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Thomas Thistlewood papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 176

Scope and Contents

The papers consist of diaries, weather journals, commonplace books, reading notes and other material documenting the life, work, and intellectual interests of the Jamaican planter and slaveowner Thomas Thistlewood. Daily entries in the diaries, which Thistlewood kept from 1748 until a few weeks before his death in 1786, are a rich source of information on plantation life and work, including management of sugar plantations and livestock plantations; economic and social relations among landowners, overseers and slaves; and Thistlewood's own professional, intellectual and sexual activities. Thirty-four years of weather journals chronicle the Jamaican climate, including the great hurricane of October 1780, while twenty volumes of reading notes, memoranda, inventories, lists of books, and other papers reveal Thistlewood's intellectual and scientific interests, such as botany and the collection of medicinal plants; chemistry; mathematics; and navigation.


  • 1748-1792




Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Thomas Thistlewood Papers are 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 Sotheby's London on the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Fund, 2011.


Organized into three series: I. Diaries, 1748-1786; II. Weather Reports, 1752-1786; III.Reading Notes and Other Papers, 1748-1792.


9.26 Linear Feet (13 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of diaries, weather journals, commonplace books, reading notes and other material documenting the life, work, and intellectual interests of the Jamaican planter and slaveowner Thomas Thistlewood. Thistlewood's 37 diaries, in Series I, contain daily entries dating between 1750 and 1786. Topics include Thistlewood's work as an overseer, and later owner, of slaves, including his methods of assigning work, alloting provisions, and discipline; his personal and sexual relationships with several, including his lengthy relationship with Phibbah; and slave rebellions and rumors of rebellions, including Tacky's Revolt (1760). Other topics include personal and professional relationships with other white Jamaicans, including his first employer, John Cope, and his family; purchases and expenses; meals and other entertainments; and recreational activities. The diary for 1763 is bound with A manuscript treatise on planting, by Mr. John Palley Edwards. There is one diary by Thistlewood's nephew, John Thistlewood (d. 1768).

Thomas Thistlewood (1721-1786)

Thomas Thistlewood (1721-1786), was born in Lincolnshire, England. The second son of a farmer, he was educated in Ackworth, Yorkshire, where he received training in mathematics and in "practical science." After a two- year voyage on one of the East India Company's ships as its supercargo, Thistlewood returned to England and decided to seek employment in Jamaica, emigrating in 1750.

He began his Caribbean life as an overseer of sugar plantations, principally of John Cope's Egypt plantation in Westmoreland parish, where he supervised numerous slaves in sugar production. During these years, Thistlewood gradually acquired slaves of his own, whom he rented out to other planters. In 1767 he completed the purchase of his own plantation, Breadnut Island, a "pen" where his thirty or so slaves raised provisions and livestock.

Thistlewood also pursued a variety of scientific and intellectual interests. He acquired several hundred books, often on scientific and technical subjects; collected and described medicinal plants and other botanical specimens; and kept a detailed weather record for thirty-four years. The gardens at Breadnut Island were considered among the finest in western Jamaica before they were ruined in the hurricane of October 1780.

Thistlewood never married, but had one son, Mulatto John (d. 1780), by his slave Phibbah, who was originally a slave of his employer. Thistlewood eventually purchased her from Cope and lived with her at Breadnut Island; he called her his "wife" in the will that freed her. He never returned to England, and died at Breadnut Island, Jamaica in November 1786.

Custodial History

From the collection of William John Monson, Baron Monson. Deposited at Lincolnshire Archives in 1951.

Processing Information

This collection received a basic level of processing, including housing and minimal organization, in 2011.

The 92 volumes of the Thistlewood Papers were arranged and numbered in the nineteenth century while in the possession of William John Monson, Baron Monson, and this order has been preserved in this finding aid.

Information included in the Description of Papers note and Collection Contents section is partially drawn from information supplied with the collection by Sotheby's London. This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for revisions in arrangement and description.
Guide to the Thomas Thistlewood Papers
by Diane Ducharme
October 2011
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977