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Mountravers Plantation (Pinney's Estate) - Nevis, West Indies

Christine Eickelmann and David Small


Archival research

One of the aims was to identify and record every enslaved person known to have lived on Mountravers, and to try and recreate their biographies. The main primary source was the collection of Pinney Papers held in Bristol University Library Special Collections; in addition many other original documents were consulted in the UK and in Nevis. The result was The Mountravers Plantation Community, 1734 to 1834.

To get as complete a picture as possible about each individual, their lives prior to their arrival on the plantation have been examined and, if sold or freed, what happened to them after they left. In addition, the managers and overseers, their families and their slaves have been researched. As far as can be established, this has resulted in the first collection of biographies and biographical notes of an entire population on a West Indian sugar plantation from its early beginnings until the apprenticeship system replaced slavery.

The population of enslaved people

Research has established, among other things, that
  • in total, more than 850 enslaved individuals are known to have lived on Mountravers from its early beginnings in the seventeenth century until the abolition of slavery
  • of these, 743 men, women and children lived between 1734 and 1834; their biographies and biographical notes can be found in
    Part 2, Chapters 2 to 7 of The Mountravers Plantation Community, 1734 to 1834.
  • at any one time there were between 19 (1696) and 211 (1795) enslaved people on the plantation
  • at least 200 children were born on Mountravers
  • between January 1765 and July 1768 John Pretor Pinney bought over sixty African children; most were said to have come from present-day Nigeria and Ghana
  • in later years Pinney preferred buying Creoles (island-born individuals) from 'good families'
  • of the imported Africans Pinney bought, between about a seventh and a quarter died during the 'seasoning' period, the first three to five years, in which the new arrivals were 'gradually introduced to the life of forced labour and ... suddenly introduced to a new and therefore deadly disease environment'. As yet, there is no comparable data for other plantations on Nevis but during the 1760s and 1770s planters on the island expected seasoning deaths to run at rather less than a fifth. This was an improvement on the 1720s when they expected losses of at least double that figure.

The managers and overseers

Sugar plantations were complex businesses which, depending on their size, required a number of people to carry out a range of management tasks relating to the land, the buildings, the animals and machinery, the plantation infrastructure and, of course, the enslaved workers and the commodities they produced: sugar, rum, and molasses. Resident planters ran their enterprise with the help of one or two men but when planters left the island, they entrusted their estates to managers and their subordinates, the overseers and seasonal boiling house watches. The stories of these employed men is told in Part 3 of The Mountravers Plantation Community, 1734 to 1834.


The overseers' house at Sharloes












The ruined managers' house at Sharloes,
the lower part of the old Pinney's Estate

(D Small and C Eickelmann, 2008)



Most details are known for those men who served during John Pretor Pinney's time of ownership. After he left Nevis in 1783 and until he and his son sold the plantation in 1808, six different managers worked on Mountravers. Some were members of Pinney's wider family but he also employed two brothers from Wales - the sons of an artisan - and, briefly, a Creole, an island-born man. The research has revealed that, from the late seventeenth century until slavery was abolished, in total almost fifty managers, overseers and boiling house watches worked on Mountravers. They came from a wide geographical area and different social classes. Some of the men lived near the lower works at Sharloes. The building featured above, however, dates from the time when Peter Thomas Huggins owned Mountravers.

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Maintained by Christine Eickelmann (Last updated: 27 October 2017)