In our last regular blog before the autumn, Professor Trevor Burnard provides a summary of his recent article in the Historical Journal.
Jamaica was the wealthiest and most unequal colony in the eighteenth-century British Empire. It established a distinct culture among its white inhabitants – what we might call the lifestyle of the ‘British male abroad’. That culture was characterized by various forms of libidinous excess, as seen in sexual behaviour that was depraved, deviant and debauched by the standards of the time, and by our standards today, involving as it did the sexual exploitation of enslaved women and free women of colour. It involved, moreover, reprehensible and exploitative attitudes to non-white people both directly and also indirectly – the gluttony and drunkenness of white Jamaicans contrasted glaringly with enslaved people on the verge of starvation. Commentators such as the historian Edward Long praised the white inhabitants for their commitment to an ethos of hospitality and generosity but the reality of white Jamaican ‘hospitality’ was much more sordid. A better guide than Long to the realities of white culture in eighteenth-century Jamaica, even though Long is by far the more important writer, is J.B. Moreton, who wrote a racy guide for the benefit of ‘cowskin heroes’ or young male immigrants seeking wealth and fortune in managerial positions as overseers of enslaved people on plantations.
Tropical Hospitality, British Masculinity, and Drink in Late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica uses Moreton’s guide as a means to investigate Jamaica’s debauched drinking culture. It shows that drink, dancing, and illicit sex combined to create a milieu in which activities frowned upon in Britain, or which were confined to specific and highly regulated homosocial encounters, defined white male cultural practices in the island. They drank to excess, adopted libertinism as a mode of behaviour, and saw hospitality less as a virtue than as a way of obtaining pleasure, often at the expense of enslaved women. In short, white Jamaicans were hospitable but they were not polite. If anything, they grew less polite over time, as their positions as privileged parts of the plantation system made them feel especially entitled. Ideas about the tropics formed in the Caribbean quickly migrated to other regions, notably to India. This revealed that British rule was not inevitably linked with ‘moral progress’. The tropical male abroad was devoted to very hard drinking, a vice which harmed their health, turning their well-formed British bodies into diseased Creole ones. This transformation showed in the malign effects of the tropics on character and physiognomy. The white tropical male abroad was thus not generous and hospitable, as patriotic Jamaican writers tried to insist was an intrinsic part of Jamaican culture. Instead, the tropical male abroad, at least those that took enthusiastically to island life, was typically a drunkard and a sexual predator. Their drinking culture provides a window into how white men devoted to satisfying their urges and seeking pleasure as a major goal adapted themselves to the peculiar social conditions, including slavery, of eighteenth-century Jamaica.
In today’s blog Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of the last of his publications in 2020.
The Atlantic in World History (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)
Atlantic history as a way of envisioning the making of the early modern world is a historiography that arose in the 1970s, became more fully developed in the 1990s and 2000s, and has by 2020 become an established field of historical inquiry. My synthesis of Atlantic history, based on being a practitioner of such history for nearly thirty years, provides a quick introduction for students and the general reader to this interesting field. It is a field that at bottom is an exploration of movement across the ocean and between the four continents of Africa, the Americas, and Europe – that movement being the movement of people, things and ideas. It starts with European involvement in Africa in the mid-fifteenth century and Columbus’ epoch-making voyages to the Caribbean from 1492. It ends in the mid-nineteenth century, with the abolition of slavery in most New World societies. The book explores how the peoples and the environments of Atlantic places were linked together, in ways that were both good and bad, but always historically interesting. I show how the Atlantic has been more than just an ocean – it has been an important site of circulation and transmission, allowing exchanges and interchanges between various peoples in ways that have profoundly shaped the development of the world beyond, as well as within, the Atlantic.
As the Atlantic world was about more than slavery, so slavery forms only part of a book in which gender, religion and trades are extensively discussed. Nevertheless, slavery is a vital part of the Atlantic world and indispensable to its workings. I explore its Iberian origins, its African dimensions and its apogee in the eighteenth-century Caribbean and North America before examining how the institution most central to Atlantic history, outside empire and the monarchy, was abolished in a very quick time. From the late eighteenth century abolition was built on two foundations: the establishment of an abolition movement by a determined and small number of evangelical Britons led by William Wilberforce, and the resistance of the enslaved in the Americas. The most important slave resistance to planter power was in Haiti between 1791 and 1804, an event that has a prominent role in my chapter on the age of revolutions.
I end my account by recalling the quintessential American song `Oh! Susanna’ written by Stephen Foster in 1847. It is a very African and Atlantic song as well as an American song – a `negro melody,’ as Foster called it. It is a comic, indeed tragicomic, retelling of the story of an enslaved person left behind in the many breakups that characterized African American slavery in the nineteenth century. It is a song written by a person of European heritage using the voice of a descendant of Africans wanting to leave a place which had once been Native American land. Thus, it unites through culture the ways in which peoples of the Atlantic were brought, often unwillingly, together. These many connections point to the continuing relevance of Atlantic history today.
‘Atlantic Slave-Systems and Violence,’ in Erica Charters, Marie Houllemare and Peter H. Wilson, eds, Violence in the Early Modern Period (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020)
In this chapter on violence in the Atlantic slave trade, I start by noting how we have to be careful when talking about violence and slavery. There are good reasons not to luxuriate in the details of violence and thus re-inscribe the problems of violence as experienced by enslaved people. Brutal language hardens rather than softens the reader to the violence of slavery, especially when acts of brutality are catalogued at repeated length, making it hard to engage fully with a more important subject – what did violence mean and how did violence operate to strengthen or weaken the institution of enslavement. I argue here that brutality, violence and death were not mere by-products of the extremely lucrative early modern plantation system but were the sine qua non of the plantation world.
