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Banished by Cromwell?: John Hooke and the Caribbean

By Thomas Byrne


Design for a sugar cane mill
(Richard Ligon, A true & exact history of the island of Barbadoes, London, 1673).

Similar sentiments relating to the importance of social status underpin references in a manuscript in the Royal Irish Academy (MSS 24 D9, pp 1-48) relating to the branch of the Hooke family established in the Caribbean. These documents originate from a legal case concerning dérogeance (loss of the status of nobility) taken in 1785. The people concerned claimed descent from a John Hooke who left Ireland for the island of St Christopher in the 1650s. However, the documents cast little light on when or why John Hooke left Ireland as, not surprisingly, the family members themselves were unclear by the 1780s; in De Saint-Allais’ account of the Hooke family’s history (De Saint-Allais 1872: 19-22), this John Hooke who migrated to the West Indies is identified as the son of Peter Hooke, brother of Nathaniel’s father, John. His existence is confirmed by the Correspondence of Colonel N. Hooke (Macray 1870 II: ix). John Hooke of St Christopher would therefore have been Nathaniel’s cousin. If De Saint-Allais’ account is taken at face value, the political outlook of this branch of the family would have been very different to that of the rest of the family: Peter Hooke is claimed to have disappeared after the reduction of Ireland by Cromwell, and his son John, a cavalry lieutenant, allegedly proscribed at that time also, leading to his migration to Saint Christopher. 

This version of the Hooke genealogy would place Peter Hooke very much at odds with his father Thomas Hooke, a committed supporter of Parliament in politics and Protestantism in religion, and a man who substantially aided and benefited from the Cromwellian conquest. Thomas Hooke’s rise to influence had been rapid. In 1654 he was elected, in a departure from the previous system of arranged succession, to the office of mayor of Dublin. He advanced steadily in power and responsibility in the civic government of Interregnum Dublin as he proved both his loyalty and usefulness to the Cromwellian regime. He became mayor, justice of the peace, revenue commissioner, commissioner for probate of wills and farmer of the petty customs of Dublin. He was directly involved in overseeing land confiscation and population transplantation after the defeat of the Catholic Confederacy. Indeed, in what can be seen as evidence of his trustworthiness and reliability he was the only non-military member amongst an eight man commission sent to the precinct of Waterford to investigate ‘the delinquency of Irish and other proprietors […] in order to the distinguishing of their respective qualifications, according to the act for settling Ireland’ (Dunlop 1913 II: 378). In this context, it appears unlikely in the extreme that the Hookes were expelled from any lands in the 1650s by dint of Cromwellian action, and especially not from any holdings in Waterford or Wexford, where the only evidence we have to support their ownership is that invented by Nathaniel Hooke in 1706. How, then, did John Hooke get to the Caribbean?

Map of the West Indies
(John Ogilby, America: being the latest, and most accurate description of the new world, London, 1671)

De Saint-Allais gives no source for his information. As the work was printed in the 1870s, at a time of increasing controversy in print surrounding Cromwell’s memory in both Ireland and England, this may have contributed to the misinterpretation of the reasons motivating John Hooke to leave Ireland. Documentary as well as circumstantial evidence suggests that rather than being forced to leave, he may have been a voluntary participant in Cromwell’s ‘Western Design’ to mount an expedition against Spanish territories in the West Indies. A John Hooke is recorded as Assistant to the Commissary General of Musters in Jamaica in 1657 (C.S.P Colonial, America and the West Indies, 1675-76: Addenda 1574-1674: 499). If this is the same John Hooke, his career was furthered by involvement with Cromwellianism, rather than hindered. Spain, rather than France, was England’s main rival in the 1650s. Indeed from the late 1650s, England and France were allies in a war against Spain. In the West Indies, the island of Saint Christopher (colloquially known as Saint Kitts) was a shared territory, and instances of holding land in both parts of the island were not unusual (C.S.P Col., America and the West Indies: 758). With the other English settlements in the Caribbean on Barbados, Nevis, Antigua, Montserrat and later Jamaica, Saint Kitts attracted large numbers of settlers in the 1650s through the growth of the hugely profitable sugar trade. The sugar boom gave birth to ‘vast and sudden fortunes’ allowing successful settlers to ‘establish sturdy foundations for the economic security of their posterities’ (Canny and Pagden 1987: 217). In the wake of the downfall of the powerful French political and financial figure Nicolas Fouquet in 1661, John Hooke appears to have acquired his confiscated estates on Martinique. Marrying Elizabeth Melon or Meslon, their children remained in the sugar business in the Caribbean for over a century. In an instance of historical irony, later members of the family, now thoroughly Gallicised and Catholicised, and with only a vague awareness of their Irish origins, served in the Irish regiments in the French army.

