“This is the last will and testament of me Henry Peter Simmons of the parish of Saint Thomas and island abovesaid Esquire hereby revoking and making void all former and other wills and codicils by me at any time heretofore made. I direct my just debts and funeral and testamentary expenses to be fully paid and satisfied by my Executors hereinafter named as soon as possible after my death.”

That is the opening paragraph of the will of Henry Peter Simmons and if you look at the original you will appreciate the effort it took to decipher the handwriting. Henry Peter’s will is full of nuggets. I found it incredibly interesting and it gave a lot of insight into his character.

I believe that a will tells you two things about a person: who is important to them and what is important to them. Henry Peter Simmons was a bachelor who died at 67. He left annuities (sums of money to be paid annually) to three people – one of his servants, Elizabeth Jane Bazwell, his “natural and reputed coloured daughter”, Mary Ann Simmons, and his friend, Isabella Young.

He left Vaucluse and a property in Canada to his “natural coloured and reputed sons”, Harry Simmons and John Alleyne Simmons. These were children from a slave woman named Molly Harry who had died by that time. What was amazing was the fact that he made them the executors of his will. I say “amazing” because this was a man who wrote nine years earlier that he believed slaves were “not fitted for freedom” since in his opinion they were “morally and intellectually defective”. And yet, his sons (who at one time were his slaves) were bequeathed his property and made executors of his will. Could he have had a change of heart and of mind? The plot thickens.