The profits that traders and plantation owners made from the slave trade and African labour could be large. Such profits were not necessarily put back into the business. Instead, many chose to spend their money on home comforts and invested in property. By the mid 1700s, many people who lived in Bristol who were involved in the African slave trade or who owned (but did not live on) Caribbean plantations moved out of the central area of Bristol. They moved to areas such as Clifton that were considered then to be ‘leafy suburbs’.
Some traders and plantation owners moved further out of the city to live in the surrounding countryside, adopting the style of the country landowner. Henry Hobhouse for example, from a slave trading family, acquired land at Castle Cary, in nearby Somerset. The Harfords, whose brass factories provided trade goods to the slave traders, bought property in Cardiganshire, in south west Wales. Caleb Dickinson (who owned a Jamaican plantation and traded in sugar in Bristol), purchased King Weston house in Somerton, Somerset. The Helyar family, who also owned Jamaican sugar plantations, owned Coker Court in East Coker near Yeovil, Somerset.
A map of 1769 shows all the large houses and important householders in an 11 mile area circling Bristol. A number of houses listed on this map have links with the slave trade and its related economy. There are probably many other properties in the area which future research will show to have similar links.
The Royal Fort in the Clifton area of Bristol (now owned by the University of Bristol) was built by Thomas Tyndall. It was built in about 1767 on the site of the Royal Fort precinct, which was a fort built during the English Civil War in the 1640s to protect the city.
The Tyndall family had financial connections with the slave trade. Some members of the family were also enslaving agents on Jamaica in the Caribbean for a number of Bristol merchants. Under the company name ‘Tyndalls and Ashetton’ they sold the enslaved Africans from the ships to the plantation owners in Jamaica. Before Tyndall’s house was built, the old Royal Fort buildings were inhabited throughout the late 17th and early 18th centuries. A number of people who had associations with slavery lived there during this time. One of these people was John Elbridge, who owned the Spring Plantation on the Caribbean island of Jamaica.
Arnos Court, in Brislington, south-east Bristol, and its gothic-style ‘Black Castle’ were built in the late 1750s by William Reeve. He was a Quaker (a member of a religious society known for their peaceful beliefs). He owned copper-smelting and brass-making businesses. Reeve was also a slave merchant. The Black Castle was a folly – a structure built for fun, or to enhance a view. It was built using blocks made from the waste (called slag) from his brass-making business. The slag building blocks were black, and these blocks can be seen in many buildings in and around Bristol. Reeve went bankrupt in 1775 and his house and business were sold to a member of the Tonge family, who were also important slave traders.
Ashton Court, in the south west of the city, has a long history dating back to medieval times. Its manor house was extensively renovated in the mid-eighteenth century when its owner John Hugh-Smyth married the £40,000 (about £2,000,000 today) heiress Rebecca Woolnough. Her wealth came partly from the Spring plantation in Jamaica, which her family owned. Pictured here is a list of the slaves on the Spring Plantation in Jamaica from 1st October, 1782. Through Rebecca, the Smyth family of Ashton Court owned a share in the plantation. The enslaved Africans, their occupation and fitness are listed. Several old women are noted as ‘useless’. The ‘New Negroes’ are noted as ‘marked Fi3’ and ‘DRS’ – they might have been branded with an identifying mark by a previous owner.
Now a private school for girls, Redland Court, in Redland, Bristol, has longstanding Caribbean connections with the slave trade. The original house was owned by Sir Robert Yeamans in the 1680s, whose portrait can be seen here. His brother, Sir John, was one of the early British settlers of the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. He was also a settler in and early Governor of South Carolina, in America. Both South Carolina and Barbados were slave colonies and had many plantations worked on by enslaved Africans. Sir John’s son, Colonel Robert Yeamans of Barbados, eventually inherited Redland Court. He then sold it in the early eighteenth century to another Barbados plantation owner, Thomas Maycock. Maycock, at his death in 1731, gave the life-time use of the house to his mistress Ann Ely, also a plantation owner.
By 1738 the estate in Redland was purchased by a London grocer, John Cossins. He rebuilt the house and the nearby Redland Chapel at the time of his marriage to Martha Innys. Cossins’ new wife had inherited land in the Caribbean from her family. On the death of Cossins, she inherited Redland Court. When she died, it was left to her brothers who also inherited wealth from the Caribbean. No wonder there are African heads carved in stone on the back of Redland Chapel – the history of the building is connected with many who were linked to the slave trade.
Estates within 5 miles of Bristol
Stoke Bishop, in north Bristol, is today the home of the Trinity Theological College. The building was enlarged in 1666 by Sir Robert Cann, though it is probably of medieval origin (dated between 1000 and 1453). Cann was an important Bristol merchant who had been the city’s Mayor in 1662. He was related to the Yeamans family (of Redland Court) on his mother’s side, and owned properties in Jamaica. Cann campaigned in 1663 for a law to be introduced against the practice of kidnapping white children to work on Caribbean plantations. This was just one method used to find workers for the plantations. Yet Cann himself was fined £1000 (about £50,000 today) in 1685 by the harsh Judge Jeffreys for corruptly taking criminals to work on Bristol-owned plantations there.
