All the King’s Men
A look at the Loyalist planters who helped shape the Caicos Islands
By Dr. Charlene Kozy
It is general knowledge that exiled Americans, known as Loyalists, populated the Caicos Islands following 300 years of their being uninhabited. In two previous articles, I covered physical evidence concerning this “Plantation Era.” To fully understand the contribution to the Turks & Caicos of this immigration, it is necessary to know who the individuals were, why they came and what cultural and political values they brought with them.
The first Loyalist studied was Thomas Brown, a leader of the Loyalist’s militia, the King’s Rangers. This article will look at the men who followed him to the Caicos Islands and the legacy they left behind.
After the claims were paid there still remained the problem of resettling the Loyalists and rebuilding their lives. The governor of New Providence made a plea to the Assembly that the legislators look with favor on “those forced to seek an asylum among these islands.” An effort was made immediately to settle the refugees in the Out Islands, where the Loyalists could recreate the plantations and staple crop patterns they had known in Georgia and the Carolinas. These islands were: Watling (now San Salvador), Cat Island, Abaco, Acklins, the Exuma group, Long Island and, the group farthest away, the Caicos Islands. Great Inaugua and Grand Turk, located in the same area, attracted salt rakers, but no planters.
Thomas Brown was first awarded 200 acres on Abaco; not nearly enough to satisfy his ambition. Some of the King’s Rangers decided to follow Brown but also received small grants. Brown petitioned for better soil and more land for the group. This was done barely in time to meet the filing date of July 21, 1787. Dunmore began issuing grants in 1788 and, consequently, Brown and his Rangers received ample acreage on the Caicos.
The Caicos Islands were reported as having the best soil, thus it is not surprising that “considerations” were given to the King’s Rangers and they received land grants there. They present an impressive roster: Brigadier General Robert Cunningham of the Royal Militia of South Carolina; Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Brown, commander of the East Florida Rangers and later the King’s Rangers; Major John Gregory Harrison of the South Carolina Rangers; Captain John Martin of the Royal North Carolina Regiment; Captain John MacDonald of the Georgia Royal Militia; Captain John McKinzie of the British Legion from North Carolina; Major Alexander McLean of the King’s Rangers; Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Pearis, who joined General Cunningham; Chaplain Commandant John Cochran; Captain William Wylly of the King’s Rangers; Captain Alexander Campbell Wylly of the King’s Rangers; Dr. John Lorimer, a surgeon for the garrison at Pensacola; Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen De Lancey and Private John Edwards.
Grants were made between 1787 and 1797. The earliest date found of grants on the Caicos was February, 1789 and the latest date was December, 1791. The military grantees were obviously favored over the non-military grantees. The average acreage per grant was approximately 680 for military grantees and 189 for non-military grantees. An explanation for this advantage could be that the military, excluding three privates, a chaplain and a doctor, were high-ranking commissioned officers. Also, names appear on conveyances and appraisals in the Bahama Registry that are not in the grants. One estimate was that 40 white families lived on the Caicos.
Each man exhibited honorable behavior before the war in America and that continued as citizens of the Caicos. Their choice of loyalty to the established government and to the King of England brought them to the Caicos Islands. They were discharged soldiers that did not come to conquer, but to pursue their dream of a better life that took them previously to America.
Profiles of some of the military men’s activity in North America gives a better view of these settlers that produced the peaceful, productive community found on the Caicos Islands for several decades.
• Brigadier-General Robert Cunningham was a Scotsman who moved to South Carolina from Virginia in 1769. He was commissioned as a circuit judge of District Ninety-Six and is considered one of the most prominent Loyalists in the South. He objected to signing the “Association” and advised his neighbors to not sign. Following that he was arrested and jailed in July, 1776. He took up arms with Thomas Brown and was made Brigadier-General of the Royal Militia of South Carolina. He was granted half pension pay for life and compensated for losses both in South Carolina and East Florida. He died in 1813 at the age of 74.
• Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Brown is better known for his military service in America, but his concerns for fellow Loyalists and talent as a diplomat should be noted. He stayed on Tybee Island (off Georgia) after Loyalists were forced out of Savannah to ensure their safety, and helped with their relocation in East Florida. Here, he worked well with both the English governor and the incoming Spanish governor. He had been appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by the British government because of “his knowledge of Indians, his patience and temper.” Indian tribes came to East Florida to “pay their respect.”
