Catherine Stapleton

1734 - 1815


Slave-owner on St Kitts, holding at her death six-eighths of an estate or estates on St Kitts, either Stapletons or including Stapletons, which she left in to her nephews Rev. William Cotton, and Lynch Cotton and to Robert Henry Stapleton Cotton, then the only son of her third nephew Stapleton Cotton. Daughter of James Russell Stapleton (q.v.). She appears to have been known as 'Mrs Catherine Stapleton' although unmarried. She was an active absentee owner of the estates and enslaved people, in 1776 buying in the interests of Sir Robert Cotton and Watkin Williams in Stapletons [also known as Fountains] on St Kitts and Russells Rest in Nevis for £18,000 each, a transaction that appears to have strained her financially for several decades thereafter.

  1. 'From 1805 onwards there was a marked increase in the crop of the Nevis estate, and between 1796 and 1810 an average of 166 hogsheads was sold each year, yielding an annual profit of £1,700 (5 per cent, on the capital value). The plantation in St. Christopher also maintained a fairly high level of production, with an average crop of 110 hogsheads between 1789 and 1809, yielding an annual profit of £2,066 (nearly 6 per cent, on the capital value). This level of production, linked with an artificial and temporary inflation in the price of sugar during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, finally ended the deadlock between Catherine Stapleton's income and expenses. By 1811, for the first time since 1776, the debt on her current account with the sugar merchants had been cleared. The remainder of her debts had been consolidated into a mortgage for £12,000 on her West Indian property. From 1800 to 1810 this had been held by Alexander Hood, Admiral Viscount Bridport. It had then been transferred to Sir Peter Warburton, of Arley, Chester. On the death of Warburton in 1813 the trustees of his estate refused to continue the mortgage, and demanded repayment of the money. They finally threatened foreclosure of a bill in Chancery, to gain possession of the West Indian property, if the money was not paid by February 1815. Catherine Stapleton, now aged 81, was faced by the gravest financial crisis of her life. She was saved only by the sympathy of her sugar agents, Messrs. Manning and Anderdon, who took the unusual step of offering collateral security for her debt. They arranged for half of her debt to be paid at once, and the remainder in annual instalments. This transaction saved the plantations, but stripped her of her very last financial resources.'

  2. Will of Catherine Stapleton spinster [heretofore of Burton Pynsent in the parish of Curry Rivell Somerset but now] of Audlem Cheshire [made in 1813] proved 06/07/1816.

  3. Catherine Stapleton was the companion of Hester Pitt, the wife of William Pitt the elder, and lived with her at Burton Pynsent (the Pitts' property) from c.1782 onwards. (The estate was sold to John Pinney c. 1805).


J.R.V. Johnston, 'The Stapleton sugar plantations in the Leeward Islands', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 48 (1) (1965), pp. 175-206. Johnston concluded of the Stapleton period of slave-ownership: 'Even in the eighteenth century, under the old colonial system, with all its attendant evils of absenteeism, wastefulness and slavery, successful planting over any lengthy period of time involved a two-way flow of capital. The chief guarantee of success in a hazardous enterprise was possession of secure landed property in the mother country, which could bear the brunt of misfortune in the colonies.'

  1. J.R.V. Johnston, 'The Stapleton sugar plantations in the Leeward Islands', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 48 (1) (1965), pp. 175-206.

  2. PROB 11/1582/114.

  3. Ruth M. Larsen, ‘Pitt , Hester, countess of Chatham and suo jure Baroness Chatham (1720–1803)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2005; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 8 Sept 2016], which gives life-dates of 1733-1815 for Catherine Stapleton.

Further Information


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
1817 [EA] - 1822 [LA] → Previous owner
1776 [EA] - 1815 [EY] → Joint owner

Relationships (6)

Sister-in-law → Brother-in-law
Aunt → Nephew
Daughter → Father
Grand-daughter → Grandmother
Sister-in-law → Brother-in-law

Addresses (2)

Audlem, Cheshire, North-west England, England
Burton Pynsent, Curry Rivell, Somerset, South-west England, England
Notes →

This was the house of William Pitt the elder and his wife Hester, whose companion Catherine Stapleton was