Barbados parish map

Benjamin Gittens, Esquire (1730-1790)

The vast majority of our Barbados Gittens ancestors have very little information of a historical nature written about them, other than births, deaths and marriages. However, there are some Gittens who have played prominent roles in the history of Barbados. As a result, there is a reasonable amount of historical information written about them. This is the first in a series of blogs over the next few months to chronicle the lives of these individuals.

Benjamin Gittens, Esquire (1730-1790)

Judge – Colonel – Planter – Merchant

Benjamin Gittens was baptized November 3, 1730, in the Parish of Saint Michael, Barbados. He was the only child of Benjamin Gittens and Rebekah Smith. His godfathers were John Shurland Esq. and Mr. Thomas Bedford. His godmothers were Mrs. Catherine Simms and Mrs. Margaret Lun. Benjamin’s father was a merchant in Bridgetown, Saint Michael. He died in 1730, the same year as Benjamin was born. It is not clear what the associations were between his godparents and his father, but it is interesting to note that Benjamin’s father left Samuel Bedford and Jane Simms 5£ each in his will, with the remainder of his father’s estate, left to the father’s wife, Rebekah.

Benjamin is directly descended from John Gittens Senior, who is thought to be the progenitor of the Gittens family in Barbados. Benjamin’s ancestors were:

Judge Benjamin Gittens, Esquire (1730-1790)

Benjamin Gittens (1701-1730) Father

Capt. John Gittens (1669-1724) Grand Father

John Gittens, Junior (-) G-Grand Father

John Gittens, Senior (1628-1698) G-G Grand Father

On April 21, 1751, at age 21, Benjamin married Ann Elphinstone in the Parish of Saint Michael, Barbados. Over the next 20 years, Benjamin and Ann had a family of 7 children all of whom were baptized in the Parish of Saint Michael, Barbados.

Mary Gittens (1752 – 1832). Mary died at age 80 and never married.
Robert Gittens (1754 – died before 1759). Robert died before he was age 5.
Rebecca Gittens (born about 1757 – ). Rebecca married Philip Hendy on August 01, 1776, in Saint Michael Parish, Barbados. There is no surviving record of Rebecca’s birth or baptism but she is mentioned in her father’s will. Rebecca and Philip Hendy had five children, at least two of whom survived to adulthood and married.
Robert Elphinstone Gittens (1759 – ). Robert married Elizabeth and there are no surviving records of any children from this marriage.
Ann Elphinstone Gittens (1761 – 1795). Ann died at the age of 34 and never married.
Margaret Gittens (1763 – 1784). Margaret died at age 21 and never married. Margaret is buried at Saint Michael’s Cathedral.
Elizabeth Gittens (1765 – 1834). Elizabeth died at the age of 69 and never married.
Benjamin’s wife Ann died sometime before 1774 and Benjamin married his second wife Elizabeth Lemon on December 4, 1774, in the Parish of Saint Michael. They had two children neither of whom had children themselves;

Benjamin Gittens (1776 – ). Unfortunately nothing more is known of Benjamin’s son Benjamin. It is extremely likely he died at an early age which was very common in the day.
Martha Elizabeth Gittens (1777 – 1855). Martha died at the age of 77 in Bow, Middlesex, England. It appears that Martha immigrated to Middlesex, England. In 1808, while living in England records show that Martha sold a slave and granted another slave, Molly Reynolds, her freedom.
The Gittens surname did not survive in this line of the family as Benjamin did not have any sons who in turn had children. It is unlikely that anyone with the Gittens surname who may be reading this blog would be descended from this Benjamin Gittens. Although the Gittens surname did not survive in this family line it has survived in many, many other lines of the family.

Although we know very little of Benjamin’s early life other than details of his wives and children, his latter life is fairly well documented. Historical records and accounts tell us that Benjamin was a Merchant, a Judge, a Colonel in the Militia, a Planter and a Free Mason. From this information, it can be assumed that he was part of the plantocracy in Barbados during his era. The plantocracy consisted of a small group of people who were white, wealthy and who owned significant land holdings. The plantocracy dominated and controlled much of life on the island as they held all of the seats in the appointed Council and the elected Assembly. They also held all of the senior civic and military positions. It was not unusual for a person belonging to the plantocracy to hold multiple appointments as was the case with Benjamin.