In this article, I ask the following questions. First, was violence central or incidental to the ideology of enslavement and to the workings of the Atlantic slave trade, in particular? I argue it was central. I also ask about the effectiveness of violence in maintaining planter power. I argue again that violence produced generally efficacious results for slave owners in keeping control over enslaved people. It was less effective in convincing rulers in Europe that planters’ authority over their slaves was legitimate.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that acts of violent resistance by enslaved people were ineffective and pointless, even though such acts seldom met with any success. When enslaved people were violent, it demonstrated three things. First, it showed fellow enslaved people that some of their compatriots were prepared to reject their place in the system. Second, it showed to opponents of slavery that slave masters’ propaganda about slaves being happy with their place in society was just that – slavery was not a benevolent institution but one upheld by coercion and through punishment. Finally, violence by slaves was often interpreted by abolitionists through a Christian lens, in which the iconography of Christ’s martyrdom was equated with suffering slaves.
Today Dr Lorena Arocha summarises the outcome of her collaborative research project with The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Lorena Arocha, Meena Gopal, Bindhulakshmi Pattadath, and Roshni Chattopadhyay, ‘ “Ways of Seeing”—Policy paradigms and unfree labour in India’, Anti-Trafficking Review, 15 (2020)
In 2019, a collaborative project between the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Wilberforce Institute focused on exploring worker-driven initiatives to tackle exploitation in India. Many activists and organisations generously contributed to the project. In our recently published article, we trace the trajectory of different initiatives to address unfree labour and their impact on workers’ capacity to aspire to and exercise their rights in India. We attempt to understand the dimensions and effects of different ‘ways of seeing’ precarity and exploitation within the larger context of economic policies, social structures such as caste-based discrimination, gender-based violence, and state indifference.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit India, we tried to contact all contributing activists and organisations to find out how lockdown was affecting their work and impacting people already in precarious and exploitative work. Here we spotlight the work of two organisations that contributed to our project – Aajeevika Bureau and Sangram.
Aajeevika Bureau was set up in 2005 and works in the south Rajasthan-Gujarat migration corridor. It offers rural migrant workers not only direct services, support and protection, but also uses advocacy and research to push for legal reform and better policy implementation, building capacity among migrant workers, especially through its efforts to mobilise and organise workers into collectives. Since the beginning of lockdown, they have been recording and publicisingcases of stranded migrants, providing and distributing food supplies and other essentials, raising funds through variouscrowdfundinginitiatives, informing migrants and others what services are available, supporting existing structures among rural families to assist in containing the virus and warding against economic collapse, running a helpline, increasing solidarity and collaborating with intellectuals and other commentators on social media campaigns, videos and webinars and joining forces with other workers’ platforms. Aajeevika Bureau launched a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office to help transport migrants back home in security and dignity, given the chaotic results during the Shramik Special Train scheme.
Thanks to their efforts, we know how employers used the lockdown to defraud workers of their wages, how workers are running into debt to buy food or medicines or travel back to their home states and the discrimination they face when trying to obtain food rations or medical assistance, with fatal results. Aajeevika Bureau also mounts pressure against state government decisions which favour businesses over workers, as with the cancellation of trains in the southern state of Karnataka at the behest of construction businesses, trapping migrants in, or the order by the northern state government of Uttar Pradesh, imposing a 12-hour shift for workers in industrial units. On International Labour Day, Aajeevika Bureau launched a research report, ‘Unlocking the Urban’. In the report, they painstakingly remind us that, though documenting the effects of the pandemic is important, we should avoid short-sightedness and see the crisis as an opportunity for making visible long structural exclusions. Using the twin framings of political economy and citizenship rights, they show how the ‘sedentary bias’ of most public provision policies in India allows central and state governments to make circular migrants invisible.
Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha or Sangram is an organisation which was established in 1992 in Sangli, in the southern state of Maharashtra. It works through a series of collective empowerment groups for socially and economically stigmatised communities, like sex workers and transgender groups. It is a women-led, rights-based network with a firm recognition of the structural inequalities at the heart of what these groups experience, including gender-based violence and discrimination. Sangram emerged at the time of another pandemic, that of HIV/AIDS, and are thus well versed in mobilising these collectives to address public health emergencies.
Sex workers and transgender groups have been gravely affected by the lockdown, not only because they have lost their source of income and might become homeless as a result, but their choices are often stark, when return to home states might mean facing violence and ostracism. And yet they were among the first to be aware about the risks posed by the virus and to implement measures to stall its spread as early as February 2020. Unable to access any social welfare scheme or any of the relief assistance provided by the government, they have been left to fend for themselves. Without non-governmental organisations and groups like Sangram, who have been raising funds and distributing food rations and medicines, this collective would have been completely isolated. Sangram is part of other sex workers’ collectives who are mobilising for advocacy purposes and organising webinars to voice in their own words the experiences of lockdown. Without this support, and in the face of campaigns that identify these groups as spreading the virus, isolation, anxiety over the future and hunger are leading to debt and suicide.
As indicated in our article, our pilot research suggests that ‘ways of seeing’ workers and their conditions matter. These ‘ways of seeing’ have distinct results for workers. Never have these been more stark than since the pandemic hit, as demonstrated by what happened to the millions of invisibilised migrant workers in India and reflected in the labour law changes the current government is staunchly pursuing. Paying attention to ‘ways of seeing’ is crucial, as these lead to different dispositions and strategies in challenging and re-imagining workers’ positions and futures.
