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 The Beinecke Collection contains historical documents, maps, letters, and artwork from the Windward and Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.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.
Looking for information on Eliza Cook, a slave; and her two children, also born into slavery but all three were freed by her “lover” and their father Richard Edward Cardin.
Hi Geralyn, I have information on Eliza Cook. I have been researching the connection of Richard Edward Cardin to Saitch, Cardin and Ashhurst in some detail. I am on Ancestry site as “Mark Joyce, London” and happy to help.
Looking for information on the James Adams and Fanny Goldenrock of the Goldenrock Estate in St.Kitts.
Approximately what years did they live in St Kitts? Adams is a fairly common name there, but I’ve never heard of Goldenrock as a surname!
Did these people live in St Kitts? Do you know what years, and in which parish? Those details might help with looking for them in old birth, death, and marriage registers from St Kitts.
Hi, I’m looking for info about Louis LaPlace, Elodie LaPlace Kinsley (Louis’ daughter), Catherine Jane Nicholls (Elodie’s mom) and John Kinsley (Elodie’s husband) PLEASE. I have been unable to find info about these people. Thanks so much.
Possibly… I will email you.
Looking for information on John and Sarah Berridge St.Kitts
Hi Christine. My dad was a Louis LaPlace. He, however, is not the one in which you are interested! Wish we could connect to find a correlation.
I would appreciate it any information on the Barnes of St. Kitts W.I. Henrietta, Theophelus, Florence, Sarah., Elizabeth and Lucretia. Thank you so much.
Approximately what years – are you going back to the 1700s, 1800s, or more recently? I have seen a Sarah Barnes who married William Nichols in the late 1700s in Basseterre.
Any information on Samuel Phillip or Phillips I heard he was a cop , and he was mulatto, probably born in the early 1900’s , mystery for years!
No, but I’ll keep an eye out for him!
How did the plantation get its name?
That’s a really good question! I couldn’t find an obvious answer, but looking at the documents at Hamilton College in the Beinecke Collection, I found one from St Kitts from 1685 that referenced the “plantation or parcel of land in ye Island of St Christophers commonly called Wingfeild Manner”, so certainly by that early date it was called Wingfield. One possible source of the name I found was the first president of the Virginia colony in Jamestown, Virginia, who was an Englishman named Edward Maria Wingfield. He was in Jamestown in 1607 but was apparently stripped of his office and sent back to England (based on some fairly flimsy charges). He continued to raise funds and send supplies to the Virginia colony through the time that John Jeffreason was in Jamestown (Jeffreason left Virginia in 1624 for St Kitts). Could John Jeffreason have named the estate after Edward Wingfield?
Looking for information on Abraham Swanston married to Rebecca Hobson, Abraham born circa 1830, interested in parents and siblings
Do you know what part of the island Abraham and Rebecca lived in? I’ve seen the surname Swanston in St Ann parish.
I know he was born in Nevis. Further, from the info sent by to me by my cousin he had eight children and was a Preacher in the Methodist Church in Gingerland which I believe is in Stonyhill Nevis. He worked as an estate manager.
Hi any information for the crawfords st kitts
Hi do you have any info about a Robert Langley. if the story is right his mother was from Madera who went back with her daughter/sister and i believe his father was a headmaster from Montserrat who settled in St Kitts. there is an Iona Langley somewhere in the mix.Thanks
Do you have any approximate dates (or decades) for Robert or Iona? Any surname for the mother from Madera? I can do some hunting with a little more to go on.
I would like some information on samuel nathan my mother’s father apparently started first trades union in sk
Have you read this post?
It talks about labor leaders on St Kitts, including Joseph Alexander Nathan (1881-1948), who was a forceful (and apparently somewhat controversial) figure in labor. Could he be an ancestor of yours? I haven’t found any references to a Samuel Nathan as a trade unionist, but perhaps there is a family relation. Here’s another link with info about Joseph:
If you have more details on Samuel (year of birth for instance) I could do some hunting for you!
I’m trying to find out information on what part of Africa did the first slaves of St Kitts and Nevis come from I read from Senegal and I’m trying to find out the Douglas and Gould family History
Hi Sarah –
A DNA test is a good way to get information on specific African countries of origin. You could also play around with this tool on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade website :
There’s lots of information there – you can drill down to only ships that disembark in the British Caribbean, under the “regions” choice.
I think my husband may have a Gould connection through his Cannonier ancestors – there was an Ann Marie Gould who married Thomas Tobias Cannonier, who was a planter on the Pogsons Estate in St John Capiesterre parish – she died in 1871.
Looking for information on John & Sarah Berridge St.Kitts ?? 1870 1880. I know John Berridge died approx 1880.
