From New Brunswick to Jamaica

James Rait was a respectable merchant and ship owner in St Andrews, New Brunswick, who subsequently moved to Jamaica, where he later died. Other members of his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. In 1831, a three-masted barque was built in St Andrews for James Rait, which he named after his wife, Margaret Rait, and which subsequently was used as a whaler all over the world. The story of the Margaret Rait whaler and her captain James Coffin is given on a separate page.

But who was James Rait exactly? Well, it seems that he was a merchant and importer, as well as shipbuilder. He was almost certainly of Scottish origin since he made apologies for being unable to attend on Monday 3 December 1835 the St. Andrews Day dinner in St. Andrews. The Chairman of the large party of Scotsmen present at the celebration stated that since sitting down he had received a note from Mr. Rait, stating how much he regretted his inability to join the company on the occasion, and requesting as a particular favour, that they drink to the memory of the late John Campbell, which was accordingly given from the Chair and drank in a solemn silence. (it should perhaps be noted that St. Andrews was founded in 1783 by United Empire Loyalists and named in honour of St Andrews, Scotland.) In St Andrews there was (is?) a Rait Wharf which was almost certainly named after James.

He was the owner of the 14 ton schooner Drake in 1828, owner of the brig Demerera which was cleared to sail from St Andrews on 13 Sept 1833, owner of the 491 ton barque Robert Watt in 1835, and owner of the barque Mary (339 tons) and brig Ann (110 tons) in 1836. In 1834 he was trustee of the estate of the late William Ker of St Andrews. In May 1835 he was protesting the duty paid on flour and that same month resigned as director of the Charlotte County Bank. On 1 October 1835 a new ship, the 100 ton schooner Erato, built for him, was launched. He was an active supporter of the St. Andrews and Quebec Railroad and was part of a deputation to Canada on its behalf in December 1835. In 1836 he erected the building for the Post Office.

Various records attest to his status in St Andrews where he seems to have been the principal merchant.  In the Pilot for 30 May 1878 under Jottings on the Street, No.1 we read “A few rods bring us to a vacant water lot—and here, some 40 years ago, James Rait, Esq., carried on a great trade as Merchant and Shipbuilder. The buildings were capacious, and in keeping with his very extensive business. A sigh of regret escaped many a lip when the active business man, James Rait, left St. Andrews for Jamaica. His enterprise was not confined to the town of SA, only; it was felt in the Parish of Pennfield; and “Rait’s Mills” at Beaver Harbor will always be a household word. Nor there alone—out in the Bay on Grand Manan, his enterprise extended itself…. Those whose memories can carry them back 40 years or more, may remember Mr. Rait as being in personal appearance of splendid physique—tall and portly—pleasing expression of features, and engaging in his manners, the true type of a gentleman-merchant; he was calculated to win esteem, and he did. He died on the island of Jamaica in the year 1842, where his remains are interred.  One can hardly pass along from this vacant lot, the former site of “Rait’s Store,” without a brief delay, as the feeling spontaneously wells up to moralise on the brevity of life—its shifting scenes—its vicissitudes—its joys, its sorrows, it entrees and its exits!”

Somewhat later in the Beacon for 19 December 1895 under A little bit of history, we learn that “the most of my business was with James Raite, and I used to think him an ideal merchant. He was an Englishman but came from Jamaica. His wife was a Miss Watt and her brother took a farm near the present Watt Junction, it being named after him. Mr. Raite took a hand in the wild speculations of 1836. He bought a large field in Calais on the road to Milltown, paid down a part of the high price and it was abandoned and sold for taxes.”


His wife’s brother was probably Thomas Watt. The Thomas Watt Residence [in Queen’s St, St Andrews - see middle image below] is also recognized for its association with its past owners. The property was owned by a prominent merchant from Jamaica by the name of James Rait who purchased the lot in 1829. It is not known if Mr. Rait resided here yet, in 1837, his father-in-law, Robert Watt, a Magistrate and Member of Legislature in Jamaica for many years, made this home available to his son Thomas Watt through Mr. Rait. The 1837 deed stated: "desirous of making a suitable provision for the future support and maintenance of his son Thomas Watt, and with that view made arrangements with James Rait for the Real Estate and paid James Rait a full and satisfactory consideration." Robert died 4 years later in Montego Bay.