After he had settled on the Caicos, the Spanish government offered him the appointment as Commandant of Spanish troops in Florida and Superintendent of Indian Affairs with a salary of $10,000 a year. The offer included compensation for any costs incurred in moving from Grand Caicos to Florida. He replied that he could not enter “service with a foreign power without permission from the King.” A praise from the king came, but no answer to the question. Brown felt honored by the offer but refused.
Thomas Brown never neglected an opportunity to find favor for his Rangers. He sent William Wylly to London as an advocate for their claims. Many followed him to East Florida, Abaco, and finally to the Caicos. Brown was elected to the assembly in Nassau to represent Abaco. He refused to take the seat because six Loyalists were denied seats even though they had the greater number of votes than their opponents, “old inhabitants.”
His home on the Caicos housed his wife and four children, his mother-in-law and her daughter, and one account stated that Charles Fox Taylor, an American Indian, also lived with him. He left with his family for London after 10+ years and later moved his family and his 600 slaves left on the Caicos to St. Vincent, where he died in 1825 and is buried.
• Major John Gregory Harrison was from South Carolina and later moved to Georgia. In 1870 he applied to Cornwallis for an officer’s rank with the promise to raise a corp of 500 men. Harrison failed to deliver the corps but he is listed with the South Carolina Rangers, “one company of 80 men under Major John Gregory Harrison, December 24, 1781.”
Waddington Papers Literary and Philosophical Society, Whitby, England says, “Capt. Harrison married Margaret Farr.” She was very likely the daughter of William Farr and Sarah O’Driscoll and sister of Ester Farr (wife of Thomas Brown). In the Caicos in February 1801, Capt. Harrison and Margaret had a son William Anthony Harrison who became a surgeon-dentist. In the 1841 English Census, he gave his place of birth as Grand Caicos and was living in London with his wife Sarah Lacy (relative of Thomas Brown) and six of their seven children. He died in 1873 in London. (Courtesy Joan Leggett)
• Dr. John Lorimer’s legacy has survived to the present day as the name of one of the villages on Middle Caicos. He received a commission as a military surgeon to the garrison at Pensacola, West Florida on March 14, 1765. While in West Florida, he was elected a member of the House of Assembly and served as a temporary speaker. He was sent to New York when West Florida surrendered to the Spaniards and became Inspector of Regimental Hospitals before immigrating to the Bahamas in 1789. While in New York, he bought a Negro woman named Diana but freed her in 1783, witnessed by Public Notary. In his will he left other properties to slaves, especially to a woman named Rose.
• John Cochran is one of the few on the Caicos whose origin was not a southern colony. As a claimant for property loss, he identified himself as Chaplain Commandant of the Majesty Fort William and Mary in Providence of New Hampshire.
• John Edwards was from Virginia originally and moved to South Carolina. He served in the British Militia and fought with Cornwallis at the Battle of Camden. This is said to have been the worst battle defeat of the Revolution for the Americans. Edwards was severely wounded in this battle and was granted an annual pension of £20 for life to begin in the summer of 1783. No rank could be found.
• Captain John Martin of the Royal North Carolina Regiment moved to East Florida and was elected to sit in the Commons House. In the Bahamas, he is listed as one of the members representing the Western District of Nassau and was appointed Justice of Peace. In 1789, Governor Dunmore appointed him one of the assistant justices of the General Court of the Bahamas, a position held until his death in 1796.
• Captain John McDonald identified himself as serving in Major Wright’s company of the Georgia Loyalists. In addition to property loss, he asked for help for wounds received. His wounds were so severe that one arm was “rendered” useless; McDonald was allowed £40 annually beginning in 1786. Thomas Brown mentions McDonald in a plea for help for “officers of the Indian Department.” Because they had been involved in Indian warfare, they could expect no pardon or restitution from the Americans.
• John McKinzie testified that he served as a captain in the British Legion of the military. He asked for and was granted support for his four children who ranged in age from 18 years to 18 months. McKinzie became active in Bahamian politics. His name appears on a petition to prevent Governor Maxwell’s return to New Providence.
