My Scottish ancestors and the Ricketts family of Jamaica

One of my motives in starting this blog about my Glasgow ancestors and their Caribbean connections was the hope that it might help to solve the mystery surrounding the origins of my 3rd great grandmother, Margaret Ricketts Monteith. She married my 3rd great grandfather Charles Edward Stuart Robb in Glasgow in 1802 and, after a few years living at various addresses in Scotland, the couple moved with their children, first to Yorkshire and finally to London, some time in the 1830s.

Glasgow towards the end of the eighteenth century

Charles was the brother of Glasgow merchant George Robb who married into the Thomson family, whose connections with Jamaica I’ve explored in earlier posts on this site. I believe that both George and Charles were born in the parish of Auchterless in Aberdeenshire, in 1769 and 1779 respectively. George must have moved to Glasgow as a young man to seek his fortune as a merchant. Given that he was ten years older than Charles, I’ve often wondered if the latter was encouraged to come to Glasgow by his older brother?  There are no records relating to Charles’ time in Glasgow, apart from the record of his marriage to Margaret. However, since we know that Charles would later work as an account and engraver (at Malton in Yorkshire) and as a solicitor’s clerk (in London), is it possible that he came to the Merchant City to be apprenticed as a ‘law writer’ (to use the Scottish term)? A number of men in George Robb’s extended Glasgow family, including (for a time) his own son George junior, would work as lawyers, and as a successful merchant George senior would have had good links with the legal profession.

All the information that we have about Charles and Margaret Robb is contained in a memorandum written by their son, my great great grandfather William Robb (1813 – 1888), and added to by his son, my great grandfather Charles Edward Robb (1851 – 1934). The latter provides the following information about his grandparents:

Grandfather: Charles Edward Stuart Robb. Born in Aberdeenshire. Grandmother: Margaret Ricketts Monteith. Married at St. Mungo’s Glasgow, 15th October 1802.

Screenshot 2020-12-06 at 19.34.11

St Mungo’s church, Glasgow, in the early nineteenth century

St Mungo’s is the High Kirk or cathedral of the Church of Scotland, but to date I’ve been unable to find any reference to the marriage in its records. Nor have I found any independent evidence to support the following claim in William Robb’s memorandum:

My mother Margaret Ricketts Monteith was the only daughter of John Monteith and Matilda his wife who was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles’ attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.

The connection with the Jacobite rising rings true, given that my 3rd great grandfather was clearly named after the Bonnie Prince. However, once again I’ve drawn a blank in my attempts to find any confirmation of this connection with the Scottish aristocracy. I’ve failed to find any record of a daughter named Matilda born to any of the men who bore the name of Viscount Stormont in the eighteenth century. As for Margaret’s father John Monteith, there were a number of men with that name living in Glasgow at this period, including one or two who were members of the famous family of cotton manufacturers. But none of those I’ve come across appear to have married a woman named Matilda or had a daughter named Margaret.

However, a possible alternative track for solving the mystery of Margaret’s origins was suggested a few years by an email from Malcolm Sandilands, who has researched the connections between Scotland and Jamaica in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Malcolm wrote with reference to Margaret Ricketts Monteith:

From several years of studying Jamaican records, the name strongly hints at some kind of Jamaican connection. The Ricketts family was one of the earliest settled in Jamaica, and also one of the best-connected by marriage.

I had always assumed that Ricketts must be the name of a Scottish family with whom the Monteiths had intermarried in a previous generation. However, a search for Ricketts in the Scottish parish records produces only one instance: a marriage on 13th May 1770 in Kelso in the Scottish Borders between Richard Ricketts and Mary Ormston, both of them said to be of the parish. I can find no further trace of Richard Ricketts in the Scottish records, leading me to wonder if he was actually English, since most other incidences of the surname occur in England.