Today Dr Elizabeth Faulkner summarizes two of her latest publications.
These recent publications reflect my ongoing interest in the rights and exploitation of children and international law, which emerged out of my time as a doctoral researcher within De Montfort University’s Law School. The first is a collaboratively written journal article which seeks to address the colonial contours of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Last year saw the commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of the UNCRC, which was ratified in 1989. This commemoration presented an opportunity to examine and revaluate the epistemologies of children’s rights, their representativeness, and their intellectual utility. The article, entitled ‘The Decolonisation of Children’s Rights and the Colonial Contours of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’ points to the potential for the UNCRC to perpetuate colonial tendencies if accepted uncritically as a global and definitive blueprint for children’s rights. We therefore sought to interrogate the power dynamics and colonial legacy upon which our views of children are formed, the colonial contours of the UNCRC and the decolonisation of children’s rights. References were made to the impact of ancillary protective legal instruments on children to provide a more holistic analysis of the legal architecture underpinning children’s rights.
Conrad and I advocate that we, as academics, need to interrogate the power dynamics that shape the underlying presumptions upon which our worldviews are built on an ongoing basis. We used a decolonial lens to challenge both the pedagogy and scholarship of the discourse, whilst simultaneously inviting scholars to recognise and engage with the colonial legacies that perpetuate the study of children’s rights. We set out an argument that scholarship on children’s rights needs to be disentangled from hegemonic Western epistemologies if it is to remain relevant.
Indeed, the colonial legacy present within the discourse of children’s rights needs to be challenged in a multiplicity of ways, from the development and implementation of the international legal framework, to the teaching of children’s rights, to the removing of barriers to scholars from the Global South to participating in the discourse. Such factors manifest as Hokusai’s wave, a wave that suppresses, prevents, and subsequently perpetuates the dominance of imperialist approaches to children’s rights, knowledge and reform.
The second publication is a book chapter which analyses how international law seeks to prevent the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and appears in the fourth edition of Professor Trevor Buck’s International Child Law Routledge text, edited by Dr Rajnaara Akhtar and Dr Conrad Nyamutata of De Montfort Law School. The book examines the rights of the child using the global framework of the UNCRC. Through examining both public and private international legal aspects, this interdisciplinary text promotes a holistic understanding of the ongoing development of child law, children’s rights, and the protection of the child. Chapter 8 of the International Child Law text (‘Sexual Exploitation’) acknowledges that the sexual abuse and exploitation of children has occurred throughout human history but did not emerge upon the international agenda until the 1990s. The chapter grapples with the issue of definitions, as the expansion of the discourse since the turn of the twenty-first century has arguably rendered any definition of ‘child sexual exploitation’ as vague and ambiguous. The fact remains that international law does not offer a distinct definition of the sexual exploitation, but the international legal apparatus has sought to address this through the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC). The chapter on sexual exploitation in previous editions had mentioned trafficking, but not explicitly addressed the Trafficking Protocol and its role in combatting the sexual exploitation of children. Although trafficking is frequently perceived as synonymous with commercial sex work or ‘sexual enslavement’, this is not the case. The issue of quantification of the issues and the profits rendered from the sexual exploitation of children are touched upon, as they shape and inform the international action of global bodies that have a mandate to combat child sexual exploitation, such as The United Nations and the Group of 7 (formerly G8). The key difference between global and regional mandates is that regional ones ordinarily involve localized action. Examples of regional instruments include the Organisation of African Unity’s (OAU) African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.
The chapter finds resonance with the journal article above, through highlighting that the discourse of child sexual exploitation ‘is produced by and reproduced by the dominant discourse of childhood in the West, and more specifically, a discourse of female childhood in which female sexuality is constructed within a sexual double standard’. This analysis coincides with the fact that the most active geopolitical region seeking to combat child sexual exploitation is Europe. Moreover, this chapter sought to introduce the emerging critical scholarship upon the issue of ‘modern slavery’ and challenge the assertion of the previous edition that ‘trafficking … has become a modern-day slave trade’.
Today Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of two of his recent publications.
Britain in the Wider World, 1603-1800 (London: Routledge, 2020)
2020, it now seems clear, is a decisive year in British history, however it ends. It is a year that has seen the disaster of a major pandemic, will probably see Britain’s withdrawal from Europe and possibly even herald the breakdown of the United Kingdom itself. Just potentially, 2020 will see the final end of a process that began as long ago as 1603, when England/Wales and Scotland were joined together through a common monarch, coming together properly in 1707 and being enlarged by the addition of the kingdom/colony of Ireland into a new polity in 1801 called the United Kingdom. 1603 preceded by a couple of years the founding of the East India Company, giving England and then Britain a toehold in India, which became much bigger after Britain’s victory in the Seven Years War in 1763. It was followed by the tentative start of a British Empire in the Americas, begun in a chaotic and disastrous fashion in England’s first settlement in North America, in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. By 1800, that empire, despite the political loss of the 13 colonies and the creation of the USA, was extremely large and world-spanning. My book on how England and then Britain went through this dramatic transformation between 1603 and 1800, one that might be on the verge of finally collapsing, is a British history as written by an historian of the Atlantic world. It explores how the British nation was made in this period and how England/Wales moved from being the pariah of Europe – insular nations devoted to Protestantism and the killing of monarchs – to near global dominance, with a powerful empire and an even more flourishing economy. Britain by 1800 had become a mighty world power and through the Industrial Revolution the richest country in the world, overturning in a few decades China’s millennium-long presence at the top of wealthy nations. I pay particular attention in my book to three things: imperialism, economic growth and changes in gender relations.
