Original Correspondence: Jamaica (CO 137): 1780-1785

Call Number: HIL-MICL FC LPR .G7C6J3C6
Category: Great Britain
Creator: Great Britain. Colonial Office
Description: Electronic textual records ( 8 volumes) ; 87.7 GB; 1818 images; 300ppi colour TIFF
            Records precede the development of the Colonial Office created in 1854. Secretaries of state for the colonies or colonial secretary was a cabinet minister responsible for Britain's colonies. After 1782, responsibility was held by the Home Office until the War and Colonial Department was created in 1801.

British colonial secretaries overseeing Jamaica within this period included Lord George Germain (1716-1785) from 10 November 1775 to February 1782; Welbore Ellis (1713-1802) from February 1782 to 8 March 1782; Lord North (Frederick North) from 2 April 1783 to 19 December 1783, and Lord Sydney (Thomas Townshend) from 23 December 1783 to 5 June 1785. Under-secretaries included William Knox (1732-1810) from 1770 to 1782, and Evan Nepean (1752-1822) from 3 March 1782 to December 1791.

In Jamaica, the governors were John Dalling (c. 1731-1798) from 1777 to 1781 when recalled during the American revolutionary period; Archibald Campbell (1739-1791) from 1781 to 1784; and Alured Clarke (1744-1832) from 1784 to 1790. 

Jamaica, a British West Indies colony (1707-1962) in the Caribbean Sea, had as its main exports during the eighteenth century- sugar, coffee, cotton and indigo. Economically, it was a very important British colony that was dependent on enslaved labour. After the American Revolutionary War came to an end, Jamaica received American loyalists, the most of any West Indian island, mainly evacuating from Georgia (July 1782), South Carolina (December 1782 and January 1783) and East Florida (1784 and 1785). 

Some of those who came to Jamaica went on to the British protectorate on the Mosquito Coast (referred in documents as Mosquito Shore), along the shores of present-day Honduras and northern Nicaragua. The Treaty of Friendship, 1740, had allowed British settlements and plantations, and the right to exploit the timber resource; thus Jamaica had commercial and diplomatic interests in this area. There had been an informal relationship between the "Indians" of the Mosquito Shore and governor and merchants of Jamaica. In 1749 Britain established a superintendency on the shore, with Jamaican oversight. James Lawrie was the superintendent from 1776 to 1787. During the period of the American Revolutionary War, the shore was used as a military base in the Anglo-Spanish conflict of 1779-1783. After the war, succumbing to constant pressure by Spain, England abandoned the Mosquito Coast in 1786 at the signing of the Mosquito Convention in which England acknowledged Spanish sovereignty. Many of the British settlers removed to present-day Belize, including American loyalists.

An American loyalist who lived at Rhode Island, William Vassall, inherited his father's property in Jamaica. Vassall removed to England during the war but his sugar plantations were managed by John and James Wedderburn, who provide an account in this collection of hurricane devastations in 1784.

Jamaica and its people during these years had to contend with the effects of hurricanes and the restriction of trade with the United States, as well as British interests on the Mosquito Coast threatened by Spain. Island defence and security were of significant importance and concern during the American Revolutionary period.

            With a few exceptions, contains the correspondence (February 5, 1780 - September 10, 1785) between the British secretary of state responsible for the colonies and the governor of Jamaica, with various types of documents written by others included as enclosures. Some volumes include a separate category of Miscellaneous Papers. Main topics cover government and politics; British trade policy; British foreign relations - Spain; conflict and war - American Revolution, Anglo-Franco-Spanish; military - British Army and Navy, provincial, militia, black participants; weather and natural disasters - agriculture, plantations and slavery; black history; Miskito indigenous people; and maritime law and crime. West Indies, Caribbean, and Central America are the wider geographic locations concerned.

