Thomas Cottgrave went half way round the world to avoid financial ruin caused by his father, but it did not do him much good. He died young, not even knowing whether his sacrifice and hard work had paid off the debts.
Born in Chester in 1682, by his teenage years, Thomas knew that he could never rely on his father, Benjamin (who spelled his name Cotgreave) for financial support. By the time he was 16, he was on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. Its economy was based on sugar plantations, worked by slaves, and Thomas worked for the Pinney family at Montravers, the ruins of which are still on the island.
He did reasonably well for himself, and by 1706, when he was 25, he was described as a “merchant” in his own right. Soon after, he was listed as the owner of seven slaves in his own household, and responsible for another 98 that were working on the sugar estate.
The French invaded the British colony and caused havoc, and Thomas Cottgrave was one of the leading citizens to sort out the aftermath, dealing with the Board of Trade in London on behalf of the islanders.
The fighting had brought home his mortality, and he wrote his will, saying that his father Benjamin “had an estate in Cheshire which was mortgaged”. “I believe,” he wrote, the debt is “not quite clear”.
Soon after, one of his friends wrote to a colleague that he had travelled to the neighbouring island of St Kitts, “for his health having had his Olde Distemper”. It was some sort of stomach complaint and he had been suffering for six months. “Last night,” his friend continued, he “had ye unfortunate account of his death”. No doubt he was genuinely sad at Thomas Cottgrave’s death, but his real reason for writing was to let the colleague know, “this may putt some stop to business”.
National Archives: CO 152/6 ; CO184/1, no.10; CO243/7; CO 243/5 p.371 i>
University of Bristol Library: Pinney Papers – West Indies Box A, Box B
London Metropolitan Archives: AM/PW 1694/20
Calendar of the State Papers, Colonial Series, America & West Indies 1706-1708 (1916), p.509
Pares, R. (1950) A West-India Fortune, p.345
Caribbeana, Volume 6, pp.10-11
Journal of the Commissioners for Trade& Plantations, Vol 2, 1708-1715, pp.386-7