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Enslaved people in this project

The database features 39 named Christ's alumni, and is framed entirely around them. Enslaved people do not feature in the same way: they are included as part of large numbers - a particular number of enslaved people were owned on this plantation, or were left to that son. Enslaved people feature here as the victims of the institutions and practices that benefited members of the College, but do so without the same attention to detail given to members of the College.

The two key reasons for this are as follows:

1) The aims of this project

The remit of this project was to study connections between members of the College and enslavement in British colonies. Accordingly, attention is given throughout to the outcomes of enslavement for the members of the College. The outcomes of the transatlantic slave trade and enslavement in British colonies for those most affected - the people who suffered on plantations, and in abominable conditions on the 'Middle Passage' - deserve to be studied in their own right, not as a footnote to this project. 


It would be disingenuous to claim that this project was able to treat enslaved people in the same way that it treated its primary subjects (the relatively privileged individuals who attended Christ's). The experience of the enslaved people, who necessarily feature in this project as victims, framed in quantitative terms, must be studied on its own terms. This project - with its remit and finite resources - could not do that experience justice, and does not claim to.

2) The sources used

Moreover, the nature of the sources used renders even identifying enslaved people very difficult. This can be illustrated by reference to the two main types of sources used in this database: compensation records for slave owners' claims in 1835-37, and slave owners' wills.


Compensation records detail the number of enslaved people, but give no detail about them. The Legacies of British Slavery database - maintained by the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at UCL - has unearthed correspondence relating to some claims, but letters exchanged between claimants, attorneys, and trustees make no reference to enslaved people as individuals.


Wills written by slave owners are often even less illuminating: many refer to leaving some proportion of enslaved people ('all', 'one third', and so on), or treat them as a self-evident part of the particular estate on which they worked. Some testators specify a number of enslaved people, but give no further information.

Enslaved people identified during this project

Only in small number of cases was any information about enslaved people provided in the sources studied for this project, most often in exceptional cases in wills, or in private letters.


Occasionally, testators requested that certain enslaved people be freed in their will. Christopher Hodge's brother, Henry Hodge, specified in his will: 'To my bro. Christopher Hodge all my slaves. Old Peg to be freed and maintained.'¹ No further information is given about 'Old Peg', an enslaved person whom the executors of Henry's estate must have been able to identify. George Fairfax Lee's father made a more ambiguous request in his will: he asked that his executors 'will not put the the wench, called home house Kate, to the hoe or any hard labour', and instead maintain her, first to 'take care of the children' ,and then to make clothes for enslaved people.² It seems highly likely, though is not definitively stated, that Kate was an enslaved woman, whom George Lee (the testator) wanted to protect from the most physically demanding tasks, while not emancipating her.


Sometimes, particular enslaved people were referred to by name, but purely to clarify which inheritor should receive which enslaved person. Gawin Corbin's father Richard bequeathed two enslaved people 'named Esther and Judy now upon the Buckingham estate' to his granddaughter, Anne Corbin, a further two - 'Nancy and Lucy' - to his granddaughter Felica Corbin, and two - 'Dinah and Margaret' - to his granddaughter Jane Corbin.³ They were denied humanity even at these moments, however: Richard added in each case the words 'together with the future increase of the said slaves',³ as a reminder that each enslaved person - regardless of being referred to by name - was treated as a unit of property, expected to generate more property for their owner.

Likewise, Thomas Nelson Jr.'s father bequeathed '[his] Mulatto woman, Hannah, with her children and all her future increase' to Thomas, and left '[his] Mulatto woman named Aggy with all her Children and future increase' to his son Hugh.⁴  Thomas, in his own will, left Aggy, an enslaved woman, and her son Charles to his eldest son William, and bequeathed Melinda, an enslaved girl, to his son Francis.⁵ It is unclear whether 'Aggy' was the same individual alluded to in both wills, or if there were two different enslaved women of that name.


Gawin Corbin's father perhaps allowed a small flash of familiarity when he referred in his will to 'little Jeremiah and his sister Betty York', left to his grandson John Tayloe Corbin as a 'token to him of his grandmother's affection for him'.³ Any implication of fondness or individuality is minimal, however: they were left 'together with the future increase of the said Betty York'.³ By the dehumanising calculus of enslavement, 'little Jeremiah and his sister Betty York' were property first, and identifiable individuals only secondarily.

Indeed, in all the research for this project, only one statement was found in which a slave owner reflected on the individual circumstances of a person they had owned. In this instance Andrew Murray Haldane's grandfather wrote in a private letter to his sons (seemingly in answer to a question) that 'many of our late slaves are doing well as tradesmen, among others Damon is doing well as a mason.'⁶


It is perhaps telling that this individual's circumstances were only recorded (in even the most passing fashion) when that person had already been emancipated. In the rest of the sources studied for this project, those who benefitted from enslavement were silent about the individual lives it affected. North American plantation owners and those who lived as adults in the British colonies were more likely to directly encounter some of the enslaved people they owned, and subsequently name some of them when bequeathing them in their wills. This did not mean, however, that they recorded any additional detail about them.


The primary subjects of this project wrote little - if anything - about the individuals whose enslavement benefitted them. In studying those primary subjects, this project necessarily forwent investigating the lives shaped and destroyed by enslavement.


¹ Oliver, Vere Langford, The History of the Island of Antigua: One of the Leeward Caribbees in the West Indies, from the First Settlement in 1635 to the Present Time, Vol. 2 (London: Mitchell and Hughes, 1894), p. 77. ² Lee, Edmund Jennings, Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892: Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of the Descendants of Colonel Richard Lee (Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Company, 1895), p. 143. ³ Fleet, Beverley, Virginia Colonial Abstracts, Vol. IV (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1961), p. 64-65 [accessible via the HathiTrust Digital Library, digitised by the University of Michigan:]. ⁴ 'Will of President Nelson' in 'Virginia Council Journals, 1726-1753 (Continued)', Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 33:2 (1925), 175-193, at p. 191. ⁵ U.S. Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1900, Thomas Nelson Jr. (Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2021). ⁶ Du Plessis, J., The Life of Andrew Murray of South Africa (London: Marshall Brothers, 1919), p. 106.

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