An Irishman’s life on the Caribbean island of St Vincent, 1787–90

The letter book of Attorney General Michael Keane
Mark S. Quintanilla

This book makes available the previously unpublished correspondence of Michael Keane, an eighteenth-century Irish attorney general of St Vincent. From Ballylongford, Co. Kerry, Keane rose through the ranks of colonial society and established a West Indian fortune.

He was a protégé of the earl of Shelburne (who served briefly as prime minister) and was associated with American independence, a call for Irish equality within the United Kingdom, and a desire for the acceptance of British Catholics.

Indeed, on his deathbed Keane insisted that he was ‘wholly Irish’, thereby rejecting any notion of an Anglo-Irish identity or association within the Protestant Church of Ireland. As his letters reflect, Keane worked on behalf of a wide range of Irish merchants, Irish-West Indian planters and other Irish people who had settled into English society.

Keane’s Irish-West Indian odyssey brought him first to the British colony of Barbados and after 1763 to the Ceded Islands, which Great Britain acquired at the conclusion of the Seven Years War. From his base in St Vincent, he founded sugar estates that he christened ‘Liberty Lodge’ and ‘Bow-wood’ in honour of his patron Shelburne.

As his correspondence shows, he worked on behalf of Irish Atlantic interests that had become dispersed throughout the colonial world, including Catholic, Protestant and Non-Conformist merchants, as well as absentee Irish-West Indian planters and merchants in Barbados, Nevis and St Kitts, who looked to him to protect their interests in the colony. His letter book provides a rare look into the world of the plantation attorney and manager.

Mark S. Quintanilla is a historian of the Atlantic world and a two-time Fulbright Scholar, who edited much of this manuscript during a residence in St Vincent and the Grenadines. He holds a PhD and is a professor of history at Hannibal-LaGrange University.