The Attorney

Holand Estate

As various landowners decided to return to Britain, they needed someone to manage their affairs on the island of Jamaica. This individual was called an attorney, not in the legal sense of the word, as in attorney-at-law. In fact, very rarely was an attorney an educated lawyer. He was called an attorney because he had the power of attorney to act on the behalf of the landowner.

There were two types of attorneys, the planter attorney who usually resided in one or more of the plantation great houses and a mercantile attorney who usually resided in the port towns. By living in an estate great house, the attorney laid claim to the highest position in the plantation social order. The planter attorney’s typical functions were the following:

  • Select and manage the overseer of the plantation
  • Visit the estate on a regular basis
  • Manage all records, pay wages
  • Handle all trading, both local and international
  • Send regular reports to the owner
  • Carry out the wishes of the landowner
  • Insure the plantation remained profitable

In exchange, the attorney received a portion of the profits, generally 5-6%. Very rarely did an attorney handle only one plantation. In 1832 there were 200 attorneys handling 473 estates (sugar), plantations (usually coffee or pimento) and pens (livestock). Thus with a commission of 5-6% and handling of several plantations, an attorney could become a very wealthy man.

Attorneys were always white men who generally started out as young men in the position of an overseer, factor or a book-keeper (these positions will be described in a later blog). Most were British born who arrived in Jamaica in their early twenties. If they survived the first ten years, they would generally become an attorney in their late twenties. Yellow fever and malaria cut down many promising young men. Most attorneys didn’t marry until their positions were secure, usually in their forties. Typically an attorney was twenty years older than his wife.

B.W. Higman, in his excellent book, Plantation Jamaica 1750-1850, stated:

The typical attorney was a man equipped by practical experience to deal with the demands of plantation management rooted in his district. The large attorney also possessed political and legal power and influence that might benefit his employers. None of this is surprising, in the sense that absentee and resident proprietors seeking agents to manage their investments had an interest in appointing people qualified to serve them efficiently. However, the profitable operation of the system depended on more than finding men willing and able to exploit human and physical resources through harsh management. The proprietor had final authority in the deployment of capital and resources, but the attorney necessarily had responsibility for the many areas of management, and opportunities barely dreamed of by the modern stockbroker.

If the reader of this blog is interested in exploring, in more depth, the management of Jamaican estates, plantations, and pens, I heartily recommend Higman’s book, which is available from Amazon.com.

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About Dr. Raul A. Mosley

Raul is the founder of the Fort Worth Portrait Project (FWPP). He holds a Ph.D. in Public Affairs & Issues Management from Purdue University. After teaching for 16 years as a university faculty member at both Purdue and Indiana University, Raul moved to Fort Worth and founded the FWPP in 2014.

7 responses to “The Attorney”

  1. Nando says :

    Hi Mr Mosley,
    I would like to commend you on your excellent website & blog , your efforts are much appreciated .
    I only just found the site due to searching online for Mount Hindmost Great House in Clarendon as i am researching ancestors who were on Jamaica in the 1800-1840’s era .
    They were 2 brothers Joseph & Nicholas GROSE who originated from Cornwall in the UK – there is a record for Nicholas Grose marrying Sarah Pattie at Mount Hindmost Great House in 1839 so i am particularly interested in this place & why he md there .
    Do you happen to know if this place is still there and if so would you have any details /photos of the site ?
    Many thanks again

    Like

    • Nicholas says :

      Hi, I am also a Grose descendant, tracing ancestry in Jamaica and Cornwall… would be great to get in touch

      Like

      • A Magnificant Journey says :

        You can message me on my Facebook page. Michael

        Like

      • Nando says :

        Hello Nicholas ,
        Unfortunately I have only just had notification today ( 4/9/2017) of your reply to my earlier comment re the Grose brothers .
        I am very interested in your connection
        with the Grose family and would love to hear from you to discuss our links .
        Unfortunately i am not on social media so can only reply by this method or email .
        I look forward to hearing from you and will check on this site daily in case i am not updated of any further reply .
        Nando

        Like

      • Nando says :

        Hi Michael ,
        Is it possible for you to contact Nicholas and pass on my email address to him so that he can contact me to discuss our GROSE family connections ?
        I’m hoping you might have his email address if he logged on to the site when he left his comment but i don’t know how else to get a message to him in case he doesn’t see this response to his post .

        Will he get an auto notification that i have responded to his comment ?

        Thanks again for this great site .

        Nando

        Like

  2. Nando says :

    Hi Mr Mosley,
    Thankyou for this very informative site and great work -i just discovered the site through searching for Hindmost Great House Clarendon .
    I am researching ancestors who were on Jamaica in the 1810-1840’s named GROSE – brothers Joseph & Nicholas who originated from Cornwall UK .
    I have a reference to Nicholas Grose marrying Sarah Pattie at Mount Hindmost Great House circ 1839 – i wonder if you have ever come across these names in any of your searches ?
    I’m interested in Mount Hindmost Great House – do you know if it still exists and if so do you have any details/phot’os of the site – i’m curious why/how Nicholas Grose came to marry there ?
    Thanks again
    (Reposting earlier message )

    Like

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