July 21, 2018

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June 19, 2015

Jamaican History and Culture – Plantocracy, Part IV

Sugar Estate, Jamaica 1837

Sugar estate in Jamaica, 1837 (Magasin7) | Le Magasin Pittoresque (1837)

Violence, brutality and sexual assaults were at the very heart of Jamaican slavery. Whites saw the instilling of terror as the surest way to maintain their dominance over the enslaved majority. When it came to the treatment of slaves, planters could act in any way that pleased them, and do so with impunity.

Here’s a quote I took from historian Trevor Burnard’s 2004 book, Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World:

White Jamaicans believed in force because they were frightened. Jamaica was a society at war. Slaves had to be kept cowed through arbitrary, tyrannical, and brutal actions, supported at all times by the full weight of state authority. White Jamaicans developed a legal system and a social structure in which any brutality exercised by whites toward blacks could be excused by the fundamental necessity of keeping blacks subdued. Only in this way could white fears be assuaged. Such assumptions, of course, were a license for sadism and tyranny among all whites, not just those inclined to psychopathic behaviour. Whites knew that they had the full support of the state and white public opinion for whatever they did toward slaves.”

Thomas Thistlewood described one especially nasty punishment in his diary of 1750–1786. Thistlewood was a landowner and overseer of the Egypt sugar estate near Savanna-la-Mar in Westmoreland Parish. He called this punishment “Derby’s dose.” I’ll not elaborate here, but readers can Google the meaning of this disgusting form of punishment if they are so inclined.

White juries excused all white crimes toward blacks except, perhaps, serial murder. In his 37-year journal, Thistlewood mentioned only one white man who was punished for his ill treatment of slaves. That was John Wright who had killed four partners. Wright’s conviction came only after he murdered a mistress who was mulatto, and perhaps if he had only killed blacks, he would never have been convicted. Even then, authorities allowed him to escape from jail on condition that he leave the island. Incidentally, Wright escaped hanging, but died at sea when he shot himself.

Had a slave in 1820 been given the choice of living in Hell or on a Jamaican sugar estate, I predict he would have chosen to live in Hell.

Slaves were not passive victims of the institution of slavery, however. They resisted in a myriad of ways woven into everyday life. Aside from those who rebelled and destroyed property and/or ran away to the woods, slaves routinely malingered, played the idiot and pretended to be lazy. They ran away for a day or so—a practice sometimes called “Petit Marronage”—and returned even though they faced harsh punishment. They were forever losing and breaking their tools. They poisoned animals and induced sickness in themselves by eating dirt. A particularly sad form of resistance occurred when slave women aborted babies to deny “Massa” ownership of their children.

Some slave women resisted the sexual advances of their masters even though they knew they would be punished severely for doing so. They also withheld their labour to show their dissatisfaction with their masters’ working rules and living conditions.

Slave resistance also manifested itself in songs, dances and drumming, which some planters restricted to special occasions and during Christmas and Easter holidays. And, because planters spent little or no time trying to understand slave culture or language, slaves carried on this form of resistance under the very noses of their masters—with some whites even applauding the songs and dances without understanding their true meaning.

As estates became more prosperous,  children of their owners were sent “home” to England to be educated and many stayed there. By the 1830s, absentees are estimated to have owned two-thirds or more of the plantations, and the proportion was higher among sugar estates. Returning “home” became the final measure of success for a Jamaican planter, even though that planter might be seeing England or Scotland for the first time in his life.

Absenteeism—as it came to be known—in the period between 1750 and 1850 inevitably led to owners being increasingly represented on the island by agents who had power of attorney, giving rise to the influence and power of what were known as “planting attorneys” or simply attorneys. These men increasingly were the ones who occupied the great houses, forming a class of professional representatives.

A typical attorney was an educated European or white creole in his forties or fifties. He would have lived in Jamaica for a decade or more and had made his way up the managerial ladder, after taking employment in a supervisory role on one or more estates.

To start with, he would be responsible for just one property and answer to one proprietor. In time, however, and if seen to be successful, he often took on management of several estates and grew rich from fees of 5 or 6 per cent of the sale price of the crop, paid whether or not the crop was sold profitable.

One might expect owners who lived on their estates, in their self-interest, to take care of their properties and help to ensure future profitability by rotating fields regularly, using adequate amounts of manure, keeping buildings and fences in good repair and, above all, maintaining a strong and healthy workforce. Owners—at least most of them—would be in for the long term, or so one would think.

Not so for planting attorneys, however. Theirs—at least too many of them—was a short-term approach. Better to maximize the profits of today, even if that meant forgoing the profits of a later day. And overseers were apparently only too pleased to do their bidding.

Overseers put every available worker to the tasks of planting, harvesting and producing crops, especially sugar and rum. They kept a minimum number of animals and gave them minimum care so there was never enough manure for the fields. Furthermore, they never allowed fields to lie fallow in order to restore their fertility as part of a long-term crop rotation program. All this, of course, was done to the detriment of the general upkeep to the properties under their care.

The ones who suffered most were the slaves. Healthy or sick, strong or weak, they were driven and whipped for long hours to maximise production. They, along with the fields, livestock and production facilities became worn out and broken down. Profits dwindled and absentee owners were advised to sell. Sometimes it was the attorney or overseer who then bought the property—usually for well below market value.

Although long-tern prospects of the absentee owner might be imperilled, large crop yields enriched attorneys and overseers. Not only did they pocket more money in the short term, but their reputations as good managers who could maximize crop sizes were enhanced and they received more properties to manage for other absentees.

The opportunities for fraud also were too tempting for many an attorney or overseer to resist. They bought on behalf of the estate and charged the owners who lived overseas much more than what they had actually paid. Attorneys or overseers used pasture land for their own livestock, and used estate slaves to perform work not related to the estate, but from which these unscrupulous men could profit. Moreover, they used up the estate labour pool at an alarming rate—even forcing slaves out of hospitals to join gangs in the field. Too often, workers were punished so harshly they died from their injuries and were lost to the estate.

Many of the excesses of the plantocracy of which we so often read today can be laid at the doorstep of absenteeism. Throughout the island, the attrition rate among the slaves was appalling. Between 1702 and 1807 over 400,000 slaves had been imported for use in Jamaica, yet the slave population in 1807 was only 319,351, which included slaves born on the island.

Trinity Estate St Mary's-James Hakewill-Sutherland

Trinity Estate, St. Mary’s | James Hakewill

As readers can probably tell, I have somewhat of a jaundiced view of absenteeism and attorney management. I tend to agree with those critics of absenteeism who see attorneys as a class too often peopled with self-interested and dishonest managers, and who blame the attorney system for much of Jamaica’s slowness in developing its full social, political and cultural potential. As we know all too well, however, there is another side to everything.

