Trying to make sense of slave registers

The National Archives of the UK; Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission

The National Archives of the UK; Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission

While trying to reconstruct the history of family from Saint Kitts, I sometimes look at records in the Former British Colonial Dependencies Slave Registers. They can not only give clues to enslaved people, but also their slave owners. My husband’s third great-grandmother, Catherine Fasioux, was living in St Kitts in the early 1800s, where she gave birth to Ann Francis Catherine Maillard, his second great-grandmother. It’s believed that she may have come from the French West Indian island of Guadeloupe, but little is known about her. There are a handful of slave registry records in which she appears, so I’ve looked to them to see if they can fill in her story at all. Along the way, I’ve found some insight into how complete and accurate the registers are.

The British colonial slave registers were created after Great Britain abolished their transatlantic slave trade in 1807. They were intended to carefully track slave ownership, to make sure that no new enslaved people were brought in from Africa, but also as a means of determining monetary compensation for owners when slavery was abolished in 1834. In St Kitts, the first register was produced in 1817, and it was meant to list all slaves on the island, as a baseline accounting. The succeeding registers were compiled about every 3 years, and only recorded changes in slave holdings, documenting an increase in number (by inheritance, new births, etc.) or a decrease (by causes such as sale, manumission, death of owner, or the death of the enslaved). Explanations for these changes were often noted, giving information about the life situations of owners and slaves alike.

Monetary compensation was supposed to be based on the perceived value of slaves, which could be determined using an enslaved person’s age, gender, skill level, and even the profit levels generated by the island where a slave was held. The registers were expected to be accurate and complete, so that compensation could be correctly calculated. So were they accurate?

As an example case, I found that Catherine Fasioux was listed as an owner in the 1825 and 1828 registers, but her name is mentioned in notes under other owners in the 1831 and 1834 registers. In 1825, she is listed as owning 3 enslaved people, and it was noted that she owned none in the previous register period of 1822. The three people listed were:

  1. Damon, a “creole of St Kitts” (so born in St Kitts), a 22 year old mason
  2. Sukey, also a creole of St Kitts, a 22 year old house servant
  3. Jack, a four and a half year old boy, also born in St Kitts

Both Sukey and Jack are noted as passing to Catherine through the will of “Joseph Warner, deceased”, while Damon was purchased from William Warner, also deceased. Was there a family link between Catherine and the Warners? Possibly.

It’s interesting that Damon was a mason, as that was a potentially valuable and marketable skill. In the years leading up to abolition, the British government tried to encourage its West Indian territories to allow slaves to earn money outside of their normal workday, in order to purchase their own manumissions. Could a mason have put away money with that goal in mind? And do the records for other years give any clues about a possible family relationship between Damon, Sukey, and Jack?

Going back in time to the first register in 1817, we find the two adults listed under owner William Warner:

  1. Damon, 25 year old creole of St Kitts, mason
  2. Sucky, 22 year old creole of St Bartholomew, house servant

In the next register of 1822, they aren’t mentioned, which should imply that they are still held by William Warner. No mention of Jack is made in either 1817 or 1822 with Damon and Sukey.

In the 1828 register, Damon isn’t mentioned, which should mean that he was still held by Catherine Fasioux. Sukey and Jack now appear listed with a Doctor John Benjamin Waterson:

  1. Sukey, 22 year old creole of St Bartholomew, house servant purchased from Catherine Fasioux
  2. “Jack Sukey”, 1 year and 3 month old creole of St Kitts, purchased from Catherine Fasioux

These two certainly appear to be the same Sukey and Jack as the ones recorded in the 1825 register, but Jack’s age goes from 4 1/2 down to 1 year, which looks like a mistake. Even if the first child Jack died, and another Jack was born, those events should have been recorded. Sukey is also said to be born in St Bartholomew in two registers, while in others she is listed as from St Kitts, so there are more inconsistencies.

On to the 1831 register, we now see Damon listed with a George Wright Mardenbrough, as a 26 year old mason born in St Kitts, “by purchase from Catherine Fasioux”, so sometime between 1828 and 1831, it appears that if Catherine was still living in St Kitts, she no longer had slaves. Was this because of her own death, or for other reasons? That is still a mystery. What is really interesting is that the “Jack Suckey” now listed with John B. Waterson is noted as one of four slaves who gained their freedom through manumission. How was it that young Jack came to be freed? Could it have something to do with Damon, the mason? The three enslaved people definitely appear together in different combinations over the years, so perhaps there was a family connection.

Another sign of inaccuracies with the registers is that in both 1828 and 1831, Jack’s age is given as 1 year and 3 months, which sounds like lazy record keeping, just copying ages from the last publication, rather than correctly updating.

Where is Sukey in 1831? This is a frustrating question, as she doesn’t appear with either Jack or Damon. There were quite a few enslaved women named Sukey in the St Kitts records, but in 1831, none are obviously the one I was searching for. There is one Sukey, owned by a Mary Amory, who was manumitted in 1831. Jack was still owned by John Waterson in 1831, but Sukey isn’t listed with him, so it’s not clear what happened to her. It’s difficult to search for her by age, because that information is clearly very inconsistent, with Sukey recorded as being 22 years old in 1817, 1825, and 1828, Damon’s age actually decreased by 2 years between 1817 and 1825, and Jack’s ages are clearly problematic over the years.

The last register was created in 1834. Jack doesn’t appear, as we can hope that he was manumitted and off the registers. While Damon the mason appears in 1834, owned now by Christopher Mardenbrough, he is noted again as purchased from C. Fasioux, but his death is sadly also recorded as occurring sometime between 1831 and 1834. He may have been approximately 40 years old at that time.

Further information could be gained by looking for Jack’s manumission papers in St Kitts, if they exist. If his freedom was bought, they could tell us who paid the costs. If Jack lived long enough to reach at least the year 1859, the Kittitian civil records could document his death or the birth of children, but what surname would he have used? That unfortunately might be a needle in the haystack proposition.

 

Sources

  1. Ancestry.com Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers, 1813-1834, 2019
  2. UNESCO, Memory of the World Register, Registry of the Slaves of the British Caribbean 1817-1834
  3. Earning and Learning in the British West Indies: An Image of Freedom in the Pre-Emancipation Decade, 1823-1833 by Olwyn M. Blouet, The Historical Journal Vol. 34, No. 2, 1991, Cambridge University Press
  4. The Slave Experience in the Caribbean: A Comparative View, in Alberto Vieira, ed., Slaves With or Without Sugar, Funchal: Região Autónoma da Madeira, 1997
  5. Legacies of British Slave Ownership, University College London Department of History, 2019

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