When I was a child, my father told me his family had come to Jamaica via the U.S. Virgin Islands, formerly the Danish West Indies or Danish Antilles. (The islands were sold to the United States
in 1917 and renamed the United States Virgin Islands in 1917.)
Donna Campbell-Kenny, a cousin who lives in Australia also heard a similar story via our 2nd great-grandfather Donald Binnie Campbell’s granddaughter Corinne Eckert, née Campbell and her cousin Thomas Cripps. Subsequent research by Donna and her cousin Raymond Hopwood, however, has settled the fact that my direct Campbell family line, once arriving in Jamaica, were all born on that island. Having said that, some members of the family did work overseas for varying periods of time—my paternal grandfather, for instance, lived and worked in Panama for a period of time.
In her book, Donna Campbell-Kenny quotes from Corinne Eckert and Thomas Cripps’ account that Donald Binnie Campbell was in charge of the Royal Mail Co.’s offices on St. Thomas, that island being the mail transfer station for Royal Mail. So Donald Binnie might have lived there for some time with his family, providing the basis for the idea that we came from the Virgin Islands. Records show that neither of Donald Binnie’s children were born there, however.
My great-grandfather Alexander James Campbell was known generally as “James” and signed his name, A. James Campbell, so we will call him James. His occupations were described in various documents over time as clerk, commercial
clerk, storekeeper, merchant and gentleman. At one point, he owned a haberdashery at 43 King Street, Kingston.
On 24 Nov. 1880, James married 20-year-old Ida Julia Brandon (1860-1942) and they had 14 children, including their oldest son to reach adulthood, my grandfather Donald Harcourt Campbell (1883-1974).
My great-grandmother Ida Julia Campbell née Brandon was a Sephardic Jew from a family that originated in Portugal and arrived in Jamaica early in the island's British history—after spending some time in England. It seems likely her family belonged to the Brandãos of Viseu, Portugal and changed their name to Brandon after arriving in the U.K.
James and Ida Julia seemed to have had mixed fortune during their marriage, with quite a measure of prosperity dwindling to a rather modest existence. James and/or Ida Julia seem to have inherited enough money at some point
for James to give up working, yet they seemed to fall on leaner times later in their marriage.
Family accounts relate that Ida Julia liked to move from one house to another. She repeatedly would build and move into a house only to sell and move again. Apparently, she loved to do this.
Sadly, seven of their children died in infancy, and some of their surviving children began leaving Jamaica for “greener pastures” overseas: Corinne, Violet and Gwennie emigrated to the U.S. This seems to have been happening about the time of James’s death in 1917. He died of heart failure and is buried at the Church of Scotland grounds in Kingston.
It is interesting to note that Gwennie, who never married, and her sister Corinne did return and lived in Jamaica until their deaths. Corinne married Emil Eckstein in 1923 and after living in America spent much of their retirement years in Jamaica. Violet married Trygve Lodrup who she met in New York and they settled in Norway.
James and Ida’s eldest daughter, Myrtle Mizpah married Cyril Croswell in 1906 and they had six children. I remember their son, Cyril, Jr. and his wife, Joyce née Snaith. After Cyril death, Joyce moved with her son, Christopher, to Canada where I met her a few times. I also remember Cyril, Jr.’s sister, Phyllis, who married Leicester Levy a family friend.
The only one of my grandfather Donald’s siblings I knew well as a boy was his brother, Cecil Guy Campbell (1898-1985). After my parents divorced, my mother and Uncle Guy and his wife Aunt Lena remained friends with my mother so we saw them frequently. Cecil, who was always known as Guy, converted to Judaism and in 1918 married Lena Elma Vaz (1896-1991), who was a Jew and so began a Jewish line of the Jamaican Campbell family.
My sister, Diane, in the 1950s also married into the Vaz family, making her and her husband, Vernon Vaz, cousins. (Vernon’s father was Lena’s brother). And Ida Julia was also connected to the Vaz family through her sister. But that’s typical of Jamaican families—many inter-connections.
Guy and Lena had five children: Clive, Cecil, Emil, Randolph and Norma. Most of that family moved to Canada, but for decades they were very much part of the business community in Jamaica. Guy worked with the United Fruit Co. for many years, and was also Secretary Manager of the Jamaica Gasoline Retailers Association. Later Guy worked as Manager of United Estates Ltd, a sugar factory, I believe.
Emil, Guy’s third son, built one of the leading restaurant, catering and hotel operations in Jamaica, and for several years provided in-flight food service for Air Jamaica Airline. Lena and Guy left Jamaica in 1975 and died in Vancouver, B.C. in 1986 and 1991 respectively.
After the death of her husband James, Ida Julia seemed to divide her time between her girls in New York and her family in Kingston, where she died in 1942.
I’m going to pause here and cover the story of my grandfather, Donald Harcourt Campbell, in my next instalment.