8. A collection of papers touching the sale of that part of the Island of St. Christophers called Basse Terre and Cabeçâ Terre, consisting of 16,000 acres. The sale was made pursuant to an Address of the House of Commons and a commission addressed to William Mathew, Esq., Lieut. Governor of the Leeward Charribbee Islands in America, Gilbert Fleming and Edward Mann, Esq. (copy accompanying), and was also in accordance with instructions from the Lords of the Treasury (copy also accompanying). By the instructions no lot or parcel of land was to be sold exceeding 200 acres. One third of the purchase money was to be paid within a month, and five years were allowed for the payment of the other two thirds. Accounts were to be kept of all the proceedings of the Comrs. The collection consists mostly of letters to the Secretary of the Treasury (Scrope), describing the proceedings of the Comrs in carrying out the sale. In the letter of Mr Fleming of 3 Aug. he mentions the necessity of determining the present grants, and proposes returning the ⅓ of the purchase money in bills.|
The following shows the opinion of the writer upon the proposal: “Extract of a letter from Mr Tho. Butler to Mr John Davy Breholt, merchant in London. Dated at St Christophers the 3d August 1726. I have yours by Mr Fleming who has brought out what may justly be called an Act of Banishment for three parts in four of his Mats subjects in this Island: for certain it is, that not one man in 20 of the present settlers of the French lands are in a condition to purchase them on the terms the Commrs give out they will insist on, so that the rich Antegonians and Barbadians and the Commrs themselves must be the purchasers; in short it is lamentable to see the consternation the people are in, and nothing can now be heard but crying and wringing of hands for the so near approach of this depopulation; the consequence whereof must inevitably be, that first those who are turned out of their habitations and sent adrift, possibly may, and, it's much to be feared, will go to the French and Spanish Islands, where, no doubt, they will be well rec[eiv]ed and thoroughly encouraged; secondly the British merchants and those here who have given large credit to these settlers, will every one lose their debts, and thirdly, his Maty instead of gaining one subject the more by the bargain will lose 2 or 3,000 very good ones; besides that his revenue of 4 &; ½ p[er] ct, and other duties imposed on the comodities of this Island imported to Britain and other his Mats dominions, will be chekt for at least 3 years; for as of course 10,000 negroes will be carried off, the new settlers must purchase as many and make their settlement equal to what they are at present, before his Maty will receive the same revenues as he now does; and all this for such a poor pittance as 100,000li that sum (notwithstanding what may have been given out to the contrary) being the utmost the whole French part of this Island will sell for. Add to all this the unpeopling and ruin of the fine & large town of Bassa Terre, built at a vast expence by the merchants and other Traders & which is in the greatest danger of being once again seen in flames, the people in general not sparing to declare, that no stranger shall be the better for their houses and works, wch they say and with truth cost them no small sums,” &c.
In the letter of 6 Aug. the Comrs speak of the complaints going home against them in respect to a plantation formerly granted to president Davis, of which Mr John Willett and Mr John Spooner have actual possession, and they say “that if anything can possibly cast a tincture of partiality or prejudice on what we have done in this affair, it must be that the plantation these gentlemen would purchase is one of those we have desired their Lordships liberty to purchase for ourselves.”
In that of 9 Aug. they say:—“We are too well assured a gentleman of this Island has very industriously led the present possessors into combinations to keep us as much as may be in the dark, to depreciate the lands, to cast an odium on the Commission, and have formed themselves into partys to disturb a fair sale to any but themselves.” Again:—“His Excy, Generall Hart (who is a possessor), the day Mr Mathew and Mr Fleming waited on him at Antigua, proposed to them that he had an arrear of four years of 1,200l. a year salary due to him, part of which he would offer in payment. However willing and desirous the Commissioners are to gratify his Excy, they do not think themselves impowerd so to do without your Lordship's directions.” The Comrs were desirous of “contracting with all such as are reasonable proposers.” And, “'twould be too hard to putt to publick sale a spott of ground of hardly one hundred yards square, to take from the possessor a house he may have built of twenty times its value, if his Majesty can have the full value of his land by contracting with the present inhabitant.”
In that of 17 Aug. The Comrs refer to their Lordships the offer of General Hart to purchase 285 acres at 10l. an acre. They also refer to their difficulty about Mr Robert Cuningham, who claimed a “vast tract of three hundred and ninety-eight acres” about which a Chancery suit was progressing.
In that of 27 Aug. Mr Fleming says:—“We have the pleasure of observing that the combinations, threats, complaints, and clamours wch have been made use of to drive the poorer sort to despair, and to interrupt and depreciate our sales have been ineffectual.” Again:—“While we were treating with the people of Basse Terre town, after declaiming on the hard condition of the poor and other possessors of the French lands, His Excellency was pleased to say it was severe to oblige them to purchase, the English part was given gratis to settlers, and a sale of lands from the Crown to the subject was unknown in the French or any other American colonys.” He further said that the affair would be carried into Parliament.
