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Judith Phillip

Caribbean planter compensated by the British government when it emancipated the 257 people enslaved by her in 1833. She was born free around 1760, either on Carriacou or Petit Martinique, near Grenada, to a white Frenchman and a free African woman he once owned and later freed. Judith’s childhood coincided with the Seven Years War, when British colonial rule replaced French and slavery expanded rapidly. By 1778 enslaved Africans outnumbered whites on Carriacou by 29 to 1. A small number of slave owners were free people of color, including Judith’s mother, Jeanette, who owns all of Petit Martinique and a 160-acre plantation on Carriacou, which Judith later inherited. The vast majority of African descended women and men on those islands, however, were enslaved and labored on sugar, coffee, and cotton plantations like Judith Phillip’s Grand Anse. Through shrewd acquisitions she became one of the most respected and successful planters in the region. Her success continued through the early 19th century, despite the pro-French sympathies of her brother, Joachim, who aided Grenada’s Fédon Rebellion and slave uprising against the British in 1795. 

Judith then forged a business and family alliance with William Thornton, a British attorney and estate manager. Like many such couples in the Caribbean, they did not marry, but lived together (including a decade in London). Their five children all took Thornton’s name even though Thornton was by then legally married to an Englishwoman. In 1808 Philip returned to Carriacou. When the British government abolished slavery in 1834, she received over 6,603 pounds sterling compensation for her property of 275 slaves.  That wealth was created in Grenada and the Grenadines by enslaved labor and free colored owners but it was not reinvested on the islands. Philip’s children all choose to remain in Britain, part of a wealthy Victorian elite who continued to reap the benefits of slavery long after emancipation.

Read the full original biography by Kit Candlin in The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

View complete story (pdf)

Online Resources

Slave Voyages: The Liverpool slave ship, Judith, which disembarked in Grenada in 1758, two years before Judith Philip’s birth. ​http://www.slavevoyages.org/voyage/90640/variables 

Details on the British government’s compensation paid to Judith Philip for the loss of her enslaved property (275 people) on three plantations


Brinkley, Frances Kay, “An Analysis of the 1750 Carriacou Census,” Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 1/2 (March – June, 1978), pp. 44-60. 

Candlin, Kit, The Last Caribbean Frontier, 1790–1815. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave, 2012.

Candlin, Kit, and Cassandra Pybus. Enterprising Women: Gender, Race and Power in the Revolutionary Atlantic, 1760–1840. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2014.

Phillip, Nicole. “Producers, Reproducers, and Rebels: Grenadian Slave Women 1783-1833” http://www.open.uwi.edu/sites/default/files/bnccde/grenada/

Steele, Beverly E. Grenada: A History of Its People (MacMillan Caribbean, 2003).

Adapted by

Steven J. Niven and Briona Jones

Contributing Institutions

Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.

Key Events


French settlers from Martinique occupy Carriacou, a small island (34 sq. mi, a little over half as big as Manhattan), near Grenada


Nine recorded slave voyages disembark a total of 2,465 African slaves in Grenada. The last is a Liverpool vessel, the Judith, which leaves Africa with 419 enslaved men, women, and children aboard. 38 of them do not survive the Middle Passage. 259 disembark at Grenada. 122 continue on to New Orleans. (See link to Voyage in Online Resources section below.)


Judith Philip is born on Carriacou or nearby Petit Martinique, the eldest daughter of 8 children of Honoré Philip, a white French baker turned planter, and his African wife, Jeannette, formerly his slave.


British forces occupy Grenada and its neighboring islands as part of the Seven Years War with France, and rapidly expand slavery.

1761 to 1800

An average of 33,000 enslaved Africans disembark in Grenada each decade: 90 percent of all who arrive on the island during the slave trade.


At Honoré Philip’s death, his family own at least 80 slaves and property on Grenada, Petit Martinique, and Carriacou.

Late 1780s

With the death of their Free African mother, Jeanette, Judith Philip and her 7 siblings inherit several hundred slaves and properties on all 3 islands. Judith and her brother Jean-Baptiste Louis buy out their siblings’ holdings. Judith begins a business and personal relationship with Edmund Thornton, a neighboring British planter and attorney.


Jean-Baptiste Louis leaves for Trinidad, where his son, Jean-Baptiste Philip, will champion the rights of free coloreds and earn a medical degree from Edinburgh University. By adding her brother’s properties, Judith becomes one of the largest slave-owners in the region. The Grand Anse plantation on Carriacou is the mainspring of her wealth and prominence.


During Fédon’s Rebellion, free blacks of color, including Judith’s brother Joachim, encourage a slave rebellion against British rule in Grenada. The rebellion is crushed and Joachim is captured and executed in 1804 after 8 years in hiding.


During Fedon’s Rebellion on Grenada, Judith remains on Carriacou, away from the fighting. Around this time, she and 3 of her children move to London to be near Thornton, who marries an Englishwoman. Two more children are born to Philip and Thornton after this marriage.


Philip returns to Carriacou and takes direct control of her properties. Profits continue, which enable her London-based children to invest heavily in the City of London and enable Philip to bail them out of financial problems.


The first official Slave Registry reveals that Philip now owns several hundred slaves in Grenada, Carriacou, Petit Martinique, and Trinidad. Grand Anse now stretches over 400 acres.


Philips’ power and prestige is shown when one of her slaves is sentenced to death for attacking another man. She organizes a petition of her white planter neighbors and persuades the colonial Secretary to commute the sentence.


The emancipation of slavery in the British Empire compensates Philip 6,603 pounds sterling for her property of 275 slaves. (See link to British government’s compensation in Online Resources section below.)


When Philip dies on Carriacou in her late 80s, her properties are divided among her 3 surviving daughters and the children of her dead son, all of whom move permanently to London.