Author Archives: Innes Keighren

About Innes Keighren

Reader in Historical Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.

February in review

If January bucked the trend of months seeming to zip past in the blink of an eye, February has very much marked a return to business as usual. I can’t quite believe that four working weeks have passed and that it is now six months since I began my Fellowship with the Leverhulme Trust. Yikes!

As ever, this month has been a mixed bag: I feel like I’ve made good progress in some areas and have stalled in others. At the end of January, I set myself the goal of finishing my account of Macintosh’s two decades in the Caribbean by the end of February. That goal was, I now realise, hopelessly optimistic. As I neared 30,000 words of the book’s first empirical chapter, I had only got as far as 1768. I realised that, as I was only just over the half-way point in terms of what I wanted to say about Macintosh’s formation as a political actor in the Caribbean, I needed to split the chapter. Now, I have one chapter (25,863 inclusive of notes) that covers the period between Macintosh’s birth in 1737 and his return to Britain in 1768 to lobby the government over the rights of French Catholics in Grenada and attempt to unseat Robert Melvill as the island’s governor. The second empirical chapter (currently 5,287 inclusive of notes) will follow that story in London and then return with Macintosh to Grenada to witness the aftermath of that lobbying.

I feel happier now that I have restructured this element of the book—in many ways it is endlessly fascinating, but it is also really quite important in terms of understanding how and why Macintosh became drawn into political activity. At the same time, I have become aware that my productivity, if measured crudely in words per day, has been declining month on month. This is, I think, due to a combination of factors. The first, and most significant, is the time invested (20 hours per working week) on home schooling since the beginning of January. There are simply not enough hours in the day to write a book and educate a five-year-old, and the level of fatigue has been creeping up as a result. Still, my phonics and number bonds have come on in leaps and bounds.

Flattening the curve (but in the wrong way).

The second issue is that, as the complexity of the social and political contexts in which Macintosh was involved increases, I am spending proportionally more time researching than writing. This was especially true this month when, earlier than I had expected, I needed to start understanding and writing about the politics of the East India Company. The learning curve has been a steep one, but I think it has allowed me to understand Macintosh and his milieu more fully than I had before and to identify the centrality of Lauchlin Macleane to Macintosh’s activities in the West Indies and British India during the 1770s.

I have also drawn a great deal of inspiration from some of the work I have read this month, particularly Emma Rothschild’s An Infinite History: The Story of a Family in France over Three Centuries and Robert A. Caro’s Working.

Very early in my work on Macintosh, I had read Emma Rothschild’s The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History (2011), ostensibly for a footnote reference to Macintosh that it contained, and was totally blown away by it—I thought it was wonderful. That book follows one Scottish family—the Johnstones—across Britain’s eighteenth-century empire. An Infinite History is also a family story, but one that focuses on five generations of a family from Angoulême in the south west of France (all descendants of one illiterate woman, Marie Aymard) from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Although the source material for An Infinite History is different—drawing largely from civic records and notarial acts and less from correspondence—it is equally compelling and in many ways quite beautiful. (I can also recommend the audiobook, which is excellent).

Macintosh serves as an interesting connection between Rothschild’s books, and the families she discusses; he was a friend of one Johnstone brother (Alexander) and a business partner of another (William) and was involved in Grenadian politics with the man who employed Marie Aymard’s husband, Jean-Alexandre Cazaud. Six degrees of separation, indeed! Together, Rothschild’s books represent the kind of history I aspire to write, but to which I know I will never come close. It matters, though, to have something to aim towards.

Caro’s book, on the other hand, is inspiring in a slightly different way. In his reflections on the lengthy (indeed, very lengthy) process of writing two biographies—one on the roguish “master builder” Robert Moses, the other on Lyndon B. Johnson—Caro makes the ultimate case for slow scholarship. Part of me wishes it were possible for me to follow his example, and to invest another decade in turning every page of Macintosh’s archive and in chasing down every lead, but part of me realises that my work, and this book I am writing, cannot be definitive. It can be as good as I can make it in the time and with the resources I have, but should start a conversation about Macintosh, not be the last word on him.

