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. Sir Thomas Beckford, Sheriff of London was his uncle as was Captain Richard Beckford, who was trading in Jamaica from 1659. Peter emigrated there in 1662, afterwards becoming President of the Jamaican Council and acting Governor in 1702.

He arrived in Jamaica with two or three enslaved Africans shortly after it became an English colony and engaged himself as hunter and horse catcher.[1] When he died suddenly in a fit of passion in 1710, he was the wealthiest planter in Jamaica, and it was claimed he was "in possession of the largest property real and personal of any subject in Europe." [2]

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.[3] 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.

He was twice married - to Bridget who died in 1691, and to Anne Ballard in 1696. He had two sons. Peter was the elder. The death of Peter senior resulted from an accident when he rushed to the defence 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 who in turn produced the great grandson, William Thomas Beckford, the writer. 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 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. ^ A New History of Jamaica, by Charles Leslie, 1740, p. 267
  3. ^ Historic Jamaica : With fifty-two illustrations. 
  4. ^ Beckfordiana accessed 17 February 2007
Government offices
Preceded by
William Selwyn
Governor of Jamaica, acting
Succeeded by
Thomas Handasyde, acting