In a sense then, the Hookes in the Caribbean did owe their presence there to Oliver Cromwell and the legacy of his campaign in Ireland. Rather than the forced migration of Catholic rebels, the family had benefited from the opportunities created by the Cromwellian wars. As with many aspects of Irish migration and diaspora studies, a seemingly simple and straightforward account can with more in-depth critical investigation and with the benefit of archival research produce a more complex and nuanced understanding of the processes at work.

Thomas Byrne
Department of History, NUI Maynooth


[1] The author's areas of interest include Early Modern Europe, Migration, Identity, Diplomatic and Intelligence History, Colonialism and Empire, and the War of Spanish Succession.

[2] See Thomas Byrne, ‘From Irish Whig Rebel to Bourbon Diplomat: the Life and Career of Nathaniel Hooke (1664-1738)’ (PhD thesis, NUI Maynooth, 2006).

[3] Hooke cites the work as Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (London, 1614), p. 129.


- Anonymous, An Epitome of Mr. John Speed's Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (London, 1676).

- Archives des Affaires Etrangères (A.A.E) Paris, Correspondance Politique (CP) Angleterre, supplémentaire, vol. 3.

- Barnard, T. C., A New Anatomy of Ireland: the Irish Protestants, 1649-1770 (London & New Haven, 2003).

- Bergin, Joseph, The Rise of Richelieu (Manchester, 1997).

- Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MSS Dossiers Bleus 59.

- Calendar of State Papers (C.S.P) Colonial, America and the West Indies, 1675-76: Addenda 1574-1674 (London, 1893).

- Canny, Nicholas and Pagden, Anthony (eds.), Colonial Identity in the Atlantic World 1500-1800 (Princeton, 1987).

- Colfer, Billy, The Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford (Cork, 2004).

- De Saint-Allais, Nicholas, Nobiliaire Universel de France ou Recueil Général des Genéalogies Historiques des Maisons Nobles de ce Royaume (Paris, 1872).

- Dunlop, Robert (ed.), Ireland Under the Commonwealth (2 vols, Manchester, 1913), ii, 378.

- Gwynn, Aubrey, ‘Documents Relating to the Irish in the West Indies’, in Analecta Hibernica, including the reports of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, no. 4 (Oct. 1932), 139-286.

- Hayes, Richard, Biographical Dictionary of Irishmen in France (Dublin, 1949).

- Ligon, Richard, A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (London, 1673).

- Macray, W. D. (ed.), Correspondence of Colonel N. Hooke, Agent from the Court of France to the Scottish Jacobites, in the years 1703-1707 (London, 1870). Two vols.

- O’Callaghan, J. C., History of the Irish Brigades in the Service of France from the Revolution in Great Britain and Ireland under James II, to the Revolution in France under Louis XVI (Glasgow, 1885).

- Ogilby, John, America: Being the Latest, and Most Accurate Description of the New World (London, 1671).

- Royal Irish Academy MSS 24 D9.

- Simington, R. C. (ed.), The Civil Survey 1654-56: volume vii, county of Dublin (Dublin, 1945).

- Twenty-sixth report of the deputy keeper of the public records and keeper of the state papers in Ireland (Dublin, 1894).


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 11 November 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Byrne, Thomas, '
Banished by Cromwell?: John Hooke and the Caribbean' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:3 (November 2007), pp. 215-220. Available online (, accessed .


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