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.

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