The Ecology of Bondage: Writing the History of Water and Slavery in the Atlantic World 

Laura Birkinshaw and Fred Bricknell

PhD students, Centre for Water Cultures

University of Hull

F.J.Bricknell-2021@hull.ac.uk

L.K.Birkinshaw-2019@hull.ac.uk

A significant amount of historiographic attention has been devoted to the ways in which European imperialism and colonialism fundamentally and irrevocably transformed the global environment. The suite of ideas and practices which typified colonial attitudes toward physical landscape, flora, fauna, and ecological processes continue to influence our behaviour in the twenty-first century. This reality has led ecofeminist scholars Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing to propose a qualification for the increasingly widespread concept of an ‘Anthropocene epoch’ defined by the radical changes which human societies have wrought on the natural world. They posit instead that we are currently living in the ‘Plantationocene epoch’: an era defined by the consequences of an economic system which transported plants, microbes, animals and people all around the globe and transformed to unrecognisability entire ecosystems throughout the Americas, Asia and Africa.

It remains the case, though, that there have so far been few academic inquiries into the environmental history of the most infamous sites of plantation agriculture: the slave societies of the Caribbean and mainland North and South America between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Two landmark works published earlier this year seek to redress the lack of overarching studies on the environmental history of plantation slavery and the regions where it flourished. David Silkenat’s Scars on the Land: An Environmental History of Slavery in the American South (Oxford, 2022) describes how ‘slavery more than nature’ created the Southern United States as a discrete ecological zone through the transformations wrought by flood, deforestation and a host of other environmental catastrophes. In Sea and Land: An Environmental History of the Caribbean (Oxford, 2022), Philip D. Morgan, J.R. McNeill, Matthew Mulcahy and Stuart B. Schwartz synthesise decades of research to create a holistic overview of the Caribbean environment before, during and after slavery. We can only hope that these will be looked back upon as the first of many works which represent an environmental turn in the history of Atlantic slavery.

Water sits at the root of almost all environmental processes, and has therefore been a key factor in historical development,  though it is often difficult to disentangle and isolate its impact in historical sources.  However, despite the often-unacknowledged role of water in histories detailing the development of the transatlantic slave trade, the prevalence and importance of water in the establishment and maintenance of the trade, and its direct impact on those both willingly and forcibly involved in the trade, cannot be overstated.  Water not only ensured survival (through its consumption), but facilitated the triangular trade and economic prosperity for its benefactors.  Water played a fundamental role in all aspects of enslaved people’s lives, and in the transatlantic slave trade as a whole.  From the unwilling conveyance of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas, known as the Middle Passage, to the success of plantation societies, where water was crucial for crops such as sugar, to the transportation of goods from the Americas to Europe, water facilitated the economic growth and success of maritime ports on both sides of the Atlantic.

Alexander Gordon, ‘Plan of the Government Lands in the Colony of Demerara’, 1823 (The National Archives, Kew, MR 1/941)

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century West Africa was known as the ‘White Man’s Grave’ due to high mortality rates amongst Europeans. Swampy, marshland areas in West Africa provided ideal conditions for both the mosquito Aedes aegypti and the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum – twin vectors of yellow fever and malaria, two of the largest culprits of European fatalities in the transatlantic slave trade – to thrive. This fear of disease motivated Europeans to establish plantations in the Americas, and to transport enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to work on these plantations. Africans’ seeming ability to withstand diseases which proved fatal to Europeans – due to previous infection during childhood, thus granting resistance, in the case of malaria, and life-long immunity from yellow fever, unbeknownst to Europeans at the time – was used as a justification for their enslavement.

Drought and rates of rainfall in Africa could exert a huge influence on the number of Africans enslaved and transported across the Atlantic.  Drought often led to greater interethnic conflict and violence, contributing to higher rates of African enslavement and increased numbers of slaves being exported.  Furthermore, drought, rainfall and crop success in Atlantic Africa were key factors in the timing of slaving voyages and could affect the mortality rate of captives transported across the ocean. 

Simultaneously, water performed a crucial role on land by dictating the location of plantations and the colonies in which they existed, their prosperity or failure, and the health of those kept in bondage within them. Sugarcane, the premier crop of the British Caribbean, requires vast quantities of water to ensure its survival and the presence of so much water on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean provided an ideal environment for disease vectors like mosquitoes (carriers of malaria and yellow fever), as well as waterborne pathogens such as dysentery.

