Jamaica’s Documentary Heritage

The National Library of Jamaica has undertaken to compile a register of the little known but significant heritage documents of the Caribbean. The Caribbean is hereby defined as those Member and Associate Member countries of CARICOM. The National Library of Jamaica, formerly the West India Reference Library is well resourced to begin the compilation of this register as in its collections are documents for many Caribbean countries which date back to the 18th century.

In the following, the documentary heritage of Jamaica is displayed briefly. Please visit the Caribbean Memory Register for further details.

Cadastrial Map Collection 

The Cadastral Map Collection contains approximately 20,000 maps and plans, situated in Special Collections and are essential for researchers wishing to study the history of settlement, land tenure, land-use and regional settlement patterns in Jamaica. The collection contains maps of Jamaica, both of rural and urban settlements and plans which portray the internal layout of large agricultural units. The persons who drew these maps and plans were surveyors and as such, persons wishing to study the development and history of colonial surveying and map and plan-making will likewise find the Cadastral Map Collection invaluable. Estate plans for example, were drawn for a number of reasons, including accompaniments of patents, deeds, wills, boundary disputes, settlement and debtor hearings, sale and land transfer. Maps often contain the layout of the estates, showing land usage, rivers, mountains and number of settlements. It is noteworthy to observe that earlier maps of Jamaica illustrated coastal settlements and the internal parts of the island were either poorly labelled or ignored. Later maps however, noted inland settlements, as well as internal rivers, mountains etc and furthermore were fairly accurate as to labeling.

The Dawkins Collection

The Dawkins Collection is of utmost significance to historians. It contains copy title deeds, plats/plans, lists of enslaved persons and accounts, meant as a permanent record of the Dawkins family titles to its estates, dating from the earliest period of the settlement of Jamaica in the seventeenth century down to the nineteenth century. This material allows historians to trace the development of large landed estates in Jamaica and by extension use this information, comparatively, to examine the formation of large estates in other countries.

The Eighteenth Century Newspaper Collection

The Eighteenth Century Jamaican Newspaper Collection starts c. 1718. The titles of these newspapers include: The Weekly Jamaica Courant, The Jamaica Gazette, The St. Jago Intelligencer, Cornwall Chronicle and Jamaica General Advertiser, The Jamaica Mercury and Kingston Weekly Advertiser, The Royal Gazette, The St. Jago De La Vega Gazette and The Diary and Kingston Daily Advertiser. The 18th Century Newspaper Collection is of utmost importance for historians and researchers studying the 18th century. This collection would benefit those researching 18th century economy, society and politics of Jamaica.

History of Jamaica under Lord Vaughan

The History of Jamaica Under Lord Vaughan traces the development of Jamaica since the governorship of the Earl of Carlisle. The manuscript contains the changes of government that occurred following the appointment of the Earl (1679-1680). The History of Jamaica under Lord Vaughan was compiled for William Blathwayt, Secretary of State and Commissioner for Trade and Plantation. The manuscript therefore covers one of the earliest periods in Jamaica’s history under English rule and examines the geology and geography of Jamaica, political changes and a detailed account of the English conquest of Jamaica. The manuscript is of immense significance for persons wishing to study the constitutional and political evolution of Jamaica.

The Institute of Jamaica Letter Books

The Institute of Jamaica Letter Books consists of letters written by its curators and secretaries from its inception in 1891 to July 1938. These letters are important in tracing and reconstructing the development of the Institute of Jamaica during its early years and the National Library of Jamaica. Besides dealing with everyday matters such as expense, user and membership fees, use of the Institute and hiring of staff, the letters dealt with the acquisition of much of the material now housed at the National Library and the Institute of Jamaica. Additionally the letters include offers of and requests for funding the building of the junior centre section of the Institute and the Natural History Museum. The Institute of Jamaica is one of the chief mediums through which the history of Jamaica is preserved and archived and as such, this collection of early letters gives insight into the development of such an important institution.

The Minutes of the Board of Governors of the IOJ

The Minutes of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) date from 1879 to 1951 and contains not only minutes, but also newspaper clippings, membership books, accessions, registers and scrap books. Persons wishing to study the development and evolution of the Institute of Jamaica will find these minutes an invaluable resource. The issues dealt with in the meetings captured in the minutes vary, including the creation and amending of the rules of the Institute, the payment of fees and arrears, the number of members of the Institute, the expenditure and salary of the permanent staff, the hiring of curators, secretaries and other personnel, the acquisition of new material, the building of additional centres, etc. and the borrowing of material from the Institute. The newspaper clipping are very important as they relate to functions hosted or endorsed by the Institute. These include lectures, poetry readings and music. The role of the Institute in shaping Jamaican culture cannot be ignored as it is clear that by hosting and sponsoring such events, the Institute was indeed playing her role in nation building.

