Original Correspondence: West Indies (CO 318): 1699-1830

Call Number: HIL-MICL FC LPR .G7C6W4C6
Category: Great Britain
Creator: Great Britain. Colonial Office
Description: Electronic textual records (6 volumes) ; 96.95 GB; 3753 files; 300ppi colour TIFF
            Colonial Office records precede the development of the Colonial Office, created in 1854, and contain records in the offices of the Board of Trade and the Secretaries of State which held responsibility for British colonial matters at different times until 1782; thereafter, responsibility was held by the Home Office until the War and Colonial Department was created in 1801.

The West Indies is a group of islands separating the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; and includes three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola - Haiti and Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands), Lesser Antilles (Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Christopher/Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, and Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire), and Lucayan Archipelago (The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos). The Lesser Antilles are divided into the Windward Islands south from Dominica to Grenada, the Leeward Islands that arc generally westerly from Guadeloupe to the Virgin Islands, and the Leeward Antilles running east-west close to the South American coast. Bermuda is commonly included in definitions of the region. 

Colonisation began with the Spanish in the late 15th century and was followed by the partitioning of the region by the Spanish, French, British, Dutch, and Danes during the 17th and 18th centuries. For many of the islands, possession changed hands and for some it changed hands often.

Commissions of Enquiry represent one of the oldest and most widely used institutions in the British tradition of governance, and have informed public policy. These committees were to enquire and advise as a body set up by government to consider a specific problem or problems.
            Contains original correspondence found in the files of the British secretaries of state responsible for the colonies, relating generally to the British colonies in the West Indies. Documents include letters, reports, orders, and instructions. Particular volumes from this collection include the following: Volume 3. Military Despatches, 1699 - circa 1796 (chiefly relating to expeditions and other military movements in the West Indies); Volume 4. Military Despatches, 1782-1830; Volume 31. Despatches from Offices and Individuals, 1807 (mostly incoming letters to the secretary of state from the commander-in-chief of the British Army in the Windward and Leeward Islands); Volume 32. Report of the Board of Health on the West Indian Station, 1799-1807 (mostly letters from the governors and presidents in council with reports from medical officials on colony health, including seamen); Volume 76. Commissioners of Legal Enquiry in the West Indies, 1822-1828, Free People of Colour: Disabilities and Grievances (memorials and papers collected by the commissioners relating to the claims of free Black people received by the legal commissioners appointed to enquire into the administration of justice in the Windward and Leeward Islands); and Volume 83, Commissioners of Enquiry into the state of the 'captured negroes' in the West Indies: Commissioners Bowles and Gannon and Secretaries Barrow and Barron, 1823-1824 (reports, examinations, and correspondence related to enquiries into the state and condition of Africans liberated from slavery under acts for abolishing the slave trade). 

Broad subject matter relates to the British military - navy, army, colonial volunteers, and Black corps; health and welfare; justice, particularly for Black persons; Black history; race; war and conflict with Spain in the Spanish West Indies, including Havana, Cuba; slavery, slave trade, and liberated and indentured Africans; and maritime topics such as illegal trade, piracy and privateering, and communications.


Volume 3: Military Despatches, 1699 - circa 1796

Contains a variety of documents, almost all relating to Britain's military oversight of her islands in the West Indies during periods that involved international conflict. Material is not organised in any obvious order. Correspondents include the British secretary of state and his assistants, admirals, Lords of Trade, governors, Lords of Admiralty, officers of land or sea forces, Spanish West Indian officials, the reigning monarch, a civilian sea captain, and victims of vessel seizures. A large amount of the documents deal with the 1740 British expedition to the West Indies under General Charles Cathcart, with Martin Bladen (member of Parliament) authoring much of the material. Topics pertaining to this expedition include preparations; the American military involvement, with instructions to captains Winslow and Hopkins; plunder and booty; appointments; instructions to Col. Alexander Spotswood, Col. William Blakeney, Lord Cathcart, and David Campbell, commissary of stores and provisions; island volunteers for expedition; establishment of general officers, staff officers and others; and black peoples involvement. Other subject matter includes trade, illegal trade, seizures, privateering, and prizes; runaway "slaves" to Spanish islands such as Cuba and Puerto Rico; intelligence about Havana; request to "slave trade" with French islands after end of slave trade; British prisoners in Spanish islands; British military forces in West Indies (tabular data from 1764-96); importance of Havana to England; and British tobacco trade in Holland and Europe. Of interest, in the very early 18th century, documents discuss expeditions to the West Indies, and to French Canada (Brig. General John Hill expedition, 1711); situational updates from ships' admirals (such as from Rear Admiral John Benbow on the "Bredah", 1699, 1702), and a captain in the West Indies, including sea battles and engagements; and putting into practice a mail delivery system, or packet service, between the islands and Britain, including letters from Edward Dummer (1703). 

