Friday, 21 March 2014

The Sproule Children of Stokes Hall Jamaica

Their names appeared in a register created in 1817. Two Sproule children, acknowledged by James Sproule as his 'reputed' children in his will of 1840, and they were, indeed, slaves. Their names were listed in the slave register of the Stokes Hall plantation in St Thomas in the East, Jamaica. Jane was the first entry that I came across:

Jane alias Jane Sproull, Mulato, aged 10, Creole 1

This Sproule child had a negro mother and a white father, hence she was ‘mulatto’. She was also ‘creole’, indicating that she was born in Jamaica. Of course, the entry did not say that James was the father of this girl, but the profile of this Jane Sproull fitted perfectly. This was definitely my cousin Jane.

And there was further proof, for they were here together. Eleanor Sproule, the other ‘reputed’ child of James, appeared in the same list of slaves:

Eleanor alias Eleanor Sproull, Mulato, aged 4, Creole.

I wondered if there were any more 'reputed' children. I hunted for other children of James Sproule anywhere on the island of Jamaica, and found only one possibility. This child was in the same Stokes Hall plantation list of 1817, a little boy this time:

Robert alias Robert Sproull,  Mulatto, aged 7,  Creole

Robert appeared again in the next registry of slaves carried out in 1820, and it was recorded here that Robert Sproull had died.

Stokes Hall Plantation

Sugar Plantation in Jamaica
The Stokes Hall plantation was next to the smaller Rosemount Plantation owned by James Sproule. Stokes Hall was recorded as belonging to 'Alexander Donaldson deceased'.  I was never able to find any information on Alexander Donaldson, as he seemed to have always been deceased! This was quite common in the plantations of Jamaica. Some owners died, others left to return to their homes, usually in England or Scotland. The financial aspects of their plantation was then run by an agent in Jamaica, usually a lawyer or a law firm.  The agent appointed a manager to run the day-to-day activities of producing the sugar cane.

James Sproule in Stokes Hall

Stokes Hall was a plantation of about 800 acres and it had roughly 180 slaves. James Sproule's name appears on the records of  Stokes Hall in the 1820s and 1830s, first as a joint manager, and later as part owner.1  James obviously worked here at Stokes Hall, and judging by the ages of his reputed children, he had probably worked here since he came to Jamaica in 1801.  As his career progressed, he bought his own small plantation, Rosemount, and set up his home there. However, I found that Stokes Hall was not the only estate that James had managed.

In 1834 slavery was abolished in Jamaica, and the arrangement was that the plantation owners would be compensated. The compensation was allocated in 1838, and in these records we find that James Sproule had interests in nine different plantations! He has become a very affluent man at this stage. 

Compensations Awarded to James Sproull 1838

The Family of Jane Sproule

The slave registers give us some more information about the two Sproule children of Stokes Hall. Jane, the older reputed daughter, was born in 1807, just six years after James arrived in Jamaica. In the register of 1817, Jane’s mother is named beside her. She is Phillis, alias Misa Cargill. 

Each slave had an official ‘registered’ name, and also had a name that was used on an every-day basis - hence the 'alias'. Misa Cargill, the mother of Jane, was known as Phillis and she has her own separate entry in the same register.  Here we find that she is a 26 year old creole negro. Her mother, the grandmother of Jane Sproull, is named as Helen alias Lucy Cargill. 

Grandmother Helen is still living on the same plantation, she is 55 years old and she is African. When she was young, Jane Sproull's grandmother had a different name. She was living in a village in West Africa. She was captured, kept in a holding pen with hundreds of other frightened folk, and then transported in chains to Jamaica.

Now called Helen alias Lucy Cargill, she is registered as having died in the 1820 register of slaves of Stokes Hall, Jamaica.

The Family of Eleanor Sproule

Eleanor, the second daughter of James, had a different mother. She was called Deborah alias Elizabeth Bryan and she was a 26 year old creole negro.  Deborah's mother is named simply as Esther. Esther, grandmother of Eleanor Sproule, had four other children living on the Stokes Hall estate in 1817. All were negro, and all had different surnames.  


In 1826, we see that life has changed for the two girls. James Sproule himself signed the register of slaves for Stokes Hall that year. By this time, it was not a full list of slaves, James was only required to list changes to the slaves on the plantation - new births, deaths, bought etc. James registered changes concerning both of his daughters. They appear together:

Jane Sproull Mulatto 19 Creole   - by sold
Eleanor Sproull Mulatto 13 Creole  - by sold

There is another detail on the entry that is vitally important, ‘sold for manumission’. James Sproule had bought both of his girls, and James had paid to have them freed.

The Girls Freed

We know only a little of the girls following their manumission. James provided for Eleanor in his Will of 1840, and it looks as if she may be living with the family in Ireland at that time:

“To my reputed Daughter Eleanor Sproule three hundred pounds sterling or fifteen pounds annually as interest until paid as my executors and executrix may think proper and at their convenience to pay the legacy or should she wish to remain with the family to get her board gratis and five pounds annually for nothing in lieu of interest and should my estate turn out well she is to get something more as my executors may decide.” 

James also tells us that his other 'reputed' daughter, Jane, has a son, James Sproull Wilson and is living in Bath, Jamaica. Little James Sproull Wilson was born on 25th April 1830 and his father was James Wilson of Bath.4  In his Will, James left his Rosemount estate to Jane and her son;

“To my reputed Daughter Jane Sproule of Bath Jamaica I bequeath the remaining part of my freehold of land in Jamaica named Rose Mount now partly occupied by my late negroes for her sole use & her son James Sproule Wilson but in case both dying without lawful issue then it is to fall into my wife and children and to be sold on their account that they get the proceeds thereof.”

I don’t know how the little family of Jane Sproull managed after James' death.  I found no record of Jane after this, and there were too many people named James Wilson to accurately pinpoint the son.

James Sproule in a New Light

At this point, I was feeling more positive about my great, great granduncle James Sproule. He had been a slave owner and he had fathered children with women who had no choice, they were held in slavery. But James had gone to great lengths to look after his two girls. Not many men at that time, and in that culture, would have done the same. Furthermore, from my research, James had no other ‘reputed’ children after he met his future wife Charlotte Taylor, daughter of the Honourable Simon Taylor. Maybe James Sproule was not such a bad person after all!

That pleasant thought lasted for a full 24 hours -  and then I found the bombshell!

* Episode 1 of this story - The Beginning of the BIG Story


1 Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 
2 Legacies of British Slave-ownership University College London 
Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880, 

No comments:

Post a Comment