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Azariah Pinney

Life                                 1775 - 1803
Admission year             1794
Place connected           Nevis

Azariah was admitted to Christ's in 1794, where he spent one year. He worked in the firm founded by his father in Bristol, becoming a partner in 1789 (aged 15), and working there prior to his early death in 1803.

Connection to enslavement

Azariah Pinney was the second son of John Pretor (1740-1818),¹ ² who had taken the surname 'Pinney' in 1762, as a condition for inheriting property in Nevis from his distant cousin, John Frederick Pinney.³ ⁴


John Frederick's grandfather, Azariah, had been exiled to Nevis after participating in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. He worked as a plantation manager for absentee British owners, and as an agent for his brother, Nathaniel, who was a member of the Royal Africa Company (a company which - according to the historian William Pettigrew - 'shipped more enslaved African women, men, and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade', transporting almost 150,000 enslaved people between 1672 and the early 1720s).


Azariah purchased 'Bawdon's', a sugar plantation, jointly with Richard Meriwether in 1697, and they purchased another estate, 'Charloes', a few years later. Azariah's and his son, John, managed their property on Nevis, before their deaths within one year of each other: the estate then passed to John Frederick Pinney (John's son and thus Azariah's grandson), the cousin from whom John Pretor inherited all of the Pinney property on Nevis in 1762. ³


John Pretor Pinney moved to Nevis in 1764, and became a successful plantation manager and proprietor. He owned multiple plantations, including the 273-acre 'Mountravers' estate (an enlarged iteration of the 'Charloes' estate purchased by Azariah), and a 120-acre plantation he acquired during the 1770s. Evidently John flourished as a plantation owner: he gained at least £35,000 of wealth during his nearly 20 years in Nevis, and sat on the Assembly of Nevis from 1765 (and then the Council from 1767). He also married in Nevis in 1772, to Jane Weekes, with whom he fathered seven children, including Azariah Pinney (the Christ's alumnus). ¹


The family relocated to Bristol in 1783, where John focused on being a 'private Country Gentleman' and West India merchant: John only made brief trips back to Nevis after his return to England. In Bristol, John founded a merchant company with James Tobin (another Nevis plantation owner based in Bristol, who became a vocal 'pro-slavery campaigner' in the 1780s).² The company owned a few ships at any one time, and traded primarily with St Kitts and Nevis. In 1786, John also joined the Bristol West India Society, a group that lobbied against the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of enslaved people.


As an absentee plantation owner, John nonetheless took a close interest in the operation of his estates, eventually selling the Mountravers estate and at least 183 enslaved people in 1808 for £35,650. ¹⁰ By his death in 1818, John was worth an estimated £267,000, excluding debts owed to him by mortgagees and his investments in his and James Tobin's firm. As the historian Kenneth Morgan notes, his fortune had been made 'from plantations, sugar commission sales, shipping profits, and, above all, interest earned on money lent to other planters': the Pinneys' great wealth was thus owed almost entirely to enslavement and the plantation economy.


The Georgian House Museum in Bristol, which includes information panels about the Pinney family's use of enslavement in Nevis, includes a list of the 903 enslaved people known to have lived on land of the Mountravers plantation between 1680 and 1834.¹¹ There were 203 enslaved people on the Mountravers estate in 1794, the year Azariah was admitted to Christ's.¹²


Azariah Pinney, the Christ's alumnus, was sent to England for education to be educated in 1781,¹³ prior to the return of his entire family. He was regarded as 'business minded' by his parents, who sent him to train in a counting house before before going to Christ's.¹⁴ Notably, Azariah had become a partner in the firm in 1789, years before attending Christ's: his father had allowed Azariah to take his place formally, while still controlling the business. ¹⁵ ¹⁶


Azariah appears to have spent one year at Christ's, as part of his father's stated ambition for Azariah to learn 'anything else that may be useful to him as a gentleman or a scholar', alongside 'his more material and beneficial studies'.¹⁶ His father's hopes were truncated by Azariah's death, aged 27, in 1803.


Given that the Pinney family's wealth was derived to a major extent from enslavement and the plantation economies of the British West Indies, it is reasonable to assume that these sources (directly and indirectly) funded Azariah's brief education at Christ's. Moreover, Azariah was evidently being prepared to take over the family firm. Becoming a 'gentleman or a scholar' through his time at Christ's could help him fulfil the same dual role held by his father: that of a respectable 'country gentleman' and a wealthy, plantation-owning West India merchant.


¹ Venn, J.A., ed. (1953) "Pinney, Azariah". Alumni Cantabrigienses (Part 2). Vol.5, Cambridge University Press - via Internet Archive. ² Legacies of British Slavery database, 'John Pretor Pinney', [accessed 25th August 2022]. ³ Discovering Bristol, 'John Pinney: The young Pinney', 1999 [accessed 25th August 2022]. ⁴ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'John Frederick Pinney MP of Racedown nr Bridport', [accessed 25th August 2022]. ⁵ Discovering Bristol, 'Learning Journeys: John Pinney', 1999 [accessed 25th August 2022]. ⁶ Discovering Bristol, 'John Pinney: Links with Nevis', 1999 [accessed 25th August 2022]. ⁷ Pettigrew, William A., Freedom's Debt : The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), p. 11. ⁸ Morgan, Kenneth, 'Pinney, John Pretor (1740-1818), merchant and planter', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition (2011), [accessed 25th August 2022]. ⁹ Legacies of British Slavery database, 'James Tobin', [accessed 25th August 2022]. ¹⁰ Eickelmann, Christine, The Mountravers Plantation Community, 1734 to 1834 (Part II, Chapter 7), online edition (2022), p. 780, [accessed 25th August 2022]. ¹¹ Eickelmann, Christine and David Small, 'Mountravers Plantation (Pinney's Estate) - Nevis, West Indies', 2022 [accessed 25th August 2022]. ¹² Eickelmann, Christine, The Mountravers Plantation Community, 1734 to 1834 (Part II, Chapter 6), online edition (2022), p. 679, [accessed 25th August 2022]. ¹³ Eickelmann, Christine, The Mountravers Plantation Community, 1734 to 1834 (Part II, Chapter 4), online edition (2022), p. 285, [accessed 25th August 2022]. ¹⁴ Eickelmann, Christine, The Mountravers Plantation Community, 1734 to 1834 (Part II, Chapter 4), online edition (2022), p. 416, [accessed 25th August 2022]. ¹⁵ Forestier, Albane, 'Risk, kinship and personal relationships in late eighteenth-century West Indian trade: The commercial network of Tobin & Pinney', Business History, 52:6 (2010), 912-931, at p. 917. ¹⁶ Evans, Bergen, and Hester Pinney, 'Racedown and the Wordsworths', The Review of English Studies, 8:29 (1932), 1-18, at p. 4. Though not cited here, Pares, Richard, A West-India Fortune (London and New York: Longmans Green, 1950), which studies the Pinney's fortune, is generally regarded as a foundational text for investigating how the family benefitted from enslavement.

More information about our research, including searchable databases, can be found here.

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