University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Dugald S. Laidlaw

1844 - 1846


Manuscript Collection Number: 459
Accessioned: Purchase 1956
Extent: 1 volume (unpaged)
Content: Letterbook
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: April 2003 by Carrie E. Foley

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Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
(302) 831-2229

Table of Contents

Descriptive Note

This collection consists of one letter book, containing copies of letters written by Dugald S. Laidlaw between 25 November 1844 and 26 June 1846. The handwriting suggests that several different people may have copied the letters. Laidlaw was an English businessman, charged with overseeing the management of several sugar plantations on the island of Dominica in the British West Indies. His letters, sent to merchants and other businessmen back in Great Britain, contain reports on the administration of these plantations. Topics include the production of sugar, molasses, and rum; incoming and outgoing shipments; accounts of individual merchants; labor disputes; the weather and agricultural conditions; and the state of the sugar market in Great Britain.

Historical Note

This letterbook reveals the inner-workings of British-owned Dominican sugar plantations in a critical period of their history. Laidlaw’s letters to London reveal many of the labor, agricultural, and business problems common to Dominican planters in this era. After the abolition of slavery in the West Indies in 1833 and the dissolution of unpaid slave “apprenticeships” in 1838, plantation managers faced a wealth of labor troubles. Coupled with a drought in the region in the early 1840s, the West Indian sugar plantations were already in fragile condition in 1846 when Great Britain passed the Sugar Duties Act. The act announced the gradual elimination of the preferential tariffs on sugar produced in the British colonies. Without this privileged status, the West Indian planters knew they could not compete with Brazilian or Cuban sugar, which was still manufactured by slave labor, or with inexpensive European beet sugar. Laidlaw’s letters often indicate the dire circumstances of the West Indian sugar estates in this period. They provide a valuable first-hand account of the administration of a colonial plantation, facing a new era of emancipation and free trade.

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