John Fray

4th Nov 1775 - 1820


John Fray Esq, cloth trader of Bolton, Lancashire. He moved back and forth between England and Jamaica in the late 18th century.

  1. John Fray, son of Ellis and Hannah Fray of Middle Hilton, born 04/11/1775 and baptised 22/11/1775 in Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, Bolton. He married Mary Sebeck 01/05/1800 in St James, Jamaica. They had several children born in Jamaica: Henry (born and baptised 1801), Joseph (1803), Mary (1805), Jane (1807), James (1812), Ellis (1814), Elizabeth Fray (born 1815 baptised 1816) and twins Ann and Edward (born 1817 and baptised 1818). James Fray, son of John Fray, deceased, was buried in St James, 28/12/1821. Margaret Fray, daughter of John Fray, deceased, was buried in St James, 05/02/1822. Note that no baptism record has been located for Margaret, but John Fray wrote to his uncle Robert Heywood in 1817 that the birth of his twins 'makes our number nine', so presumably she was born after 1817.

  2. John Fray was the nephew of the prominent Bolton abolitionist John Heywood. Along with his son Robert (Fray's cousin), Heywood was a cotton quilt manufacturer. Despite their opposition to slavery they supplied cloth to their cousin in Jamaica for resale. In 1817 John Fray wrote on the treatment of the enslaved: 'I am candid to tell you they are far better off than any class of peasantry in your country - both as to food, labour and general comforts and this I avow to you in the very strongest and most ungratified terms. I may without being an advocate for the oppression of the slave - which oppression is really rare but sometimes occurs, when 'tis I assure you visited on the white delinquent in a very severe manner by fine imprisonment or pillory - I may I say without being an advocate for oppression avow myself a friend to good order and feel deeply the necessity of keeping the negro in good habits - which experience shows can only be done by imposing restraints, we should feel rather disagreeable but as reliable improvement is making in all classes of slaves - this restraint like the later heritages of our old feudal system is any fact clearing away and better methods are daily coming into use...'

  3. John Fray died at Montego Bay, St James, Jamaica and was buried in the churchyard there, 21/11/1820. The parish register records his occupation as merchant. His personal estate was valued at £130,000 with £4,000 worth of merchandise and 22 enslaved people.

  4. After Emancipation Robert Heywood was an active supporter of American abolition, chairing a public lecture in Bolton given by an ex-slave James Watkins. The Bolton Chronicle recorded: 'R Heywood, Esq., having been called to the chair, offered a few remarks deprecatory of slavery and denouncing as disrespectful the distinctions which he had observed in America between the white and coloured races of that country.'


  1., St James, Jamaica, unindexed records, Baptisms, marriages, burials 1770-1809, Vol. 1 and Baptisms, marriages, burials 1810-1841, Vol. 2; John Fray, Montego Bay, to Robert Heywood, 16/10/1817, Bolton Archives and Local Studies Service (BALSS), ZHE/13/46.

  2. John Fray, Montego Bay, to Robert Heywood, 06/11/1817, BALSS, ZHE/13/51.

  3., St James, Jamaica, unindexed records, Baptisms, marriages, burials 1810-1841, Vol. 2; Christer Petley, Slaveholders in Jamaica: Colonial Society and Culture during the Era of Abolition (2015) pp. 23, 29, 62.

  4. Boston Chronicle 13/09/1851.

We are grateful to Penelope Baker Fray for her assistance and for providing the sourcing for this entry.

Further Information

Mary Sebeck
Henry (1801-1831), Joseph (1803-), Mary (1805-), Jane (1807-), James (1812-1821), Ellis (1814-), Elizabeth (1815-), Ann (1817-), Edward (1817-), Margaret (?-1822)

Associated Estates (4)

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] - 1820 [LA] → Owner
1820 [EA] - 1821 [LA] → Previous owner
1820 [EA] - → Executor
1820 [EA] - → Attorney

Relationships (6)

Husband → Wife
Father → Son
Father → Daughter
Father-in-law → Daughter-in-law
Father → Son
Son-in-law → Mother-in-law
Notes →