John Thomson of Jamaica

In the last post I wrote about the claim for compensation made in 1836, following the abolition of slavery in the British colonies, by George, Elizabeth and Jane or Jean Robb, acting in concert with the estate of their late brother John and with Jane’s husband Archibald Graham Lang. George, Elizabeth, Jane and John were the children of Penelope Thomson by her first marriage to my 4th great uncle, George Robb senior, a Glasgow merchant. The claim related to the May Day estate, in Manchester parish, Jamaica and was in fact one of two counterclaims. According to the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website, the original claim had been made by ‘James McCatty, of Manchester, as executor of John Thompson (deceased).’ In the previous post I speculated as to whether the ‘John Thompson’ referred to here was Penelope’s late father, or her brother of the same name, both possibilities that might have given her children a claim as heirs.

Old photograph of a coffee plantation in Jamaica

I’m now fairly certain that the John Thomson mentioned in the May Day claim was, in fact, Penelope’s brother. Earlier this year I received a comment on my Past Lives blog from Di’allo Virtue Cunningham, a descendant of the John Thomson referred to in the May Day claim, which included the information that the latter had been born in about 1789 and had six children with a certain Catherine McLachlan, a mulatta (Di’allo Cunningham’s 3rd great grandmother Jestina or Jessie Thomson was the youngest of  these children), and a son by the woman he later married, Catherine Gordon McCatty, the sister of the James McCatty who would be appointed as Thomson’s executor. A later email from Di’allo included a copy of John Thomson’s burial record from 1822 (see below), confirming that he was 33 years old at the time of his death. Thomson was buried at Wigton Plantation, which was owned by his wife’s family, the Herons: in my last post, I noted that James McCatty married Anna Maria Heron in 1829, but the ties between the two families seem to have predated this.

Also attached to the email was a baptismal record (see above), from 23rd December 1813, for Archibald and Elizabeth Isabella Thomson, described as ‘quadroons’, in other words, the offspring of a white person and a mulatto or mulatta, and therefore as having one black grandparent. They are said to be the son and daughter of ‘John Thomson Esquire of Glasgow Coffee Plantation in the parish of Vere’, which was in the south of the island. I understand that Thomson had interests in both the Glasgow and May Day estates.

Part of an eighteenth-century map of Jamaica

On the same date (and possibly in the same ceremony) as shown in the record above, the baptism took place of ‘James McLachlan a youth of colour’, said to have been born in the parish of St Andrew, in the eastern part of Jamaica, and described as ‘the son of Ralph Thomson Esq. late of North Brook Estate in the parish of St Andrew’. Di’allo Cunningham believes that Ralph and John Thomson may have been brothers. I think he may be right, though I’ve yet to find a record of Ralph’s birth or any mention of him in the records relating to ‘my’ Thomson family. Alternatively, could Ralph and John Thomson have been cousins?

The McLachlan connection is intriguing. What was the relationship between Catherine McLachlan, the mulatta partner of John Thomson and the mother of six of his children, and James McLachlan, the ‘natural’ son of his possible relative Ralph Thomson?  And what was their connection, if any, with the McLachlan family of Glasgow?

John Thomson senior, the father (as I believe) of the John Thomson who died in Jamaica in 1822, was married twice, his first wife, whom he married in 1765, supposedly being one Penelope McLachlan. When their son Colin, a Glasgow merchant, made his will in 1819, one of the executors, and a principal beneficiary, was a certain Colin McLachlan, who was also described as a merchant in Glasgow. I’ve discovered that a Colin McLachlan married Sarah McCallum in Glasgow in 1781, and that they had a number of children together, including Sarah and Archibald in 1790, and Colin junior in 1796. I’m not sure which of the two Colin McLachlans is referred to in Colin Thomson’s will: the younger man would have been twenty-five in 1819, and his father perhaps about 60. Nor am I sure which Colin McLachlan it was who made his own will in 1822. One of the beneficiaries of that will was an Archibald McLachlan, but the nature of his relationship to the testator is not made clear. Interestingly, another of the beneficiaries of the will was Rev. Archibald Wilson of Cardross, and we can deduce from the document that he was the husband of Colin McLachlan’s sister Margaret, and that they had two children, Colin and Jean. This is of interest because it was Rev. Wilson who officiated at the wedding of Penelope Robb, née Thomson, to her second husband, John Young, a former Receiver-General of Jamaica, in 1813.

Further detective work will be needed to discover the precise relationship, if any, between the McLachlans of Glasgow, the mother of the younger John Thomson’s six Jamaican children, and Ralph Thomson’s Jamaican son.

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