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Notebook No.129, 3 January 1846-10 January 1846

 Item — Box: Lyell-temp-box 5
Identifier: Coll-203/A1/129

Scope and Contents

Notebook No. 129 was kept by Lyell during his trip to America in 1845-6, after his lecture tour, and contains his observations while he visited several plantations worked by enslaved people extracted from undocumented regions of Africa, and bought at auction. Mr. and Mrs. Lyell stayed with James Hamilton Couper at Hopeton plantation for two weeks in January 1846. Couper was a member of the British Royal Geological Society, and Lyell was President at the time. Hopetoun plantation was established by John Couper and James Hamilton, who had immigrated to Savannah, Georgia from Scotland as teenagers. John Couper's son, James Hamilton Couper took over as estate manager, and engaged in the trafficking of 637 people from Africa in 1806 to prepare the fields of their plantation, growing sea island cotton, sugar, and rice. Two important features of the plantation were the plantation canal, for irrigation and transportation, which Lyell took particular interest in, and a portable railroad. In 1833, the plantation was lauded as being the “finest example of crop diversification and efficient slave management” by a prominent southern publisher. When Lyell visited, there was likely 500 enslaved African people working 1,000 planted acres. Hopeton was a destination for many from Europe to witness slave labour, and reportedly “went away very much impressed with the humanity and skill with which James Hamilton Couper managed his slaves.” In 1846, Sir Charles Lyell described Couper as “a benevolent slaveowner” and gained at Hopetoun “an hereditary regard and attachment between master and slave.”
Scope and Contents Content Warning: Notebook No. 129 was kept by Lyell during his trip to America in 1845-6, after his lecture tour, and contains his observations while he visited a famous plantation worked by enslaved people extracted from undocumented regions of Africa. Therefore, it’s important to note that this notebook discusses his observations of the plantation, using language that is sympathetic to the industry practices, and ignorant to the experiences of those enslaved. This catalogue includes Lyell’s language in quotation marks to describe the record in full transparency and is open for comment and further research.

This notebook denotes Lyell's observations of social life and welfare of enslaved people in Georgia, Alabama, and Missisippi. He records details of slave religion, new legislation passed in Georgia against people of colour, and the likelihood of impending war between the states. Interspersed among social observations are descriptions of sightings of native birds and landscapes. This notebook is mostly writen in pencil.

The following table of contents has been copied from Lyell's own "Index" found at the beginning and end of the notebook, supplemented with further observations. Items in quotations are taken directly from the notebook, and are in Lyell's own words. Abbreviations have been expanded where possible, and the extensions are shown between brackets []. The inclusion of a question mark in brackets [?] indicates inference due to illegible writing. The inclusion of [sic] indicates the misspelling of a word is deliberate and taken from the notebook. Common abbreviations: D'o stands for ditto, Att'ies stand for Attornies, Ill'd stands for illustrated.
Scope and Contents Notebook 129 Index
p. 8 "America Civilisation"
p. 9 "War"
p. 22 "Negroe Health/Welfare"
p. 25 "Democracy"
p. 27 "Weather, illustration of root system"
p. 36 "Pelican"
p. 37 "Bald Eagle"
p. 40 "Sand Dunes"
p. 50 "Brunswick Canal"
p. 64 "Dismembrance of U.S; Partridge; Alligator; Live Oak"
p. 68 "Illustration; Queries for Mr. Couper"
p. 71 "Cardinal Bird; Slavery; Slave Trade"
p. 75 "Internal Slave Trade; Emancipation"
p. 77 “Education” (of enslaved people)
p. 79 "Sunday School for Negroes; New Act of Georgia against Blacks; Hopeton"
p. 80 "Progress; Health"
p. 81 "Negro"
p. 83 "Mulatto race"
p. 87 "Answer to Darwin’s queries"
p. 88 "Passage of slaves"
p. 95 "Episcopalianism of slaves"
p. 104 "Malaria"
p. 105 "Annexation"
p. 107 "Progress"
p. 110 "Books to be bought"
p. 111-119 Index


  • 3 January 1846-10 January 1846


Conditions Governing Access

This series is currently unavailable due to conservation and cataloguing work


119 folios

59 Leaves

1 volume

  • Clifton, James M. “Hopeton, Model Plantation of the Antebellum South.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, vol. 66, no. 4, 1982, pp. 429–449. JSTOR, Accessed 14 Aug. 2020.
  • Lyell, Charles, Sir, 1797-1875. A Second Visit to the United States of North America. London: J. Murray, 1849, pp. 261-63. Hathi Trust, Accessed 19 August 2020

Repository Details

Part of the Edinburgh University Library Special Collections Repository

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