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.

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