Within these three topics, slavery is important, though it is only one of many themes that I cover in this survey of a lengthy period in British history. I deal with slavery here less than I do in other works but I take for consideration Barbara Solow’s famous statement that `it was slavery that made the empty lands of the western hemisphere valuable … [and] what moved in the Atlantic … was predominantly slaves, the output of slaves, the inputs of slave societies and the goods and services purchased with the earnings of slave products.’ America was valuable to Britain because it had plantations and it had plantations due to the work of enslaved Africans. Britain became the most important slavery nation in the eighteenth century. That this was the case makes us pause when thinking about imperialism and the development of settler societies in North America and Australasia. Britain’s movement into the wider world was immensely successful for Britain itself, not least for its poorest inhabitants, who got goods that they wanted from the colonies and could improve their standard of living by moving out of Britain. It came, however, at great cost, including the immiseration of thousands of enslaved people, living miserable lives as coerced workers. The gap between British prosperity and the misery Britain caused its non-white imperial subjects was something that increasingly bothered thinking Britons, not least of whom was a young Hull-born politician and evangelical, William Wilberforce. Born in the triumphal year of 1759, when Britain acquired Canada, Senegal and Bengal, he lived his life in a time when Britain and its empire were important in the world in ways never seen before.
‘Terror, Horror and the British Atlantic Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century’ in Robert Anthony, Stuart Carroll and Caroline Dodds Pennock, eds, The Cambridge World History of Violence vol. III 1500-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 17-35
The Cambridge World History of Violence is a path-breaking four volume series, edited by Australian scholars Joy Damousi and Philip Dwyer, which argues that violence was a key driver of history from ancient to modern times. My chapter on violence in the Atlantic slave trade is in the early modern volume, running from 1500 to 1850. It contributes to an intensive, profoundly meaningful and often disturbing conversation about how violence speaks to critical issues such as the problem of civility in society, the nature of political sovereignty and the state, the legitimacy of conquest and subjugation, the possibilities of popular resistance, and the manifestations of ethnic and racial unrest. I start with J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 masterpiece, Slavers Overthrowing the Dead and Dying and connect to a notorious incident in the history of the Atlantic slave trade, from 1781. That incident was the murder of 122 African captives on the Zong, becalmed off south-west Jamaica, in order to make an insurance claim. I use this and other cases of violence in the Atlantic slave trade to argue that one of the effects of that slave trade was the evocation in slaves of the emotion of terror – the apprehension of worse things happening if one did not obey commands. To show how this worked, I analyze James Field Stanfield’s The Guinea Voyage to explore the workings of terror and horror (a related but different emotion to terror) through violence as it operated in the Atlantic slave trade. I conclude with a consideration of how the terror that was involved in the British Atlantic slave trade inspired abolitionists, not least William Wilberforce, though I concentrate in this chapter on Thomas Clarkson and John Newton, to protest against the slave ship as a place of radical disorder, an essentially lawless place presided over by cruel tyrants. Without the revulsion that was aroused in metropolitan Europeans and Americans about the terror that resulted from the multiple acts of violence that characterized the Atlantic slave trade, abolitionism and humanitarianism would have taken a different shape – and possible been less immediately successful.
Today Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of two of his recent articles on Jamaican history.
‘Slaves and Slavery in Kingston, 1770-1815,’ International Journal of Social History 65 (2020), 39-65
If you wander down to the magnificent Kingston waterfront, you will see nothing which marks the fact that Kingston was the `Ellis Island’ of African American life in British America. It was the place where nearly 900,000 Africans were landed to begin a usually miserable and often foreshortened life as slaves working on sugar and other plantations and occasionally enjoying a slightly better life as an urban enslaved person in Kingston. Slavery and the slave trade were central to eighteenth-century Kingston and in turn Kingston is vital as a place to study so that we understand Jamaican and Atlantic slavery in the period of the Atlantic slave trade. But our knowledge of Kingston and its slaves is very limited. This article looks at slavery in Kingston from when the slave trade was at its height, between the early 1770s, through to the immediate aftermath of the ending of the slave trade in Jamaica in 1807.
This article summarizes what we know about slavery in Kingston already and provides some empirical data which can be helpful in drawing attention to Kingston’s importance in the history of slavery. The Atlantic slave trade in Kingston was easily the largest business in eighteenth-century British America and had a very distinctive character. Contrary to popular legend, African captives were seldom sold directly from ships in what was described as a `scramble’, when potential buyers pushed and shoved each other in order to acquire valuable property. Slaves cost too much money for any factor selling slaves to allow such chaos to occur. Instead, Africans were purchased in large lots by carefully selected merchants and were moved to merchant houses where they were corralled (`like sheep’, Olaudah Equaino lamented) and then sold usually in small lots to planters. In short, the slave market in Kingston harbor was a wholesale market and was followed by retail sales. Everyone took their cut at all times and the money that flowed was so substantial as to make Kingston and its slave merchants very wealthy.
