Sugar, Slaves and High Society: The Grants of Kilgraston 1750-1860

Written by Richard Blake
Review by Susie Helme

Francis (1746-1818) Grant – ancestor of the author – and his brother John (1740-1793) left Scotland for Nova Scotia and Jamaica. They made a fortune in sugar, which was used upon their return to become the lairds of Kilgraston. There was no legal means of enforcing decent treatment of African slaves; they were literally chattel. The brothers’ letters express concern over the treatment of the ‘poor devils’, with no attempt to do anything about it.

We learn more about entails, tailzies, primogeniture, paintings and the prices of things, and nothing of the slaves. This is the story of their masters and the detailed documentation of their wealth. Some family members were accomplished artists, and their work is pictured. One daughter married the white rajah of Borneo.

It’s a work of genealogy, of great interest to history but hard work to read, however educational. The genealogical story of the ‘poor devils’ will probably never be told. The history of this family is interesting, providing much detail about the elite and their world. It might be divine/poetic justice that quite a number of these sugar billionaires died of diabetes.

It is confusing to refer to people as ‘the laird’ or ‘lord Grant’. Including names with birth/death dates and/or parents in a footnote would have helped. Superb research, sumptuous illustrations.