History hangs on a comma; Or, on the anatomy of an error

Last week, as often happens, I found myself disappearing down a scholarly rabbit hole as I tried to resolve a familiar problem: the issue that arises when two or more secondary sources conflict about a matter of historical fact. Divergence in the historical literature is, of course, entirely normal, but it does force any writer to make a decision about which “side” they think is the most reliable. In this instance, the divergence came down to a simple issue of whether or not a comma was present in the manuscript annotation of a 1765 letter. The annotation could be read in two different ways depending upon whether the comma was there or not. This was a puzzle that, as a perfectionist and a pedant, I couldn’t resist, even though it was not central to any of the arguments I was trying to make.

The annotation, which is typically attributed to Edmund Burke, appears on a copy of a circular letter that had been composed in concert between the Marquess of Rockingham, then Prime Minister, and merchant/political lobbyist Barlow Trecothick, in an effort to solicit petitions against the 1764 Stamp Act, which the pair were then seeking to repeal. The circular was very successful and prompted a deluge of petitions that significantly helped efforts to repeal the Act. Given the significance of the Stamp Act, and resistance to it, for historians of the American Revolution, this letter has been written about a great deal in the secondary literature, and the annotation which appears on it has been cited many, many times.

Detail from “General Letter from Comee. of North American Merchants (about Trade) to the outports & to the manufacturing Towns,” 6 December 1765, Sheffield City Archives, WWM/R1/535.

The annotation, above, reads:

N. B. This Letter concerted between the Marquess of R. & Mr. Trecothick The principal instrument in the happy repeal of the Stamp Act, wh. witht. giving up the British authority quieted the Empire

Although there is clearly not a comma after “Trecothick”, several sources—such as Kammen, writing in A Rope of Sand (1968), below—have assumed there was. In that case, the “principal instrument” becomes Trecothick, rather than the letter itself.

Michael G. Kammen, A Rope of Sand: The Colonial Agents, British Politics, and the American Revolution (1968), p. 29.

This is not, however, Kammen’s error. If we look at his footnotes, we see that he was, in fact, quoting from Carl B. Cone’s 1957 book Burke and the Nature of Politics: The Age of the American Revolution, see below.

Carl B. Cone, Burke and the Nature of Politics: The Age of the American Revolution (1957), p. 95.

As it turns out, the error was not in fact Cone’s; he was merely quoting from yet another source: the Earl of Albermarle’s Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and His Contemporaries, below. Here, Albemarle, despite referring to the original manuscript, had inserted a comma after “Trecothick”, changing the meaning of the quotation as a result.

George Thomas, Earl of Albemarle, Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and His Contemporaries, vol. 1 (1852), p. 319.

In a way, none of this really matters, but it does highlight a problem that is almost impossible to avoid in writing history: since we never have the opportunity to trace everything back to primary sources, we must rely on the work of others. Sometimes that work will be mistaken, even in a tiny way as it is here, and we will inevitably, although unintentionally, replicate that error. Although doing so goes against every fibre of perfectionism in my body, I have gradually been making peace with the inescapable nature of this problem. It is impossible to be free from error in any historical research, and primary sources themselves are never straightforward mirrors of reality, so all we can do is to treat our sources critically, seek confirmation and corroboration where we can, and write with care rather than certainty.

A question of (mis)attribution

Joseph Price’s description of Macintosh in “Some observations and remarks on a late publication, intitled, Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa” (1782)

Shortly after the publication of Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa, its explosive criticism of the East India Company under Warren Hastings attracted a vociferous counterblast from one of Hasting’s supporters, Joseph Price. Aside from seeking to refute Macintosh’s criticisms, Price also presented a number of ad-homenim attacks, one of which—that Macintosh was mixed race—was intended to undermine Macintosh’s credibility among a readership whose prejudices would have understood rationality and authority as running along racial lines.

Although Macintosh’s subsequent appearance in the historical literature is extremely patchy, it is remarkable how often Price’s mischaracterisation of him has been parroted uncritically in nineteenth- and twentieth-century historical scholarship. More than the reproduction of a factual error, however, the echoing of Price’s description often serves to bias scholars’ reading of Macintosh as a historical actor.

