The Helden's Sugar Plantation on St. Kitts

Relation to the Griffin Family

George Mansfield Griffin (1914 - 1971) married Gertrude Blanche Kelly (1917 - 1992) who was the great-great-granddaughter of William Eden Lees (1784 - 1856) and Sophia Cornelia Helden (d. 1869). Children and grandchildren of George and Gertrude Griffin are therefore direct descendants of William and Sophia Lees.


The Helden family owned a sugar plantation on the island of St. Kitts.


Sophia Cornelia Helden (d. 1869) was the daughter of Cornelius Helden. The Heldens were a family from Egham, Surrey who owned a plantation on the Caribbean island of St. Christophers (known today as St. Kitts). The property, "Negro's Nest", consisted of 157 acres and was worked by 126 slaves1,2.

Negro's Nest and the Legacies of Slave Owners

Sophia Cornelia Helden (d. 1869) was the daughter of Cornelius Helden. The Heldens were a family from Egham, Surrey who owned a plantation on the Caribbean island of St. Christophers (known today as St. Kitts). The property, "Negro's Nest", consisted of 157 acres and was worked by 126 slaves1,2. Sophia Cornelia Helden (d. 1869) married William Eden Lees (1784 - 1856) in 1810. The estate was located in the Capisterre region of St. Kitts (aka Capesterre or Cabeca Terre or Cabecaterre).

Capisterre is a region in the north of St. Kitts. It was colonized by the French in the early 17th century and its capital was the fishing town of Dieppe. The area passed to the British in 1713. Significant numbers of French immigrants from the neighbouring island of Saint Barths came to Capisterre in the early 20th century.

In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht made all of St. Kitts, the island in the Caribbean formally known as St. Christophers, an English territory. This meant that 20,000 acres of land was at the disposal of the British Crown3,4. John Helden, the Collector of Customs, St. Kitts5, bought 157 acres of this land, an estate that was known at the time as "Negro's Nest"1 and was probably a sugar plantation. John Helden died in 1753 and left his estate in St. Kitts to his brother Cornelius Helden of Ireland5 ancestor of Sophia Cornelia Helden (the wife of William Eden Lees).

However, the inheritance of Negro's Nest is unclear, for when John Helden's wife, Mary, died in 1752, her will leaves Negro's Nest to her daughter, also called Mary6, although another will makes no reference to Negro's Nest7. Mary Helden (1726 - 1776) was the daughter of John and Mary Helden. She married Thomas Foster of Jamaica and Egham8; they had no children.

When slavery was abolished in the British Caribbean in 1833, the British government agreed to compensate the former slave-owners. Although, the inheritance of Negro's Nest was uncertain, this did not deter the Rev. Sir Harcourt Lees (1776 - 1852) claiming for compensation in 1835 for 126 slaves on the estate of Heldens on St Kitts on behalf of his younger brother William Eden Lees and wife Sophia Cornelia Helden2. There were three claimants for the compensation for the 126 slaves and the award was split: £1340 16s 1d went to claimant John Browne; £726 8s 4d went to James Berridge; Sir Harcourt Lees is listed as an unsuccessful claimant2.

In 1833 Parliament abolished slavery in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. The slave trade had been abolished in 1807, but it had taken another 26 years to effect the emancipation of the enslaved. However, in place of slavery the negotiated settlement established a system of apprenticeship, tying the newly freed men and women into another form of unfree labour for fixed terms. It also granted £20 million in compensation, to be paid by British taxpayers to the former slave-owners. The Heldens Estate in St. Kitts was one of the former slave-owners that received compensation

There is still a place called "Heldens" in the Capisterre region of St. Kitts.

Slaves on St. Kitts had very harsh living and working conditions, only lasting eight to twelve years in the fields. Twenty two percent died during transport across the Atlantic and in the 18th century forty percent died within a year of arrival9. Slavery was an appalling and shameful system and we condemn the indefensible wrongdoing that occurred during this period.

Slavery, forced labour and bonded labour still exist today10.