There are a number of reasons why parents might use another family’s surname as their child’s middle name at this period. By far the most common reason behind the practice was to honour families with whom there was a connection by marriage. This is certainly true of the Glasgow families that I’ve written about in previous posts on this blog. For example, Marion Thomson, the eldest daughter of John Thomson, and the sister of Penelope Thomson who married George Robb, married Simon Pellance and they named their son John Thomson Pellance. Her brother Henry Thomson married Jane Sharp and they named their daughter Jane Sharp Thomson. Jane, the daughter of George Robb and Penelope Thomson, married Archibald Graham Lang and they named one of their daughters Elizabeth Robb Lang.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the family legend linking Margaret Monteith’s mother Matilda to the family of Viscount Stormont, whose surname was Murray, we might reasonably conclude that her maiden name was actually Ricketts. In something of a departure from the Glaswegian focus of this blog, I’ve carried out some research into the history of the Ricketts family, in the hope that some kind of link to my 3rd great grandmother and her family might eventually emerge. I’m grateful to Alex von Sinner and other descendants of the Ricketts family, including some living in Jamaica, for their continuing help with my research. What follows is a summary of what I’ve discovered so far:

Captain William Henry Ricketts

The story of the Ricketts family of Jamaica begins with Captain William Henry Ricards, later known as Ricketts. It is said that his commission was mistakenly drawn in the name Ricketts and the family retained that spelling. William was born in Twyford, Hampshire, in either 1618 or 1633, depending on which source is to be believed, and served as an officer in Cromwell’s army during the Protectorate. According to one source:

Cromwell wanted to expand his influence and territory, so he sent out an expedition, large enough, it is said, to have included 3000 marines. It was led by Admiral William Penn (father of the founder of Pennsylvania) and General Robert Venables. William Henry Ricketts went with the expedition. Its original purpose was to conquer Hispaniola (Haiti), but that didn’t happen. Rather than go home and admit they were unsuccessful, they decided to attack Jamaica instead. On 10 May 1655, they landed at the capital, Santiago de la Vega, and the Spanish government surrendered the next day, May 11. The city was burned shortly afterwards. Later rebuilt and renamed Spanish Town, it was the capital until 1872 when the capital was moved to Kingston.

William Henry Ricketts married Mary Godwin in 1657 and they had eleven children. When William made his will in 1699 he was living in St Elizabeth parish, Jamaica. He died in the following year. William and Mary Ricketts had two surviving daughters, Violetta (b. 1690) and Rachel (b.1692). Violetta never married, while Rachel married Thomas Johnson and they had one son, named Jacob. William and Mary also had three sons who survived. Thomas Ricketts was born in England in 1659 and died in Maryland in 1722. William Blackiston Ricketts was born in Jamaica in 1672 and died in New York in 1735. John Thomas Ricketts was born in England in 1674 and died in Maryland in 1760.

Celebrating the end of slavery in Spanish Town, Jamaica

George Ricketts of Jamaica and his descendants

Another of Captain Ricketts’ sons, George Ricketts, was born in Jamaica in 1684 and died there in 1760. He seems to have been the only one of Captain William Henry Ricketts’ children to have maintained the connection with Jamaica, and he appears to have inherited the Canaan estate in Westmoreland parish, to the west of the island. George also served as a Major-General in the Jamaican militia. He married firstly Sarah, daughter of Raynes Waite of Chertsey, Surrey, in 1714, then Sarah, widow of John Lewis of Cornwall parish, and finally Elizabeth Cleaver. In all, George Ricketts fathered twenty-seven children. These included the following sons:

John Ricketts was born in about 1715 in Cornwall parish, Jamaica. In 1750 he married Anne Crawford in Hanover, Jamaica. She was the daughter of Alexander Crawford of Crail, Fife: the first Scottish connection that I’ve come across in the Ricketts family history. John and Anne Ricketts had at least seven children: George Crawford Ricketts (1751 – 1811), who married Frances Mary Teague Bourke; John Ricketts (b.1752); Alexander Ricketts (b. 1753); William Henry Ricketts (1755 – 1799), who married Ann Elizabeth Beckford; Sarah Ricketts (b.1757); Anne Ricketts (b.1759); and Jacob Ricketts (b. 1761).