The manner of slave sales meant that enslaved Africans experienced the transformation of themselves into ‘commodities’ first in Kingston. That was a profound, and profoundly disturbing, human moment. From Kingston, they were dispersed throughout Jamaica, in ways that made enslaved populations very polyglot – Africans from various ships from various places in West Africa were purchased together and sent to very ethnically diverse plantations. Some enslaved people, of course, stayed in Kingston, and I discuss what they did as tradespeople, domestics and sailors in the article.
One would think that the end of a lucrative slave trade would spell disaster for Kingston and its wealthy merchant class. Surprisingly, this did not happen. Why not? What seems to have occurred, although much more work needs to be done on this subject, is that Kingston moved quickly from being a major slave trading entrepot to being the centre of trade with Spanish America. It was a depot from which British manufactured goods were dispersed throughout the Spanish American empire. In an ironic restatement of the famous thesis by Eric Williams that slavery created capitalism, after 1807 capitalism remade slavery as capitalism in the form of British manufactured goods stimulated the slave system and slave economy in places like Cuba.
The slave trade ended in 1807 but slavery remained in Kingston, I finish this article with the perspective of the enslaved, and their participation in festivals, such as Jonkunnu. A spatial inversion occurred during these carnivals, during which black entertainers invaded the spaces of white authority. Slavery was complicated and diverse in Kingston, as in the rest of Jamaica.
‘Security, Taxation, and the Imperial System in Jamaica, 1721-1782,’ Early American Studies 18, 4 (Fall, 2020)
Aaron Graham of Oxford and myself have written an article, soon forthcoming in Early American Studies, which examines the question of how white Jamaicans ensured their security in a colony where the majority of the inhabitants were enslaved people who hated them and which was periodically subject to severe challenges to white authority coming from black people. The most serious eighteenth-century challenges were the first Maroon War in the 1730s and Tacky’s Revolt in 1760-61. These challenges were existential threats to the Jamaican state and the people – in Britain and among colonial elites – who ran that state. What these threats showed was that Jamaica was a society at war. Societies at war needed to be well funded – something Britain was very good at in the eighteenth century as it developed and perfected a fiscal-military state, designed to fight wars without incurring state bankruptcy.
White Jamaicans welcomed a strong fiscal-military state as the basis for colonial rule because they realized the perilous nature of their rule in their peculiar society. White Jamaicans were willing to pay relatively high rates of taxation to support a powerful and assertive state in schemes of settlement and security. The schemes for settlement did not work, mainly due to dire demographic conditions for white people, but white Jamaicans’ security concerns were generally answered, leading to a settler society that was reasonably content with what the state offered (unlike in the settler societies developed by their American cousins, which opted for rebellion in the 1770s) right up until the end of the American Revolution. White Jamaicans paid relatively high taxes willingly because they were satisfied with what they received from the state and because they were wealthy enough to afford high rates of taxation. Furthermore, in this period white Jamaicans believed that they had a significant stake in the processes by which taxes were collected and spent. Jamaica provides a case study of how the imperial state worked satisfactorily for imperial rulers and those colonists whom they ruled when both the state and colonial settlers shared common beliefs and where negotiations made it clear that the interests of all parties coincided.
Though an extreme example, by virtue of its exposed strategic position, the demographic imbalance between whites and blacks, and its economic importance, Jamaica differed in degree rather than kind from other colonies and territories of the British Atlantic. Eighteenth-century statesmen as different as Charles Townshend, Benjamin Franklin and Edmund Burke understood these imperial realities. Less sophisticated thinkers like Lord North and George Grenville, however, were seduced by plans that forced the empire into one colonial model and thought that the same solutions were applicable to the problems throughout the empire. The American War of Independence resulted from a failure to understand this fundamental reality about the need to treat colonies within an imperial framework according to their local circumstances, rather than as if they were all Jamaica and equally committed to the expansion of the colonial fiscal-military state.
Today Professor John Oldfield provides a summary of his new book on transatlantic abolitionism.
The Ties that Bind: Transatlantic Abolitionism in the Age of Reform, c. 1820-1865 (Liverpool University Press, September 2020).
My new book, The Ties that Bind, explores two inter-related themes that are at the heart of my ongoing interest in anti-slavery. The first of these is opinion building; that is, the means whereby activists created a constituency for ‘abolition’. The second is international anti-slavery, or, for these purposes, the Anglo-American origins and complexion of a lot of abolitionist activity.
During the 1820s and 1830s, the abolitionist movement entered a new phase, as ‘second-wave’ reformers switched their attention from the slave trade to the institution of slavery itself. While it is tempting to see the drive towards the abolition of slavery (‘emancipation’) as part of specific national histories (1833 in the case of Britain; 1865 in the case of the USA), anti-slavery also rested on dense international networks that transcended national or state boundaries. American activists, to take an obvious example, were greatly encouraged by passage of the UK’s Slavery Emancipation Act of 1833. As I make clear, these ‘Atlantic affinities’ ran deep, evident in the deference that American activists, black and white, paid towards figures such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, as well as the elevation of 1 August 1834, the anniversary of emancipation in the British Caribbean, to a central place in the American abolitionist calendar. In these different ways, American activists drew inspiration from Britain’s example, just as in a lot of their public discourse they created a continuous link between the British past and the American present, a way of looking at anti-slavery that underscored its distinctive origins and history.