1. Purchase by John Helden of Negro's Nest on the island of St Kitts Warrants, Letters, etc. 1720, January-June in Calendar of Treasury Books and Papers, Volume 1, 1729-1730, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1897) pp. 503-524. May 6, 1730 Warrant from the Lords of the Treasury to the Auditor of the Receipt, the Clerk of the Pells, &c. To accept from John Helden 893l. 2s. 2d. in full discharge of the principal sum payable to His Majesty as the remainder purchase money for 157 acres in the quarter of Cabeca Terre, St. Christopher, commonly known as the Negro's Nest, Helden having been in possession of same when it was sold by the Commissioners for disposing of French lands in the Island of St. Christopher, and his wife having petitioned for him. Money Book XXXV. pp. 194-5. Note: Cabeca Terre aka Capesterre or Cabecaterre. St. Christopher aka St. Kitts.
2. Slave owners compensation claim (UCL Archives) Claim details for Heldens Etate on St Kitts (125 slaves)
3. Sale of the French Lands of St. Kitts, c. 1726
4. Sale of the French Lands of St. Kitts to John Helden, c. 1726
5. Gravestone and will of John Helden from: Caribbeana: Being Miscellaneous Papers Relating to the History, Genealogy, Topography, and Antiquities of the British West Indies. Will of John Helden of St. Kitts (St. Christophers) and Egham, Surrey: 1738, Feb. 11. John Helden, Esq; at Egham, in the County of Surrey; he lived many years in the Island of St. Christophers where he was one of the Council and Collector of the Customs in the Reign of Q. Ann, and the late K. George; he came from thence in the Year 1730, and had lately made a purchase at Egham, where he lived much beloved and died greatly lamented. (G.M., 109.) John Helden of Egham. Esq. Will dated in 1738. My brother Cornelius Helden of Ireland. My est. at St. Christophers. Wife Mary. Dau. Mary. (63, Brodrepp.) (See ante, II., 206.) Mary Helden. Will proved 16 Jan. 1753.
6. Lease of plantation and will of Mary Helden Supporting document to: Inhuman traffic: background to the slave trade
7. Will (1752) of Mary Helden wife of John Helden Will of Mary Helden of Egham, Surrey, dated 23 September 1752. To my sister Mrs. Deborah Batt L 200 and L 50 to be distributed to the poor. To my kinsman Rev. William Netcutt and his wife L 20 with further bequests to his children and his son-in-law Mr. Barnard, and to his sisters. To my brother Mr. Cornelius Helden L L100 and L50 each to my nephew John Helden; to his son Cornelius Helden; to my nieces Sarah Bendal and Mary MC Connel; to my kinswoman Mrs. Mary Chadwell and her daughter Mrs. Mary Walker. Ten guineas to the daughter of Mr. Samuel Troughton. L 50 each to Mrs. Elizabeth Harison and to Hannah Chies. To Susannah Read a Malata woman at St. Christopher's and the proceeds of L100 for her life, and then to be shared between her children. I have L400 of my brother Helden's money. To my sister Deborah Batt my mortgage on Staines Bridge for life, then to my daughter Foster for life, and then to be shared by her children. To my kinswoman Mrs. Elizabeth Brice at Carolina L10 a year for life. One sixth part of a plantation now rented to a M. Joanis Clifton in Nevis may come to me at the death of Mrs. Sophia Snow and this I leave in trust to the use of John Helden Hurt who is also to have all the land I rent to Sommers Payne, Esq., Trustees: Sir Edward Hawke and Mr. Jonathan Perrie. Reference to late will of my husband John Helden. Executrix my daughter Mary Foster. Witnessed Sarah Marriott, Mary Ward, John Ward. Proved 16 January 1753 by Mary Foster, wife of Thomas Foster, Esq. on 23 May 1780 administration of estate unadministered was granted to George Netcutt, a son of William Netcutt. (PRO:PCC 15/1753)
8. John Foster of Egham, Surrey Captain John Foster of Egham and Jamaica
9. Slavery in St. Kitts Information from Wikipedia
10. Modern Slavery