Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts

1828 MSS Slave Register - West Indies

Slaves Owned by a Free Coloured Man - Tobago - West Indies

Annual Return of Plantation Slaves

1828 MSS Slave Register - West Indies

Slaves Owned by a Free Coloured Man - Tobago - West Indies [ 1827 - 1828 ]


London, 10 July 1829. Signed manuscript document being an annual return to record the increase and decrease of slaves, by births and deaths, in the year 1827 at Belmont Estate, a sugar plantation in the parish of Saint George, Tobago, under the management and possibly the ownership of a Mr. McEwen Folio. 1 page manuscript text on one large double-leaf, laid watermark paper made by J. Green & Son and featuring a large fleur-de-lys emblem. Leaf measures approximately 48 x 33,5 cm. Docketed to verso. Signed in the original 10 July 1829, by Thomas Amyot, the Registrar of Colonial Slaves in Great Britain.

With two plantations operating under the same name on the island of Tobago, and most of the surviving records naming Belmont Estate being ambiguous as to its district, the present document differs, and is most instrumental in determining the accurate history of one of the plantations. This is a slave register for "Belmont Estate... in the Parish of St. George," therefore representing the Belmont Estate which was owned by a "Free Man of Colour" - Robert Crooks, later a civil servant and police inspector who resided and worked in that parish. This Belmont estate is situated near Hope and Mesopotamia in Hillsborough Bay.

Fascinating details pertaining to this plantation estate can be found in the digital database of the University College of London, UCL Department of History 2016, titled "Legacies of British Slave-ownership." This primary source document provides and elucidates previously unknown ownership history, of the Belmont Estate in Hillsborough Bay, St. George parish, Tobago, thereby completing the timeline between the original purchase of 1765 and the recipient of the slave compensation awarded in 1836.

In 1807 when the Abolition of Slave Trade Act came into force, the trade of slaves from Africa to the British colonies became illegal. In 1819 the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves was established in London in order to combat ongoing illicit transportation. British Colonial administrators began keeping registers of black slaves who had been so-called "lawfully enslaved." Copies of the slave registers, such as, and including the present document, were submitted to the office in order to prove compliance. Registration generally occurred once every three years, and continued through to 1834 when slavery was officially abolished.

A scarce surviving illustration of the great fortune available to the "Free Man of Colour" in contrast to the enslaved man, this uncommon manuscript provides invaluable answers regarding the history of a sugar plantation estate in Tobago, an estate for which there seems to be little else for conclusive documentation.

British Colonial Administration in Tobago began in 1763 when the island was divided into seven parishes, and land was sold to prospective sugar planters. The parish divisions remain the same today. Historical documents show that there were two plantations named Belmont Estate, one in St. George, the other in St. John. Most of the existing records relating to the Belmont Estates are ambiguous, therefore are unclear as to which estate they belong to.

The present document clearly states its placement "in the Parish of St. George" and thus represents the Belmont Estate which was owned by a "Free Man of Colour" - Robert Crooks, civil servant and police inspector. Furthermore, it provides the link between purchase and compensation for this particular estate. Belmont estate is situated along the coast of Hillsborough Bay, slightly east of Mount St. George and Barbados Bay. Both bays formerly known collectively as Barbados Bay, this estate first belonged to John Hunt who purchased in 20 May 1765. Thomas Orr bought it from him in 1773; 'Thomas Orr & Co.' appearing in archives as the owners of Barbados Bay (St George parish) Lots number 11 and 12, together with Lot number 22, became the Belmont estate. Thomas Orr died in 1787, leaving it to another Thomas Orr, "planter of Tobago" who is thought to be his nephew, whose will was proved in 1817. Six years later a return was filed for this estate, owned by a freeman named James Crooks.