Attorneys have also been portrayed as men who worked hard to maximise productivity and profit on behalf of their employers, without sacrificing efficiency. In Plantation Jamaica, 1750-1850: Capital and Control in a Colonial Economy, B.W. Higman wrote:

… they [attorneys] took a positive approach to the making of profits and the exploitation of the resources and technologies available to them. They proved themselves assiduous in visiting the estates regularly and provided detailed accounts to their employers. They understood the details of sugar production and trade, recruited and dismissed supervisory personnel and did what was in their power to increase the work force.”

Others, like historians Douglas Hall and Richard Sheridan, have argued that attorney management was not necessarily inferior to that provided by a resident proprietor. And Higman pointed out that it was not in the attorneys’ interest to defraud their employers. He wrote:

As social predators, the proprietors and the attorneys had entered into a pact that rewarded them for being honourable and loyal to each other for the sake of robbing other people (the enslaved and the exploited free), who were not parties to the [their] ethical contract.”

A somewhat cynical view perhaps, but one that does have merit.

Clearly these gentlemen are eminently more qualified than I in this regard, and, frankly, I hope they are right for several of my family members made their living as overseers and attorneys. It is nice to believe they were not the ogres described by some.

Of one thing we may be certain, however: though an attorney and his employer might differ in their management style and strategies, they concurred that the surest route to achieving maximum productivity and profitability was to use slave labour.

Even as public pleasure against the institution of slavery mounted in England, the practice of slavery continued unabated in Jamaica. Jamaicans saw it as the only way of keeping large numbers of people working on the estates, when all about them was plenty of fertile, unoccupied land.

Here’s how a pro-slavery argument might typically have unfolded in 1800: If slaves were freed, what motive would they have for working? In Jamaica, there is 2,724,265 acres in total, 1,914,809 acres of which have been surveyed as uncultivated. These consist chiefly of unclaimed mountain land which is open to occupation by the first person to claim it. So a freed slave who, the argument goes, wants little in the way of clothing or other possessions would need to work only a few hours a day to supply himself with provisions for many months. Why then would he choose long hours of brutally hard labour for minimum wages on a plantation? Unlike the peasant in Europe, who if he does not work would starve, a Jamaican slave has only to take to the woods where he could live with ease on his own plot of land. Assuming, of course, the law did not hunt him down—something the law had not been able to do to hundreds of former runaways.

Eventually, though, public pressure in England did lead to the abolishment of the British slave trade in 1807. Even so, the use of slave labour persisted in Jamaica and elsewhere in the West Indies. No new slaves could be imported from Africa, however.

And, even if Jamaican slavery had been no more cruel or unjust than that used in other tropical countries, it was nevertheless morally wrong and indefensible under any code of civilized behaviour. In the end,  it was abolished because it was evil and had become intolerable to the British public who had long since outlawed the practice in the British Isles.

To all that has been written here and elsewhere about the cruel and inhumane treatment of the slaves in Jamaica, I have nothing more to add. For readers who want more, a quick search at Google.com will, I’m sure, provide many days’ reading on that subject.

I’m going to take an extended break at this point to work on another project. When I do return, I’ll examine Jamaica’s post-emancipation era. I hope you’ve enjoyed the story thus far.

My next project deals with the life of a three-time lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, Sir Henry Morgan. Some might say his was Jamaica’s golden era, while others will contend it was the island’s darkest days. We’ll see.

Nota bene: Here’s a sample of the sources I have used for reference on this project:
  • Curtin,Philip D., Two Jamaicas, The Role of Ideas in a Tropical Colony 1830–1865. New York: Atheneum, 1975;
  • Hakewill, James. A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica. London: Hurst and Robinson, etc., 1825;
  • Cundall, Frank, Historic Jamaica. London: The Institute of Jamaica, 1915;
  • M’Mahon, Benjamin, Jamaica Plantership: Eighteen Years Employed [etc.]. London: Effingham Wilson, 1839;
  • Higman, Barry (B.W.), Slave populations of the British Caribbean. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.
  • Phillippo, James M., Jamaica: Its past and Present State. London: John Snow, Paternoster Row, 1843
  • Hall, Douglas G., In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2005.
  • Burnard, Trevor, Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves [etc.]. The University of North Carolina Press, 2004

June 10, 2015

Jamaican History and Culture – Plantocracy, Part III


Spring Garden Estate, St. George’s | James Hakewill

When they arrived on their first Jamaican sugar estate, slaves received “seasoning,” whereby they accustomed themselves to Jamaican diseases, plantation routine and learned how to use basic tools. During this time, they moved into the estate’s “Negro village” in which they received (or were made to build) huts in which to live.  They also learned how to grow their own food—yams potatoes, plantains and other foodstuff—in adjacent provision grounds. Tragically, as much as 33 per cent of new arrivals to the island are said to have died during this seasoning process—some taking their own lives.

Once “seasoned,” estate routine set in and kept slaves—both women and men—busy with a variety of tasks depending on which of four classes they had been assigned: field (also called praedial), domestic, skilled or managerial.

The overseer or delegate sub-divided field slaves were into three gangs for planting and harvesting: (1) a first gang of able bodied women and men who did the most and hardest work; (2) elderly, weak and children 12–18 years old who carried water and such for the first gang; and (3) small children who did weeding and the like. Field slaves were the most numerous group and might include more women than men.

Estates used first gangs—the available able-bodied field slaves—primarily for planting and harvesting sugarcane. They did the hardest work, toiled for the longest hours and received the harshest punishments. I have read that, in Jamaica, first gangs worked from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and might work 4,000 hours a year. Consider that in Barbados first gangs were estimated to work “only” 3,200 hours annually. (A relatively full work-year in Canada today would not be more that about 2,000 hours.)

Domestics did more of the light work and considered themselves better than those who worked in the fields. They dressed better, had more leisure time and ate better. Some believe masters were more likely to free them, but I’m not sure if available evidence supports this.

Slaves captured in Africa came from different walks of life and some arrived on the island with valuable skills. Others acquired such skills from estate tradesmen such as carpenters, coopers, masons, sugar boilers and rum distillers. The estate placed a high value on these skills, which contributed substantially to the estate’s financial wellbeing. The skill level of the master sugar boiler, for example, could very well make or break the financial success of an estate.

Managerial slaves were the “drivers” who headed up each gang. They could be men or women and enjoyed special status, including better rations and, sometimes, upgraded accommodations. Planters delegated authority to use the whip to drivers who too often responded by using it gratuitously and with some apparent relish. Drivers were the principal link between the masters and the other slaves.