A related problem is the erroneous conflation of Macintosh with others of a similar name. This tendency has, for example, seen the authorship of Travels attributed to James Mackintosh (1765–1832)—rather improbable as Mackintosh would have been a precocious seventeen years old at the time of the book’s publication—and Macintosh confused with William Mackintosh, with whom Alexander Johnstone (1727–1783) seems to have quarrelled. A further conflation has occurred in relation to a “Captain Macintosh” who appears in the memoirs of William Hickey and was characterised by him as a lascivious drunkard, gambler, and persistent debtor. Whether Hickey’s Macintosh and Johnstone’s Mackintosh are one and the same is a question I shall leave for others.

These twin problems of error and conflation are exemplified, to an almost parodic extent, in a biography of Lauchlin Macleane (1728/9–1778)—Reward is Secondary: The Life of a Political Adventurer and an Inquiry into the Mystery of ‘Junius’ (1962), by James N. M. Maclean—which I have been reading lately. The following extracts from the book illustrate the repetition of Price’s lie (or, in this case, a repetition of someone else’s repetition of it), the conflation of Macintosh with others, and the effect of these misattributions on the book’s analysis of him.

Before leaving the West Indies Lauchlin had chosen as his ‘attorney’ and land steward a rogue of the deepest dye. He was a quadroon [i.e., one quarter black] named William Macintosh—”a swarthy and ill-looking man as any that is to be seen on the Portuguese Walk in the Royal Exchange. He was a man of colour born in the West Indies and a great impostor, assuming acquaintance with all manner of distinguished persons.” This shifty son of a Highland Father and a mulatto mother was invaluable to the syndicate [i.e., Macleane’s land purchase in Grenada]. Macintosh knew how to control and get the best of out negro slave labour, he knew a lot about sugar crops and he was crooked and capable enough to falsify land titles. He was, however, too dangerous to be left without some sort of supervision. p. 90.

…William Macintosh, the villainous land steward… p. 176.

With these new appointments, Macleane’s personal domination of the West India land syndicate and its employees came to an end. Only the Scottish French-Creole quadroon William Macintosh, a rogue cast in the Macleane mould but without the master-adventurer’s powerful intellect, finesse and sense of timing, was left as a representative of the old gang. p. 251.

As Colonel Lauchlin Macleane left the shores of Britain for the East Indies, ‘Captain’ [here the author is conflating] William Macintosh was approaching them from the West Indies. Earlier in the year Macintosh had informed [Robert] Orme that young William Ridge was dead, that Thomas Vanderdussen was temporarily managing the Grenada estates, and that he, Macintosh, felt that the time had come for him to meet the trustees for whom he worked. Orme formed a high opinion of Macintosh and continued to hold that opinion. Nearly everyone else who met this unmitigated scoundrel were initially impressed by his plausible manners, fine clothes and bogus military rank but, unlike Orme, they quickly saw that he was a vainglorious mountebank without the necessary abilities to match his pretentions. p. 318.

…the disreputable William Macintosh, who had been making a thorough nuisance of himself… p. 432.

In William Hickey’s opinion nobody was ‘so mean and despicable a wretch as the dirty dog calling himself Captain Macintosh’. He was ‘an errant pickpocket blackguard’ and a ‘dirty vagabond’. To the end of his days Macintosh was an intriguer. As late as 1796 he was working in Berne, Switzerland, as a secret agent for George Chalmers. What happened to him after this date is not known, but he was getting old and probably did not live very much longer. His exploits in India as a henchman of Francis were exposed in a book produced by a fiery sea-captain named Joseph Price. p. 434.

The factual errors and erroneous conflations evidenced above are, from a practical point of view, frustrating since they introduce unreliability into what is otherwise a very detailed and well-supported biography of Maclean, but they are also illustrative of the broader historiographical processes by which Macintosh’s role as a historical actor have been distorted by fundamental uncertainties about who he was. In one way, this is all grist to the mill for my own research, but, in another, it is a reminder about the centrality of source criticism in my efforts to understand who Macintosh actually was.

Somewhat ironically, James N. M. Maclean was aware, in general, of the problems of conflation and misattribution; his entertaining and very honest introduction to the book highlights this issue: “Many of the men in this book have hitherto been confused with one another, or they have been merged to form a composite character” (p. xii). Plus ça change!