Margaret Rait

In the obituary column for The New York Times there is an entry which states that Margaret Rait, daughter of the late James Rait and Margaret (Watt) Rait of St Johns, New Brunswick, died at her residence in Brooklyn on 23 September 1909 aged 83 (thus born 1826.)

On 16 May 1840, Margaret Rait, aged 14, is recorded as arriving in New York from Montego Bay, Jamaica, aboard the Sir Lionel Smith. The place of origin is Canada. She seems to be the only passenger with that surname on the vessel, although there was one other passenger aboard, also origin Canada, namely Jane Morison, age 25. Possibly she was a guardian or accompanying person.

In the 1880 census for Brooklyn, Margaret is a visitor, age 50, born in New Brunswick of Scottish parents, in the household of David Rait, 54, his wife Mary and their two sons. In fact, the records show that she was actually the sister to the head of household, David Rait.

In the 1900 census for Brooklyn Ward 20, Kings, New York, Margaret Rait is 72, born July 1827 in Canada, and immigrated to the United States in 1850. Both parents are listed as having their birthplace in England.


David Rait

On 16 June 1847, David Rait, merchant, arrived in Baltimore from Cienfuegos, Cuba aboard the brig Glamorgan. The point of origin had been Jamaica and the final destination was Great Britain.

On 24 August 1869 David Rait arrived in New York from Liverpool aboard the Cuba, aged 43, a merchant with his place of origin being Scotland. He was accompanied by his wife Mary, 39, a Lady, from New York. Both were intending to become inhabitants of New York.

The 1880 census for Brooklyn, has the household of David Rait, 54, no occupation, born Scotland, as were his parents; wife Mary, 50, keeping house, born New York as were both parents; and sons David, 19 and Walter S., 17 - both clerks and both born New York. Also in the household is David’s sister Margaret, 50, born New Brunswick.

In the 1900 census for Brooklyn Ward 1, Kings, New York, David Rait is a boarder, married, an accountant, aged 74, born Nov 1825 in Scotland - his father’s birthplace is given as Scotland, and his mother’s as Jamaica, W.I. He immigrated to the United States in 1843 and had lived there for 57 years. The record states that he married in 1899 and had thus been married for one year. Presumably his wife Mary had died.


Robert Rait

Robert Rait, aged 17, goldsmith, is recorded as arriving in New York from Montego Bay, Jamaica on 20 June 1845 aboard the brig Thomas. The country to which he usually belonged was Jamaica and he intended to stay in New York


Margaret Rait appears on a passenger list arriving in New York from Jamaica on 12 September 1836 aboard the brig Morning Star. Her age is given as 32 (thus born about 1804) and her occupation is given as Lady. She was accompanied by two children; James aged 2 and Emily 9 months - all belonging to New Brunswick. In the party was also a servant named Elizabeth McDonald, aged 22, also of New Brunswick (possibly a relative to Margaret McDonald?) and two other young ladies.


How and whether the family fits in with other New Brunswick Raitts has not yet been ascertained. However, more work will be done on the family, especially the Jamaican side since there have been several Rait births in Jamaica and they are quite probably related to James Rait.

James Rait was also mentioned in connection with other property. There were also lots granted in Blacks Harbour. One was to Thomas Barry who received lot A which was a 96 acre lot comprising the whole of Deadman's Peninsula. We were unable to determine when he purchased the land and whether he lived there or not, but we do know he sold the land to James Rait on January 11, 1837 for 100 pounds.

On Grand Manan Island (NB), Abijah Guptail bought from his brother, Thomas, 87 acres granted to Thomas by the government (Book 'P', p. 457, 458). It appears to have been Lot #37, since in 1835 the sons and daughters of Abijah sold to James Rait of St. Andrews a 1-acre piece of waterfront land on Grand Harbour Stream, known and distinguished as Lot #37, for erecting dams and mills and other conveniences.

As noted above, James moved from St Andrews, New Brunswick to Jamaica where he subsequently died. It is recorded that James Rait of Montego Bay, in the parish of Saint James, Island of Jamaica left a will proved on 29 January 1844 which is held in the National Archives in London. In it he left his estate and personal effects in the island as well as elsewhere to his dearly beloved children Elizabeth Watt Rait, David Rait, Margaret Rait, Ann Crichton Rait, James Rait, Janet McDonald Rait and Robert Watt Rait.

