Free Jamaica, 1838-1865. an Economic History

By Knox, A. J. G. | The Journal of Caribbean History, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Free Jamaica, 1838-1865. an Economic History


Knox, A. J. G., The Journal of Caribbean History


Douglas Hall, Free Jamaica, 1838-1865. An Economic History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 289 pp.

Free Jamaica is, as the author suggests, an attempt to raise objections to the main thesis of another recent work on post-emancipation Jamaica that blames the planter class for the failure of the colony in developing an integrated society based on a sound economy. Professor Hall believes that Dr. Philip Curtin in his Two Jamaicas (Harvard University Press, 1955) has greatly exaggerated the inability of the planter to adapt himself to the problems of the free society, and he attempts to show that the planter element made an honest attempt to modify the plantation system to meet the challenges of labor shortages and foreign competition. His work is a thorough examination of the primary sources for the period under review. He discusses in detail repeated efforts to reform the plantation operations, secure a constant source of indentured labor, and to develop alternative activities in mining and associated industries.

It may well be that further research will prove his main thesis, but it is the opinion of this reviewer that one has to consider more fully the relations between the planters (who were mainly white and light colored) and the peasants and plantation laborers (who were mainly Negroes), in any evaluation of the failure of the plantation system as the basis of the Jamaican economy.

Certainly, as Hall demonstrates, the blame for this failure can also be laid at the door of the British Government which, while accepting the plantation system and the cultivation of sugar as the only workable enterprise for Jamaica, did little if [sic] nothing to make it work. …

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