In the same way, American activists adapted many British strategies, particularly when it came to opinion building. On both sides of the Atlantic, anti-slavery rested on organizational structures that stressed the importance of grass-roots activism. The circulation of books and tracts, anti-slavery images and artefacts were all part of ongoing efforts to create unity and purpose, even in the face of determined opposition. So, too, was the employment of itinerant anti-slavery ‘agents’ or lecturers. First pioneered in the UK, the agency system reached its apogee in the USA. These men and women were lightning rods whose job it was to keep the anti-slavery flame alive. As figures such as William Lloyd Garrison, Abby Kelley and Frederick Douglass demonstrated, an eloquent agent could electrify audiences, seemingly bending them to their will. The proliferation of anti-slavery agents, particularly during the 1830s and 1840s, speaks volumes about the organizational skills of American activists, as well as the ongoing relevance of Britain’s influence and example.
Then there was the question of politics. From its early origins, abolitionism had always been conceived of as a political movement, hence the emphasis on petitions and petitioning. During the nineteenth century, however, activists on both sides of the Atlantic stepped up their pressure on elected representatives through the ‘pledging’ of prospective MPs, or what in the USA was called the ‘interrogatory system’. First developed during the 1820s, these tactics challenged the independence of representatives, at the same time forging a new kind of popular politics that was at once loud and insistent. Above all, this was a transatlantic dialogue. While it is true that there were important differences at play here, not least the importance that some American activists placed on third-party politics, political abolitionists increasingly spoke a common language that set a premium on a style of confrontational politics that proved difficult to silence or ignore.
However, American anti-slavery was always more than a pale imitation of British anti-slavery. As I reveal, American activists developed their own distinctive (anti-slavery) culture, revealing a willingness to innovate that sometimes set them at odds with their British counterparts. Nineteenth-century debates over the reception of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), for instance, reveal a growing sense that American abolitionism posed a challenge to British norms and values, as well as to the ability of British activists to control a message that they were sometimes inclined to regard as peculiarly their own. Nevertheless, interventions of this kind undoubtedly helped to re-energize British anti-slavery, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s. The same thing was true of anti-slavery songs (another American innovation), sensational slave narratives and lectures tours undertaken by prominent African-American abolitionists, chief among them Frederick Douglass, who delivered no fewer than 300 lectures during his nineteen-month tour of Britain in 1845-6. These black visitors brought immediacy and authenticity to the anti-slavery movement. Yet, at the same time, the spontaneity of their performances, as well as their willingness to take risks, could sometimes blur the distinction between ‘instruction’ and ‘entertainment’, making for experiences that challenged many British expectations.
Anti-slavery was one of the most successful reform movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Part of that success was down to inspirational leadership and, among rank-and-file members, a passionate dedication to the cause. But, as I argue, organizational skills played a part, too. Turning ideas and sentiments into deliberate action is a complex, multi-faceted process, demanding a ready appreciation of market dynamics, as well as an awareness of social, political and cultural trends, especially when it comes to understanding how people access information. Historians are understandably wary about drawing lessons from the past. Nevertheless, there is something highly instructive about the opinion-building techniques developed by nineteenth-century abolitionists; their engagement with the electoral process; their attention to grass-roots activism; and, above all, the emphasis they placed on international co-operation.
Today Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of two of his recent articles on slavery, capitalism and labour
‘Slavery and the New History of Capitalism,’ (with Giorgio Riello), Journal of Global History 15, 2 (2020), 1-20.
In this largely historiographical essay, Giorgio Riello and I look at the relationship between slavery and capitalism, made famous 75 years ago by Eric Williams, by looking in particular at scholarship produced by an American-based historiographical movement that goes by the name `the New History of Capitalism.’ The new history of capitalism (NHC) places a great deal of emphasis on slavery as a crucial world institution. Slavery, it is alleged, arose out of, and underpinned, capitalist development. This article starts by showing the intellectual and scholarly foundations of some of the broad conclusions of the NHC. It proceeds by arguing that capitalist transformation must rely on a global framework of analysis. The article considers three critiques in relation to the NHC. First, the NHC overemphasizes the importance of coercion to economic growth in the eighteenth century. We argue that what has been called ‘war capitalism’ might be better served by an analysis in which the political economy of European states and empires, rather than coercion, is a key factor in the transformation of capitalism at a global scale. Second, in linking slavery to industrialization, the NHC proposes a misleading chronology. Cotton, produced in large quantities in the nineteenth-century United States came too late to cause an Industrial Revolution in Britain which, we argue, developed gradually from the latter half of the seventeenth century and which was well established by the 1790s, when cotton started to arrive from the American South. During early industrialization, sugar, not cotton, was the main plantation crop in the Americas. Third, the NHC is overly concentrated on production and especially on slave plantation economies. It underplays the ‘power of consumption’, where consumers came to purchase increasing amounts of plantation goods, including sugar, rice, indigo, tobacco, cotton and coffee. To see slavery’s role in fostering the preconditions of industrialization and the Great Divergence, we must tell a story about slavery’s place in supporting the expansion of consumption, as well as a story about production.
We conclude that scholars need to consider, in discussing slavery’s contribution to economic growth in eighteenth-century European empires, that we need to return to the global. If we accept the NHC’s totalizing tendency, the Americas, later narrowed to the United States, become the new core in a Wallersteinian narrative. This narrative is to the detriment of explanations that have emphasized a multiplicity of factors in the connections between capitalism and slavery; that have adopted comparative methodologies (between Europe and China, or Europe and India); and that have provided much thought on the economic mechanisms at play, beyond the commonplace view that the violence of thugs always wins. Thugs may win a great deal, but they win only when the structures that maintain their power make their thuggery viable.
