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Journal of a Lady of Quality
Appendices: - III. "Olivees" and the Hamiltons


Miss SCHAW visited the Hamiltons at the height of their happiness and prosperity, before the clouds of the American War had begun to cast their ominous shadows and darken the scene. Her account possesses great charm and vivacity and presents a delightful picture of "Olivees" at its best, glowing with hospitality and life. There, as elsewhere, Miss Schaw was aroused to an enthusiastic appreciation of all that she saw and enjoyed, and was manifestly impressed by the reception she met with from old and new friends alike. Undoubtedly these circumstances added vastly to her pleasure and led her at times to indulge in roseate views of the islands that are not always borne out by the accounts of others, though none deny that West Indian plantation life, in the heyday of its existence, was socially of a luxurious and convivial character.

Lady Isabella Erskine and William Leslie Hamilton were married in England in 1770, and immediately afterwards sailed for the West Indies, where the latter, receiving his legal education at the Middle Temple, had been admitted to practice as a lawyer in 1767. He must have been older than Miss Schaw thought he was, for if he were but twenty-six or twenty-seven in January, 1775, he would have been but twelve or thirteen when entered at the Middle Temple in 1761, but eighteen or nineteen when called to the bar in 1767, and less than twenty-five when chosen speaker of the house. Such precocity is possible but hardly credible. Immediately upon arrival the bride and groom took up their residence at the splendid plantation "Olivees," belonging to Hamilton's sister, who allowed them to occupy the estate rent free, and to enjoy without charge the services of the negroes and (within certain limits) the products of the plantation. The latter lay pleasantly and coolly situated on the high ground a mile from Basseterre, two or three hundred feet above the level of the sea. It stood "on a well raised stone terrace, paved with marble and had spacious open galeries and verandahs." The "great hail," of which Miss Schaw speaks, was a large, finely proportioned room, which ran the entire length of the front, with a handsome deep cornice and ample doors, both of dark mahogany, and a paneling of the same wood. It constituted the great reception and dining-room, the scene of lavish entertainment and hospitality. In addition the house had a drawing-room and bedchambers finished and furnished in English style. The estate comprised 283 acres, 151 of which were cane land and 132 pasture, and taken as a whole was esteemed the finest in all the West Indies. In later years it fell very much into disrepair, and Davy reported in 1846 that the whole might then be bought for £3000, which was less than the original cost of the house (West Indies, p. 463).

Until 1777 the Hamiltons lived at "Olivees" in affluence, the social leaders of the southern part of the island; but in the same year they removed to Basseterre that Mr. Hamilton might the more efficiently perform his duties as the deputy solicitor-general of the islands. There they remained, burdened with the increasing expenses of town life and the obligations which the war of the American Revolution imposed, until, in 1779, Lady Belle left the island and returned to England; and the next year, Mr. Hamilton, broken in health, obtained leave of absence and followed her, but died in London, in October, 1780, four days after his arrival. Their last years in St. Kitts were a time of anxiety and financial embarrassment. As deputy solicitor-general and afterwards attorney-general, Hamilton was responsible for the peace and good order of the islands and in consequence became involved in many important and expensive undertakings for the purpose of thwarting the revolutionary influence. There was a powerful radical party in St. Christopher, which Governor Burt characterized as "factious, disappointed, and Gallo- American principled," for (he adds) the president of the council, Craister Greatheed, "suffered them to do in a manner as they pleased and escaped [trouble]. By two years' relaxation of govern. ment and acquiescence (1775-1777), distraction and American principles and attachments took head. I had them to combat; your Lordship may rest satisfied I will eradicate these monsters or fall in the contest" (letter of Nov. 25, 1778). In the same letter he speaks of the extremes to which the madness of the assembly had gone, and reports that some say "the King's instructions are not binding on them." Later (Oct. 2, 1780) he writes: "The disposition of that assembly, as well as of others in this part of the world, having caught the infection from America and [being] deeply tinged with the principles of Republicanism, attempt bringing all to a level and assume privileges to which I cannot think them constitutionally, I am certain they are not from the mode of government hitherto, entitled."

Such were the conditions, undoubtedly much exaggerated by Governor Burt, under which Hamilton performed his duties, first as the deputy solicitor-general and then as the attorney-general of the Leeward Islands. Had Miss Schaw visited St. Christopher two years later (she was there in January, 1775), she might have had a different tale to tell, a tale not unlike that which she told for North Carolina. Hamilton was called upon to repress the trade in arms which was taking place between the North American colonies and the Dutch island of St. Eustatius; for, as Burt wrote, the Dutch governor, De Graaff, did all in his power "to support and countenance the Rebels and French" and connived at trade in munitions of war and the fitting out of privateers (cf. also American Historical Review, VIII, 693-695). As Governor Burt had no available fund for this purpose, Hamilton's purse was resorted to on all occasions, and his money used for the carrying on of correspondence with the governor, the hiring of vessels, the securing of information, and the furnishing of aid to the commanders of the British fleet in West Indian waters. Hamilton was also frequently required to entertain officers of the squadron, at one time receiving the wife of Admiral Cumming as a member of his family for more than a year (1777-1778), and in other ways becoming involved in expenditures which seriously depleted his fortune. He suffered also heavy losses. The expense of living at Basseterre was considerably more than at the plantation, and oil of his official duties he was obliged to give up his private practice, thus incurring a total loss of income amounting to £9000 sterling. Before leaving the island in 1780, he shipped to England goods—clothing, tea, Nankin china, plate, etc.—worth £2500, but the vessel was captured by the French and his property seized as prize of war. Lady Belle, in one of her memorials, says that a part of the plate was seen afterwards on the sideboard of the'Marquis de Bouillé (French governor in the Antilles), "Mr. Bingham, the American agent, winking at the outrage." Some of the tea and china, she says further, was sent to Mrs. Washington and later in London when she entertained Mr. Bingharn at her table and reminded him of the stolen property, he acknowledged the obligation and in recompense offered her land in America.

All together Hamilton's losses were estimated at £15,000, a sum which apparently did not include the value of the property captured by the French. In the years from 1803 to 1809, Lady Belle, then Countess of Glencairn, petitioned the government for compensation. She presented several memorials and a number of statements from persons familiar with the circumstances, among them two from \Vilham Knox, who testified that when undersecretary of state he knew of Hamilton's services and could say that no remuneration had been given. Nelson, who had been with the fleet in the West Indies in 1777-1778, visited the countess at Mollard's Hotel, Dover Street, in September, 1805, just before leaving England for the last time, and there approved of her claim and testified to the value of Hamilton's information and help to the naval commanders. Lord Thurlow, the lord chancellor, "who honoured Lord Glencairn and myself with his particular regards," also rendered assistance in determining the amount of the claim. Unfortunately Lady Belle was unable to make out accurate accounts of disbursements, because all of Hamilton's papers were lost, when the ship on which they were despatched foundered at sea. (Governor Burt's letters and accompanying papers are in the Public Record Office, C. O. 152:58-60; the memorials of the countess and corroborative statements in the same series, volumes 84, 94.)

Hamilton's case shows that the Loyalists on the American continent were not the only ones who suffered in the American revolution.


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