African American Studies at Beinecke Library

Thistlewood Archive

The Beinecke Library is happy to announce the recent acquisition of the archive of Thomas Thistlewood, eighteenth-century British planter in Jamaica. Spanning more than thirty-five years, from before Thistlewood’s arrival in Jamaica in 1750 through his death in 1786, the archive comprises some 92 volumes of diaries and notebooks.

Thistlewood kept meticulous daily records of his experiences as a planter and slave owner from 1748 – 1786. The 37 volumes of his diaries leave a detailed portrait of the racial, sexual, economic, and other realities of plantation life in eighteenth-century Jamaica. Over 20 volumes of reading notebooks document his participation in the British literary and scientific cultures of the Enlightenment. His series of 34 weather observation notebooks offer an archive of the climate in Jamaica over three decades, and of the enactment of those philosophies of observation, categorization, and measurement which characterize Thistlewood’s notes on plantation management.

The archive has already been the subject of several important recent works by scholars including James Walvin, Trevor Burnard, Douglas Hall, and Michael Chenoweth. The collection adds to the Beinecke’s already extensive manuscript and archival holdings for early modern British history and materials relating to slavery and abolition, and will prove an invaluable resource for scholarship in the Atlantic World, the Caribbean, African Diaspora Studies, cultures of empire, and British and European history.

Once catalogued and housed, the collection will be open for research in the fall. Please don’t hesitate to contact Kathryn James (, the Beinecke’s Curator for Early Modern Books and Manuscripts, with any questions.

Images: Documents form the Thistlewood Archive.

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