About the project

This website introduces the Lascelles Slavery Archive, which documents part of the history of Caribbean Slavery at the end of the 18th century; the site also documents the process of saving and preserving the authentic records of the past, which are our only guarantee of an authentic human memory to give us individual and collective perspective on our pasts, and insight into our lives today.

The Lascelles slavery archive allows us to see into a number of very different worlds: the worlds of those owning slaves, of the slaves themselves and of the opposing worlds of those who wished to abolish the trade in slaves, and those who wished to retain it. All these worlds are seen through the eyes of one powerful and wealthy family at the heart of the world of those whose wealth was founded on the institution of slavery.

At the same time, these visions of other worlds can prompt us to reflect on slavery today, slavery in different cultures and slavery at different times. Just as the Act to abolish the slave trade did not abolish the trade, so slavery itself continued, sometimes suppressed and removed from one place, only to emerge in a different guise in a different place at a different time.

The Lascelles Family and the Caribbean

The Lascelles family, now earls of Harewood, had interests in the Caribbean from 1648 until 1975, when the family sold its last plantation. The fullest and most interesting account of their activities is Simon Smith's study Slavery, family and gentry capitalism in the British Atlantic: the world of the Lascelles, 1648-1834 (Cambridge Studies in Economic History, Cambridge University press 2006:


This website is heavily reliant on Smith's work for much of the information it contains about the Lascelles' activities.

Smith hypothesises that

... a new framework for business association was established by mercantile communities based in London, Barbados, and North America between the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries ... a key element of this framework lay in the control of complex credit networks, crucial for the success (or failure) of Atlantic commercial ventures. Merchant's strategies were shaped by the working of the credit market, ultimately obliging the Lascelles to become large-scale plantation owners ... by the mid-eighteenth century Caribbean colonies and transatlantic trade were subject to fiscal-military control through the medium of naval power and metropolitan credit ... the instruments of control [were located] in gentry capitalist networks of kinship and regional affiliation, matrimonial alliance, mercantile expertise, and public service.

The key members of the family were the three sons of Daniel Lascelles. The eldest, George, is known to have been in Bridgetown, Barbados before 1706. Henry joined him in 1711 or 1712 and their brother Edward (by Daniel's second wife, Mary) travelled to Bridgetown in 1715 (at which point George departed to handle the family's business at the London end).

Sugar was the main reason for their being there, and their initial activities were as sugar merchants. Slavery and slaving was an early interest, however, post-dating Henry Lascelles' marriage to Mary Carter, daughter of a Barbadian slave trader. Henry's first documented involvement in the trade came in 1713, when he and two fellow traders shipped 100 slaves from Barbados on the Carracoe Merchant. The remaining foundation stone of the family's fortunes in the Caribbean was laid in 1714 or 1715, when Henry became Collector of Customs for the port of Bridgetown. Edward succeeded him in this position around 1730. The post was lucrative in its own right, and provided further opportunities for raising additional capital, opportunities that led to allegations of corruption and temporary suspension from the post.

Success in trading, and the revenues resulting from the Customs post allowed the Lascelles to build up sufficient capital to be able to lend money. Between 1723 and 1753 Henry (in London) lent £226,772, of which £95,000 was in the form of mortgages, the vast majority of the latter being dated between 1730-34 and 1745-53. The significance of this activity lies not only in the return on capital that successful repayment of mortgages envisaged, but also in the failure to repay; for failure meant foreclosure, and the transfer of the mortgaged property to Henry. Much of the surviving documentation relates to money lending and mortgaging and their consequences.

Once a plantation owner defaulted on a mortgage, then the plantation, with all chattels belonging to it including slaves, became the property of those who had advanced the mortgage loan. This was the major mechanism by which the Lascelles became plantation owners, together with attendant slaves.

As Smith points out, however, this activity was not primarily devised as a way to acquire plantations. Although Henry and Edward Lascelles acquired some plantations during the course of their intricate business transactions, all these were sold when they died, leaving the family with no land holdings in the Caribbean in 1759. It's worth noting that Harewood House was planned in 1759 and completed for occupation in 1771, but neither Edwin nor Daniel Lascelles had any land or slaves in the West Indies by the latter date.

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The acquisition of estates began in 1773 — by 1787 the family held more than 27,000 acres in Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada and Tobago. In changing their strategy the family were responding to changed economic and political conditions, brought about by a credit crisis in the Caribbean in 1772-3 and the American Revolutionary War between 1776 and 1783.