All of the documents produced during the American Revolutionary period are military in nature, and much are written in the Spanish language by Spanish West Indian officials. They range in date from 1778 to 1781 and document the following: captured Spanish squadron under D. Joseph Solano; raising and use of mulattoes and free "negroes"; tabular data pertaining to the military forces in the area (mentions possible use of free people and Mosquito/Miskito Indians); ordnance requirements for 1778 expedition, and request for vessels from Admiralty; and an American sea captain, John Smith, on board the Brig. "Fortitude" bound for St. Christopher, 1781, and his description of vessels seen, chased by and seized upon. Most documents pertain to the Cuban Infantry regiments.

Volume 4: Military Despatches and Miscellaneous, 1782-1830

Volume 31: Despatches, Public Offices and Miscellaneous, 1807

Correspondence is mostly from Henry Bowyer (died 1808), commander-in-chief of the British Army in the Windward and Leeward Islands, to the secretaries of state for war and the colonies, William Windham (5 Feb. 1806-25 March 1807) and Viscount Castlereagh (25 March 1807-1 Nov. 1809). There are also letters from the secretary of state to Bowyer, usually in draft form, and one described as "secret"; a few letters from Bowyer to Edward Cooke, the under-secretary of state for war and the colonies (1804-1806, 1807-1809); and one from Lieutenant General George Beckwith, Governor of Saint Vincent (1806-1808). Three draft letters from the secretary of state were generated in Jan. and Feb. 1808. Subject matter covers the following: considerations for the establishment of Black corps of West Indian regiments, compensation to soldiers due to losses sustained during the hurricane of 1806, Army vessels' expenses (ship Emma, schooner Nelly and sloop Zephyr), Black persons (enslaved persons) purchased for West Indian regiments, construction of troops' barracks at Dominica and defence works, concerns about the processes that resulted in Thomas Wethered in his new position as deputy commissary general in the Windward and Leeward Islands, a request for compensation for expenses incurred transporting black persons from Demerera to Trinidad as labourers for fortifications which did not proceed, expedition against the Danish islands (St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John), and sugar trade concerns of the former Danish islands inhabitants after being taken by the British.  

Miscellaneous section at the end contains mostly correspondence from officials in the British Treasury Dept. such as George Harrison, John Martin Leake, and Henry Wellesley to the Under-secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Edward Cooke; additionally, one letter from William Manning to Edward Cooke. Covers the following subject matter: exercise ground enclosure for the garrison at St. Anne's, Barbados, building materials for the barracks at Barbados, concerns over the apparent discrepancy in the calculations for provisioning troops, disagreement over Mr. Wethered's being appointed deputy commissary general in the Windward and Leeward Islands, and considerations for the defence of the West Indies against Napoleon's forces. Enclosures attached to letters include an Estimate on the probable expense enclosing land at St. Anne's Castle; and from the commissary general's office, a Return of the Quantity of Provisions required to supply the present number of victualled, and a Return of Provisions in Store for various islands.

Volume 32: Report of the Board of Health on West Indian station. Health Statistics, including Surinam, 1799-1803, 1805-1807. Contains letters from island governments with reports from medical officers concerning health at different islands, includes seamen.

