Letters : 1728-1818.

Call Number: HIL-MICL FC LFR .C4G4L4
Category: Family
Creator: Chalmers, George, 1742-1825.
Description: 3 microfilm textual records (5 volumes) ; 35 mm
            George Chalmers, lawyer, political and historical writer, government official, antiquary, was born at Fochabers in Moray, Scotland, and attended the local parish school and Kings College, Aberdeen. This was followed by the study of law at Edinburgh University. In 1763 he emigrated to Maryland and practised law in Baltimore.

With the outbreak of the American Revolution, life became difficult as a vocal loyalist and he left for England in 1775, settling in London where he associated with many of the loyalist refugees. Financially troubled, he applied for relief from the British government, and agitated for general recompense for exiled loyalists.

In 1777 he began to publish his views on the Revolution, and focus on literary projects. This he did for the rest of his life, publishing mostly works political in nature and many dealing with the colonies.

In 1786 he was appointed chief clerk of the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations (known as the Office of Trade), and in 1792 became the British colonial agent in London for the Bahamas. As agent, he saw himself as accountable to the assembly which was often in conflict with the British government and island governors, particularly over the issue of slavery. Chalmers was still in this position when the Letters end in 1818. He died unmarried at London. William Wylly was the son of Alexander, a prominent businessman and speaker of the provincial council in Georgia. He and his brother Alexander Campbell were in England studying law when the American Revolution broke out. He returned to Georgia in 1780 and was admitted to the bar, but after practising a few months, loyalty obliged him to take up arms. Both he and his brother joined a military unit. William was appointed a captain in the King's Rangers. He raised and trained a company attached to the Royal Artillery and did duty with them until the evacuation of Savannah. He placed a claim with the British government in 1783 while at East Florida for compensation of lost property. He arrived in the Bahamas in 1787 and eventually maintained a plantation called "Clifton" at the western tip on the island of New Providence, which housed many "slaves." He rose to become the attorney general of The Bahamas, and later chief justice for St. Vincent. He became a controversial figure in The Bahamas opposing some of Governor Dunmore's and House of Assembly's policies. As attorney general he prosecuted several prominent planters on charges of cruelty and under provisioning of "slaves." He was also involved in events that emerged in the discussions of a "slave" registry bill on the island. Many loyalists fled to The Bahamas after the war, and for many the main agricultural focus was the production of cotton, which declined rapidly due to impoverished soils, bug infestations, and a series of devastating hurricanes. Within 20 years, between 1780 and 1800, the loyalist economy collapsed and many landowners were forced to abandon their plantations. Governors of the Bahamas during this period included John Murray 4th Earl of Dunmore, 1787-1796, Robert Hunt (acting), 1796-1797, John Forbes (lieutenant governor), 1797, William Dowdeswell, 1797-1801, John Halkett, 1801-1804, and Charles Cameron, 1804-1820.


