Joseph James Swaby senior

1733 - 1811


Joseph James Swaby (1732/1733 to August 1811), physician, plantation owner and Custos of St Elizabeth, Jamaica.

  1. Joseph James Swaby was baptized at St Paul’s church, Hammersmith in Middlesex on the 16/12/1733. His parents were Joseph and Sarah Swaby nee Ford.

  2. His Middlesex baptism, and as his name suggests, places him in the right location and time period to have been the highwayman Joseph James Swaby, late of Finchley in Middlesex, who was transported to the American colonies in late 1750 for assault with a pistol on the Queen’s highway. (Swaby had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to be transported for seven years.) This event both interestingly and paradoxically contrasts with his later accomplishments. However, to date no documentary evidence has surfaced to explain where he gained his medical experience.

  3. The earliest documented record of his presence in Jamaica is his marriage to Catherine Hart in St Catherine, 17/09/1751 where he appears as Joseph James Sawby of Kingston. A 20-acre land purchase deed from Thomas Durant dated 17/12/1754 records Swaby's residence as Vere Parish and his profession as “Practitioner in Physick and Surgery” suggesting he gained his medical training between 1751 and 1754. Subsequent deeds record his residence as St. Elizabeth and indicate that he retained the occupation of “Practitioner in Physick and Surgery,” at least until 1766. An indenture dated 27/12/1757 confirms that Joseph James Swaby, “Practitioner in Physick and Surgery,” was the husband of Catherine Hart, and that he inherited substantial land holdings (875 acres) and nine enslaved people from the Hart family. Catherine was the daughter of Solomon Hart and Elizabeth, his wife, born 22/08/1731 and baptised 11/06/1732 in St Elizabeth, Jamaica. The baptism registry for Swaby and Hart's daughter, Sarah Swaby born 02/04/1756, lists the mother as Catherine Swaby and the father as “Dr. Swaby.”

  4. Joseph James Swaby was the recipient of three 300-acre land patents. The first patent, dated 19/04/1758, for land in Vere identifies him as Doctor Joseph James Swaby. The second and third patents were for property in St. Elizabeth, dated 1763 and 1805 respectively. His continued transition from doctor to landowner is well documented by indentures which show that between 1757 and 1781 he purchased 1,948 acres of land. It is apparent that even at a young age Joseph James Swaby was building his legacy by increasing his property holdings.

  5. By 1770 he had attained a higher social standing and was referred to as “Joseph James Swaby, Esquire.” After entering public service from at least 1776 as an Assistant Judge, Swaby quickly rose to further prominence in St. Elizabeth. In 1782, he became a Justice of the Peace (JP). He became a member of the Legislative assembly in 1781. He was appointed Custos in 1787 by Alured Clarke, the Governor of Jamaica, thus achieving the title of “Honorable Joseph James Swaby.” He retained the post of Custos until his death in 1811.

  6. National Library of Jamaica Records denote that Swaby had a distinguished career in the militia, beginning with his appointment as Lieutenant Colonel in 1784. Although Library records state that he was a Major General in 1806, he is typically referred to as “Colonel in Chief” in almanacs from this era. He appears to have played an important military role during the Maroon uprisings in Jamaica; Robert Charles Dallas's History of the Maroons makes several references to him and contains a transcript of a 1795 letter describing him as “Colonel Swaby, Custos.”

  7. It is recorded in 1835 Chancery case documents that, as of the date of his will, 5 November 1807, he owned three properties: “a coffee plantation called ‘Hope’ in the parish of Manchester, a breeding pen called Montpelier in St Elizabeth and a large piece or parcel of Moras [sic] land called New River in Saint Elizabeth.” [Hope plantation was part of Saint Elizabeth until 1814 when Manchester Parish was created.] In 1811 his property holdings encompassed over 3,000 acres, 340 enslaved people and 500 stock. According to the 1819 crop report made by Martin Johnson, the overseer of Hope plantation, the estate shipped 144 tierces of coffee to England.

  8. Birth records and his will attest that he fathered 11 children with 4 women. He married Catherine Hart in 1751 and with her had one daughter, Sarah. He had relationships with and provided residences for both Ruth Burton and Martha Wilson Brown. His children with Ruth Burton were Joseph, John and Elizabeth; his children with Martha Wilson Brown were Thomas, Eleanor, Martha and Ann Wilson. His second marriage was to Ann Wilson nee Badioli, a widow, in St. Elizabeth 28/09/1784, and with her had three children, Caroline, Joseph James junior and Frederick Badioli.

  9. In December 1780 Swaby established a residence for Martha Wilson Brown by an indenture which transferred 50 acres from the westward part of his New River pen into her name for the term of her natural life. The indenture included houses on or houses to be built on the property; the purchase price of the property was set at ten shillings.

