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Rare Large Double-sided Wax Seal of Jamaica

1755 Jamaica - Piracy Documents with large Seal

Mistaken Act of Piracy During Anglo-Spanish War of Jenkins Ear - Concerning A Neutral French Ship with Cocoa Cargo Plundered by British Man-of-War 1755


St. Jago de la Vega [Spanish Town], Jamaica, 16 January 1755. Substantial manuscript court document prepared for a trial held at the High Court of Chancery concerning a French ship named Santa Rosa and the profits from the sale her cargo of cocoa, all of which was erroneously mistaken for a Spanish enemy vessel in 1742 during the War of Jenkins' Ear, captured by British Commander John Draper and his schooner HMS Adventure, confiscated and sold by British authorities. Herein the French are laying claim for due compensation of their financial losses. Signed in the original by Jamaica's Governor Charles Knowles, and by Robert Pringle, a plantation owner serving as court registrar.

Complete with an extremely scarce large wax seal, being the double-sided Great Seal of Jamaica from the time of George II, the last Hanoverian British monarchy. Seal measures approximately 10 cm in diameter, Folio. 57 pages in a fine hand, string-tied in simple paper wrappers. Laid paper, measuring approximately 27 x 23 cm, watermarked with initials CR and a crest with powder horn. A very rare survivor of eighteenth century West Indies privateering.

Provenance: Phillipps Manuscript Collection (item number 36094 uncatalogued).

A miscalculated incident of piracy and its consequences are transcribed by the High Court of Jamaica in these original eighteenth century manuscript trial documents, with which is the exceedingly scarce original Great Seal of Jamaica that was appended to the document by Governor Knowles.

In this ongoing case, the Kingdom of France, a neutral party not involved in the war between Spain and England, sought redress for the confiscation and disposal of one of their West Indies trade vessels and valuable cargo, from the British Admiralty who captured and condemned the ship believing it to be from Spain.

Seemingly not recorded elsewhere, this scenario illustrates just how fervidly the colonial trading nations protected their sea trade routes. The French vessel La Santa Rosa was captured by the British in 1742, at the height of the War of Jenkins' Ear, a conflict between Britain and Spain for trading opportunities in the Caribbean. When war broke out in 1739, both Britain and Spain expected that France would join the war on the Spanish side. There was heavy privateering on both sides, hundreds of vessels being captured, and the Spanish convoys proving almost unstoppable. It stands to reason, then, that when a vessel was captured, the prize was immediately sold for profit which presumably funded the war.

This manuscript begins by recording the previous claims made in St. Jago de la Vega [Spanish Town] at the British Court of Admiralty, from 1751 to 1754, including the initial "Bill" or charges filed, followed by several answers by both plaintiff and defendant, and a verdict for payment to the French. Interesting to note, the nine-year delay from the time of the ship's capture (1742) to the initial claim (1751) shows how long it took for overseas communication, and therefore how long it could take to solve such a question as a missing vessel.

At first, the French were simply seeking the return of their ship, with its arms and ammunition, and furniture, as well as compensation for the loss of the cargo of cocoa. A statement made herein suggests that a French merchant of Bordeaux, Francis Anthony Percarrere, attempted to make a reasonable offer for quick settlement. William Foster, a wealthy English merchant representing his crown, however, clearly did not agree to the terms. As the trial continued, it became a tedious fragmented financial debate of monies owed to the French for the cocoa, duty payable to authorities for the sale of said cocoa, monies lost by merchants, and the like. During the process, before November 1953, Percarrere passed away, leaving his estate and this claim in the trust hands of a Mr. Augustin Dupony. Not once denying the mistake, the British rebuttal consisted of a detailed tally of costs incurred by them in the process of selling, including paying slaves to unload the vessel and to make bags, storage fees, commissions, instalments already submitted to the French Mr. Dupony, adjustments for goods spoiled at sea, and so forth, to arrive at a balance he deems to be fair.

This document was prepared by Scottish plantation owner Robert Pringle, whose signature and seal are present, and who was appointed Registrar of the High Court of Jamaica by Royal Navy Admiral and Governor of Jamaica Sir Charles Knowles (1704-1777) who endorses and signs the same. Although not standing alone, the principle claimant is a French merchant named Francis Anthony Pecerrere [François Antoine Pécarrère], formerly of Bordeaux, who is suing a Jamaican merchant William Foster for his losses, the latter having been selected to sell the ship, its assets and cargo, at least in part as a reward to Captain John Draper who made the erroneous capture.

A complex court trial spanning four (4) years, involving two British governors of Jamaica, and being elevated to the High Court of Jamaica, the matters of recompense evidently remained unsettled after the verdict decreed herein, with another appeal being petitioned and granted on the final leaf. Proceedings took place at the Court of Admiralty Sessions which held hearings of criminal offences committed on the high seas, and also at the Court of Vice Admiralty which tried offences against the Customs and Revenue Laws, as well as adjudicating on vessels found engaged in the slave trade. With so little documentation available from this era, the final outcome may forever remain a mystery.