According to the Journal of the House of Assembly of the Province of New Brunswick January-April 1847, it appears that James Rait, at the time of his death, was largely indebted to the Crown, for which debt he had given Bonds, and that subsequent to his death the Attorney General instituted proceedings for the recovery thereof. In the ensuing discussion it appears that James had paid a sum of money to the Crown, but never been credited for it. Also mentioned is Thomas Watt - presumably the same person mentioned above.


We know one more piece of information about James.

The records of All Saints in St Andrews, New Brunswick (there is also an All Saints in St Andrews in Scotland) list the marriage of Margaret McDonald to John Campbell on 22 August 1816. John died on 9 August 1830, and was buried in the same cemetery as Margaret's parents and brother. The stone reads:

Sacred / To / The Memory of / John CAMPBELL / Esquire / Late merchant in Saint Andrews / [epitaph] / Born at Dalle in Craignish / Argyleshire, North Britain / he died / In the hope of a glorious resurrection / 9th August 1830 / Aged 68 years.

John left a will, and according to Early New Brunswick Probate Records 1785-1835, it was dated 9 January 1826 and proved 16 August 1830. He left all of his estate to his wife Margaret. That included property in five of the parishes of the county. The New Brunswick Courier reported the death of Margaret in the 19 December 1840 issue. She had died at the home of Robert Watt in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on 3 November 1840, at the age of 70 years. That would suggest a year of birth of 1770, which if correct suggests that Margaret was indeed not with her parents when they were listed on 18 July 1784, as above. Margaret's will, dated 16 August 1834, left all of her estate to a friend, James Rait. If Margaret and John had any children, they did not survive their parents. It is likely that Margaret was buried in Jamaica.

There is possibly a confusion of Margarets here. The Margaret who married John Campbell in 1816 in New Brunswick seems to have been named Margaret McDonald, while the Margaret who married James Rait was Margaret Watt. According to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, vol. 10, it would appear that on 31 October 1821 in Glasgow, James Rait, merchant there, married Margaret, eldest daughter of Robert Watt, Esq.,merchant, Montego Bay, Jamaica. And it is presumably this  Margaret who died at the house of [her father] Robert Watt in 1840. It seems that she was born in Jamaica as evidenced by son David stating that was his mother’s birthplace in the 1900 census. It is interesting, though, to see that the other Margaret left all her estate - which included that of her deceased husband, John Campbell - to James Rait - and that one of James’s daughters was named Janet McDonald Rait - the mother is listed as Margaret Watt.


James Rait is recorded as a passenger arriving in the quarter ending 30 September 1833 at Passamaquoddy, Maine. The record gives his age as 50 years, and occupation as merchant. The country to which he belonged was New Brunswick and the country of which he intended to become an inhabitant was also given, as New Brunswick. The ship’s name was not given and neither was the port of departure. It would appear that he was accompanied by members of his family since the passenger also lists James Rait, 36, merchant; Mary Rait, 21, merchant; and Ann Rait, 20, merchant – all from and going to New Brunswick. I presumed at first they were his children but the ages don’t really tally (he would have had son James at a rather early age - though Mary could be Marge.) – there is no mention of a wife. However, on reflection, could it be that it was the younger James (aged 36 - thus born about 1797) who may be the one who married Margaret Watt and the elder James was his father. If James Snr was about 50 in 1833, then he was born about 1783 and pushing 40 when he married Margaret Watt in 1821 and over 50 when some of his children were born.

The children in James’ will appear to be listed in order of birth. A little further checking reveals that Elizabeth Watt Rait was born in Edinburgh Parish, Edinburgh, Midlothian on 26 September 1823 to James Rait and Margaret Watt. Her brother David Rait was born there on 4 December 1825. Margaret seems to have been born in Canada about 1827 - presumably St Andrews. Thus we can assume that James and wife Margaret arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1826 or 1827. He was certainly there in 1828. I have not followed up yet where the other children were born; or at what date James moved to Jamaica. In any event Ann Rait, daughter of the late James Rait, married Augustus Cruikshank on 29 September 1851 in New York, and Janet Watt Rait married John A. Crum on 25 October 1870 in Brooklyn, Kings, New York.