TOBAGO SLAVE REGISTERS
For family history researchers looking for ancestors, who were enslaved in Tobago, the slave registers should be viewed
as possible source material. However, unlike in Trinidad, surnames for the enslaved people of Tobago are very rarely found
in the Tobago Slave Registration Returns. Therefore, it is important that they be studied alongside the early church registers,
where these survive.
Whilst the Trinidad Slave Registers commenced in 1813, and were generally compiled every three years (triennial returns),
the Tobago Slave Registers started in 1819 and were compiled annually.
Whereas, an Order in Council of 26 March, 1812 introduced the compulsory registration of all enslaved people in Trinidad,
the date of the Tobago Act, requiring the registration of the enslaved people was delayed until 8 February, 1817.
It has been reported that the original, hard copy Tobago slave registers for the following years: 1819...1824...1826...1832
are held by the National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago (NATT). For a considerable period of time, researchers have not
been able to consult them, as they were undergoing preservation treatment. In 2006, copies of the remaining years were
microfilmed and purchased by NATT from the National Archives, Kew. T 71/488 Tobago Unattached Slaves was not
microfilmed at the time, so it is hoped that the original, hard copy at NATT is now accessible.
Most of the duplicate Trinidad slave registers, held by the National Archives, Kew, have been microfilmed, and copies are
held at the West Indiana Library (UWI). The Tobago slave registers are NOT available at UWI, St. Augustine. It has been
suggested that they were not microfilmed by the National Archives, Kew as microfilm copies were not requested by UWI at
the time the Trinidad slave registers were purchased.
At the National Archives, Kew, UK (NA, Kew) there are duplicate copies of the original Tobago slave registers. They cover
the years 1819-1834 and are listed under reference T71/461 to T71/492:
Tobago Unattached Slaves
Tobago Plantation Slaves
The first two registers (1819) listing the enslaved people and their owners, both unattached (T 71/461) and plantation
(T 71/462) provide the fullest information. The subsequent years list, within the Returns, only changes,.e.g. where there has
been an increase by birth, the date of birth of the baby is given, alongside the mother’s name. Similarly, where there has
been a death, the Return lists the name of the enslaved person and date of death.
Where there is no change/correction, the names of the enslaved people are NOT repeated in the following Return.
Tobago Slave Registers Online
If you have managed to trace back to slavery days, ie prior to 1834, you may wish to check out the website of Ancestry, UK,
which asserts that it has digitised all the Tobago Slave Registers, using the National Archives, Kew microfilms. However,
only very few Tobago pieces below appear to be ‘fully’ online, and they are not accessible in the same manner as the
original volumes and microfilm copies.
Ancestry, UK, at the present time, does not use the National Archives, Kew reference numbers to identify clearly what pieces
are ‘fully’ online. This can be problematic for historians who wish to access the slave registers by T71 number and in the way
in which they were compiled.
Tobago Slave Registers Research
In the Tobago Slave Registration Returns, only a single column for each enslaved person’s forename was provided, so
surnames for most of the people of Tobago are rarely found. By the time of the final 1834 Slave Registration Return,
Henry Yeates, the Tobago Registrar, still does not provide two separate columns for first names and surnames.
It appears, from the literature, that there has been very little study of the Tobago slave registers, and their value for family
history research still remains to be discovered.