Introducing Team Macintosh 4.0

I have been fortunate, at various intervals during the nine-or-so years I have been working on this project, to be able to draw on the assistance of others—Team Macintosh, Team Macintosh 2.0, and Team Macintosh 3.0—in producing transcriptions of Macintosh’s correspondence. I am very pleased, therefore, to be able to introduce the latest recruit to the extended “Team Macintosh” family, Jaz Bigden.

Jaz Bigden (aka Team Macintosh 4.0)

Jaz is currently enrolled in the MSc in Global Futures in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and, as part of a placement module, will be working to produce transcriptions of letters Macintosh sent from Grenada in the mid 1770s. This is a period that followed Macintosh’s very public clashes with Grenada’s former governor, Robert Melvill, and encompassed his time as Comptroller of His Majesty’s Customs for the Port of Grenville. It was, in that sense, a time that saw Macintosh’s role evolve from being an agitator to a colonial authority. I very much look forward to seeing what Jaz’s work reveals.

January in review

Time always seems to take on an elastic quality in January; the month can appear to stretch so that, by its end, it’s hard to believe we haven’t really moved on and are still stuck in the middle of winter. The sense of time taking on a different meaning in January has certainly been reinforced by how much seems to have taken place in the outside world in the space of thirty-one days; already the month is divided up, in my mind at least, into the “before” and “after” of major political events and the reimposition, here, of a national lockdown. It has been a month in which feelings of fear and sadness have oscillated with those of hope and optimism. January 2021 has, it seems, been the entirety of 2020—its best and its worst—distilled down into a single month.

On a more practical level, time has become increasingly precious this month as my partner and I, like millions of other parents, juggle work, home schooling, and the challenging joy of 24/7 childcare. Here, we have returned to a pattern we adopted last spring: we divide the day into two four-hour shifts (08:30–12:30 and 13:00–17:00) for work and home schooling/childcare, come together to cook and eat at mealtimes, and try to keep on top of emails when our daughter has gone to bed (although that point in the evening has been creeping ever later). For us, this is the least-worst model, but it is, of course, far from ideal—while the time available for work has halved, the amount of work remains the same. It is a familiar frustration.

I was very fortunate at the beginning of January to take part in a virtual writing retreat organised by Dr Joanne Norcup for the Historical Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG. The retreat—which operated via Twitter and Zoom—was a great opportunity for participants to set writing goals, report on their progress, and, at the end of the retreat, to discuss strategies and to share hints and tips. I have tried, as far as possible, to maintain the momentum the retreat gave me. The retreat was also helpful in reminding me that, while the length of my working day has been halved as a result of home schooling, I am still able to devote four uninterrupted hours to research and writing each working day—something that feels like a real privilege under the circumstances.

Progress reduced to its basic unit of measurement: words per day.

Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, I have been increasingly less productive (at least in terms of raw word count) as time has progressed. In November, I was averaging 930 words per day. By December, this had reduced to 865, and in January it was down to 650. By and large, this is a simple function of having less time each day in which to work, but is also—perhaps inevitably—the consequence of the accumulating fatigue that each week of home schooling adds. Trying to write a historical monograph in four-hour bursts is also far from ideal; I find it takes me at least an hour each day to get back into the rhythm and thinking from the previous day and that I only really begin to hit my stride when it’s time to stop. All that being said, I am closing in on the 25,000-word mark. Although this is a welcome (although entirely arbitrary) milestone, it is giving me some cause for concern; currently each of those 25,000 words is part of the book’s first empirical chapter which is, itself, a long way from being finished. At this stage, however, I am putting that worry to the back of my mind and focusing on moving the book forward, certain in the knowledge that a good deal of restructuring will be required at a later stage. Looking ahead to February, my main task will be to bring this Caribbean chapter to a final close and to turn, then, to follow Macintosh to India.

Found in translation

Reading almost any historical source can, at times, feel like an exercise in translation, as you work to make sense of a document written using a syntax and grammar, or in a particular social context, that might render it opaque. This metaphor, of course, becomes literal when dealing with sources written in another language—and the task of interpretation almost invariably become more complex still. I was reminded of these difficulties recently when trying to make sense of a legal deed, written in Paris in 1781, that concerns Macintosh’s involvement with Catherine Grand, who, in the late 1770s, had been at the centre of a scandalous and widely publicised trial in India following an affair she had had with Philip Francis, an East India Company colleague of her husband, George Grand.

