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Ralph Payne, Baron Lavington family papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 138

Scope and Contents

The Ralph Payne, Baron Lavington Papers document the West Indian portions of the economic fortunes and political career of the sugar planter and politician Ralph Payne, first Baron Lavington. The researcher will also find the papers of value in the study of the history of the Caribbean sugar trade, including documentation of land and slave ownership and estate management in the West Indies. While the record of Payne's holdings is far from complete, his papers reveal the dense networks of family and patronage connections that operated in the Caribbean colonies in the later eighteenth century. The papers span the dates 1689-1855, but the bulk of the material dates from 1730 to 1790. The collection is organized into six series: Correspondence; Political and Governmental Papers; Land and Plantation Records; Payne Family Personal Estate Papers; Other Business Papers; and Accounts, Bills and Receipts. Boxes 16-17 contain Oversize material. Oversize Broadside Material is housed in a separate location.


  • 1679 - 1855
  • Majority of material found within 1730 - 1790


Language of Materials

Almost entirely in English; some of the official land records are in Law Latin.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Oversize and Parchment Oversize material in boxes 17-18 may be consulted only with permission of the appropriate curator. In some cases, conservation work to an item may be necessary before the item can be consulted. Restricted Fragile in box 19 may be consulted only with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Ralph Payne, Baron Lavington Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from the William Reese Company on the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Fund, 1999.

Associated Materials

Related material may be found in the Lavington Papers: Stuart Documents and in the Osborn Files, located at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library; the Payne Family Papers, located at the University of British Columbia; several collections in the British Library and the National Library of Ireland; and the Limerick University Library. Several items relating to Lord Lavington are cataloged in The Beinecke Lesser Antilles Collection at Hamilton College by Samuel J. and Penelope R. O. Hough (University Press of Florida, 1994)


9.65 Linear Feet ((19 boxes) + 17 broadside items)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers document the West Indian portions of the economic fortunes and political career of the sugar planter and politician Ralph Payne, first Baron Lavington.


Ralph Payne was born in Basseterre, St. Kitts, in 1739, the surviving son of Ralph Payne (d. 1763), chief justice of St. Kitts, and his first wife Alice Carlisle, the only surviving child and heiress of the Antiguan planter Francis Carlisle.

Like many of the West Indian elite, Payne divided his time between England, especially London, and the Caribbean plantations from which he derived his wealth and power. Educated at Christ's Hospital, Payne returned to Antigua in 1759, where he was promptly elected to the House of Assembly and unanimously voted Speaker of the House.

Payne returned to England in 1762 and embarked on a lengthy and expensive Grand Tour of Europe. In 1767 he married Françoise Lambertina Kölbel, daughter of Henry, Baron Kölbel of Saxony; she was a close friend of Queen Charlotte. Shortly after his marriage, Payne entered English politics, and was M.P. for Shaftesbury from 1768 until 1771, when he was made Knight of the Order of the Bath and set sail for Antigua as the newly-appointed Governor-General of the Leeward Islands.

Payne was popular with the plantation owners. He supported Lord North's government in its struggles with the North American colonists, reporting in 1774 that his islands were free of "mischievous sparks of the Continental flame." He was the first governor in over fifty years to visit every one of the Leeward Islands, after the "Great Hurricane" of 1772. (At the time, the colony consisted of Antigua, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, St. Christopher's (St. Kitts), Nevis, Anguilla and Dominica.) He also patronized the artist Thomas Hearne. In 1775, the Paynes left for England "to reestablish Lady Payne's health," and the Assembly petitioned for his speedy return and presented him with a diamond-encrusted sword as a token of their affection. Payne was to remain in England for the next twenty-four years.

He spent many years in various elective and appointive offices, becoming a supporter of Fox after 1780. Payne and his wife also became known for their elaborate parties, despite the rumored unhappiness of their marriage. In 1788 he traveled again on the Continent, and conducted secret but unsuccessful negotiations with Charlotte, Duchess of Albany over the possible return of the Stuart crown jewels to England.

Payne, whose wealth was declining rapidly due to his lavish spending and to the sharp decline of sugar profits after the American Revolution, seceded from the Whig Club and allied with William Pitt and Henry Dundas. In fact, the dinner at which Dundas and Lord Loughborough first broached the idea of an alliance between Pitt and the Duke of Portland was held at his Grafton Street house. His reward for changing parties followed quickly; he was created Baron Lavington of Lavington in the Irish peerage in October 1795.

In 1799 he was re-appointed Governor-General of the Leeward Islands, and arrived in Antigua in August, 1801. He moved into the just-completed Government House, and remained on that island until his death in August, 1807. Payne was buried on Carlisles, his Antigua plantation. His estate was thoroughly encumbered by debts, mortgages, and liferents, and his widow was left so poor that the Antiguan assembly voted her a pension of L 300 a year "in affection and esteem." She returned soon after to England, and died at Hampton Court Palace in 1830. See "Payne, Ralph, Baron Lavington" in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) for further information.

Processing Information

Descriptions of some items and groups of material were obtained and/or adapted from descriptions supplied by the dealer or written by curatorial assistants for the Osborn Collection.

Guide to the Ralph Payne, Baron Lavington Papers
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
March 2009
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Opening Hours

Access Information

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