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London Society of West India Planters and Merchants

The London Society of West India Planters and Merchants was an organisation established in London to represent the views of the British West Indian plantocracy. The organisation played a major role in resisting the abolition of the slave trade and that of slavery itself.

The Society was formed in 1780, and brought together three different groups: British sugar merchants, absentee planters and colonial agents.[1]


Estimates of the size of the West India Lobby vary between 20 and sixty members of parliament in the House of Commons, the wide variance arising from whether tight or loose criteria are used to define what was an informal lobby This informal way of organising was effective prior to 1763 while their interest was aligned with the mercantilist approach which dominated British thinking: by supplying staples which required a tropical environment to grow they did not compete with home grown produce, and they provided a market for the produce they imported from within the empire. Thus through informal contacts, dinners and individual solicitation was sufficient to see the passage of the Molasses Act or the defeat of Henry Pelham's proposed sugar duty.[2]

However, particularly during and following the American Revolution the West Indian merchants lost not only a market for rum, but also a source of provisions. This situation was exacerbated with the entry of France into the American Revolutionary War in 1778. Still, West Indian planters exerted their influence in the House of Commons, and by the 1780s it was estimated that as many as 74 MPs were absentee planters or had connections with the slave colonies of the British West Indies.[3]

The society started with a predominantly Jamaican leadership, but as emancipation approached, by the 1830s the leadership came to include a broader ranger of planter interests from across the British Caribbean.[4]

The society evolved into the West India Committee.


The Society's minute books were purchased by the government of Trinidad and Tobago. They are currently held at the Alma Jordan Library, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.[4]


  1. ^ Butler, Kathleen Mary (1995). The Economics of Emancipation: Jamaica & Barbados, 1823-1843. Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books. p. 8.
  2. ^ O'Shaughnessy, Andrew J. (1997). "The Formation of a Commercial Lobby: The West India Interest, British Colonial Policy and the American Revolution". The Historical Journal. 40 (1): 71–95. doi:10.1017/S0018246X9600684X. ISSN 0018-246X. JSTOR 3020953.
  3. ^ Christer Petley, White Fury: A Jamaican Slaveholder and the Age of Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 95-6.
  4. ^ a b Ryden D. (2015) The Society of West India Planters and Merchants in the Age of Emancipation, c.1816-35, Economic History Society Annual Conference, University of Wolverhampton, accessed 5 January 2016