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Collection Overview

Rae, James, d. 1815.
Rae Family Estate Collection
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
4 boxes and 1.4 linear feet
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-4


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.

Collection Description & Creator Information


The collection consists of manuscripts, correspondence, deeds, conveyance of property papers, account books, bills, receipts, vouchers, court cases documents, surveys and reports, and other financial and legal records related to the estate of James Rae and his brothers, John and William Rae. The material primarily deals with British inheritance law, trusts and trustees, executors and devisees, and documents court cases, complaints, and disputes among members of the Rae family. A large portion concerns the provisions of William Rae's will. Members of the Rae family included are Adam Newall, David Rae Newall, Jane Newall, John Morin, Sr., and John Morin, Jr. In addition, there are documents concerning cases for and against the trustees and their handling of the assets of the estate; material regarding John Rae's court case claiming inheritance of his brother's properties in England and Scotland; and material related to the case of the Rev. Charles M. Babington's claim to a portion of his wife's inheritance. The collection's account books and correspondence shed light on nineteenth-century 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.

Plantations of the Rae family mentioned in the account books are Arntully, Brooklodge, Eccleston, Mount Reserve, Newfield, Petersfield, Port Royal, River Head, and Sherwood Forest. The crops cultivated on those plantations include Jamaica's primary crop, sugar cane, from which was manufactured sugar, rum, and molasses, followed by Jamaica's second largest export, coffee. Consequently, sugar, rum, and coffee were the three most important exports of the Rae family plantations. There are official documents, tax receipts, landscaping drawings and plans for a "Garden" for William Rae, and a brief genealogy of the Morin family.

In some correspondence, members of the Rae family, their attorneys, trustees, and executors, raise concerns about the new abolition of slavery law passed in England in 1834 and enforced in Jamaica in 1838, and its effect on maintaining and running the plantations. The bulk of the correspondence, however, relates to financial documents, bills, and receipts. Correspondents include Robert Barr, Walter Dickson, Thomas Grierson, John Hair, John Jackson, William Laidlaw, James Thomson, John Walker, David Whigham, and the Scottish law firm of Primrose & Gordon.

In addition to mundane entries regarding the purchase of fabric or tablecloths, crockery, butter, beef, or the sale or lease of land, the account books provide information concerning the slaves, or "apprenticed labourers," who worked the plantations. These entries include the purchase of "negro hats," medical bills for doctors who attended on apprentices and "free children," the purchase or sale of apprentices, hospital bills, money paid to apprentices for attending funerals, money paid to constables or police officers for apprehending and returning runaway apprentices, or money paid for the freedom of apprentices.

Collection Creator Biography:

Rae, James, d. 1815.

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".

Collection History


The collection was purchased from Ken Spelman Rare Books in October 2007 , with funds provided by The Friends of the Princeton University Library (AM2008-33).


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Dina Britain on October 25, 2007. Finding aid written by Dina Britain on October 29, 2007.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Rae Family Estate Collection; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-4

Find More


Jamaica Surveyed (2001) by B. W. Higman was consulted during preparation of the biographical note and information regarding the plantations.

Subject Terms:
Administration of estates -- Jamaica -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
Apprentices -- Jamaica -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
Claims against decedents' estates -- Great Britain -- 19th century.
Executors and administrators -- Great Britain -- 19th century -- Correspondence..
Plantation owners -- Jamaica -- Economic conditions -- 19th century.
Plantations -- Jamaica -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
Slavery -- Jamaica -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
Genre Terms:
Account books -- 19th century.
Correspondence -- 19th century
Estate records -- Jamaica -- 19th century.
Family papers -- 19th century.
Legal documents -- 19th century.
Wills -- 19th century.
Babington, Catherine, 1815-1886
Babington, Charles Maitland
Morin, John
Newall, Adam
Newall, David Rae
Rae, Jane.
Rae, John.
Rae, William, d. 1837.
Arntully Plantation (Jamaica) -- History -- Sources.
Brooklodge Plantation (Jamaica) -- History -- Sources.
Dumfries (Scotland : Parish) -- Families -- 19th century.
Eccleston Plantation (Jamaica) -- History -- Sources.
Jamaica -- Economic conditions -- 19th century.
Jamaica -- Race relations -- History -- Sources.
Kingston (Jamaica) -- Social conditions -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
Mount Reserve Plantation (Jamaica) -- History -- Sources.
Newfield Plantation (Jamaica) -- History -- Sources.
Petersfield Plantation (Jamaica) -- History -- Sources.
River Head Plantation (Jamaica) -- History -- Sources.
Sherwood Forest (Jamaica) -- History -- Sources.