Stapleton-Cotton Manuscripts

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

A collection of 60 items, which relates to the extensive sugar plantations acquired by the Stapleton family in the West Indian islands of St. Christopher (St. Kitts), Nevis and Antigua, and includes deeds and family papers, 1701-1764; plantation accounts, 1734-1883; accounts of sugar sales, 1790-1791; invoices of goods shipped to the plantations, 1780-1792; letters and reports of plantation managers, 1760-1873 and of various London merchants and attorneys who transacted the family's West Indian business, 1761-1884.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir William Stapleton, the 1st Baronet (d.1686), laid the foundations of the Stapleton lands and interest in the Leeward Islands, West Indies. The family was descended from an Anglo-Norman knight who had settled in Ireland during the time of Henry II. Sir William, who was the third son of Redmund Stapleton, sailed with Sir Tobias Bridges' regiment for Barbados. From there, having been made a Lieutenant Colonel, Stapleton was sent by William, Lord Willoughby to the Leeward Islands. His marriage to Anne Russell, June 1671, contributed to Stapleton's success as Governor General of the Leeward Islands. She was the daughter of Colonel Randolph (or Randal) Russell of Nevis, and this family was one of the great planter families in Nevis from very early on, and his marriage to her brought him into the closely-knit circle of influential planter families.

William Stapleton became a wealthy man through his ownership of sugar plantations. By the time of his death, he owned, or had an interest in plantations on all four islands. His first acquisition was in Monserrat, as he was granted the Waterwork plantation in St. Peter's parish. The second acquisition was in St Kitts. In 1684, Philip de Nogle assigned his plantation in Cayon Quarter as a gift to Stapleton. Then in 1679, in Antigua, Stapleton granted 2 plantations, which were called Carleton, on behalf of the Crown to his brother, Redmond. William bought these off his brother in 1682, for 100,000 lbs muscovado sugar. His fourth plantation was in Nevis, and was situated in the parish of St. John, Figtree. Stapleton on behalf of the Crown again granted this to Major Charles Pim, on 1 May 1678, then purchased it for 400,000 lbs. of muscovado sugar on the same day. On this plantation Stapleton resided.

William Stapleton died in Paris on 3 August 1686, and in his will he bequeathed half of his Nevis plantation, and of the storehouses in Charleston to his wife, Anne Russell, for her life. The other half was bequeathed to his eldest son James (1672-1690), and his male heirs, or in default, to his second son, William, or his third son, Miles, and their respective male heirs. The plantation in Monserrat went to William and those in Antigua to Miles. He also directed that De Nogle's plantation in St. Kitts was to be sold after the occupier's death, and that an estate in Ireland should be bought for his son William.

Financial difficulties followed William Stapleton's death as it was discovered that his personal assistant in England had embezzled over D8000, which was most of Stapleton's available cash, and a lengthy lawsuit followed. James, the eldest son died young, and in 1690 the baronetcy passed from him to William. William married his first cousin, Frances Russell, who was the daughter of Colonel Sir James Russell. She was co-heiress of estates in Nevis and Antigua. Sir James Russell, in his will, had bequeathed half of his plantations to his wife, Lady Penelope Russell, for her life, and the remainder to his daughters, Elizabeth, Penelope and Frances. Frances had, as a dowry, half of Russell's Rest plantation and the River plantation, in Nevis. Sir William Stapleton died, in 1699 leaving two infant sons. After his death, half of his estates went to his wife, for her life, in lieu of her dower. This broke the male entail set up by the first baronet's will. The remainder of the estate was bequeathed to his eldest son, William, and D1000 to his youngest son, James. For the next twenty years many of the male members of the family died at a young age, and therefore their fortunes were in the hands of two ladies, Lady Anne (d.1722) and Lady Frances (d.1746).

Lady Frances returned to England and became one of the absentee sugar planters. Revenue from the sugar plantations was used to buy English estates. In 1701, Lady Frances Stapleton settled her Nevis plantations on her younger son James Russell Stapleton (1699-1743). By deed of lease and release, she sold Russell's Rest and the River plantations to Lady Penelope Russell (her mother), Lady Anne Stapleton, Miles Stapleton and Joseph Martin for one year, for a nominal sum. She then released the plantations to them, subject to the provisions that they were to be to her use during her lifetime, and thereafter to the use of the trustees for 300 years, and thereafter to the use of James Russell Stapleton and his heirs.

In 1711, Lady Frances remarried to a General Walter Hamilton. Through this marriage his plantation in St Kitts came into her possession. Walter Hamilton died 18 April 1722, and in his will he bequeathed his estates in England to Lady Frances, for her life, and thereafter, equally divided between James Tyrell of Shotover, Bucks and Gavin Hamilton of Clidsdale, Scotland. He also bequeathed his tenure and interest in the Fountain plantation to Lady Frances, and after her death, to her sons, and after their death, it was to be equally divided between James Tyrrell and Gavin Hamilton.

