Monthly Archives: November 2020

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.

Cracking the code

Reading Macintosh’s letters from the distance of some two-and-a-half centuries can often feel like trying to crack a code; the names, places, and events whose significance would have been obvious to their author and original recipients are, for the modern reader, clues that must be deciphered and interpreted. Things could, however, be much worse; the could literally have been written in code.

In the middle of last week, as I was distracted by the unfolding events of the US election, a number of interesting scanned letters arrived from the Bodleian Library. These letters, exchanged between Macintosh and the spy James Talbot during 1798, were sent to and from Bern at a time of intense counterrevolutionary activity in that city. Macintosh’s letters to Talbot, usually addressed to his alias Monsieur Tindal, are rich with reportage on current events as well as Macintosh’s own views and opinions as to the course of, and correct responses to, the French Revolution, just then finding new life in the form of the Irish Rebellion.

In one letter Macintosh laments that fact that he and Talbot had not “composed a short cypher for the names of a few persons, places & things” before Talbot’s departure from Bern. “[T]he want of it,” Macintosh confided, “is now become a restraint, at least on my communication to you”. For want of a cypher, Macintosh occasionally disguised some names in his letters by means of dashes, but, on the whole, his correspondence with Talbot remains legible, if not always immediately understandable. And thank goodness for that.

While the political convulsions of the present can often feel overwhelming, the turbulence of the world in which Macintosh lived and which he experienced at first hand—spanning the Jacobite rebellion, the Seven Years’ War, decades of sectarian division on Grenada, the Siege of Pondicherry, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars—were exhausting and can help to put things into some perspective.

Laying a ghost to rest

Notice of the death of William Macintosh

It has long been a source of frustration and embarrassment that I have been unable to determine one basic fact of Macintosh’s life: where and when he died. I knew that it had to have happened during a particular window of time, specifically between 18 October 1810, when he added a codicil to his will, and 13 April 1816, when his will was proved in London. From secondary sources I also had reason to believe that he had died in Eisenach in Saxony, where he had been living since at least 1807.

From time to time over the last eight years I have returned to the problem of the uncertain terminus of Macintosh’s life and have trawled newspaper records and genealogical databases without success. I realised today that I had taken things as far as I could and wrote to an Eisenach-based genealogist, Christian Andreas Hoske, to see if he might be able to help. To my delight, Christian wrote back within a few hours with an entry from a register of deaths held by the Landeskirchenarchiv Eisenach (reproduced above) which records Macintosh’s date of death as 13 January 1813. The full entry, in Christian’s transcription, reads:

William Macintosch, aus Glasgow gebürtig, ist den 13ten Januar an Schwäche, in einem Alter von einigen 70 Jahren und wurde den 15ten Januar beigesetzt

Notwithstanding the Teutonic rendering of Macintosh as Macintosch, and the mistaken statement that he was born in Glasgow (an easy mistake to make, perhaps, given his connections to that city via his brother George), it seems highly likely that this is, indeed, “my” William Macintosh. The statement that he died “in einem Alter von einigen 70 Jahren” (i.e., around the age of 70) would tie in with what I know; Macintosh would have been 74 in January 1813. At this stage, and after so long spent hunting down this information, I am happy to accept the ambiguity and signal my thanks to Christian for so swiftly solving this particular part of the puzzle. And there we have it: William Macintosh (August 1737–13 January 1813).