Catherine Grand in 1783, by Vigée Le Brun. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 50.135.2.

Under circumstances that I do not yet fully understand, Macintosh became involved in ensuring Catherine’s welfare after her separation from George (this may have been at the request of Francis, who seems to have been keen to end the affair and to dispatch Catherine to Europe as rapidly as possible). While some historical sources suggest that Macintosh accompanied Catherine on her return voyage, I have not been able (thus far) to establish the accuracy of that claim. What is undisputed, however, is that on that journey Catherine struck up an intimate friendship with a Madras civil servant, Thomas Lewin, and that the pair enjoyed a brief romance, living together first in London and then in Paris. The relationship was short-lived, but Lewin provided an annuity for Catherine to afford her a degree of financial security.

Extract from a deed of annuity, 9 December 1781. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 85.

I knew that the deed (above)—which I had found among Macintosh’s papers some years ago—concerned this annuity, but I had struggled to read it due to 1) my woefully limited French, 2) some contractions I was unfamiliar with, and 3) the particular legal phrasing employed in parts of it. Keen not to admit defeat, I wrote to a number of historians of eighteenth-century France and was eventually put in touch with the freelance researcher Dominique Lussier, a regular contributor to the work of the Voltaire Foundation, who was kind enough to agree to produce a transcription and a translation of the deed.

Even with Dominique’s help, however, parts of the deed resisted straightforward interpretation, being either obviously in error (it describes Catherine as Macintosh’s brother, for example), or hard to disentangle as a consequence of its use of long sentences with many conditional clauses and legal phrases. In this last context, I was, on the recommendation of a colleague, able to draw on the insights of a legal historian, Michael Lobban, who was kind enough to cast his eye over the deed and offer me his reading of it.

Although I still have some work to do on the document, it does, at least, establish Macintosh’s connection with Catherine unambiguously. The deed shows that the annuity had been purchased by “a close relative of the aforementioned Mrs Grand that did not wish to be named [une personne proche parente de lad. De. Grand qui n’a voulu être nommée]” (i.e., Lewin). The deed also imposed conditions, and stated that Catherine was permitted to draw on the annuity throughout her life only “If she does not take Holy orders and does not go back to her husband [Si elle n’embrasse pas l’état religieux et ne se reunit point avec son mari]”. If Grand were to fail to satisfy these conditions, the deed seems to indicate that the annuity would pass to Macintosh.

December in review

2020 epitomised.

Although December is not yet over, I don’t propose to do any additional work on the Macintosh project before 2021. I have parked the first chapter at c. 14,500 words, having taken Macintosh from the Highlands to the Ceded Islands and to the verge of his emergence as a political actor in Grenada in the mid 1760s. I hope to take advantage of the virtual writing retreat being run next month by the Historical Geography Research Group to recover the momentum of writing and, all being well, to have this particular chapter done and dusted by the end of January.

While much of my time in December was devoted to writing, I did manage to visit the National Archives at Kew for a day’s archival digging. I was very fortunate to manage to book a slot in the short window between the end of the second national lockdown at the beginning of the month and the rapid reshuffling of tiers last week. The visit was primarily an opportunity to consolidate some earlier work, but I was also looking at some new material, which offered a useful insight into Macintosh’s role as justice of the peace for the parish of St Andrew. Included in this new material is a fascinating deposition taken in 1770 from a French planter concerning the threat posed by a band of runaway slaves. The slaves, the planter claimed, had threatened to “come down and burn all his estates” and to do so not “in a dark Clandestine manner but with day light with drums beating and shells blowing”. “[I]n a very short time,” they further warned, “the Island of Grenada would be overturned”.

Macintosh’s record of these “rebellious & insolent Declarations” was passed via the Governor, Robert Melvill, to London. Melvill, with whom Macintosh repeatedly clashed, was, however, evidently keen to discredit the deposition (and Macintosh) in the eyes of his superiors. Melvill took pains to point out in his accompanying letter that Macintosh had been “appointed one of the Justices of Peace during my absence from the Government” and the deposition was only “said to be taken by him”. Keen to downplay the threat of insurrection as “so many Fictions or Exaggerations”, Melvill described such fears as “the artifices of some factious disturbers of Government”. Although I had seen extracts of the deposition before (it has previously been quoted by Brigitte Kossek, Tessa Murphy, and Donald Polson), I hadn’t realised it had been taken by Macintosh and I hadn’t ever seen it in the wider context of Melvill’s letter. Reading between the lines, the tension between Macintosh and Melvill is patent.