Benjamin the Merchant

In the will of an unrelated Benjamin Gittens written in 1762, the following reference to Benjamin Gittens was made:

Item. …to my kinsman Robert Elphinstone Gittens, son of my kinsman Benjamin Gittens of the parish of Saint Michael, merchant, the sum of five hundred pounds current money, to be paid to him when he shall reach the age of twenty-one years.

From this reference, it can be inferred that Benjamin, the subject of this blog, was a merchant in Bridgetown in 1762. However, there is no further information available regarding his activities as a merchant.

It is interesting to note that Benjamin’s father was also a merchant in Bridgetown. Since Benjamin’s father died in the year Benjamin was born, it would seem unlikely that the occupations are directly connected in any way.

Benjamin the Judge

On May 18, 1779, at the age 49, Benjamin was appointed a Judge of the Exchequer. This appointment was followed in July of the same year by a new appointment as Chief Baron of His Majesty’s Court of Exchequer.

In 1783 Benjamin was named as a justice of a newly appointed commission, COMMISSION OF THE PEACE.

In 1784, Benjamin was noted in an advertisement.

To be sold at vendue on 25th inst at the house of Rebecca Hill, Bridgetown, by Benjamin Gittens one of the Masters of the Court of Chancery, by virtue of a decree, a sugar work plantation in Saint Phillip and Saint John called Palmers the property of Hon Samuel Walcott Esq., with the slaves, cattle, sheep etc.

On November 20, 1784, The Barbados Mercury reported the holding of the court of Quarter Sessions for Saint Michael at the Town Hall on 17 Nov.

Present the Hon. Joseph Keeling, Hon. Benjamin Gittens, Hon. Nathaniel Weekes, George Errington, George Walrond, Henry Edey, and Thomas Pare Fowke Esqes. The complaint that the sale of goods by slaves and others in the streets of town instead of in the public marketplace was a common nuisance. It was ordered that all such sales ought to be restrained to the public marketplace called the Shambles adjoining the Old Churchyard and that the constables do take care to enforce the observance of their orders. sd. John Thompson, Dep. Clerk of the Crown & Peace

On 13 May 1787, a notice appeared seeking tenders for a bridge construction project of which Benjamin was the project chairman. It interesting to note that the process for seeking competitive project tenders has not significantly changed in the last 250 years.

Notice to persons inclined to contract for building a bridge over Parrrat’s Gulley on the high road according to Mayo’s map leading from Byde Mill to Haughton Plantation that the Commissioners of the Turnpike Road will receive proposals at their next meeting at the Townhall on June 3 by 10 o’clock. Benjamin Gittens, chairman.

June 30, 1789. Minutes of Council

Present – His Excellency Governor Parry and Ten Members of Council.

…..”The Secretary acquainted His Excellency and Council, that The Hon’ble Benjamin Gittens, Judge of the Exchequer, had requested it may be laid before the Board, that there was a vacancy in his Court, by means of the departure some time since of Robert Ewing Esqr: from this Island; and that he was desirous of a new Commission; and to have William Ford Esqr;, of the Parish of Saint Lucy, appointed a Puisne Baron [means a junior person in rank], in the room of Mr. Ewing; which was allowed; and a new Commission Ordered to be prepared for The Hon’ble Benjamin Gittens, George Walrond, Thomas Walshe, James Polgreen and Willian Ford Esqrs:”

Benjamin the Planter

Benjamin owned Green’s Plantation in the Parish of Saint George. The earliest record associating Benjamin to Green’s Plantation is dated 1778. However, there is no other information regarding the term of ownership. The plantation may have been as large as 110 acres.

On the 10th of October 1780, a hurricane struck the island of Barbados causing considerable damage. Benjamin filed a claim for hurricane losses with the Government. His claim totalled 3,232 £. It included 90£ for the loss of 1 negro and 5 cattle, 150£ for furniture and clothes and 2,992£ for the loss of buildings and crops. To compare the relative amount of this claim the value of 3,323£ in 1780 would be about 345,000 £ or about $600,000 Canadian dollars in 2009.

Benjamin the Freemason

Freemasonry was introduced into Barbados by Alexander Irvine in 1740 with the founding of St. Michael’s Lodge 186. In about 1783 the Hon. Benjamin Gittens assumed the role of Provincial Grand Master of Masons in Barbados. We are not sure how long he stayed in this role but we do know that he was the fifth person to hold the position of Provincial Grand Master in the history of Barbados freemasonry. The District Grand Lodge of Barbados celebrated its 250th anniversary in 1990.