Jamaica Plat Book

Plat books are records or volumes containing diagrams of land granted to settlers in Jamaica and other Caribbean territories. In addition, they give valuable information regarding the purpose of the land granted to the particular settler. Plat books and other materials pertaining to the early history of settlement in Jamaica have influenced the writings of myriad historians. These volumes give valuable information regarding the evolution of land grants in the island. Historians have been able to trace the development, growth and transitions of land and related transactions from these records. Their pictorial nature also allows for specific research to be done on the size and topography of land in Jamaica and allows for illustrated works to emerge.

The Letterbook of the Columbian Commercial Agency in Jamaica, 1832-1839 and the Letterbook of the Consul of Columbia in Jamaica, 1844-1861

The Letterbook of the Columbian Commercial Agency in Jamaica contains two sections, its namesake dated from 1832 to 1839 and the Letterbook of the Consul of Columbia in Jamaica dated from 1844 to 1861. Both Letterbooks are in Spanish and are useful for persons studying Jamaica’s foreign relations in the nineteenth century. The Letterbooks contain the impression of the Consul members of life in Jamaica. Subjects dealt with include the situation of the formerly enslaved Africans in Jamaica, housing, sugar estates and provisions. An examination of the Letterbooks would give an honest eye-witness and outsider’s view of Jamaica in the nineteenth century.

The Lucky Valley Estate Plans

The Lucky Valley Estate Plans are useful for examining changes to the Lucky Valley Estate over time. Various maps exist of this estate, until it came into the possession of Isaac Barnes and the 1883 plan of Lucky Valley Estate was redrawn to represent this new ownership. As Barry Higman in Jamaica Surveyed writes, “Probably the most graphic example of an appreciation of the general principles of plantation layout is provided by a plan of Lucky Valley Estate, in upper Clarendon, belonging to the planter-historian Edward Long”.

Manumissions of Slaves

The records of manumission of slaves are deeds freeing enslaved people. It includes 70 volumes of deeds spanning the 18th and 19th centuries. Volume 70, which is dated after emancipation in 1834, contains the deeds releasing persons from apprenticeship. The documents begin in the year 1747 and there end in 1838, the end of the apprenticeship period. Some of these records are also in microfilm form and has an individual index at the front of each volume. They are hand written and include the sum of money paid to free the enslaved person. It also includes the name of the enslaved person, the previous owner, and details about the person including skin colour, kin as well as the parish they lived and worked in.

A Map of the West Indies and Middle Continent of America, 1790

A Map of the West Indies and Middle Continent of America was drawn by John Blair as a supplement to his tables of chronology. This map is very descriptive and contains drawings of Cuba, Jamaica, St. Domingo, the Leeward Islands, a bit of South America, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Yucatan, and Florida, Georgia and Louisiana in North America. The smaller islands of the Bahamas, Providence and the tiny French islands of Marie Galante, Martinique and Guadeloupe are also represented. This map is especially useful for researchers of the topography of the West Indies and visual representation in the 18th century.

The Nineteenth Century Newspaper Collection

Unlike the National Library’s Eighteenth Century Newspaper Collection, the Nineteenth Century Newspaper Collection, although overwhelmingly Jamaican, is more varied and contains newspapers from all over the Caribbean. Newspapers are featured from Antigua, Barbados, British Guiana, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, the Nineteenth Century Newspaper Collection reached a much wider contemporary audience than did the Eighteenth Century Collection whose readership was mainly the white plantocracy. There were newspapers in the nineteenth century that were run by and catered to the free blacks and coloured inhabitants of Jamaica. This century saw the continuation of papers from the eighteenth century and the discontinuation of others. Likewise, many newspapers were launched including the Jamaica Gleaner. Overall, the newspapers of the nineteenth century are more varied in their audience, ownership and subject matters than those of the eighteenth century and as such the Nineteenth Century Newspaper Collection would be useful for persons studying the economy, politics and society of nineteenth century Jamaica.

The Nuttal Collection

The Nuttall Collection consists of the correspondence, papers, and sermons of the Right Rev. Enos Nuttall, Bishop of Jamaica and Archbishop of the West Indies. The collection spans the period c. 1863-1916. This collection is vital for the study of the Anglican Church in Jamaica during the time period of the collection. In addition, the collection will also benefit persons wishing to study the development and history of education, social and charitable institutions of Jamaica during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Postcards Collection

The Postcards Collection is a unique collection of mostly Jamaican postcards spanning the early to the latter twentieth century. The collection features different aspects of Jamaica’s history, people and culture, in particular, the effects of the 1907 earthquake, Jamaica’s produce, fauna and flora, architecture, hotels, beaches and cities. The postcards also include photos and paintings of the Jamaican people, in particular, black Jamaicans, in the early twentieth century and depict their clothing, activities and the sometimes artists’ impression of them.

