The best books on Jamaica during the period of slavery

Trevor Burnard Author Of Jamaica in the Age of Revolution
By Trevor Burnard

Who am I?

Trevor Burnard is Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull and author of four books and many articles on eighteenth-century Jamaica. He has recently reviewed 34 books just published on Jamaica in “`Wi Lickle but Wi Tallawah’: Writing Jamaica into the Atlantic World, 1655-1834 Reviews in American History 49 (2021), 168-86.


I wrote...

Jamaica in the Age of Revolution

By Trevor Burnard,

Book cover of Jamaica in the Age of Revolution

What is my book about?

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.

The books I picked & why

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Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War

By Vincent Brown,

Book cover of Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War

Why this book?

This book is based on impeccable empirical research, is beautifully and elegantly written, and places an event that should be better known as both a major slave revolt and a significant event in the Seven Years War into a Jamaican and global context.

Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War

By Vincent Brown,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tacky's Revolt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
Winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize
Winner of the Elsa Goveia Book Prize
Winner of the James A. Rawley Prize in the History of Race Relations
Winner of the P. Sterling Stuckey Book Prize
Winner of the Harriet Tubman Prize
Winner of the Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Finalist for the Cundill Prize

A gripping account of the largest slave revolt in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world, an uprising that laid bare the interconnectedness of Europe, Africa, and America, shook the foundations of empire, and reshaped ideas of race and popular belonging.

In the…


Jamaica Ladies: Female Slaveholders and the Creation of Britain's Atlantic Empire

By Christine Walker,

Book cover of Jamaica Ladies: Female Slaveholders and the Creation of Britain's Atlantic Empire

Why this book?

We tend to think of social relationships in societies like early eighteenth-century Jamaica in male terms – masters and enslaved men. Jamaica was a very masculine place with a distinct masculine culture based around sexual access to women and a vibrant economy. But white women were also there and tended to flourish – working with the slave system rather than against it. This book is testimony to gender history and to the diversity of experiences in colonial Jamaica.

Jamaica Ladies: Female Slaveholders and the Creation of Britain's Atlantic Empire

By Christine Walker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jamaica Ladies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jamaica Ladies is the first systematic study of the free and freed women of European, Euro-African, and African descent who perpetuated chattel slavery and reaped its profits in the British Empire. Their actions helped transform Jamaica into the wealthiest slaveholding colony in the Anglo-Atlantic world. Starting in the 1670s, a surprisingly large and diverse group of women helped secure English control of Jamaica and, crucially, aided its developing and expanding slave labor regime by acquiring enslaved men, women, and children to protect their own tenuous claims to status and independence.

Female colonists employed slaveholding as a means of advancing themselves…


Architecture and Empire in Jamaica

By Louis P. Nelson,

Book cover of Architecture and Empire in Jamaica

Why this book?

Beautifully illustrated and persuasively argued, this survey of a variety of architectural forms in the eighteenth century, from merchant houses to enslaved yards to great houses shows how studying the built environment of early Jamaica gives insight into a society both rich and highly conflicted.

Architecture and Empire in Jamaica

By Louis P. Nelson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Architecture and Empire in Jamaica as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Through Creole houses and merchant stores to sugar fields and boiling houses, Jamaica played a leading role in the formation of both the early modern Atlantic world and the British Empire. Architecture and Empire in Jamaica offers the first scholarly analysis of Jamaican architecture in the long 18th century, spanning roughly from the Port Royal earthquake of 1692 to Emancipation in 1838. In this richly illustrated study, which includes hundreds of the author's own photographs and drawings, Louis P. Nelson examines surviving buildings and archival records to write a social history of architecture.

Nelson begins with an overview of the…


Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica

By Sasha Turner,

Book cover of Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica

Why this book?

Slavery was brutal in eighteenth-century Jamaica, mostly due to how hard enslaved people were worked as sugar workers. That hard work had massive consequences for enslaved women’s fertility. Early abolitionists used the inability of enslaved populations to naturally reproduce as an indictment of the plantation system. Planters, belatedly, tried to institute policies that helped pregnant women but their desire for profit usually overwhelmed their concern for maternal comfort. It meant that enslaved women themselves took the lead in forcing planters and officials to do something to make pregnancy endurable and infant mortality less extreme than before abolitionism began.

Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica

By Sasha Turner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Contested Bodies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is often thought that slaveholders only began to show an interest in female slaves' reproductive health after the British government banned the importation of Africans into its West Indian colonies in 1807. However, as Sasha Turner shows in this illuminating study, for almost thirty years before the slave trade ended, Jamaican slaveholders and doctors adjusted slave women's labor, discipline, and health care to increase birth rates and ensure that infants lived to become adult workers. Although slaves' interests in healthy pregnancies and babies aligned with those of their masters, enslaved mothers, healers, family, and community members distrusted their owners'…


Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition

By Sarah Thomas,

Book cover of Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition

Why this book?

In this lavishly illustrated book, primarily about art in Jamaica but with nods to New South Wales and Britain, Sarah Thomas connects the plantation and urban world of Jamaica to the discipline of art history, giving careful analyses of painters like James Hakewill who painted scenes of plantation life designed to normalise and make more Arcadian a landscape that in fact was marked more by violence than by contentment. It speaks vividly to the silences that surround slavery on the island.

Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition

By Sarah Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Witnessing Slavery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A timely and original look at the role of the eyewitness account in the representation of slavery in British and European art

Gathering together over 160 paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints, this book offers an unprecedented examination of the shifting iconography of slavery in British and European art between 1760 and 1840. In addition to considering how the work of artists such as Agostino Brunias, James Hakewill, and Augustus Earle responded to abolitionist politics, Sarah Thomas examines the importance of the eyewitness account in endowing visual representations of transatlantic slavery with veracity. "Being there," indeed, became significant not only because…


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