Blaise Castle at Henbury, north Bristol, was a folly – a building with no use, in this case built to enhance the view. It was built by Thomas Farr who bought the Blaise estate in 1762. Farr had extensive investments in the slave trade. It is said that he built the £3,000 folly (about £150,000 today) so that he could view his ships sailing back up the River Avon to Bristol from it. The Blaise estate was previously part of Henbury Manor which had been owned a century before by Sir Samuel Astry.
It is known that an African slave lived in the Great House there as the servant of Sir Samuel’s son-in-law, the seventh Earl of Suffolk, until his early death in 1719. The African servant was named after an ancient Roman general of African origin, Scipio Africanus. The nickname might have meant to make fun of the servant’s lowly position as a slave in comparison to the high-ranking Roman general of the same name. Scipio Africanus’s tombstone still stands in the nearby Henbury Churchyard, though his actual burial there is not confirmed in the church records.
Kings Weston manor, in south-west Bristol, was bought by Robert Southwell in 1679 from Sir Humphrey Hooks. Hooks is described as having important connections in both Bristol and the Caribbean island of Barbados. Robert Southwell was a high-ranking government official with political interests in both Ireland and the Caribbean. His son Edward I (1670-1730), who also held high government posts, began to restore Kings Weston House employing the famous Vanbrugh as architect.
Improvements to the house and gardens was continued by his son Edward II. He was M.P. for Bristol in 1739 until 1754, and actively promoted the city’s involvements in the slave trade. A family portrait of 1737 shows Edward and his family with an unnamed African servant. In 1822, the family sold the estate to Philip Miles who had made a huge fortune from the Caribbean sugar plantations.
Dyrham House in Dyrham, east of Bristol, had ancient origins. Eventually, it came to be owned by William Blathwayt through his marriage to Mary Wynter in 1686. The Wynter family had been involved in the Caribbean for a long time. Blathwayt had been Secretary of State for Kings James II and William III and was Member of Parliament for Bath until 1710. He took an active interest in the African slave trade, promoting it along with the Bristol merchant and writer John Cary. Blathwayt personally benefited from gifts and bribes connected with his various government jobs concerned with the Caribbean islands.
Over Court (now demolished) at Almondsbury, north of Bristol, was an Elizabethan manor. Bristol’s most important slave-trader Sir James Laroche purchased Over Court sometime around the mid-1700s. Laroche had at least two African servants who lived with him at Over Court, James Long (died 17 March 1773) and Charles Morson (died 16 February 1776). A survey of 1791 mentions a stone which Laroche put up in their memory.
Clevedon Court is near the town of Clevedon on the mouth of the River Severn. It was bought by Sir Abraham Elton I, in about 1710. Abraham Elton was Mayor and later Member of Parliament for Bristol. His son Abraham II was involved in the brass industry, which was itself related to the slave trade. Brass pots and pans were a large part of the slave ships’ cargoes of trade goods to Africa. Elton’s brothers Isaac and Jacob invested directly in slave ships. The Elton family still live in Clevedon Court, but it is now owned by the National Trust.
Tockington Court in Tockington, north of Bristol, was purchased by the merchant and slave-ship investor Lewis Casamajor (died 1743). It was sold in the 1780s to Samuel Peach, a Bristol banker and slave-ship owner. Peach was the father-in-law of Henry Cruger, Member of Parliament for Bristol in the 1770s and 1780s, and himself a Caribbean plantation owner and son of an American slave-trader.
Cleve Hill House (now demolished) was at Downend, near the Fishponds area in east Bristol. It was an old manor which had been rebuilt in the early 1700s. It was inherited in 1736 by one Charles Bragge. Bragge married into the Bathurst family. The Bathursts had long been involved in African and Caribbean dealings. They were also involved in the slave trade itself. Benjamin Bathurst was Deputy Governor of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean in the late 17th century. He was also an investor in the Royal African Company (the London-based company which had control in Britain on all trade with Africa).
Bragge’s son Charles took the name Bathurst on his marriage. He was a member of Bristol’s Society of Merchant Venturers (an elite body of Bristol merchants involved in overseas trade). He also served as a Tory Member of Parliament for Bristol from 1796 to 1807. During this period the campaign for the end of the slave trade, called Abolition, was being discussed and finally agreed to in Parliament (Bathurst was for slavery). He then became Treasurer of the Navy. Bathurst sold Cleve Hill House to the slave merchant John Gordon in 1790. In 1804 both the house and the estate were bought by Stephen Cave Esq., whose family had extensive interests in Caribbean slave plantations.
Source: http://www.discoveringbristol .org.uk/slavery/routes/america-to-bristol/profits/