A Property Puzzle

The controversial ownership of Breezy Point on East Caicos–Part 1.
By Jeff Dodge

From J. Henry Pusey’s The Handbook of the Turks and Caicos Islands (1897 edition): “the large tract of land called Breezy Point was otherwise designated Cape Comet is also included in Grand Caicos. . .”

Who were the legitimate owners of East Caicos Island, or more specifically, a tract of land at Breezy Point? The answer to this question turns out to be a convoluted story that is proving difficult to unwind. This is part one of a two-part story that begins in 1807 with the Ingham brothers of Bermuda.

First to own land at Breezy Point

This close-up of the Breezy Point area on East Caicos today hides the controversy surrounding its ownership in the 1800s.

John Ingham and his brother Thomas Jr. each received land grants for tracts of land at Breezy Point on East Caicos Island from the Governor of the Bahamas Charles Cameron Esquire. These land grants were certified on April 24, 1807.

John’s land grant described his land as:

“a tract containing four hundred eighty acres of vacant land situated at the Eastern Point of Grand Caicos Island called Greasy Point bounded northwardly by white or sandy sand beaches, eastwardly and westwardly by vacant land and has such shape and marks as are represented in the above plat.”

Thomas Ingham Jr.’s land grant described his property as:

“a tract containing eight hundred and eighty eight acres of land situated on the East or Grand Caicos bordering northwardly by the land of John Ingham and on all other sides by vacant land and hath such shape and marks as the above plat represents.”

The two Ingham land plats are shown here. Note that in the early 19th century, East Caicos was considered part of Middle Caicos, which was then known as Grand Caicos. Why the Bahamian Government official who prepared the Ingham land grant documents referred to Breezy Point as “Greasy Point” is bewildering. Nonetheless, it’s obvious what was intended.

This aerial view shows the location of Breezy Point and the Ingham brothers’ land grants.

John and Thomas raised cattle on their Breezy Point holdings as well as other livestock. It is doubtful that either of them lived on East Caicos, however slaves owned by them must have done so. For example, the Slave Return of 1822 lists 13 slaves by name that belonged to Thomas Ingham Jr.

John Ingham’s descendants and will

John was never officially married. Nevertheless, he had two children by a slave woman named Eve. According to baptismal records, their son Robert was born in 1806 and their daughter Rose in 1808. John Ingham’s will states that Eve belonged to John McIntosh Esquire.

John Ingham’s will, dated August 13, 1818, begins: 

“now residing in Grand Key [Grand Turk] one of the Turks Islands Bahamas, being sick and weak in body, but of sound mind and memory do make this my last Will and Testament in manner following . . .”

His will goes on to list George Gibbs, Capt. Thomas Lea Smith, and John McIntosh as his executors. His will further states that:

“I will and bequeath all my property real and personal of whatever description consisting of lands, negroes, live stock and other articles that my Executors George Gibbs, Captain Thomas L. Smith and John McIntosh as aforesaid and at present residing in Grand Key Turks Islands aforesaid the said property of whatever kind to be in trust and for the use of my natural born children Robert and Rose Ingham both Mulattoes, subject however to the unlimited management, direction and control of my said Executors until the youngest child Rose Ingham arrives at the age of eighteen years when the property is to be divided as following.”

John’s will goes on to say:

“that my real estate or tract of land at Greasy Point on the E. Grand Caicos with all the improvements thereon and all the live stock consisting of cattle, horses, hogs etc. are to be the joint property of Robert and Rose aforesaid and to be either occupied, and managed, divided or sold by my aforesaid Executors as they may judge proper.”

John’s children, Robert and Rose

Robert and Rose were baptized at St. Thomas Church on Grand Turk on April 27, 1818 by a visiting pastor from Nassau. The baptism took place just a few months before their father wrote his last will and testament.

Since Eve, the mother of Robert and Rose, was a slave owned by John McIntosh, her children were also slaves belonging to McIntosh. In the early 19th century, it was unlikely that a slave could own or inherit real property. To remedy this situation, John manumitted (freed) his son Robert in 1816—his daughter Rose was manumitted a year later. The manumission documents freeing them were actually receipts showing the amount of money John Ingham paid McIntosh to free each of his two children.

