New Beinecke archive recalls life in 18th-century Jamaica

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Thomas Thistlewood's papers included 92 volumes of diaries and notebooks.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has acquired the archive of Thomas Thistlewood, a British plantation owner who resided in Jamaica during the 18th century.

The archive includes 92 volumes of diaries and notebooks, which span more than 35 years, from before Thistlewood’s arrival in Jamaica in 1750 through his death in 1786. The 37 volumes of his diaries, arranged by year, provide a detailed portrait of the racial, sexual and economic aspects of plantation life in Jamaica over three decades.

Thistlewood was also an active participant in the British literary and scientific cultures of the Enlightenment. In over 20 reading notebooks and commonplace books, Thistlewood recorded his notes on history, science, natural history and literary culture, including a list of the books he owned and purchased over several decades. His series of 34 weather observation volumes provide a record of the climate in Jamaica and reveal the careful observation, categorization and measurement that also characterize Thistlewood’s notes on plantation management.

Thistlewood’s papers are considered a valuable resource for the study of the Caribbean and the British Atlantic. The archive has already been the subject of several recent works by scholars including James Walvin, Trevor Burnard, Douglas Hall and Michael Chenoweth. The collection will augment the Beinecke’s extensive manuscript and archival holdings for early modern British history and materials relating to slavery and abolition.

Once catalogued, the collection will be open for research. For more information contact Kathryn James at

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