Not only did water facilitate the transatlantic slave trade, and impact on the daily lives and lived experiences of those in the trade, it also shaped the development of green-blue areas (land lying within 100km of the coast) on both sides of the Atlantic.  From the ports where slaves were departed from, to maritime cities such as Liverpool and Bristol water allowed a number of actors to benefit from the commerce in goods and people through jobs, investment, profit and the consumption of goods produced in the trade.  The impact is visible on the landscapes of these places from barracoons where slaves were held, to hospital stations or lazarettos where enslaved people were treated, to the infrastructure and architecture of port cities in Britain where the wealth and prosperity gained from the trade was spent.

Advertisment in the South Carolina Gazette, 16 August 1773 (courtesy of Charleston County Public Library)

Laura’s research focuses upon the prevalence, and impact, of disease in the transatlantic slave trade.  From the inception of that trade, disease threatened the health and well-being of everyone involved, resulting in high mortality rates amongst enslaved Africans and Europeans alike, during both the legal and illegal periods of the trade.  Laura’s work explores the transmission of disease in green-blue spaces such as barracoons, slave factories and lazarettos, and emphasizes the significance of water in the transmission of diseases such as yellow fever, malaria and dysentery.  Additionally, her work explores how the spread of disease was prevented, or curtailed, through methods such as the white-washing of vessels, and through the utilization of maritime quarantines.  Her work will also explore the lived experience of disease, particularly of the enslaved, and how disease was treated by medical practitioners, focusing on green-blue spaces such as ports areas, and on the slave voyages of the Middle Passage. Her research hopes to add to the existing historiography on the production and dissemination of medical knowledge as a result of the transatlantic slave trade.  She seeks to shed new light on how Indigenous and enslaved Africans’ botanical and medicinal knowledge contributed to developments in European medical understanding in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Fred’s research explores the environmental history of slavery and its legacies in one part of the plantation Americas: the colony of British Guiana (present-day Guyana). His work emphasises the role played by both fresh and salt water in the creation of a plantation society, the transformation of the natural environment, and the survival and resistance of enslaved people and indentured labour migrants in the nineteenth century. Standing apart from Britain’s other Caribbean colonies geographically, culturally and ecologically, British Guiana represents an important and under-studied place. His research hopes to reveal how water influenced almost every facet of life in British Guiana, and was a space and substance contested by the people kept in bondage there, both before and after the formal abolition of slavery. A plantation system novel in the history of the British Empire shaped, and was shaped by, the volatile natural hydrology of the region, and the watery environment conditioned a particularly brutal labour regime even by the standards of the nineteenth-century Caribbean. Fred shows how enslaved people and their descendants found themselves at the sharp end of ecological crises from drought (which sharply increased the burden of labour without any form of concession or increased provision from white colonists) to flood (to which enslaved and free African-Guianese communities were always at most acute risk). Enslaved people of African descent and indentured labourers from all over the world frequently found themselves living at the margins of survival, but a few were able to deploy their skill as aquatic labourers to find ways of subverting the plantation system or escaping it altogether.

Laura and Fred will both be presenting their research as part of the inaugural Centre for Water Cultures Conference on 7 December 2022. Held on the University of Hull campus, the conference, which is open to the public, will include a range of papers from different disciplinary backgrounds demonstrating the myriad ways in which water has influenced human societies and cultures from the earliest times to the present day.

The Windrush Generation: Lord Kitchener, Multiculturalism & the Windrush Scandal

Dr Cassandra Gooptar

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

c.gooptar@hull.ac.uk

Dr Gooptar hails from Trinidad and Tobago.  Her research focuses on stories of the enslaved and exploring the links between British organisations and historical slavery. In advance of Windrush Day 2022 (Wednesday June 22) she talks about what the anniversary evokes for her.

The Windrush generation refers to persons from Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Jamaica who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971. Aptly termed for the MV Empire Windrush that bought 492 passengers to a post-war UK on 22 June 1948, the arrival of the Windrush generation is commemorated on Windrush Day, observed on 22 June.