Jacob Ricketts was born in 1719 on the Midgham estate in Jamaica. In 1748 he married Hannah Poyntz at the Temple church in London. Their children included James Ricketts, who was born in 1746 but about whom nothing further is known. Another son, George Poyntz Ricketts, was born in 1749. He served as Governor of Barbados and married Sophie Watts of Berkshire, with whom he had five children: Charles Milner (1776 – 1867); Isabella (b. 1782); Mordaunt (1786 – 1862); Frederick (1788 – 1843); and Edward Jenkinson (b. and d. 1793). George died at Rhode Island in 1800. A third son, Jacob Ricketts the younger, was born in 1750 and was apparently christened at Lewin’s Mead Society of Protestant Dissenters, a Unitarian Meeting in Bristol.

William Henry Ricketts was born in 1736. He studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and then at Grays Inn. In 1757 he married Mary Jervis, the sister of John Jervis, the first Viscount St Vincent. According to the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website:

The movements of William Henry Ricketts between England and Jamaica are detailed in a number of accounts of ‘hauntings’ in England which include the experiences of Mary Ricketts nee Jervis (and her brother, John Jervis, later 1st Viscount St Vincent) at their rented house at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire between January 1765 and 1771. In 1772 Mary Ricketts wrote a Narrative, which she left to her children: a version was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and a pamphlet version published by the Society for Psychical Research in 1893.

You can read a chilling account of the hauntings at Hinton Ampner here. The children of William Henry Ricketts and Mary Jervis were George St John Ricketts (1760 – 1842); Mary Ricketts (1763 – 1835), who married Admiral William Carnegie, Earl of Northesk (another possible Scottish – and aristocratic – connection?); Captain William Henry Ricketts (1764 – 1805), who married firstly Lady Elizabeth Jane Lambert and secondly Cecilia Jane Vinet, and who drowned off the coast of Brittany; and Edward Jervis Ricketts (1767 – 1859), who married firstly Mary Cassandra Twistleton, by whom he had two children, and after divorcing her in 1799 married Mary Anne Parker in 14th April 1810 and had three more children. In 1800 he was listed as manager of the Ricketts estates in Jamaica.

Mary Carnegie, née Ricketts, Countess of Northesk, with two of her children

George Ricketts’ posthumous son George William Ricketts, was born in 1760, the year of his father’s death, at New Canaan in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica. Having been educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1791 he married Letitia Mildmay, daughter of Carew Mildmay and Jane Pescod of Shawford House, Hampshire, and they had nine children. George Ricketts served as Receiver-General of Hampshire and died in 1842.

(Coincidentally, there is a link here with the research I’ve undertaken into the part of Essex where I grew up. Five years before George Ricketts married Letitia Mildmay, the latter’s sister Jane had married Sir Henry Paulet St John, Bart, of Dogmersfield, Hampshire, who then took the surname Mildmay by royal warrant, the family being known from that time as St. John Mildmay. In 1795 Jane Mildmay inherited Moulsham Hall in Essex from her aunt Anne, the sister of Carew Mildmay. The Mildmays of Moulsham had a long history stretching back to the sixteenth century, when the estate was bought by Thomas Mildmay, an official at the court of Henry VIII. Sadly, Sir Henry and Jane Mildmay were the last owners of Moulsham Hall: it was requisitioned for military use during the Napoleonic wars and thereafter fell into disuse and was pulled down.)

Despite this extensive research, and helpful emails from many Ricketts descendants and other family historians, I’ve yet to discover evidence of a connection between any member of the Ricketts family of Jamaica and John Monteith or his wife Matilda. However, there were Monteiths living and working in Jamaica during this period, and I’ll say more about one possibly  intriguing connection in the next post.

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