Do you remember passing Arlington Villa?

Do you remember passing Arlington Villa?

...and the Abrahams family of Chaplelton, Clarendon


Friday, September 18, 2020

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There are a number of interesting old buildings around Kingston that are rapidly disappearing. Did you notice an old Edwardian-type house on Lyndhurst Road? I passed it in 2018 and it piqued my interest. There was a “for sale” sign on the fence and the column bore the name Arlington Villa. From inquiries, I heard that two elderly women had lived there for years and that at one point it had been a convent. I did some research and uncovered the Abrahams family of Kingston and Chapelton in Clarendon.

Arlington Villa at 58 Lyndhurst Road was owned from 1910-1919 by George Tavaris Abrahams Jr (1843-1922), a merchant/planter/pen-keeper, and his wife, Deborah Esther Abrahams, nee Magnus (1853-1916). George T Abrahams Jr or G T Abrahams acquired the property, it seems, from Gertrude Brown, for 925 in 1910. The land originally extended into Kencot and across to Kew Road. Abrahams and his wife had possibly ten living children between 1878 and 1896. These were Gerald Ashbrook, Ernest Randolph, Cyril Allen, Cyril Abraham, Margaret Clair, Jennie Ethel, Lillian Ethel, Stanley Edward, Sylvia Constance, and Robert Glaister.

Clarendon was the seat of the Abrahams family as, although first settling in Spanish Town, the patriarch, Abraham Abrahams and his wife, Sarah, lived at Retreat near May Pen. They had a number of children, including Manley and George Tavarez Sr, who was born in about 1814. Son Manley (1820-1896) acquired a store in Chapelton in 1844. This line of the Abrahams family may have originated from a Solomon Abrahams, who came to Jamaica in 1745 from England and settled in Spanish Town. He was of Jewish descent. Members of the family later became Anglican converts.

The parents of George T Abrahams Jr were George Tavarez Abrahams Sr, a planter/merchant, and his wife, Margaret Clare Abrahams, nee Melhado, who was possibly from Ashley Hall in Alley, Clarendon, the daughter of C H Melhado and Rachel Henriques. Margaret Clare (1819 -1894) died in Chapelton, aged 75, and is buried at St Paul's Anglican Church. George and Margaret had about eight children between 1842-1860, six sons, including Thomas McWhinnie Sr and George Tavares Jr, and two daughters, who lived abroad. One of the daughters, Margaret Sarah Abrahams, at age 47, died in Kingston of typhoid on October 26, 1896 at the Myrtle Bank Hotel, where she had been staying following her return to Jamaica. Thomas McWhinnie Sr would become a prominent landowner and businessman in Chapelton taking over his Uncle Manley's store.

George T Abrahams Jr of Arlington Villa was a justice of the peace (JP) in Clarendon and acting custos at one point. Records show that in 1910, besides his home in Kingston, he also had properties in May Pen, Clarendon - Retreat Pen; in St Catherine - Hayfield Pen; and in St Ann - Chesterfield. In June 191 he made a contribution (1 1/-) to the erection of a clock for the King Edward Memorial. This is the Half-Way-Tree clock and tower built in 1913 from public subscriptions as a memorial to Britain's King Edward VII.

Most of G T and Deborah's surviving children eventually emigrated to the USA. The eldest child, son Gerald Ashbrook (1878-1942), was involved in the Kingston-based La Retreat Cigar Factory. Cyril Allan, Stanley Edward and Robert Glaister lived in the USA.

The daughters seem to have attracted more public attention. Margaret Clair (b 1887) married Christopher Bentinger of Chicago, Illinois, at Retreat in Clarendon, home of her grandparents, on December 26, 1906. He was 31 and she was 19. In February 1915 Margaret Clair Bentinger of New Rochelle, USA, was granted an absolute divorce from her husband and got custody of their five children. Jennie Ethel, b 1890, in May 1913, married Maurice Gilbert Heron, son of the late Alexander George Heron of Arye and Cocowalk Estates in Clarendon and Manchester. The wedding was on the lawns of Arlington Villa.

Sylvia Constance (b 1894), seeming a rebellious young woman, married Harry Morgan, US newspaper man, on April 11, 1914 over the objections of her parents. This was quite a scandalous affair played out in court in Jamaica and recorded in detail in The Gleaner of April 1, 1914. Clearly this marriage did not last long, as shortly after Sylvia is recorded marrying Frederick Van Norstrand Groves of the USA. They had at least two children before she is reported dying in 1918.

Prior to this, on January 19, 1916 G T's wife, Deborah Esther Abrahams, died at age 63. She was buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Spanish Town. Just 3 years later, in June 1919, Arlington Villa was advertised for sale by public auction. Various items were also being sold from the house. The property was sold to Cecil Ford for 700 below the price for which it was originally bought. G T could have run into financial difficulties in the post-World War I years. On November 5, 1922 the death of George Tavaris Abrahams Jr of Chapelton, Clarendon, is reported as occurring at 18 Harbour Street in Kingston. He was 79. G T was also buried in Spanish Town.

Arlington Villa remained in the possession of the Ford family until 2006 when it was sold. It was again up for sale in 2018. I met a member of the Ford family, Valerie Ford Ffrench, before her death in 2019. She recalled visiting the house as a child.

St Paul's Anglican Church in Chapelton, which was erected in 1666 and after which the town of Chapelton (Chapel Town) is named, has strong ties with the Abrahams family.

In more recent times, well known members of the Abrahams family linked to Chapelton, Clarendon, included Thomas McWhinnie Abrahams (1878-1957) businessman and aspiring politician; his wife Gladys Lucille Hyman Abrahams (1892-1970); George McWhinnie Abrahams (1928-1999) JP and executive of J Wray & Nephew; and Sydney McWhinnie Abrahams (1915-1983) cricketer/cricket administrator and assistant commissioner of income tax. Christopher George McWhinnie Abrahams, born 1949, is an insurance broker.

Also linked to this family could be Frank Abrahams (1875-1937), motor mechanic, his son, Eric Wordsworth Abrahams (1904-2003) business executive, and his grandson, Eric Anthony Abrahams (1940-2011). They could have been from another branch of this family.

I could find no evidence that any member of this Abrahams family still lives in Chapelton, Clarendon. I do believe that Arlington Villa has now been sold and will likely become a commercial property.

Marcia Thomas, a history enthusiast, is administrator for the Facebook page: Georgian History Jamaica and More.

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