Colonel Walter Douglas (1670-1739), Governor General of the Windward & Leeward Islands


Colonel Walter Douglas (1670-1739), Governor General of the Windward & Leeward Islands



Inscribed upper left: 'The Right Honble Archd: Douglas Governor General of the Windward & Leeward Islands'

Oil on canvas

Sight Size:  40.15 x 31.88 in. (102 x 81 cm.)

Executed ca. early 1700's

COLONEL WALTER DOUGLAS (1670-1739) was a direct descendent of a branch of the Scottish Douglases, an ancient clan of noblemen that historian G. Harvey Johnston has called a great and warlike family that remained loyal to the crown. From 1711-1715 Colonel Douglas served as Captain-General and Governor-General of the British-ruled Leeward Islands, an island chain located in the West Indies, a term that came into use after the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, when Europeans began to employ it to differentiate the region from the East Indies of South and Southeast Asia. The area of the West Indies includes the islands and surrounding waters of three major archipelagoes located in the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea: The Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan Archipelago. By the late sixteenth century, following initial colonization by Spanish and Portuguese forces, the area around the Caribbean Sea became a base of operations for French, English, and Dutch merchants and privateers, who attacked Spanish and Portuguese shipping and coastal areas, often taking refuge and refitting their ships in locales the Spanish could not conquer, including the islands of the Lesser Antilles; control of these islands had important economic consequences and wrought historically altering demographic changes following the Sugar Revolution in the mid-seventeenth century, when the English and French, after gaining a foothold there, brought in thousands of African slaves to work the fields and mills. By 1671 the English had gained control of a group of islands in the Lesser Antilles that became known as the British Leeward Islands, and which eventually ran north to south from the Virgin Islands to Dominica, and included Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts (St Christopher), Nevis, and Anguilla; in 1833, the British established a colony in the Lesser Antilles called the British Windward Islands, consisting of many of the islands south of Dominica, including Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, Barbados, and Tobago. The governor of these islands was seated in Barbados until 1885, at which time Barbados became an independent colony. Thereafter, the governor was seated in Grenada.

In 1711, at the time Colonel Walter Douglas was appointed Captain-General and Governor-General of the British Leeward Islands, the colony consisted of Antigua, St. Kitts, Montserrat, and Nevis, with the seat of government, including the colonial assembly and council, situated on Antigua. Prior to his appointment, Colonel Douglas is believed to have attended the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in Europe, having been established in 1636. The university was a bastion of Reformed (Calvinist) theology, chiefly promulgated by its influential professor of theology, Gisbertus Voetius, whose teachings formed a core component of the early education of King William lll (William of Orange) of England; when William made the decision in 1688 to invade England (from his base in the Netherlands) and overthrow his father-in-law, King James ll, Walter Douglas reputedly left the university and assumed a position of command within William’s army. Following the Glorious Revolution and the ascension to the throne of William and his wife Mary, Colonel Douglas attained a position of favor within the Royal Court, which extended into the reign of William and Mary’s successor, Queen Anne. The political and economic circumstances in the British Leeward Islands at the time of Colonel Douglas’ appointment as Captain-General and Governor General were tumultuous, a result not only of the colony’s treasury having fallen into considerable debt, but of the deadly rebellion against his predecessor, Colonel Daniel Parke of Virginia (1664-1710). The historical record reveals both private and public rifts developing between Governor-General Parke and leading members of Antigua’s landholding class, many of whom were also members of the colonial assembly. Accusations against Governor-General Parke accrued into a litany of offenses that alleged his behavior to more closely resemble that of a despot, rather than a colonial governor with obligations to adhere to the recently signed Bill of Rights of 1689. When Governor-General Parke refused to respond to the charges against him, even going so far as to disregard a command from Queen Anne to return to England, a public mutiny ensued, and, following a battle between an armed mob and the Governor-General's security force, the Governor-General was mortally wounded and the Government House burned to the ground. Another difficulty with which Governor-General Douglas had to contend at the time of his appointment was the temporary governorship following the death of Governor-General Parke of the popular General Walter Hamilton, who was replaced by Queen Anne in favor of Colonel Douglas, much to the public’s displeasure. The high point of Governor-General Douglas’ administration came in 1712, when, under his leadership, an attack upon Antigua by French forces consisting of twenty-five ships and five thousand soldiers was repulsed. But accusations of improper conduct on the part of Governor-General Douglas - including the central allegation that he attempted to extract 10,000 pounds from the public treasury in exchange for publishing the Queen’s pardon for those individuals involved in the insurrection against Governor-General Parke (an allegation for which he was later convicted) - resulted in his being recalled to England in 1715 to stand trial, which he did. Following his conviction in the Court of Queen’s Bench, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment in the King’s Bench Prison and ordered to pay a fine of 500 pounds (his fine was remitted). In 1720, for reasons unknown to the historical record, Walter Douglas’ younger brother William (b.1679), the heir to the family’s ancestral estate in Scotland, renounced his claim to the estate in favor of his brother Walter (now known as Major Douglas), but the recently-freed Walter decided against taking possession of the estate, and sold it. It is believed that Walter Douglas then departed Great Britain and retired to France, where he spent his remaining years.