Arrangement and Contents:

Volume 77 (1780 February 5-June 2)

Volume 78 (1780 April 14-December 14)

Most correspondence is between the governor and British secretary of state. Additional documents are included from the following individuals: Joseph Everett, Archibald Campbell, Hercules Ross (agent and commissary general for the Mosquito Shore), Governor William Burt of Antigua, Alex Smith (overseer of Richmond Hill Plantation, which is the estate of Captain James Lawrie, superintendent of Mosquito Shore), Captain James Temple (commander of the snow "Betsy"), General Stephen Kemble, Sir Alexander Leith, Matt Powell (physician general), and Lt. Richard Hoare (commanding at Rattan). Military regiments included as subjects in correspondence or in returns include: 85th, 92nd, 93rd, 94th, 60th (Royal Artillery), 79th, 88th, and the Loyal Irish Corps of Foot. 

The main topic concerns Britain's involvement in the Central American region of the Mosquito Shore (eastern coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras) and its military expedition against Spanish forces. Rattan (Roatan) island settlement and "Indians" are included. On a lesser note, is Jamaica's worry about island defence insufficiencies at home; the Dutch's illegal trade with Spain; concerns reported by Mosquito Shore inhabitants; benefits of enlisting black persons for military service in Jamaica; the case of Thomas Harrison's dismissal as advocate general; and Governor Dalling's health and leave of absence.

The types of attached documents include: affidavit regarding Spanish attack at Cape River (now Coco River); military plans; instructions to military officers - General Kemble, Major Jenkins, Captain Gleadowe, and Captain Baine (60th Regiment of Foot); letters from representatives for the Mosquito Shore, and from officers and the governor to military leaders; letters published in the newspaper (Jamaican Mercury) by the governor and vice admiral; memorial from military officers serving in Jamaica; petition from judges of Supreme Court concerning Thomas Harrison, late advocate general; memorial from Mosquito Shore inhabitants; intelligence or remarks from officers in the navy; state of regiments; Return of officers who died in expedition (60th, 79th, Loyal Irish Corps, loyalist provincial regiments - Jamaica Volunteers and Jamaica Legion, Royal Artillery and Hospital Mate; General Return of Troops, and General Return of Sick of troops in Jamaica.

Volume 79 (1780 September 23-1781 January 1)

Volume 80 (1781 January 9 - Oct 12)

Volume 81 (1781 July 21-Dec. 31)

Volume 81 contains correspondence mostly between the governor and the secretary of state, with additional correspondence from Robert Sewell (attorney general of Jamaica), Robert White (colonial agent of the inhabitants of the Mosquito Shore, being the Bay of Honduras), Stephen Fuller (British agent for Jamaica), and suspended Jamaica Supreme Court judges. There are many enclosures or attachments to these letters from other individuals, such as Admiral Sir Peter Parker, Capt./Col. William Dalrymple, Capt. Edward Despard, and Lt. Col. Alexander Leith of the 88th Regiment of Foot. Main topics covered relate to distresses placed on citizens after latest hurricane, particularly of Westmoreland and Hanover; defence of Mosquito Shore [coast of Nicaragua and Honduras), and unsuccessful San Juan expedition in the province of Nicaragua; military intelligence pertaining to the French; proposed attack on the Dutch island of Curacao; island security and defence concerns and consequent discussions about support for militia and military infrastructure, such as forts; and Governor Dalling's removal from office. Also includes documents pertaining to the trial of a free "mulatto" for murder; issue surrounding government proclamation concerning prisoners taken off rebel privateers or cruisers, and suspension of four assistant judges.

Volume 82 (1781 Oct. 10-1782 Nov. 4)

Volume 82 starts at a time when Governor Dalling's administration is forced to end and Lieutenant Governor Campbell's begins. Covers Campbell's priorities of island security by updating administration and laws pertaining to defence, including the militia (efficiencies, discipline, recruitment), island forts and fortifications, provincial corps; as well as, dealing with staff issues and shortages, want of more regular troops, provisioning and housing troops, emergency planning for inhabitants, augmenting financial supports, and the question as to whether the governor is in command of all officers. There are many enclosures to the correspondence with intelligence from various sources regarding French and Spanish intentions in the area, especially the much-concerned preparations of attack by the Spanish and French gathered at Cuba and Hispaniola. Also a report pertaining to attempts on Pensacola, Florida by the Spanish. 