Certain trusted slaves acted as middle-men between estates and townspeople. Many were female slaves called “higglers” who took produce from provision grounds to sell in towns and villages. Some had other specific skills such as being fishermen. Planters allowed such salves to travel away from home base and gave them more leeway over managing their own time.

Not all slaves were attached to a specific property for many were members of “jobbing gangs.” Jobbing gangs served the specific purpose of being hired out as temporarily help to supplement an estate’s workforce. They might also work on public projects and the like. Jobbing gangs were used frequently to augment the first gangs during the most arduous portion of the planting-harvesting cycle. Slaves in jobbing gangs had the added hardship of having to work away from home-base in very poor circumstances as regards to shelter, access to medical attention, etc.

Overseers and plantation attorneys sometimes owned their own jobbing gangs while also managing other people’s property. Some see this as a conflict of interest, because an unscrupulous overseer or attorney could easily find reason to hire his own jobbing gang at inflated fees to work on estates he supervised.

holeing a cane field

Cultivating sugarcane and processing it into sugar, molasses and rum required enormous amounts of labour. In Jamaica, rather than being allowed to use labour-saving ploughs, first gangs had to plant sugar cane manually. They used long-handled hoes to dig cane holes (holeing) into which they planted sections of seed cane. And, during the following year to eighteen months it took for the cane to grow—depending on whether it was a new planting or a second growth—the fields needed to be weeded by hand and sometimes irrigated.

First gangs also harvested and bundled the cut canes by hand. When harvesting, the field was first set on fire, which burned dry leaves  and chased away or killed venomous snakes and other undesirables without harming the stalks and roots. Slaves then cut the cane just above ground-level using machetes (cutlasses).

At this stage, time is of crucial importance and an entire harvest could be ruined if inefficiently handled for sugarcane, once cut, begins losing its sugar content. For that reason, planters processed sugar near where they cultivated the sugarcane.

Once the canes had been harvested, slaves carted them to a nearby mill, where the canes were crushed and the juice drained off and taken to a boiling house. The head sugar boiler and his helpers would then boil and skim the brown juice to clear it of impurities. Next, they reduced (thickened) it by boiling it in a series of cauldrons or coppers of decreasing size until it became taffy-like as they ladled it from one vessel to the next smaller one. At a certain critical point as determined by the head boiler, helpers removed the thick brown syrup from the heat and allowed it to cool in nearby tanks until it crystallized.

Next, slaves moved the brown crystals of sugar to a curing house where they packed it into hogsheads (casks), which they then loaded onto racks. Over a period of weeks, molasses slowly seeped out through small holes in the bottoms of the cask and collected in a storage vat. After the raw brown sugar had cured for a few weeks and was deemed dry enough, slaves moved it to a warehouse, where it stayed until the planter shipped it to refineries in London or Glasgow as “muscovado,” a type of unrefined brown sugar. There the muscovado could be further refined and sold in the form of white sugar loaves.

Back on the Jamaican estate, molasses produced as a by-product of making sugar could be sold separately or was—along with the skimming and dregs from the sugar boiling—distilled and made into rum.

There’s a lot more to the sugar/rum industry, of course, but this is about as deep as I’m prepared to delve at this time.

Once a week—I’ve also read it was once a fortnight—and on holidays and Christian festivals, planters gave their slaves a day off. They also gave Friday afternoon off for slaves to work on their provision grounds. In addition to slave allotments, planters sometimes allowed slaves to use other uncultivated land and to raise livestock such as chickens.

Slaves worked these provision grounds on their own account and could sell surpluses and keep the proceeds. Despite not being given much time to work their plots, many slaves were able to produce more than enough for their own subsistence, and had surpluses to sell, creating both an island-wide marketing network and the sub-structure for a local peasantry. And, as far as I can tell, planters respected the “property rights” of their slaves—for the most part, at least.

Slaves used Sundays as market days to buy, sell or trade livestock, vegetables, yams and other foodstuff along with fruits, preserves and homemade mats, baskets and ropes. Here’s how James Hakewill described Sunday markets, which he saw on his tour of Jamaica in the early 1800s:

With regard to their comforts it is to be remarked, that nearly the whole of the markets of Jamaica are supplied with every species of vegetable and fruit by the overplus [sic] of the negro’s produce, by which traffic they acquire considerable riches. On Holland estate, in St. Thomas in the East, the negroes keep a boat, which trades regularly between that place and Kingston, and these grumble as much at the low price of yams and plantains as an English farmer at the fall of corn.”

Sunday markets offered slaves occasions to socialize and chat with others from nearby plantations. They also gave slaves a chance to earn money they might use eventually to buy their own freedom and take advantage of what little upward mobility Jamaican society offered.

On some estates, at least, proprietors considered slaves “tenants for life attached to the soil” rather than mere chattel. Even so, sales (often called “transfers”) did occur and slaves moved from one estate to another. Of this, Hakewill wrote:

… no man would venture to buy a slave that had not previously agreed to live with him. If he did, the slave would inevitably run away; for while the purchaser requires a good character with the negro, the latter is equally alive to obtaining a knowledge of the habits and disposition of his future master. …Mr. Thomas, had ten negroes, of whom, as he intended to leave Jamaica, he was desirous of disposing. He desired them to find themselves a master, proposing only to negociate [sic] the sale with a person with whom they could place themselves to their satisfaction. After some time they came to him with information that they were willing to serve Dr. Pierce, of Belle Vue, who was desirous of engaging them, and with him Mr. Thomas afterwards concluded the bargain. The negroes had previously arranged with Dr. Pierce, their provision grounds, clothing, days of rest, and all the particulars of their allowances.

There was more slave interaction—sanctioned or otherwise—between the estates than I would have thought. This was not always a good thing, however, for rebellions were planned along with harmless day-to-day communication.

Plantation village in Jamaica, 1843

Plantation slave village in Jamaica, 1843

Slaves typically lived in a “village” of huts on the estate. Planters set these aside for slave use and some slaves developed strong attachments to their homes. Hakewill tells us that on George Watson Taylor’s Holland Estate, in St. Thomas in the East, some six hundred “negroes” lived in a village located in what was considered an unhealthy location. So attached were the slaves to their settlement, however, that when the proprietor erected a new village at great expense to the estate, “no persuasion could induce them to abandon” the old location. Only after a flood forced them to move “temporarily” to the new village, did they become accustomed to their upgraded residences and agree to abandon the old location and move into the new village permanently.