Organised as follows: 

  • Return of the sick and wounded in hospitals in the Leeward and Westward Island, 1799-1803, signed by Theodore Gordon, deputy inspector general
  • Fifth Report of the Board of Health, published 1806; includes the four questions which governors are to supply: 1. Are you acquainted with any place in the more elevated parts of the island that is healthy and conveniently situated for erecting barracks for a battalion of 500 or 600 men? 2. What experience have you of the healthiness of such a situation and what are the grounds of your recommendation? 3. Has it ever been subject to the yellow fever, or other disease of the country and to what extent? 4. What are the advantages of the situation besides its being healthy and what would be the disadvantages or inconvenience of it as a quarter for the troops? This information is the basis for most of the documents that follow.
  • Bahamas - Medical reports from Reeves Fowler on instances of yellow fever at Hog Island hospital and causes, and from W. Stephen on the same at the garrison. Governor Charles Cameron gives general statements on the state of the health of regiment and town. Other matters mentioned include discord with the House of Assembly concerning infringement on the power of the executive; with enclosures of the speech of the House and extract of minutes pertaining to same; also mentions salt ponds at Turks Islands.
  • Barbados - Medical staff health reports answering two questions: 1. Are Island and shipping healthy at present? and 2. Any prevailing infectious disorders and if so what are their nature and symptoms? Reports by chief military medical staff, Dr. Ker and Dr. McArthur (chief physician to naval hospital and surgeon to prisoners of war), and Dr. R. Hamden (island physician), as well as from Geo. Reed Jr. (chairman of the Commercial Society) who provided information gathered from church records. They provide brief summaries; mentions the ship Dolphin and schooner Trinidad, and Black people infected with small pox on a vessel from Africa (with symptoms). From W. Parkinson from the sloop Merlin, reports from the surgeon on the Lord Nelson slave ship on the number of "slaves" with small pox. Other topics briefly mentioned by Lord Seaforth, governor of the Barbados, and the President of Council, John Spooner are: non-effects locally of calamity at Dominigue [Haiti], bonds required on appointments of Revenue officers, scarcity of provisions and consequential temporary encouragement of Americans, and whereabouts of Admiral Williams; also includes vouchers for the hire of the schooner Gipsey, certificates of the rate of exchange, and a letter by Navy officer, William Donovan, who had been captured by a French squadron commanded by Commodore Jerome Bounaparte [Bonaparte], within which is travel route information.
  • Bermuda - Governor John Hodgson provides answers of the principal medical men to the four queries suggested by the Board of Health, and includes his opinions. Encloses a Return of deaths for the 99th Regiment July-Dec. 1806; report by the Surveyor General of Lands, Samuel Trott, as to a healthy place for erecting a barrack; and answers to the Board of Health's four queries by Dr. Fra. Forbes, Dr. Hutchinson, and Thomas Duncan, surgeon for the 99th Regiment.
  • Dominica - President of Council, George Metcalfe, makes a general statement of the overall health of the colony and seamen, and a more thorough answer to query 1. Answer briefly describes a location cleared and planted by "runaways."
  • Grenada - Lieutenant Governor Frederick Maitland provides brief information on prevalence of "acute disorders" and the state of the health of convoy crews. Encloses report from Dr. Dickinson, garrison surgeon, answering the Board of Health's queries.
  • Jamaica - Sir Eyre Coote, governor of Jamaica makes a brief general statement on prevalence of infectious disorders on homeward bound ships.
  • Antigua (Leeward Islands) - Lord Lavington, governor of the Leeward Islands. Pertaining to health, provides a general statement on prevalence of infectious disease in the colony, and refers with more detail to the state of the 70th Regiment who recently suffered a fever.
  • St. Vincent - Governor George Beckwith encloses medical certificates of the health of the homeward bound fleet, signed G. R. Baillie, garrison surgeon; Alexander Menzies, surgeon of the 90th Regiment; Alexander Melville, M. D. and ordnance surgeon. Provides a general statement on state of health and presence of infectious disease.