As the year 1782 progressed, there are more conversations and documents pertaining to the Spanish-claimed region of Central America, specifically present-day Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Beginning in January, is an enclosed letter from Captain John Campbell at Mosquito Shore describing an attempted expedition in process against the Spanish begun on the 4th. In February, deputy agent and assistant commissary for the Island of Roatan, reported on the concerning situation of settlers, who had escaped the mainland in the Bay of Honduras after the reduction of Fort Omoa in 1779. There are letters and instructions from the governor to military leaders at the Mosquito Shore and Roatan in March, and observations by Captain William Merrick on the "Martin" in April as to the destruction at Port Royal Harbour in Roatan. Information pertaining to the situation of the Black River settlers, who were attacked after Roatan is included, as well as, the governor's military offensives to support British settlers on the Mosquito Shore. The successful attack against the Spanish between 14 July and 30 August is detailed, together with the Articles of Capitulation between Don Thomas Julia, Lieutenant Colonel and Captain of the Battalion of the Kingdom of Guatemala and Major James Lawrie, Superintendent of the Indians and Mosquito Shore. Contributions by Central American Indians in the region are noted and recognised as important.

Also includes other documents, such as those written by Governor Dalling relating to the capture of Omoa, Honduras, including the treasure and merchandise taken from there; documents by Lord Charles Montagu, Lieutenant Colonel Commandant of the Duke of Cumberland's Regiment, pertaining to his experience in 1781 raising a provincial battalion in South Carolina for service at Jamaica, and his request to raise a 2nd battalion the next year. Also contains Monthly Return of His Majesty's Troops in Jamaica, dated December 1781; documents concerning the raising of military battalions consisting of "free Mulattoes and Blacks"; papers concerning the case of Mr. Thomas Kidson regarding his experience as a public servant doing hazardous work in Hispaniola in 1779 by providing intelligence and drawing of harbour and forts, and his request for compensation; "Some thoughts relative to the further improvements to be made in the Forts and Fortifications, and the General defence of the Island of Jamaica" by Major General Dalling in April 1782; and Secret intelligence from Havana [Cuba] showing data for the general state of the Spanish land forces in the West Indies as of 21 May 1782, and in Correct List of "slaves" and free people of colour in Island of Cuba taken by order of the king in 1780.

Smaller coverage available for the topic of the state of island credit, treasonous acts of merchants selling to the enemy navy and military stores, and the Assembly's concern over the increased duty on muscovado sugar. Some of the military units mentioned include provincial troops - Black Pioneers, Odell's Corps, Capt Derby/Darby's Independent Company, American Rangers; regular regiments - 14th, 19th, 30th; and military leaders - General Edward Matthews, Lt. Col. Despard, Major Hunter of 92nd and 60th, Capt. F. De Miranda (aid de camp to governor of Havana), Alex. Dirom (deputy adjutant general), General George Garth, Admiral Peter Parker, Sgt. Azuriah Ayres of the 78th Regiment, and Spanish Captain General Bernardo de Galvez.

Volume 83 (1782 Nov. 25-1783 Oct. 12)

Volume 84 (1783 Nov. 26 - 1784 August 30)

Volume 84 correspondence more specifically deals with: trade restrictions with the United States and local concerns; Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mosquito Shore - Britain and Spain diplomacy, native/indigeneous relations, American loyalists and settlers, timber industry (mahogany), defence, and intelligence; military peace-time support; maritime law (capture of French vessel la Marquis de la Fayette); hurricane during summer 1784 - plantations, accounts of, and famine and slave revolt concerns; Turks Islands - defence and Andrew Symmers; and effects of war on insurance (merchants' claim for snow Liberty, Robert Reed master, which British took and sunk off Jamaica to block Spanish during late war). Prominent names within include Captain Alex Dirom, Captain James Campbell (42nd Regiment), Captain Edward Despard, and the Duke of Cumberland's Regiment.

