1799 - 28th Jan 1841
Second son of Aeneas Gunn of Tacher and Katherine Innes, Caithness. Brother of William Gunn (1795-??) and George Gunn (1801-1826), the latter also in Jamaica where he practised as a physician. John Gunn spent nearly 20 years in Jamaica where he worked as an attorney, operating primarily in the parishes of Trelawny and St James. In 1831 he was responsible for 5 plantations on which a total of 1,163 enslaved people lived and worked. He resided in St James, being recorded in the 1831 Jamaica Almanac as owning 4 enslaved persons.
He gained notoriety during the 1831/32 Christmas Rebellion during which he served as a Captain in the Trelawny militia. On the 15th January 1832 he ordered the summary execution of a slave named John Allen, on the Lima estate (St James), for which he acted as attorney. Gunn was court-martialled and sent to trial because the enslaved on the estate had, only an hour before, been pardoned for their participation in the uprising by the head of Crown forces General Sir Willoughby Cotton. Gunn was tried by a local court but ultimately cleared of any crime. Henry Bleby includes a detailed account of the crime and trial in his 1853 account referenced below. He concludes: 'It may be safely asserted that none but a court composed of Jamaica planters would have dared to return such a verdict; and only the planters of that time, drunken as they were with the blood of the slave, would have outraged humanity, truth and justice, by coming to such a conclusion.'
Gunn was hailed as a hero by the local white community and awarded the 'Trelawny Sword', paid for through a collection amongst his regiment that raised £300. The sword is now displayed in the Gunn Heritage Museum, Nova Scotia. His obituary recorded him as being of 'determined resolution and undaunted courage'. Upon leaving Jamaica in the early 1830s Gunn returned to Wick, Scotland where he married Jessie Old [Auld] in 1834. They had three daughters Johnina (1837), Catherine (1839) and Jessie (1840). The family subsequently emigrated to Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada, where John Gunn died in 1841.
Barry Higman, Plantation Jamaica, 1750-1850: Capital and Control in a Colonial Economy (Kingston JM, 2005), p. 69 & 90.
1831 Jamaica Almanac, Parish of St James, available through Jamaica Family Search: http://www.jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Members/1831jame.htm
Henry Bleby, Death Struggles of Slavery: Being a Narrative of Facts and Incidents, which Occured in a British Colony, During the Two Years Immediately Preceding Negro Emancipation (London, 1853), pp. 48-56. Above quotation taken from p. 54. Available through Googlebooks https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Cb8NAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=henry+bleby+death+struggles+of+slavery&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAGoVChMIl-W608zsxgIVJZvbCh3v2w-h#v=onepage&q=john%20gunn&f=false
Christer Petley, Slaveholders in Jamaica: Colonial Society and Culture During the Era of Abolition (London, 2009), p. 112.
Michael Craton, Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies (Ithaca NY, 2009), p. 378, n. 51.
Mary Turner, Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society, 1787-1834 (Kingston JM, 1998), p. 161.
We are grateful to Marie Mills for her help compiling this entry.
Canada: Nova Scotia including Cape Breton Island
Migrated to Pictou Nova Scotia during mid-1830s and died there in...
Nova Scotia, Canada
Wick, Caithness, Highlands & Islands, Scotland