Peter Beckford

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A posthumous portrait of Peter Beckford.

Colonel Peter Beckford (1643–1710) was acting Governor of Jamaica in 1702.


Peter was the son of another Peter Beckford, of Maidenhead, England. Sir Thomas Beckford, Sheriff of London was his uncle, as was Captain Richard Beckford, who was trading in Jamaica from 1659. England had invaded the island in 1655 and the Colony of Jamaica proved a lucrative business proposition for Englishmen who wished to create sugar plantations there.

In 1692, Peter Beckford emigrated to the island, taking with him two or three enslaved Africans, and engaged himself as hunter and horse catcher.[1] Having served as a seaman, he was granted a thousand acres (4 km²) of land in Clarendon by royal patent on 6 March 1669.

He took an active part in island politics, representing St. Catherine in the Assembly in 1675, and was later called to the Council, where he was appointed President. He was appointed Chief Justice of Jamaica in 1703.[2] He was the first Custos of Kingston, and a street was named after him there. He was renowned for being haughty with a strong temper and was involved in many heated debates.

Family and legacy[edit]

Beckford was twice married—first to Bridget, who died in 1691, and then again to Anne Ballard in 1696—and had two sons, the eldest of whom was also called Peter.

When he died suddenly in a fit of passion in 1710, he was the wealthiest planter in Jamaica. Charles Leslie and claimed Beckford was "in possession of the largest property real and personal of any subject in Europe." [3] His death resulted from an accident when he rushed to the defense of his son, who had caused such a commotion in the House of Assembly that swords were drawn.

Peter junior gave him a grandson, William Beckford, generally known as "Alderman Beckford" and twice Lord Mayor of London. He in turn produced the great grandson, William Thomas Beckford, the writer and art collector. The latter had his great grandfather's portrait on display, according to Henry Venn Lansdown:

"That is the portrait of my great-grandfather, Colonel Peter Beckford. It was painted by a French artist, who went to Jamaica for the purpose, at the time he was Governor of the island. It is a full length portrait, large as life, the Colonel dressed in a scarlet coat embroidered richly with gold."[4]

Petersfield in Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica is named after him.


  1. ^ Jamaica: Description of the Principal Persons there (about 1720, Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor) inCaribbeana Vol. III (1911), edited by Vere Langford Oliver
  2. ^ Historic Jamaica : With fifty-two illustrations.
  3. ^ A New History of Jamaica, by Charles Leslie, 1740, p. 267
  4. ^ Beckfordiana accessed 17 February 2007
Government offices
Preceded by
William Selwyn
Governor of Jamaica, acting
Succeeded by
Thomas Handasyde, acting