Just as slaves became attached to their homes—modest as they were—so too did some planters become genuinely attached to their slaves. Take the case of John Blagrove who owned Cardiff Hall Estate in St. Ann’s parish, who wrote in his will:

And lastly, to my loving people, denominated and recognized by law as, and being in fact my slaves in Jamaica, but more estimated and considered by me and my family as tenants for life attached to the soil, I bequeath a dollar for every man, woman, and child, as a small token of my regard for their faithful and affectionate service and willing labours to myself and family, being reciprocally bound in one general tie of master and servant in the prosperity of the land, from which we draw our mutual comforts and subsistence in our several relations (a tie and interest not practised on by the hired labourer of the day in the United Kingdom), the contrary of which doctrine is held only by the visionists [sic] of the puritanical order against the common feeling of mankind.”

Obviously, Blagrove’s was not the view of the majority, for slave resistance understandably became an integral part of plantation life. Suicides and slave revolts, which we covered earlier in our story, were frequent occurrences in Jamaica. Slaves also resisted in myriad other less extreme ways woven into their everyday life, and we’ll cover these in our next instalment.

June 9, 2015

Jamaican History and Culture – Plantocracy, Part II

Roehamton Plantation and Slave Village Jamaica 1825-James Hakewill

This has been one of the most difficult sections for me to write for I have tried to strike a balance between giving an accurate description of the times and not seeming to apologize for, or to excuse or otherwise condone the behaviour of my salve-owning ancestors. Consequently, I hope I have placed my exploration of the institution of slavery as it was practiced in Jamaica in its proper historical and social contexts.

I’d also like to point out that throughout these essays I have tended to use the words “plantation” and “estate” in a more or less generic sense. In the early days on the island, “estates” were known mainly for their sugar, and “plantations” were known for other staples, but I often use the terms interchangeably. And, while much of what I describe pertained to life specifically on estates, conditions and traditions were similar on other commercial agricultural properties, whether they were pens, plantations, coffee mountains or the larger of the settlements.

Jamaican slaves worked under appalling circumstances and under constant dread of the whip. We should remember, however, that those were harsh and often cruel times. The treatment handed out to indentured white Irish and Scottish servants—many forced into bondage by the English after being captured in wartime—was similarly inhumane in some respects. And many a free seaman of the time felt as many lashes of the whip as any Jamaican slave. Just being an Englishman in the West Indies was in those days a capital crime under the laws of New Spain. Furthermore, I doubt the peasants of the English countryside were much more likely to escape the boundaries of their class than the slaves of Jamaica were of obtaining freedom.

Jamaican slavery was a product of its time and not as out-of-step with the world as some might believe. For example, to many sub-Saharan Africans who were shipped to Jamaica, the institution of slavery was not new. Some had known a type of slavery in West Africa either as slaves or as owners of slaves—it had been commonly practiced there for centuries. After the Atlantic slave trade began, West African slave systems supplied that market. So some of the slaves captured in Africa and sold eventually to Jamaican planters had already been in slavery before arriving in Jamaica.

And, while it is true that in most African societies slaves were not treated as chattel, but had rights similar in some respects to indentured servants in England, they were deprived of their freedom and were at the mercy of their African masters. African slaves also would have occupied very modest housing and been poorly clothed and fed by any standard.

Besides, Jamaican slave ownership was not exclusive to whites. Blacks, who had been fortunate or clever enough to beat the odds and secure their freedom, sometimes owned one or more slaves, as did many free people of colour.

Despite the widespread cruelty and injustice of the slave-system, there remained a reservoir of goodwill among some slaves towards their white masters. Acts of kindness, personal loyalties and bonds of friendship were, surprisingly, not unknown. In other words, “Massa” was not always the devil incarnate, at least, as far as some slaves were concerned. And, for some slaves, their emotional attachment to their slave village could not have been stronger had they been free to live wherever they wanted.

I came across this touching story when reading about life in Jamaican in about 1820: An old salve woman on a plantation in Trelawny gave the plantation attorney a sum of money that she requested be sent to the plantation owner (her owner) in England as a gift. The gift was £150, a considerable sum in the 1800s. As the story goes, she had heard that the plantation was up for sale and thought a share of her savings would be useful to her owner since, she assumed, he must have fallen on hard times if he was being forced to sell his home.

One supposes the old woman must have been treated well enough to have made such a show of kindness.

Here is an example of unexpected (perhaps misplaced) loyalty: During the early stage of Tacky’s Rebellion in 1760, Tacky and his followers revolted and, after taking over the Frontier and Trinity plantations, killed their masters. They planned next to do the same to plantations at Heywood Hall and Esher. But a slave from Esher, who knew the details of the planned attack, sounded the alarm. And it was his alerting of the authorities that led to the eventual failure of the rebellion and to Tacky’s death—not to mention the many white lives that were saved in the process.

In wading through reams of pages depicting the inhumane treatment of slaves, it is easy to overlook the symbiotic relationship that had developed between slave and master. We can get an idea of this from the following interaction that was witnessed in about 1820:

A slave was put up for public sale at a market at Kingston where a white man of means approached him just as he was about to be auctioned. After a few preliminary questions, the gentleman asked the slave if he would be willing to live with him under circumstances he described, including the nature the work, the situation at the coffee plantation he owned and any other inducements that came to mind. The slave, recalling he had know the gentleman in the past, consented to live on the coffee plantation, and the gentleman purchased him. Given the circumstances, a rather civil exchange with a mutually beneficial outcome.

Not withstanding the foregoing, I have no doubt the slaves of Jamaica suffered more than I can even imagine. Theirs was no pastoral existence for they were routinely treated harshly and worked long, terribly-hard hours. Corporal punishment—even for trivial acts—was a part of estate life, and slaves sometimes died from wounds inflicted during such beatings. And, of course, there was sexual abuse of all types with rape of slaves being part of everyday life on some estates.

Not even in death could a slave completely evade this cruel system, for when slave women brought children into the world the newborn inherited their mothers’ miserable existence and suffered long after their mothers’ had died. For this reason—though not solely so—the birth rate among slaves remained low from the 17th century through to 1834.

Master and slave seemed caught in vicious cycle: Planters feared their slaves, who outnumbered them, and used harsh discipline to break their spirits and bend them to their will; harsh treatment engendered hatred and stiffened the resolve to rebel and take revenge. And so the cycle was repeated with harsher treatment meted out and met with more hatred and greater resolve to avenge the injustice of the slaves’ plight.

In time and with increasing pressure from Christian groups, laws were enacted to provide the slaves with more protection, and these did have a limited effect in moderating the most extreme acts of brutality, at least, on the more civilized estates.

We’ll pause here and when we continue with our next instalment we’ll take a closer look at life on the sugar estates.

