Behind the outer beauty of St. Nicholas Abbey plantation in Barbados lies a love-torn story.
In the mid 17th century, partners in real estate Col. Benjamin Berringer and Sir John Yeamans owned two adjacent properties. Together, their property equaled 365 acres. Like many business partners, the two argued, especially on where the property lines fell.
Berringer came from an aristocratic family and was a member — along with Yeamans — of the Barbados council. He moved to the island in 1624 and became a successful planter. He built the Jacobean style house in 1658 for his wife, Margaret, and three children. Yeaman was a colonel in the Royalist army in England who emigrated to the island in 1650. Unlike his partner, he was widowed. However, it was rumored that he had lusted after Margaret. This attraction would lead to Berringer’s demise.
In 1661 Benjamin and Margaret had a heated dispute, causing Berringer to leave the plantation. While Benjamin was headed toward the busy sea port, it is said that Yeaman arranged for someone to poison his business partner and neighbor. Berringer died at a friend's house.
Yeaman’s wish came true, and he and Margaret married in April that same year. They sure didn’t wait long, especially considering Margaret was pregnant with Benjamin’s fourth child. Their marriage merged the two plantations together into one property called Yeamans Plantation. Their love story wouldn’t go as smoothly as the quick marriage.
After the Restoration, Yeaman was knighted by King Charles II. As a reward for his loyalty to the Royalist cause, he gained 48,000 acres of land in South Carolina. He sent three ships to Cape Fear in North Carolina, but the land proved too difficult to farm, so they settled in Charlestown. Yeaman followed the ships in 1669 and built a plantation. However, his greed and lust for wealth — mixed with his murderous reputation — overpowered him.
He returned to the plantation and died shortly after, in 1674. Upon Margaret’s death, the plantation passed down to her eldest son, John. John lived only one month longer than his mother, passing the plantation down to his daughter, Susannah and her husband.
Susannah detested the name Yeaman’s Plantation, as she had heard he was the cause of her grandfather’s death. She changed the name to Nicholas plantation after her husband’s last name.
Falling sugar prices forced the Nicholas family to sell to Joseph Dottin in the 1720s. He owned several properties and gave each daughter a plantation as a wedding gift. Nicholas Plantation was awarded to his daughter, Christian, when she married John Gay Alleyne in 1746. Sir John served as Speaker Of The House of Assembly from 1767 to 1797. While upholding his position, he also successfully maintained the plantation. He did it so well, they renamed it Mount Gay in his honor. Along with maintaining the plantation, he made notable changes. The Jacobean style was outdated, so he added a more modern, triple-arcaded portico, sash windows, and an intricate chippendale staircase.
Following his political ties, he honored the Treaty of Paris by replacing the original cherry trees lining the entrance with mahogany trees, which were the first of their kind on the island. The bold trees still stand in the Cherry Tree Hill today. Another big change was introducing a rum distillation as means of economic stability. Before that, his primary resource was sugar. At the height of production, it was considered to be one of the most successful Barbados plantations.
Christian’s death left a will passing the plantation to her own children upon the death of her husband. With no surviving heirs, it passed back to the Dottin family. However, with the political uprising in Europe and the start of the Napoleonic War, it was impossible to track down the family. The property underwent considerable debt and was finally seized by the Chancery Court in 1810.
Edward and Lawrence Trent Cumberbatch purchased it from the court. Edward’s son, Edward Jr., stood to inherit the property if he waited five years after his father’s death to marry the love of his life, Mary. His family didn’t approve of the match because Mary’s father was a poor musician. Edward chose love over the 350-acre property and married Mary. The property then passed down to his sister and her husband in 1834.
The property would continue passing from generation to generation. The Cave family owned it for nearly 200 years, but were hardly there. Instead, an overseer maintained the plantation, producing sugar and syrup. The family made periodic visits and, in 1935, Charles J.P. Cave visited with several family members. This visit is the home movie shown to visitors during the tour.
In 2003, the house passed James Petri, the nephew of Lt. Col. Stephen Cave, who had no children and would be the last person with that last name to own the property. Petri sold the property to the current owners — architect Larry Warren and his wife, Anna — in 2006. Unlike its past owners, the Warren’s purchased the property to preserve it as part of the island’s heritage. Being an architect, Warren oversaw its restoration, which returned it to its original state as a working sugar plantation.
Thanks to the Warrens, visitors can explore land that had been inhabited by the Arawaks for many centuries. Indian artifacts, such as glass and pottery, have been discovered on the grounds. Visitors can also wander around the 225 acres of sugar cane fields. The other 175 acres are dedicated to formal gardens with orchids, roses, and hibiscus. Guests can taste and learn how to plant citrus, mangoes, avocados, and breadfruit trees, while green monkeys play in the trees.
Now you can visit the plantation that saw tragic love stories and high-powered owners. And while it went through multiple changes, the Warrens brought it back to the beginning.