The Misadventures of Charles Crommelin
at St. Thomas in the Caribbean
In November 2018, English genealogist Patricia Phillips contacted mining historian Jay Robbins regarding a trove of correspondence at the Danish Archives about Charles Crommelin. Previously Jay had done research on Charles' mining activities in early America which appears on our website. The records that Patricia found pertain to a long running battle that the Crommelins had with the Royal Danish Company (previously known as the Danish West India and Guinea Company) between 1711-1744. Although most of the letters and ledgers are in Danish or Dutch, a few were in French. One such document labelled "Manifeste" has been translated below because it gives a good overview of the drama that swept over Charles Crommelin long before the American Revolution took place. In fact, Charles himself may have written this document, even though it is unsigned. At this time New York was still a British colony and Charles was thus a British subject.
On this family website we have covered the earlier misadventures of Charles Crommelin in America - that of his failed copper-mining ventures in Connecticut, but this matter involving his activities in the Caribbean occupied him in his latter years. In fact the two episodes are related because it was his financial ruin in America that led him to search for sympathy and financial assistance amongst his relatives in Europe. The assistance he received was in the form of unresolved bequests pertaining to the Wills of the late Pierre and Jacques le Serurier (aka Peter and Jacques [or James] Smith) who had left behind a large legacy at St. Thomas when they died. Charles' problem was trying to extract these inheritances from the Danish government - not an easy task in the 1700's!
The le Seruriers had some family connection via the Testart family. A Jacques le Serurier witnessed the wedding of his cousin, Anne Testart, who married Daniel Crommelin in 1674. Therefore Pierre Testart, Anne's father, likely had a sister who had married a le Serurier.
The tangled legacy of the unresolved inheritances left behind by Peter and Jacques Smith [le Serurier] figure prominently in the last will and testament which Charles Crommelin drafted in 1732. Therefore the proceedings outlined in the document below preoccupied Charles Crommelin until the day he died. It wasn't even resolved in his lifetime, but finally ended with the involvement of his sons, Daniel and Robert Crommelin in 1744.
St. Thomas is one of the islands in the Caribbean, east of Haiti and Puerto Rico. Throughout history it has changed hands, periodically alternating between Danish and English sovereignty, but is today part of the U.S. Virgin Island group. Tourism is its main attraction today but sugar and cotton plantations worked by negro slaves, not to mention piracy, were its chief exports when this drama involving our ancestor, Charles Crommelin, took place in the early-to-mid 1700's.
- Miff Crommelin, 2018
[Commendation: We wish to express our thanks to Patricia Phillips of Hidden Heritage Genealogy for finding this material, and the Danish Archives - Rigsarkivet - for the superb presentation of their archives in both English and Danish.]
YouTube Video - US Virgin Islands - [At the 1:50 and 5:00 minute marks, note the crumbling ruins of the old sugar mills and slave dwellings.]
Or overview of the claims of Charles Crommelin regarding the estate of the deceased Peter and James le Serurier who died in the Danish Isle of St. Thomas in America where they had taken the name of Smith, of the Prosecution on the one hand, and the Directors of the Royal Danish Company or their officers situated in the Isle of St. Thomas in America, the Defense on the other hand...
In order to reach an understanding of this affair it is necessary to go back to the beginning of the life of Mr. Pierre Smith, founder of the succession in question. After he had in his youth wasted and debauched the wealth of his family, he had become adept at providing for his foolish lifestyle. He traveled through parts of Holland, England and Germany, then to America in New York, an English colony from which he sprang up, then to St. Thomas.
The Brandenburg Company, which had a trading post established on the said island, was under the auspices of his Danish Majesty, who was then in need of a clerk. Pierre Smith, who was acquainted with the business and knew various languages, applied for the job and was accepted. During the time of his service, one named Cabanne, a resident of St. Thomas, died, and left his widow without children. He left his heiress some seven or eight thousand Rixdalers. Smith saw that the war which was then inflaming Europe greatly favored commerce at St. Thomas, a neutral island visited by ships from all nations. He resolved to establish himself there and to profit from the advantageous situation by marrying the widow of Cabanne. He asked for it and was accepted. Then on the basis of this marriage he gradually built a fortune of a hundred thousand Rixdalers. His wife, having come to die in the year 1710, had made him a universal legatee since there were no children by this marriage. And since there were few legatees amongst her relatives, Smith found himself the only petitioner of a very considerable estate.
At the time when the said Smith saw his fortune grow abundantly, he called for his cousin, Jacques le Serurier, to join him. He was married to Marie le Serurier, sister of Pierre Smith. Following bad business deals he had withdrawn to the English province of Carolina in the continent of America where he prospered and had a son named William Smith. When he embarked with his wife to go to St. Thomas he arrived safely but he had dispatched his son to another office at Jamaica when he had the misfortune of being captured by a Spanish corsair and led to the city of Santa Domingo.
Here a man named Sebastian Domingeuz, a citizen of that city, learned that this child prisoner belonged to relations of the Protestant religion. He was so zealous that, driven by his devotion, he asked the president to allow him to make amends for this child by raising him up in his own Roman Catholic faith. This request was granted to him, and to fully realize the destiny of this child various offers, presents and inducements were made in order to redeem him. It was impossible to resist this inquisition so he became a student of the priesthood which first promoted him to the priesthood in the Order of Dominicans. He donned their habit to prevent his return to his parents.
Jacques Smith, before his departure from England, had a daughter named Dorothy. She was mute and a sickly child so he had left her in England in the care of a Madame Leger where this child died in 1711. Meanwhile, the wife of Jacques Smith. living in St. Thomas could not tolerate the climate. She died after a short time so this widower, Smith, following the death of his wife, traveled around in the vessels of his brother-in-law and helped him in his business at St. Thomas.
