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Ainsley Harriott

Ainsley Harriott - how we did it

Slave Owners in Jamaica

Finally, Ainsley returned to Jamaica to trace further back along Ebenezer Harriott's line.

Great-great-grandfather: James Gordon Harriott

Step 1 - International Genealogical Index

To find the next generation back, we searched for Ebenezer’s official baptism in original records in Jamaica and in the microfilmed records in the UK, but it was nowhere to be found.

When up against a brick wall in genealogy, it is always worth checking the International Genealogical Index (IGI), where parish records and personal research from across the world is shared (see Related Links).

We found an entry for Ebenezer on the IGI, which we confirmed as correct because it matched the date of birth given on his death certificate.

The record did not provide a surname for Ebenezer's mother, but it did give the name of his father: James Gordon Harriott. This discovery sent us back to the Jamaica Archives and Records Department (see Related Links).

Step 2 - Racial Classifications in Parish Registers

It was usual, in colonial Jamaica, for the parish registers to keep a record of people's racial makeup. This was because intermarrying between non-white and white people could result in a change of legal status, for example the child of a non-white 'mestize' and a white person would be legally white and therefore eligible for privileges beyond those of a non-white person.

The registers reflect this duality of Jamaican society; each year's records are separated into white and non-white registrations.

A search of the registers revealed James Gordon Harriott's baptism. His birth was registered as a 'white child'. As a white child in early 19th century Jamaica, the obvious question sprang to mind: was James Gordon Harriott from a slave owning family?

Step 3 - Slave Registers

As with our hunt for Catherine Smith, we went back to the slave registers. But this time we were looking not for slaves, but their owners.

We found James Harriott on the 1825 register, owning eight slaves. So we could confirm that Ebenezer's father, Ainsley's great-grandfather, had been a white slave owner. Much Jamaican genealogy reveals mixed heritage, but this was an unexpectedly close relationship.

Step 4 - Slave Deeds of Sale

The next question was, how far back did the Harriott slave owning history go?

Slaves were seen as property under Jamaican law, and therefore could be bought, sold, bequeathed and traded as such. Jamaican genealogist Dianne Frankson unearthed evidence to prove that the Harriott family had been slave owners for several generations in Jamaica. The registers had revealed that James Gordon's father was George David Harriott. A deed of sale showed that George Harriott purchased slaves from his own father when he was just four years old. So the Harriott family was coaching successive generations to become successful slave owners from a very young age.

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Ainsley discovers his great-great-great-great-grandfather bought slaves at the age of four

Like many people with Jamaican heritage, Ainsley's family could be traced back to both sides of the slavery story, from enslavement on his paternal grandmother's side to slave ownership on his grandfather's side.

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