Nugents may have been in the nearby island of Montserrat before they arrived in Antigua. Thomas Nugent appears in the Montserrat historical record in the 1677- 8 census – in fact twice – a household of 5 white and 7 negro men, and then one of 1 white man, 1 white woman and 1 white child. The first group were probably indentured Irish workers and slaves, the second Thomas and his family. From which of the many Nugent branches in Ireland did Thomas of Montserrat hail? There were many Irish landowners who, being on a losing side in rebellion, were dispossessed of their property in the 17th century, and it was not uncommon for them or their sons to seek their fortunes abroad – some in the military service of foreign powers, others in the American colonies.
A further argument for this identification is derived from the fact of Walter Nugent settling in Antigua around 1720 – or “before 1706” according to Sheridan (see references). Walter’s grandfather Christopher was brother to Francis, father of Thomas Nugent, our putative Montserratian. Further, Walter’s daughter Margaret was married to Sir Peter Parker, later Admiral of the Fleet – who was an executor of the will of John Nugent, Lt Governor of Tortola and inheritor of Delvins plantation in Montserrat. It is also possible that Thomas Nugent’s 1710 will trustee Walter Nugent of Carpenterstown, co.Westmeath, is one and the same as Antigua Walter. Carpenterstown is about 6 miles from Drumcree, home of Antigua Walter’s father Oliver. However he is not referred to as great-nephew, unlike two nephew-described legatees, and as he would only have been about 20, is perhaps an unlikely choice for a trustee. There are more likely candidates.
In a 1678 letter from London merchant William Freeman to Stephen Deane of Galway, Ireland, Freeman wishes to add £50 to the account of “Tho. Nugent of Mountsarratt” – but with no indication of why. The credit was to be routed through Captain James Cotter in the West Indies, a professional soldier originally from Cork in Ireland. Freeman had left the running of his plantation in Montserrat in the hands of a partner and had become a major factor in the trade between London and Ireland, and the Leeward Islands of Montserrat, St Christopher, Nevis and Antigua.
In 1680 Thomas is recorded as (Provost) Marshal in Montserrat, and Captain Cotter as Deputy Governor and Judge of the Sessions. The following year Thomas is referred to as a militia captain when he purchased 9½ acres “by ye brink of the Great gutt …. for the consideration of 15,000 lbs of good muscovadoe sugar”. In 1683 Thomas acquired Cork Hill’s 110 acres – Captain General Sir William Stapleton (father in law to James Cotter) assigns him “a Certain Parcell of waste or King’s Land… formerly in the possession of Capt. Roger Bentley” (given previously by Stapleton) “which they omitted and neglected to settle, being given to them for that purpose“. The transaction is signed off by “Thomas Nugent, Island Secretary”. Acquiring also a few adjacent acres, the plantation now became known as “Nugents”.
By 1684 Thomas was a member of the island Council (till at least 1689) and in 1696 was appointed one of Montserrat’s Commissioners “for preventing frauds and regulating abuses in the Plantation Trade, (viz. to do their utmost to the observance thereof) to the Governors and Commanders in Chief of the several Islands, Colonies and Provinces.
After that there is nothing further about Thomas in Montserrat. He must have left the island at some point and settled in England as his will of 1710 – proved later the same year – gives his address as Montnugent (now Mount Nugent) in Buckinghamshire. (There is also a Mount Nugent in Ireland in the Diocese of Meath.) No children are mentioned, but nephews Patrick Fitzsimmons and Garrett Dardis receive small bequests. Thomas’s wife inherits Montnugent and land around producing a £30 annual rent for her life use while he leaves his “plantation and negroes in Monserat” to his “kinsman Christopher Nugent commonly known as Lord Delvin”. His London house in Devonshire Street, Holburn – a new development in the 1690s renamed Boswell Street in 1927 – and other “manors lands tenements and hereditaments in the Kingdom of Great Brittain” are left to Christopher Nugent, Lord Devlin after settling debts and funeral expenses.