In that of 29 Aug. Mr Fleming says that if their Lordships should favour Mr Hart they (the Comrs) could not depend upon his assistance.
In that of 31 Aug. the Comrs say:—“May we presume to recommend to your Lordshipps for His Majesty's approbation that we may confirm to the parishioners of Basse terre parish the church and church yard there, being about three acres. To the French Protestants for their Church and Church Yard a like quantity granted to them in Irish Town, and on which the old French settlers had their hospital. To the Parish of St. Paul Cabeça terre the land of the Old Covent at Covent Gutt for their Church and Church Yard, being to be a like quantity of about three acres, and the same quantity of land and ruins of the Carmelite Church in Upper Basse-terre for the Parish intended there. This will not lessen the value of sale; no one will buy churches or church yards.”
In the letter of 1 Sept. the Comrs suggest various new laws to be made.
In that of 20 Oct. to Mr Scrope, Mr Fleming says that among the contracts that will be laid before their Lordships “is one made with William Wells for a plantation in Cabeça terre Quarter, conteining one hundred & fifty-seven acres of land. This plantation was proposed for by two persons. By one Hilden, who has a grant for it, and within the meaning of our instructions is the possessor; and by one Woodropp who rented it of him, and neither of them in their proposalls offered above ten pounds an acre. I shall endeavour to the end of this affair to act up to the expectations you have of me, and always suppose myself within your view. I therefore own to you, Sir, that this contract is made in trust for myself, and without treating with Mr Hilden the possessor on his proposall, or putting up the land to public sale. But I begg leave to represent that the malice we have raised against us in some people, by a due regard to our duty, has forced us in this respect out of the common road. I give the full value. The possessor has, indeed no other meritt but his possession, and if I understood Sr Robert Walpole right (when I had the honour of being introduced by you to the Lords of the Treasury) that, in his opinion, gives no strong pretensions to a preference, inasmuch as the possessors have hitherto had the lands for nothing. This possessor has injoy'd the plantation above twelve years gratis, and he has besides a very good one on which he lives, and (if I am not partiall to myself) I have the fairer pretensions to favour, since this gentleman was for male practices removed by the Treasury from the collection of the Customs in this Island. He is already provided for, and I don't know where else I can be setled on a tolerable lott.” * * * * “It will be two years from my entering on the land before I can reap any proffitts, and 'tis necessary to be prepared for setling. Negros are not allways at market, which putt me under a necessity of buying some which offer'd, who will remain a heavy charge upon me 'till I have land to work ym on.”
In the letter of 1 Nov. they hope to conclude the business of the Commission by February.
In that of 30 Nov. they say:—“The discouragements we have all along mett with here, are chiefly from Generall Hart, His Majesty's Cheif Governor. We have hitherto stifled our complaints to their Lordshipps, but his Excellency's persecutions grow intolerable, and we apprehend bad consequences from his behaviour. He cannot forgive his not being named one of the Commissioners, that in words, he is required ‘at his utmost perill’ to support us, which, His Excellency says, is a treatment never used to a Captain Generall, that we did not write their Lordshipps his offer of 10l. p[er] acre for his land was a sufficient price, but only a generous first offer. These reasons, at least we know no others, have all along brought his Excys indignation against us, and no means have been wanting to depreciate the lands, to exasperate the poor first, and now, all the inhabitants agt us. He publickly in Council, and in all places, stigmatizes the Commission, as an unheard of hardship, to sell lands in the colonys, that the people of the Island are hereby render'd miserable, that he himself is ready, if others will follow him, to go and settle Sancta Cruz, that he can give grants for lands there and spoil our bargains by carrying off our chapmen, that we grind the poor subject, and much more. To which for answer we assure their Lordshipps and you, Sir, we sold the land of equall value to his Excellency's, and adjoyning to it, for 17l. sterling p[er] acre. We have not removed one single family off the Island, we have introduc'd no strangers. His Excellency himself once form'd a scheme for selling these lands, however barbarous the selling them at all is now. Not a purchaser complains, that we know of, and not one, but if he would part with his bargain, we could dispose of it at the same price, it may be for more; and so far are we from grinding the poor, or the subject, we can prove we have done every thing with utmost tendernesse, as farr as the duty of a trust repos'd in us could admit; and no man living can say we have accepted a present of the value of a single pistole, or acted with any other consideration than of his Majesty's service. The days of driving off familys by thirtys, of extorting hundreds of pistoles from the settlers for grants, and thousands on assurances that the whole disposall of these lands were to be in other hands, ceased with the publishing his Majesty's commission to us. We begg their Lordshipps' and your protection. We shall now dayly gather in great sum[m]es of money, temptation enough to evill-minded people to insult and rob us, without such incouragemts from the Cheif Magistrate among us.” * * *
Several of these letters are in duplicate as well as the enclosures to them.
There are also some letters signed “Galfridus Gray,” addressed to the Rt Hon. Sr Robert Walpole, and one by him to John Scrope, Esq., Secretary to the Lords of the Treasury, as to his proposals for the sale of these lands. 184 pages.