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Diversity in Archives: Records of slavery

Guide to searching for diverse voices within archive collections at Hull History Centre

Records of slavery

 

Find records relating to enslaved people and the Atlantic slave trade in the Hull History Centre collections.

It will never be possible to know the names or histories of many of the people trafficked during the Atlantic slave trade. However, records relating to slavery and enslaved people do survive in many repositories. They can usually be found in transactional records of the slave owners - often wills and bills of sale, when the enslaved people were traded or bequeathed.

These kinds of records can be jarring and upsetting to modern readers, as they show humans being treated as goods. However, they are often the only papers where any record of the enslaved people's lives can be found, and for that reason alone they are worth seeking out.

Papers of James Scarlett and Eliza Virgo Scarlett

Within Hull University Archives, perhaps the most important material lies within the papers of James Scarlett and Eliza Virgo Scarlett (U DDLA/41). The papers mainly comprise Eliza’s estate correspondence and accounts for sugar plantations in Jamaica around the turn of the 19th century. Property papers include lists, valuations and reports on named enslaved people, which record their physical condition and other attributes. You can download a sample page from one of the valuation lists in this collection below.

Papers of Thomas Perronet Thompson

HUA also holds U DTH, the papers of Thomas Perronet Thompson (1783-1869), whose father, as an MP, had worked with William Wilberforce to pass the 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Perronet Thompson was vehemently opposed to slavery throughout his life. He became governor of Sierra Leone in 1807. Although Sierra Leone had been established in the previous decade as a colony for freed slaves, when Perronet Thompson arrived he found that the system of apprenticeship in place in the colony was little short of slavery in practice. He threw himself into the abolition of what he saw as the last vestige of slavery, and the implementation of the utopian plans for improvement through agriculture and other means of the colony. His approach was unpopular with his political superiors and he was recalled in 1809.

The section of his collection relating to Sierra Leone contains some of Perronet Thompson’s own papers, including letters and his “Narrative of facts” about his time as governor. It also contains some documents pertaining directly to enslaved people, such as “Proceedings relating to Fuseng-be, alias Betsy, sold as a slave” (1809) (reference U DTH/1/76), which demonstrates how enslaved people were renamed.

West Indian deeds

Elsewhere in the History Centre’s collections, C DDI is a collection of deeds relating to properties in the West Indies. Some of the documents in this collection vividly demonstrate how enslaved people were treated as property, such as C DDI/1/11, “Copy of the last will and testament of Reverend Thomas Barnard: The dividing of shares, properties, personal, real estate and negroes [i.e. enslaved people] on the island of Barbados, together with estates in Great Britain among his children[.]” There are also documents which may shed some light on the enslaved people themselves, such as C DDI/1/6, a mortgage from 1835, which includes “a schedule listing slaves, which gives name, sex, employment, country, age, and in some cases date of birth.”

Local Studies Slavery Collection

The Local Studies Library holds a collection of over 1000 published sources relating to slavery and the study of slavery, catalogued under the reference L(SLA). It includes books published from 1713 onwards, and microfilm copies of records held elsewhere including William Wilberforce's journal.

Search tips

To search the collections more widely, try using keywords like “slave”, “slavery”, “plantation”, or “West Indies”.

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