June 5, 2015

Jamaican History and Culture – Plantocracy, Part I

Port Maria St Marys - Drawn by James Hakewill - Engraved by ClarkePort Maria, St. Mary’s | Drawn by James Hakewill, engraved by Clarke
   Published Aug. 1, 1825 by Hurst Robinson & Co., 90 Cheapside, & E. Lloyd, Harley Street

Before continuing, I’d like to say a few words about historical dates. While most continental Europeans began using the newer and more accurate Gregorian calendar in 1582, England stuck stubbornly with the old Julian version for another 170 years. The Gregorian calendar added ten days to correct the old version, and it is the Gregorian that we use today. 

Some images on this and related pages from: Hakewill, James. A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica. London: Hurst and Robinson, etc., 1825. The drawings were made in 1820/21 by Hakewill. Well worth the read and available with a Google search.

As a result, English records covering much of this story do not coincide with those of other European powers.

Another potential difference in dates you may have seen elsewhere could result from the English habit of sometimes beginning each new year as of 25 March rather than 1 January. This led to confusing dating such as “28 February 1654/55,” which is in fact 28 February 1655. By the way, the Canadian government still continues this old tradition by ending its financial year at the end of March rather than at the end of December.

The earliest European arrivals on the island of Jamaica raised and cultivated a variety of tropical crops and livestock, including cattle and hogs breeding; coffee, ginger, pimento, cotton and cocoa cultivation and logging. After the British conquest, however, sugar became increasingly important with Jamaica becoming a “sugar island” in the prestige it brought to the sugar planter and in the disproportionate amount of sugar, molasses and rum in Jamaican exports.

For much of the 17th and 18th centuries, the British Empire was enriched from the production of sugar in Jamaica. 18th-century Jamaica became the jewel of the British crown, so to speak. And, of course, sugar enriched many Jamaican planters as well as their European creditors and suppliers.

Sugar was grown on “estates,” cattle raised on “pens,” coffee was grown on “mountains” and other staples like cotton and pimento were grown on “plantations.” The terms estates and plantations referred to the substantial land holdings. Smaller holdings were called “settlements” and their owners, “settlers.”

Sugar cane was first cultivated by the British in 1640 in Barbados and proved extremely profitable. Jamaica’s sugar industry was established in 1664 by Governor Sir Thomas Modyford and soon became the island’s principal industry. Colonel Sir Thomas Modyford, 1st Baronet (c. 1620–1679) was a prominent planter in Barbados before being appointed governor of Jamaica. Modyford arrived in Jamaica 4 June 1664, along with seven hundred planters and their slaves.

With Modyford’s arrival came the foundation for Jamaica’s slavery-based plantation society—what some would call Jamaica’s plantocracy—for it was the cultivation of sugar cane and its processing into sugar, molasses and rum that primarily created the need and the justification for a large captive labour force.

In the following paragraphs, I hope to give you an idea of what the Jamaican plantocracy was like and some appreciation for the quality of life under it. I am covering a broad timeframe, though, and some of what I say might have been more prevalent in one time period than in another, or in one part of the island than in another. Conditions and traditions also varied from one estate, plantation, etc., to another. So here goes:

On a grander scale, the timing of Jamaica’s switch to large-scale sugar cane cultivation was fortuitous and could hardly have come at a better time to compliment the British Empire’s plans for economic expansion.

To expand its economy, the Empire needed overseas colonies, and its overseas colonies needed a large stable labour force. So, after experimenting briefly with indentured European labour in the 17th century, the British turned, as we all know, to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Plantation slavery became an integral part—many at the time claimed it to be an indispensible part—of the profitable triangular trade system between England for manufactured goods, Africa for slaves and the Caribbean islands for sugar and the other agricultural products of slave-labour.

Holland Estate  in St Thomas in the East the property of George Watson Taylor Esq MP

Holland Estate, St. Thomas in the East | Drawn by James Hakewill, engraved by Sutherland
   Published Aug. 1, 1825 by Hurst Robinson & Co., 90 Cheapside, & E. Lloyd, Harley Street

It was the financial success of this triangular trade system that led to the development of a colonial society dominated by a planter elite. This plantocracy dominated colonial economic, political and social life in every sense. Planters owned the best lands and made the colonial laws to support the slave system. In general, all commercial and other economic activity depended on the continuity and success of the plantocracy along with the profits that flowed from the sugar islands into Britain, and from the commerce generated between the homeland and the colonies.

Obviously, not all involved would benefit. The plantocracy was, in fact, constructed on a win/lose premise—generally speaking, the more the planters won, the more the slaves lost. Jamaican society and culture emerged from two distinct cultural silos: one British, white and free and the other African, black and enslaved.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the key limiting factor in the Jamaican economy was agricultural labour, for slaves were always in limited supply. And, because sugar cane is such a labour-intensive crop, planters were forced to apply the available labour to the best land, leaving the rest more or less unused—at least, unused to cultivate sugar cane. Other limitations on sugar production were the relatively small size of sugar mills and the fact sugar was heavy and expensive to transport.

By the end of slavery in 1834, there were about 650 sugar estates on the island, most ranging in size from eight hundred to three thousand acres. As much as 650,000 acres were therefore devoted to sugar. Just as this was a relatively small part of the total arable land on the island, the acreage on each estate actually devoted to sugar was also quite small. Only about 100,000 acres were actually planted in sugar cane.

Land not suitable, or otherwise not used, for sugar cane, was used as pasture, waste or provision grounds worked by slaves in their off-hours. On an estate of, say, two thousand acres, four hundred or less would be cane fields clustered around the sugar works and mill.

Montpelier Estate St. James, The property of C.R. Ellis, Esq. M.P.

Montpelier Estate, St. James’s | Drawn by James Hakewill, engraved by Fielding
Published Feb. 1, 1824 by Hurst Robinson & Co., 90 Cheapside, & E. Lloyd, Harley Street

Because it was hard to calculate labour costs under slavery, planters were slow to see the value of labour saving devices, and Jamaica’s sugar industry inevitably lagged behind mainland England’s agricultural technology. As late as 1830, for example, the plough had not yet replaced the hoe on Jamaican estates.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, Jamaican landowners tended to live on the island. A proprietor (or his agent) might have a wife who was from England or Scotland, or was a Creole white. For other whites on an estate, however, a white wife was simply not affordable for there were never enough of them to go around.

Bookkeepers who arrived on the island without a wife chose “housekeepers” from among the slaves. Overseers either did the same or made an arrangement with a woman from the free coloured class. Seldom did these arrangements lead to marriage, but many were, nevertheless, life-long unions. The women of these unions were viewed by the slaves as wives and were pretty much treated as such by the men. Children of these unions followed the condition of the mothers, so children of slave housekeepers were legally slaves.

