The West Indies

    Scotland has had direct social and economic links with the West Indies for nearly 300 years. This only became possible once Spanish power began to wane in the early seventeenth century. The first vessel known to have sailed to the West Indies was the ` Janet of Leith ` which left Leith in 1611 Settlement there began as early as 1626 when James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, a Scot, was appointed as Proprietor of Barbados by Charles I, which led to a number of Scots settling in the region.

    From Barbados the English spread their settlement to nearby islands and by the 1650s had taken Jamaica from the Spaniards. There vas a constant demand for settlers and servants which was partially supplied by Scots indentured servants through English ports, transportees such as Cromwellian prisoners of war, Covenanters, or criminal shipped directly, from the Clyde or from Leith, and by a small flow of migrants from Scotland. Some of the survivors from the Darien Scheme (1698 -1700)  in the Isthmus of Panama settled in Jamaica and some of the smaller islands. Scots could also be found among the Dutch islands in the Caribbean. After 1707 all restrictions on trade between Scotland and the English colonies were abolished which led to a significant expansion of what had been an illicit trade, and in turn the settlement there by Scots.

    The West Indies became a destination for many families who were seeking to re establish their fortunes rather than a permanent home. Some Orrs are shown in The `Ulster Pedigree` as having gone to the West Indies. A strong Presbyterian / Methodist background did not stop them from indulging in the slave trade. It should be borne in mind that the Scottish were very prominent in the tobacco trade and the molasses/rum trade and had connections with the West Indies where slaves were common, including some `indentured` white people. The slaves were taught and had to use gaelic so that they would be obvious if they ran away ie no one would understand them. So the Scottish / Irish /Ulster traders were well situated to expand their interests, including the use of slave labour, when they migrated to AL and GA.

    " An Account of White People come to Jamaica by Virtue of Several Acts for Introducing and Encouragement of White Settlers passed the 15th May 1736, the 21st May 1743, the 2nd July 1747 and October 1750. With the Quantity of land granted them" - lists a Samuel Orr granted 110 acres of land in Portland District , patent granted 29 August 1745. In the same district and possibly the same estate there are three slave baptisms in the Church of England register for Portland 1814 : " Edward Orr   a Sambo aged about 27 yrs ; Robert Orr a negro aged about 50 years; Joseph Orr a negro aged about 34 years. Property of Bryan West Orr. Baptised 27 September 1814."

     A baptism is recorded of Louisa Augusta Orr ( a free coloured person) on 12 February 1823 (born 17 October 1822 ), daughter of Robert Orr and Elizabeth Mevozies [ Antigua Baptisms 1820 - 1900, Rootsweb archives ]

    Settlement in the Caribbean was more likely to be temporary than settlement in the mainland American colonies. For many the West Indies offered an opportunity to make a fortune or to regain the fortunes of their family. Settlement in Jamaica was more of the entrepreneurial type - of single young people, mainly men, who established trade in sugar and rum, became overseers of plantations making money to develop their social position often with the intention of returning to Scotland. Society on the plantations was based on slavery. Slaves were taught Gaelic - escape was well nigh impossible therefore to areas where Gaelic was not spoken. There is no doubt that slavery was exploited fully for profit. Oppression took place, too, in PEI and Nova Scotia in the relationship between settler and native Indian population. The late twentieth century is now seeing a migration back to Britain of descendants of these eighteenth century emigrants.

    In 1763 the French ceded most of their Caribbean islands to the British, which led to settlement in Grenada, Tobago, St Vincent and Dominica. After the American War of Independence many Loyalists, including a number of Scots, settled in the West Indies. Planters would produce sugar, cotton, tobacco, rum, mahogany etc which were shipped back to Britain for processing and subsequent export to European markets. The main Scots ports involved were on the Clyde but Aberdeen and Leith, among others, were also concerned. Companies based in these ports would recruit managers and servants to work in the West Indies through advertisements in papers such as the Aberdeen Journal. The part played by Scots. in the settlement and economic development of the Caribbean has yet to be fully, researched.



Orr Name Study Ulster Scots Reference material