Who was Major MacBeen of Jamaica ?

If anyone out on the internet can tell me who Major Mac Been (MacBean, Mac Bean) was I would be very interested to hear from you.  His chest came from the Holland family and was probably passed down from one of their ancestors (Heath, Caldwell, Marsh, Cuthbert, Long, Lyall, Broadwood, Walpole, Cummings, Willits).  The chest itself is very old and probably dates to the 1700s or early 1800s.

 

Who was Major MacBeen of Jamaica ? His chest came from the Holland family and was probably passed down from one of their ancestors (Heath, Caldwell, Marsh, Cuthbert, Long, Lyall, Broadwood, Walpole, Cummings, Willits). Probably lived in the 1700s or early 1800s.

The answer has come from Thomas Lyall as follows:

The Major MacBeen enigma unravelled


Some four years ago a distant cousin, Peter Bishop, while on an internet search of one of the more peripheral branches of our common ancestry, came across an interesting group of portrait miniatures. They were four portraits, one of Daniel Stewart, one of his sister Margaret Schaw Stewart, one of their mother Jean (nee Murray), and a fourth portrait labeled Colonel MacLean. No one in the family had a clue who Colonel MacLean was, or his connection to the other three portrait sitters. It was assumed to have been randomly placed in the group, and left at that.

Then last year a handsome old wooden chest containing a large quantity of 200-year-old family letters turns up in the estate of David Holland. Fortuitously, JJ, a cousin of David Holland acquires the chest, plus two other boxes (one initialed ‘HFB’ – more of that later), containing some 1,800 letters in all. He contacts me because the letters included many from and to Lyall family members. How so many Lyall letters came to be in the possession of a Holland is not surprising – the link between the Holland and Lyall families is well established. But the lid of the chest bears a brass plaque boldly inscribed with the words: “Major MacBeen, Jamaica”. The problem is that nobody in the family has the slightest idea who this Major MacBeen is. His name has never shown up in any family trees, and even more intriguingly, there is no known family connection with Jamaica. Amongst the letters is pre-marriage correspondence of Margaret Schaw Stewart, written before her betrothal to James Broadwood. All kinds of theories get passed around – could the chest have belonged to a former suitor in the military who died prematurely, leaving his chest to her?

I turned my attention back to that group of miniature portraits (see below) I had seen four years earlier to see if I could throw any more light on them by finding out who had posted them on the internet. I had a vague hunch there may be a connection. Could it be that Colonel MacLean and Major MacBeen were one and the same? The possibility was remote – the only thing they had in common was their mysterious identities, but it was worth a try. After a lot of searching I eventually tracked down the author of the internet posting, who turned out to be a collector of miniatures living in New Zealand. I asked him how he knew the identities and relationship of the sitters. Easy, he said, they are all carefully handwritten on the reverse! So were there any clues as to the relationship of Col MacLean to the other subjects? No clues – only his name. So why had he grouped this portrait together with the other three? Simple – although each has a separate oval frame the four paintings were mounted together within the same matte and outer frame. The outer frame was old too, so obviously someone had once understood their relationship and mounted them together. Finally, was it possible that the name MacLean could in fact be a misreading of MacBeen? He immediately replied, Yes, it could actually read MacBean!

So what did we have to go on? The mystery man was MacBean, not MacLean; we now knew what the owner of the chest looked like; it was confirmed he was in the uniform of an English infantry regiment circa 1780’s; and someone had very purposefully included him in the family group with the Murray-Stewarts, so he was definitely related to them in some way. Armed with little more than this we checked a thread of information concerning Jean (Jane) Murray. According to the records she had married Daniel Stewart, an English army surgeon, and given birth to two children, Daniel Jnr. and Margaret Schaw Stewart, in Dominica. This Caribbean island is not a great distance from Jamaica – I felt we were getting warm. Daniel Snr. had died in 1779 when Margaret was barely two years old. Subsequently she and her brother were sent back to Britain for their education, while their mother remained overseas, marrying her cousin Dr. Alexander Field and eventually settling in Virginia, where she lived until her death in 1845. The children were most likely brought up by their mother’s sister, Amelia.

A little research shows that Amelia Murray was married to Thomas Monteith, a Scottish merchant with lands in Green Island, Parish of Hanover, Jamaica, who had emigrated there in 1774. They had two children, both born in Jamaica, in 1778 and 1788 respectively. At last a Jamaican connection! And their eldest was the same age as Margaret. Records show they were living in Jamaica until her husband’s death in 1798, after which Amelia moved to Devon, England.  However, the records indicate that Margaret and Daniel Jnr. were sent to Britain for schooling, and while the Jamaican link dangles tantalizingly, it seems to be a red herring. There is no sign of a MacBean in any of these records.