Excerpts from the manuscript:

"Jamaica. I, Charles Knowles Esquire, Captain General Governor and Commander in Chief in and over the Island of Jamaica... Admiral of the Same... Do Hereby Certify... that Robert Pringle Esquire, Who hath Signed and Attested the Certificate... is Register of the High Court of Chancery... Duly Admitted and Sworn... Have Sett my Own Hand and Caused the Broad Seal of this Island Aforesaid to be Appended to these Presents at St Jago Dela Vega... sixteenth day of January in the Year of our Lord One Thousand and Seven Hundred and Fifty Five... [16 January 1755]"

"Jamaica. Robert Pringle Esquire Register of the High Court of Chancery for the Island aforesaid Duly Admitted and Sworn Do hereby Certify.... that the several sheets of paper hereunto annexed... Contain True Copies of the Bill Answers and other Proceedings Commenced had and prosecuted in the said court... Wherein Francis Anthony Pecarrere and others are the Complainants & William Foster of the Parish of Kingston... merchant... and others are the Defendants"

"Jamaica... Bill Filed 8th October 1751... to His Excellency Edward Trelawny, Esq,. Captain General Governor of Commander in Chief of Jamaica and other territories... Pecarrere & al Cont [vs] Foster Wm & al. "Humbly Complaining Theneth unto your Excellency the Orators [plaintiffs] Francis Anthony Pecarrere Late of the City of Bordeaux in the Kingdom of France Merchant now residing at Kingston in the Island of Jamaica Aforesaid and Alexander MacFarlane of the Parish of Kingston Aforesaid Merchant, that the Schooner or Vessel Sta Rosa was on or about the first day of September... One Thousand Seven Hundred And Forty Two [1 September 1742] Seized on the High Seas by His Majesty's Ship of Warr the Adventure John Draper Esqr Commander and was by Him on Suspicion of the said Schooner being the property of the King of Spain or Some of his Subjects who then Waged Warr with His Britannick Majesty Carried into the Harbour of Port Royal in this Island...
that at a High Court held at St Jago de la Vega... Exhibited a Libel for the Said Schooner Sta Rosa & Her cargo Humbly praying that she with her Guns Tackle Furniture Ammunition and Apparel and All the Goods Wares and Merchandizes in her Taken and Seized might be forfeited & confiscated to the use of the Said John Draper Esquire... Augustine Dupony Super Cargoe [supercargo] of the said Schooner Sta. Rosa had Liberty to put in a Claim...
... said orator Francis Anthony Percarrere offered the said William Foster a Considerable Discount if he would but pay him immediately rather than go to Law & that he might Depart for his home from this island where he has been Detained so long at a Great Expense having no manner of Business... since his arrival in this island which is now Two Years... that the Said William Foster and Robert Foster Combining and Confederating and with Diverse persons... to charge them the said Confederators..."

"Answer Filed 25th March 1752. Schedule A. George the Second by the Grace of God of Great Britain... Island of Jamaica... To Dally Pepe Esquire Register of Our Court of Vice Admiralty for the Island... Appointed... Robert Turner and Peter Turnell... to Appraise Any Goods Wares Merchandize... Taken and Seized by John Draper Commander of Our Ship of Warr Called the Adventurer... 45 Casks of Cocoa... 40 Serroons of Cocoa... Baggs of Cocoa... [Summary:] 111,401 of Cocoa £5574, 460 Hydes £201, 209 D. Dloons £1372... "

"Masters Report filed 29th January 1754... Schedule A... Sales of Cocoa by the Schooner La Santa Rosa Rec'd Mr. Augustin Dupony..."

"Account of the Several Sums of Money paid said out and Disbursed by William Foster for Duties, Negroes, Hire Storage, Materials Found, Work Done and other Charges Attending the Sale of Cocoa Imported in the Schooner La Santa Rosa on Account of Augustin Dupony..."

"Jamaica... Affidavit Filed Friday 7th May 1754. Dupony Admor vs Foster et al. - William Foster one of the Defendants in the Above Cause maketh oath that the vessel with the Goods and Merchandizes... having been seized and Brought into this Island In the time of the Late Warr Against Spain the Same was Libelled in the Court of Vice Admiralty And upon Tryal Sentenced was Given by the Court for ye Claimants Against the Captain for which Sentence there was an Appeal whereupon the said Goods were Valued And Security was Given to Make Good in Case the Sentence then be Reversed. But in the meantime as Great part of the said Goods were [perished?]. Application was made to this Late Excellency the then Governor of this Island for an Order to Land And Sole the Land... Order was attained and this Deponent Gave to Mr. Crymble the then Reverend General... never demanded the Dutys... upon the said Sentence being Affirmed this Deponent Charged the Said Claimants with the Amount of the Said Dutys... Credited them with the amount of the Sales of the Said Goods that Mr. Crymble had Bought... As for Outstanding Debt & the Amount of the Said Goods Sold to the Said Mr. Crymble deducted out of the Ballance Remaining in this Deponents Hands."