28th March 1954: The British liner ‘Empire Windrush’ at port. (Photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

As a Trinidadian interdisciplinary researcher who recently moved to the UK in 2019, Windrush Day evokes various feelings for me both personally and professionally. The imagery of ‘King of Calypso’ Lord Kitchener singing his impromptu ‘London is the place for me’ on Pathé News as he disembarked the Windrush and the multiculturalism that has become embedded in parts of contemporary UK society, instill a sense of familiarity, homeliness, and connection with my ‘Trini to d bone’ identity.

Lord Kitchener singing ‘London is the Place for me’. Original Source: British Pathé

However, in the same breath I can also talk about the colour bars and institutional racism West Indians fought against and continue to fight to overcome here in the UK. Case in point: the Windrush Scandal which broke in late 2017. This scandal involved cases of deportation and detention amongst other life-altering restrictions for the Windrush generation and their descendants.

The 2020 Windrush Lessons Learned Review requested by the then Home Secretary concluded:

Members of the Windrush generation and their children have been poorly served by this country. They had every right to be here and should never have been caught in the immigration net. The many stories of injustice and hardship are heartbreaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to so many individuals and families.

Importantly, it went on to state ‘that what happened to those affected by the Windrush scandal was foreseeable and avoidable… over time those in power forgot about them and their circumstances’.

The discriminatory practices at the highest levels of society in the UK highlights, for one thing, the need for further research and educational output resources on the ever-permeating topic of Britain’s legacy of colonialism. Aligned with this need, wider projects on the Caribbean’s built environment, stories of the enslaved and enslavers from Hull are currently in the works at the Wilberforce Institute. Efforts are also being made to collaborate with networks in the West Indies to promote cultural and knowledge exchange in the form of digital output resources for schools in both Hull and the Caribbean.

Windrush Day is one that should be honoured for heralding the arrival of almost 250,000 West Indians in the decade following the Empire Windrush. However, it also serves as a poignant reminder of the struggles that the Windrush generation faced in their new lives in the UK and the persistent barriers they and their families still encounter today. 

For more information on the 2020 independent report on the Windrush Scandal, see the Windrush Lessons Learned Review.

The Time Travel Adventures of Ara: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

Channon Oyeniran

Vice President, Ontario Black History Society

and former postgraduate student of the University of Hull

channonc425@gmail.com

Four years…..that’s how long it took from the original idea of The Time Travel Adventures of Ara (TTAOA) being conceived, to it finally being released to the public. It was March 2018, and at the time I was working for one of the largest organizations in Canada, committed to enhancing the awareness of Canada’s history and citizenship. I was having a conversation with a former co-worker and friend, who said she could see me writing a children’s book. “A children’s book I thought to myself?” “Really” I said to my friend.

But as we continued talking, my mind started to race with ideas and immediately the concept of TTAOA came to mind. Not only did this current book come to mind, but a whole series of books dedicated to time travel, where my then two-year-old son would star as the protagonist of the series and where he would go back in time and meet iconic Black historical figures in different time periods. Not only would Ara learn more about Black history in Canada, but he would learn about Black history around the world!

After this conversation with my friend and former colleague, I immediately started a Google doc and got all the ideas that were racing through my mind written down. I remember the excitement I felt as I documented my ideas and thought to myself, “Could I really do this? Would people (especially children) like the concept of the book?” It’s not that I was new to the process of writing; in fact, my husband and I co-wrote and released a book titled, Live Love Learn Grow: A Collection of Quotes With Modern Day Paradigms For Appropriating Godly Values Into Our Lives And Businesses in April 2016. I also wrote a chapter in Transforming Lives One Story at a Time: Powerful Stories of Success & Inspiration that was released in September 2017. Also, I had watched my husband spend months writing and releasing his latest book, The Power of Vision: Principles and Practices to Help You Become Extraordinary. So indeed, I was not new to the writing and self-publishing process, but this was still a major project, and one that would rely solely on my expertise and knowledge in the subject of Black history.

