Jamaica in the Age of Revolution
by Trevor Burnard
A renowned historian offers novel perspectives on slavery and abolition in eighteenth-century Jamaica
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 ouput. 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 Jamiaca 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.
Chapter 1. Planter Politics and the Fear of Slave Revolt
Chapter 2. Edward Long's Vision of Jamaica and the Virtues of a Planned Society
Chapter 3. A Brutal System: Managing Enslaved People in Jamaica
Chapter 4. Tacky's Revolt and Its Legacies
Chapter 5. The Ambiguous Place of Free People in Jamaica
Chapter 6. The Somerset Decision and the Birth of Proslavery Arguments in the British West Indies
Chapter 7. The Zong, Jamaican Commerce, and the American Revolution
Chapter 8. Loyalism and Rebellion in Plantation Societies
Chapter 9. Slavery and Industrialization: The "New History of Capitalism" and Williams Redux
Epilogue: Jamaica and the State in the Age of the American Revolution, 1760-88
"Trevor Burnard has done as much as if not more than any other historian to privilege the British Caribbean in this new history, demonstrating the enormous significance of these colonies in the histories of Great Britain and North America. For decades he has placed Jamaica at the centre of this narrative, and in some ways this book is the culmination of his efforts to persuade British and American historians of the significance of this one island . . . This is a masterful piece of work, and it should be read by all who are interested in Britain and its empire in the age of revolutions."—Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
"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."—Brooke Newman, Virginia Commonwealth University
"Trevor Burnard is always original, independent, and intellectually honest in his interpretations. The essays in this book reflect both the depths of his knowledge and the judgments of a mature historian."—Andrew O'Shaughnessy, University of Virginia