It was mentioned earlier that the wife of Peter Smith died in the year 1710. Her husband, who had also been ill for a long time died in 1711 after making his will signed on the 3rd of January of the same year. By this testament he disposed of various legacies and willed that the rest of the succession was to be divided into five equal portions to be distributed:
- a portion to Mr. Josias le Serurier of St. Quentin
- a portion to Mr. Daniel de Cleves who married a sister, Elizabeth, in Paris
- a portion to Mr. Jaques Dumoutier de Vatre of St. Quentin who married a sister, Madelaine
- a portion to Mr. Thomas Simmons, minister in London who had married a sister, Lydie
- a portion to Jacques Smith's heirs who, as mentioned above, had also married a sister, Marie.
He declared his testamentary executor to be Jacques Smith, his brother-in-law, who immediately made an inventory of all the land, slaves, house, effects, papers and money of the deceased. The inventory and property was to be liquidated, so he put all the effects on sale in order to achieve this and thereby conveniently hand it over to the heirs for this purpose. He translated the will of the deceased into various languages, which he perfectly adapted, and then sent to each of the interested parties in the succession a copy inviting them to send him their general and special powers
so that he could deal with the sales and debts, internal and foreign, without interference and in this manner manage their affairs. The heirs immediately responded by sending over a brother, Sizele, invested with all their powers of attorney to hand over to Jacques Smith who then became the possessor and arbiter of all their goods.
It was then that he began to establish a considerable trade. He married an English lady from Antigua who is said to have endowed him with ten thousand piastres, not including the presents, wedding gifts and donations made to the people employed to facilitate this marriage. His ships went to all parts of the continent to collect what was seconded to the succession, and also cashed in all the funds of the inheritance. However, since he did not send over any funds to the heirs in Europe, they believed they were being deceived by phony excuses. Therefore these heirs decided to send to St. Thomas one of their relations named le Serurier des Criennes, a lawyer, to deal with the said Jacques Smith. He was given full power to enlighten his relatives, and in case of necessity, to compel Jacques Smith judicially to come up with payment.
Unfortunately this lawyer could not tolerate the weather of this island and became ill. Smith left him inhumanely to perish in a run-down shack on his land without help and care. He gave notice to the heirs about the death of their relative and after some time they sent another man to Smith named Mr. Joncourt with more recommendations to conduct an investigation. However, since Mr. Joncourt had neither the experience nor the demeanor to deal with a man like James Smith, the said Smith soon had him going back to where he had come from. Then he wrote negative letters to the heirs about his conduct which did not prove very helpful. Furthermore he wrote to the heirs that he could send them no remittance because he wished to settle with the Company on the island which had levied a 33% inheritance tax on any funds sent to heirs who lived outside the dominion of the King of Denmark. He said this extremity was frowned upon by everyone on the island and prompted the inhabitants to send a deputation to Denmark to obtain from his Majesty a moderation of what they owed. Upon the return of these deputies the king did not fail to give them notice regarding the law - rules which the heirs would judge to be inappropriate thus obliging them to pay exhorbitant sums despite their protests.
One of them named Jerome Joseph LeJeune settled on the French island of Guadeloupe where he served as receiver for the office of dominions which was then located in Paris. Monsieur de Cleves, one of the heirs, proposed to him to undertake receiving from Jacques Smith the money that he owed to the heirs by means of an advantageous reward. LeJeune thought he could by this means defray the cost of his trip from Europe so he accepted the offer. Monsieur de Cleves then wrote to all the other co-inheritors in Europe who consented and gave their proxies to LeJeune. Armed with all these powers and papers, he set off for Guadeloupe and, after this, continued his journey on to St. Thomas.
There he was given a most gracious reception. Smith saw by the letters that the heirs had written him that he was no longer considered phony and evasive, so he had to conclude that Mr. LeJeune was an astute man of business. Thus Smith dealt with him in a most polite and engaging manner by telling him that he had already been busy for a long time trying to assemble the heritage funds which were spread throughout the island and beyond. He said that without much trouble and care he could not have borne fruitful liquidation but the fact that these funds were now spread amongst the inhabitants made things difficult, especially since the rigor of the law would bring about the ruin of these inhabitants and render various insolvent. He mentioned other deputies who had been sent to Europe but who had not yet returned. Therefore it was impossible for him to get the money out of this island - money which he desired to keep from the heirs who would have no rest until he had settled with them. It gave them satisfaction only to justify the reality of what he was really doing.
He offered to produce, said LeJeune, the books of the late Pierre Smith from which to extract the sums payable vs. revenue from the sales of liquidation. This would constitute the succession capital from which one could deduce the legacy. There were debits due for expenses related to the succession, and various debts valid and doubtful. All that was left would be divided into five equal parts that would be returned to each one of the five heirs. LeJeune found all this to be quite satisfactory and believed that no one could act in better faith.
Mr. Smith made further agreements with Mr. LeJeune regarding the calculation of the inheritance and offered to transact these sums so that he himself could hand them over to the heirs in Europe in the terms that would be agreed upon. In this manner Mr. LeJeune would then hand over to him
the property of all the inheritance provided that everything would be done orderly up to the making of the agreements. He further proposed that, not being able to account for the inheritance tax that the Company would require, especially since the deputies had not yet returned from Europe, they would set aside a specific sum pending the return of the so-called deputies for the evaluation of the aforesaid taxes. Upon their return, being informed of the resolution of his Danish Majesty, these obligations of the sequestered sum would then be liquidated and the surplus would be remitted to the co-inheriters.
