Details of the estate of William Atkinson - Rural Retreat, St Annes, Middlesex, Jamaica

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Rural Retreat - St Ann's Jamaica.

The link to Rural Retreat is established in the marriage notice from "The Aberdeen Chronicle" in 22 July 1826 -

The Aberdeen Chronicle - 22 July 1826

MATTHEW ADAM, Esq. A. M. Rector of the Royal Academy of Inverness, to Miss ELLEN MOFFAT ATKINSON, only daughter of the late William Atkinson. Esq. of Rural Retreat, in the parish of St. Ann's, Jamaica.

Also in the will of Matthew Adam there is a mention of "the current years rent from a small plantation in the West Indies which belonged to his late wife" of "£40".

There is what could possibly be a record of the baptism of Ellen Moffat Atkinson in the St. Ann's parish records. The entry is dated 21st July 1815 and on the face of it this would seem far too late to be our Ellen Moffat as she would have been about 11 at the time. However it is possible that baptisms were done in batches on the occasions when a minister was available to carry them out. This is evinced by the entry being not only for a daughter Moffat but also a son, John, and two of of William Atkinson's slaves. As the daughter is only named as Moffat this could be a daughter other than Ellen, but if this were the case this daughter must have died pre 1826 when Ellen was described as the ONLY daughter of the late William Atkinson..

Jamaica - St Anns 

Births, Christenings, Marriages & Burials


July 21st Baptised John son of William

Atkinson & his wife and Moffat daughter

of the same.
Elizabeth Stuart Atkinson a child of colour & the 

property of William Atkinson.
Sarah Atkinson a negro slave property of the same.

From the book "Jamaica Surveyed: Plantation Maps and Plans of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries by B. W. Higman" we are told that Rural Retreat Pen was situated in the interior of St. Ann, neat Claremont, at about l,750 feet above sea level, described as mainly mono-cultural, with the greater percentage of the pen's 433 acres being occupied by woodland, ruinate and Negro grounds, with only 10 acres under pimento. It was recorded that in 1832 Rural Retreat only produced 100 bags of pimento, and that although there was some additional income from hiring the labour of some slaves to neighbouring properties, pimento was the estate's main source of income. 

In November 1832 when ownership of the estate passed from Ellen's father the late William Atkinson to Matthew Adam, it was surveyed by George Cuthbert Pottinger . There is a survivng rough plan drawn up by Pottinger in 1849 for the attorney of nearby Carton Pen. Unusually this gives the maximum length and breadth of the property, and its distance from St. Ann's Bay (12 miles). Pottinger also stated that "the lines of Rural Retreat are mostly laid down from old surveys". Pottinger added a note to his plan stating that “Nearly the whole of the mountain land could be made grazeable". The slaves numbered only 20 in I832, a small labour force. The pimento fields were concentrated around the great house, with the houses for the slaves at a distance to the south in the zone of wood and ruinate. 

We know more of the estate through the fate of one of the slave, one Henry Williams. It would seem that under William Atkinson's tenure Rural Retreat was run with a reasonably liberal attitude, and Henry, although still a slave, was William's right hand man, and trusted with running the labour force. This in itself might have brought Henry to the attention of the less liberal slave owners but he was also favoured by the Methodist missionary in St Ann, Mr Isaac Whitehouse and had been employed as a Catechist by the minister. This would have certainly made him someone they would have certainly been wary of and seen as a threat. 