“The Barbados Mercury”on February 23, 1783

By kind permission of Hon. & Rt. Worshipful Benjamin Gittens, Esq. Provincial Grand Master of Masons in this island, the members of the Royal Arch Body of Saint John and all other brethren of the order in this island are requested to meet at Freemasons Hall on Wednesday 5 March next at 12 o’clock noon in order to celebrate that day in love and harmony. By order of the H.P. John Dummett, Secretary. N.B. Tickets to be had of Brother John Bassell Winter, Treasurer.

Benjamin the Colonel

In the 1770s there were six (6) Regiments of Foot and two (2) Regiments of Horse in the Barbados Militia.

In 1795 (and until 1869) the Regiments of Horse were disbanded and each parish had its own Regiment of Foot (that is, Saint Michael, Christ Church, Saint Philip, Saint James etc).

The Militia was disbanded in 1869.

The Hon. Colonel Benjamin Gittens commanded the Royal Regiment of Foot from at least 1780 to 1787 and likely much longer. The Regiments were divided into four Divisions – that is – the Saint Michael Division, the Oistins Division, the Saint James Division and the Leeward Division. In all, they had 442 cannons in the Forts and Batteries in Barbados.

Benjamin Gittens commanded the Saint Michael Division which was the principal Division and had in all 140 cannons. In a document dated May 17, 1780, it was noted that The Hon. Col. Benjamin Gittens provided water vessels for all the forts and batteries in his division, they were;

Saint Ann’s Fort 23 guns

Charles Fort 48 guns

Ormands Battery 10 guns

Willoughby Fort 16 guns

James Fort 9 guns

Grenville Fort 11 guns

Hallets Battery 2 guns

Yatch Battery 7 guns

Valient Royalist Fort 5 guns

Brittons Hill Battery 9 guns (a new inland Battery with 3 x 18 pounder and 6 x 12 pounder guns)

In 1781 the merchants of Bridgetown petitioned the Hon. Col. Benjamin Gittens to have his militia patrol Bridgetown because of a fear of trouble from the slave population. Gittens took the petition to the governing council who discarded it out of hand and admonished Gittens for having taken the petition in the first place.

On June 28, 1778 France joined the American War of Independence and King Louis sent a message to his representative in Martinique to seize all the British possessions. France successfully took (without warning) Dominica, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Tobago and St Kitts. When Barbados learned of the plan, a Council of War was called by the Governor on 26 October 1778 to plan for the expected invasion. Present at the Council of War was:

4 General officers
1 Judge Advocate
7 Colonels (including Benjamin Gittens)
9 Lieutenant Colonels
9 Majors

Extracts from the Barbados Mercury. Dec 17, 1787 :

Yesterday the Governor received the Royal Regiment of Foot commanded by Col. Gittens, after which his Excellency, the Officers of the Life Guards and the Royal Artillery and Ordinances on duty here dined and spent the remainder of the day with Col. Gittens and the officers of the corps at Free-Mason’s Hall.

The Will of Benjamin Gittens

Benjamin died Feb 8, 1790 at age 60. His will was very detailed. An excerpt follows:

1790 RB6/19/195 the Honourable Benjamin Gittens, Esquire

Item. …to my son Robert Gittens, my riding horse called Favourite with saddle and furniture, my gold watch chair seal and j[space] my gold-headed stick, my small sword a silver two hand [space] and a dish and bookcase.… also …said son Robert…a Negro man named Sam a mason and a mulatto boy named Bob…recompence for a Negro boy who was shipped to this island by me… the residue of my estate

Item… to my son Benjamin Gittens …my horse called Corde and a pair of silver capped pistols a sashay pair of [space] buckles my gold band buckle and my gold sleeve buttons [space] of silver rummer cups and a Bureau…a Negro man named Johnny a carpenter.

Item. …my chaise and chaise horse shall be kept in repair for the joint and comfort of my beloved wife Elizabeth during her widowhood and for the use of my single daughters.

Item. …to my said wife Elizabeth all the household furniture…she was possessed of before…marriage. …also a wardrobe, together with the bed, bedstead andc[space] in the chamber where the wardrobe is.

