Sir John Hugh Smyth

???? - 1802


Husband of the Jamaican heiress Elizabeth Woolnough. Although shown as owner of Spring estate, his will (proved in 1802 and which leaves most of his estate to his nephew Hugh Smyth) is silent on Jamaica property, and it appears that the estate was in fact subject to trusts, possibly under his marriage settlement with Elizabeth Woolnough in 1757.

  1. 'The renovation of Ashton Court near Bristol....came after the marriage in 1757 of John Hugh Smyth to the Jamaican heiress Rebecca [sic] Woolnough. The marriage settlement of £40,000 comprised properties in England and Jamaica (including the Spring plantation in Jamaica) and substantially improved the fortunes of the Smyth estate. Indeed it was estimated by one local historian that the profits made by Sir John Hugh Smyth from the Spring plantation and the sale of its sugar amounted to some £17,000 over the period 1762–1802. However, subsequent research suggests that the family’s association with the Atlantic slave economy pre-dates this marriage, as Sir Hugh Smyth’s father, Jarrit Smith, a Bristol solicitor, was also a member of the Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers – the elite body which actively lobbied on behalf of Bristol participants in the African, American and West Indian trades. The recent purchase by the city’s Museum Service of a portrait, which originally belonged to the Smyths, suggests that Ashton Court’s slavery links might go back even further (Fig 2.4). The portrait in question, that of a young aristocratic girl and her equally young African servant, had been previously assumed to be that of the early 18th-century heiress, Arabella Astry (connected through her sister to the Smyth estate) and herself the heiress of nearby Henbury Great House in Gloucestershire. However, when the portrait was acquired by the city in 2008 (less than a year after the bicentennial commemorations of the ending of the British slave trade), its provenance was reassessed. It now seems that the girl depicted with her African servant was most probably one Florence Smyth (1634–92), the second daughter of Thomas Smyth of Ashton Court and his wife Florence, née Poulett. If true, the presence of the young African servant strongly indicates that the connection between the Smyths, a family long noted for their mercantile interests, and the African trade might stretch as far back as the 1630s, well before Bristol’s formal entry into the slave trade in 1698. This supposition ties in well with the Astry family’s own associations with the Caribbean from the early 17th century.'


PROB 11/1379/50.

  1. p. 32 [accessed 30/11/2016]. Rebecca Woolnough was John Hugh Smyth's mother-in-law, mother of his wife Elizabeth Woolnough.

Further Information

Elizabeth Woolnough

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
- 1802 [EY] → Owner

Brought to Sir John Hugh Smyth by marriage to Elizabeth Woolnough c. 1757.

1778 [EA] - 1802 [LA] → Joint owner

Reportedly brought to Sir John Hugh Smyth by marriage to Elizabeth Woolnough c. 1757. In fact it appears that a moiety (half) of the estate was owned by Rebecca Woolnough and transmitted to Elizabeth and John Hugh Smyth.

Legacies Summary

Physical (1)

Country house
Ashton Court 
description →
Renovated by Sir John Hugh Smyth' after his marriage to Elizabeth [given by Dresser as Rebecca] in 1757. Observations undertaken by Humphrey Repton c....

Relationships (2)

Deceased Husband → Widow
Son-in-law → Mother-in-law

Addresses (2)

Ashton Court, Long Ashton, Somerset, South-west England, England
Wraxall Court, Wraxall, Somerset, South-west England, England
Notes →

Sir John Hugh Smyth reportedly bought Wraxall Court c. 1800