In early 1774, a British-West Indian merchant named John Banister passed away at his home in London. Born in Antigua, Banister, as so many British merchants of the 18th century, had profited substantially from the extraction and trade of goods in the West Indies during his life, often at the expense of enslaved people. Antigua had become an important British colony in the mid-17th century, providing fertile land for sugar plantations tended by enslaved workers transported from Africa.
In his will, Banister made his daughter, Henrietta Maria, and her sisters co-heirs to his fortune. The mortgage of £11,000 (equivalent to a sum of more than £1 million today), which Banister held from a Mr William Byam of Antigua, was placed in a trust made up to £15,000 and used to support his wife and grandchildren – the children of Henrietta Maria and Banister’s son-in-law, Brownlow North, then Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and from 1781, Bishop of Winchester.
Though unclear, it is thought this mortgage refers to the Cedar Hill estate, a sugar plantation held by the Byam family since the latter part of the 17th century. As a mortgagee, Banister and his successors acted as creditors to William Byam, guaranteeing the estate on which Byam lived and worked. It is important to note that ‘estate’ in this context included enslaved people and that it was the mortgagees, rather than the owners of enslaved people, who received compensation when, much later, slavery was abolished.
We do not have the figures for the number of enslaved people who may have worked at Cedar Hill during the 1770s, but by 1817, there were 224 enslaved individuals recorded on the estate. By 1829, this figure had risen to 266. Of these, William Byam’s descendants (having presumably paid off the mortgage by this time) received £2149 3s 10d from the British government in return for the liberation of 133 enslaved people (equivalent to approximately £195,000 today).
The UCL Legacies of British Slavery database notes that Brownlow North was party in 1787 to an indenture (legal contract) for a second mortgage under his father-in-law’s will, for an estate in Dickinson’s Bay, also in Antigua. This mortgage, first raised in 1764, was redeemed by James Nibbs, of Upton House, Nursling in Hampshire. Similar to the Cedar Hill estate, approximately 200 enslaved people are listed in the records for this estate between 1817 and 1832, though again, we do not have records from before 1817.
The stories of these implicit connections to slavery are not apparent in the view of Brownlow and Henrietta North projected in their memorials (located respectively in the South Presbytery and South Nave Aisles, and featured above) – and there is no expectation that they would have been at the time. Yet these hidden stories are testament to the ubiquity of the beneficiaries of slavery and to the importance in understanding the full consequences of the history of slavery in Britain today.