Collection is composed of letters and papers relating to The Bahamas, mostly for the period George Chalmers was acting as colonial agent in London to The Bahamas (1792-1818), but also some from an earlier period. Correspondence is between Chalmers and officials and private individuals, and is mostly those received by Chalmers. Documents are varied, including statistics, returns, petitions or memorials, notes, histories, questionnaires, and reports, and material presented to the House of Assembly such as committee reports, affidavits, and resolutions. Subject matter centres on the islands of The Bahamas, and includes commentary and news relating to Bahamas internal government and politics, and international affairs such as the progress of war; also covers topics such as agriculture; trade; economics; salt industry; population studies; cotton plantations and planters; slavery and black history; nautical sailing directions; land grant policy; American loyalists; Bermuda-Turks islands affairs; horticulture; maritime defence and military infrastructure; health and climate; and William Wylly. Arrangement: Arranged chronologically in 5 volumes, some with further sub-sections; each volume or section has separate pagination. Reel 1 - Volume 1 (1728-1796); volume 2 (1796-1797 September 1); volume 3 (1797 September 10-October 29) Volume 1, folios 1-32, 1728-1793 The first 32 folios are earlier documents which lead up to the time Chalmers begins his role as agent for the Bahamas in 1792. They contain the following (with folio number, which is found top right of pages to the right): 1. Brief Remarks of the most material transactions relating to the Bahamas Islands from their original settlement to this time," 25 January 1803; 8. Constitution of Bahamas, 1728; 12. Hints with regard to Turks Islands; 16. Notes on Bahamas; 17. Definitive Treaty with Spain, 1783; 19. Report of the Lords of the Committee of Council upon the present situation of the Bahama Islands and of the Loyalists in East Florida, and proposing that the purchase of the soil of the said Bahama Islands may be forthwith perfected, 26 September 1783 (pertains to the purchase of propriety of Bahamas from present claimants under the original proprietors for relief of loyalist refugees); 20 letter from Lord Sydney to Lord President of Council, August 1784 (directing Lords of Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Plantation to provide instructions to governor for granting lands to loyalists from southern provinces of America); 21. A Circumstantial View of the Bahamas Islands in latter part of the year 1785, months after loyalists' arrival from East Florida, by Lt. John Moubray in 1785-86 (table divided into islands inhabited and uninhabited but capable of being useful, and gives latitude and longitude, distance in miles and square acres for planting, plus numbers of old and new inhabitants split into white and coloured people; also includes other tables of information - list of salt ponds on Bahama Islands; state of the population in month of June 1788 showing respective numbers of old and new inhabitants and their property; estimated quantity of salt raked at Great Pond on Little Exuma beginning 12 April 1786 and ending 22nd when rains began, which lists 10 people and quantity for each; account of cotton plantations as of 1 November 1785, which is organised by place - New Providence, Exuma, Cat Island and Long Island, with associated names and acres for each place; produce of Bahamas (long list); and directions to sail amongst windward Bahama keys, and from Providence through the Gulph (which were courses and directions collected from Benjamin Sims, pilot); 26. Report of the Committee of the Council of the Bahama Islands appointed to take into consideration the state of the Bahama Islands, 1789, which touches on advantages of the island - soil, cotton, salt, population and settlement, and problems - worm in cotton crops and hurricanes, and want of public buildings, including state of Fort Nassau; 29. letter from Secretary of State Dundas to Earl Dunmore, 10 March 1792 (information Society for the Propagation of the Gospel is sending a missionary and requesting he apply to government for making provision for establishment of churches with house and glebe for ministers so they will continue sending more in future); 30. Memorial of Peter Edwards to Earl Dunmore for annual allowance as prothonotary and clerk of the crown, 10 July 1793, with Dunmore's recommendation; 32. letter to Secretary of state from Chalmers, colonial agent of Bahamas, July 1792 (responding to Bermuda governor’s complaints and assertions Turks island is not part of the Bahamas). Reel 2 - Volume 3 continued (1797 November 3-1801 August 20); volume 4(1800-1815); volume 5 (1816 December 32-1817) Reel 2 documents arranged as follows (folio page numbers are found on right-sided pages, top right): Section 1 - Letters and papers 1797 November 3 - 1801 August 20 (folio pages 1-109) These were authored by the following: Chalmers; Peter Edwards, clerk of the Bahamas Assembly; George Mylne at London; William Wylly, attorney general of Bahamas, at New Providence; Stephen Haven at Nassau; John Wells, publisher of the Bahama Gazette, at Nassau; William Walker, commissary general, at St. Vincent; Joseph Banks, botanist, at London; Governor Dowdeswell at Bahamas; R. [Robert] Hunt, collector of customs, at Nassau; and the colonial secretary of state. The few documents generated by Chalmers includes a letter to the secretary of state comprehensively advocating for the reopening of the land office, including the problems for settlers and planters associated with its closure; as well as a memorial to the Board of Trade advocating in depth for the importation of coffee and sugar into the Bahamas from Spanish settlements. Subject matter relates to the Bahamas and includes commentary and news relating to government and politics, and international affairs (present wars, Ireland and union, Cuba under Britain); also covers topics such as importance of trade with Spanish settlements, and naval hinderance to this; injurious land granting policy; exotic plants and botanic garden establishment; concerns over lack of naval defence; customs house (British, American and Foreign vessels entered and cleared out from Nassau and New Providence, and exports to and imports from Great Britain at Nassau for various years between 1794 and 1801); disease; agricultural health; black military soldiers, and circumstances surrounding William Wylly's decision to resign his position as attorney general. Section 2 - Answers from planters to a set of questions about the agriculture of cotton in the Bahamas, 1800 (folio pages 1-23) Twenty-five standard questions about planters' experiences and knowledge of growing cotton and their opinion on its future viability were asked of the following 15 Bahamas planters: John Kelsall (Little Exuma), Nathaniel Hall (Little Exuma and Long Island), Joseph Eve (St. Salvadore), Archibald Taylor (Long Island), John Anderson (Long Island), Walter Turnbull (Long Island), William Henry Hamilton (New Providence and Long Island), Duncan Taylor (Long Island), Thomas B. Mackinnen (Long Island), Donald Fergusson (Long Island), Ancil Fergusson (Cat Island, Great Exuma, and Little Exuma), James Moss (New Providence, Crooked Island and Acklins Island), Alexander