An offer of such good faith, which gave a complete resolution to the affairs of the succession, was accepted by Mr. LeJeune, who in the end dealt with four-fifths of the money [since 1/5 was set aside for taxes pending] with Mr. Smith for the sum of 36000 piastres. [Here follows a complex paragraph explaining amounts of money handled by various banks in Europe which has been omitted.]
All these obligations and transactions are dated the 13th of November, 1716 / [See also:] after which Monsieur LeJeune returned to Guadeloupe delighted with the manner in which Smith had acted with him. After his departure, Smith, who had no intention of divesting himself of any of the goods in the legacy, and whose transaction made him master, found one named Pasquereau, a resident of St. Thomas, who in the name of his wife Marie Listry, a native of Guadeloupe, were heirs to a portion of the goods left behind by one Jean Listry and his wife. Their fathers and mothers were deceased and Pasquereau was now involved in legal proceedings in Guadeloupe with his brother-in-law, Clerc du Gustan, who wished to exclude his wife from the succession, paternal and maternal, under the pretext that she was a member of the Reformed Protestant religion. He had settled outside the kingdom and had said to Pasquereau
that he stood to receive from his succession more than 7000 piastres. Therefore it was appropriate that he present a request to the government to seize any heritages pertaining to Frenchmen since the French governors did not want to deliver the heritage of nationals to the French islands, nor to the French subjects who had settled in the lands of his Majesty the King of Denmark on the excuse that they were members of the Reformed religion. This was the only means of withdrawing his inheritance and preserving his property. In other words, Pasquereau would also be obliged to work the system and ruin it in order for him to be able to hand over the funds which he was obliged to surrender. Mr. Pasquereau, who was threatened with future ruin, surmounted all that honor and probity could deter him with, and finally resolved to seek the seizure of Pierre Smith's property which constituted part of the inheritance of Pasquereau's wife which he supposed was held in Guadeloupe. This had serious ramifications.
There was a French lady named Marie Galande at St. Thomas. She was a native of a French island and she also supposed that he had been wronged in his patrimony at the said island. Pasquereau associated himself with her to draft a petition and to present it to the government which consisted of Governor Mr. Erick Bredal, Mr. Johan Casper Schnelpfeyts, and Mr. Philip Gardelin. Consequently they came to the home of Mr. Jacques Smith with an arrest warrant in hand to seize the French assets pertaining to the inheritance of Pierre Smith with the intention of extracting any effects in their favour. This warrant was signed on 30 December 1716.
When this shot was fired, Jacques Smith sought out Pasquereau and told him that what he had gained by the seizure warrant had forced Smith to renege on the payment of what he owed to the heirs in Europe. Yes, it would no doubt help him receive his inheritance at Guadeloupe but it ruined his recovery of the legacy that he owed to his co-inheritors in France. Smith wanted to give Pasquereau a good lawyer from his slave plantation, a man named Parnom, to set things in order. When Pasquereau wanted to resist, complaining about a process that was so contrary to his best interests, Smith rose up and threatened to have him arrested and his effects sequestered in keeping with the spirit of the seizure warrant. Pasquereau took stock of his position by raging and consoling himself with his friends. Notice of Smith's seizure was sent to Mr. LeJeune, who was assured that it had been instigated by Smith so that by this means
this false fugitive was able to dispose of funds from the estate while also avoiding having to make any remittances. The law required that the seizure, having been made by the government, this same government sequestered the funds as surety for inheritance taxes owing. This is how Smith had acted with Pasquereau.
At first Mr. LeJeune did nothing about this false appearance. He couldn't believe that Smith was capable of such trickery. He believed that the reputation of a person who had acted so loyally with him was being polluted. However, he did not hesitate to write to Smith, and to beg him to send him the bills of exchange which he was owed as first payment for his engagement. Smith replied that his hands were tied by a seizure which Messrs. Pasquereau and Chatin had initiated through this government to make equivalent the inheritances that were taken from them in the French islands. It should be noted that the gentlemen who had applied for and obtained the seizure had to prosecute it in law to justify the quantity and validity of their claim, and they had made no other offense against the law. Mr. LeJeune acknowledged receipt of Smith's letter and mentioned what he had been accused of.
He wrote about the interest in Europe from where he received fresh orders to travel a second time to St. Thomas to clarify the mystery and to carry on pursuits which the case warranted. He did go and was so indifferently received by Smith that he remained convinced of the injustice done to him. This prompted LeJeune to present a requisition to governor Bredal for the lifting of the unjust seizure and to protest, on the contrary, all his expenses, loss, and interest. He closed by saying there must be some mistake as to the direction and lack of satisfaction in the seizure. This was dated April 16, 1718.
The governor replied as follows:As it is the right of people that justice be reciprocal, I cannot without an express order from the king, my master, consent to the request that Mr. LeJeune made on behalf of the heirs in France but reiterate that it pleases the king, my master, to order and dispense the same justice which exists in the French islands to the Danish subjects established here with regard to successions. Therefore I shall require Mr. Smith, executor, to pay what is owed to the co-heirs. Signed, Bredal, this 20 April 1718.
Monsieur LeJeune, who did not think it appropriate to waste his time in vain pursuits at St. Thomas, since Monsieur the governor explained himself so resolutely, returned to Guadeloupe from which he sent to the heirs a copy of all that had transpired at St. Thomas, giving his power of attorney to Mr. Panet, a merchant at St. Thomas, to act in his absence.
As Mr. Cleves, one of the co-heirs having received the papers, was unconvinced, he sought out Mr.
