Documentary evidence on the New River Estate

Common Records 1707-1728, fols.553-4

In the listing of the militia of Nevis made in 1678, New River was probably the plantation held by members of the Earle family (Oliver 1913-1914, 73), the owners recorded in the first mention of the New River plantation in 1724 (below):

  • Captain Edward Earle: 3 White men, 3 White women, 4 White children, 7 Negro men, 14 Negro women, 10 Negro children
  • Mr Roger Earle: 4 White men, 2 White women, 4 White children, 9 Negro men, 8 Negro women, 9 Negro children
  • Samuel Earle: 2 White men, 1 White women, 3 White children, 2 Negro men, 1 Negro women, 0 Negro children

This first explicit reference to New River appears in 1724 when William Earle, planter, conveyed the plantation to Thomas Butler, a merchant formerly of Nevis but now of Great Britain. It was then the New River plantation in the parish of St James, c50 acres, bounded on the NE with the sea, on the SW with the lands of William Earle and Charles Williams, to the NE with lands belonging to Elizabeth Hill, Charles Williams and the lands formerly of John Wilkinson, and to the SE with the land of Robert Easter (Common Records 1707-1728, fols.553-4).

Common Records 1707-1728, fols.553-4

The origin of the name 'New River' has not been established. Possibly there was a link in ownership, family, investment or some other association a link with the New River Company established in the early 17th century to provide a new water supply to London. The naming of a nearby gutt as 'New River Gutt' need not mean that this was a new watercourse named as 'New River'. The gutt might simply be named after the plantation.

By 1739 Thomas Butler, gent., was of Camberwell, Surrey, a suburb of London on the south bank of the Thames. In his will of that year all his plantations and slaves on Nevis were left to his three sons, John, James and Duke Butler (Oliver 1912, 60). John Butler was later linked by marriage to the families of Pemberton and Maynard, the latter subsequently the owners of New River. In 1745 the three sons, John, James and Duke, sold or mortgaged an estate in the parish of St James, probably New River, to William Clarke of Camberwell esq. and John Hooke of Portsmouth in Hampshire (ibid., 63). By 1785 the one-third share of the estate of Duke Butler, the minister of Okeford Fitzpaine in Dorset, had descended to his children, Thomas, James, William, Mary the wife of George Ryves Hawker and Jane the wife of Robert Frome, who then sold their share to Thomas Coxhead, a merchant of Great Hermitage Street, St George's, Middlesex, by then part of the west end of London (Common Records 1788-9, 121-154; the conveyance gives a full list of the slaves included in the sale).

By 1763 three plantations of Josiah Webbe, possibly part of the former Butler lands, made up an estate also known as New River, abutting together, bounded on the NE with land of John Butler and the sea, on the SE with land of John Coram esq. (see Coconut Walk, below), on the N with land of John Hobson decd., on the SW with 'the New River and the New River Gutt' (Common Records 1761-4, fol.71). A map of the late 18th or early 19th century shows the southern boundary of the estate as the New River ghut, the boundary between the parishes of St James and St George. The estate contained by this date c267 acres (Suffolk Record Office HA178/1/55). By 1765 the estate was said to be late of Josiah Webbe of New River esq. decd. and now of Walter Nisbett and William Maynard esqs. (Common Records 1764-7, fol.167). These were probably the lands that belonged by the early 19th century to the Maynard family of Suffolk (Suffolk Record Office HA178, which includes plans of three separate estates).

New River estate map (courtesy of Suffolk Record Office ref HA 178/55)

In 1765 one of these three estates was possibly that adjoining New River, later known as the Coconut Walk plantation. In 1765 this was the plantation of John Lytton Coram esq, in the parishes of St George and St James, circa 250 acres, bounded to the east with the sea, to the west with the common path leading to Indian Castle and with lands of George Webbe and Josiah Webbe of Stoney Hill esqs, to the north with lands late of Josiah Webbe of New River esq, deceased and now of Walter Nisbett and William Maynard esqs, to the south with the common highway and lands of George and Josiah Webbe of Stoney Hill (Common Records 1764-7, fol.167). This can be identified as the plantation later known as Coconut Walk, delineated, and shown as circa 250 acres, on a map copied from an older original in 1860 (Suffolk Record Office HA178/1/56).

Walter Maynard's will, made in 1804, noted that he had expended;

"large sums on New River Estate, now belonging to Messrs. Lane, Son, & Fraser, under a promise... that he should become the purchaser, and...  have contracted, or are about to contract, with... [his] son Walter Maynard for sale of such estate, he directs that should the sale be completed on terms in contemplation, son Walter shall have no share in the Gingerland Estate." (Oliver 1909-1910, 340).