Collie (Crooked Island and Acklins Island), and John Miles (Andros Island). Some of the questions relate to the following: how long personally planted; greatest quantity of cotton known to have been produced in one year; land granting process; amount of land in cotton that can be cultivated in one year; opinion on ideal layout of cotton plantation; whether soil and climate of islands favourable to culture of cotton, how lands are producing compared to 5 or 6 years ago, and reasons for failures; quantity of land unfit for cultivation; any possibility for lands to be restored; if planters sunk money into their lands past 5 years and why; value of lands in last 5 years; consequences for those who persevere in growing cotton on present lands; amount of years land can be successively planted in cotton without fallowing or manuring; if cannot get new lands, possibility of planter emigration; if planters had to withdraw "slaves" due to exhausted lands; and whether 10 acres of a plantation for each labourer is enough to give full employment to "negroes." Section 3 - Letters and papers relating to Turks islands' salt industry and Bahamas interests and concerns, one issue is Bermuda's jurisdiction, 1802-1807 (folio page numbering continued from section 2, 24-86) Section 4 - "Representation of the House of Assembly of the Bahamas To The Rt. Hon. Earl Bathurst, the Colonial Secretary of State etc., respecting their Proceeding during their last Session 1816-17; with An appendix of Documents, By George Chalmers, F.R.S.P.A. London: Printed by L. H. & S. but not sold, 1817" (folio pages 1-65) Presentation submitted by Chalmers, with supporting documents, outlining extensively what has been happening in government surrounding the issue of a "slave" registration act. The Assembly decided to decline passing a supplemental act to the abolition act or "slave" registry bill they deemed an unnecessary law. It also charged William Wylly with breach of the privileges of the House by previously "injuriously and Scandalously misrepresenting the proceedings of this House....on a subject of a Bill then pending before [British] Parliament concerning a General Registration of Slaves in the West Indies in contempt of this House." Also charged Wylly with resisting or causing to be resisted the officer of the House by an armed force of "negro slaves" preventing the execution of a warrant for his arrest. This alarmed the Assembly who called this event a "wicked" example to all "slaves" to arm themselves, bid defiance to laws and resist highest civil authorities. Chalmers espouses support for the Assembly as he argues their case for the decisions they have made and the reasons for them. Chalmers indicates a concern by the Assembly was that a registry act's aim was manumission through registration. Refers to a pamphlet written by Mr. Stephen, director of the African Institution, in defence to the establishment of a "slave" registry in the colonies. Wylly had supposedly written the Institute and shared information of his meeting with a House committee on the subject of a registry bill, some thing of which must have appeared in this pamphlet. Wylly felt his evidence before the committee had been unfairly taken and reported by the committee and that some of his evidence had been suppressed. Preceding the "Representation" are the resolutions in the House of Assembly, dated 30 December 1816, presented by the committee appointed to enquire into the necessity for a law to prevent the illicit importation of Africans, dated 30 December 1816. The five resolutions are as follows: 1. act for the registration of "slaves" as recommended by the governor is unnecessary and inexpedient as no illicit importation of Africans here taken place since abolition of the "slave trade"; 2. not enough reason or necessity for an act, therefore unjust and oppressive to inhabitants; 3. provisions of acts of Parliament for abolition of slave trade enough to prevent illicit importation of Africans; 4. importation of "slaves" would prove prejudicial to owners and every means will be used by owners consistent with existing laws to prevent illicit importation; 5. cannot recommend to House to pass such an act that is extremely oppressive and injurious to inhabitants until appears law for that purpose becomes necessary and expedient by illicit importation of Africans. Documents attached include letters, extracts from the minutes of the Assembly, including resolutions, reports, warrants, General Court indictment, Assembly's address to the governor, and many documents relevant to the committee's work investigating the allegations against Wylly by the House, and their final report. One document by the committee includes the following questions for Wylly, to which he responded separately: if any Africans have been smuggled into the Bahamas since 1808; demand for "slaves" and any advantage to be derived to people by illegally importing; any decrease in value of "slaves" and why; have clauses in consolidated slave act for Bahamas, in regard to proper treatment of "slaves," been faithfully carried into effect by the courts and inhabitants; do free people of colour enjoy same rights of property as white inhabitants; in trials for freedom taking place in General Court, situation and outcomes for applicants; when "slaves" are sold under execution of mortgage or otherwise, are they disposed of always in whole families; is it general practice with persons disposing of "slaves" to bring them to government for that purpose and is it common practice to allow such "slaves" to look out for purchasers to their liking; are "slaves" generally much attached to their owners, are there many instances of their returning voluntarily to the Bahamas and to their masters after being carried to foreign countries, and are almost all of our droghing vessels navigated by "slaves" or persons of colour, and are not the greatest facilities afforded the "slaves" in such vessels and on plantations to runaway if they wanted; and are children of colour admitted into schools with same rights and advantages as white children. Found in the answer to one of the questions, Wylly distinguishes "slaves" into four classes - Black seamen, "slaves" belonging to small farmers, plantation "slaves," and domestic "slaves." Reel 3 - Volume 5 continued (1817-1818)

Originals: The originals are held by the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
Archival Ref. No.:

Codex Eng 75-79.

Finding Aids:

Electronic (See Electronic Finding Aid section below.)

1. Document summaries available digitally for Reel 1, Section 1, Letters and Papers 1797 Nov. 3-1801 Aug. 30

2. Document summaries available digitally for Reel 2, Section 2, responses by 15 cotton planters to a government questionnaire, 1800

3. Transcription available digitally for Reel 2, Section 4, Representation of House of Assembly of Bahamas to colonial secretary pertaining to "slave registration act," which includes Chalmers opinion too, 1817 (includes folios 4-18 and supporting documents in the Appendix; and summary of first few pages on film)

Electronic Finding Aid Record: Letters & Papers 1797-1801, reel 2, section 1.pdf
Planters and Cotton Agriculture, Bahamas,1800, reel 2, section 2.pdf
Representation of the house of assembly...1817, reel 2, section 4.pdf
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