Who Was The Real Sir James Douglas??!! – by Clyde Duncan

Who WasThe Real Sir James Douglas??!! by Clyde Duncan

Guyanese Canadian Cultural Association of British Columbia executive members were invited by Langley Heritage Society to attend a presentation by the author of ‘James Douglas: Father of British Columbia’, Julie H. Ferguson in October 2014. The promotional material from the Society

entitled “Who Was The Real James Douglas??!!” described Douglas as an illegitimate son of a Scottish merchant and a mixed race Guyanese mother. My aim is to update this information.

The mother of James Douglas was Barbados-born, Martha Ann Telfer; she is described as mixed race, coloured, Creole, mulatto, among other things. She and her mother sailed to Demerara, British Guiana [Guyana] to work on the Douglas sugar plantations.

She was also known as ‘Miss Ritchie’. Miss Ritchie was not a slave; she was a concubine of the father of James Douglas. In old English, all of the foregoing is true. Today, however, no one refers to their spouse as a concubine; and no one refers to their – or anyone else’s – child as illegitimate; Miss Ritchie would be a black woman from Barbados and the mother of Sir James Douglas. Furthermore, the relationship with John Douglas spanned a period of about 13-years and produced 3-children: Alexander, Sir James and Cecelia Douglas. Today, such a relationship would legally be classified as a marriage.

In 1803, James Douglas was born in Demerara, British Guiana to a sugar plantation owner from Scotland and a mother from Barbados. Around 1812, his father took James and his older brother to attend school in Lanark, Scotland. James subsequently emigrated to Montreal in 1819 to work as a clerk at the North-West Company. After the merger of the North-West and Hudson’s Bay Companies, James continued his employ at HBC. In 1839, he was appointed HBC Chief Factor; and around 1851, while Chief Factor; he was appointed Governor of Vancouver Island.

Around 1857, as the California Gold Rush was dying, word got out that gold was discovered up north in the Fraser Valley area in New Caledonia [British Columbia]. Around April 1858, as the first boatloads of miners were arriving, James Douglas was alarmed at the influx of miners from the USA and wrote to Queen Victoria expressing his concerns that the British and First Nations Peoples on Vancouver Island would be outnumbered by the miners coming up from California.

Queen Victoria responded to the Governor that he was overly concerned and cautioned that we do not want to antagonize the Americans. However, the Governor witnessed the loss of Oregon and Washington States to the USA with the stroke of a pen from some disgruntled Chief Factors; and he was bound and determined that the same fate would not befall Vancouver Island and New Caledonia. Although Douglas would rather fight than switch, the British discouraged involvement in any hostilities because military engagements in other parts of the world taxed their resources.

As you can imagine, those were the days of the ‘Wild West’ with miners disembarking from their ships firing their six-guns and shotguns; drinking, carousing and disrupting the community all hours of the day and night. There was no military presence on the island at the time, so James Douglas invited some disgruntled freed African-Americans to come north, he told them there were opportunities here; so they took him at his word and sailed to Vancouver Island.

Douglas formed what is commonly called the ‘African Rifles’ and they brought civility back to the community, until the arrival of reinforcements in the form of the Royal Navy and Royal Engineers led by Barbados-born, Colonel Richard Moody. The proclamation was read at the birthplace of British Columbia, National Historic Site Fort Langley on Friday, 19 November 1858 establishing British Columbia; appointing Guyana-born, James Douglas, Governor and Barbados-born, Colonel Richard Moody, Lieutenant-Governor. It has been said that if there is one man that could be credited with keeping British Columbia in Canada, it would be Sir James Douglas.

 Memorable Dates:

  1. Barbados and Guyana are celebrating 50-years of independence next year [1966-2016].
  2. Canada celebrating 150th anniversary of independence [1867-2017]
  3. British Columbia celebrating 160th anniversary [1858-2018]
  4. Demerara, Guyana: 10th anniversary of unveiling statue of James Douglas at his birthplace
  5. in Mahaica; made from the same mould as the one at National Historic Site Fort Langley,
  6. Birthplace of British Columbia [2008-2018]
Photo taken during  Carifesta X at Mahaica in August 2008 :
Hon. Sam Hinds, PM, MP, OE [Prime Minister of Guyana, Member of Parliament, Order of Excellence]
 Clyde Duncan, Past President – Guyanese Canadian Cultural Association of British Columbia 
 His Excellency, Charles Court,  former Canadian High Commissioner.
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  • Sawak Sarju  On 01/25/2015 at 6:03 pm

    Well written.


    Sent from Windows Mail

  • Julie H. Ferguson  On 01/26/2015 at 12:15 pm

    Terrific stuff!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 01/29/2015 at 2:16 pm

    I started out updating information on the mother of James Douglas in modern English and continued the following paragraphs by way of introduction to the man and his contributions in British Columbia and Canada; so without writing a whole history book, I would like to point out some things: A historian pointed out to me that Douglas did not write to the Queen [and without saying it, that the Queen did not personally respond to Douglas] – some would be aware that the British Empire was a massive undertaking back then and certainly, correspondence flowed through Whitehall, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and British Civil Servants – the weekly meetings with the Queen would surely contain briefings on what is happening all over the world, so the Queen would have been apprised of what was happening around the globe, albeit, delayed information. In most cases, James Douglas would send a request for permission to act, and would act pending approval of the Queen. As you could imagine, it took about 6-months to receive a response and they say, of all the requests, only two were denied.

    I also mentioned that Douglas witnessed a couple of disgruntled HBC Chief Factors ‘with the stroke of a pen’ gave away British territory …. A historian pointed out that I made it sound as though they, of their on volition, had the power to do this; as some of you may be aware, it is tantamount to Booker Brothers McConnell & Company [Bookers Guiana] giving away B.G. to our neighbours in Brazil, for argument sake. Of course, it was more complicated than that: there were American spies and allies infiltrating the Forts, working at influencing these disgruntled senior managers and based on their advice the British ceded the territory to the USA. No doubt, Douglas was subjected to the same influences and discouraged their advances. He was British!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 01/29/2015 at 2:31 pm

    On another note, I want to thank a whole lot of people for getting the statue of James Douglas, a duplicate of the one at National Historic Site Fort Langley, the birthplace of British Columbia to Mahaica, Demerara his birthplace of Douglas in Guyana. I may have to write a separate article to cover everyone, but the Prime Minister of Guyana; the President of Guyana; the Canadian High Commissioner; the C.E.O. at the Office of Guyana National Trust [responsible for monuments]. In Canada, the list is long: Canadian National Railways; The Fort Langley Legacy Foundation, particularly Bays Blackhall and Grant Rawstron; Danny Doobay, formerly of the Office of Guyana Consul General, Toronto; Dr. Jerald LaRose of LaParkan Shipping. Thank You All.

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