I took a quick look for those names, and found a few records, and something possibly very interesting. There is a St George Basseterre birth record from 1877 for Enoch Theophilus, whose parents were John Berridge and Sarah Berridge. It states that John was a laborer living in the Irish Town part of Basseterre. There are a couple of other possible births for Sarah that don’t give the father’s name, from August 1880 (son Tobias) and June 1884 for a daughter Mary who then died later the same month of tetanus. Are they all your Sarah Berridge? They all are from St George Basseterre parish. Most of then give Irish Town as the neighborhood, and two of them list women named Drew as friends who reported the birth or death. Seems like a good chance they are all the same Sarah. But here’s the unusual part – the 1880 birth record for Tobias lists the mother as “Sarah Berridge an African”. Since the transatlantic slave trade was abolished for the British West Indies in 1809, there is no way a women having babies in the 1870s and 1880s was brought to St Kitts as an enslaved person before 1809. There is a possibility that Sarah could have been one of the so-called “Liberated Africans” of St Kitts, that I wrote about here: http://cornerofgenealogy.com/the-liberated-africans-of-st-kitts/ . I will email you the images for these records, so you can see what you can make of them. Thanks for your question!
Some time between 1831-1835, a slave owner named William Dow Rivers of St. Kitts registered a slave in the “Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers 1813-1834.
The name of the slave is entered in the Registry as George Rivers, then 18 years old.
The Register does not give the date of birth of the slave, but since he was 18 when he was registered, he could have been born any time after 1795.
I believe George Rivers was my great-grandfather, who had nine children, all of whom were born in Trinidad. My theory is that upon being freed, George Rivers somehow made his way to Trinidad and became a prosperous landowner in Manzanilla, |Trinidad.
George named his second son Eugene Dow Rivers. At the time Eugene was born (the 1880’s) the name Dow was a quite uncommon surname, relatively unknown in the Caribbean.
I believe that having been give his master’s surname (common practice at the time), George then endowed his son with his master’s middle name as well. It seems unlikely he would have come up with name Dow out of thin air.
Has anyone ever heard of William Dow Rivers of St. Kitts? I would be grateful for any information regarding him.
Doing a quick check of the British Slave Registries, I see that George Rivers appears in the 1813 book for Trinidad, held by William Dow Rivers (who was at that time a minor). From 1817 through 1834, the registries (and the Slave Compensation database) only show William Dow Rivers living in St Kitts, with several members of the Rivers family also showing up there. In the 1828 book there is a note that William Dow had “come of age”, so he became an adult sometime between 1822 and 1828. I don’t see a listing for any enslaved man named George for any of the SK registry years, for anyone in the Rivers family. By the law of the time, the addition to a household of an enslaved person from another British colony would have to be recorded. Which makes me think that perhaps George was born in St Kitts, but from 1813 on he was in Trinidad. It also seems that William Dow Rivers only appears in the 1813 Trinidad book, and not for any of the years after.
The Dow middle name does seem like more than a coincidence. It sounds like your George Rivers could very well be the man listed in the 1813 registry for Trinidad. The Dow name does appear sometimes in the SKN vital records of the 20th and 19th centuries.
Thank you so much, Dreamer.
The information that George Rivers’s name appears in the 1813 Trinidad book, where his age is given as 18, allows me to feel more comfortable in my conclusion that he was born in 1795.
If William Dow Rivers came of age between 1822-1828, then he might have been as young as nine when he registered George in Trinidad in 1813. I have no knowledge of whether minors were permitted to own and register slaves, but it seems like an awesome responsibility for a minor to travel to Trinidad and register a slave. I therefore wonder whether it was William Dow’s father who registered George in Trinidad. Even now, and more so in the old days, it was customary for a first son to bear his father’s name.
I do wonder what might have been the purpose of registering the slave George in the Trinidad register, instead of the St. Kitts register? Was it possible William Dow Rivers acquired George by some transaction that would not bear scrutiny, or even stole him from another planter, and registered him in Trinidad to conceal his existence? Or was it a ploy to reduce his slaveholdings in St. Kitts for some reason? We can only speculate.
But as far as tracing the Rivers bloodline, I think that for now, the buck probably will stop with George, who is described in the register as “Negro Taylor – Creole.of St. Kitts,” and in the next line as “The whole number of slaves of the said William Dow Rivers is one Slave Return”. As you know, the word Creole indicates George might well have been born to a Negro slave woman in St. Kitts, fathered by someone of European or possibly Spanish-American ancestry. It’s possible but, realistically, less likely that it was the other way around i.e. that his mother was a woman of European or Spanish Amercan ancestry who bore a child fathered by a Negro slave.
If his mother was Negro (more probable), her last name – the one she carried when she or her ancestors were captured/brought to the West Indies – was probably considered inconsequential by her owners and is likely now lost in the mists of time. George might have had Rivers blood in his veins, or he might simply have been given his owner’s surname. We may never know for sure.
