Tag Archives: Barbados

New Slave Ownership and Estate records



This is just a quick post about the new records available at the Legacies of British Slave-ownership website. Newly added to the existing records of the slave owners who received compensation at the time of abolition are records of 8000 of the estates they owned together with maps of Britain, Jamaica, Barbados and Grenada showing the location of the estates and of places in Britain associated with them. It is a work in progress but a hugely valuable resource.

Moreover tomorrow, 28 September 2016, will see the launch at UCL of the new Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at UCL. You can find more details of the event here. It is free to attend but booking is required.

A useful additional resource is the website on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

The Sugar Barons – Book Review


Matthew Parker’s book The Sugar Barons tells the history of three families in the West Indies and does so in a way that covers a wide sweep of the history of the Caribbean from the mid 17th century to the early 19th century. It is a compelling read and extremely well researched.

Quoting a number of contemporary sources Matthew Parker describes the background to the context in which sugar would become so important, and the early settlements in Barbados peopled by royalist prisoners of war shipped out of the country by Cromwell. By 1649 rebellion in the poor white population and a fall in their numbers when indentured servants found no land available for them in Barbados, led to the rise of slavery as a means of providing the large labour force needed for the cultivation of sugar. In discussing slavery Parker says “Sugar did not cause slavery in the British Caribbean” and he demonstrates the conditions that led the Barbados sugar planters increasingly to use slave labour, and the international context in which this was set. He shows the rise of the sugar planters in the context of British and international politics and conflict from the mid 17th century onwards.

The founder of the first family empire Parker discusses was James Drax  a former Roundhead leader who developed plantations in Barbados. Drax Hall which he built sometime in the early 1650s still stands, the oldest surviving Jacobean mansion in the American colonies.

After covering the establishment of the colony in Barbados, Parker describes the invasion of Jamaica and the rise there of the Beckford family. The third family who form the focus of this book were the Codringtons. In the migration of colonists from Barbados to Jamaica they not only extended personal fortunes but also took cultivation and production techniques with them that helped to boost sugar production and make Jamaica the most important of the sugar colonies.

Earthquake, hurricane, and epidemic disease all shaped the experience of the Sugar Barons as did the fear and experience of slave uprisings and the Maroon wars in Jamaica. In spite of all this the rising demand in Europe for sugar, and its by product rum, not only created fortunes but also led to the rise of the important West Indian sugar lobby in London.

Matthew Parker not only covers the rise of these three important colonial families but also their decline as absentee landlords failed to manage their estates well, spent their fortunes rashly, and did not adapt to changing international conditions. Nevertheless he argues that “The success of the sugar industry helped shape the modern world. After all, the landscape of Jamaica was dominated by ‘dark satanic mills’ long before that of England. The far flung trading system that shifted the sugar and rum to their distant markets and supplied the islands with machinery, raw materials and luxury items, issued in an era of global commerce, long supply chains, and ruthless exploitation of human and natural resources…. The legacy of the sugar Barons for Britain is about more than just the resulting riches…. The sugar empire also helped to define the country’s role in the world and what it meant to be ‘British’ “.

The endpapers include a map showing the West Indies and the Spanish Main about 1700, there are several other maps, and there are a number of black and white illustrations of the places and people described in the book. There are also three outline family trees for the Drax, Codrington and Beckford families, and a chronology of contemporary events setting the family stories in a wider context.

Matthew Parker’s book is a compelling read, thoroughly well researched, and a brilliant introduction to the history of the Caribbean  and the rise not only of the Sugar Barons but of the modern world.


 Matthew Parker, The Sugar Barons Family, Corruption, Empire and War, Hutchinson, London 2011. ISBN 9780091925833 Hardback.

And just out in paperback, Windmill Books, ISBN-10: 0099558459 ISBN-13: 978-0099558453

My Ancestor Settled in the British West Indies – Book Review


If you are looking for a Christmas present for someone researching their family in the West Indies, this new publication from the Society of Genealogists may be just what you are looking for.

The book covers Anguilla, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Guiana (Guyana), British Honduras (Belize), The British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Nevis, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Vincent, Tobago, Trinidad and the Turks and Caicos Islands. (Bermuda is included, although not in the Caribbean, because administratively it was considered by the Colonial Office in London to be part of the West Indies.)

The author, in his introduction says “To write about genealogical research in the West Indies is to aim at a moving target; archive holdings may be augmented or reduced, be catalogued or left in a chaotic mess; the repositories where records are held may change, as may their addresses; websites come and go, urls are often altered or lost without trace, and new sites are appearing almost daily”. It is to provide some guidance among this confusion that the book has been written.

The book opens with a general survey of genealogical sources, including manuscript, printed and internet resources. A chapter on the historical background is followed by separate chapters for each individual territory. These are treated systematically under the headings of Location, History, Economy, People, Records held in the UK and Records held locally, Secondary Sources, Further Reading, Maps and Websites.

Whether you are just starting out on the search for a West Indies connection, or have been researching for some time there will be something for you in this book.

Available in paperback from the Society of Genealogists in London. There is a glitch on their website preventing some people from ordering online, but my telephoned order was with me the following day, and you can order by email.


My Ancestor Settled in the British West Indies (with Bermuda, British Guiana and British Honduras), John Tilford, Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd, London 2011. ISBN:978-1-907199-08-0.

Paperback. Price £9.99, reduced to £8.99 for members.