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Malcolm Ross Letter to Richard Oswald

Identifier: MSS-4317

Scope and Contents

One letter written by indentured carpenter Malcolm Ross in British Florida in July 1773 to plantation owner Richard Oswald in England. Ross was seeking to be released from the terms of indenture and to buy the freedom of the son Ross fathered with an enslaved black woman. The letter first details Ross’ indenture and gives an account of finances in order to get a release. The letter concludes with an impassioned plea to buy the freedom of Ross’ son that he fathered two years prior and states, "Freedom is what all Mankind desires." The letter is fragile and should be handled with extreme care, please see digital copy.


  • 1773-07-11

Physical Description

Folded sheets of laid paper with watermarks and remnant of a wax seal. Notable ink stamped postal markings included. Fragile, delicate handling required. See digital copy.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

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Biographical / Historical

Richard Oswald (1705-1784) was a Scottish born merchant, slave trader, and British landowner who was a frequent consultant with the British government in the areas of trade and British colonial policy during and after the American Revolution. Oswald owned plantation land and estates in British Florida, Georgia, and Virginia as well as in the Caribbean. Oswald promoted land purchasing among wealthy British business owners and used political clout in southern and Caribbean colonies to ensure land grants to investors abroad. Toward the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, Oswald led informal negotiations with the Americans in Paris, France in 1782. The preliminary articles in the negotiations were signed by Oswald for Great Britain. These articles were adopted in 1783 with no major changes added.

Malcolm Ross worked at the Mount Oswald Plantation in British Florida, one of four settlements owned by Oswald in the colony. Oswald’s plantations cultivated indigo, rice, cotton, and sugar. To work the land, enslaved workers and indentured servants were brought to these plantations. Indentured servants were often indebted to the landowner and entered the indenture, which was a contract for them to live and work on the plantation without a wage in order repay those debts. Indentured servants were considered free peoples with more, though minimal, freedoms than enslaved workers.

Children of enslaved workers were born as enslaved persons, even if one parent was not enslaved. The child's freedom had to be purchased from the plantation owner who may also have been the child's parent. While not uncommon for white men to father children with enslaved workers, the practice evoked a sense of societal shame. Transactions to purchase their children's freedom were often done in confidence.


0.2 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Physical Description

Folded sheets of laid paper with watermarks and remnant of a wax seal. Notable ink stamped postal markings included. Fragile, delicate handling required. See digital copy.
Guide to the Malcolm Ross Letter to Richard Oswald
September 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266