The Douglas family history reflects an intricate and interrelated array of genealogical connections, the subject of which has been deemed worthy of several scholarly treatises, and Colonel Walter Douglas could trace his own personal lineage back to his paternal great-great-great grandfather, Leonard Douglas, who received a charter to the lands of the Baddis, part of the Barony of Calder (whose location is now the town of West Calder, Scotland), on the 16th of April, 1551, thus inaugurating the branch of the Douglas family known as the Douglases of Baads. Colonel Walter Douglas’ father, William Douglas of Baads (d.1705), conceived seven sons, including, in addition to Walter and the aforementioned William (who was an officer in the army), two notable personages of the time period: James (1675-1742), the Queen’s physician in London; and John (d.1759), a surgeon in London. Colonel Walter Douglas had two sons of his own: Colonel John St. Leger Douglas, a plantation owner in St. Kitts; and James George Douglas, a merchant in London. Colonel John St. Leger Douglas bore two sons and a daughter (Colonel Walter Douglas’ grandchildren): John, an M.P. for Hindon, in Wiltshire (England); James, a Captain and Lieutenant-Colonel in the 3rd Foot Guards; and Margaret, who went on to marry Colonel Campbell Dalrymple, the Governor of Guadeloupe. Additionally, Colonel Walter Douglas’ wife, Lady Jane St. Leger, was descended from a family whose ancestors included Sir Anthony St. Leger of Ireland (1496-1559), a confidante of King Henry Vlll and the Lord Deputy of Ireland in the 1540s and 1550s.

A significant number of the extended Douglas family was present throughout the West Indies during the colonial period, with a sizable contingent having aided in the settlement of St. Kitts. Many were large landowners operating major plantations, particularly on Tobago and Grenada in addition to St. Kitts, and played leading roles in the public affairs of the islands, such as Colonel Walter Douglas son, James George Douglas, who for a time acted as agent for the interests of St. Kitts in England; and Colonel Walter Douglas’ nephew, Alexander, who served as a member of the colonial assembly on St. Kitts.

Today, the lineage and legacy of the Douglases of Baads is represented by Viscount Chilston of Boughton Malherbie in the County of Kent (England). The title is officially recognized as belonging to the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1911 for the Conservative politician and former Home Secretary, Aretas Akers-Douglas (1851-1926), with the title deriving from Chilston Park, Akers-Douglas’ country house in Kent. At the same time, Akers-Douglas was named Baron Douglas of Baads in the county of Midlothian (Scotland), a title also in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. Akers-Douglas’ son, also named Aretas Akers-Douglas (1876-1947), became the second Viscount, as well as serving as British ambassador to Russia from 1933 to 1938. Both titles continue to be passed down through the male Akers-Douglas line of descent.

BIOGRAPHICAL FOOTNOTE: The portrait of Colonel Walter Douglas (painted ca. early 1700s) includes an inscription which reads: ‘The Right Honble Archd: Douglas - Governor-General of the Windward & Leeward Islands.’ Scholarly adjudication of this inscription has determined it to be an historical inaccuracy, in light of the fact that the Windward Islands were not officially organized as a British colony until 1833, at which time the governor of the colony was seated in Barbados. This misappropriation of historical fact may be a result of the artist being confused by the rather complicated geography of the Lesser Antilles archipelago in particular and the West Indies in general; or perhaps be an immodest effort on the part of Colonel Douglas (whose rightful title was Captain-General and Governor-General of the Leeward Islands) to have history view him in a brighter light.

Written January 2017 by Brian Flon, author of "Hell's Kitchen Requiem" (2014), available as an e-book at Amazon, ITunes, and Barnes & Noble.

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