  • Surinam - Lieutenant Governor of Surinam, W. Carlyon Hughes, answers the four queries suggested by the Board of Health. Answer 4 mentions interior "Indians" and Free Black people, and suggests health advantages to adding two Black companies to each European regiment than a separate Black corps. Encloses report from James Muttlebury, deputy inspector of hospitals & inspector of health for Surinam, on the healthy place for barracks, prevalence of disease and causes; within which attaches a Return of European and Black Troops who have died in the Colony, 1805-1807, and signed by Muttlebury.
  • Trinidad - Governor Thomas Hislop encloses answers to four queries suggested by the Board of Health and reported by Andrew Clarke, surgeon; James Met[iver?], garrison surgeon; and Matthew Smith, surgeon (some reports are a generalised account); also encloses six answers from Capt. Jon Hassard, Royal Engineers? Company on separate queries requested from engineers relating to: height of the station above sea level, number of acres of ground that could be procured so can afford exercising ground and gardens for the men, quantity and quality of water, an account of the soil, distance from the nearest sea-port or landing place and any roads, and any building materials in vicinity.
Volume 76: Commissioners of Legal Enquiry: Free People of Colour. Disabilities and grievances. Memorials and papers collected by the commissioners, 1822-1828 Organised by island, contains various documents relating to the claims of "free people of colour" received by the legal commissioners appointed to enquire into the administration of justice in the Windward and Leeward Islands. Islands include in this order: Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Antigua, Montserrat, Saint Christopher/Saint Kitts, Saint Vincent, Saint Lucia, Tobago, and Trinidad. Memorials or petitions by these island inhabitants to the commissioners, Henry Maddock and Fortunatus Dwaris, are the main documents collected; additionally may contain memorials to island governments and to the secretary of state; replies and reports to these memorials by government officials and law officers; and correspondence. In the memorials are outlined the legal distinctions and disabilities under which "free coloured inhabitants" laboured, and for which they request redress and ultimately equality under the law as British subjects. Most memorials provide situational context, the grounds for redress of specified laws or regulations; as well as, the laws deemed prejudicial and oppressive, and their arbitrary and unequal distribution. The grievous laws are broad in scope affecting all facets of free Black people's lives - education, employment, health, the franchise, crime and punishment, justice, inheritance, marriage, segregation, property, militia and the military, leisure, and religion. Terms used for peoples of concern in the memorials include: "negroes," "coloured," "mulattoes," "peons," "Merikens," "Indians," and "slaves." Pertaining to Trinidad and Tobago, the following is found: petition to the commissioners from "persons of colour" in Tobago; three memorials from the "coloured inhabitants" on Trinidad, with related correspondence and papers including schedule of medical fees, a list of free "coloured" and "black" officers, answers of attorney general to issues raised in petitions and the replies of John Lewis, counsel for the committee of free "coloured" inhabitants, and of the committee itself; also English translations of various Spanish documents; undated census of the "free coloured capitulants and their descendents"; extracts from various laws and regulations; and a printed copy of port regulations. Supporting documents included in an Appendix are found for some islands. Some examples from Trinidad include all or sections of the following: Translation of the Spanish Cedula for the Population of Trinidad, 1783; List of Black and Coloured Officers, 1794; a copy of the Capitulation of Trinidad, including Articles of Capitulation, 1797; Order requiring "coloured" persons to present their certificates of having taken the oath of allegiance and proofs of manumission, 1804; Order directing "Free Coloured Persons and Slaves" to retire to their homes at half past 9 o'clock, 1804; Order directing a tax on Balls given by "coloured" persons for the benefit of infirm poor, 1825; Schedule of fees to be charged by medical practitioners (typescript), 1821; and Schedule of pew rates for the protestant church of the Port of Spain (typescript), 1823. Volume 83 Commissioners of Enquiry into the state of captured "negroes" in the West Indies, 1823-1824. Commissioners were required to "examine and report actual state and condition of all Black people who having been condemned to His Majesty under any of the Acts passed for the Abolition of slave trade have been apprenticed or otherwise disposed of agreeably to the provisions of those Acts and the Order in Council of 16 March 1808." Correspondence is mostly from commissioners Thomas Henry Bowles and John Patrick Gannon, appointed in May of 1823, taking over from previous commissioners, and from the secretaries Mr. Barrow and William Barron. Subjects include:
