Sometimes a family historian will come across something, not directly linked to their family, but so fascinating it begs a bit of research. So, when I was looking at Census records for Campbeltown, Argyle the mention of ‘West Indies’ as the birthplace of Eliza Ann Cordner drew my eye. The vast majority of people in the area originated in Scotland and, indeed, most from the near vicinity. An interesting story emerged that links a small Scottish town to the wider Empire and underlines the links between Scotland and slavery
Eliza Ann Cordner was born Eliza Ann Breakenridge in Jamaica in 1816. The Breakenridge family had a long association with Campbeltown; her father was William Breakenridge, a coffee planter in Port Royal Jamaica who had been born in Campbeltown in 1783 where his father was a provision merchant. He was the brother of Isabella, Ann, Mary and Thomas Breakenridge, all had owned enslaved people in Jamaica. According his memorial in Old Kilkerran Cemetary, Argyll, William died in Jamaica in 1818. He was an owner of enslaved persons in Port Royal, Jamaica, the 1840 claim notes ’24 Enslaved with compensation of £571 3S 10D’.
Eliza Ann’s mother was Dorothy Hall, described as a “free Mustee,” a term that indicates she had Afro-Carribean antecedents in her blood line, it is unclear if William and Dorothy were married but their child clearly was of acknowledged parentage. William left legacies of £142 17s in his will to his each of his sisters Isabella and Mary Breakenridge and to his daughter Eliza Ann, who was residuary legatee to one-third of his estate. In 1833 the British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their “property” when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain’s colonies and it was a “compensation” payment of around £500 to William’s estate that boosted his legacy. This was a tiny sum in comparison to the £106,796 paid to John Gladstone, the father of prime minister William Gladstone.
Eliza Ann was in Scotland by 1833 where she married Gavin Cordner, a distiller, in Campbeltown in December 1833. In May 1837 they had a daughter, Ann followed in June 1839 by a son, James. In 1851 Ann Cordner is living with her Uncle, John Breckenridge, in Campbeltown’s Long Row and is ‘at school.’ In the same year her brother James is living with his mother and a further sister Isabella born in 1841. Eliza is a ‘semptress’ and described as ‘born in Jamaica.’ Gavin Cordner is not present. In 1871 Eliza was still at Longrow but this time in the household of Duncan McNair, she is described as a ‘Farmers widow.’ By 1881 Eliza is living alone in Longrow Street and an ‘annuiant.’ The last reference to Eliza in the census is 1891 where she is at Glebe Street, Lorne Place, Campbeltown, age 73, with her daughter Ann. In 1900 she dies in Glasgow and her death is notified by her daughter Isabella McCallum. Isabella had married Angus McCallum in Campbeltown in 1867.
There appears to have been a family dispute about the estate of William. Peter Breakenridge, the son of Thomas made a claim. It was countered by Isabella Breakenridge, a spirit seller in Campbeltown through her lawyer Charles Harvey, of St Catherine, for a legacy of £142 17s given by William Breakenridge; from John Breakenridge, a farmer, and Mary his wife who was William’s sister, for a legacy of £142 17s and from Gavin Cordner and his wife Eliza, for ‘one third of the residuary estate devised by her Father’s will’. A petition by Charles Harvey ‘praying that the claim of Peter Breakenridge may be overruled for want of title and that the counterclaims of Isabella Breakenridge, John Breakenridge, and Mary his wife in respect of their legacies may be preferred and awards made to them and subject thereto that the compensation money may be paid to Charles Harvey.’