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The Grahams of Jamaica, W. I.

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The Bonnie Dundee Connection

From my earliest childhood, I was made to understand that we were descended from Bonnie Dundee, the legendary Scottish rebel who defeated the English in 1689 and was slain by an assassin’s bullet in the moment of victory. This despite the fact our family had been in Jamaica for generations.

Later I learned Bonnie Dundee’s only child died in infancy.

This apparent conflict has intrigued me all my life, and I have spent many tedious hours poring over books in reference libraries and – in recent years – searching web sites for information.

Now, I think I have solved the mystery.

But my solution depends on acceptance of the assumption that my granduncle, Archdeacon John Henry Heron Graham, who was quoted as the source of our information, was a levelheaded person not given to flights of fancy.

He was, after all, a respected clergyman and educator, and had written a history text that was used in elementary schools.

I didn’t know much about the archdeacon’s parents. But I found out his father was Henry Graham, who had a wife named Eliza. Henry was apparently an agent for the Anglican Home and Foreign Missionary Society and had helped to establish a church in Jamaica in the mid-1800s. I am not sure whether he was born in Jamaica or Scotland.

At first, I thought perhaps Bonnie Dundee’s widow, the former Jean Cochrane, had smuggled her infant son to Jamaica to protect him from the vengeful English and their bloodthirsty allies… Or perhaps they had joined the ill-fated Scottish colony in Darien. Many Scots, including some Grahams, ended up in Jamaica after they were driven from the Isthmus of Panama by the Spanish and yellow fever in the early 1700s.

But I learned the bodies of Bonnie Dundee’s widow and her baby – who were killed when the roof of their home in Holland collapsed -- are preserved to this day in Scotland, so barring some kind of macabre substitution, they had not made it to sanctuary in Jamaica.

I thought that perhaps one of Bonnie Dundee’s brothers had fled to Jamaica to escape the wrath of the English. And I found an account that said some of his brothers had gone to America. But the closest they came to Jamaica seemed to be Virginia.

I wondered whether we were descended from the border Grahams of Esk or Netherby. A number of people from that area had been back and forth to the West Indies. But I did not find any Grahams among those people, and I did not see a link between those Grahams and Bonnie Dundee.

There was a Thomas Graham from South Carolina who received a land grant in Jamaica when he refused to join the American Revolution. But I did not find any connection between him and our family – or between him and Bonnie Dundee.

Recently, I stumbled on a passage in the history of the Grahams of Duntrune that might provide the answer to my riddle.

According to this account, after Bonnie Dundee’s death, his brother, David, assumed the title of Viscount Dundee. David died childless, and his uncle, William Graham of Duntrune became the viscount.

William backed the Stewarts and was stripped of the title, which went to his eldest son, James.

But James joined the 1745 rebellion and was also "attainted." The title went to his uncle, Alexander, and later to Alexander’s brother, David.
The account I found noted that one of David’s grandchildren, Henry, "died in the West Indies."

Could this be our Henry Graham?

From the account I found, this Henry’s mother was David’s daughter, who married a Stirling. So you would expect their son’s name to be Henry Stirling. But the couple adopted the Graham name, becoming Stirling Grahams and later (it seems) just Grahams.

Anyway, our Grahams apparently had some connection to the Stirling Grahams. A letter from a Henry Graham is among a collection of documents belonging to "members of the Graham of Airth, (Graham) Stirling of Ardoch and Strowan, and Stirling of Kippendavie families, and their relations."

The letter is dated 1786, some 40 years before our Henry was born. But it could have been his father or grandfather. And some of the other Graham letter writers in the collection were listed as having addresses in Jamaica.

I guess I will never know for sure who our Henry Graham’s ancestors were. I know it wasn’t Bonnie Dundee. But I am convinced there must have been a connection strong enough to make Archdeacon Graham believe it was.

Could the archdeacon have come across a family Bible notation that mentioned the Viscount Dundee, and figured the reference was to the hero of Killiekrankie not to one of the Grahams of Duntrune? I will never know.

I live in Florida now, and do not have access to Jamaican records. But if you have any information about Henry Graham’s ancestry – or an alternative solution to my mystery – please let me know.

My e-mail address is gwgraeme@yahoo.com.


I wouldn't call this an e-zine. It's just something I wanted to share with some other folks. But I'll add articles later on if the spirit moves me.
You're welcome to contribute, too. Send an e-mail to let me know if you want to contribute articles or ideas. I'll be updating it if I get anything, so check back from time to time.

gdog1.gif

This is our dog, Maxie. I wonder who he is descended from. My wife, Sandra, and I found him in the middle of a busy street at rush hour in Miami. He has been with us for about 10 years.

Sandra is not descended from Bonnie Dundee, but (she thinks I'm nuts when I say this) she's a Graham nonetheless. Her maiden name is Grimes, which was one way some early Grahams (especially the Scots Irish) spelled the name. They weren't that far off. The origin of Graham is Graeme, a Celtic word meaning dark or bad tempered.
 
But over the centuries we've mellowed. 

Let's hear from you. Click gwgraeme@yahoo.com