Tristram Ractcliff family account book, 1775-1786
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Ractcliff, Tristram
- This account book documents the financial transactions of the Ractcliff family of Vere, Jamaica, from 1775-1786, as they managed sugar plantations, enslaved laborers, and estate disputes. The Exeter Plantation is the principal nexus of activity, but the volume also relates to Greenwich Plantation and Harmony Hall, all in Vere. The Ractcliffs also had accounts with Rockland Farm, Tom King's Plantation, and Carver Plantation. Information relating to inheritance and estates from the Read and Ractcliff families is also present.
- 1 volume
- Collection processed and finding aid created by Jayne Ptolemy, March 2022
- Scope and Content:
This account book documents the financial transactions of the Ractcliff family of Vere, Jamaica, from 1775-1786, as they managed sugar plantations, enslaved laborers, and estate disputes. The Exeter Plantation is the principal nexus of activity, but the volume also relates to Greenwich Plantation and Harmony Hall, all in Vere. The Ractcliffes had accounts with Rockland Farm, Tom King's Plantation, and Carver Plantation. Information relating to inheritance and estates from the Read and Ractcliff families is also present.
The volume begins with a two-page copy of an inventory of Tristram Ractcliff's estate in Clarendon Parish, prepared according to an order from Edward Trelawny on February 27, 1745. The inventory lists his household furniture and wearing apparel; his bonds, notes and outstanding debts; 28 enslaved men, women, and children; and horses, mares, asses, mules and cattle. Later entries relate to estate accounts of the Mackenzie family, seemingly through Tristram Ractcliff's mother Elizabeth (Mackenzie) Ractcliff, as well as his father's estate (for examples see pp. 17-18, 108, 115).
The volume's daybook accounts (192 numerated pages) begin on August 31, 1775, in Vere, Jamaica, with lists of names, expenses, and the nature of the financial matter, extending through May 17, 1786. The entries can be sporadic, sometimes with several pages recorded in one day before jumping ahead several months and occasionally more than a year between entries. References to a waste book and numerical notations in the margins indicate this daybook was part of a robust financial accounting system.
The volume contains records of routine transactions relating to plantation management, including tax payments; insurance; the purchase and sale of enslaved people; maintenance of equipment; purchase of supplies; freight and wharfage; and payment for specialized laborers like carpenters, penkeepers, overseers, wheelwrights, sawyers, blacksmiths, coopers, masons, bookkeepers, and more. Accounts relating to materiel and labor for sugar production, rum distilling, and mills provide information about the kinds of industry supported by the plantations. Sugar, rum, cotton, corn, and livestock accounting can be found throughout.
Financial documentation relating to enslaved people reveals some details about their lives. Entries relating to medical treatment speak to health care and costs, and accounts relating to food, clothing, and fabric purchases glean light on material conditions. For example, an entry for June 10, 1781 (p. 148), concerns a payment for George Henderson to "negotiate for provisions" for the enslaved laborers, and an entry on October 16, 1784 (p. 153), relates to a dispute over a case of ling fish and two kegs of split pease that were deemed "too dear for Plantation use." The account book also documents slave labor, with many accounts relating to the rent and hire of enslaved laborers and others detailing specific tasks, such as the account with Carver's Plantation for the hire of enslaved people for "Billing, Hoeing & Holeing 12 Acres" and "Clearing & Burning off Acres of Land" (p. 30). Some of the hired enslaved laborers performed skilled jobs like sawyers, masons, tailors, boilers, and bricklayers. Several entries relate to Billy Read, a mixed-race carpenter and wheelwright, who performed work or acquired rum and sundries from the Ractcliffs (see pp. 22, 33, 39, 109, 139, and 148).
Several entries hint at resistance efforts of enslaved men and women as well as the brutal punishments such attempts wrought. An entry for October 18, 1775, lists a payment in regards to "Candis a Runaway Negroe" (p. 11). A number of accounts appear to relate to the trial of Kent, a blacksmith who may have been enslaved (pp. 156 and 171). On October 29, 1784, Exeter Plantation hired a constable "for warning a Jury to try Kent & Quaco" (p. 174), and a payment on January 28, 1784, related to "Kent who was hanged" (p.167). On April 7, 1786, the Ractcliffs sold Quaco, "to be ship'd off for attempting to fire Exeter" (p. 185). An entry for January 11, 1779, reflects payments pertinent to a trial of Fortune and Congo Hector who Ractcliff prosecuted for stealing sheep (p. 118).