Jamaican planters often recognized their coloured children and secured their freedom. Freed children, in turn, frequently bought the freedom of their mothers, if such had not already been done by their fathers. As discussed elsewhere, this practice resulted in three racial classes: white, coloured and black, which included both freemen and slaves.

The new class of racially-mixed free women and men grew to rival the number of whites on the island.  Some, in time, became land and slave owners in their own right. Because the whites were so outnumbered by slaves, and because they lived in constant fear of slave insurrection, whites saw these so-called “people of colour” as natural allies and treated them as such. Whites recognized coloured people as a separate class or caste that was superior to blacks and gave them more (but not full) rights under the law.

In the United States, where whites outnumbered blacks by a wide margin, the just-one-drop legal principle of race classification was practiced. As such, any person with even a single sub-Saharan African ancestor—that is to say, one drop of black blood—was considered to be black. In Jamaica, by contrast, coloured people were not treated this way. In fact, after four generations of marriage to whites, descendants of coloured people became legally white and enjoyed all privileges and rights of full citizenship.

Curiously, in the Jamaica of old, President Barack Obama would not have been referred to (or accepted by blacks) as a “black” man—”African-American,” perhaps, because his father was Kenyan, but no “black.”

Creole whites and many free people of colour continued to live much as they would have lived in England or Scotland except, of course, for modifications that reflected the reality of their tropical surroundings. In most respects, though, they considered themselves English or British.

As the prosperity of Jamaican planters grew, so did their influence in London, which had become the centre of colonial decision-making. Jamaican planters formed associations with London-based merchants and agents, some of whom were responsible for colonial legislation. By 1733, the West India Lobby had grown to include representatives from other major cities like Bristol, Liverpool and, especially, Glasgow. Together, they formed ties with members of both houses of the British parliament thereby creating a formidable power block, controlling a significant proportion of Britain’s wealth and political power.

The planters and merchants built stately homes both in Jamaica and increasingly in London and the English countryside, with many West Indians rising to high office as city mayors and as members of parliament.  William Beckford, for example, a landowner in Jamaica, was twice Lord Mayor of London. Moreover,  in the mid to late 1700s, more than 50 members of parliament represented slave plantation owners.

The chief operating official on Jamaican estates, plantations, etc., was the overseer. He made the day-to-day decisions and saw to the discipline and efficiency of the property. The overseer was next in line on the social scale to the landowner, or an agent of the owner called an “attorney.” Other white workers might include masons, carpenters and bookkeepers. Skilled workers were relatively well-off in Jamaica. Bookkeepers, however, were apprentice planters and were often employed merely to maintain an estate’s ratio of whites to blacks as required by the Deficiency Laws.

The chain of command continued through to slave drivers. The distinction between a “head driver” and a female field worker was as great as between the proprietor or his agent and a bookkeeper. Next to the drivers were slaves with special skills, the most significant of which was the head boiler. He and the driver assigned to the sugar works, the boatswain, were in charge of the manufacturing process including the quality of the finished product. Drivers carried whips as a badge of office and had the authority to use them, which they did.

Next after the sugar estates in economic importance were cattle pens, and pen-keepers were second only to the estate owners in prestige. Coffee was second only to sugar as a crop. The other staples were pimento (from which we get allspice), ginger, arrowroot and lumber. None of these were on the same level as sugar and coffee, however, and were grown by small settlers or as a sideline on the estates and plantations. Organization of pens and plantations were patterned after the sugar estates. Settlements, depending on their size, were similarly organized. And they all depended on slave labour.

We’ll pause here and pick up our story with some details—some of which you may find surprising—of the day-to-day lives of plantation slaves in our next instalment.

