Monthly Archives: December 2014

When Macintosh met Aaron Burr

One of the more mysterious periods of Macintosh’s life is that which he spent in Eisenach during the first decade of the nineteenth century. There is some suggestion that Macintosh was imprisoned there by Napoleon on the grounds that he was in active correspondence with the exiled Louis XVIII. I have recently discovered reference to Macintosh’s time in Eisenach in the journal of the somewhat-disgraced US Vice President Aaron Burr (1756–1836).

Aaron Burr (1756–1836)

Aaron Burr (1756–1836).

Burr’s diary records the following encounters with Macintosh:

14 January 1810

Thence to Massovices’s, and he and I went together, as invited, to breakfast à la forchette with Steickler. Met there Mr. M’Intosh, a Scotchman, who has been many years in North America, and in Asia and Africa. Had an immense fortune, which he lost by the French revolution. A very intelligent, amusing man.

15 January 1810

Mr. M’Intosh came in this morning and sat an hour. I admire his constancy and his loyalty. He is a prisoner on parole, as being a British subject. Has corresponded with Washington. One of the letters now in the museum at Weimar.

Although these are only snippets, Burr’s journal entries are nevertheless helpful in clarifying the chronology of Macintosh’s life and further indicating the social and political circles in which he moved.

Macintosh on Dominica

Plan of the island of Dominica (1776)

Plan of the island of Dominica (1776). John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Cabinet Es776 ByJ (2).

I have written before about William Macintosh’s business relationship with William Johnstone (later William Pulteney), with whom he co-owned a plantation on Dominica. I had been unaware, however, about the specific details of their holding. The above map, digitised by the John Carter Brown Library, was published in 1776 following an eight-year survey of the Windward Islands undertaken by the Commission for the Sale of Lands in the Ceded Islands following the end of the Seven Years’ War.

The map was accompanied by an explanatory pamphlet—References to the Plan of the Island of Dominica, as Surveyed from the Year 1765 to 1773 (1777)—which indicates that, by the year of the survey’s completion, Macintosh owned the freehold of three lots in the parish of St David (one of which he had previously co-owned with Pulteney, or Poultney as he is rendered here).

Extract from References to the Plan of the Island of Dominica, as Surveyed from the Year 1765 to 1773 (1777)

Extract from References to the Plan of the Island of Dominica, as Surveyed from the Year 1765 to 1773 (1777).

Macintosh’s lots—51, 52, and 53, bordered to the south by the French River—can be seen in the detailed enlargement of the map below.

Detail of Plan of the island of Dominica (1776)

Detail of Plan of the island of Dominica (1776). John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Cabinet Es776 ByJ (2).

Two years after the map’s publication, Dominica was invaded by French forces eager to regain their lost territory.

When Macintosh met Equiano

Frontispiece and title-page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)

Frontispiece and title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789).

In my efforts to piece together, from secondary fragments, the trajectory of William Macintosh’s life, I am sometimes surprised by the strange coincidences and unexpected moments of encounter which are revealed. One such is contained in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789).

Equiano’s significance, as a freed slave, to the eighteenth-century abolitionist movement is well documented, but I had been unaware that he and Macintosh had encountered one another in Grenada in 1771. Macintosh was, at that point, justice of the peace for the parish of St Andrew’s and Equiano came to him to seek redress (unsuccessfully) over an unpaid debt. Equiano records the incident in his autobiography thus:

In April 1771 I shipped myself as a steward with Capt. Wm. Robertson of the ship Grenada Planter, once more to [end p. 95] try my fortune in the West Indies; and we sailed from London for Madeira, Barbadoes, and the Grenades. When we were at this last place, having some goods to sell, I met once more with my former kind of West India customers. A white man, an islander, bought some goods of me to the amount of some pounds, and made me many fair promises as usual, but without any intention of paying me. He had likewise bought goods from some more of our people, whom he intended to serve in the same manner; but he still amused us with promises. However, when our ship was loaded, and near sailing, this honest buyer discovered no intention or sign of paying for any thing he had bought of us; but on the contrary, when I asked him for my money he threatened me and another black man he had bought goods of, so that we found we were like to get more blows [end p. 96] than payment. On this we went to complain to one Mr. M’Intosh, a justice of the peace; we told his worship of the man’s villainous tricks, and begged that he would be kind enough to see us redressed: but being negroes, although free, we could not get any remedy; and our ship being then just upon the point of sailing, we knew not how to help ourselves, though we thought it hard to lose our property in this manner. Luckily for us however, this man was also indebted to three white sailors, who could not get a farthing from him; they therefore readily joined us, and we all went together in search of him. When we found where he was, I took him out of a house and threatened him with vengeance; on which, finding he was likely to be handled roughly, the rogue offered each of us some small allowance, but nothing near our demands. This [end p. 97] exasperated us much more; and some were for cutting his ears off; but he begged hard for mercy, which was at last granted him, after we had entirely stripped him. We then let him go, for which he thanked us, glad to get off so easily, and ran into the bushes, after having wished us a good voyage. We then repaired on board, and shortly after set sail for England (vol. 2, 95–98).

A Literary Tour de France

Robert Darnton's website

In the late summer of 2014, Robert Darnton launched an open-access website collecting together primary materials (and well as Darnton’s own published work) relating to the French book trade between 1769 and 1789. Represented among this fantastic collection is Darnton’s long-standing interest in Jacques Pierre Brissot (who undertook the French translation of Macintosh’s Travels) and the Société typographique de Neuchâtel (STN) who distributed it (at least in part).

Brissot’s correspondence with the STN had previously been made available via the Voltaire Foundation’s website, but has usefully been brought together on Darnton’s site (and richly supplemented by additional materials). These letters show that Brissot first wrote to the STN over Macintosh’s book on 23 June 1784, identifying it as one of “deux ouvrages qu’on désirerait vendre à la feuille afin de n’avoir aucune difficulté”. Brissot’s letter wrongly transliterates the book’s title as Voyages en Amérique, en Afrique, en Asie (rather than Voyages en Europe, en Asie et en Afrique, as it would later appear). To whet the appetite of the STN, Brissot noted that Voyages was “entièrement neuf et non encore traduit”. In a later missive, dated 22 October 1784, Brissot referred to the book as Nouveaux Voyages de Mackintosh en Asie—an inconsistency which points to the fact that he had yet to settle on a fixed title for his translation.

Something of the complexity of identifying reference to Macintosh and his work across different linguistic context is exemplified in these letters. The Anglophone Macintosh is the Francophone Mackintosh; the Anglophone Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa is, variously, Voyages en Amérique…Voyages en Europe…, and Nouveaux Voyages de Mackintosh…. In any event, Robert Darnton and his research assistants are to be congratulated for putting together such an interesting and useful open-access resource.