Dorothy Thomas

1763 - 1846

Claimant or beneficiary


Almost certainly Dolly Thomas (1763-1846) nee Kirwan, a free woman of colour, 'the Queen of Demerara' who built a business empire on huckstering and renting out enslaved people, and who was in London in the 1820s. She has an entry in the ODNB as 'free woman of colour, slave-owner and entrepreneur', which concludes: 'The biography of Dorothy Thomas is significant in the history of the Caribbean and the growing British empire. She deftly navigated a difficult world to obtain freedom for both herself and her large family. The success she was able to achieve in not just one colony, but several, is extraordinary. Dorothy Thomas sits therefore at the apex of a list of free coloured and free black female entrepreneurs who were able to exploit the fluid situation in the Atlantic world during the age of revolutions and achieve remarkable success. The education she so assiduously provided for her children and grandchildren enabled them to exploit their advantaged position and find a niche in the heart of the British empire. Among her descendants can be counted merchants, planters, the agriculturist and newspaper editor and proprietor on Van Diemen's Land (Gilbert Robertson, (1794–1851)), a surgeon-general of the British army (Huntly George Gordon, (1820–1888)), a diva on the London stage (Henrietta Catherina Florentina Sala, (1789?–1860)), and the latter's son, the writer and journalist George Augustus Sala.'

  1. Will of Dorothy Thomas born Kirwan of Demerary British Guiana proved 15/06/1848.


Kit Candlin, The Last Caribbean Frontier 1795-1815 (2012) pp. 24-50; Kit Candlin, ‘Thomas , Dorothy (c.1763–1846)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2016 [, accessed 10 March 2017]

  1. PROB 11/2077/434

Further Information

Oxford DNB Entry

Associated Claims (2)

£2,691 17s 8d
£684 15s 5d

Relationships (4)

Other relatives
Notes →
Robertson had an extended relationship and several children with Eliza Thomas, Dorothy Thomas's...
Grandmother → Grandson
Grandmother → Grand-daughter
Mother-in-law → Son-in-law