June 1, 2015

Jamaican History and Culture – Pre-emancipation social environment

Bridge over the Rio Cobre | Drawn by James Hakewill, engraved by J. Cartwright
Hostilities with Spain and a rebellion in 1660 against Colonel Doyley's military rule marked the early years of English occupation. After the 1660 restoration of Charles II to the English throne and the establishment of a civil government in Jamaica, however, the island's economic and strategic importance increased steadily.
Jamaica reached its peak under British rule in the eighteenth century. Sugar was king and profits from that trade brought enormous wealth to the island, which expanded its production to become the world's largest producer of sugar. As well, Jamaica, because it was located at the centre of the Caribbean, became  a strategically important British military base. With this as background, there began to emerge a culture unique to the island.
The British and other European occupants, the whites, tended to cling to their European customs and habits. They considered themselves English, Scottish, etc., for generations after their forefathers had settled in Jamaica. To those early Jamaicans, going "home" meant going to England or perhaps Scotland, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Their culture was British with some concessions made necessary by distance from the homeland and the tropical nature of the island on which they lived and, increasingly, were born.
The whites held power, but were a small minority of the population. It is unlikely that there has ever been more than about 50,000 whites on the island at any one time, even when it had a total population of about 2.5-million in the mid-1900s.
George Robertson (1778), "A View in the Island of Jamaica, of Fort William Estate, With Part of the Roaring River Belonging to William Beckford Esq., Near Savannah La Marr"
Under British rule, the proportion of African-born to Creole slaves remained high until the end of the Slave Trade in 1807. Between 1801 and 1807, for example, 63,045 Africans were brought to Jamaica. Memories of Africa, therefore, were consistently reinforced by the newcomers. And, although African tradition was strong, it was not a single cultural tradition. Rather, it had roots in different tribal or national groups in Africa. Chief among these were what the British misnamed, Coromantyn—Akan people of what today are the republics of Ghana and Ivory Coast in West Africa (primarily Ashanti-Fanti)—and the Ibo of the Niger delta.
As explained earlier, the term "Coromantyn" was coined in Jamaican—it was the name of a fort in Ghana where slaves were held awaiting transportation to the Americas. It was not the name of an African nation or tribe.
Europeans recognized the cultural characteristics of each group of Africans and the market price of slaves was influenced by them. Coromantyn were considered stronger workers, but more prone to rebellion, while the Ibo were supposed to be more manageable, but given to suicide if ill treated.
To many, especially to Americans, the word Creole is used to refer to mixed-race people, especially those in places like Louisiana and Haiti. In Jamaica, and some other colonies, though, the term was used denote African slaves born there.
The term, Creole, however, originally applied to Europeans and Africans alike (mixed-race or full-blood) who were born overseas in places like Jamaica and had nothing to do with skin colour.
I use the term in its original form to denote anyone born in Jamaica who was not a member or descendant of the indigenous race, i.e., TaĆ­no.
Many members of the West-African Mandingo tribe, who had been brought to Jamaica in large numbers, were Moslems or, at least, had been exposed to Moslem teaching. They were considered more peaceable than the Coromantyn, but less industrious than the Ibo. There were several other groups, but because of their smaller numbers they had less influence on Jamaican culture.
White planters made very little effort to Europeanize the slaves and so they were, for the most part, left to educate their own children and pass on to them their African customs and traditions.
From this diversity of African mixed with European elements a unique Jamaican culture evolved.
By the 1830s, customs and habits unique, or nearly so, to Jamaican  Creoles were solidly established and could be passed on to each new generation. This Creole culture included a new dialect which emerged by adding to common West African grammatical forms sufficient English vocabulary to allow communication between African-born and Creole slaves on the one hand and European-Jamaicans on the other.
Jamaican black men normally took one or more wives. These unions were usually more permanent than simple promiscuity, but had no legal basis or blessing of an established church. Women marketed goods raised on the family's private provision grounds. She also cooked the meals and cared for the children, but she was often unwilling to accept the concept of Christian marriage, considering it a mark of subordination and slavery to her male partner—one slave master at a time was enough. And by the time European missionaries began taking and interest in the lot of the slaves, this Jamaican form of marriage was too well entrenched to be easily changed.
The planters did not discourage music and dancing. They suppressed anything connected to religion or magic, however. During Christmas season, three days were allowed by law for a "Negro festival." During this time, plantation discipline was relaxed and slaves were allowed to visit from one estate to another—under the watchful eyes of the militia, which was called into active duty to prevent trouble.
Part of the Christmas festival was the John Canoe (Junkanoo) dance, which, unknown to the British, was closely associated with African religion and magic. Figures represented by costumed dancers, together with songs and musical instruments were all similar to those of African cults that had been driven underground.
Peasant woman in Sunday (front) and working dress | Engraving from Phillipo, James M. (1843) Jamaica: Its past and Present State London: John Snow, Paternoster Row
Other remnants of African religions survived in the form of obeah, myalism and a preoccupation with the spirit world. Vestiges of African culture also survive in Jamaica's rich folklore, which include stories of "duppies" (ghosts or spirits) and that wily spider, Anansi.
Prior to emancipation, slaves (with some exceptions) were not welcome in the Church of England. And, although many were baptized as a formality, they were not given the benefit of instruction. After the American Revolution, however, Jamaican slaves were exposed to new forms of Christianity when several hundred United Empire Loyalists emigrated from the United States, bringing their slaves with them. Some of these slaves had been converted to Christianity in the North American colonies where there had been less prejudice against religious instruction of slaves.
Once in Jamaica, these North-Americans became unofficial missionaries and their teaching spread to many parts of the island. In the process, there emerged a combination of orthodox Christianity and African cults. This was the beginning of the Native Baptist movement.
One very special by-product of almost two and a half centuries of Jamaica's British colonial milieu, was the emergence of a "free coloured" class of those who carried in them the blood of European (mainly Anglo-Saxon and Celt) and African races. They outnumbered whites by a wide margin and were themselves outnumbered by blacks by an even wider margin. Many were free under the law, but could not vote and did not otherwise fully enjoy the rights and benefits of citizenship.
Free people of colour prior to emancipation of the slaves were a true middle-class existing, as they did, between the white upper class and the lowly slave class, which was made up overwhelmingly of blacks. Coloured people were often born slaves and freed by their fathers. Some, though, remained slaves all their lives. The free people of colour class was itself stratified socially based on skin tone and financial means.
Free women of colour tended to marry "up"—though most often this meant cohabitation as "housekeepers" without the legal status of marriage. That is to say, they lived-with (sometimes married) men who were white or, at least, closer to white than they were. Free men of colour, though, tended to marry/cohabitate-with black women or those closer to black than they. This should not be surprising since, in a society built around white-superiority, women who had the benefit of choice could be expected to "better" themselves, leaving few options for the men of their class.
Free people of colour owned furniture and cabinet manufactures. They were also artisans, merchants and controlled newspapers. Some were wealthy. Those who operated plantations or their own businesses, however, faced irksome limits imposed by whites. Some people of colour, though, inherited large fortunes from their, usually white, fathers. These Jamaicans and their descendants were often educated abroad and lived in as fine a style as any but the most privileged whites.
While free people of colour overwhelmingly followed European customs and were mostly Christians, they blended in elements of African culture they had learned from their mothers and, very often, their grandmothers. Theirs was an European culture influenced by African elements, which in decades to come would blend further with the post-emancipation African-slave culture influenced by European elements. It is this unique social environment we call Jamaican.

May 26, 2015

Jamaican History and Culture – Privateers, Buccaneers, Pirates and War

naval battle

England had long used the practice of issuing commissions (letters of marque) to private vessels as a way of augmenting its navy in times of war. After 1665, however, Caribbean privateering took a more ambiguous form: buccaneers.

Located as it was, at the heart of Spanish America, Jamaica was vulnerable to attack from England’s enemies—chiefly, though not solely, the Spanish. It is doubtful the island would have remained English had it not been for its privately commissioned navy under the command of men like Edward Mansfield and Henry Morgan.

From their base at Port Royal (formerly Cagway) on the south coast, privateers were often the only navy Jamaica had to place between itself and its enemies. Historian, Edward Long, wrote: “It is to the Bucaniers [sic] that we owe the possession of Jamaica at this hour.”

The buccaneers, as these Englishmen were known, (the French used the term, filibuster') started as hunters of wild cattle and boar on the island of Hispaniola. The animals they hunted had been abandoned by Spanish settlers who had left Hispaniola and moved to the mainland in search of gold and other quicker sources of wealth.

The term buccaneer came from a Carib word, bukan, for the method Caribs used to cook and dry meat. The hunters came from all walks of life, many fleeing the law. They were predominantly French with significant numbers of English and Dutch.

Eventually the Spanish drove the hunters off Hispaniola, and they were forced to take refuge on the tiny offshore island of Tortuga. And by the time the Spaniards ousted them from there, buccaneers and filibusters had developed a hatred for the Spanish. A Hispaniola buccaneer as see by a French artist (Esquemeling French edition)

After Spain put an end to their tradition of hunting, the hunters became buccaneers, sea-raiders who called themselves “Brethren of the Coast.” They now used small, shallow-drafted boats—often canoes—to prey on Spain’s coastal settlements and shipping lanes.

By 1665, the buccaneers had grown to the size of a national navy. About 1,500 French flibustiers were using Tortuga as their base, while the English buccaneers chose the fast-growing Jamaican town of Port Royal as their home base.