‘“I know I have to Work:” The Moral Economy of Labor Among Enslaved Women in Berbice, 1819-1834’
In Trevor Burnard and Sophie White, eds. Hearing Enslaved Voices: African and Indian Slave Testimony in British and French America, 1700-1848 (New York: Routledge, 2020), ch. 9.
I have contributed a chapter to a co-edited book, coming out this northern hemisphere summer with Routledge, edited with Sophie White of Notre Dame, in which I look at an aspect of enslaved women’s lives in the sugar colony of Berbice, later part of Guyana, in north-eastern South America. It looks at slave testimony (as opposed to the better-known nineteenth-century genre of the slave narrative). Most chapters in this book, including mine, look at how enslaved people shaped testimony, often when they were in court and often when they were in great trouble. My court documents are a little different, as they are collected from women who are complaining about their treatment, usually unsatisfactorily, rather than enslaved people being charged with offences.
This chapter will feed into a larger project, utilising a very rich set of documents preserved at the National Archives – the Fiscal and Protector of Slaves records – in which enslaved people often give close to direct testimony about their lives and circumstances. In this project allied to the book I show how the Fiscal’s Records of Berbice, 1819–1834, provide rich evidence, direct from enslaved people, about what mattered to slaves trapped within enslavement and about what remedies they sought for their problems. Enslaved women were able to bring complaints before the Fiscal and the Protector of Slaves. A great majority of their complaints concerned the work they were forced to do as plantation workers. Such work was not gender-neutral. Enslaved women were employed as field workers more than were men and suffered enormous hardship to their health and even more to their ability to look after their families, especially infant children. This chapter shows that enslaved women had clear expectations on what they were owed from their master, based on their understanding of the moral economy between planters and enslaved women where the relationship was viewed by them as reciprocal, if unequal, in which both sides had rights and obligations that needed to be followed.
I concentrate on women’s complaints about work, as this is the area which elicited easily the most complaints about unfairness and mistreatment. Women were insistent that they should be expected to perform a reasonable amount of work defined according to customary rules and adjusted to the strength and competence of individual workers. Moreover, it had to be adjusted so that women’s special expectations relating to child care could be respected. Women complained even when, as was common, their complaints were dismissed. They wanted their voices to be heard. The Fiscals’ returns are a rich body of sources that outline at length the numerous times when women sought to have their concerns aired. Those concerns changed over time and as British officials attempted to circumscribe masters’ actions through such things as the Amelioration Act of 1826.
Women frequently made complaints after that date that they had been illegally whipped. The many post-1826 cases indicate that managers continued to fail to realise that enslaved women in Berbice were involved not just in production but also in reproduction – they were mothers as well as workers. The testimonies embedded in the Fiscal and Protector’s records allow us to recover a little bit of the perspective of the enslaved in the period of amelioration.
‘Unavoidable Exploitation? Conflict, Agency and Human Trafficking’
In this first chapter, I look at those who find themselves caught up in human trafficking and conflict. Both are topics that have received significant attention within the Social Sciences. However, there is little literature that looks explicitly at the intersections between the two, or that considers if – and how – conflict might impact a person’s risk of being trafficked. What does exist focuses predominantly on child soldiers and post-conflict zones.
As a result I begin with a summary of the literature surrounding child soldiers. It concentrates on how child soldiers fit the definition of being victims of human trafficking, the ways that child soldiers are recruited, their experiences whilst attached to an armed force or group, and how their experiences continue to affect them long after they leave, or after the conflict ends.
My focus then turns to post-conflict zones and how the long-lasting effects of conflict can continue to put people at risk of trafficking even after the conflict has ended. The existing literature highlights a range of issues leading to human trafficking in post-conflict situations including economic and political restructuring, corruption and poverty, as well as the vulnerabilities faced by refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and children; these topics are all discussed.
Whilst this chapter summarises current knowledge of the links between conflict and human trafficking, I build upon this knowledge by introducing the findings gathered from in-depth face-to-face interviews with individuals who have fled conflict to the UK. These findings provide personal insights into experiences of how conflict can increase a person’s vulnerability to becoming a victim of human trafficking.
Understandings of human trafficking often revert to an assumption that all agency must have been removed from the victim. While some victims of trafficking have no agency in the lead up to their trafficking experience, others have some level of choice in the decisions that lead towards their exploitation. Collating the existing literature and the findings from the interviews, I argue in this chapter that conflict impacts a person’s agency to the extent that it increases a person’s risk of being trafficked. Conflict restricts the choices available to a person, leaving them to choose between limited options which are commonly all imbued with risk. But while their choices may all be undesirable, people do exercise agency within the narrow range of options available to them, and some of these choices will lead to exploitation. As such, I argue that victimhood and agency should not be understood as a binary, but on a spectrum.
‘How Definitions of ‘Child Soldiers’ Exclude Girls from Demobilisation Efforts’ (with Dr Ally Dunhill)
The definition ‘child soldier’ is commonly understood to refer to any person under 18 used in any capacity by armed forces or groups; this includes armed combatants, but also those in ancillary roles such as cooks, ‘wives’ and guards. Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes exist to encourage soldiers to give up their weapons, to take them out of service, and to resettle them into civilian society. Such programmes aim to create stability, re-establish security and create the conditions needed for peace. However, while DDR programmes claim to be aimed at everyone involved in armed forces or armed groups, regardless of their role, in practice, they often use much narrower definitions for child soldiers, focusing predominantly on those who carry a weapon; this serves to exclude many roles typically undertaken by girls.
