Colonial Caribbean New Module: Colonial Government and Abolition, 1833-1849

Now available: the second module of the digital collection Colonial Caribbean. Like the first module, Module 2 covers British colonialism in the Caribbean, and comprises documents from the British National Archives, digitized in full color.

Module 2 picks up where Module 1 ended (1832), extending coverage to 1849, which covers the years of Amelioration and Abolition. For the most part, the volumes selected for digitization come from record group CO (Colonial Office), and specifically the same record series users will have found in Module 1.  The collection emphasizes the Original Correspondence series for each colony, and, to a lesser extent, the Acts series.

The emphasis in this digital collection is clearly on the Correspondence, generally regarded by researchers as the most valuable class of documents in the CO record group.1 It’s important to remember that the correspondence is an artifact of the Imperial administration: the correspondence are despatches between the government in London and its surrogates in the colonies, and what you find in the correspondece will be the voice of the colonizer, not the voices of the colonized.

Important, related, record series omitted are Entry Books, Registers of Correspondence, Sessional Papers, Miscellanea, and Government Gazettes. Colonial councils or legislatures, where they existed, produced Acts, Sessional Papers, and other records. In terms of record series size, the Sessional Papers series tend to be larger than the Acts. Sessional Papers were council minutes as well as departmental reports (similar to Parliamentary papers).

The Miscellanea record series are especially interesting, and include newspapers, land grants, court records, tax documents, and blue books. The Miscellanea series also sometimes include reports made by Protectors of Slaves, an office created to implement the Imperial government’s policy of Amelioration in the decade prior to the abolition of slavery in 1834. These reports “provide details on punishments, conditions on the estates, complaints by slaves against their owners, marriages, and manumissions.”2 See record series CO 116 for an example of Miscellanea.

The record series are not digitized in their entirety, but each volume selected for digitization is reproduced in full.

These records have long been the preserve of advanced researchers,3 and digitization alone would have done little to make the records usable by undergraduate researchers. Rather than relying on the collection’s complex archival arrangement, referencing systems, and published finding aids, Colonial Caribbean provides guided paths into the collection: you can build sub-collections using multiple criteria. For example, begin with a broad theme:

  • Slavery and Emancipation
  • Plantations and Agriculture
  • Apprenticeships and Indentured Labor
  • Finance and Economy
  • Trade and Shipping
  • Piracy and Privateering
  • Law and Governance
  • Crime and Punishment
  • War and Military
  • Religion

Then refine that set by colony, colonial governor, time period, or document type. Both the printed and handwritten documents are keyword searchable, but consider familiarizing yourself with the collection before jumping into the keyword search game.

The following list contains the record series selected for Module 2:

The links above only display volumes from Module 2, but Module 2 builds on Module 1, bringing these record series closer to completion.


1. Mandy Banton, Administering the Empire, 1801-1968: A Guide to the Records of the Colonial Office in the National Archives of the UK (London: University of London, Institute of Historical Research, 2015).

2. Guy Grannum, “African‐Caribbean Genealogy,” in The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

3. Anne Thurston, Records of the Colonial Office, Dominions Office, Commonwealth Relations Office, and Commonwealth Office (London: HMSO, 1995).

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