Deverniker, who was then a resident of his Danish majesty at the court of France, to engage him in writing to the court of the king, his master, and obtaining an order to lift the seizure and to force Smith to reasonably pay whatever this minister had written if it were true. Thus far nothing had been procured for the heirs, and their friends often bothered the lords of the Company who had written to St. Thomas to be informed of the affair without any of these steps bearing any fruit. Jacques Smith, however, who in 1718 was attacked by a lung condition and considerable diarrhea, grew worse every day. Near the end of 1719 he went from bad to worse. He decided to go to the island of St. Eustache with his wife to see if he could recover his health. He took with him certain effects without any hindrance from the government. He spent a little time there before paying the final tribute to nature that all men owe. His wife [Elizabeth Yeamans] returned to St. Thomas shortly after the death of her husband and prepared an inventory of the goods and papers that she found.
There were few effects - no money, no books, but many useless papers which are amply recorded in folios 108 and following of their shared account. Since the widow Smith was attractive and young, and her husband had the effects of the succession which could have accumulated into a considerable capital which would make her rich, several people tried to make her their conquest, and Mr. Jean Vlack was the lucky man to whom this honor was reserved.
He was then the bookkeeper of the Company and the second official of the government. He asked for the widow's hand in marriage and received it in spite of the fact that she had been a widow for barely three months. He rushed through with the wedding without any mention of a partition account. This course was absolutely contrary to the law which states that no widow or widower was permitted to convoke a wedding without an account shared with the governor, le Toloner, and the minister in charge of Ceremonies under pain of postponement or demand [Presumeably to ensure that the government received its inheritance tax]. Tolerance existed between all the funds in the hands of said Vlak that were contrary to law, and he enjoyed it for life. It is true that he had promised to administer the estate of Jacques Smith, but since he didn't have a widow who was lying on mountains of gold, he was terribly lax in wanting to pursue affairs because when he wanted to go into business he found the property in disarray. This plunged him into deep sorrow, and the grief caused a lethargy that made him
incapable of business and conversation. Her spouse, who shared his grief, contracted an illness that ended her life in 1721, leaving behind a daughter from her marriage with Mr. Vlak. The death of his dear spouse gave Vlak more tranquility. He became more conversational but no longer addicted to business. He often drowned his sorrows in the delights of the table, but instead of healing his mind this remedy seemed on the contrary to contribute to more stupidity. He still expected to re-engage in the household albeit at a very advanced age. Death curtailed his new enterprises in the year 1723.
Meanwhile, the heirs of France had prevailed upon Monsieur de Camilly, the ambassador of France at the court of Denmark, to please recommend their affairs to this court. He talked to the king about it, who in turn also mentioned it to the lords of the Company. These gentlemen gave some serious thought to those at St. Thomas regarding the sharing account [ie. the matrimonial sharing account between widow or widower and the government]. The top official, Jacob Otto Thambsen, was then governor of St. Thomas and he was responsible for the directors submitting fair information, and this prevented the conclusion and dismissal of this case.
It is natural to presume that the seizure made at the request of Messrs. Pasquereau and Chatin had prevented Vlak from working on this affair, but immediately when one wanted to file the necessary papers, one had to prepare a second inventory of the effects - furniture, dwellings, slaves, and papers - left behind following the death of the said Vlak as well as the debris remaining from the succession of Pierre Smith. And to reach a more rapid conclusion everything had been sold to the highest bidder except for the dwellings and slaves. Madame Bredal took charge of the little Vlak girl, her goddaughter, and Monsieur Sieben became her tutor, and in this capacity he was commissioned to receive the revenue from the sale and administration of the slave houses, and all that depended on the succession. Messrs. Panet and Abraham Bourdeaux were responsible for looking after the books and papers, but after working there for a year or more with great care and pain, and finding no books of Jacques Smith thus lacking sufficient figures on which to base something certain, these gentlemen put the papers in the hands of Monsieur
Barent Langemach, judge at that time charged with the conduct of the partition account, in order to extract the most pertinent figures on which to form the said account as soon as possible in order to satisfy the orders of the lords of the Company who had bothered Clorre incessantly about this sharing account. They no doubt emphasized abundantly that the government would not hesitate to invoke the penalties which the seizure required according to the terms of the law, and they themselves wished to be persuaded that the said seizure was impartial and not a cloak to favor anybody. Langemach worked feverishly to prepare this account which would have been completed and published in a short time if his death hadn't intervened. Since he had worked on it concientiously and with zeal, everyone would have been convinced because it would have outlined what the accounts and claims of everyone were according to the rules at the time of his death.
Into this mix came Mr. Charles Crommelin, a businessman based in New York where he had experienced a great deal of misfortune in business. He had travelled from America to London, and then from London to France in search of financial relief amongst his relatives in Europe. Le Serurier in France gave him an irrevocable donation which consisted of the portion that he had yet to realize in the estate of Pierre Smith or Jacques Smith according to the obligations and claims against the assets of Jacques Smith. Mr. Dumoutier was also in favour of this arrangement so he made a similar donation. Crommelin then returned to London where he was given the same inheritance portion of Mrs. Lydia Simmons. Therefore he now possessed three fifths in the succession of Pierre Smith's estate, or three quarters of the transaction that was made by Mr. LeJeune on behalf of the heirs in Europe. Crommelin then sent his power of attorney to Mr. Lafon and Panet, merchants at St. Thomas, to oversee his interests and to press for a resolution of the partition account.