It’s interesting to know there were several Rivers showing up in the St. Kitt’s databases. I will suggest to the family that the updated family tree in our third family reunion booklet include a foreword on who George Rivers was or might have been, so any budding genealogists in the family will know that a trip to St. Kitts might well prove interesting.
George Rivers would be pleased to know his “tributaries” have flowed from St Kitts/Trinidad into Europe, the U.S. and Canada. I myself have lived in Ottawa since the sixties and enjoyed an interesting and fruitful career in government. I am happily retired and write books. My children/grandchildren are Canadian-born.
Again, thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my inquiry.
I love your family story. The process of filling in the details and puzzle pieces is fascinating and never really ends, as you build the story of the impact on future generations of your George Rivers.
A few thoughts about the slave registry documents, which can hold quite a lot of information. In the Trinidad registry of 1813, William Dow Rivers is listed as the holder of George Rivers. On the 2nd page of the entry is written “the return of William Empson Rivers of the quarter of La Brea of personal slaves being the property of William Dow Rivers a Minor whereof the said William E Rivers is in possession as Guardian”. So William Empson could have been William Dow’s father or another close male relative, and he served as his guardian in the matter of possession of the enslaved George Rivers. About the description “creole of St Kitts” – that would be a way to classify where he was born. I don’t think in this case it indicates any racial identification. I’m no expert, but in looking at registries from different islands in the British West Indies, I’ve found that creole means someone born in the particular island. It doesn’t seem to have the same meaning as creole used in the United States (and possibly Canada), that might have indicated mixed race. George’s race is recorded as negro, which should indicate most (or all) African ancestry. Flipping through the Trinidad registry, I saw a few people listed with race “Cabre” or “Cabress” which was often used to denote three quarters African heritage.
I share you frustration with knowing the identify of enslaved mothers in your family tree. We think my husband’s 3rd great-grandmother was an enslaved woman, but her name is lost to history unfortunately.
I have seen the movement of enslaved people in his family’s records between Montserrat and St Kitts. It doesn’t seem to have been unheard of that family members living in neighboring islands moved their enslaved laborers back and forth, I suppose depending on the work needs from year to year.
Best of luck with your search for your ancestors!
I am trying to research my ancestors I was given a list of names many years ago and on the list it shows a Samuel Blake and says he was born in Saint Kitts(he would be a great grandfather) it also says that he was married to a Maria (no maiden name) but I think he was married more than once as another lady is mentioned named Agatha (again no surname)there is mention of a brother for Samuel whose name is shown as Isiah.
Samuel at some point went to live in Trinidad,he had many children he was born around 1870ish and he died in Trinidad in 1930.
Is there any way I could find records to find out who his parents may have been,I am assuming his parents were probably enslaved.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope it is okay to post this question here,apologise if not.
would appreciate any info on how and where to look for info.
You could start with the familysearch.org indexes for St Kitts civil records (birth, death, and marriage) at: https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/4318342. That has birth entries starting in 1859. I took a quick look, and there seems to have been a few Samuel Blakes during the time period you’re interested in. One of those could be yours. If Samuel was born around 1870, there is a chance that his parents were enslaved, as slavery was abolished in St Kitts in 1834.
Hello from Texas! I am looking for any info on my family from St Kitts and Nevis. Montserrat too. My great grandfather, Alexander Hamilton Cromarty left St Kitts at age 13 for NY in 1896. Son of James Cromarty and Elizabeth Van Engle. Elizabeth owned Potworks Estate on Nevis where my great grandpa grew up. Our land was stolen by the Crown. I have black blood and can’t figure out my DNA connection to a US mixed race cousin whose family name is SWANSTON from St Kitts. My grandpa was 1st generation born in USA. His skin color was clearly mixed race. Should I use the genealogist there? I am worried it will go no where as I heard many graves have no stones and the church records were destroyed. I think our family church was St Michaels?? I forget. My kin came from Barbados first. I have a Hill great grandma back in Barbados as well as the name Fletcher. I am related to the Leacock family in Barbados thru a Cromartie relative who married into their line. Thx and God bless all there!! Donna Blizzard, Texas USA
Let me do a little hunting. I’ll see what I can come up with and email you back. You may not need to pay a genealogist, depending on how far back you want to go.
Searching for what happened to ‘slaves’ registered to the household of St Kitts Governor William Charles Maxwell between 1817-1825, particularly Juno, said to have originated from the Congo, and also including Nanny Harris, William Wood and Sophy. We believe that two ‘natural’ sons , William and Christopher Maxwell, born 1817 Dominica, and 1821 St Kitts, respsectively, may have been the children of Juno, but are unable to verify this. The descendants of the Maxwell brothers are to be found predominantly in New Zealand, with branches in England, America and Australia.
Very interesting question! I will do a little research on this and get back to you via your email. A quick look shows some of these names on the early slave registry books from St Kitts. I may have some questions for you!