"At High Court of Chancery held at the Town of Kingston On Wednesday the 16th Day day of October 1754. This Cause this day Coming on to board for a final Decree... a judge and decree that the Deftd [defendant] William Foster do on or before Wednesday the thirtieth day of October instant pay into the Hands of the Register of this Honourable Court the Sum of One Thousand Seven Hundred & forty three pounds Two Shillings and nine pence current money of Jamaica being the interest proportion to eb due on the sum of Six Thousand Sixty.... From Which Decree Mr. Gordon of Counsel for the Defendant William Foster prayed an Appeal... "

"vera copa extr. Ro: Pringle Reg. Canc. [Robert Pringle]"

Affixed to this document, as stated on the first leaf by Governor Knowles along with his signature, is an extremely rare wax seal - an Original Great Seal of Jamaica.

Dating to the last Hanoverian British monarch George II, the obverse imagery on this seal is highly representative of the period and of Britain's pursuit for dominance in West Indies trade. With the Arms of Jamaica being a secondary depiction to the upper right corner, the scene depicts a slave kneeling before the king's administrator in token of his submission, and presenting him with a basket of large cacao pods.

To the reverse of the seal is the Great Seal of the Realm, Britain's Royal Coat of Arms, with this part of the text still legible, "GEORGIUS II D G MAG BRI FRA I HIB." The image consists of the Royal shield bordered by a garter which is topped by the Imperial crown, the English lion supporting the garter from the left, and the Scottish unicorn supporting the right. [The initials on the circumference of the coat of arms of George II, stand for the following Latin words: "Georgius II., Dei Gratia Magna Britannia, Francia et Hibernia Rex, Fidei Defensor, Brunsvici et Luneburgi Dux, Sacri Romani Imperii Archi-Thesaurarius et Elector," meaning, "George II., by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg, High-Treasurer and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire." The lion and the unicorn with the crown of Great Britain are the coat of arms of the kingdom, and the quarterings on the shield represented the different titles of George II.]

An exceedingly scarce example, perhaps the only known surviving specimen of the Great Seal of Jamaica, made of a dark coloured wax with paper pressed upon it, embedded within it as a tassel is the same pink ribbon which holds together the documents.

Some of the parties involved in this trial:

Robert Pringle (1719-1775), at the time the Register (Registrar) of the High Court of Chancery for the Island of Jamaica, prepared and signed this document. He was a Scottish physician who went to Jamaica and became a planter, and also evidently served in the judicial system in Kingston. He died in Philadelphia 12 October 1775. He was the son of John Pringle, Lord of Haining and Alemore (c.1674-1754) a lawyer, politician, and judge.

Sir Charles Knowles, 1st Baronet (c.1704-1777), who appointed Pringle to his post in the High Court, was a high-ranking officer of the Royal Navy, commander in chief of the Jamaica Station, and at the time of signing this document was the Governor of Jamaica. He saw service during the War of Jenkins' Ear, the wider War of the Austrian Succession, and the Seven Years' War. His naval career was mainly centred on the West Indies, where he commanded ships and squadrons in actions against both Spanish and French ships and settlements. Between 1743 and 1745 he captured a large number of prizes, with his success leading to a letter addressed to him and signed by 63 of the principal figures in Jamaica. From 1746-1748 he served as Governor of Louisbourg in Atlantic Canada. During this period, on 15 July 1747, he was also promoted to rear-admiral of the white and appointed as commander in chief on the Jamaica Station. In 1752 he was appointed Governor of Jamaica. Over his four-year period as governor he took steps to reform the legal system, and also moved the administrative capital from Spanish Town to Kingston, arguing that the latter was more defensible. His attempts to ensure the subordination of the Jamaican assembly to the British government led to calls for his removal as governor, but his policies were subsequently upheld by the British government. Knowles resigned the governorship in January 1756 and returned to England.

Edward Trelawny (1699-1754) who was Governor of Jamaica when this trial first began in 1751, and mentioned in the document, held the post from April 1738 to September 1752, being succeeded by Knowles. He is best remembered for establishing a peace agreement, supported by the English settlers, which officially freed the Maroons from the white planters and provided them with land. He also fought in the War of Jenkins' Ear.