By 1659 two hundred houses, shops and warehouses clustered near Fort Charles, which was built as soon as the English gained control of what, before 1660, was called Cagway. By 1692 five forts defended the port and, before long, Port Royal earned the reputation as being the “wickedest town in the world.”

Between 1665 and 1675—Henry Morgan’s heyday—it may also have been the richest: between 1665 and 1671 the buccaneers sacked eighteen Spanish American cities, four towns, thirty-five villages and captured ships too numerous to count. Much of the plunder thus obtained flowed through Port Royal. Morgan at Puerto Bello 1668 (illustration by Howard Pyle, 1888)

With the death of Sir Henry Morgan in 1688 and the destruction of Port Royal on June 2, 1692—when a violent earthquake sunk two-thirds of the town—the era of the buccaneer passed. In 1697, Spain formally recognized all English and French occupied territories in the West Indies, ending the need for mercenaries to protect the islanders from Spanish attack. Port Royal survived as a naval station, but its economic activity moved to a nearby settlement, Kingston, which would later become Jamaica’s capital.

I’ll offer a more detailed treatment of the much-maligned and libelled, Welch-Jamaican, Sir Henry Morgan, later in this project.

Taking advantage of the confusion caused by the destruction of Port Royal in 1692, a large French force attacked the eastern part of the island. Under Admiral Jean du Casse, the French ravaged the countryside before being engaged by Jamaica’s defense force who killed 700 of the invaders. Several plantations and sugar works were burnt, however, and hundreds of slaves and other valuable property taken away.  War of Spanish Succession

The next European war to involve Jamaica was the War of the Spanish Succession (England and Holland fought Spain and France), which ended in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. One provision of the treaty that directly affected Jamaica was the awarding to England of the right to provide slaves to Spain’s New World settlements. Jamaica soon became the main transfer point in the Americas for this new and profitable source of trade.

The 18th century was an eventful time for Jamaica. The island was virtually self-governing and its planters (along with those of Barbados) controlled an influential block of votes in the English parliament. It was also a savage time that saw numerous slave revolts, attacks by pirates, Maroon attacks on plantations, epidemics and violent hurricanes that cost much in lives and property. Jamaica, I believe, had more slave revolts than all other British Caribbean islands combined.

After the War of the Spanish Succession, Jamaica had less, if any, real need for the protection of Buccaneers-privateers. They had, in fact, become bad for the trade between Jamaica and the nearby colonies of Spain. As a result, many former privateers became pirates who plagued the Caribbean in growing numbers. And while the Buccaneers-privateers had protected Jamaica from Spain and attacked mainly Spanish settlements and treasure/merchant ships in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific, the pirates of the 18th Century made no such distinction. These pirates operated in the Caribbean, the North American eastern seaboard, the West African coast and the Indian Ocean.

Notorious pirates of the day who were Jamaicans or who had connections to the island included Nicholas Brown, Christopher Winter, Edward Teach (known as “Blackbeard”), Captain Charles Vane and Captain Jack Rackham (known as “Calico Jack”). Interestingly, sailing with Rackham were two female pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonney. They preyed on coastal vessels and plundered isolated plantations.

The War of Jenkin’s Ear broke out in 1739 when England declared war with Spain over the habit the Spanish guarda costas had of stopping and searching English ships looking for illegal trade, and their ill-treatment of the English crews. Several campaigns were mounted from Jamaica, most with disastrous results. In all some 20,000 British lives were lost before the war ended in 1748 with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

Next came the Seven Years War in which nearly every island France had in the West Indies fell to the British. This war ended in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

Tensions in Jamaica remained high throughout the last third of the 18th century. Significant events included a terror campaign by the notorious bandit, Three-Fingered Jack. Devastating hurricanes and the American War of Independence added to the general sense of turmoil.

The most significant slave revolt in Jamaica up to the end of the 18th Century was Tacky’s War or Tacky’s Rebellion, which was an uprising of slaves that occurred from May to July 1760. I covered this briefly in an earlier instalment and so I won’t deal much more with it here, other than to say colonial officials put down the revolt and others it inspired quickly and mercilessly.

While Britain was preoccupied with the American colonists, Spain and France avenged their previous losses in the Caribbean. By 1782, the year following the surrender of the British forces at Yorktown, only Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua remained in British hands. Admiral George Rodney

On April 9, 1782, Admiral George Rodney (right) intercepted a joint Spanish and French fleet off the island of Dominica. The fleet was on its way to invade Jamaica. The battle lasted 3 days and ended in victory for Rodney who took his prizes to a jubilant reception at Kingston.

Towards the end of the century, Horatio Nelson was stationed in Jamaica where he commanded the batteries at Port Royal’s Fort Charles in preparation for an invasion by the French that never materialized. Later he led an expedition to Nicaragua which failed when two-thirds of his forces were wiped out by yellow fever.

Jamaica’s 1831 Baptist War, also known as the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt of 1831–32, was the largest slave uprising ever in the British West Indies.

It started peacefully enough on Christmas Day 1831 when about 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 slaves went on strike under the leadership of a Baptist preacher and fellow slave, Samuel Sharpe. Their aim was to withhold labour until they were awarded basic freedoms and a living wage. As rumours spread about a British plan to use force, however, the strike escalated to outright rebellion.

Slaves burned and looted plantations for 8 days, causing tens of thousands of pounds in property damage. The colonial army finally put down the revolt, but only after 300 slaves and 14 whites had been killed. Sharpe and 300 more slaves were hanged for their involvement. The Baptist War might have hastened abolition, for only a year later, the Parliament abolished slavery throughout the British Empire.

We’ll pause here. But before closing I thought some readers might like to read more about privateers and pirates and about the colourful history of Port Royal, so I’m providing a brief list of some of my books, most of which are now hard to find, but still may be found through book dealers who carry out-of-print books or from other Internet sources.

  1. Michael Pawson and David Buisseret, Port Royal, Jamaica (Oxford, 1974 or 2d ed. UWI, 2000)

  2. Robert F. Marx, Port Royal Rediscovered (Doubleday, 1973)

  3. Alexander Winston, Pirates and Privateers (Arrow, 1972)

  4. Dudley Pope, Harry Morgan's Way (Alison, 1977)

  5. David F. Marley, Pirates and Privateers of the Americas, (ABC-CLIO, 1994)

  6. David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag, (1st Harvest ed., 1997)

  7. Captain Charles Johnson, A General history of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates,(Lyons, 1998) — 1st published in 1794

  8. John Esquemeling, The Buccaneers of America, (Rio Grande, 1992) — 1st published in 1684.