Inventory of archival holdings in Jamaica (EAP148)

Aims and objectives

The targeted libraries and archives contain valuable historical collections that focus on the lives of enslaved Africans and free blacks in Jamaica during the period 1655-1800. The documents are important to scholars studying the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, and supplement the extensive records that are held in Britain on the forced migration of Africans to Jamaica.

The materials are located in Kingston, specifically in the National Library of Jamaica and the Roman Catholic Chancery, as well as in the Elsa Goveia Reading Room at the University of the West Indies at Mona. Also targeted are the Jamaica Archives located in Spanish Town.

The physical condition of documents ranges from very poor to fair, with many documents crumbling and in danger of disappearing. The most urgent attention should be directed at the Chancery, which does not have a preservation department and is not a formal archive. There is concern within the Chancery at the decaying state of the documents and this initiative to digitise documents is welcomed.

At the Jamaica Archives, the National Library, and the UWI-Goveia Reading Room, there are extensive endangered materials to be digitised and an interest in doing so. The Archives has expressed interest in targeting collections on enslaved Africans before 1800 in conjunction with their annual marking of the abolition of the British Atlantic slave trade to Jamaica. At the National Library and Goveia Reading Room, the Library expressed interest in its m ap collection, the Nuttall Collection (Anglican Church) - 19th Century, newspapers. The Goveia Reading Room collection includes letters, personal journals, and various loose documents.

The intention is to work closely with the staff at the Jamaican repositories, so that individuals can be trained in the use of the technology while inventories are being done. Hence, this pilot project has several very important components:

  1. Workshop for archival staff on digitisation as a means of preserving collections.
  2. An evaluation of the present state of conservation and determining the materials most in need of preservation through digital means.
  3. Compilation of an inventory of endangered materials.


The team was able to compile electronic inventories of original documentation published before 1800, which are in the possession of the Jamaica Archives, Roman Catholic Chancery’s Archive, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona and the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ). At the Archives, the Manumission of Slaves, volumes 5 through 12 were digitised, and cover the period 1747-1778. The team compiled an inventory of approximately 150 items and 10 primary sources were digitised of the West Indies and Special Collection at the UWI, Mona. These documents cover the historical period 1493-1800. At the Chancery, Father Gerard McLaughlin was responsible for organising the archive and creating finding aids for the various collections. Several burial, baptismal and marriage records were digitised. At the NLJ, the team compiled an inventory of approximately 90 items and 12 primary sources were digitised. Digitised images have been deposited in the British Library, the Jamaica institutions and the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University.

A workshop was organised for staff of the Jamaica Archives and Records Department and staff of the Main Library at the UWI, Mona. The purpose of the workshops was to introduce the Inventory of Jamaica Holdings Project, participating institutions, and staff of the Project. There were two aims of the Workshop, first to provide an introductory session to digitisation efforts of historical documentation, as a means of preservation. The second aim was to train local staff to operate digital equipment and to compile digital inventories of endangered materials.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

Survey report (PDF document 616KB)

The manumission registers (1747-1779) have been transcribed by Find My Past.