In this chapter, co-written with Ally Dunhill, we examine the remit and outcomes of DDR programmes to understand why they differentiate between the gendered experiences of child soldiers. Using examples of these programmes, we analyse how children are identified and recruited into such initiatives. We contemplate whether children’s experiences as being part of armed forces (belonging to a state) and armed groups (not under the clear control of a state authority) are adequately considered, and whether the gendered treatment in these programmes is conducive to long term recovery and reintegration into civilian communities. We explore how girls are often overlooked in definitions of child soldiers and highlight the harmful consequences of this. We then assess how the outcomes of the programmes impact the futures of those both included and excluded in the remit of the programmes.
We find that in failing to recognise girls as victims in these situations, DDR programmes are leaving them in precarious situations whereby they have left a trafficking situation only to find themselves in a vulnerable position, facing a lack of support and a high risk of re-exploitation. Building on existing literature on female child soldiers, this chapter highlights the need for further research and concludes with recommendations for generating more effective and inclusive efforts to support female children associated with armed forces or armed groups.
Today, Professor Burnard discusses two of his recent publications on Jamaica.
Jamaica in the Age of Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020)
Between the start of the Seven Years War in 1756 and the onset of the French and Haitian Revolutions after 1789, Jamaica was the richest and most important colony in British America. White Jamaican slaveowners presided over a highly productive economic system, a precursor to the modern factory in its management of labour, its harvesting of resources, and its scale of capital investment and output. Planters, supported by a dynamic merchant class in Kingston, created a plantation system in which short-term profit maximization was the main aim. This led to a powerful planter class, a dynamic slave system and impoverished and oppressed enslaved people, living lives of desperation and unhappiness.
My aim in this book is to explore through a series of interlinked essays how this brutal, rich, extraordinary, modern, and highly exploitative society worked. I start with Jamaican planters and their vision of the ideal plantation order, as seen through the lens of Thomas Hobbes as a theorist of societies held together by fear and through the writings of the proslavery racist but very astute historian, Edward Long. Long was a fervent promotor of the Jamaican planter class but he also saw their faults, notably their addiction to short-term profit making and in their `rage to develop their estates’ how they exposed themselves to enormous risk from a brutalized enslaved majority. The enslaved population, I argue, were the victims of a profitable and efficient plantation system that was based at bottom on a pernicious doctrine whereby the exploitation of enslaved people was vital for the success of the system. Enslaved people were systematically ignored and their interests neglected, making them the worst treated group in all of British America. Jamaica was a society at war. It was a place divided between entrepreneurial but vicious white (and occasionally mixed-race) planters and merchants and brutally mistreated enslaved people. Sometimes this ‘Cold War’ became a hot war, as in Tacky’s War in 1760-61 – the event, I argue, which was pivotal in the internal history of eighteenth-century Jamaica. Tacky’s War was one of several defining events in Jamaican history, all of which led Britons to question the morality of imperialism in this realm, no matter the material benefits that plantation agriculture brought to Britain at a time when Britain was developing new forms of mercantile and industrial capitalism. I look at two of these events – the Somerset legal case of 1772 and the Zong scandal of the early 1780s – and the disruptions of the American Revolution in order to re-evaluate Jamaica in a period when its white residents were at a height of prosperity while its enslaved population was at the nadir of its colonial experience. The question for white Jamaicans in this period was whether their happiness, self-satisfaction and undeserved wealth was sustainable. My answer is that it was not. They learned in retrospect that the halcyon years of the American Revolution were the last period in which white Jamaicans exercised real power and autonomy.
On Thursday 23 July 5-7pm, the Wilberforce Institute will host a round table of distinguished international experts on the causes and consequences of Tacky’s Revolt from 1760 in Jamaica.
`Living Costs, Real Incomes and Inequality in Colonial Jamaica,’ Explorations in Economic History, 71 (2019), 55-71 (with Laura Panza and Jeffrey Williamson)
I wrote an article in 2001 in The Economic History Review where I argued that estimates of the wealth of Jamaica needed to be revised substantially upwards. That argument showed that Jamaica was the richest colony in British America in 1774. What I might have emphasized more strongly is that this wealth accrued to a tiny percentage of the population – wealthy planters and merchants. The great majority of the population, by contrast, were among the poorest people in the world, with the worst living standards of any early modern population. Utilizing a large body of quantitative evidence about Jamaican incomes and commodity prices put together to furnish `baskets’ that can be used to evaluate standards of living, myself and my two economist collaborators constructed cost of living and purchasing parity indicators. Our new analysis lowers Jamaica’s per capita income compared to the rest of the Atlantic economy.
We note that while the wealth of Jamaica was substantial, and made it very valuable to imperial statesmen, it also, as a net food importer, had extremely high costs of living. These living costs rose sharply during the American War of Independence, placing extreme strains on the enslaved population of the island. Enslaved Jamaicans were in the uncomfortable position of being extremely poor in a land of great plenty and extreme riches. They lived at the best of times at a subsistence level. In harsh times, they faced famine and dearth.
Jamaica was the most unequal place yet studied in the pre-modern world and inequality also extended to much of the white population. Nevertheless, white people were shielded from the worst of such income inequality by a remarkably generous but racially discriminatory system of welfare. Putting enslaved people front and centre of our analysis means suggesting caution when describing Jamaica as Britain’s richest eighteenth-century colony. If places like Pennsylvania were, as Benjamin Franklin heralded and which has been confirmed in recent literature, the best poor person’s place on earth, then Jamaica was the worst, particularly for its majority enslaved population.