The Welshpool Cup Case Study: Thomas Davies and Barbados


Figure 8. Welshpool gold cup, detail showing inscription. © National Museum of Wales.

Thomas Davies and Barbados

Barbados in the 1660s was on the eastern edge of an increasingly prosperous economic zone. It was making a fortune from sugar in particular, for which it was increasingly dependent on slave labour, and was part of a developing trade network involving the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the east coast of North America. The transition from tobacco to sugar production took place in Barbados between 1640 and 1660. White Europeans, typically there as indentured servants, were unwilling to do the gruelling work required and from the 1650s enslaved West Africans were increasingly seen as the answer. Between 1655 and the mid-1660s the enslaved population overtook the white population.

As will be seen, it is inconceivable that Thomas Davies was not a slave owner but we know very little about his Barbados estate. It may have been 200 acres or less, which when compared to the most eminent plantation owners like Colonel Henry Drax (with 800 acres) places him at the lower end of the spectrum of significant landowners in Barbados but certainly living on a far grander scale than had been possible for him in Wales.[1]  On three occasions in October 1659 and December 1660 a Thomas Davies was recorded in Bristol as a planter engaging an indentured servant destined for Barbados,[2] but his was a common name and this individual is perhaps more likely to have been the planter of All Saints parish whose will dated 15 March 1659/60 was proved 12 December 1661, and whose wife was living in Bristol.[3]

It is possible that Davies, or indeed a relative such as his father Richard, was part of the great influx of British settlers that swelled the population of Britain’s Caribbean colonies, and of Barbados in particular, between the mid 1630s and 1660, attracted by the prospect of quick profits and social advancement.[4] Davies’s will locates him in an elevated social network in Barbados. Beneficiaries included members of the Pead(e) family of Christ Church parish, Davies ‘sons-in-law’ (stepsons, according to a common usage of the time) William, John and James Pead who received £100 each on condition that they did not molest his executors. This legacy was revoked in a codicil of 1665 although another ‘son-in-law’, Thomas Pead, was left £100. Davies’s wife Mary was left the residue of his estate after legacies, the nature of which we learn from Thomas Peade’s own will, dated 19 December 1668 and proved 6 January 1668/69. The will describes ‘land, house, negroes, etc, in the occupation of my mo[ther] Mary Davies’, presumably all in Christ Church parish and referred to as her ‘dower’, in other words inherited from her late husband.[5]

Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper was one of 23 recipients of gold mourning rings to the value of 20s each, to be worn in Davies’s memory according to custom. Other Barbados names include Colonel Timothy Thornhill and his lady, one of the influx of new settlers in the 1650s, sons of the English gentry looking for new opportunities after the civil wars. The owner of a 500-acre estate, he was one of the Barbados ‘aristocracy’ that dominated its legislature, judiciary and all other institutions. Other beneficiaries include Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Stanfast and his lady, another of the Barbados élite (with 500 acres); and James Wallwyn junior and his lady (with 300 acres).

Some of the names recorded in the 1666 codicil to Davies’s will – William Sandiford (witness), Thomas Pargiter (recipient of a ring) – occur in conjunction with the name Thomas Davies in other Barbados wills and may therefore be evidence both of the nature of Davies’s social circle and of the length of his residence on the island. Thomas Davies was a witness to the will of the landowner Thomas Meredith of St Peters parish, dated the last day of February 1651/52 and naming Capt. William Sandiford as an overseer.[6] The will of merchant William Warr, dated 13 May 1665, names Thomas Davies and Thomas Pargiter as friends and beneficiaries.[7]

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[1] ‘A list of the most eminent planters in Barbados, anno 1673’ transcribed in W. Noel Sainsbury (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Colonial Series, America and West Indies, Volume 7: 1669-1674 (London: HMSO, 1889), pp. 496-497, entry 1101.II: Planters Barbados 1673 (accessed 18 June 2014). Davies’s estate cannot necessarily be identified with the one marked ‘Davis’ near St George’s parish church on Robert Morden’s map of Barbados of 1687.

[2] 22October 1659, the cook Richard Roe of Wells indentured for three years; 26 October 1659, the labourer John Griffith of Llanvigall [sic], Brecknock, indentured for four years; 10December 1660, James Painter of Dublin, occupation not recorded, indentured for seven years. Bristol Record Office, Register of Servants to Foreign Plantations 1654-1662, 04220/1: (accessed 19 November 2013).

[3]Barbados Department of Archives, RB6/15, p. 181: Sanders, Barbados records, vol. 1, p. 100.(Accessed 26 November 2013).

[4]Canny (ed.), Oxford History of the British Empire, pp. 221-224.

[5]Barbados Department of Archives, RB6/10, p. 97: Sanders, Barbados Records, vol. 1, p. 272(accessed 26 November 2013).

[6]Barbados Department of Archives, RB6/8, p. 286: Sanders, Barbados Records, vol. 1, p. 240(accessed 26 November 2013).

[7]Barbados Department of Archives, RB6/15, p. 472: Sanders, Barbados Records, vol. 1, p. 371 (accessed 26 November 2013).