THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

03 July 2009

Records from Jamaica

This week we received material from another project copying records relating to slavery: Inventory of archival holdings in Jamaica. It seems appropriate to highlight this material, following on from my last post.

The project focused on undertaking a survey of endangered records, but also copied items from the Jamaica Archives and Records Department, the National Library of Jamaica, the Library of the University of the West Indies and the Roman Catholic Chancery in Kingston. All four institutions contain valuable material relating to the lives of enslaved Africans and free blacks in Jamaica during the period 1655-1800. The material chosen to be copied covers birth, death and marriage registers, manumission registers, indentures, correspondence and petitions. The surveys reveal many other records containing genealogical and historical information relating to slaves and slavery in Jamaica.

Here's a page from one of the Manumission Registers:

EAP148_JA_1B1165_002

These Registers were deposited with the Office of the Island Secretary of Jamaica. They contain certificates, or deeds, of freedom for free people of "colour", which included people with both black and mixed-race backgrounds. They're written in English and Spanish and give names, dates and other information. They're currently housed at the Jamaica Archives and Records Department.

While looking over this new accession I noticed the poor condition of some of the original records. Jamaica's tropical climate and warm temperatures provide less than ideal conditions for storing historical material long term. Paper and other materials suffer from heat and fluctuations in temperature due to their chemical make-up; and vermin and insects particularly like hot and humid climates, and can be very tenacious in discovering ways into archival stores. In this, the records of Jamaica have something in common with those from Tuvalu.

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