Then along came the son of Jacques Smith. As mentioned earlier he had made a profession of faith in the city of St. Domingo in the Order of Dominicans where he had first become a priest and preacher. He sent a man named Gabriel Maignon to St. Thomas, authorized by his
power of attorney to receive any inheritances that could be gleaned from the estates of Peter Smith, his uncle; Jacques Smith, his father; his mother; or any other unknown members of his family. However, the property and situation that Gabriel Maignon encountered upon his arrival was an uncultivated land; an account of division that was not yet finished; and one that seemed unfair because there was supposed to be no seizure of his portion [because he was a Roman Catholic]. No one could refuse him justice but he would have to wait a while for a resolution of the partition account which under one or two could be finished quite quickly. This proposal, however, did not seem acceptable to the Spanish emissary.
Instead, he proposed to Mr. Sieben, administrator, something that became a blunder in this affair. Mr. Sieben listened to an accommodation or compromise, and for this purpose he proposed to Governor Frederick Moth that he was permitted to act now under the auspices of his minor, Maria Vlak [presumably because her portion was not being sequestered]. For his benefit the governor replied at the bottom of the request that he consented to the transfer of this portion provided that it was of some benefit to the heirs in the succession. Mr. Siebien, who was not familiar enough with the Danish language to understand all the terms, believed his request had been granted and transacted with his attorney the payment of 4000 piastres from Smith's legacy - to be paid once and without come-back - provided that Maria Vlak would benefit from it. The transaction was signed on June 11, 1725 and this money he passed on to Maignon on June 27, 1725.
Meanwhile, Charles Crommelin was in London, oblivious to the difficulties that he would soon have to face at St. Thomas. As a British subject, he requested his British Majesty to provide him with a letter of recommendation to his Majesty the King of Denmark requesting him to bring about swift justice at St. Thomas regarding his claims in the succession of Peter Smith. The Danish king spoke with the directors and accorded Crommelin a letter dated 2 May 1732 instructing the officials to render prompt and precise justice without prejudice to the interests of those inhabitants of St. Thomas who had their funds and property sequestered in the legacy of Pierre Smith on the pretext that similar actions were taken in French islands because of religion. They were entitled to their property simply by right of inheritance.
[Shortly thereafter, on May 27, 1732], Charles prepared his last will and testament in London. This Will mentions the turmoil surrounding the legacy he expects to inherit from the estate of James Smith at St. Thomas.]
While Mr. Crommelin was doing all these things
in Europe, a new judge named Lorentz Hendriksen arrived in St. Thomas. He ordered the directors of the Company to finalize a number of share accounts whose estates were in arrears. Among others, he began working with great zeal on the estate of Pierre Smith. Again he published a list of debtors and creditors, and those who had any legitimate claims in the matter. He advanced considerably the affairs of the case so that in 1732 when Crommelin arrived at St. Thomas, this long-awaited account of partition was finally at a conclusion. Among other shared things, the judge, Lorentz Hendricksen, had concluded that the share account of Pasquereau and his wife was tied to Pierre Smith's estate. The 7070 piastres that Pasquereau was charged following his case was awarded to the estate of Jacques Smith, and in succession the judge awarded this money to Mr. Crommelin. The dwellings and slaves that Pasquereau had put up as collateral for the said sums and interest, along with some others, amounted to a recovery of 10712.4.3. He also allocated to Crommelin the plantation of Jacques Smith in the north, along with its slaves and other belongings. However, in the absence of Crommelin, Mr. Lafon and Panet, his attorneys, did not want to take charge of the administration of these properties. Not wanting to derogate from Crommelin's rights because he was in possession of security by way of a Letter of Exchange on Europe, the judge took these dwellings into his own care pending the arrival of Mr. Crommelin.
Mr. Crommelin, having arrived at St. Thomas with the order of the king, received from Capt. Suham, then governor of St. Thomas, all the cooperation possible. Even the judge was most passionate and helpful, promising a swift conclusion to his affairs. The judge did indeed work diligently on this difficult partition account. He prepared a rough draft of the conclusion and the occasions where Crommelin would owe some money to bring closure to his decisions.
Mr. Crommelin had also amassed expenses in Europe. For the purchase of a portion of Mrs. Lydia Simmons' share,
he had borrowed a large sum which he promised to repay from the first revenue he received from his inheritance. For security his creditors had sent along a man named George Janvrin to work with him as a collector and to urge him to make good on the agreed remittances. But to Charles' huge dismay, he discovered neither money nor effects at St. Thomas because the promised funds were actually an inheritance consisting of dwellings and property that would be very difficult to liquidate within three or four years in view of the deserted land and grim commerce on the island. Needing to stay at St. Thomas, and to support the person who had come with him, Charles resolved to receive from his claims what the judge had awarded him.
Water Island off the southern coast of St. Thomas
He then received dwellings, slaves and bills amounting to a value of 30368 piastres and three sols so as to be able to plead solvency. Janvrin, who couldn't see how Crommelin would in the end succeed in returning anything, got bored and became a discouragement to Crommelin. Crommelin, however, had seen other good land that he had been awarded and (around 1734) purchased yet another piece of land - an island called 'Waater Eiland' [Water Island]. Then he made several other small purchases that these dwellings required. These expenditures dismayed Janvrin so he counseled various people who were not partial to Crommelin, and one took him to task. He issued a writ against him and the charges would have been carried out if Crommelin hadn't managed to scrape together a quantity of sugar for the sum of 8000 piastres and in addition, charged it to his own risk and expense, placing it aboard a Dutch vessel commanded by Capt. Hans Claas. He also managed to satisfy what was owing on the salary paid to Mr. Janvrin who embarked on the same ship, leaving behind at St. Thomas his proxies mentioning the same amount. And should the ship not arrive safely it was at Crommelin's risk that the remittances be paid. Also on the ship were funds to cover an obligation that existed between Crommelin and Mr. Samuel Baker in London. Crommelin, meanwhile, had arranged insurance for his shipment with messieurs Loujal & Cordes, merchants in Amsterdam, which went by another vessel under the command of Capt. Jean Bruyn. Unfortunately disaster struck Capt. Hans Claas who lost his cargo ship and several of his crew and passengers, including Janvrin, on the Isles of Fayal. The other ship that was carrying his orders for insurance was also completely lost with all souls and cargo so that Crommelin who thought that he had made a payment
of 1500 piastres and more in Europe, where he was obliged to insure this shipment, was more frantic than ever. Then the judge who had appeared so friendly in the beginning began to cool down. Pleas and protests that Mr. Crommelin made regarding the partition account were met by more excuses from governor Sahm who could always deliver beautiful promises but always there were more delays because it was necessary to finalize the closing of the partition account. Unfortunately the succession was found insufficient for the value of 40161: 1: 17 - the total portion that would have to be turned over to Mr. Crommelin. The assets of the estate had dissipated, either by Jacques Smith or Vlak, or by a fault of the Government to properly secure the assets it seized when its Company took measures in conformity with the law.