With my ideas down on paper, and in my opinion, an amazing concept for book one of the series, I tried to set out some time to start writing. However, for me this process was not so easy! I had my two-year-old son, just started a new job, found out I was pregnant with my second son and had many other projects on the go. In the early part of 2019, I had recorded the first chapter of my manuscript but did not have the time to write down what I recorded.  So finally in September 2019, I enlisted the help of a close friend of my husband, who is an editor and publisher in Nigeria, and asked him to help me transcribe what I had recorded. He did this and honestly it was the push I needed to continue to write my manuscript despite the busyness of life. Fast forward to 2021 when I finally thought that I would be able to release my book that year. However, this was not to be. After a few setbacks on this book writing journey, I realized that it would finally be 2022 before book one of The Time Travel Adventures of Ara would be released.

It is a humbling experience to write a book. Throughout this process, I’ve been purposeful in making sure I am honouring and celebrating those whose lives I am writing about (e.g., Harriet Tubman). This journey has also been so fun and rewarding to watch my two sons Ara and Korede be excited about “mommy’s new book” and watch them get excited when looking at the illustrations within the book of themselves and mommy and daddy. That’s always been my main goal from the conception of this book, until now (and it will continue to be): to create stories and content for Black children and Black people to see themselves and to read about their history and read about who their ancestors were and the sacrifices they made.

Being a historian of Caribbean history, Black history in Canada and the history of Black enslavement (thanks to the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull!), it has always been important to me to share all the amazing stories about people of African descent that I learned about on my undergraduate and graduate journey with others, specifically the next generation. There is a gap in learning about all histories in the Canadian education system and I want to ensure that I am doing my part (whether it’s through this book series or my podcast; BlacktoCanada) to teach children about Black history not only in Canada, but around the world. I believe that if children have the opportunity to learn about different cultures and histories when they are young, then there will be more understanding and empathy and less racism and ignorance.

The Time Travel Adventures of Ara: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad can be purchased on:

  1. OyES: https://oyeseducation.org/shop/
  2. Amazon (worldwide)

Wilberforce Institute Summer Webinar: Windrush Day 2021

Tuesday 22 June 2021, 4pm – 5:30pm BST

On Windrush Day 2021 the Wilberforce Institute welcomes you, on behalf of partners across the City of Hull, to highlight Hull’s important migrant ties with the Caribbean at a free online event.

Chaired by Karen Okra, the panellists include Gifty Burrows (Founder of the Africans in Hull and East Yorkshire Project), Dr Nicholas Evans (Senior Lecturer in Diaspora at the University of Hull), and Catherine Ross and Lynda-Louise Burrell (Founders of Museumand, The National Caribbean Heritage Museum). Closing remarks will be provided by Councillor Aneesa Akbar, Portfolio Holder for Communities at Hull City Council.

This region’s links to the Caribbean are very strong. Planters from Hull and the surrounding region were among the earliest colonists settling Barbados in the first half of the seventeenth century; an early Governor of the Island emanated from Ryedale; Lincolnshire planter, Thomas Thistlewood, had a friend on Jamaica who came from Hull; and trade from the British West Indies arrived at the port of Hull from numerous islands including modern day Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Haiti and St Kitts. More recently, during the Second World War thousands of RAF personnel from the Caribbean were based at nearby RAF Hunmanby.

It is therefore unsurprising that personal connections established over centuries encouraged people from the Caribbean to come and live, study, or work in our region after the Second World War to bolster Britain’s post-war labour shortages. It was a period often described as the Windrush Generation after the HMT Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948, carrying passengers from the West Indies. Those coming to this region in the following decades included lawyer Sir Roy Marshall, who became the fourth Vice Chancellor of the University of Hull and the first black leader of any UK university; historian Sir Hilary Beckles, a triple graduate of the University of Hull and present Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies; and rugby captain Clive Sullivan, whose family originated in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda.

The personal bond between both regions is the focus of a new £16,000 project funded by the UK Government’s Windrush Grant. Led by Hull City Council the partnership includes the University of Hull, Wilberforce House Museum, Hull Libraries, Hull Culture and Leisure Limited, Hull City Council, Museumand, The National Caribbean Heritage Museum and the Hull Afro Caribbean Association. It will draw upon the expertise of historians Professor Trevor Burnard and Dr Nicholas Evans from the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute.

