In Jamaica in the Age of Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020) historian Trevor Burnard offers new perspectives on slavery and abolition in eighteenth-century Jamaica. Brooke Newman (Virginia Commonwealth University) writes, “Jamaica in the Age of Revolution enhances our understanding of a colony and region—Jamaica and the Caribbean—that remains vastly understudied despite its central place in the British Atlantic empire. Trevor Burnard’s book demonstrates the value of looking at the American Revolution and other key events or legal cases of the era, such as the Somerset decision and the Zong trial, from the perspective of Jamaica.”
Description: Between the start of the Seven Years’ War in 1756 and the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, Jamaica was the richest and most important colony in British America. White Jamaican slaveowners presided over a highly productive economic system, a precursor to the modern factory in its management of labor, its harvesting of resources, and its scale of capital investment and output. Planters, supported by a dynamic merchant class in Kingston, created a plantation system in which short-term profit maximization was the main aim. Their slave system worked because the planters who ran it were extremely powerful.
In Jamaica in the Age of Revolution, Trevor Burnard analyzes the men and women who gained so much from the labor of enslaved people in Jamaica to expose the ways in which power was wielded in a period when the powerful were unconstrained by custom, law, or, for the most part, public approbation or disapproval. Burnard finds that the unremitting war by the powerful against the poor and powerless, evident in the day-to-day struggles slaves had with masters, is a crucial context for grasping what enslaved people had to endure.
Examining such events as Tacky’s Rebellion of 1760 (the largest slave revolt in the Caribbean before the Haitian Revolution), the Somerset decision of 1772, and the murder case of the Zong in 1783 in an Atlantic context, Burnard reveals Jamaica to be a brutally effective and exploitative society that was highly adaptable to new economic and political circumstances, even when placed under great stress, as during the American Revolution. Jamaica in the Age of Revolution demonstrates the importance of Jamaican planters and merchants to British imperial thinking at a time when slavery was unchallenged.
Trevor Burnard is Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation and Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull. He is coauthor, with John Garrigus, of The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
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