  10. In August 1783 Swaby provided a residence for Ruth Burton through a more restrictive tenant/landlord messuage indenture. The indenture names Ruth Burton as a tenant of “the Tavern,” a home which included two acres of adjoining property, located in an area of St. Elizabeth called the Gutters. [Gutters Tavern can be seen on James Robertson's 1804 map.] The indenture was for the full term of her natural life and no more, and the rent was fixed at an annual sum of 5 shillings. The tenant was responsible for all repairs to the property.

  11. Joseph James Swaby was buried at New River, St. Elizabeth, 15 August 1811, "Custos aged 78," putting his date of birth in 1732 or 1733. Probate of his will was granted to the executors in St. Jago de la Vega, Jamaica, by Lieutenant Governor Edward Morrison on 20 September 1811. In addition to providing for his legitimate children, his will mentions two illegitimate sons, John and Thomas. To John Swaby he left £100 Jamaica currency to purchase mourning: "I would give him a much larger bequest but for the amplitude of his own property." Thomas Swaby was offered the choice of either receiving the estate deeded to his mother, Martha Wilson Brown, or £500. Joseph James Swaby’s estate inventory, taken by the executors on 26 September 1811, confirms that his primary residence was a 7-room great house at New River pen, with a smaller house located at Montpelier pen.

  12. Swaby’s sons with Ann Wilson served in the St Elizabeth militia. Joseph James Swaby Junior was an adjutant in 1810 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1814. He became a JP in 1812. Frederick Badioli Swaby was an Ensign in 1811 and promoted to Lieutenant in 1813. Frederick Badioli Swaby married Ann Haigh in Eton, Buckinghamshire, in 1813 and moved, with his wife's family, to Philadelphia in 1821, where he appears in the US census of 1840. By 1850 he had moved to Seneca Falls, New York, where he died in 1875.

  13. Joseph James Swaby Junior was buried in Kellington, Yorkshire, aged 32, 03/10/1821. The marriage announcement of his daughter Ann Margaret Eleanor Swaby in 1842 describes her as "elder dau. of Joseph James Swaby late of Kilnsey, Yorkshire, and grand-dau. and co-heiress of the Hon. Joseph James Swaby late of Jamaica." Frederick Badioli Swaby was educated in Yorkshire between 1805 and 1806.

  14. His property locations can be ascertained from historical maps. Thomas Craskell's map of Jamaica (1763) shows a property called "Swaby" just south of "Gutters." [Present-day Gutters is a small community in St Elizabeth parish at the foot of Spur Hill.] On James Robertson's map (1804), there are four pens in St Elizabeth owned by Hon. J. J. Swaby, three of which are grouped around Gutters Tavern and one of which is to the north-west in "Great Morass" (the New River pen, which is located above present-day Santa Cruz). Another pen, the property of J. Swaby, is sandwiched between two of Joseph James Swaby Senior's pens south of Gutters and may have been "the amplitude of his own property" owned by John Swaby, as mentioned in the will.


We are very grateful to Denny Swaby, David J. P. Wood and Peter Durbin for compiling this entry.

  1., Middlesex Baptisms 1543-1876 [database online].

  2. Old Bailey Online ref. t17500530-1.

  3., Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880 [database online]; L.O.S Deeds Vol 60, Folio 29; L.O.S Deeds Vol 216, Folio 187; L.O.S Deeds Vol 170, Folio 69.

  4. Vere, Liber 28 folio 140 & 141; St. Elizabeth, Liber 30, folio 92, St. Elizabeth, Liber 36, folio 3; L.O.S Deeds: Vol 167 Folio 82; Vol 239 Folio 88; Vol 242 folio 12; Vol 306 Folio 167.

  5. LOS Deeds Vol 239 Folio 88; Jamaican Almanacs (1776, 1787, 1805, 1815, 1812); National Library of Jamaica Records.

  6. National Library of Jamaica Records; Robert Charles Dallas History of the Maroons (2 vols, London, 1803).

  7. Chancery document: Swaby v Swaby (1835) (National Archives ref: C 13/1086/7); Jamaican Almanacs 1811; Crop account Hope Plantation Liber 30, Folio 144 (1802).

  8., Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880 [database online]; PROB 11/1536.

  9. L.O.S Deeds 305 Folio 107.

  10. L.O.S Deeds 318 Folio 211.

  11. Registrar’s General Department St. Catherine Register St. Elizabeth Vol 1 Folio 346; Inventory Liber 118, Folio 69.

  12. National Library of Jamaica records. Papers read before the Seneca Falls Historical Society for the year 1906 pp. 69-71 (via Note this text contains some factual errors);, Pennsylvania, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1800-1962 [database online]; US censuses 1840-1860.

  13. Seneca Historical Society publication; Vere Langford Oliver, Caribbeana being miscellaneous papers relating to the history, genealogy, topography, and antiquities of the British West Indies (6 vols., London, Mitchell, Hughes and Clarke, 1910-1919), Vol. IV p. 280; Gentleman's Magazine Vol. 172 p. 661 (June 1842).

  14. Map of 1763: 12 Sheet Map of the 3 Counties of Jamaica prepared by Thomas Craskell and James Simpson on the orders of Henry Moore, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, from surveys conducted between 1756 and 1761 and published in 1763 (copies available at The British Library and The National Library of Scotland and at Enlarged image of the County of Cornwall section ( shows a property labelled “Swaby” just below “Gutters”. Map of 1804: The National Library of Scotland; gazetteer available at

We are grateful to David Wood for his assistance with compiling this entry.

Further Information

[1] Catherine Hart [2] Ann Wilson nee Badioli
See biographical details for full list of children

Will PROB 11/1536 - précis.

Hon. Joseph James Swaby of St Elizabeth, Jamaica.

Payment of just debts and funeral expenses for which my whole estate is liable.

Executors to be David Samuda of London, Esquire; David Berlandina of London, merchant; John Chambers of St Elizabeth, Esquire; my son-in-law, John Robertson of St Elizabeth, practitioner in physic and surgery; my son John Swaby, son of Ruth Burton late of St Elizabeth deceased.

£10,000 Capital Stock commonly called the three per Cent Consoles in the Bank of England bequeathed to my executors for my son Frederick Badioli Swaby who is now in England for his education. The interest of which to apply by half yearly Installments for the benefit, maintenance and education of my son until he shall attain the age of 21 years. After his death the sum to the use of his lawful issue in the parts and proportions dictated by my son's will. My son having a wish to follow the farming business in England, I empower my trustees at his request to sell a sum not exceeding £1000 out of the funds to be employed in stocking such a farm. Any savings of the interest of Capital Stock after maintenance and education of my son previous to his attaining the Age of 21 to be reinvested into principal. Also I bequeath unto my Son Frederick Badioli Swaby a £200 yearly annuity for and during the term of his natural life.

To my grandson Swaby Plummer £2000 sterling, my executors to invest the money in some public funds in England, the yearly interest to be invested for his benefit until he reaches age 21. Should I invest this sum for him prior to my decease then this bequest is to cease.

To my son John Swaby £100 current money of Jamaica to purchase mourning. I would give him a much larger bequest but for the amplitude of his own property.

I bequeath unto my God son Ramsay Robert Reinagle, son of Mr. Ramsay Reinagle the sum of £100 current money aforesaid.

In 1784 I conveyed by indenture to a free mulatto woman of St Elizabeth, Martha Wilson Brown, a piece of land in St Elizabeth. After her death this land to go to her son Thomas Swaby. I bequeath unto Thomas Swaby the sum of five hundred pounds current money Jamaica under the condition that he reconvey by deed the said land to my executors.

I bequeath unto Ms. Eliza Gore (Late Eliza Aldridge) of the city of London aforesaid Widow, an annuity of £50 sterling p.a.

To my god-daughter Caroline Rebecca Aldridge, daughter of Eliza, £100 sterling.

To manumit my quadroon woman slave named Rebecca Franklin as a record for her faithful service and attention to me and to her an annuity of £20 current money aforesaid p.a. for life. All my estate to be liable for this annuity.

All the produce of my properties exported from Jamaica to be consigned to my worthy friend David Samuda.

All the rest and remunerances of my estate to David Samuda, David Berlandina, John Chambers, John Robertson and John Swaby, to take the yearly amts., shares, profits and produce thereof to pay and apply from time to time in manner following:

For the clothing, maintenance and education of my son Joseph James Swaby who is now in Scotland for his education, until he reaches age 21. Then, apply towards paying the necessary charges and contingences upon my estate. And after, apply to the purchase of Negroes or otherwise towards the cultivation and improvement of my estate. After my son Joseph James Swaby attains his age of 21, to permit him to enter into the possession, care and management of the residue of my estate and to receive and take the rents, shares, profits, and produce for the term of his natural life and thereafter to his lawful heirs as tenants in common. Should my son die without issue then the residue of my estate should go to the use of the lawful children of my daughter Caroline Robertson as tenants in common and not as joint tenants.

And the payment of the further sum of £1000 current money of Jamaica unto John Swaby.

Signed 05/11/1807. Proved at London 19/08/1812 by David Samuda.

Planter and judge (previously physician)

Associated Estates (2)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1800 [EA] - 1811 [EY] → Owner
- 1811 [EY] → Owner

Relationships (11)

Son-in-law → Father-in-law
Father → Daughter
Father → Son
Father → Natural Son
Grandfather → Grand-daughter
Grandfather → Grand-daughter
Grandfather → Grandson
Father-in-law → Son-in-law
Grandfather → Grandson
Father → Natural Son