This revelation came as a blow to Charles. Now his only recourse would be to sue the Company that was obliged to underwrite what it did, ex-officio, in the name of the Government. This was going to be a delicate matter because it would test the conscience of the government and its willingness to stand behind the actions of its Company directors who held their final decision in suspense for many years. Their attitude to Crommelin changed from ardor into a mortal hatred and violent contempt which they maintained up to Sahm's death which came in April 1734, still leaving Crommelin's partition account unfinished. Crommelin, however, enjoyed the income from his plantations which he enlarged with negroes as much as he could, and he recovered from the Company the sum of 2612.4.3 1/2 in cash which had been part of the 30368 piastres that had been awarded to him as mentioned earlier. He encountered no difficulty in taking from the Company the effects [dwellings and property] related to this sum. At least this was profitable to him.
The judge having died, there came another from Europe named Andreas Willemsen. Mr. Crommelin then asked the governor, Mr. Philip Gardelin, to please order a swift completion of his partition account. The new judge received the order, but he protested on the grounds that he was already overloaded by his daily work schedule and the quantity of overdue business that required his attention and justice.
Therefore he absolutely refused to undertake this work which he then sent back to Mr. Lof Nicolai who, after spending about a year on its revision, finally concluded this partition account by ratifying the sums that Mr. Crommelin had already received in dwellings, slaves and repossessions. Furthermore he was entitled to a balance of 40161.1.1 or its equivalent in the effects of the succession of Jacques Smith. These assets having dissipated, however, the whole of his claims in kind, or otherwise via the notorious sharing account, could not be satisfied. Besides, he now owed 700 piastres for the preparation of this accounting which the Company used as an excuse to withhold what it owed him. Crommelin felt that it would be useless to spend another half century preparing another share account so it occurred to him that the Company officers had been behaving as ex-officio employees of the government. This unleashed the full fury and chicanery of the powers that be.
Governor Gardelin happened to be one of the employees in the government when the seizure of assets originally took place. He understood that he would be responsible for these claims if the Company was obligated to pay, therefore he used the public treasury to defend the cause of the Company. He claimed that the order of his majesty the King of Denmark was to deliver inheritances to the English but not to the French, therefore any beneficiaries on whom the seizure had been made regarding the Smith estate had not received their inheritance in the French colonies. [Therefore his action to seize Jacques Smith's assets were legitimate.]
Mr. Crommelin then proudly quoted the widow Chatin for having had to declare in court whether or not she obtained her inheritance claims. She declared that she did not, but that her late husband did receive the portion which he owed her from his patrimony to Marie Galande. He produced in court an account of what Monsieur d'Orillat and Monsieur Pasquereau had negotiated with Monsieur Cleve du Guesteau, his brother-in-law, of the portion which he was entitled to from the legacy of his late wife in Guadeloupe [a French colony] for which portion he had actually received the sum of sixteen thousand
piastres and a few journals that amply showed by bills of exchange, notes, and money, an act of protest against du Guesteau's share, claiming that he had been cheated in the transaction for the valuation of the property. [Therefore they were squabbling over inheritance monies that had been received.] Furthermore, there was a notarized declaration by Mr. Jean Listry, the brother of the late Miss Pasquereau, who testified that the said Pasquereau had been fully paid for what he had claimed in the inheritance of his father and mother in Guadeloupe. All this meant that those who had enforced the law by seizing and sequestering the property of the Smith estate had acted without foundation. Therefore if the government of the day had demanded that these persons prove in court the validity of their claims, Mr. Jacques Smith would not have been able to produce the assets of the estate because he had already disposed of them fearing an unlawful seizure of his property. He was aware that his property was not to be seized because it had been proved that Mr. Chatin had nothing to claim, and that Pasquereau had fraudulently incited the seizure of November, 1716 because he himself had received his own inheritance in April, 1715. Such blatant revelations lit the fires of acrimony more than ever, though they were impossible to refute.
As mentioned earlier, Janvrin, had left his power of attorney in St. Thomas before leaving for Holland. It was to have Mr. Crommelin made liable if the sugar which he had sent to Holland did not satisfy his debts in Europe. Unfortunately that shipment of sugar was lost, along with the vessel that carried it. This made the proxy come alive even though Janvrin was now dead. It was revived, and a sentence was pronounced against Mr. Crommelin which was executed. Sixteen negroes from his plantation were taken from him - the best and most able. Those to whom Crommelin was indebted, animated by this example and desirous of securing their own loans, would take similar action. Since the harvest had not been a good one, and since he was obliged to make large expenditures for the maintenance of his plantation and negro labour, he was very much in debt. Each day some new sentence was levied against him, and everyone seemed to concur in the case against him in which the Company remained intransigent. The Company did not remain inert.
