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Dugald S. Laidlaw letterbook


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

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.

Historical information derived from the collection.

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.

Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes (1 inch)

Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize mapcases

Purchase, 1956

Processed by Carrie E. Foley, April 2003. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, June 2021.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2021 June 23
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

Dugald S. Laidlaw letterbook, 1844-1846.
Box 1

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