Protector of Immigrants, Index to Emigrant Passes

This document qualifies as a Colonial Secretary’s Office (CSO) file at the Jamaica Archives. It was compiled by J. Collington in 1968 and includes an index to emigrant passes of East Indian indentured labourers who came to Jamaica between 1905 and 1916. It includes the information on hundreds of persons who traveled on 5 ships at various times in the early 20th century to Jamaica from India to work as agricultural labourers on plantations, as a replacement for slave labour.

Record Book of the Court of St. Ann, 1787-1814

The Record Book of the Court of St. Ann, Jamaica consists of court transcripts and affidavits. The Record Book includes a case of theft of pimento on Mt. Pleasant Plantation and the proceedings of a slave court. The first entry was made April 9th, 1787 and the last is dated April 12, 1814. The Record Book gives insight into the proceedings of the slave court and the bias of slave society. Researchers of eighteenth and nineteenth century Jamaica will find the Record Book useful for a study of Jamaican slave society and the evolution and organisation of the justice system in Jamaica.

Records of the Gibraltar Refugee Camp

The Records of the Gibraltar camp in Mona (presently the University of the West Indies Mona Campus) are separate documents relating to the refugee camp for Gibraltarians and other European exiles in Jamaica during the Second World War (1939-1945).

Registers of Returned Slaves

These documents are essentially a return or list of the number, class and conciliation of slaves held by each slave owner made in accordance with “An Act for a more particular return of slaves in the island and the enrolment thereof”. This law was passed on the 11 December 1816 to commence its operation from 28 June, 1817. This was not specific to Jamaica, as the British colonies in the Caribbean were required to register their enslaved people under this law.

Roger Mais Collection

Roger Mais (1905-1955) has been recognised as one of the first postcolonial literary figures to emerge in the former British Empire. His legacy lies in the large quantity of unpublished material left after his untimely death.

He is the quintessential anti-colonial activist whose contribution included literary, political, artistic and journalistic output. His collection covers over 20 years of activism and serves as a chronicle of the birth and development of the anti-colonial, nationalist struggles of the colonised against the coloniser which led to political independence, the creation of a literary tradition and the birth of an artistic movement.

Mais has been described as “a colonial writer grappling with his art, without the benefit of a literary tradition of his own” (Morris 1981).

His activism was manifested through his literary and journalistic writing. His imprisonment for seditious libel in 1944 as a result of his piece, “Now we Know” transformed him into a hero of the anti-colonial struggle in Jamaica.

Mais published just three novels, all of which are considered classics of Caribbean literature. The bulk of his unpublished material has been preserved in the Roger Mais Collection at the University of the West Indies Library Mona. This Collection perpetuates the true legacy of Roger Mais as it is through his published and unpublished material, and his correspondence that prospective researchers are able to access his philosophy and political agenda. It is through the material lodged in the Collection that his development as a writer can be assessed.

The collection’s significance lies in its heterogeneity in presenting the development of a pioneer in postcolonial writing, a member of the vanguard of the anti-colonial and nationalist struggles, and an artist.

Tabula Iamaicae Insulae Per Edw. Slaney, 1678

Edward Slaney’s map of Jamaica was published in 1678. Described by Richard Dunn in Sugar and Slaves as the map that best displays the early topography of Jamaica, Slaney’s map is excruciatingly observant to detail and is very useful for persons wishing to study the history of the settlement of Jamaica, land use and tenure, and the spatial distribution of settlements in Jamaica. In addition, for persons wishing to examine the evolution of Jamaica’s geography and geology over time, Slaney’s map is especially helpful. Slaney’s map displays plantations, estates, mountains, rivers and savannas.

The Walter Adolphe Roberts Collection

The Walter Adolphe Roberts Collection appears to have been one that was formed by the namesake of the collection from his adolescence until his death in 1962. The Collection is mainly comprised of family documents, correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks (newspaper clippings, etc.), lectures, broadcasts, articles and book reviews, literary manuscripts, papers and documents concerning various organizations with which W. A. Roberts was connected and miscellaneous historical documents and papers which may have belonged originally to contemporary writers and historians closely associated with him. Persons interested in studying and researching Jamaica’s intellectual and literary history and developments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries will find the Collection especially useful, as Roberts was in touch with and formed part of the budding intelligentsia of Jamaica.

Worthy Park Estate Collection

The Worthy Park Estate Collection contains over 150 documents including plantation books, estate journals, accounts, letter books produced from a premier sugar estate which still exists in Jamaica today. Its rich, over 200 year history is reflected from this collection, which dates from as far back as 1783. This collection has been used by a myriad of historians of the region because of its detailed records, which constitute a historical account of not only this plantation and its surrounding area, but also enlightens today’s historian about the general history of that time with regard to the rewards, pitfalls, and challenges of plantation management in the Caribbean.