Montpelier, Jamaica: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom, 1739-1912

Montpelier, Jamaica: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom, 1739-1912

Montpelier, Jamaica: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom, 1739-1912

Montpelier, Jamaica: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom, 1739-1912

Excerpt

My objective in this book is to provide a detailed picture of the life of a plantation village. The village studied, located at New Montpelier in the Great River valley of western Jamaica, was an artificial creation that lasted only a century. It was artificial in the sense that its occupants did not choose to live there, or even to live in Jamaica; they were mostly slaves and their immediate descendants, forced to occupy that precise site, a long way from home. For many of these people, the plantation and its enclosing valley formed the only world they ever knew and their lives were embedded in its particular physical and social landscape. But what happened there had a significance that transcended the tight boundaries of village, plantation and valley.

In reconstructing the world of the plantation village, a variety of materials and methods are combined. I have used the traditional documentary sources of the historian, most of them generated by the owners of the property, together with the archaeological evidence offered by the village site itself, much of it molded by the hands of the plantation workers. This provides an evidential base which is expanded in significant ways, but still contains many gaps and biases. More importantly, the evidence shifts along with the topics under discussion, so that comparison and generalization are often inhibited. Studies of the material culture of plantations have often worked in a comparative frame, seeking to distinguish the levels of living of planters, overseers and slaves, but I have not attempted that here. My focus is more or less exclusively on the plantation village as a unit in its own right. But I see the village as an element in a larger system which can only be understood in its totality, as a part of the Atlantic World. Parts of the book deal specifically with that larger picture and the surface history of the plantation. Chapters 2 and 3 are concerned with the ownership of the property, its output, profitability and labor force. Chapter 4 then looks at the internal organization of the plantation as a unit, its settlement pattern, landscape, and relationship to the environment. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 look in turn at smaller units, beginning with the internal organization of the workers' villages, and moving on to the individual houses and their material contents. In chapter 8 . . .

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