Slavery, Abolition and the East Riding of Yorkshire

Slave Owners

Documents in the East Riding Archives and Local Studies collections at the Treasure House in Beverley reveal that there were several families in the East Riding who owned slaves and plantations. These assets were often inherited or gained through marriage settlements.


An example of the assets connected to slavery can be seen in the papers relating to the settlement of William Seaton’s will (4th image, right), which includes the sale of his plantation in Jamaica. The sale receipt lists property, sugar processing equipment, animals, slaves and slave accommodation (a transcript is available in the Worksheets section below).


In 1663 Robert Legard of Anlaby married Maryable Woodhouse, the wealthy widow of Captain Thomas Woodhouse and secured himself, amongst other gains, a number of plantation slaves and a plantation in Barbados (see 1st image).


Slaves were regarded as part of a plantation owner’s property or stock. The 2nd and 3rd images show the document recording slaves overseen by Mr Zachariah MacCaulay in 1791 on the Hyde Estate in Jamaica lists the number of babies born to each female against the number of deaths, to give an overall balance of loss and gain of slave numbers. The cause of death is also listed. Curiously ‘dirt eating’ appears quite commonly. This was a punishable offence to discourage others from doing the same. It could be explained in two ways. It was perhaps a reflection of the desperate hunger or poor diet of the slaves. Others, including some of the slave owners, regarded it as an attempt to commit suicide.


Full transcripts of these primary sources can be downloaded in Word/PDF below, and used to support the activities in Worksheet 1, and the debate/role-play task in Worksheet 4.

The map below shows the islands of the Caribbean - see if you can find Jamaica, where William Seaton's plantation was, and Barbados, where Robert Legard had a plantation.

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