Mr. Crommelin had purchased from his account negroes and other effects for use on his plantation, which he believed could be withdrawn from the recovery of the 2612.4.3 1/2 amount that he was entitled to, as mentioned earlier. This withdrawal, however, was impeded when the Company made a new claim against him for the release of the effects that Jacques Smith had given to Mr. LeJeune in 1716. In consideration of these obligations which, with interest, added up to 1800 piastres, Mr. Crommelin countered by saying that this recovered money was indisputably his
because it had been awarded to him by the partition account. And with regards to exit fees, none of his effects had ever come into, or out of, Danish territory but were inherited legacies from France, and lottery winnings made in London which were not subject to seizure at St. Thomas unless the capital had taxes owing. It was up to Mr. LeJeune, who originally received them, to pay the duties, and if this hadn't been done, then this would constitute a legitimate debacle that the Company would have to account for in its partition account. The Company made other claims against Crommelin whose protests were in vain. He was condemned, and despite his appeal, a local seizure of his plantation and slaves was made, and a royal seizure of his assets. Thus he found himself owning much, then having nothing at all following this action by the Company. There wasn't one indifferent creditor who caused Mr. Crommelin to be summoned. Therefore he found himself facing in the following week more than 25 or 30 citations, all of which were awarded, and all sentences executed, so that all the income he was able to earn was absorbed by the costs of proceedings and executions. Each legal proceeding cost about 12 to 20 piastres, and each verdict was awarded about 24 to 30 piastres, so not counting other manual expenses, it is easy to calculate that Mr. Crommelin was unable to satisfy his debts through his meager income.
In addition to the above, Crommelin had a loan of about four thousand piastres outstanding with a man named Samuel Baker in London. The note for this loan had been given to Janvrin through a power of attorney, so the plantation and slaves that had belonged to Gasquereau were impounded to serve as collateral to satisfy this obligation. This matter was held in abeyance pending word from Baker even though the current holder of the power of attorney had ordered that Crommelin not be molested in his affairs.
Meanwhile those on the council who were handling the balance of payment on the partition account went on to finally reach a decision in favor of Mr. Crommelin regarding Mr. Gardelin's assertion that Pasquereau had not received his inheritance from Guadeloupe. Mr. Crommelin was to be stripped of the plantation that had belonged to Pasquereau and to have it handed over to his heirs. However, the court decided that, being confident that Pasquereau did indeed receive his inheritance, Mr. Crommelin should retain possession of it.
The court then undertook to consider the whole body of figures related to the partition account which took another eight months before it was possible to wring out a verdict. The verdict came down that the Company was obliged to pay Mr. Crommelin the sum of 40161.1.1 1/2 which constituted the balance of the
claims awarded to him by the share account. It ratified the 30368 piastres that he had already received in which sum was included the 2613.4.3 1/2 that the Company did not want to pay him citing the exit fees payable on effects received by Mr. LeJeune plus interest until payment had been made. This amounted to 800 piastres. Except to those who could admit to all this wrongdoing, this verdict came as a thunderbolt, surprising many people. The Company immediately went to the Company Director's Court in Europe where the case is now being reviewed.
Meanwhile Mr. Willemsen, who married one of the daughters of Mrs. Bredal who originally launched this lawsuit, takes the position that it was her husband who, along with the governor and Mr. Gardelin, made the seizure of the Smith estate in 1716, have valid claims against Mr. Crommelin. Thus every day he presents to him new claims and new squabbles, against which Crommelin can only practice patience. Unfortunately so many sorrows, trickery and pains having caused him a serious illness which continues with a flow of blood that exhausts him so that he cannot bear further the burden of so many miseries. Thus he resolved to put his affairs in the hands of Mr. Jean Laurent Carstens who promised to look after his finances and the settlement of his affairs at St. Thomas to the general satisfaction of everyone.
Crommelin turned over to him the administration of his plantations and slaves, but a Jew on the island named Abraham Zozetto had ordered Crommelin to pay him two hundred piastres which Carstens honoured with a note that lacked a 'bource' [interest?]. This led to the Jew launching legal action against all Mr. Crommelin's property, and since the same thing could happen by anyone to whom he was indebted, Crommelin decided to remove Carsten's powers over the disposition of his property and to sell one of his plantations with a quantity of slaves. This, along with the income from a meager harvest, would enable him to pay his creditors at St. Thomas. Then he resolved to withdraw to New York where his family ardently looked forward to his return following an absence of more than nine years, and to let Mr. Daniel Crommelin, his son, a merchant in Amsterdam, pursue his business in Europe where he hopes that the award handed down by the Council at St Thomas will be fully met in accordance with their following reasons and allegations articulated in this manuscript which is consistent with the following:
1. That the governor had performed a seizure casually on the property of the Smith inheritance since the arresting parties had not proved the validity, quality or quantity of their claims as proved by the fact that Guereau had already received his inheritance from the French colonies eighteen months before
participating in the said seizure while the widow Chatin claimed to have received nothing, thus proving the seizure was performed unlawfully.
2. That the governor performed a seizure without taking precautions on the settlement funds, having imprudently left them in the hands of Jacques Smith who then dissipated them.
3. That the governor allowed Jacques Smith to go to St. Eustache with his wife, along with the effects and money that he wished to carry away, and where these effects could have been misappropriated.
4. That the governor allowed, contrary to the precise law of his majesty which forbade the widow Smith to convoke a second marriage without first having made a sharing account, to wed, and without the approval of a minister who married widow or widower regardless of the penalty of prohibition and a fine.