In addition to the short burst of work at the National Archives (which was incredibly impressive in terms of its organisation with respect to the pandemic), I was also in correspondence this month with the Sutherland historian Malcolm Bangor-Jones. Malcom has been tremendously helpful in filling in some missing details about Macintosh’s father, Lachlan. Malcolm was able to identify Lachlan in a range of eighteenth-century records—mostly assize lists—that pinpoint his shifting location and occupation between the 1740s and 1760s. Lachlan was a stonemason by trade, before being appointed factor at Newmore. In the 1750s, Lachlan moved north to Sutherland and became tacksman at Meikle Creich, Proncy, and Achinduich. I would, more likely than not, never have identified these records without Malcolm’s help.

Making plans for next month feels tricky at the moment; so much seems uncertain and anxiety inducing. If schools reopen in January, I will do what I can to finish the Caribbean chapter by the end of the month and then move on, with Macintosh, to India. If schools are closed, I will—like 2020—just have to cut my coat according to my cloth. In the meantime, however, I am thankful to be able to focus on the pleasures of home and to down tools until the New Year.

November in review

November epitomised.

Although I have felt at times this month that the external distractions of lockdown and domestic and international politics might entirely overwhelm my ability to focus on Macintosh, I have, somewhat to my surprise, managed to start writing. I have begun work on what will be the book’s second chapter, which seeks to account for Macintosh’s emergence as a commentator on the politics of empire. What I hope to show in this chapter is that his experience of the various sectarian and racial divides in Grenada during the 1760s and 1770s precipitated his politicisation and led to him adopting a vocal stance on matters he considered significant. The Caribbean was, in that respect, Macintosh’s political nursery and his time there is important in contextualising his later engagement with British India and the subsequent publication of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782).

My writing progress has, so far, been steady but also fairly slow: ranging between 500 and 1,000 words a day. In part this rate is explained by a somewhat constrained working day, defined by the hours of the school day. Partly, however, it is also explained by the fact that at least half of every writing day is devoted to reading and to research. I have always found it impossible to separate reading, research, and writing and so I tend to inch my writing forward line by line, paragraph by paragraph. Although this approach tends to give me confidence in the accuracy of what I am writing, it does also mean that it is very easy to get lost down a rabbit hole when trying to track down a snippet of information necessary to complete a particular sentence. At the beginning of this chapter, for example, I found myself needing to test a claim (from a 1782 source) that Macintosh had had “a good education”. Verifying this statement necessitated a lengthy detour into the literature on education in the Scottish Highlands during the eighteenth century, a check to see whether a parish school existed in Rosskeen at the time Macintosh was living there, what forms of education were available to the children of Tacksmen, like Macintosh’s father, and so on. A couple of hours of reading—together with an email or two to a more knowledgeable colleague—netted perhaps two sentences of final prose.

While in many respects it is a joy and a pleasure to be able to follow my curiosity in doing this kind of background work, it also speaks to a deeper-set anxiety I have about the challenges this book presents as a consequence of its scope. There is a very good reason, I think, that historians tend to specialise by period and/or area; there is a great deal to know and a vast literature to get to grips with. Following Macintosh means crossing multiple areas of historical and geographical specialism and exposing myself to the challenge of demonstrating appropriate competence in each of these areas. Precisely what makes this project interesting—Macintosh’s mobility within and across three continents and their political contexts—is what makes it challenging. In order to make progress, however, I have to try to put these concerns to one side and to write one line at a time.

Although my writing timetable has me finishing this chapter in time for Christmas, I no longer think that is realistic. Although I have a little more than 8,400 words written, I have, in effect, only reached as far in the chronological narrative as Macintosh’s arrival in Grenada. Much of what is relevant about his experiences there is still to come and will, I suspect, take me well into January to complete.