• Alexander McLean was banished from Richmond County, Georgia. He joined Thomas Brown’s King’s Rangers and attained the rank of Major. He actively recruited for the Rangers and received compensation for this effort and for transporting supplies to and from Augusta for the military; however, he was denied a pension.
Two accounts of his service as a messenger for Brown are recorded. One was the Americans’ attack on Colonel James Grierson’s fortified house. McLean carried a report to Savannah claiming that the Rangers killed upward of 90 and took at least 80 horses. The second account tells of his “risking his life” carrying dispatches from Augusta to Governor Wright in Savannah during the battle and loss of Augusta.
He received a land grant in 1789 on the Caicos. In a 1799 will written by C.F. Taylor (a mixed-blood Indian who gave up his claim to a chiefdom in the Cherokee Nation to follow Thomas Brown into exile), McLean is mentioned as a resident of the Caicos. His will, apparently written after a voyage to South Carolina where he became ill in 1799, is recorded as written to Edwin Gardner. He explained to Gardner that his attorneys on Grand Caicos, “where I live,” John McIntosh, John Lorimer, and John G. Harrison, would have charge of his “affairs in that part of the world.” He asked that the Negro boy borrowed from his brother-in-law, Dr. Anthony George Forbes, who was a planter on the same island, be returned. He asked that his friend, Thomas Forbes, tell his mother about his death (indicating that she lived on the Caicos).
• Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Pearis immigrated with his parents to America at age 10 and lived in Virginia on a 1,000 acre plantation. Pearis served as a lieutenant in the Virginia Provincial Regiment in charge of Cherokee and Catawba Indians. He married a Cherokee woman and they had one son.* He was sent to South Carolina in 1768 to serve as a British Indian Agent. He joined Brigadier-General Robert Cunningham and Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Brown in their Siege of Ninety-Six in 1775. Pearis was arrested and jailed in Charleston. While in jail, he took the oath of neutrality but this did not prevent his home from being burned and his family carried away.
After an extensive effort to find his family, he walked 700 miles to West Florida. He found his family three years later at Ninety-Six and again, to neutralize his position, stayed in South Carolina. However, when Savannah was evacuated, he took his family and settled in East Florida. Pearis received compensation for personal property in Virginia, South Carolina, and West Florida. He was awarded £5,624 and a military allowance of £70 yearly from 1784 to 1808. His grant on Grand Caicos was for 400 acres. A sale of 100 acres of land on Grand Caicos is recorded to Thomas and Margaret Hill of New Providence. Pearis died early in 1810 on the Caicos.
*The Georgia Gazette and the Bahama Gazette both carried notice of the marriage of his son, Richard Pearis, Jr., to Margaret Cunningham, daughter of Brigadier-General Robert Cunningham, July 22, 1790.
• Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen De Lancey belonged to the prominent De Lancey family of New York. He served with the 2nd Battalion of New York Volunteers and later with the 1st Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers. He joined Brown’s Rangers and other troops from outlying posts in their successful defense of Savannah in 1779. Upon going to the Bahamas, he was appointed Chief Justice there and held that position until 1797.
He is not found as receiving an original land grant. An appraisal made in 1800 establishes his 900 acre plantation known as “Greenwich” (can be found on maps today) as having “all improvements.” Eighteen Negro slaves are listed by name and a complete wind gin denotes cotton cultivation. The list of household items are elegant, such as mahogany furniture and silver serving utensils. Multiple “plantation boats” are included in the appraisal.
• The Wylly Brothers — Alexander and William — belonged to a prominent family in Georgia. Their father, Alexander, served as Speaker of the House in Georgia for several years. Alexander, Sr. remained a Loyalist while his brother Richard joined the Patroits.
Both Alexander and William were students at Oxford, England when the war started in America. They returned to Georgia and became captains in Thomas Brown’s King’s Rangers. American historian Hugh McCall credits Ranger Captain Alexander C. Wylly with “saving the life of John Jones, a rebel, who resisted capture.”
William Wylly returned from England in 1780 and practiced law for 10 months. In 1781, he raised a company of Augusta refugees in Savannah and joined the King’s Rangers in the defense of Savannah. This link to Thomas Brown will reach to the remote islands of Grand Caicos and St. Vincent.
