Original Correspondence: Jamaica (CO 137): 1781-1784

Call Number: HIL-MICL FC LPR .G7C6J3C6
Category: Great Britain
Creator: Great Britain. Colonial Office
Description: Electronic textual records ( 4 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. It was a society 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 (also known as Miskito Coast), 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.

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.

            Contains correspondence (21 July 1781 - 4 December 1784) between the British secretary of state responsible for the colonies and the governor of Jamaica with various types of documents included as enclosures or attachments, most of which predate the letters by as little as a month or as much as a few years. Also includes a separate category of Miscellaneous Papers. Correspondence section also contains letters from Colonel James Lawrie, (1722-c. 1800), superintendent of the Mosquito Shore beginning in 1776, and Captain Edward Despard, 79th Regiment and superintendent of the Bay of Honduras (area today known as Belize) from 1784 to 1790. Main topics relating to Jamaica cover government and politics; British trade policy; British foreign relations - Spain; military- British Army and Jamaican militia; weather and natural disasters - agriculture, plantations and slavery; and maritime law and crime. West Indies, Caribbean, and Central America are the wider geographic locations concerned.

Arrangement and Contents:

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. Main topics covered relate to distresses placed on citizens after latest hurricane, particularly of Westmoreland and Hanover; defence of Mosquito Shore, and unsuccessful San Juan expedition in the province of Nicaragua; military intelligence pertaining to French; proposed attack on 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 trial of 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 83 (1782 Nov. 25-1783 Oct. 12)

Volume 84 (1783 Nov. 26-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); as well as: Captain Alex Dirom, Captain James Campbell (42nd Regiment), Captain Edward Despard, and the Duke of Cumberland 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.

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 137/81-84.

Finding Aids:

Volumes 81 and 84 - Electronic list of documents, with summaries, available; see Electronic Finding Aid section; vol. 84 excludes the Miscellaneous section.

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