Biography and History

James Rae of Park, in Dumfries, Scotland, died in 1815, leaving his estate divided equally between his brothers William and John Rae. James Rae named in his will Messrs. Thomas Gordon, John Hair, and John Walker, as trustees to his properties in Scotland. James's brother William made Jamaica his home, where he resided for over fifty years, during which time he amassed a large fortune. William Rae died in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1837, without any legitimate children. In his will, dated 1834, he divided equally all of his properties in England and Jamaica -- with the services of the "apprenticed laborers attached" -- among his nephews and nieces, the sons and daughters of his deceased sister, Mrs. Catherine Newall. William Rae had concerns about his nephews-in-law getting their wives' shares in the estate. This was particularly true in the case of Rev. Babington who had several children from a previous marriage and a lot of debts. Mrs. Newall's son Adam lived in Bordeaux, France, and in Dumfries, Scotland. His brother, David Rae Newall, a former captain with the East India Company Naval Service, resided in Cheltenham, England. Mrs. Newall's daughter Catherine was married to the Rev. Mr. Charles Maitland Babington (an executor of William Rae's estate); and her daughter Jane Rae was the wife of John Morin (another executor of the estate). In his will, William Rae assigned Wellwood Hyslop, Maxwell Hyslop, and Andrew Murray, merchants from Kingston, Jamaica, to act as trustees and executors of his estate. Their duties were to manage, conduct, and cultivate the plantations, collect rents, and receive monies from the sale of crops, produce, and other merchandise, until the termination of the "apprenticeship" term, making sure the heirs received their rightful shares. In addition, William Rae stated that all his produce and crops were to be consigned to the Liverpool merchant John Hall & Company.

The British government continued the slavery system established by the Spaniards after they gained control of Jamaica in 1655. By 1800 the slaves outnumbered their white masters by a ratio of 20 to 1. The cultivation of sugar cane and coffee by African slave labor made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. In December 1831, a large scale slave revolt known as the "Baptist War" broke out; however, the rebellion was suppressed ten days later in early 1832. Due to the loss of property and life in the rebellion, the British Parliament held two inquiries, the results of which contributed to the abolition of slavery on August 1, 1834, throughout the British Empire. However, the Jamaican slaves remained bound to their former owners' service, with a guarantee of rights until 1838, under what was called the "Apprenticeship System".

Source: From the finding aid for C1222

  • Rae Family Estate Collection. 1800-1857 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C1222

    Consists of nineteenth-century legal and financial records relating to the estates of Scotchmen James Rae and his brothers, John and William, in England, Scotland, and Jamaica. These family records shed light on the economic conditions in Jamaica and the administration of estates there, which, in turn, reflect the island's social and racial conditions and the importance of trade between England and its colonies in the West Indies.