Both Alexander and William received land grants on the Caicos but it is doubtful that William lived there. There is no plantation name found for Alexander nor an appraisal, but he is listed as being appointed a Justice of Peace in 1791. William Gamble, John Ferguson, John Lorimer, John Bell and Wade Stubbs are included in the appointments. Alexander also witnessed John Petty’s will in 1799.
Alexander married Margaret Armstrong of Nassau, formerly of North Carolina. They wanted to return to the continent and were allowed to do so. Perhaps his uncle Richard Wylly, who remained a Patriot, assisted in that. They first went to St. Augustine and then moved to Jekyl Island. Later they established a home on St. Simon’s Island and are buried there. Alexander authored “The Sketch of the Siege of Savannah.”
William‘s greatest contribution was his fight for the judges in Nassau to rule “upon all matters, not only of law, but of fact and in matters of civil rights.” His finest hour was his anti-slave stand. A Negro woman named Sue was brought to Nassau in 1809. Her master from Georgia arrived in 1816 with a male Negro named Sandy. The master attempted to take Sue, Sandy and a child born to them back to Georgia. William ruled that Sue could not be taken.
In 1822, William was appointed Chief Justice of St. Vincent. Thomas Brown had moved his family to St. Vincent earlier. Cashin suggests that the two old soldiers had much to talk about: their last campaign in Georgia, the Florida stay, the political battle against Dunmore and perhaps about the antislavery campaign in the Bahamas. William named his first son Thomas Brown Wylly.
These men represent about 1/3 of the original planters on the Caicos Islands. They were not settlers who took land from indigenous people as was done in North America. The land was uninhabited and legally theirs from land grants.
Their original goal in coming to America was to become gentlemen planters and have a better life than their original homeland offered. In the history of revolutions, many times the losers were treated more harshly than these soldiers, as in France and Russia. These Loyalists were allowed to leave and their mother country, England, gave them the opportunity to start over in their pursuit of property and happiness. The Treaty of 1783 recognized their losses and the new nation, the United States, was to reimburse them for their losses, which was never done.
Their contribution to develop a new community is sometimes overlooked but should be recognized. By the act of 1799, Turks & Caicos Islands were granted seats in the Assembly at Nassau. Perhaps the Loyalists’ political activity in Nassau helped create that Act.
A port of entry was established and used since records are available of trading ships delivering goods to the Caicos from England and the United States. The only record of local authority found was the appointments of Justices of Peace. They could perform legal services such as marriages, wills, sales and other civil matters. No records of jails being built are found. Most appraisals show guns found in households. There was an apparent common respect that did not require formal law.
Roads were built, landings constructed and trade was conducted with other islands and nations. It is highly unlikely that they received government money for improvements.
Their treatment of slaves is unlike that in North America. They worked in salt-raking on Grand Turk and worked on other plantations as well. Land for each family was allowed on some plantations and families were kept together. Other records deny that their slaves were forced to do the work animals might do, such as turning wheels.
The problems associated with cotton growing brought the plantation era to a close in a few decades. Crop rotation was suggested; windbreakers of Indian corn planted among the cotton rows was another suggestion. Cotton growing was regulated by the Assembly and planters were told to give primary attention to destroying the chenille bug. In addition, the Americans dealt heavy blows to the Islands during the War of 1812 through blocades and suspension of trade. A food shortage threatened a famine. In 1813, a hurricane swept the Islands and damaged cultivation and buildings. This natural disaster, coupled with soil exhaustion and insects, ended prosperity for most planters on the Caicos. Some died there and some left for other islands. Not enough was left for progeny to stay and try to maintain the plantations.
The plantations were left to the slaves, but without capital to properly maintain them. A struggling but free population existed for many years. Many of the citizens bear the names of these and non-military planters today. They are successful office holders, land owners and citizens following the examples of the families where they lived. The Loyalists’ legacy is the nation they helped create.
Cashin, Edward J. The King’s Rangers. New York: Fordham University Press, 1999.
Kozy, Charlene J. “A History of the Georgia Loyalists and the Plantation Period in the Turks and Caicos Islands.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Middle Tennessee State University. University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor. 1983.
Whitby Family Papers. Joan Leggett, 2010.
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Desmond Missick demonstrates how the conch shell can be blown as a horn. It was used practically to signal, warn, or communicate, and also serves as a musical instrument. Photo by James Roy of www.MyParadisePhoto.com