  • Appointment of commissioners and instructions
  • Travel arrangements for commissioners; arrival of commissioners in St. Christopher (St. Kitts), Tortola, and Antigua, and their planned itinerary
  • Comments on "creole slaves" as a class
  • Disagreements between commissioners and its effects on their mission
  • Commission secretary's health
  • Tortola - general observations on free settlement; case of female African apprentice who is a mother, and of a boy, which pertain to the question about women who have children and one or the other dies before apprenticeship ends; special enquiry into case of H.C. Maclean and treatment of his female African apprentices, Kitty or Moquo and Amelia or Adaca (focus of questions is whether the women had been improperly treated previous to the last examination 2 years ago, and whether the punishment inflicted by Maclean was or was not in the strict and proper sense of the term "a slight punishment"), and includes first examinations of 2 years ago, minutes of meeting to examine the case (12pp), and copies of affidavits delivered after the special enquiry (9pp); and declaration of John, an apprentice, who had been taken from armed schooner to Spanish Town and then taken off ship as slave to Tom Harragin (free Black man)
  • St. Christophers - general comments and detailed reports from, including - Africans or Black people attached to the Army but not as soldiers (data includes nation, name - English and African, apparent age, stature, marks on body, party's account of how captured, account given by present commanding officer, character, religion, state of bodily health, remarks); apprentices who are now free - a female and creole man; Vice Admiralty Court - return of creole "negroes" condemned in since abolition of slave trade, as well as, copy of trial King vs. James Maillard, charged with feloniously removing slave to foreign island, and communications with collector of customs on the grounds two men were set free
  • Nevis - Examination sheet of African named Mozzo (data includes ship, nation, sex, name - African and English, apparent age, bodily marks, to whom apprenticed, trade, date of indenture and term, if trade apprenticed is taught and if not how employed, religion, party's account as to present condition, account and character given by the master, account given by other persons, actual proficiency in trade, probability of finding maintenance at end of apprenticeship, and remarks); List of prize "Negroes" condemned at Tortola, apprenticed for 14 years by collector of customs at Tortola and now residing in Nevis (data includes name, sex, age, date of indenture, master's name, trade), with additional Remarks for each person, and letters pertaining to complaint by one of these apprentices, Arrah, being severely flogged (also includes additional comments on situation); from Commissioner Gannon - concise and general view of the condition of "slaves" taken partly from personal observation and from what learned through unbiased persons (comments on food rations, provision grounds, habitations, clothing, industry and personal profit, work regimes, grants of waste lands and planters' self-interest, comparative treatment in Antigua, moral progress and civilization - religion and marriage, and "slaves" in town and those hired out and the effect of planters' debt on "slaves"
  • Antigua - Observations on case of 3 Antiguan African sailors seized from schooner "Ocean"; communications relative to Africans subsisted at the expense of government in what the customs collector calls the African Hospital and his advocacy of a named plan to find them employment
  • St. John's - question about the authority commissioners have to enquire into cases of apprenticed Africans previously decided by local magistrates
Access: See Microforms staff for access to this digital/electronic collection.

Originals are held by The National Archives, Kew, London, England.

Archival Ref. No.:

CO 318/3, 318/4, 318/31, 318/32, 318/76, 318/83.

Finding Aids:

See Electronic Finding Aid section for document lists for each volume, excluding volume 4.

Electronic Finding Aid Record: Document List - CO 318 Vol. 76.pdf
Document List - CO 318 Vol. 31.pdf
Document List - CO-318 Vol. 32.pdf
Document List - CO 318 Vol. 3.pdf
Document List - CO 318 Vol. 83.pdf

Access: See Microforms staff for access to this digital collection.

Note: The Loyalist Collection only holds one volume of the "Commission of Enquiry into the state of captured Negroes in the West Indies," but these commissions continued for many years: 1821-30, found in volumes 81-98.

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