To learn more about the ties the project seeks to highlight then please click on the link below to register for the webinar:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6896312166844011789

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

HMT Empire Windrush, source: http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//19/media-19146/large.jpg

St Vincent’s volcanic crisis – failing to learn from Montserrat

Saphia Fleury

Falling Through the Net PhD Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

The eruption on 9 April of La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of St Vincent followed months of smoke plumes and other warning signs. At the time of writing, some 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, about one fifth of the island’s population. Some are temporarily housed in shelters, others on cruise ships or neighbouring islands. On 14 April, the United Nations launched an emergency appeal after shelter capacity was breached and supplies of drinking water and other essentials ran low. Overcrowding also threatens to spread Covid-19 among the displaced.

To anyone with a long interest in the region or of volcanology, this may all sound familiar. In 1995, La Soufrière’s namesake – the Soufrière Hills volcano – erupted on the island of Montserrat, another former British colony in the same island chain. The southern half of the island, including Montserrat’s capital, were evacuated several times before temporary resettlement eventually became permanent. Around two-thirds of Montserrat’s original population of 10,600 inhabitants eventually relocated overseas, most in the United Kingdom [UK].

The volcanoes themselves also seem to be following similar patterns: eruptions of ash, debris and gases following a period of seismic activity and heavy ash falls that blight everyday life and pose a risk to health. Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills lava domes continue to rumble to this day, although the last major eruptions occurred between 1995 and 2010. Likewise, La Soufrière seems set to pose a threat to Vincentians for some time to come. Yet in my own research into the disaster on Montserrat, I found that neither the UK Government (Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory) nor the Government of Montserrat had been prepared to respond to an eruption, despite warnings from scientists, eruptions on neighbouring volcanic islands, and increased seismicity. Considering that St Vincent suffered three major eruptions in the twentieth Century, and like Montserrat is subject to other natural disasters such as hurricanes, the lack of preparedness and international support appears inexcusable.

To minimise disruption from displacement, and prevent more serious harms such as trauma, exploitation and poverty among displaced people, temporary accommodation must provide for an adequate standard of living. Despite St Vincent’s history of volcanic activity and months of warning signs, it appears that the government did not have enough shelters, hygiene kits or beds, and no adequate contingency for providing clean water and sanitation. The Montserratian government made similar oversights 30 years ago; as a result, 19 people who had returned to the relative comfort of their homes in the exclusion zone were killed by a pyroclastic flow on 25 June 1997.

The inadequate response of the UK Government to an unfolding catastrophe in its overseas territory caused further hardships on Montserrat. My analysis of Hansard records shows little interest in the situation among UK parliamentarians and government until the tragedy of June 1997 forced the issue into the spotlight. By this time, islanders had struggled on in cramped and insanitary conditions with limited access to food, education and health care, for almost two years. Eventually, the British government opened an assisted passage scheme to help Montserratians leave the island, with several thousand ultimately relocating to the UK. Yet the privations and indignities continued when many of the evacuees, who were supposed to be treated as British citizens, were denied National Insurance numbers and other basic support in the UK. Meanwhile the impacts of the late-1990s eruptions continue to be felt on the island to this day, with many Montserratians still lacking adequate housing and employment opportunities.

As the UN launches its emergency funding appeal, Britain, the former colonial ruler of St Vincent, has pledged just £200,000 of support. It is inevitable that the crisis on St Vincent, like La Soufrière itself, will rumble on for some time to come. To prevent a severely reduced quality of life for the relocatees, and potential tragedy if people opt to return home rather than suffering the misery of inadequate shelters, the British government must do more. The international community too should consider routes for safe and legal passage off the island for those who choose to leave, either temporarily or permanently, to reduce pressure on the limited available services. Such relocations should be carried out with dignity and with respect for the wishes of the evacuees.

Montserrat and St Vincent and the Grenadines sit in an increasingly vulnerable position as climate change warms the neighbouring seas and air. More forceful hurricanes and rising sea levels put the islanders at greater risk from future natural disasters. Heavy storms triggered by climate change can also increase the risk of, and dangers from, volcanic eruptions in the region. The sad inevitability that natural catastrophes will become more severe and frequent should prompt policymakers in the Caribbean nations and their former colonial rulers to step up their disaster preparedness and response. Sadly, for the currently displaced population of St Vincent, the window of opportunity may already have been missed.

The volcanic eruption plume of La Soufrière on St Vincent, during explosive eruptions on 9 April 2021. ©ItsMeOni (from @_ItsMeOni on Twitter) 

Summary of author’s recent publications

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

trevor.burnard@hull.ac.uk

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.