The "Official Return of Registrar of Slaves, Tobago" for the year 1823, records 85 slaves registered at Belmont Estate, owned by Tobago registrar James Crooks. His son, Robert Crooks (born in Tobago, 1810) inherited Belmont estate in 1826. He and his father were "free coloured" planters from a merchant family. Robert Crooks was appointed Inspector-General of Police at Tobago in 1854, Provost Marshal (prison warden), and a member of the Elective Legislative Assembly for the parish of St George in 1862, suggesting that his estate would have also been in the Parish of St George. In Tobago's Assessment Roll of 1881/82 he is recorded as still possessing 1 estate which was valued at £75. Robert Crooks and his brothers Thomas and William, as joint tenants by devise under the will of their father James Crooks, were awarded the compensation for the Belmont estate claim in 1836. The manager of the Belmont Estate is not found through online sources, although this document names a Mr. W. McEwen.

Historical accounts state that Belmont estate was growing during the period of 1810s-1820s. The present register, made in 1828 and claiming 110 slaves, corroborates this as it shows an increase from the register filed in 1823 declaring 85 slaves.

Document Heading: "Belmont Estate. Tobago. 1st January 1828 Annual Return of Plantation Slaves... for the Plantation Called Belmont in the Parish of St. George for the total number of all slaves belonging or attached to, or usually worked or employed thereon... additions to or deductions from the Stock of Slaves... between the first day of January 1827 and the first day of January 1828."

Claiming to hold a total of 110 slaves, 54 being male and 46 female, the estate manager Mr. McEwen here documents only one birth in this particular year. Four deaths occurred, three African males dying of dysentery and the like, one Caribbean female (described only as yellow) having died from puerperal convulsions and other pregnancy related complications. None are named.

Thomas Amyot (1775-1850) was an English antiquarian, a solicitor, private secretary to Secretary of State William Windham, Registrar of Colonial Slaves in the government offices of Great Britain, Secretary and Registrar of Records in Upper Canada, author and a founder of the Camden Society.

Almost all the men and women awarded compensation under the 1833 Abolition Act are listed in what is called a Parliamentary Return, an official reply by a government body to a request from an MP. The return is often referred to as the Slavery Abolition Act: An account of all sums of money awarded by the Commissioners of Slave Compensation while its full title is Accounts of slave compensation claims; for the colonies of Jamaica. Antigua. Honduras. St. Christopher's. Grenada. Dominica. Nevis. Virgin Islands. St. Lucia. British Guiana. Montserrat. Bermuda. Bahamas. Tobago. St. Vincent's. Trinidad. Barbados. Mauritius. Cape of Good Hope. It can be found in House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1837-1838 (215) vol. 48 and is 365 pages long.

In 1832, before the abolition of slavery, there were 653 sugar estates in cultivation and over 500 coffee plantations in the British West Indies. The British Slavery Abolition Act provided grant totalling £20 million to compensate the slave-owners for the loss of their "human property"!

The other Belmont Estate in Tobago, owned by Scott Alexander Gordon of Newton (d. 1824) and a family member, is not related to the above described estate, as it was situated in the Northeast division, St John parish. Archival documents record the following:
'Alex. & Nat. Gordon' were the original purchasers on 05/06/1770 of Northeast division (St John parish) Lots no. 35 and 36, which by 1773 were owned, together with Northeast division Lot no. 28 (which had originally been purchased 09/05/1769 by George Guise) by Alexander Gordon alone. Lots nos. 28 and 36 became the Starwood estate, and Lot no. 35 the Belmont estate.

Nor should the Belmont estate described above be confused with Belmont, the suburb of Port-of-Spain on the island of Trinidad, which, although was initially a region containing coffee and sugar estates, it did not develop into a village until the British had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and the Royal Navy began to patrol the west coast of Africa to prevent slaves being taken to the New World. Many Africans were also freed by patrols at sea and were given an area on the island to settle, which became known as Freetown. After the emancipation of the slaves, in 1838, the settlement flourished, with former labourers turning to find independent employment, and the area rapidly developed into the suburb of Belmont.

Current Condition

Very Good Condition