Henry Drax (1641-1682)

Col. Henry Drax, Sugar Planter, of Drax Hall, Barbados

Associated Houses

Drax Hall

Saint George

Despite two marriages, Henry outlived all of his children. Realising the end of his direct line, he did two things to ensure the continuation of the Drax name, and their great wealth: First, he ensured that all the Drax estates and the vast profits they generated remained in the family by bequeathing them to his nephew, Thomas, on the strict condition that he took the name "Drax" - a tradition that has continued for the best part of 350-years to the present owner of those same estates (and more), Richard Drax. Secondly, Henry ensured that the jewel in their family's empire would continue to be run to be profitable by writing, "Instructions on the Management of a Seventeenth-Century Barbadian Sugar Plantation” for the benefit of the overseer at Drax Hall. In his article on primary sources, Ken Owen gives an honest appraisal of Drax's book:

"Drax’s instructions... are so unremittingly meticulous that the sense of an oppressive, controlling, and inhuman system keeps building for the reader. It is unremittingly clear how slaves were simply seen as cogs in a machine, at every part of the sugar production process, and in every part of plantation life. This is most chillingly seen in the off-hand way that Drax identifies the necessity of replacing as much as 20% of his plantation’s workforce on account of death. But while that revelation is certainly a jolt to the system, it is the specificity with which tasks, punishments, and even the selection of certain ‘favorites’ to dine with the family are detailed that provide the real value".

He died at his townhouse on Bloomsbury Square, London. His estates included Ellerton Abbey in Yorkshire - purchased by his father and still owned by Richard Drax today; Drax Hall in Barbados - still owned by Richard Drax today; and, land in Lincolnshire. By the time he died, his English estates were producing as much as his Drax Hall. Unlike his father, Henry did put aside £2,000 for the benefit of the island (albeit the planters) to which he owed his wealth: to establish a free school or college at Bridgetown. But it never materialised, the money was 'borrowed' by local government and disappeared.  

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 19/07/2021 and last updated on 21/07/2021.