Robert Neilson

1781 - 4th Feb 1867

Claimant or beneficiary


Resident merchant of Port of Spain, of Robert Neilson & Co. with partners John Wilson and James Porter (each of whom q.v.). Neilson moved to Ontario after the Abolition Act, then in 1838 to Philadelphia, where his sons and grandsons became established in both business and the professions. He was an anti-abolition advocate and an Unofficial [or Nominated] Member of Council whose status in Trinidad was revised upwards in later narratives of the family in Philadelphia.

  1. “In November 1830 a Public Meeting of Planters, Merchants, and Proprietors, of Trinidad, was held at the residence of Robert Neilson, Esq., a considerable Merchant of Port-of-Spain, in order to concert measures for protecting the common interests in the crisis through which Trinidad was then passing in common with all the other West India Colonies. At that meeting it was determined to name a Committee to correspond with the West India Party in London, and to request Mr. Joseph Marryat to become the Agent of the Trinidad Colonists for the purpose of carrying out whatever steps might be decided upon. This Committee was composed of: The Hon. Jas. Peschier, W. H. Burnley, Jos. Peschier, Henry Murray and Messrs. Begorrat, Jackson, Thatcher, Bushe, Porter, Scott, Black, Robbins, Lapeyrouse, Gray, Souper, Brown, Farfan, Bland and Joell.”

  2. “Under the provisions of an Order in Council of November 5th 1831 (The Code Noir), any slave owner who ill-treated his slaves was liable to prosecution at the suit of the Attorney-General in the newly-established Criminal Court. This procedure was extremely unpopular with the planters….[and] was met with a protest from slave owners on the grounds that its enforcement would mean the ruin of the planter and trouble with the slaves. This protest was framed at a meeting under the Chairmanship of Robert Neilson, an unofficial member of the Council”.

  3. "[At] Christ Church [New York] by Rev. Mr. Lyell, Sat. 15th [July 1837], Thomas Bligh Darracott of Kingsbridge, Eng. and of Trinidad to Eliza 2nd dau of Hon. Robert Neilson of Lake View, Hamilton, Upper Canada and late of Trinidad”.

  4. Robert Neilson died on the 4 Feb 1867, in Philadelphia, and was buried on 7 Feb 1867 in Woodlands Cemetery. The key bequests in his will are: to son William Neilson (stockbroker and lawyer) – write off all business loans totalling $30,000 and income from $10,000 in trust; to son Thomas Neilson (merchant; president of local railroad co.) – $40,000 absolutely; to son John Neilson (farmer) – write off all loans for purchase of farm and income from $30,000 in trust; to daughter Harriet Colcard – income from $25,000; to daughter Eliza Darracott – in addition to expenses already paid, $40,000 absolutely; to son Robert Neilson – income from $40,000 in trust; various other minor bequests of $1-5,000. Income from remainder of estate divided equally between William, Thomas and Eliza in trust. The total value of his non-real estate was of the order of $440,000.

  5. “His grandfather Robert Neilson was at one time Judge Advocate of the West Indies by appointment of the Crown. His grandfather in the maternal line was William D. Lewis, a prominent merchant and banker of Philadelphia, from 1849 to 1853…”; Robert Neilson was made Governor of Trinidad, British West Indies, under the English Crown and Doctor Neilson’s father was born on that island during his father's term as Governor. His maternal grandfather was William D. Lewis,...”; “Emily Adelaide Burton, b. July 9 1836, married Robert Neilson (son of Robert Neilson, for some time Governor of Trinidad), b. in Trinidad, Feb. 8, 1834, d. May 4, 1901.

  6. Robert Neilson had a daughter, Margaret Apple Watson Neilson, with Apple Watson, a free woman of colour, baptised in the Anglican Cathedral in Trinidad in 1814.


  1. Lionel Mordaunt Fraser, History of Trinidad (1896, Trinidad Govt Printing Office).

  2. Gertrude Carmichael, The History of the West Indian Islands of Trinidad and Tobago 1498-1900 (1961, Alvin Redman).

  3. New York Evening Post Thursday, July 20, 1837.

  4., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates 1803-1915 [database online]; the bequests are from a private communication from Dr Brian Darracott.

  5. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, University of Pennsylvania: its history, influence, equipment and characteristics; with biographical sketches and portraits of founders, benefactors, officers and alumni Volume 2 (1902, R. Herndon Company), entry in respect of one of the sons of Thomas Neilson, probably William D. Neilson; Transactions & Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (4th Series, 1938-) 1941-1942, p.42: entry in respect of Robert Neilson’s grandson Dr Thomas Neilson MD; John W. Jordan (ed.),Colonial Families of Philadelphia Vol 1 (New York, 1911), p. 417.

  6. Transcriptions of baptism records by email 10/06/2021 from Nigel Burton.

We are grateful for the help of Dr Brian Darracott and Nigel Burton with this entry.

Further Information

Name in compensation records
Rob. Neilson
Emily Davis
Emma; Robert; Eliza; Esther; William; Thomas; John; Harriet; Robert; Henry Brooke

Associated Claims (13)

£2,267 5s 5d
£1,401 11s 6d
£6,644 7s 11d
£2,592 11s 6d
£1,181 15s 1d
£2,814 11s 3d
£4,143 2s 5d
£2,600 0s 9d
£744 17s 11d
£3,546 4s 3d
£398 12s 9d
£369 9s 3d
£64 0s 1d

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
1813 [EA] - 1813 [LA] → Previous owner

Accono was shown as 'one half lately owned by Robt Neilson Esq.' in 1813.

1834 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Owner

Legacies Summary

Commercial (1)

Senior partner
Robert Neilson and Co.
West India merchant  

Imperial (1)

Canada: Ontario 
notes →
Described as "of Lake View, Hamilton, Upper Canada and late of Trinidad" at the marriage of his 2nd daughter Eliza in...
sources →
New York Evening Post Thursday, July 20, 1837, cited by Mr Brian Darracott at <a...

Relationships (2)

Father-in-law → Son-in-law
Other relatives
Notes →
This is an inferred relationship. The two men were possibly brothers or cousins. Robert Neilson's son Thomas, shown in his will proved in Philadelphia in 1867, was born c. 1826, according to online...

Addresses (1)

Lake View, Stoney Creek, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada