Skip to main content

Loyalist Collection, British West Indies Guide Ask Us

Guide Sections

Essential Information

Why Use This Guide?

This guide provides a sample of the wide variety of materials in The Loyalist Collection relating to the the islands making up the West Indies, today referred to as the Caribbean, and specifically the British island colonies, with an overview of what they contain and how to search them. The material provides a window into this region during the 18th and early 19th centuries, and its place in the wider British Atlantic World. The sources provide documentary evidence of the region's colonial history - the roots of government, value systems, and role in the world stage.


Types of Materials: Primary and Secondary

Primary materials are sources usually created at the time of an event and involve first-hand accounts of historical events without secondary analysis or interpretation.  If letters written during the American Revolution would be the primary resource, the secondary resource could be a book or encyclopedia article about the American Revolution.

Primary document examples found in this guide:

  • Maps
  • Official government papers and reports
  • Letter books
  • Muster books of military regiments
  • Plantation papers such as journals and ledgers
  • House of Assembly Journals
  • Correspondence
  • Military officers' instructions, returns, plans, accounts of engagement
  • Wills
  • Petitions to government for assistance


Brief Introduction to the British West Indies 

See moving image map below of shifting political landscape.

Along with a number of colonies in North America, the Caribbean formed the heart of England’s first overseas empire. The region was known as the West Indies because Christopher Columbus believed he had sailed to the Indies, as Asia was then known. Europeans did not realise this was a new part of the world now referred to as the Americas, and one reason the natives were called "Indians." Geopolitically, often regarded as a region of North America and sometimes included with Central America.

The Europeans came to the Caribbean in search of wealth. With the growth of the sugar industry and the slave trade, planters and merchants became wealthy and the Caribbean colonies valuable creating an environment in which Britain and France were constantly at war in the 18th century and early 19th century, with places such as Martinique changing hands many times. The conditions of the enslaved got worse until the system of slavery began to be dismantled in the early 19th century. The enslaved people were given their freedom in the British Caribbean in the 1830s. 

See moving timeline below of shifting political landscape in the West Indies: 


Political Evolution of Central America and the Caribbean 1700 and on
Public Doman - Wikimedia Commons

See full article in Wikipedia for chronological list of political changes: Territorial Evolution of the Caribbean.

Archives & Special Collections Assistant - Microforms Collection, PhD History

Talk to me about your research and teaching needs including working with primary sources, literature searches, building a research question, evaluating online sources, effective reading and organizing sources, and more.

Last modified on December 2, 2023 18:07