There was some dispute about this will, as revealed in “Papers in the case of Shilstone and others v. Christopher Nugent, Lord Delvin and others, and rough notes of accounts concerning the estate of Thomas Nugent deceased. Relating to investment in a private cargo (on a ship also carrying slaves), and the will of Nugent, leaving estates in Bucks and elsewhere including a slave plantation on Montserrat”. (To be further investigated.)
The next record about Nugent’s plantation in Montserrat occurs in 1756. In it, John Nugent, grandson of Thomas Nugent, 4th Earl of Westmeath agrees with the executors of the 4th Earl’s son, Christopher, Lord Delvin, to settle on him Delvin’s estate in Montserrat: “Nugents” had become “Delvins”. The Earl had lent his son £2000 secured by “statute staple” (a form of bond) on the plantation, and left this security by his will (he died a few weeks after his son Christopher in 1752) to his grandson John, the son of Christopher’s sister Catherine and her husband Andrew Nugent of Dysert, Ireland.
The 1789 genealogy volume gives only his name, no dates or profession, which accords perhaps with someone settling and making a life in a colony. Given that Thomas was in Montserrat by 1678, he would have been at least 10 years older than his first cousin Thomas, born in 1669, who didn’t become 4th Earl until the death of his brother in 1714. Other Thomas Nugents in the book can be discounted by reason of dates or biographical details not according with Montserrat Thomas.
If Montserrat Thomas is the Drumcree Nugent put forward here, it is not clear why he left his plantation in Montserrat to his Aunt Mary’s grandson – a blood relative “kinsman”, but not as close as a sibling’s descendant. Perhaps he was in debt to him, either monetarily or through social and business connections that had made his Montserrat progress possible. There was also perhaps a son who did not survive him: a Richard Nugent is recorded as Island Secretary on Montserrat in 1687. He may have fallen out with his own siblings or their families and would not consider them as heirs.
Thomas leaves small bequests to his nephews Patrick Fitzsimmons and Garrett Dardis; neither of his sisters according to ‘The Peerage of Ireland’ married into those families, and no marriage or children of his brothers Patrick and Walter are mentioned. It is possible that his uncle Christopher, grandfather to Walter of Antigua, had other daughters as well as Walter’s mother Jane, who may have been mothers to Thomas’ legatee nephews – though strictly speaking, they would be great-nephews. Nor is there any connection made to the female children and descendants of his aunt Mary and Richard, 2nd Earl of Westmeath, with appropriate surnames, and anyway they would be cousins. Patrick and Garrett may have been nephews on his wife’s family side. Her maiden name is unknown.
Thomas Nugent of Montserrat remains to be definitively identified.
This account of Thomas Nugent of Montserrat was compiled using the following sources:
- Caribbeana – V.L.Oliver 1912 Vol 2 pp.316-20, 346-7 “Mounserratt 1677-8: A list of all men, women and children, whites and blacks, which are conteyned in several divisions”
- The Letters of William Freeman, London Merchant, 1678-1685,. British History Online
- Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 10, 1677-1680
- R.B.Sheridan ‘The Rise of a Colonial Gentry’ (1961)
- Montserrat National Trust – Records of Deeds ROD_MNI_1770-73_191 (A copy of original 1681 deed)
- Montserrat National Trust – Records of Deeds ROD_MNI_1770-73_188 (A copy of original 1683 deed)
- Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 11, 1696-1697
- Will of Thomas Nugent, Captain, of Mount Nugent, Buckinghamshire
- Surrey History Centre Ref: LM/1324/16-20
- Montserrat National Trust – Records of Deeds ROD_MNI_1755-57_0152
- The Peerage of Ireland – Vol.1 – John Lodge, Mervyn Archdall 1789 Online here
Montserrat contemporary map courtesy www.citypictures.net/data/media/335/montserrat_map.jpg
Historical map: John Carter Brown Library
Image of Christopher Nugent: http://www.galleryofthemasters.com Pictures from www.galleryofthemasters.com