Modyford was the son of a mayor of Exeter with family connections to the Duke of Albemarle, who emigrated to Barbados as a young man with other family members in 1647, in the opening stages of the English Civil War. He had £1,000 for a down payment on a plantation and £6,000 to commit in the next three years. Modyford soon was dominant in Barbados island politics, rising to be speaker of the house of assembly in Barbados during the reign of Charles II, and factor for the Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa, who had a monopoly in the slave trade to the islands.
He was appointed Governor of Jamaica, by commission dated 15 February 1664. He arrived in Jamaica 4 June 1664, with seven hundred planters and their slaves, marking the wholesale introduction of a slavery-based plantation economy in Jamaica. He appointed to his council his brother, Col. Sir James Modyford. Under Modyford the island was first divided into parishes. Modyford remained a factor for the Royal Adventurers until 1669, overseeing their plantation in Jamaica. Sir James was granted a royal licence in November to ship convicted felons from England to his brother in Jamaica. In Jamaica Sir Thomas used a labor force of twenty-eight indentured servants from England.
Sir Thomas had a cacao plantation at Sixteen Mile Walk in St. Katherine's parish In the second half of the 1660s, Modyford waged war against the Karmahaly Maroons, led by Juan de Serras, but the governor failed to subdue this community of runaway slaves.
In 1670 he was "Governor of His Majesty's Island of Jamaica Commander-in-Chief of all His Majesties Forces within the said Island and in the Islands adjacent Vice-Admiral to His Royal Highness the Duke of York in the American Seas", according to the commission to Henry Morgan to make war upon the Spanish. The issuance of the aforementioned privateer commission to Morgan, who used it to attack and plunder the Spanish possession of Panama, resulted in revocation of Modyford's governorship and arrest in 1671. King Charles II of England, in desperate need of Spain as an ally in an impending war with the Dutch, had ordered the arrest and revocation merely to appease a Spanish Crown, furious over the destruction of their prize city. Though charges were never preferred, and no trial was ever held, Modyford spent two years in the Tower of London. He was released in 1674, and returned to Jamaica in 1675.
Modyford died in 1679. He was buried at the cathedral in Spanish Town.
- Sir Thomas Modyford
- Jamaica Gleaner "Jamaica and the Atlantic Slave Trade (Part II)" Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine 26 March 2006
- W. A. Feurtado, Official and Other personages of Jamaica from 1655 to 1790 (Kingston) 1896
- George F. Zook, "The Royal Adventurers and the Plantations" The Journal of Negro History 4.2 (April 1919), pp. 206-231.
- Hilary McD. Beckles, "Plantation Production and White "Proto-Slavery": White Indentured Servants and the Colonization of the English West Indies, 1624-1645" The Americas 41.3 (January 1985), pp. 21-45.
- J. Harry Bennett, "Cary Helyar, Merchant and Planter of Seventeenth-Century Jamaica" The William and Mary Quarterly 3rd Ser., Vol. 21.1 (January 1964), pp. 53-76.
- Mavis Campbell, The Maroons of Jamaica 1655-1796: a History of Resistance, Collaboration & Betrayal (Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey, 1988), pp. 25-32.
- On-line text.
- Marley, David. Pirates of the Americas, Volume 1. p. 247.
Daniel Searle, acting
| Governor of Barbados, acting
Humphrey Walrond, acting
| Deputy Governor of Jamaica
as Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica
|Baronetage of England|
|New creation|| Baronet
(of Lincoln's Inn)