Lord John Rolle was one angry beast of a man in 1834. Not only was forced to free his slaves, but it seemed he was on the hook to feed them as well. What an outage! A bill for £1,000 worth of corn for slaves, in Exuma, turned him redder than beet juice. He trudged up to the House of Lords, in London, to complain bitterly on behalf of himself, and other hard done by millionaire slaveowners.

Lord John Rolle inherited the slave plantations on Exuma from his father, Denys Rolle (1725-1797). The Rolle family, beginning with John, was of the peerage. Peerage is a legal system comprising both hereditary and lifetime titles. It forms part of the British honours system. The title of Lord bestowed on John Rolle could be passed down to direct male heirs.

John married twice, but had no children. With no one to pass his title to, he bestowed it on the nephew of his second wife, Mark.

Lord John Rolle was a beneficial slaveowner.

DENYS ROLLE (The original Rolle in Exuma)

John Rolle was a wealthy man because of his father. John inherited wealth in England, as well as his father, Denys Rolle’s slave plantations in Exuma.

Painting of Denys Rolle

Lord John Rolle is one of the most famous slave owners in Bahamian history. But, in truth, the story of the Rolle slaves begins with his father Denys. It was really his father’s last name which was adopted by almost 400 slaves at the end of slavery. Rolle became one of the most common surnames in the Bahamas.

At one time, Denys Rolle, the father, owned much of the Exumas which he managed to obtain under a grant from the British Crown.

The grant gave him hundreds of acres.

The grant came out of the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles (1783) in which Britain ceded Florida to Spain. This treaty also allowed the Spanish to return the Bahamas back to Britain. Loyalists, like Denys Rolle, lost valuable property in Florida after the Treaty. He made claims for compensation. Britain offered Denys Rolle land in Exuma. Rolle carried his livestock, equipment and slaves to Exuma. Plantation life began.

Denys Rolle was also a British Member of Parliament between 1761 and 1774.

Much forward in history and whitewashed by time, in the 1970s, Denys Rolle would be known in history, not as a slaveowner in Florida, but as a generous philanthropist.

(The Miami News Tuesday 19th January 1971)


Lord Rolle was a big man, both literally, and figuratively. To his contemporaries, his size seemed to be diametrically opposed to his intelligence and graces. What John may have lacked in airs and graces, he more than adequately made up in his ability to accumulate money.

He was a 1st Baron and was a British peer who served as a Member of Parliament and was later an active member of the House of Lords.

With 55,000 acres in Devon, England, Role was the largest landowner in Devon. Again this was part of wealth inherited from his father. He was highly influential in that county for decades. Rolle promoted and financed several large engineering projects, including the Rolle Canal in North Devon, Rolle Quay in Pottington, Barnstaple, and two road bridges over the River Torridge near Torrington, at Town Mills and Weare Giffard and the sea-wall at Exmouth.

By the end of slavery, Rolle is reported to have owned almost 400 slaves who worked his land. He was an important man, both in the Bahamas, and in England.

What is equally interesting about Lord Rolle, is that he never set foot on his plantation in Exuma. Not once. He was an absentee slaveowner, who somehow still managed to maintain operational control over the day to day activities of the slaves.


There are various stories about what happened to the Rolle slaves. Were they freed by Lord Rolle, and given the land by him. Did the slaves just take the land because, in truth, all the white slave owners on Exuma pretty much abandoned their granted land and left emancipation.

Did the Rolle slaves just take over the land, without Rolle’s approval?

What is known, thanks to a ridiculous outburst by Rolle in the House of Lords in London, is how much of a drain, on his wealth, the slaves became after Emancipation.

Slavery officially ended on August 1, 1834, but by Monday August 11, 1834, Lord Rolle was standing up in the House of Lords of the Imperial Parliament in London complaining about having to feed his negroes.

Rolle was complaining bitterly about a bill of 1000£ for corn, food, to feed his slaves.

By Saturday 23 August a British newspaper (Western Times) was giving Rolle a right roasting over his outburst in the House of Lords over having to pay for food for the slaves in Exuma.