Having become owners of plantations and slaves, the Lascelles continued to protect their rights over their human property, firstly from those who wanted to abolish the slave trade (who succeeded in 1807) and secondly from those who wanted to abolish slavery itself (who succeeded in 1833). The family did not sell their final plantation in the Caribbean until 1975.

The documents conserved in this project allow us to explore further the intricacies of the Lascelles family's relationship with the Caribbean.

Further Information

Further information on the project, the archive and the conservation techniques employed are available in the following .pdf file:

Conserving and Making Available the Records of Slavery: Harewood House (.pdf file)

About the database

The database enables searching of the entire slavery archive deposited in the Borthwick Institute.

The Lascelles slavery archive represents an important section of the larger archive at West Yorkshire Archive Service (http://www.wyjs.org.uk/archive-service/), and seems to be a part of the business archive of Lascelles and Maxwell, the London commission house through which much of the Lascelles business was conducted. The material here fits with material in the WYAS and is presented as a database rather than a conventional archive finding aid until the connections between the two parts of the archive can be properly explored.

The main headings into which the Borthwick holdings have been divided are:

  1. Business dealings with individuals (including individual debts)
  2. General Administrative company papers
  3. Lascelles Plantations papers. These relate to the estates the Lascelles family had, in Barbados (Hole Town, Cooper Hill Plantation, Belle Plantation, Kirton Plantation, Thicket Plantation, Fortescue Estate and Bridgetown), Jamaica (Mount Plantation and Williamsfield Plantation), Tobago (Richmond & Goodwood Plantation and Mesopotamia Plantation), and Grenada. Most of the documents here relate to the individual plantations, but some relate to more than one.

Most of the documents in the archive relate to business transactions - foreclosures on mortgages, acquisitions of property - and supporting papers associated with these activities. These include wills, bonds, orders for the sale of slaves as a result of the debt or bankruptcy of the slave owners, and correspondence from debtors begging for more time to pay a debt, or advancing reasons why their debts should be treated more leniently than the law would suggest (for example in the case of widowhood). There are also accounts detailing expenditure on business activities, including shipping of sugar and other cargoes, and running of plantations.

Some of the documents were created in London, and others in the Caribbean; obvious differences between them are the use of paper for deeds, when the normal English practice was to use parchment.

There is also a significant cache of documents relating to the Yorkshire parliamentary election of 1807, including many printed election posters, some designs for banners, and manuscript versions of scurrilous or satirical verses used as part of the campaign. The campaign has been extensively studied, see, for example: The British slave trade : abolition, parliament and people : including the illustrated catalogue of the parliamentary exhibition in Westminster Hall, 23 May - 23 September 2007 edited by Stephen Farrell, Melanie Unwin and James Walvin (Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press for The Parliamentary History Yearbook Trust, c2007).

All the documents can be seen at the Borthwick Institute (see https://www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/visiting-us/ for information about visiting the Borthwick). To order documents for research please use the reference code that appears in the section 'Record ID'; as the links between the two sections of the archive are fully explored new reference codes will be devised that fully reflect the linkages between the material at the Borthwick and the material at WYAS.

About the images & transcriptions

The images and accompanying transcriptions have been chosen to represent the archive as a whole, concentrating on those whose content is particularly rich. In particular, many of the documents name slaves or show how slaves were traded or exchanged between owners, as well as illustrating the wider characteristics of the Lascelles' business activities (such as shipping rum and sugar).

The format of the documents can present some challenges to the reader. The slave documents in particular tend to be lengthy deeds conveying real and personal property, in which slaves figured as well as the land on which the plantations were based. This can make them difficult to understand.

In addition, the size and structure of the documents present their own problems. The length of the lines and the repetitious nature of the wording make it very easy to skip a line, to lose one's place or to spot where one section ends and another begins, with consequent difficulties of understanding what the deed is endeavouring to do. Furthermore, many of the documents are too large to scan in a single image and so have to be digitally stitched back together.

All the documents in the archive at the Borthwick have been imaged and copies of the images can be purchased from the Borthwick Institute. Please contact us for further information:


The original documents are also available for readers to see in the Borthwick searchrooms. For more information on visiting the Borthwick please visit:



The images showing documents under conservation presented on these webpages (including the website banner) were taken by Bruce Rollinson of the Yorkshire Post.