Joshua Steele

1700 - 27th Oct 1796


Steele's date of birth is not known but it was around 1700.

About 1750 he married Sarah, widow of Robert Osborne, absentee owner of a substantial slave plantation in Barbados. On Sarah's death in 1757 Steele became the owner of a 1,068 acre estate.
Steele migrated to Barbados in 1780 to manage his estate (which was producing poor returns). Adopted an 'ameliorationist' strategy in relation to the 300+ enslaved he owned. Established a court to deal with 'offences'; by 1789 renting land to enslaved and paying wages. And in 1781 had established a society in Bridgetown modelled on the London Society of Arts to encourage development of local manufactures to employ the poor white population and develop skills. His efforts were met with hostility among the white planter elites. They also seem to have had little success in improving the condition of the poor whites.

Held various local offices: parish sheriff; member of the Barbados Council; judge.

In the 1780s Steele lived with Ann Slatia, an enslaved woman on the Byde Mill estate adjacent to the Kendal estate which he leased. There were two children who were both enslaved but who were sent to England for their education and were among Steele's heirs.

Died in Barbados.

His letters to the abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson, were published by William Dickson in Mitigation of Slavery in Two Parts. Part I Letters and Papers of Joshua Steele (London, 1814).

Steele had been elected in 1756 to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. A specialist in the theory of music, Steele promoted the study of speech as music. 1775, published An essay towards establishing the melody and measure of speech, to be expressed and perpetuated by peculiar symbols Also became an expert on prosody.

It is not yet known whether the Joshua Steel who with Richard Steele purchased Sandy Bay (St Patrick) division Lot no. 6 on Tobago in 1766 was the same man as the Joshua Steele of Barbados.


Larry Gragg, ‘Steele, Joshua (c.1700–1796)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2013, accessed 30 June 2015. The most thorough examination of Steele's ideas concerning slavery and poor whites is David Lambert, White Creole Culture, Politics and Identity during the Age of Abolition (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005). For his children, see D.A. Livesay, Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Migration from the West Indies to Britain unpublished PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 2010., [forthcoming as of March 2017 from the University of North Carolina Press or the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture], pp. 186-199.

Further Information

(1) Sarah Osborne (c.1750-1757); (2) Ann Slatia [partner; unmarried]
With Ann Slatia, Catherine and Edward

Associated Estates (3)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1777 [EA] - 1796 [LA] → Lessee (Estate)
1757 [EA] - 1796 [LA] → Owner
1757 [EA] - 1796 [LA] → Lessee

Legacies Summary

Historical (1)

Mitigation of Slavery in Two Parts. Part I. Letters and Papers of the Late Hon. Joshua Steele; Part II. Letters to Thomas Clarkson by William... 1814 

Relationships (1)

Testator → Executor
Notes →
Lambert, White Creole Culture p. 64 identifies Francis Bell as Steele's estate manager and executor....