Uncertain legacies

The last will and testament of Anne Montague Macintosh. National Archives, PROB 11/1445/2.

At intervals over the last week, I have gradually been piecing together the last will and testament of Macintosh’s wife, Anne Montague (known as Ann). I always struggle with the particular hand in which eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century wills are written, so, as ever, the task became a collaborative one. With help from my other half, my dad, and the hive mind of Twitter (particular thanks here to George Adamson and Mette Bruinsma) I have wrestled meaning from impenetrability. The will, written in June 1799, is interesting for what it reveals about Ann’s relationship with her husband (or lack of it) and the wider legacy of their time together in the Caribbean.

By 1799, William and Ann were clearly leading separate lives. He was, at this point, somewhere between Bern and Nuremberg. She, on the other hand, was living in rented accommodation in Bloomsbury and her most significant friendship seems to have been with her servant, Anna Elizabeth Raeymaeckers, whom she appointed sole executor. In recognition of Anna’s “uncommon fidelity…for many years”, Ann granted her “whatever Ready Money I may have” together with “all my wearing apparel of every description…[and] all my moveables in Books & furniture”.

The few assets Ann seems to have had in London were supplemented by “Six Tradesmen named Boville Simon Gift Neptune Romane and Charles upon the estate or plantation called Richmond in the Island of Dominica belonging to William MacIntosh”. Ann requested that one of the six be sold to purchase an annuity for Anna and the other five be sold and the proceeds divided equally between her eldest daughter Elizabeth Bromley (known in the family as Betsy) and the children of her youngest daughter, Maria Colville (known in the family as Mary or Polly). No other mention is made of her husband.

When the will eventually came to be proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 2 June 1806 before Charles Coote, James Dewar, witness to the original will, was brought in to testify as to its authenticity. Dewar “made oath that he knew and was well acquainted with Anna Montagu Macintosh late of Francis Street in the parish of Saint Pancras in the county of Middlesex widow deceased and also with her manner and character of her writing”. There. Did you spot it? It refers to Ann as a widow.

Given that Macintosh did not die until 1813, why would someone who claimed to know Ann well allow her to be described as a widow? One possibility is that Ann had believed her husband to be dead, but this seems unlikely. Another possibility is that their relationship had broken down to such an extent that it was preferable to continue under such a pretext. Whatever the answer, it is a rather curious set of circumstances.

The other striking aspect of the will is the fact that Macintosh’s status as a slaveholder clearly continued, at least in part, well beyond his final departure from the Caribbean in 1777. Whether or not any of the six named slaves were still on the Richmond plantation in 1806—more than half a century after Macintosh first arrived in the Caribbean—is not certain, but if they were, and if they had been sold as requested, a further generation, Ann and William’s grandchildren, would have benefited from their grandparents’ uncertain legacy.

Brother George and the “Secret Works”

It is almost seven years since I visited the grave of Macintosh’s nephew, Charles, in the grounds of Glasgow Cathedral. Interred alongside him are the remains of Macintosh’s younger (and generally better-known) brother, George.

What I had not appreciated at the time of my visit was how close the gravesite was to the sizeable estate, Dunchattan—just off Duke Street in the east end of the city—that George occupied in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. A mere 500 metres from his final resting place, and neighbouring Tennent’s brewery, the estate of Dunchattan is where George established the cudbear dye works that would cement his commercial success.

Detail from Peter Fleming’s 1807 Map of the City of Glasgow and Suburbs. National Library of Scotland EMS.s.690

The map above, published in the year of George’s death, shows Dunchattan House in the top right with its formal gardens laid out to the south. The western portion of the estate was occupied by the dye works. These were colloquially known as the “Secret Works” as a consequence of George’s decision—apparently in an effort to prevent industrial espionage—to employ only Gaelic-speaking Highlanders in the factory, and the fact that the whole was enclosed in a ten-foot-high wall.

A larger portion of the same map, showing Dunchattan House (right) and George’s gravesite (left).

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in George’s dye works—both as a site of Gaelic cultural significance and as part of a merchant trade financed by the proceeds of transatlantic trade in sugar and tobacco. Nothing of the Dunchattan estate now remains, but its legacy is preserved in the names of streets in the area, including McIntosh Street and Dunchattan Street.