Lady Frances' other son was Sir William Stapleton (1698-1740). He acquired an English estate through his marriage to Catherine Paul, on 28 April 1724. She was the daughter and heiress of William Paul of Braywicke, Berks and granddaughter of the 4th Earl of Westmorland and Lord Le Despencer. In the marriage contract Lady Frances settled on him D11,000 to be paid from the revenue of her plantations in Nevis and St. Kitts. Her other son James Russell Stapleton (1699-1743) acquired an estate in Wales, through his marriage on 28 April 1731 to Penelope Conway, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Conway, Bart., of Bodrhyddan, Flintshire. On him, Lady Frances settled an annuity of D240 from the revenue of her plantation in St. Kitts. James Russell Stapleton died in 1743, and left his estate to be divided equally among his daughters.

Lady Frances, was to remain head of the Stapleton family, until her death in 1746. She drew up a rough draft of her will in 1735, but had to draw up another one following the deaths of her two sons. In her final will, on October 1743, she entrusted her estates at Stoke Poges and Wexham, and her plantation in St. Kitts, to her executors. The revenue from them was to be used for the payment of the balance of the D11,000 settled on her elder son in 1724. Thereafter she bequeathed the Buckinghamshire estates to her grandson, Sir Thomas Stapleton, 5th Baronet. She directed that D8000 should then be raised from the revenue of the St. Kitts plantation, of which D3000 should be given to the 4th Baronet's three younger children, and D5000 to James Russell Stapleton's five daughters. When these legacies had been paid, the St. Kitts plantation was to be held by these eight grand-children as tenants in common. She also bequeathed her house and land in Cheltenham, her jewels and the remainder of her tenure of the house in Grovenor Street, London, to Catherine, daughter of James Russell Stapleton. The rest of her estate was entrusted to her executors, Lady Penelope Conway and Elizabeth (Eleanora) Conway. The will was proved by Lady Penelope on 26 March 1746, but she died a few weeks later. Eleanora Conway was the sole executor of Lady Penelope Conway's will and also became the chief executor of Lady Frances's will, which she proved again on 10 June 1746. Trouble arose, which resulted in two law suits. A long and complicated legal battle then commenced, which proceeded at the same time. It appears that there is no evidence that the first suit was ever settled. During the second suit, many of the heirs and legatees of the West Indian estates had died. Also in 1753, Penelope (1732-1788), daughter of James Russell Stapleton, married Ellis Yonge (1717-1785), of Bryn Iorcyn Flintshire, and he became the head of the family for a number of years. Finally, the legacies to Elizabeth and Frances were paid during 1760 and 1761. Sir Thomas received one quarter (as heir of his dead brothers), Wright one eighth, and Yonge, Catherine, Elizabeth and Frances one quarter of five eighths each. Finally, the young proprietors were in control of their West Indian property, and their estates were free of debts and legacies.

Chief responsibility for the direction of the West Indian estates was finally undertaken by Catherine Stapleton (1734-1815). Later she purchased shares from Cotton and Williams, who had gained them through marriage, and became the principal proprietor of the plantations. It was a troubled business and the family only succeeded in keeping the plantations because Catherine Stapleton borrowed money on the security of her English and Welsh estates. She also used her social position as a relative of the Grenvilles and a friend of Mr Pitt, to secure the services of attorneys and managers who sought her favour in their search for posts of profit. Catherine Stapleton died on 28 August 1815, aged 82 years old. She bequeathed her principal share of the plantations to the Rev. William Cotton (d.1853) and Lord Combermere. Eventually, the whole of it came into the hands of Lord Combermere. In 1862 Lord Combermere transferred the ownership of the West Indian property to his son, Wellington Henry, 2nd Viscount (1818-1891). From him property in Nevis and St. Kitts descended to his younger son, Colonel, the Honourable R. S. G. Stapleton-Cotton (1849-1925).

The minority Shipley share in the plantations held in 1815 by Dean Shipley and Miss Barbara Yonge was never reunited with the principal interest held by Lord Combermere. It was eventually all inherited by Conwy Rowley Conwy, and the combined interest was inherited by his son, Admiral Rafe Grenville Rowley Conwy, who is said to have sold it in 1936.

Arrangement

According to subject then chronologically

Conditions Governing Access

gift

Open to all users

Acquisition Information

Donated by Col. R. S. G. Stapleton-Cotton of Llwyn Onn, Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, in 1922.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue at item level mainly

Separated Material

Stapleton Manuscripts are to be found in the John Rylands Library, Manchester.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual copyright conditions apply. Reprographics made at the discretion of the archivist.

Accruals

None expected

Related Material

Bodrhyddan Manuscripts

Bibliography

Johnston, James Robert Vivian, The sugar plantations of the heirs of Lady Francis Stapleton, in Nevis and St. Christopher (1746-1810), Thesis (M.A.) -- University of Wales, Bangor : History, 1964. The Dictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940, under the Auspices of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, (London, 1959). Access Points