In 1829, a few years after the death of William Atkinson whilst the estate was being run by a Mr James Betty, a local attorney, on behalf of the Atkinson estate, Henry would appear to have become the victim of this tensions between the abolitionists such as Mr Isaac Whitehouse and the local slave owners. In order to discourage the slaves from Methodism and to keep them "in line" it would seem that Mr Betty, in cahouts with the Reverend George William Bridges the local Anglican minister conspired to make an example of Henry, and warned him not to hold Methodist meetings in his home, or attend the Methodist services. This he refused to do and as a consequence was severely whipped and thrown in gaol. Mr Isaac Whitehouse, outraged at Henry's maltreatment, complained bitterly to the British Government and a series of letters ensued between Mr Issac Whitehose, the Colonial Office (Viscount Goderich) back in the U.K. and Lord Belmore the Governor of Jamaica. Henry was eventually released and survived the ordeal, although his tribulations were not over. (For further details of Henry maltreatment, his continued persecution and eventual fate click here.) However, as already mentioned, the correspondence and comment generated around this sorry affair does mean that we get to know more of Henry, his associates and some additional detail of Rural Retreat than one might reasonable hope. 

One such somewhat surprising piece of information is included in a letter of July 2nd 1829 from Mr Isaac Whitehouse to the Committee of the Wesleyan Missionary Society, in which he mentions a "Sarah Atkinson" of Rural retreat, who had been "kept by her master during his life time". This one would assume was William Atkinson, Ellen Moffat Atkinson's father. He then goes on to state "and by her he had several children, one of whom is still alive. Her master gave her freedom, and at his death left her an annuity of ten pounds sterling for her life, and to her daughter, now living, he left ten acres of land and a house." I have no doubt that this daughter was NOT Ellen. However it is intriguing and Ellen did call her first daughter Sarah! One possible explanation, (of many) is that Ellen's mother ha died whilst Ellen was an infant and that William had employed a slave, Sarah, to look after her and any other siblings. The widowed William had latterly developed a relationship with his housekeeper, whom he had freed, and Ellen had grown up with her as a mother figure. It is even possible this Sarah is one and the same included in the baptismal entry for William's children by his wife. John and Moffat, in 1815. This is very much speculation.


Letter of July 2nd 1829 from Mr Isaac Whitehouse to the Committee of the Wesleyan Missionary Society

THIS morning I was visited by a female named Sarah Atkinson, a sister of Henry Williamson, mentioned in my letter of yesterday. She as kept by her master during his life-time, and by her he had several children, one of whom is still alive. Her master gave her freedom, and at his death left her an annuity of ten pounds sterling for her life, and to her daughter, now living, he left ten acres of land and a house. I mention these things to show why it is that she is still allowed to remain on the property Rural Retreat, and to come to the chapel without being liable to be punished for so.

From this it would seem that Sarah had produced a number of children by William, one of whom who was a daughter who was alive in 1829. Nothing more is known of Sarah or her daughter at this time

I have found the estate in the Jamaica Almanac which is available on line confirming William, his daughter Ellen and her husband Matthew Adam's s association with the estate viz.

Jamaica Almanac (available on through the Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library)

Proprietors, &c., Properties, &c., Slaves, Stock - (If there is only one number it is the number of Slaves)]

I guess that the period 1822-1826 where a James Richards was listed as a proprietor of Rural Retreat potentially signifies William's retirement, or death. Certainly William Atkinson had passed away by the time of his daughter's marriage on 22 July 1826 back in Scotland, and the entries 1827-1832 reflected William's demise in the entry change to "Atkinson, William, estate of,".) .  Why James Richards was shown as Proprietor through these period is unexplained as the estate would seem to have remained the property of the Atkinsons and reverted back to them by 1827. Whether he passed away in Jamaica or back home in Britain, (or possibly even en route), is unknown.

Currently no more is known of William Atkinson and I have been unable to positively identify a wife for William or any further children other than Ellen and John listed in the local records. In the case of John, no further record of him has been found, and the estate would seem to have passed to Ellen and latterly Matthew Adam. I would therefore be inclined to assume Ellen had become William's sole heir, suggesting John died young. Also as there is an article in the "New Baptist Miscellany" of 1829 referring to the Henry Williams affair which identifies "an estate lately descended to a lady in Scotland called the Rural Retreat", it might be assumed that the daeth of John occurred pre 1829.

Although I would assume that William was related in some way to the Atkinsons, George and Matthew, who were Island secretaries in Jamaica the latter part of the 18th century but have been unable to substantiate this.

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