Guide to the Research Collections

- West Indies, Etc. (Billings HN-HR)

West Indies, Etc. (Billings HN-HR)

The collection relating to this area (about 6,300 volumes in general history) is strong in printed materials, including standard histories, contemporary documents such as governors' reports and printed archives, and a great number of books of description and travel dating from the earliest accounts.11 Since all of these islands have at one time been colonial possessions, much of interest is available in historical works relating to the parent countries.

Excellent materials are available for all of the islands, but the collection relating to Cuba is the most extensive and perhaps the richest. Most of the historical works are recent, although there are such compilations as Eréchun's Anales de la Isla de Cuba (1858-61). At present the Cuban collection is the fastest growing of those for countries outside North America, with works in all languages on the Castro regime.

Cuban documents and archives appear in separate volumes and in serial publications such as the Boletín del Archivo Nacional. Historical periodicals include such series as the Cuba Review, Revista bimestre cubana, and the more recent Cuba socialista; with these may be associated the extensive collection of Cuban literary periodicals. Related materials in the collections devoted to United States foreign relations are also important for Cuban history.

Several manuscripts from the Obadiah Rich collection of the Manuscripts and Archives Division relate to Cuba, most notably an account of a French pirate attack on Havana in 1555 and a treasurer's report of 1794. In the Myers collection is Juan de Castro's diary of the siege of Havana in 1762. The Rare Book Division holds a set of eight reports of trials in Spain of officers in command who had surrendered Havana.

The library's Haitian collection is particularly strong in contemporary pamphlets of the revolutionary period of 1791 to 1804. Other items include Étrennes américaines, an almanac for 1769 printed at Port-au-Prince, which is interesting as one of the earliest eighteenth-century imprints in Haiti. From the period of King Christophe is the Almanach royal d'Haiti (1817-18; 1820). The Schomburg Center contains important materials on Haiti as well as other islands of the West Indies, particularly on aspects of slavery and emancipation. Its collection includes manuscript military records of the revolutionary period in Haiti, a letter of Toussaint L'Ouverture, and other materials. Materials from the library of Kurt Fisher now in the Schomburg Center include both printed works and several thousand historically significant manuscripts and early documents relating to Haiti, such as presidential proclamations and correspondence, government and church records, and property inventories.

The three letters of Diego Columbus in the Manuscripts and Archives Division dated between 1500 and 1512 discuss matters pertaining to Santo Domingo and the West Indies. Proclamations of William Leyborne, governor-in-chief of the islands of Granada, the Grenadines, St. Vincent and Tobago, date from 1771 to 1775. There is also a letter of Admiral Rodney setting forth his observations on the area, dated from Martinique in 1762. Other manuscripts consist of French ships' logs, papers of the eighteenth century, and papers of American merchants engaged in the Caribbean trade during the nineteenth century.

The library maintains a great interest in the West Indies acquiring rarities in addition to current publications in all its collecting fields. The history of the lucrative sugar trade of the British West Indies, particularly during the eighteenth century, is documented by many anonymous pamphlets.

Public Documents

The important series of governors' reports for this group of former island possessions is supplemented

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by official gazettes (generally present in long runs); statistical and economic reports are also held in strength. There are series of "Blue Books" for all British colonies or former colonies. Over 65 percent of the titles listed by J.B. Childs in The Memorias of the Republics of Central America and of the Antilles (1932) are held. The administrative reports not held are acquired when possible.12

The following are notes on the collections of publications of some of the governments:


The collection is fairly strong; a number of the administrative series are complete. The Official Gazette is available from 1925 onward.

Danish West Indies, Netherlands Antilles, etc.:

There are few publications from this group. There is a good collection of Curaçao documents, however, including early imprints and a file of the Netherlands Antilles Publicatieblad (1948-) and its predecessor the Publicatieblad van Curaçao from 1816-1947, both of which are incomplete. De Curaçaosche courant is available from 1876 with gaps.

French West Indies:

The series of government reports for Guadeloupe are extensive, though incomplete. The collection of Martinique documents is good.

Haiti and Dominican Republic:

The departmental reports of Haiti are generally strong. The laws include some rare materials. The official gazette Moniteur is available from 1849 with gaps. The Schomburg Center has a strong Haiti collection.


The collection of publications of Jamaica is strong, including not only the Annual General Report but also separate administrative and departmental reports. There is an interesting group of early Jamaican documents in the Rare Book Division.

Puerto Rico:

A strong and very complete collection contains such items as the Gaceta (1836-99, incomplete).

Trinidad and Tobago:

The publications are fragmentary but fairly extensive.