Item…the rest of the household furniture and plate herein…to be kept together for the use of my said wife and my single daughters during my said wife’s widowhood and on the marriage of either of my single daughters, I direct she shall have equal shares thereof… All the rest and residue of my estate…unto my beloved wife Elizabeth Gittens (during her widowhood and no longer…and shall have her livings and accommodations on my sugar work plantation as in the same manner as in my lifetime. And that do apply the rents issues and profits…in support maintenance and education of my infant children…I my said wife shall pay off and discharge the debts and encumbrances…unto my said wife the sum of £500 current money…unto my daughter, Rebecca Hendy wife of Philip Hendy £200 current money…to each of her children Ann Elphinstone Hendy and Philip Hendy £50 and unto my daughters- Mary, Ann Elphinstone, Margaret and Elizabeth Gittens £300, Martha £400…unto my said son Benjamin £500 and the rest residue and remainder of my estate…unto my said son Robert and his heirs…provided such residue shall not amount to more than £800…if the sum amount to more…to my said son Robert £800 and the over…divided equally between such of my children as shall then be living. {Deals with the situation should the estate have to be sold].…appoint my wife during my widowhood and no longer so as executrix…upon the death or intermarriage…appoint my son Robert and my son-in-law Philip Hendy.. 3 August 1779.

Witnesses: John Chase Abra Hartle jnr.

Given at Pilgrim 17 Feb 1790 by H. Frere.

Research Note: Much of the information in this blog was researched from the Barbados Department of Archives and the Barbados Museum Library. The information on Colonel Benjamin Gittens was supplied by Warren Alleyne, BSS, Barbados.

The information contained in this blog is based on genealogical research gathered by the author and is always subject to change as new data becomes available. If you would like to contribute any new information to this blog or suggest corrections please feel free to post a comment to the blog site.

6 thoughts on “Benjamin Gittens, Esquire (1730-1790)

  1. Reply
    Dorinda Gittens - March 27, 2020

    This is the most I have heard of a Benjamin Gittens, who I was trying to research for years. My grandfather is a “Benjamin Gittens ” from Barbados. I don’t have much information on him because he died young. Is it possible, that there is more than 1 set of Benjamin Gittens? I am not sure of the “years” to draw any similarities. How can I get more information?

  2. Reply
    Cliff - March 28, 2020

    Hi Dorinda,
    Thank you for your inquiry about Benjamin Gittens.

    Benjamin Gittens is a relatively common name in Barbados. I have 134 individuals with this name in my database, most of whom are from Barbados.

    To find out more about your grandfather, Benjamin Gittens, will require a bit of research. I would approach the task by talking to other family members who might have a bit more information about him. If you can find some information about his wife and their children, that might be a good start.

    The family history site is a good place to start a search.

    Good Luck,

  3. Reply
    D Maughan - January 17, 2021

    Thank you for this information , I am looking into my paternal grandmothers father and I believe he was from the Villa Road, Brittons Hill, Barbados.
    I believe that his name was Benjamin Gittens as well my grandmother is now 90 years old soon to be 91 in 2021.

    Thank you

  4. Reply
    Georgette Chalker (O'Riordan-O'Leary) - July 27, 2022

    Hello, my great, great grandfather Michael O’Riordan came to the Barbados and married Mary Ann Fox. They had four children. Rosie, Gertrude, Kathleen and Jerry. My great grandmother Rosie immigrated to the Philadelphia area with Louise Lyman Drew. It appears that the Gittens family is from Gertrude’s line. Yet, it seems that your website is built from Vancouver. I was just curious if you have a birth certificate for Michael O’Riordan? It is said he is born in County Cork, but does not mention a city or town. Is there a library in the Barbodos that might have such records on the O’Riordans? My grandmother Miriam was born in Philadelphia to Charles O’Leary. It appears that the O’Leary were also living the Barbados. What is the tie in? Any info would be most appreciated. Thank you.

  5. Reply
    Chantelle - September 2, 2023

    Hello, My Last name is Gittens and apparently my family is from Barbados then went to Trinidad and tobago. I just want to know my family on my fathers side.

  6. Reply
    Jim Morton - March 3, 2024

    My Mother was a Gittens. Her father was born in 1875 in Babadoes and died in New Zealand in 1920. Grandad married in England and then emigrated to New Zealand. His father is listed as James Gittens on the marriage license.

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