Brissett family from Jamaica

This story is based on a story originally posted on

The first Brissett to arrive in Jamaica is believed to have been John Brisset(t), who married Mary Haughton and gave birth to George Brissett in about 1724. The baptism of George has not yet been found, but is likely to have occurred in Jamaica as the Haughtons are a well known Jamaican family. John’s estate in Jamaica (and later, George’s estate) was called Hampshire Estate and this provides a clue to his English origins. There was a John Brissett baptised in Alverstoke, Hampshire, England, on 12 September 1665. John was the son of John Brisset (Snr) and Mary Mabb, a couple who married in Portsmouth on 28 December 1664. There is also a record of a John Brissett dying in Spanish Town, Jamaica, in 1742. Circumstantially then, it seems likely that John and Mary were George’s parents and that John migrated to Jamaica some time between his baptism in 1665 and the birth of George in about 1724.

In 1655, at the instigation of Oliver Cromwell, the English captured Jamaica. The capital was renamed Spanish Town. In the 1600s, Jamaica became the home of many privateers and buccaneers (pirates), including the famous Sir Henry Morgan.

Legislation was passed in England to encourage settlers to move to the island in 1736, 1743, 1747 and 1750. However, John may have arrived before then. 

George Brissett married Sarah Tharp in Hanover, Jamaica, on 25 April 1754. His aunt, Ann Haughton, married Sarah’s brother, William Tharp. Cambridge County Records in England have quite a lot of information about the Tharp family, due to a lengthy court case over the estate of William and Sarah’s brother, John Tharp (worth 4.5 million pounds).

George was a merchant in Hanover, and at one time was the Custodian and Chief Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. He owned an estate called Cacoon Penn. A place called Cacoon still exists in Jamaica (18° 25′ 0″ North, 78° 13′ 0″ West), west of Montego Bay and not far from a place called Haughton Court, which may have been owned by his mother’s family. 

George and Sarah’s firstborn son, Joseph, was born 9 July 1755 and baptised 5 September the same year. Joseph is believed to have married twice: to Mary Poole Johnson (records are inconsistent – perhaps 1782) and had six children; and to Anne Rankin (date unknown). His son with Anne, also called Joseph, is believed to have been born in 1799, based on his age of 24 in the 1823 Census.

Joseph (1st) mortgaged Cacoon Penn in 1786 to William Miles of Bristol, John Tharp of Trelawney (his uncle) and others. Records show that at the time there were 147 slaves working on the property. It appears that Joseph had two families, as there are two ‘mulatto’ sons listed. There are many people descended from this second family and the Brissett name is still common in Jamaica.

“mulatto” is the term used at the time to describe a person of mixed black and white parentage.

Joseph (2nd) married Mary Scarlett on 20 September 1821 in Surrey, England (some family histories incorrectly have Joseph’s wife as Mary Poole Scarlett, who was the cousin of this Mary). Their son, Joseph (3rd) was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica on 11 March 1823 and baptised 30 March the same year. The Hanover Census of 1823 shows the family living at the Content estate in Hanover.

Montego Bay, by James Hakewill, A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica, London Hurst & Robinson, 1825 (out of copyright)

In 1807 the African slave trade was abolished by Parliament, but slaves could still be owned. In 1824 there was a slave insurrection in Hanover, and another in 1831 (known as the Christmas Rebellion). Legislation abolishing slavery became law in 1834, but the slaves were not emancipated until 1838.

With the end of slavery, the plantations had to pay for labour. In 1846, legislation was passed in England that removed protective subsidies on sugar. Jamaica was unable to compete with sugar produced in Cuba and Brazil, who still used slaves. That and the beet sugar trade in Europe led to a rapid fall in sugar prices, which led to the abandonment of many estates in Jamaica. Many plantations went bankrupt. In 1850, a cholera epidemic hit Jamaica and 32,000 people died. It was about this time that Joseph Brissett left Jamaica and returned to England.

On 19 February 1853, Joseph (3rd) married Selina Bennett in Westminster, London, England. Joseph and Selina migrated to Australia, arriving in September 1853 on board the ship “Calphurnia”. Joseph and Selina named their fifth child Clara Ann Ranken Brissett, after Joseph’s grandmother – Anne Rankin. Clara was the grandmother of my grandmother, Winifred Saywell. 

by Danielle Lautrec

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