The principle defendants are William Foster (1722-1768), and Robert Foster, who had the privilege of handling the sale of the prize vessel and her cargo, and the unfortunate burden of reprimand owing to the mistake of another. In 1754 William Foster owned land in the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland, Jamaica, having grown up on his father's estate in Elim, at the eastern extremity of St Elizabeth Parish and inherited the same. He died 31 October 1768 in Bedford, Jamaica. His son John Foster (1767-1831) was a magistrate in both England and Jamaica. His father was Colonel John Foster (1681-1731) who served as Member of Assembly for St. Elizabeth in 1722 and 1731. Their ancestor, Captain Thomas Foster, of Northumberland, was concerned in the capture of Jamaica, and had large grants of land allotted to him in the island.

The principle plaintiff is a French merchant from Bordeaux named Francis Anthony Pecerrere[François Antoine Pécarrère], whom evidently had a sizeable investment in the confiscated cargo, and perhaps in the schooner itself. He made a voyage overseas to Jamaica to resolve this matter in person, but was detained for two years or more.

Alexander MacFarlane (ca.1703 - 1755), the second plaintiff names, was a Scottish a merchant who settled in Kingston, Jamaica, where he acquired a considerable fortune as a planter, and where he became a notable civil servant, as member of the legislative assembly, as magistrate (His Honour Judge MacFarlane), and on 4 November 1735 becoming Postmaster General of Jamaica. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and one of the best mathematicians of the day. In his will he left his Jamaica plantation 'Large Island' to his brothers, his valuable collection of astronomical instruments to his alma mater, the University of Glasgow. In his memory the University named their new observatory after him. He died unmarried.

Little is known of Captain John Draper, who died in the West Indies 17 July 1743, and who captured the French schooner La Santa Rosa, mistaking her for a Spanish vessel. [Possibly the same ship, later commanded by a different Captain, an HMS Adventure of the Royal Marines, was captured by a French privateer in 1756.]

War of Jenkins' Ear (1739-1748) was largely a result of Spanish and British disagreements over the actions of Spanish guarda costas and British illicit trade in the Caribbean. It represented the first time that Spain and Britain went to war primarily over their respective positions in the Caribbean. The seeds of conflict began with the separation of an ear from Jenkins following the boarding of his vessel by Spanish coast guards in 1731, eight years before the war began. Popular response to the incident was tepid until several years later when opposition politicians and the British South Sea Company hoped to spur outrage against Spain, believing that a victorious war would improve Britain’s trading opportunities in the Caribbean. Also ostensibly providing the impetus to war against the Spanish Empire was a desire to pressure the Spanish not to renege on the lucrative asiento contract, which gave British slavers permission to sell slaves in Spanish America. When war broke out in 1739, both Britain and Spain expected that France would join the war on the Spanish side, playing a large role in the tactical calculations of the British, although France remained uninvolved. The war resulted in heavy British casualties in North America. The war involved privateering by both sides. Anson captured a valuable Manila galleon, but this was more than offset by the numerous Spanish privateering attacks on British shipping along the transatlantic triangular trade route. They seized hundreds of British ships, looting their goods and slaves, and operated with virtual impunity in the West Indies; they were also active in European waters. The Spanish convoys proved almost unstoppable. During the Austrian phase of the war, the British fleet attacked poorly protected French merchantmen instead.

Founded in 1534, Spanish town was originally named "Villa de la Vega" meaning Town on the Plain. The name was subsequently changed to "Santiago de la Vega" (St. James on the Plain) and then "St. Jago de la Vega". Following a massive attack on Jamaica on 10 May 1655, the town fell in to the hands of the British, and remained under their control. England gained formal possession of Jamaica from Spain in 1670 through the Treaty of Madrid, and kept St. Jago de la Vega as the capital until 1872.

Conquered from the Spanish in 1655, Jamaica was by far the largest British colony in the West Indies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the most valuable of the American colonies. By 1662, there were 4000 colonists on the island, including exiled felons as well as impoverished Scots and Welshmen, who arrived as indentured laborers. Settlement hastened as profits began to accrue from cocoa, coffee and sugarcane production.

The Age of Sail was a period roughly corresponding to the early modern period in which international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships, lasting from the 16th to the mid-19th century. This is a significant period during which square-rigged sailing ships carried European settlers to many parts of the world in one of the most expansive human migrations in recorded history. The age of sail runs roughly from the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the last significant engagement in which oar-propelled galleys played a major role, to the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862.

During the Age of Sail from the 16th to the mid-19th century the supercargo (from the Spanish sobrecargo) was the second most important person aboard a merchant ship after the captain. A supercargo is a person employed on board a vessel by the owner of cargo carried on the ship. The duties of a supercargo are defined by admiralty law and include managing the cargo owner's trade, selling the merchandise in ports to which the vessel is sailing, and buying and receiving goods to be carried on the return voyage.

Current Condition

Chips and spotting to leafs, loss to lower half of wax seal, otherwise in very good condition.