North Street, Newry, County Down

North Street, Newry, County Down
North Street, Newry, County Down

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Blakes of Waterford and the West Indies

The leap across the ocean to the romantic Caribbean began as long ago as 1655 with the destruction of the city and merchants of Galway by Cromwell and Charles Cootes. When John Blake was dispossessed of his lands and wealth he looked to his four sons for the restoration of his fortunes. Thomas, the eldest son, remained in Galway.  Henry, the second son, left his wife and children behind, and set out for Montserrat, the Irish island, that tiny volcanic island in the Antilles. Here he made his fortune with a sugar plantation, returning subsequently to buy estates in Lehinch, Co. Mayo and Renvyle in Co. Galway. John, the third, and apparently not quite so reliable, son, followed him to the Caribbean but chose Barbados instead of Montserrat. There were letters home from Henry to his brother Thomas in Galway complaining about John’s behaviour, how he had brought both his wife and his mistress to the Caribbean with him thus incurring Henry’s deep disapproval. These were quickly followed by letters from John attempting to justify himself.
John did not do well in Barbados.  After the great hurricane of 1675 wrecked most of the plantations on the leeward coast, he complained that “provisions were very scarce and deare” and went on the following year to take over Henry’s sugar plantation in Montserrat. Here he was successful in making his fortune. He never came back to Ireland.
 Nicholas’ movements are harder to trace because he was a mariner. He also went to Barbados, known then as Tobacco Island, soon to be called the Sugar Island, whose symbol is the twisting dolphin and where the Carib Indians once held sway. Nicholas may have owned the ketch the NICHOLAS AND REBECCA which is recorded as departing Barbados for New York with Nicholas as commander in 1679. Barbados had become a hub, from where so many Irish dispossessed and enslaved by Cromwell made their way to the Carolinas, never to return to Ireland. The story of the Irish in the West Indies is unlike that of the English, as most of them were not merchant adventurers in the truest sense but were forced onto the seas by fate, Cromwell being the catalyst that dispossessed them. They came from all walks of life, landowner, labourer and servant alike, uprooted, disenfranchised and dispersed.
 Nicholas’ descendant James, almost one hundred years later, appears to have come back to Ireland, to the port of Waterford and settled there. Following in what seems to have been the family tradition his son, also called James, became a mariner and master of the sloop the MARY AND JOHN of Waterford, owned by Thomas Power, another mariner. He married Thomas’ beloved granddaughter Mary Walsh in 1769.

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