From the Reading Room – Legacies of British Slave Ownership

MS 523-5894

MS 523-5894

The collections of Senate House Library are rich with regard to published and manuscript material on slavery and plantation life, especially in the Caribbean.  Archival resources related to slavery are outlined here.  One of the most important collections are the papers of the Newton Estate in Barbados (MS523).

Hannah Young, a PhD student, has been reading a range of material from the papers and I asked her how she was using this archive;

I have spent the last few months trawling through the Newton Papers (MS523) kept in the Historic Collections section of Senate House Library. These papers, concerning the Newton and Lane families of Kings Bromley in Staffordshire, consist of material relating to the families’ plantations in Barbados. I am undertaking my PhD as part of UCL’s Legacies of British Slave-Ownership Project and my research is centred around exploring the issues of gender and power in British slave-ownership between the years 1763 and 1833. I was initially drawn to the Newton Papers because of my particular interest in female slave-ownership. For eleven years, between 1783 and 1794, the Newton and Seawells plantations were owned by two sisters, Sarah Holte and Elizabeth Newton. However, my current explorations have taken a somewhat different turn. It soon became clear that the majority of the material in collection related to the period after 1794. During this year both sisters died and the plantations were subsequently inherited by their cousins, Thomas and John Lane. For me the most interesting material in the collection is the considerable correspondence between Thomas Lane, who managed the plantations from metropolitan Britain, and his attorneys and overseers in Barbados. I have previously looked at some very similar material related to Anna Eliza Elletson, a London-based absentee who was heavily involved with the administration and management of Hope estate, her Jamaican plantation. I now hope to use the correspondence between Thomas Lane and his attorneys to explore the constructions of masculinity which underpinned British plantation-ownership. Looking at both the similarities and differences between the letters of the two absentee slave-owners will, I hope, illuminate the gendering of slave-ownership but will also demonstrate that it was was cross-cut with other hierarchical markers of difference, most notably race and class. Through the prism of the correspondence of these two individuals I hope to challenge traditional conceptions of the absentee-slave owner as axiomatically male but explore how gendered attitudes and behaviour, particularly assumptions about masculinity, underpinned absentee slave-ownership.


MS 523-621-5895MS 523-652-5897

Pictured above: MS523/652: A letter from Dolly Newton, a slave in Barbados, to Thomas Lane, seeking her manumission.