5. That the government should not be proud of the administration of the inheritance property left by Jacques Smith to Jan Vlak, especially since these assets were those from the estate of Pierre Smith which were not under its management, thus the Company legitimately owes the sum of 2612.4.3 1/2.
6. Recovery by Mr. Crommelin of all that pertains to a debt approved by the government during the liquidation of 8 August 1726 [see the account of partition, folio 63], in conformity with the verdict handed down by the high justices of St Thomas.
7. That Mr. Crommelin is not required to pay the exit tariff on sums given to Mr. LeJeune, since these assets had never left Danish territory, mindful also that Mr. LeJeune would have paid these fees if he had received them, or at least they would have appeared in the partition account if these claims had been legitimate.
8. By this summary and by all the claims and counterclaims, it is easy to establish the right of Mr. Crommelin and to see the weak defences employed to oppose him which are little more than smoke and mirrors to hide the inevitable conclusion.
Mr. Crommelin also hopes that the Court of Directors is less prejudiced and more equitable than those parties at St. Thomas, and that it will also make serious reflections that will grant him his entire payment.
It will be necessary that in order to avoid further difficulties once Mr. Crommelin has won his lawsuit, that payment be made in Europe since his return to St. Thomas would expose him to considerable additional expenses and plunge him into further mortifications and sorrows.
This is what he concluded at St. Thomas, this 30th of April, 1738.
All this suggests that Charles was away from home for at least TWELVE years - a very long time indeed!
According to an entry in the Family Bible, Charles died a year later, on 8 January 1739. He was buried in his father's grave at Trinity Church, New York (near Wall Street), and their gravestone mentions both their names.
In 1741, after twenty five years of prosperity, the Crommelin family lost ownership of their Graycourt properties in New York. Since Charles Crommelin had contracted debts which he was unable to liquidate, the large estate was foreclosed and sold off to satisfy his creditors. The house and nearby lands became the property of Ebenezer Seely who occupied it until 1763 when he divided it into four parts. Two years later, 1743, saw the end of the conflict between Charles Crommelin and the Danish Western Company. Monies were paid to his sons that would have satisfied all of Charles' creditors and thereby kept the New York properties within the Crommelin family.
Much misery was associated with this final episode in Charles Crommelin's life, but hidden behind this narrative is the abject misery that many slaves must have endured while working on the plantations of numerous slave-owning Christians who wished to supply sugar, cotton and tobacco for wealthy customers overseas. Oblivious to any suffering, the Royal Danish Company (originally the Danish West India and Guinea Company) ruthlessly demanded an accurate accounting of every little Rixdaaler of James Smith's inheritance tax (ie. his marriage 'partition account'). This took its toll on the health and welfare of our ancestor, Charles Crommelin because it took over 3 decades to calculate and settle without the help of a computer!
Furthermore, James Smith's assets had been seized unlawfully because the formula which applied to taxing Frenchmen living on Danish territory had not been observed in a legal precedent involving another court case involving a man named Pasquereau. Since the law is supposed to apply universally, Charles showed that he had been unfairly penalized when his legacy from James Smith was frozen (pending the finalization of James Smith's partition account) under an arrest warrant by Philip Gardelin who later became the Governor of St. Thomas! Gardelin was aware of the injustice at the time that he made the arrest but failed to make it known.
In summary, I believe this Charles Crommelin/St. Thomas affair involved several entanglements:
1. Three estates that were not resolved before the other one began. Each estate therefore became entangled in the one that preceded it.
2. The untimely death of Barent Langemach who had laboured feverishly to calculate the partition account of one estate then died shortly before his findings were made public and official. Various other untimely deaths were involved before satisfactory results could be realized.
3. Entanglement arising from different inheritance formulas applied by the Danes to people of different nationalities. Most of the original heirs were French although one was an English minister who had married one of Pierre Smith's sisters. Charles was also an English 'heir'. Thus policies relating to Denmark, France and England were entangled.
4. Entanglement of other estates (ie. Pasquereau/Listry) to show how differently the Danish justice system had dealt with various precedents in Guadeloup involving Frenchmen trying to extract inheritances on Danish soil.
5. Entanglement of different policies to heirs of Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths.
6. The gradual dwindling in value of each estate before it was fully resolved due to theft, deliberate loss of records, inflation, and fluctuations in currency exchange rates. Thus secondary losses over time had to be subtracted from the original primary values that had been calculated at a much later date.
I believe only a computer could apportion realistic value to each of the interested parties after allowing this matter to become so entangled after so many years had elapsed. In other words, the affair had become a 'dog's breakfast' which caused the misery that led to Charles Crommelin's early demise.
In the manuscript above I added the page numbers so that any reader can readily compare my translation with the original. My proficiency in the French language is minimal, so any ambiguity can be resolved by referring to the original document at the Danish archives online, Rigsarkivet.
- Miff Crommelin
For Further Study:
Providence and the Crommelin Family - How the tragic drowning of Jean de Coninck in a Rotterdam canal in 1690 impacted the entry of the Crommelin family into Ireland and America.
The Plantation System in the Danish colonies - National Museum of Denmark
History of Water Island - waterislandhistory.com - This article mentions Charles Crommelin's plantations on Water Island at St. Thomas in the Caribbean.
Estate by Estate: The Landscape of the 1733 St. Jan Slave Rebellion - by Holly Kathryn Norton - Syracuse University
The Danish West Indies - by Waldemar Westergaard, 1917 - archive.org
A Historical Account of St. Thomas, W.I. - by John P. Knox - archive.org