“It has been our duty on former occasions— but never a pleasant one— to animadvert upon the proceedings of the venerable nobleman, whose name precedes this article. His Lordship formally held a sway in this county, which we believed to be mischievous in example, and injurious to the best interests of Society; we attacked his public conduct on all occasions where we deemed it to be a duty, and without taking credit for the victory— or rather claiming a victory for the great principles which guided us – we may add that Lord Rolle cease to exercise any sensible influence over the actions of the Yeomanry, and our hostility ceased with the cause of it. We mention this to show that we do not take any She was exceptions to his lordship, but merely anima advert on his conduct when we find it fairly before the public.

His Lordship has considerable possessions in the West Indies, and much against his will has been compelled under the legal regulations which have been adopted, to emancipate his slaves. To give up power must at all times be an unwelcome duty to anyone who has exercised absolute domination over his fellow creatures, and we are not therefore surprised that Lord Rolle should have received the ungracious fiat of the British Senate, more in anger than in sorrow.

But we are surprised that his lordship is the only slaveholder, who has been ill-used, whose slaves have been so “ungrateful grateful for the boon” as to determine to eat much, and earn but little. We know that the West Indies was full of persons who predicted all sorts of enormities, on the part of the slaves, as soon as they should get their liberty, but with the exception of Lord Rolle’s walls slaves having broken them fast with £1000 worth of corn, we have heard no such calamity.

But we should not have noticed this painful narrative of his Lordship in the House of Lords, as reported in our Parliamentary intelligence, last week, if it had not been for the very foolish commentary on it by the very sapient personage, the editor of the Exeter Gazette.

In justice to the slaves we must enter a protest against full credence being given to the whole statement, until their explanation has been received. They might have determined to have a full feast of rolls, in honour of the British Senate, of which their noble [quondam] owner, is a member, and from whom they received their liberty.

It is possible too, that the whole of the money may not be expended in corn, but this is hardly probable, for slave agents must be men delicate sensibilities, such enlarged sympathies, above all such unscrupulous honesty, that we are convinced that not one of them would draw a bill on the owner of the mass of slaves for £1000 worth of corn, unless the slaves meant to eat it all.

We think it redounds to the credit of the slaves generally that this is the only instance of such intense hunger that has yet been reported of them. They have selected be a victim with great judgement, for Lord Rolle is one of the richest owners of slaves in the world, and it is with great satisfaction that we observed his Lordship said that “he could steer his way clearly through the difficulty,” which he does by discharging the whole of the hungry rogues.

The Gazette as usual twaddles most innocently about the hardship inflicted on the noble Lord by the “misguided slaves,” “the noble Lord called upon the government” it adds “to look to the consequences of emancipation. He made this call with a proud bearing and in noble independence – not as a favour but as a right, for he had never asked a favour from the Government nor received one.”

We pass over what the Gazette says about this “weighty matter,” and its lamentations over the consumed corn. But how does the Gazette know what favours the noble Lord has asked how can it say that he asked none.

Then again as to receiving favours – Lord Rolle was a wealthy, no, saturated with riches, and receive the only favourite that a person in this situation could receive, a peerage. He was exalted to the rank of a perpetual Legislator , to which his wealth adopted him full as much as his mental qualifications.”

(The Western Times Saturday 23 August 1834)

John Rolle, 1st Baron Rolle was an important man in Britain. He was a British peer who served as a Member of Parliament and was later an active member of the House of Lords.

With 55,000 acres in Devon, England, Role was the largest landowner in Devon. He was highly influential in that county. He promoted and financed several large engineering projects, including the Rolle Canal in North Devon, Rolle Quay in Pottington, Barnstaple, and two road bridges over the River Torridge near Torrington, at Town Mills and Weare Giffard and the sea-wall at Exmouth.

DEATH of Lord Rolle

(The Sherbone Mercury Monday 11 April 1842)

An Undignified ENDING

At the coronation of Queen Victoria, on 28 June 1838, Lord Rolle, then 80 years old, tripped and rolled down the stairs as he came up to the throne to kiss the new Queen’s hand.

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