Our story begins over 350 years ago on the Caribbean island of Barbados. Best known for its aquamarine seas, pristine beaches and vibrant culture, the island is also home to one of the most fascinating historic treasures in the Western Hemisphere, St. Nicholas Abbey.
SIR JOHN GAY ALLEYNE
Falling sugar prices forced the Nicholas family to sell the property in the mid-1720’s to Joseph Dottin. The Dottin family was prominent in Barbadian society; the appointment of Deputy Governor of Barbados had traditionally passed from Dottin father to son for many generations. Joseph Dottin owned several properties on the island and presented each of his daughters with a plantation as a wedding gift. He gifted Nicholas to his daughter, Christian, upon her marriage to Sir John Gay Alleyne in October 1746.
Sir John, himself a prominent member of the Barbados community, served as Speaker of the House of Assembly from 1767-1797 while also managing Mount Gilboa Plantation and Distillery for his close friend, John Sober. Sir John Gay Alleyne did such an excellent job managing the plantation that it was posthumously renamed Mount Gay in his honour and carries the name to this day.
Under Sir John's ownership a number of changes were made to the Plantation, including physical upgrades to the Great House. By this time the Jacobean style was considered dated; Sir John added the more modern triple arcaded portico, sash windows and intricate Chippendale staircase.
In honour of the Treaty of Paris, Sit John replaced the original Cherry Trees lining Cherry Tree Hill, the entrance to the Plantation, with Mahogany trees, the first of their kind on the island, which still stand today.
Perhaps the most significant contribution Sir John made to the plantation was introducing rum distillation as a mean of economic sustainability. Like most Barbadian plantations, Nicholas’ primary source of income was sugar and its related by-products. The plantation’s mill produced sugar and molasses in its early years, with production changing to syrup later on. These products, as well as the distilled rum, were exported to Europe and America. At the height of production, Nicholas was considered to be one of the most successful plantations in Barbados, and likely, the Caribbean.
After Christian’s death in 1782, Sir John Gay Alleyne married his cousin, Abel Alleyne, with whom he had several children. Sir John continued to live at St. Nicholas until his death in 1801 (Abel died in 1800). Christian’s will had stipulated that Nicholas Plantation pass to her own children upon Sir John’s death; with no surviving heirs (their only son died at age 12 while at school at Eton), ownership reverted to the Dottin Family. Political difficulties in Europe and the start of the Napoleonic War made it near impossible to track down the Dottin descendants, who resided in several different countries. During the search the property incurred considerable debt and the property was taken by the Chancery Court in Bridgetown in 1810.
THE CUMBERBATCH FAMILY
Brothers Edward and Lawrence Trent Cumberbatch purchased the property from the court for £20,500, the sum of the amassed debt.
Initially, Edward's son, Edward Jr., stood to inherit the family’s real estate holdings, including both his father and bachelor uncle’s share of Nicholas Plantation. There was just one condition, that Edward Jr. not marry his love, Mary, the daughter of Andrew Ashe, a musician from Bath, England, for at least five years after his father's death. The family did not approve of the match - Edward Jr. was not trusted to maintain the family's property holdings; marrying a poor musician’s daughter would lend no financial security to the situation. His father believed Edward's romantic interests would shift during the course of five years and hopefully focus on a more financially suitable bride. Edward Jr. chose love over money and wed Mary Ashe, forfeiting his right to the family inheritance.
Nicholas Plantation, as well as nearby Ebworth Plantation and additional land in Speightstown, passed instead to his sister, Sarah and her husband, Charles Cave, in 1834. Charles also stood to inherit half of the Cave Family’s banking interests, making the couple suitable guardians of the Cumberbatch Family’s property holdings. It is believed that Sarah and Charles combined the property's name, ‘Nicholas Plantation’, ‘St. Nicholas Parish’, where the Cumberbatch family lived in England, and ‘Bath Abbey’, where the couple married, to create the name ‘St. Nicholas Abbey'.