Find your ancestors in Caribbean Association Oath Rolls, 1696


James II (known as James VII in Scotland) came to the thrown in 1685, after the death of his elder brother Charles II. Unlike Charles, James was never popular as King; he was a Catholic convert who alienated the Established Church and Parliament by trying to push through toleration of Catholicism and, incidentally, so as to boost his support, Non-Conformism. Resistance to these measures ultimately led to the invasion by the Protestant William of Orange and his subsequent coronation as William III – the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. Now, although James II had been deposed, he had a son the Prince of Wales, James Stuart (later to become known as the Old Pretender). The incoming King William III required the elite throughout the kingdom to “associate” with him and take an oath that he (and not James Stuart) was the rightful and lawful king. The documents arising from this process are known as the association oath rolls of 1696. They are contained with archive series C 213 at The National Archives.

There are 474 surviving rolls, each for a different place or grouping. Each roll is a parchment sheet or, in many cases, two or more such sheets stitched together to form a continuous roll of the signatories to the oath of allegiance to William III. It is thought that these rolls contain the signatures of up to a million or more individuals. These are the elite of the time, as the great majority of persons of sufficient status required to take the oath felt obliged to do so (whatever their own personal faith or feelings might have been) – indeed, the Security of King and Government Act of 1696 required office-holders to associate as a condition of holding office.

The majority of the surviving rolls relate to England & Wales. However, there are also some rolls for what are described as the Foreign Plantations, which include overseas merchant “factories” in Geneva, Holland and Malaga as well as colonial outposts. Our present record set contains the following pieces relating to the then British West Indies:

  • C 213/465 - Governor and council of Barbados – 10 signatories
  • C 213/466 - Clergy of Barbados – 10 signatories
  • C 213/467 - Officers of the governor’s regiment at Barbados – 12 signatories
  • C 213/471 - Bermuda Islands – 626 signatories
  • C 213/472 - Leeward Islands – 254 signatories from Antigua, Montserrat, Nevis and St Kitts

The count for Bermuda is significantly higher than others, as the association seems to have been extended to include the names of the leading members of individual communities known as “tribes” on the island – Devonshire, Hamilton, Paget, Pembroke, Sandys, Smith’s, Southampton and Warwick.

It should be noted that these are, without exception, white colonial settlers and administrators.