In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86

In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86

In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86

In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86


Douglas Hall documents the life of Thomas Thistlewood who came to Jamaica from Lincolnshire, England, in 1750 and lived as an estate overseer and small landowner in western Jamaica until his death in 1786. Throughout his life he kept a record of his activities, which reflect a rich and exiting chronicle of plantation life - its people, social life, agricultural techniques, medicinal remedies, and relations between slaves and owners. Historians and students interested in the social history of mid-eighteenth-century Jamaica, the Tacky Rebellion, and the tenuous relations between planters and the Maroons should read this book.


In this chapter we meet the remarkably active, inquisitive, and intelligent, young Thomas Thistlewood in search of employment and good fortune; and we follow him from London to Egypt, a slave-worked sugar estate in western Jamaica. From his home in Tupholme, Lincolnshire, the road to Egypt was long, and with two major diversions--first, a voyage of about two years in the service of the East India Company (1746-1748), and then a trading expedition of two months in western Europe. Six months later, on 1st February 1750, he boarded ship for the West Indies to try his fortune in the sugar colonies.

We shall simply note Thistlewood's travels to Europe and the Far East. Much more is recorded of his doings in London and in Tupholme by way of introduction to him, for we learn something of his character and his interests by his accounts of his activities. We also meet a youngster whom we shall encounter again in Jamaica, his brother's son, John, who, years later, would die by drowning in the Cabaritta river in Westmoreland.

In the Lincolnshire countryside were the seats of the landed gentry and their gardeners, several of whom had West Indian connections. Thistlewood's visits to them may have sparked off the idea of going out to Jamaica; on the other hand, it is possible that he visited them because he had already considered such an adventure. Perhaps his uncle, John Longstaff at Stainfield Hall, had something to do with the final decision. Perhaps it was in conversation in the Jamaica Coffee house, one of the best-known of those popular London resorts of the time, that the idea had been born. Thistlewood does not say.

With him on the long trans-Atlantic voyage were several others going to Jamaica, but whereas they all seemed to be going to previously arranged employment, Thistlewood was travelling with letters of recommendation, great expectations and self-confidence, but no certainty. The recruitment in Britain of estate overseers and other white employees in the sugar colonies was done largely by . . .

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