Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society, 1787-1834

Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society, 1787-1834

Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society, 1787-1834

Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society, 1787-1834

Synopsis

On 27 December 1831 a fire on Kensington Estate in St James, Jamaica, signalled the start of one of the largest slave revolts in the Caribbean. Its leaders were also leaders in the mission churches and the independent sects, and their followers expected the missionaries to support them in their bid for wage work and free status. The missionaries, however, sent to save souls from sins in the face of planter hostility, were explicitly committed to neutrality on the slavery issue. This book traces the response of all classes in Jamaican society to mission work, focusing in particular on the dynamic interplay between slaves and missionaries.

Excerpt

Jamaica in the eighteenth century was England's most important asset in the Caribbean. It was the largest island in the British West Indies, 140 miles long and forty miles at its widest part. The eastern parishes were overhung by mountains that rose to 7,000 feet over the Liguanea plain, dominated the magnificent harbor of Kingston, and subsided into ranges of rugged hills in the western parishes. Skirting the mountains and in the valleys wedged between their ranges were the two million acres of rich earth worked by slave labor that were the basis of Jamaican wealth. By 1763 Jamaica produced more sugar than all the other British West Indian islands put together.

The development of Jamaica added to the worldwide trade network that stimulated British commercial expansion. In the early eighteenth century the island was a component in the great triangular trade, "one of the most nearly perfect commercial systems of modern times," which brought British manufactures into Africa, African laborers into the land masses of the Americas, and tropical products into the markets of Europe. When this trade pattern shifted, Jamaica retained links with Africa and Britain and added links with Britain's North American colonies, where saltfish, lumber, and plantation supplies were purchased.

Participation in this intercontinental trade gave Jamaica's ruling class opportunities to make immense personal fortunes. They adorned their plantations with domestic palaces and dazzled London society with displays of conspicuous consumption.

Within the island, planters dominated every branch of government. They were members of the Jamaica Assembly, which claimed constitutional parity with the House of Commons and, in fact, enjoyed real bargaining power through its control of taxes and supplies. Twelve Assembly members were chosen to serve on the governor's advisory coun-

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