Finding genealogical information for families enslaved in the western hemisphere is always a challenge. Information on enslaved people was sparsely recorded (if at all). Slave registers were created in British colonies like St Kitts in the early nineteenth century, after the slave trade was abolished by Great Britain in 1807. The British government sought to document the slave population to prevent the illegal importation of additional slaves, and for the purposes of accurate monetary compensation for slave owners after slavery was abolished in 1834. In these registers, an individual’s name (often only the first name, but in some cases first and last), sex, “color” (a racial designation such as black or mulatto), age, country of origin, and occupation were recorded. In addition, if a slave was added or removed from an owner’s record, the reason for the change was given, including birth, death, or sale to a new owner.
Another source that gives more detailed genealogical information for Kittitian slaves can be found in the Hamilton College Library in Clinton, NY. The Beinecke Collection contains historical documents, maps, letters, and artwork from the Windward and Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. In particular, there is a body of early 19th century legal documents and letters related to the transfer of the Wingfield sugar plantation from a General Samuel Jeafferson (also spelled Jeaffreson) to the Earl of Romney in the early 18th century. At issue was whether the enslaved people who worked the plantation should have legally remained “attached” to a plantation after the land was sold or leased to a new planter. As part of the evidence accumulated for the case, lists were made of the current slaves with as much detail on family relationships as possible, because the descendants of slaves from the property could still be considered attached. A number of older local residents were interviewed for the making of the lists. There was, for instance, a Misses Douglas, described as “an elderly mulatt. woman of excellent understanding and good memory and excellent character whose mother had been a slave on the Lord Romneys estate and who had resided there many years”.
The ancestry lists provide a fair amount of detail on family relationships for the Wingfield Estate, most of whom bore the surname Jeafferson. Other last names listed included Rose, Silladay, Moss, Spencer, Romney, and Saunders. Examples of some of the Jeafferson lineage given in the lists are
- Minah Jeafferson (dead) her daughter is Pender Jeafferson about 70 or 80
- Pender Jeafferson has children Santie Jeafferson, Minah, Betsy Moss, and David Jeafferson all alive
- Cotto Jeafferson was Pender’s sister, has no children
- Minah Jeafferson has children
- Betsy Moss has children
- Lidy Jeafferson (has children) Hannah Jeafferson (the 2nd)
- Sue Jeafferson
- Hannah Jeafferson the 1st has children Beck Jeafferson and Sue Jeafferson
- Mary Rose
- Leah Jefferson, dead, had a son Jumah
- Eva Jeafferson was a twin sister of Hannah and aunt to Sue
The collection also contains two lists of slaves from an estate lease from the period 1697-1712.
One interesting sideline to this story. The Samuel Jeafferson who owned Wingfield Estate may be an ancestor of president Thomas Jefferson. This connection has not been definitely proved, but there is evidence that the owner of St Kitts’ Wingfield Estate had three sons born in the Caribbean, one of whom was named Thomas. Thomas was quite possibly the Thomas Jefferson of Henrico, Virginia who was the great-grandfather of the president.
- Ancestry.com. Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1813-1834 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
- Registry of Slaves of the British Caribbean 1817-1834, UNESCO 2009
- Copy of A Lease to Mr. Burrell 1697 for 15 years with an Account of the Slaves and buildings Then on the estate– The Names of the Slaves Specified– This Lease Terminated 1712, Beinecke Collection at Hamilton College Library
- Uncovering the Secrets of St Kitts, The Daily Beast 2014
- Jefferson’s Ancestry, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc.