Four manuscript signed letters from a British Chief Justice, plantation owner, philanthropist and abolitionist, dealing with the purchase of a mansion and a phaeton carriage. (1833)

First Roadwork in Bahamas

1833 Manuscript Signed Letters

Date: 1833

New Providence Island [Nassau], August 1833 - May 1834. Four (4) manuscript signed letters from Mr. (and Mrs.) Sandilands, British Chief Justice, plantation owner, philanthropist and abolitionist, who essentially founded the Fox Hill region, addressed to Mr. Bosanquet, their banker in London, and dealing with the purchase of a mansion and a phaeton carriage which is of historical significance. Together with one (1) small manuscript note to Mr. Sandilands trustees regarding freight and insurance for the carriage shipped to the island in November 1833. 8vo. Double leafs measuring approximately 18 x 22 cm, with integral addresses, red wax seals, and 'Bahamas' mailing stamps. Mr. Sandilands and his wife Mary had arrived in the Bahamas in 1830, only 3 years before these letters were written. Robert Sandilands is best remembered for taking a leading role at the time of abolition by offering, in 1840, small parcels of his 1200 acres of land in the Fox Hill district to freed slaves, for £10 or the equivalent in labour, encouraging them to "work hard, be loyal, and grateful for their boon." His scheme formed a free-slave village settlement, originally called Creek Village. Within it he created a small "village square" centered around an ancient cotton silk tree. In 1849 the recipients of the lots renamed the town Sandilands Village after their benefactor. His first land purchase, 60 acres, part of his estate later to be subdivided into 100 lots, is described in two of the present letters, an investment and vision he began investing into in 1833. [In August 1833, the Abolition of Slavery Act became law. In his final will and testament, Sandilands stated his wish that all of his slaves be freed. In gratitude, most or all took his name as their surname; as former slaves, none of them had surnames.] Of utmost importance in these letters is the purchase of a phaeton carriage with a top for protection from the blazing sun. Eventually, after some hardship and a long wait, a carriage would be shipped to Providence Island from London. And, with a £100 colony grant Mr. Sandilands built a four mile carriage road through his private property, and through Creek Village to the main Eastern road, creating better communication between Nassau and the southern fishing grounds, and also facilitating transport between the Village and the Nassau Market. It is now called Fox Hill Road. The carriage so tenaciously pursued and finally acquired, as described in these letters, was the cornerstone for early roadworks and proper transport in the Fox Hill district. Over and above the purchase of property and a carriage, these letters reveal the couple's financial struggles upon settling in the Bahamas, the length of time it took to deal with colonial matters from overseas, and their determination for success, Fort Montagu, which was built in 1741 and had played an important role in the American War of Independence, is also mentioned. Excerpts from the letters: 5 August 1833. Written by Robert Sandilands: "... I feel assured of your willingness on this account to undertake my commission. I desire above all things to have immediately sent out for Mary a small four wheeled Pony Phaeton with a top - if such a thing can be procurred... will not much exceed the sum of £40... [Mrs. Mary Sandiland adds to the letter as well]" Nassau, New Providence, 15 September 1833. Written by Robert Sandilands: "... I have likely made a purchase of an old mansion... 60 acres of ground about 2 miles from the town of Nassau. I am to pay 1000 dollars for it.... I shall have [this?] to Messrs. Coutt by next [month?]..." 31 March 1834. Written by Robert Sandilands: "There is only time to write you a very few lines by a merchant vessel on the point of sailing for England.... it has come to our knowledge that the vessel by which our Phaeton was shipped (the Jersey) has been lost on the coast of England... Quite the contrary an account of the Phaeton being without a head, a want which under our sultry sun nearly rendered it useless. I am most anxious to have our out as soon as possible..." Postmarked 6 May 1834. Written by Mary Sandilands "I am much concerned at having done anything irregular in the way of drawing money, but Mr. Sandilands told me that the Bill had nothing to do with my account... You have of course by this time received the £50 for him, 20 I trust that I have not overdrawn. I have signed two bills for £30 each, which with the £10 for the carriage... makes 70... Money concerns are the very diable & I really have not one hours enjoyment of life in consequence... the constant demand for ready money and the irregularity of the colonial payments, make some arrears that are due extremely annoying... We are living within our income... ...the purchase Mr. Sandilands has made is decidedly an advantage therefore do not turn a deaf ear... the Montagu House should be sold & part of the money & part of the money be appropriated towards paying for it. There cannot be a worse investment for that money than the present one, the house is I believe unlet and of course getting wore out of repair.... ... the calculation of our years expenses which are £100 within our income, the patience of people out here would be exhausted before a sufficient sum was accumulated to pay them all out of such limited savings... I should have £15 more a year to spend! ... One word about the little carriage - It is now certain that the Jersey is lost. I hope it will not make a very big difference in price. There are at the... all sorts of carriages..." End Excerpts. The recipient of these letters is James Whatman Bosanquet (1804-1877), an English banker, who at the age of 18 entered his father's bank, Bosanquet, Salt, & Co., and who in due course became a partner. Mr. Robert Sandilands and his wife Mary had arrived in the Bahamas in 1830. In the same year, he was appointed to the Executive Council. By the Votes of The Bahamas Assembly 1840, Mr. Sandilands became a judge in the General Court. In 1841, he was appointed Assistant Justice. After emancipation, Judge Sandilands granted portions of his land in Fox Hill to the former slaves in the area so they might use it for farming. The payments for these grants were either made by labour or the profits earned from the sale of vegetables. Mr. Sandilands considered the Africans residing in the village to be a "fine body of industrious and content people... upon whose labour one can always depend... for the wage of one shilling per day". The Africans called the settlement `Sandilands Village' however the name was not officially instituted until 1849. With a £100 colony grant Mr. Sandilands built a four mile carriage road through his private property, leading through Creek Settlement to the main Eastern road, in order to open proper communication between Nassau and the fishing grounds on the south side of the island, and also to facilitate transport between Sandilands Village and the Nassau Market. By 1888 Sandilands Village had six hundred inhabitants and was prospering. In 1845 Sandilands gave a further portion of his land for the establishment of a school for the children of freed slaves. Sandilands Primary school remains today. A Phaeton (also Phaéton) is a form of sporty open carriage popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Drawn by one or two horses, a phaeton typically featured a minimal body very lightly sprung atop four extravagantly large wheels.

Mild age-toning, some creasing, otherwise in very good condition, a fascinating piece of Nassau's foundational history unfolding firsthand.


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