Endangered Archives

EAP688: Digitisation of the Deed books in Saint Vincent for the slavery era, 1763-1838

Professor Kenneth Morgan, Brunel University
2013 award - Major project
£16,554 for 15 months

Archival partner: National Archive of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

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Project Overview

This project will digitise the surviving Deed books for Saint Vincent from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This important source material was sampled in the earlier pilot project EAP345: “A survey of the endangered archives of Saint Vincent, West Indies, during the slavery era”. The period is here defined as the years from 1763, when Saint Vincent was ceded to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, until 1838, the date when Apprenticeship for slaves ended in the British Caribbean and slave emancipation was fully implemented in accordance with the Emancipation Act of 1834. The pilot project revealed that the most important manuscript records for the slavery era that survive in a continuous run for Saint Vincent are the Deed books.

The Deed books include important material for researchers. After 1763, Saint Vincent was drawn into the orbit of slavery in the British Empire. Its sugar plantation sector expanded rapidly after that date and the island became (along with other Windward Islands such as Dominica, Grenada and Tobago) a new, expanding frontier for British slavery. The Deed books, compiled in the offices of the island’s Colonial Secretary and the Registrar, proved a comprehensive record of all land and property transactions carried out during the seventy-five years when slave plantations were the main type of investment and employment on the island. The Deed books are large bound volumes that are available for every year in the period from 1763 to 1838. Such a continuous series of these records is only replicated sporadically for other islands that were once British possessions in the Caribbean. The land and property details recorded in these records provide the names of investors, along with their occupation and residence, and precise financial details, either in sterling or in the island’s currency. The information on investors includes whites and free blacks, men and women, and absentee residents (in other West Indian Islands or in Britain) as well as those living in Saint Vincent. The financial information is wide-ranging. Credit transactions are included. Mortgages, annuities, loans and bonds are all specified, with the names of the parties involved. The Deed books contain much material on slave sales between individuals connected with Saint Vincent and they also have information on slave manumissions. Where sugar plantations are identified in these records, the numbers, and sometimes the valuations, of slaves are given. This is particularly useful for researchers for the period from 1763 to 1815 because it was not until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that slave registration was commonly carried out throughout the British Caribbean.

The material contained in the Deed books is essential for understanding the social structure and economy of Saint Vincent during the slavery era. The Deed books have been kept until recently at the Eastern Caribbean Court House in Kingstown, which has cramped and unsuitable conditions for serious historical research. Following the recommendations of the earlier pilot project, the Deed books have now been transferred to the National Archive of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and housed in a properly equipped and modern archive. Digitisation of these records would conserve them for future use and would make them widely available to historians of the Caribbean. A comprehensive study of these records would allow for a detailed analysis of the total investment in land and property in Saint Vincent during the period when its economy was dominated by sugar plantations operated by slaves. An analysis of the records would reveal the spatial distribution of properties in Saint Vincent; the degree of concentration in ownership; the levels of financial commitment; the different ways of supplying capital (mortgages, bonds, annuities and so on); the value of slave sales; the extent of manumission; and the supply of bills of exchange (and the parties to those transactions).

The extent of the original material comprises around sixty volumes of Deed books, each containing approximately 500 folios. The entire run of these records will be digitised and copies deposited with the National Archive of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the British Library.

Project Outcome

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP688/1 Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Kingstown, St Vincent

The catalogue is available here.