Miscellaneous Papers, p. 232, frame 387 (5 Sept. 1783 - 20 Dec. 1784 with enclosures dated earlier to 1781) contain correspondence, and other types of documents pertaining to Jamaican militia (Thoughts on Militia....by Alex. Dirom, adjutant general, p. 239); American trade with sugar colonies (in Minutes of a Meeting of the Committee of West India Planters and Merchants, p. 235); complaint to home secretary concerning personal injury to Daniel Webb of Shrewsbury, Jamaica, caused by harm to property by Thomas Boyd and James Coulter and others and their slaves, p. 259; various documents pertaining to the case of Philip Allwood, merchant at Jamaica, imprisoned in Cuba for contraband and illegal commerce (smuggling) during 1781, in relation to British vessels Porcupine, Three Friends, Eagle, and goods thereon, pp. 261-302; many documents relevant to Eliphalet Fitch's involvement in previously mentioned illegal commerce as bondsman for the vessels, which went to Havana as flags of truce with Captain Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816) of the Spanish army, but used in a military expedition (documents also reference Arthur Boyd's involvment in sending sailing cloth to Havana to equip Don [Jose de] Solano's fleet), pp. 303-342; and letter from Stephen Fuller to Lord Sydney requesting Jamaican ports to be open to American vessels, explaining urgency due to effects of July 30 hurricane, p. 353.

Miscellaneous also includes military documents at the end: Return of Arms Accoutrements etc. wanted for the Horse Militia in Jamaica 10 Dec. 1783, p. 350; letter from Stephen Fuller to Lord Sydney, Nov. 1784, p. 355; Return of Spare Arms in store at Jamaica Nov. 1784, p. 364; Remarks on the Mode of victualling His Majesty's Troops in Jamaica (includes provisions, lodging and pay (very detailed and shows rations for women and children), 20 Dec. 1784, signed Alex. Dirom, deputy adjutant general in Jamaica; Return of Regular Troops according to their establishment, in Garrison at Jamaica 1784 (includes data by rank for Infantry - 3rd or East Kent, 14th or Bedfordshire, 19th or 1st York N. R. [Yorkshire North Riding], 60th or Rl Amn [Royal American Regiment of Foot] 1st battalion; Royal Artillery, Engineers, and Hospital Staff); Estimate of Island Pay for Regular Troops in Garrrison; Estimate of the expence of Provisions for the troops in Jamaica according to present Contract; Estimate of the expence of Provisions for the Troops in Jamaica if issued as in other Foreign Garrisons; and Estimate of expence of Provisions as proposed to be issued to Troops in Jamaica.

Volume 85: 1784 October 14-1785 September 10

Access: See Microforms staff for access to digital collection.


Original records are held by The National Archives at Kew, England.

Archival Ref. No.:

TNA CO 137/77, 137/78, 137/79, 137/80, 137/81, 137/82, 137/83, 137/85.

Finding Aids:

Electronic: Volumes 78, 80-82 and 84 - Electronic list of documents, with summaries, available; see Electronic Finding Aid section. (Vol. 84 document summary excludes the Miscellaneous section.)

Electronic Finding Aid Record: Volume 84 Content List.pdf
Volume 82 Content List.pdf
Volume 81 Content List.pdf
Volume 80 Content List.pdf
Volume 78 Content List.pdf

Access: This collection is in an electronic/digital format. See Microforms staff for access to this digital collection.

Related Material:

William Vassall Letter Books: 1769-1800

Laws of Jamaica: 1760-1792; Access:  Google Ebooks

Other records relating to the West Indies see CO 318.


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