Monday, 9 February 2015

52 Ancestors # 6 - Johannis Proverbs - a ninth great-grandfather

This post is for Week 6 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge - 2015 - by Amy Johnson Crow from No Story Too SmallPrompt for Week 6, So Far Away. This prompt suggests - which ancestor is the farthest from you, either in distance or in time/generations? So, I have selected my 9th great-grandfather Johannis (John) Proverbs who lived in Barbados.

So a little bit about Barbados ...
The first English ship, the Olive Blossom, arrived in Barbados in 1625. They took possession of it in the name of King James I. In 1627 the first permanent settlers arrived from England, and it became an English and later British colony (Wikipedia).

The arrival of the British and French in the Caribbean in the early seventeenth century marked the beginning of the never-ending expansion of sugar production and the deepening of its identification with slavery. For the first half of the seventeenth century, plantation cultivation relied for labor on varied combinations of African and indigenous slaves and European indentured laborers. From the middle of the seventeenth century, however, sugar was exclusively produced by enslaved Africans on plantations that monopolized land use and transformed entire islands like Barbados and Jamaica into virtual "sugar factories" (Ashcroft 1999, p. 44).

Barbados provided the perfect habitat to grow the sugarcane, tropical heat and saturating rain. So, the British settled in the West Indies transforming virgin forests into a patchwork quilt of Sugar Plantations.

The 1680 Barbados Census - St Phillip Parish - lists the following Proverbs males:
Proverbe John St. Phillip
Proverbe Thomas St. Phillip
Proverbe John St Phillip
Proverbe William St Phillip

Plantation life would have been hard in the seventeenth century, and the British must have found the climate unbelievable. But, there were serious fortunes to be made. I don't know if the Proverbs men made a fortune or not, probably not, but they certainly stayed in Barbados and are there to this day.

Cutting sugar cane West Indies © Corbis - used with permission
John Snr. died in St Phillip's Parish, Barbados on the 25th February 1686. His simple will identifies John as a planter and informs us that he had four sons, Thomas, Benjamin, Ambrose & John and one married daughter Mary Budd living at the time of his death.
John Proverbs Snr Will - English Settlers in Barbados 1637-1800

There is a family story - yes dear reader - a family story that a group of people, the 'originals' were a set of people banished from England by the Monarchy fowhatever reason, and on the ship they decided to pick a new name for themselves. Opening the Bible at a random page, they chose Proverbs ... imagine if they opened their bible at Ecclesiasticus, what an interesting name that would be. As there was a Provarbs family in Bristol in the seventeenth century I doubt that this particular family story has much credence. 

There is also some, but not much, evidence that the Proverbs were slave traders. They certainly owned plantations and slaves in Barbados as evidenced by the Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1813-1834.

I am descended from John's son Ambrose and his wife Jane Hay. I wonder what John would have thought about his 9th great granddaughter in Australia writing about Barbados. A trip to Barbados is certainly on my 'bucket list'. 

On another thought, I am thinking of a One-Name Study on the Proverbs name and all the variations. What do you think?

Ashcroft, Bill. "A Fatal Sweetness: Sugar and Post-Colonial Cultures." In White and Deadly: Sugar and Colonialism, edited by Pal Ahluwalia, Bill Ashcroft, and Roger Knight, 33-50. Commack, NY: Nova Science, 1999.
Joanne McRee Sanders. Barbados Records: Wills, 1639-1725. Vols. 1-3. Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979-1981.


  1. Definitely do a one-name study on Proverbs. If you register it with The Surname Society the membership fee is reasonable and you can restrict it to a geographical location and expand it as you progress.

    BTW I visited Barbados last year - a very interesting and scenic place.

    1. Thanks Jill, wish I had known that you were going to Barbados! I am seriously considering doing a surname study and just haven't decided which way to go but thanks again for your suggestion

  2. Hello! Just joined the blogging challenge, and I see you did as well- I really like your blog! Where are you from? Check out my blog-


    1. Thanks, Hannah I am from Brisbane, Queensland Australia - I am enjoying blogging hope you do too

  3. Glad you joined up with the challenge. I wish I knew something more about my ancestors who first came to America.

    1. Thanks Susan - I am fascinated by my relatives from Barbados

    2. Leslie Proverbs ddproverbs@hotmail.com22 Jul 2015, 20:13:00

      Hello. I am a Proverbs living in Barbados and just thought I'd let you know we're still here. Most probably descended from the same family as you. The "legend" in our family is that 2 Royalist brothers were exiled (Barbadoed) by Cromwell and to protect their family name took on a temporary name selected from opening the Bible to the (approximate middle) book of Proverbs since they apparently intended/hoped to return to Britain. But the legend continues that a feud developed between them and to this day there happens to be 2 separate (white) Proverbs families in Barbados. Apart from the Bristol one you mentioned (my Grandfather said he'd seen the tombstone in Bristol - probably circa 1940's), I see from the internet there are a small colony of Proverbs in Yorkshire as well. So, as you said, the "legend"might be a bit far-fetched after all. However, what's interesting is my wife's friend's mother is one of the Proverbs from the "├Âther" Proverbs family here and she related the same story! Many of my father's siblings and some cousins also ended up living abroad following University but we do have some fabulous family reunions from time to time with a contingent from New Zealand, USA, England and Canada here at the moment! Hope this might be of interest. Come visit us soon!

    3. Hello I am Amanda Proverbs I live in London my father is from Barbados. I have heard that same story too. I go to Barbados from time to time I call it home more than UK x love the info on our family name Helen Connor x

    4. Hi Amanda - I was just in the UK for 6 weeks - wish I had known of you - I will be back in the UK in perhaps May-June 2017 - it would be great to catch up then