Rose Ingham was freed (manumitted) in 1817. Note that in the document here, John McIntosh refers to Rose as “Rose Johnson” and further on as “Rose Ingham” suggesting that the last name of Rose’s mother, Eve, may have been Johnson. Being free persons, Robert and Rose would be entitled to inherit the property at Breezy Point that their father bequeathed to them. John’s will stipulated that his Breezy Point property was to be put in trust for his children. His executors were to manage the property until Rose’s 18th birthday in 1826. John McIntosh’s will dated March 22, 1817 directed that Eve was to be freed upon his death—McIntosh died in 1819.

On June 4, 1829, Rose married Benjamin Wood, “a carpenter and a free person of color.” It is not known if Robert Ingham ever married. 

Thomas Ingham Jr. and his descendants

Thomas Ingham Jr. married Deborah Place Stamers—it was her second marriage. They had no children of their own, but there were three children from Deborah’s first marriage to Benjamin Stamers. Her children (Thomas Jr.’s stepchildren) were Elizabeth M. Stamers, Jane S. Stamers, and Copeland John Stamers. 

Thomas Jr. died on April 1, 1823. His wife Deborah died eight weeks later. To complicate matters, Thomas Jr. died intestate (without a will). The administration of his estate was granted to his stepson, Copeland John Stamers, by the acting governor of Bermuda on May 26, 1823.

Thomas Jr.’s father, Thomas Ingham Sr., survived his son by eight years—he died on January 6, 1831. His will bequeathed his property, both real and personal, to his third wife Frances (red circle in the family diagram at right), and to his granddaughters:  Mary Jane Ingham Frith and Eliza Deborah Frith (blue circles). Nowhere does his will specifically mention his son’s property at Breezy Point, suggesting that his son’s land on East Caicos never conveyed or belonged to him. If there was an inventory of his estate, it hasn’t been found.

Since Thomas Jr.’s wife Deborah died before his estate could be probated, his father would probably have been next in line to inherit it. Instead, however, Thomas Jr.’s land at Breezy Point went to his stepson, Copeland John Stamers. Exactly why is unknown. Was the fact that Stamers had been appointed the administrator of the estate have anything to do with it? Did Thomas Sr. indicate he didn’t want the property? We can only guess. Nevertheless, Thomas Ingham’s 888-acre parcel at Breezy Point ended up in the hands of Copeland John Stamers.

Rose and Robert and their inheritance

No records have yet surfaced to indicate that John Ingham’s two children, Rose and Robert, ever took possession of their father’s 480-acre parcel at Breezy Point. No documents have been found showing that they or John’s executors sold the property.

Copeland John Stamers and his will

Copeland John Stamers was born in Bermuda in 1802 and by 1825 was living on Salt Cay where he owned salt properties. He married Caroline S. Smith of Bermuda in 1830. They had three children: Benjamin H. Stamers, Copeland Place Stamers, and Susanna D. Stamers.  His wife Caroline died in 1840. 

Copeland J. Stamers died in August 1866. He left his property, both real and personal, to his three children to be divided among them equally. In his will, his Breezy Point holdings were described as (underlining by author):

“all of my lands Situated at the Caicos Islands, one portion by original Grant containing one thousand three hundred and sixty acres, situated at Breezy Point, East Caicos, and all other portions situated thereon known as Breezy Point East Caicos my right by continued occupancy, together with all Horned Cattle & other Stock thereon, and all houses and buildings on the said land . . .”

This description is puzzling. “One portion by original grant containing 1,360 acres” clearly refers to both parcels of land originally granted to the Ingham brothers in 1807. The other land at Breezy Point “by right of continued occupancy” could refer to the vacant land surrounding those 1,360 acres, or was Stamers trying to justify his claim to the 480 acres that had been granted to John Ingham and was to have gone to his two children?

Inventory of the Copeland J. Stamers estate

In January 1867, the Court of the Ordinary on Grand Turk empowered George Jones and Benjamin Wood of Salt Cay to inventory and appraise the properties in the estate of Copeland J. Stamers excluding those located on Bermuda. (Jones had witnessed Stamers sign his will. Benjamin Wood was probably Rose Ingham’s husband).

Notice that the inventory includes the 888 acres at Breezy Point that Stamers inherited from his stepfather, Thomas Ingham Jr., but doesn’t include the adjacent 480- acre parcel that was to have been left in trust to Rose and Robert. Why Jones and Wood didn’t include John Ingham’s 480-acre parcel in the inventory is curious. Did they believe the property didn’t belong to Stamers or did they know it had been left to Rose and her brother Robert?  We don’t know. 

Was deception involved?

Copeland J. Stamers was a member of the Legislative Council of the Turks & Caicos Islands and the fact that he knew that the 1,360 acres (1,368 acres) of land at Breezy Point were originally land grants from the Crown suggests that Stamers had seen or knew of the Ingham brothers’ land grant documents clearly showing that Thomas Jr. received 888 acres and John 480 acres.

As a member of the Legislative Council, Stamers would have been acquainted with the law of adverse possession or “squatter’s rights” as some call it. It is the legal principle by which a person who doesn’t own a property can obtain legal ownership of it based on his continuous possession or occupancy of it for a certain length of time without the permission or knowledge of the owner.  

Adverse possession appears to be one explanation that would justify how Stamers could legally claim ownership of John Ingham’s land. Since Stamers was raising cattle on the 888 acres he inherited from his stepfather it seems logical he would graze his cattle on the vacant property adjacent to it as well. He could have done this without the knowledge of its owner. Or, did he purchase John’s land from John’s executors unbeknownst to Rose and Robert? Did his children sell their inheritance?  We don’t know as no documentation has been found to support or refute these possibilities.

Stamers’ children lease land at Breezy Point

In March 1871, almost five years after the death of Copeland J. Stamers, his three children leased property surrounding the original Ingham land for 99 years from the government of the Turks & Caicos Islands. The lease agreement described the Ingham land as being 1,288 acres in size. Keep in mind that the Inghams’ two land grants totaled 1,368 acres. This 80 acre discrepancy was never explained nor was the size of the land they leased from the government specified. Perhaps the 80 acre discrepancy was the result of a survey. The leased property was described as:

Tract of vacant land hereby leased is bounded as follows on the North and East by the sea, on the South by Swampy lands and the sea and on the West by a Creek known as Lorimer’s Creek . . .

In December 1871, Copeland Place Stamers and his two siblings sold the 1,288 acre parcel at Breezy Point plus the 99-year lease for additional land on East Caicos to John N. Reynolds, the owner of salt properties on South Caicos. This indenture described the 1,288 acre parcel as (underlining by author): 

“certain valuable lands of which he [Copeland J. Stamers] was then possessed and held by him in fee simple and which said lands are situated at Breezy Point in the Caicos Islands and contain twelve hundred and eighty eight acres and whereas the said Copeland John Stamers after having so made his aforesaid Will departed this life . . .”

A little further on, the indenture describes the 1,288 acre parcel as:

“all those certain tracts of land situated at Breezy Point East Caicos originally granted unto Thomas Ingham and John Ingham and containing twelve hundred and eighty eight acres bounded on all sides by Vacant lands . . .”

Those nasty unanswered questions

Shouldn’t Copeland Place Stamers, acting as attorney for his two siblings, have wondered at the time he sold the property at Breezy Point to John Reynolds whether his father had legal ownership of the 480-acre parcel since it was not recorded in the inventory of his father’s estate? 

No documentation has yet been found proving that Rose and her brother ever became the owners of their father’s property. Did their father’s executors fail to form the trust or did they sell the land before establishing one? Was the fact that Rose and Robert were mulatto explain why they might not have been informed about their inheritance? 

Adverse possession laws could have justified Copeland J. Stamers’ claim that he owned John Ingham’s 480 acre Breezy Point property. 

Whatever the answer to these unanswered questions might be, one could draw the conclusion that somewhere along the line Rose and Robert were wronged.

Part II of this story will  bring the chain of ownership of Breezy Point up to the present. It so happens that it is presently for sale for $25,000,000.

The author thanks the following for their invaluable contributions to this story: Linda Abend of Bermuda for her extensive research digging up original source material from the Bermuda Archives; John Adams of the United Kingdom and former Bermuda Government Archivist for his many contributions and insights; and Deborah Dodge for her valuable editorial suggestions.

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