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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 plantation overseer and slaveowner Thomas Thistlewood. This highly detailed record of his activities as an overseer and later owner of numerous slaves contains information on his criteria for the purchase and sale of slaves, methods of assigning work, allotment of provisions, the illness and death rate among them, and detailed descriptions of Thistlewood’s brutal methods of physical punishment for any infraction.

Thistlewood also meticulously recorded his sexual exploitation of enslaved women, noting thousands of sexual contacts with over 100 women, as well as any punishments he ordered if they resisted. The diaries also describe his decades-long relationship with the enslaved Phibbah, whom he referred to as his “wife” and emancipated in his will.

Comments on “insolent” and “runaway slaves,” frequent news of slave uprisings on individual plantations, and rumors of broader slave insurrections and rebellions, including Tacky’s Revolt (1760), offer insight into the fears of the small minority of white colonists who ruled over but were vastly outnumbered by the enslaved Africans, as well as into the sustained resistance of the enslaved themselves. Thistlewood also describes his contacts with the Jamaican Maroons, escaped slaves and their descendants who inhabited the mountainous areas of the island.

Other topics include personal and professional relationships with other white Jamaicans, including his first employer, John Cope, and the Cope family; expenses and purchases: meals and other entertainment; and recreational activities, including Christmas celebrations.

Also contained in Series I is one diary by Thistlewood’s nephew John Thistlewood (died 1768). A manuscript treatise on planting, by John Palley Edwards, is bound with the diary for 1763.

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)
Related Names
Thistlewood, Thomas, 1721-1786
Language of Materials