Amelia appears to be Jean’s only sibling. Who else could the children have been sent to live with for their schooling in Britain? It was time for a little more research on their parents, William Murray, a merchant in Edinburgh, and his wife Jane Schaw. We discover that they had six children in all. Two of Jean’s sisters died in infancy, but two sisters and a brother lived to maturity.  William Murray Jnr. (1757-1821) married Margaret Robertson, who bore him two children and lived in London. However, he was a lieutenant in the British Navy, so would have been frequently absent. It seems unlikely that Jean would have burdened her sister-in-law with the guardianship of her own two children if her brother was away for extended periods. Attention finally turns to the elder sister, Margaret.

The records reveal that Margaret Murray lived in Scotland and England, and married a British Army Officer by the name of none other than – Alexander MacBain!! The spelling is too close to be a coincidence. Now armed with a first name, a search can be made of British military records for all the Alexander MacBains and Alexander MacBeans.  There are several contenders, but the closest match for dates is:
Alexander MacBean
71st Regiment of Foot
Commissioned 28 Aug 1776
Frasers Highlanders (Grenadiers) Capt Elphinstone’s Co 2d Battalion
Disbanded at Perth April 1783
Muster roll signed by D. McBean, Lt 71st Regt.

While we have a strong feeling this is our man it is still inconclusive evidence. Then comes the final clincher – Margaret Murray’s tombstone has been located in St. Luke’s Church, near Woolwich, Kent. On it are inscribed the following words: Underneath this stone lies Margaret, widow of Major Alexander MACBEAN, of the 11th Regt of Foot, and eldest daughter of the late William MURRAY, Esq., formerly of Ardbanie, N.B. She died the 19 Septr, 1830, aged 75. "Forgive us our trespasses".  (Note: reference to the 11th Regiment appears to be a mis-spelling on the plaque.).  There is no record of Margaret and Alexander MacBean having any issue of their own. It is therefore entirely probable that they became the guardians of Jean’s young children when she sent them back to Britain for education after the death of her first husband Daniel Stewart. While MacBean was undoubtedly away from home for extended periods, I am sure that Jean would better trust her children to the care of her sister than to her brother’s wife.

What happened to those two children? Daniel Stewart Jnr. grew up to become a soldier of fortune, spending some time in the southern states of America supervising the loading of ships. Extant letters from 1809 show that by this time he was actively engaged in Virginia and other parts of the East coast as the local agent for Broadwood pianos, the company headed by his brother-in-law. A US embargo on British goods was hurting the piano business, and Daniel seems to have made some effort to rekindle the trade. Daniel later went on to South America, where he died around 1825.

Margaret Schaw Stewart married James Shudi Broadwood. It was a successful match, following the tragic death of James’s first wife at the age of 22. She bore him thirteen children (eight daughters and five sons) between 1805 and 1822. These were the golden years of the Broadwood piano business, and the family grew in the comparative comfort of Lyne, their country estate on the Sussex-Surrey border. One can assume that if the MacBeans had no children of their own, and did oversee the upbringing of Jean’s two children, they would have had a very close relationship, which goes a long way to explaining how some of Mrs. MacBean’s artifacts got passed down to Margaret Schaw Stewart.

We can now piece together the remarkable journey of that enigmatic chest which once belonged to Major MacBean, and the other box embossed with the initials ‘HFB’, together with the letters inside, must have taken the following circuitous route on their way down the generations to David Holland:

Margaret Murray (Mrs. Alexander MacBean) most probably passed her husband’s wooden chest down to her niece Margaret Schaw Stewart, who was by then Mrs. James Broadwood. The chest then passed to her fourth daughter, Mary Drummond Broadwood (1809-1878), who kept her correspondence in it, including letters from her future husband Rev. Alfred Lyall. The chest and its contents then passed to Mary’s eldest daughter Mary Sibylla Lyall (1836-1891), who married Francis Holland (1828-1907). It then passed to their youngest of six children, Michael Holland (1870-1956), who strengthened the Broadwood family link by marrying Marion Broadwood (1887-1970).  It was Marion who inherited Henry Fowler Broadwood’s initialed chest, for he was her paternal grandfather and brother of Mary Drummond Broadwood.  Michael and Marion’s younger son David Cuthbert Lyall Holland (1915-2008), due to both his paternal and maternal ancestry, became the dual beneficiary of both the MacBean chest and the HFB box. 

 

 

If you have any information to add to what is listed please contact me on jj@jjhc.info

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