Greenock 1765 Deerr
WILSON, Benjamin Chester 1767 Cheshire Wills
WILSON, James Alston St Refinery Glasgow 1866-68 Hutcheson
WILSON, John Sugar House Lane (Refinery 2) Greenock 1788 Hutcheson
I haven’t found many records beyond the treasure trove that was hauled out of Barbados and Jamaica by the Maitland family. Click here >>
The notions of Caribbean luxury were possibly true for the gentry of the time period, I've found no evidence that the Sinclairs of the Caribbean islands had large landholdings. In fact, I suspect they were of the merchant class, or even a step down from that.
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