Occasional construction accounts and personal purchases shed light on the lifestyles of the Ractcliff family. For example, acquisitions of satin and lace (p. 6), jewelry and clothing (pp. 21-22, 27, 28, 48, 55), and a phaeton (p. 107) provide details about the family's fashion. Meanwhile, accounts like the one dated February 2, 1776, for the framing of a 47 foot long house at the Exeter Plantation with a "Piazza all round" and four windows with shutters, give a glimpse into the built architecture at the plantation (p. 36). The financial affairs of the family are also reflected in their handling of bonds, interest, bonds of exchange, and notes throughout the volume.
Several entries reflect the political and military unrest of the period. One from January 18, 1777 (p. 92), relates to the recovery of insurance for a shipment of sugar that was taken prize by Americans in July 1775. A note in an entry for February 25, 1780 (p. 146), reveals ships sailing in convoys. On January 28, 1784 (p. 167), Ractcliff recorded supplying cattle to the government "in Martial Law."
Additional information in the volume relates to Dorothy (Read) Ractcliff's inheritance of her father, Ennis Read's, estate, including property and enslaved laborers. Accounts refer to legal disputes, seemingly on a contested inheritance. Entries indicate the hiring of lawyers, noting the estate was "being illegally detained" (pp. 82-85, 124), and transactions that relate to serving an ejectment include the replacement of clothing and tack ruined by paint as well as doctors' fees for one of the men who served the ejectment being beaten (p. 103).
The inside front cover bears the inscription "Mary Eleanor Elisabeth Bellairs" who may have lived ca. 1841 to 1910, and appears to have been the great-granddaughter of Mary (Read) Mackenzie and Peter Mackenzie, Tristram Ractcliff's sister-in-law and brother-in-law.
- Biographical / Historical:
Tristram Ractcliff (alternately spelled Ractcliffe, Ratcliffe, and Radcliffe) was born to Tristram Ractcliff and Elizabeth (Mackenzie) Ractcliff (b. 1744). He had at least one sister, Mary Ractcliff, who married John Henderson.
Tristram Ractcliff owned at least two estates in Jamaica, Exeter and Greenwich plantations, which produced sugar and rum. He came into possession of the Greenwich plantation in 1781, but Theodore Foulkes maintained and operated it through a trust. Tristram Ractcliff left Jamaica in 1786, and by 1789, he appeared to be living in London. He died on November 23, 1791, in Guildford.
Ennis Read of Harmony Hall, Jamaica, had at least two daughters, Dorothy Read and Mary Read. Dorothy Read married Tristram Ractcliff, and she died in January 1791. In 1778, Mary Read married Peter Mackenzie (1754-1807). Dorothy and Mary shared inheritance of their father's estate.
- Acquisition Information:
- 2020. M-7184.3 .
The collection is a single bound volume.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
- Additional Descriptive Data:
"Appendix 4: List of Planters and Merchants who Resided in and around London, 1789," in Parliamentary History, Oct 2014 Supplement, Vol. 33, pp. 238-240.
John Bernard Burke. A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain. Vol. 1. London: Colburn and Co., 1852.
The Law Journal for Hilary and Easter Terms, 1803... Conducted by John Morgan, and Thomas Walter Williams, Both of the Inner Temple, Barristers at Law. Volume I. London: Richard Phillips, 1803.
Memorial Rings, Charles the Second to William the Fourth in the Possession of Frederick Arthur Crisp. Privately printed: 1908.
"Monthly Obituary for December 1791," The European Magazine, and London Review 20 (1791 July-December): p. 479.
"Obituary of Considerable Persons; with Biographical Anecdotes," The Gentleman's Magazine: And Historical Chronicle For the Year MDCCXCI, 61.1: p. 92.
Frederick Pollock, ed. The Revised Reports Being a Republication of Such Cases in the English Courts of Common Law and Equity, from the Year 1785, As Are Still of Practical Utility. Vol. VII, 1803-1804. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1892.
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Administration of estates--Jamaica.
Plantation owners--Jamaica--Economic conditions.
Sugar--Manufacture and refining.
Estate administration records.
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright status is unknown
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Tristram Ractcliff Family Account Book, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan