An Afternoon Lecture at Latymer Grammar School, Edmonton, North London

By James Dawkins

The lack of attention paid to the contribution of British West Indian slavery in the formation of modern Britain has been an on-going issue of concern amongst parents of African-Caribbean heritage and some school teachers. Slavery, its effects, and abolition in 1833 is currently taught as a non-statutory topic at Key Stage 3 (years 7 to 9) in English state maintained schools.[1] This is, however, the only period of compulsory schooling when pupils are exposed to the history of our country’s slave-based West Indian plantation economy. The brutal and inhumane nature of this system along with its lasting legacies, including a sustained sense of white guilt and the continued emotional pain along with feelings of injustice felt by the country’s African-Caribbean citizens, has made it a difficult subject to discuss in Britain. Interestingly, our nation’s active distancing, sanitisation, and downplaying of slavery and its role in the economic development of eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain has garnered increasing curiosity from a number of quarters, particularly secondary schools and I was happy to receive an invitation from Doctor Brenda Quinn at Latymer Grammar School in north London who asked if I could come in to talk about slavery and industrialisation with the institution’s year-13 pupils.

20170130191649!Latymertower

The Latymer School, Haselbury Road, Edmonton

Drawing upon several key texts – Capitalism and Slavery; Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England; and ‘Slavery Bristol’s ‘Golden Age’’ – I spoke about the broad range of industries and professions which emerged and developed from their connection to the slave trade and the plantation economy.[2] Eric Williams was one of the first historians to trace the investment of slave-based wealth into the establishment of sugar refineries and metal works. He also pointed to the slave-trade’s stimulation of Britain’s timber and maritime industries, along with the erection of cotton factories – all of which processed the raw goods arriving from the West Indies and America, or manufactured guns, textiles, and domestic utensils that were shipped to the west coast of Africa and exchanged for Africans. I moved on to discuss the development of Britain’s social and transportational infrastructure highlighting the rise of its banking system, railways and canals, and steam-powered mechanisation, upon which the foundations of our modern-day economy were constructed. The Legacies of British Slave-ownership online database is an excellent resource for exploring the commercial footprint of the slave-based economy and I provided the pupils with a demonstration that elaborated upon the spread of West Indian colonial wealth into and across the country.

My discussion shifted from the national to the local significance of slavery as I used the online database to present an example of the geographic closeness of slavery and slave-ownership to Latymer School. John Snell was a particularly interesting individual who, in 1836, received over £3,300 in exchange for the liberation of the 123 enslaved people he possessed on the Clare Valley estate in St. Vincent.[3] Snell was a wealthy absentee who lived on Fore Street, opposite Pymmes Park, which is under one mile’s walk from Latymer School. Moreover, before he died, in 1847, he gifted one acre of land to St. James’ Church, situated just over one mile away from Latymer School, upon which St. John and St. James’ Primary School was built and opened in 1851. This was, therefore, an intriguing example of how a former slave-owner contributed to the establishment of an English school which is a stone’s throw away from Latymer School. Indeed, some of St. John and St. James’ pupils may have attended Latymer Grammar given its close proximity.

My evening at the school concluded with a lively discussion on the topic of slavery, its legacies, and reparations. The Latymer pupils advanced a series of important questions and were genuinely interested in the aftermath of British West Indian slavery and how its current legacies might be addressed. One pupil asked the excellent question: “how was Britain able to sustain itself as a global economic superpower after the decline of its plantation economy?” whilst another student asked “do you think that the country is ready to discuss the issue of slavery and reparations?”. These were just two of the many good questions that were posed. I responded to the former by highlighting the shift in Britain’s commercial interest from the West to the East Indies along with its colonisation and subsequent extraction of mineral resources from Africa in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The latter question took a little more consideration and discussion with the pupils, after which I clarified my personal position and stated that stated Britain isn’t ready for an informed discussion on the subject of slavery and reparations yet. I explained that a discussion of such significance can best be addressed after a period of national education on the issue where the historical context, facts, and arguments are set out. Exposure to the numerous dimensions of this long-standing and complicated subject will allow for a more knowledgeable debate to take place. Indeed, I was informed that this lecture provoked a lively discussion in the classroom the following day as the pupils talked about slavery, industrialisation, and its legacies, which is exactly what the Legacies of British Slave-ownership’s outreach activities are intended to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon at Latymer Grammar School and appreciate Dr Quinn and her pupils’ kind invitation to come and talk about this overlooked period of British and African-Caribbean history.

[1] Statutory Guidance – National Curriculum in England: History Programmes of Study [https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-history-programmes-of-study/national-curriculum-in-england-history-programmes-of-study].

[2] Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1944); Joseph E. Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); David Richardson, ‘Slavery and Bristol’s ‘Golden Age’’ Slavery and Abolition, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Apr., 2005), pp. 35-54.

[3] Legacies of British Slave-ownership, “John Snell, 1774-1847” [https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/25788, accessed on 30 October, 2017].

A Black Presence in the Isle of Wight

by Nick Draper

On 11th October, I gave a lecture on ‘Slave-Owners of the Isle of Wight’ at a meeting of the Isle of Wight branch of the Historical Association in Newport. The branch, I was told, was among the most active of the Historical Association’s affiliated local history organizations, borne out by an engaged audience of upwards of 90 people. The talk was part of a continuing series of local events in which we use the research embedded in the LBS database to illuminate connections to slavery, aspects of local history that are often overlooked.

The Isle of Wight, like almost every other community we have explored in this way, had connections at multiple levels with the slave-system. The name of modern-day Isle of Wight county in Virginia reflects the presence of local aristocrats among the early projectors and settlers there; Cowes became an important port in the rice trade with the American colonies; I learned from the audience that the family from whom Queen Victoria had purchased the original Osborne House descended from a slave-trader, Robert Blachford; a slave-ship named the Isle of Wight sailed from Portsmouth in the 1720s; and perhaps most remarkably, in the Slave Registers for St Ann, Jamaica can be found enslaved males named Isle of Wight, one of them self-liberated in the 1800s and marked as missing in the Registers, and another a young boy born in the 1820s.

Isle of Wight in the slave register

Isle of Wight in the 1817 slave register for St Ann, Jamaica: “Negro”, age 41, Creole, “about 5 ft 7 in high Runaway Feby 7th 1808”. Source: TNA T71/43 p. 58

Spring Hill House

Spring Hill House, East Cowes, home to generations of the Shedden family

The island also has a number of slave-owners contained in the database. Some were transient, often moving there towards the end of their lives, perhaps as an alternative to more expensive south coast resort towns. Others left more marked physical and social legacies. Several generations of the Shedden family lived on the island and William George Shedden rebuilt the Spring Hill mansion at East Cowes in 1863; Robert Holford, an elusive figure for LBS to date, gave the land on which stands the Niton lighthouse, built by Trinity House in 1838.

Caroline Shedden

Caroline Hamond, wife of George William Shedden, around the time of her marriage in 1861. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Beyond these connections to slave-owners, however, we had also earlier this year come across in the will of Maria Burns formerly Inglis (proved 18/04/1800, PROB 11/1340/175) a reference by her to Thomas Siras ‘my old black servant now living in the Isle of Wight’ to whom she left ‘£100 to be paid within 6 months of my decease.’ Maria Burns was the wife of a doctor in Southampton; she had previously been married to John Dickons Inglis, who left her the Charlton estate in St Thomas-in-the-Vale in Jamaica, together with the enslaved people attached to it. She was apparently the financially stronger partner in her second marriage, leaving her husband an annuity of £100 p.a. secured on her estates and enslaved people, which and whom she left to a female relative, probably the sister, of her first husband.

Prompted by the imminent lecture, I tried to trace Thomas Siras further, unsuccessfully until I recognised that Siras was almost certainly a phonetic variation of something else. That realisation took me quickly enough to the baptism 22/10/1797 of a Thomas Cyrus, born 08/10/1797 to Thomas Cyrus and Ann, at St Mary’s, Cowes; to the 01/07/1804 burial of a Thomas Cyrus at Hamble le Rice Hampshire; to the 07/09/1822 marriage of Thomas Cyrus ‘a black’ to Martha Lee in Manchester; and to the 1851 census entry for Ann Brennan pauper aged 86 born Hamble and daughter Elizabeth Cyrus dressmaker born Cowes 49 living at Hamble le Rice. These fragments suggest an African man, probably brought from Jamaica either enslaved or free but becoming a ‘servant’ in the UK, in a relationship with Ann or Anne Brennan and having at least two children with her, Elizabeth and a second Cyrus (the man marrying in Manchester in 1822), and dying in 1804. The rest of the story is missing, at least to us.

Thomas Cyrus marriage

Record of the marriage of Thomas Cyrus, “a Black” and Martha Lee in Manchester in 1822. Source: Anglican Parish Registers, Manchester Cathedral

LBS’s work is organized around slave-ownership: the sources we use irreducibly privilege their stories over those of the enslaved people. But on occasions these same sources give an oblique glimpse of different lives: and when that happens we hope that in recording the fragments we find, we can provide a start-point for further exploration by others, as well as mark the presence and passing in Britain of the individual himself or herself.

Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future: Reparations and Beyond

By: Nick Draper

Kristy Warren and Kate Donington (for two days) and Nick Draper (for one day) attended the Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future: Reparations and Beyond conference, organised by University of Edinburgh in collaboration with Wheelock College (Boston, US) in Edinburgh 5th and 6th November.  The conference was ambitious, combining academics and activists from the Caribbean, North America, South Africa, and Europe, and addressing not only the British Atlantic but the francophone and Dutch worlds. Historians were in a distinct minority. The number of proposals submitted in response to the Call for Papers led the organisers to organise parallel sessions around a handful of set-piece plenaries: this allowed a wide range of issues to be covered but inevitably forced the audience to choose among attractive conflicting alternatives.  Verene Shepherd of UWI Mona and Chair of the Jamaica National Committee opened the conference with a powerful keynote address re-stating and amplifying CARICOM’s arguments and evidence, which among other responses drew an intense exchange with representatives of pan-African reparations activists based in Britain; Verene later came back to the issue to stress the importance to CARICOM and the National Committees of grass-roots movements.  Her keynote was followed by a strong plenary panel on the state of play in the US among African American campaigners.

On Thursday afternoon, Nick attended panels on ‘Reparative Histories’ (at which Anita Rupprecht and Cathy Bergin with characteristic subtlety explored linkages between slavery and the imagining of the current refugee crisis and US memorialisation respectively) and on ‘International Law’, as well as giving a paper on LBS’s work in the economic history panel alongside Nuala Zahedieh.  The Law panel, which was noticeably well-attended, featured an innovative approach to jurisdiction-[s]hopping by Jean Allain of Queen’s Belfast, and what appeared to be a very important contribution by Kate Bracegirdle of  University of Sheffield on ‘unjust enrichment’ as a legal basis of claim over slavery: this appears to offer a solution to some of the difficulties of locus standi that have to date undermined in the courts reparations claims based on damage to the descendants of enslaved Africans.

On Friday, Kristy and Kate presented on the importance of teaching reparative histories using the Local Roots / Global Routes project as an example of how that might work in practice. They shared the ‘Educational Impacts’ panel with Warren C. Hope, who presented on need to imagine a new educational paradigm in order to address the academic achievement gap experienced by African Americans. While Amos N. Jones assessed the case for reparations using segregated education as an example.

Kristy attended the panel on the ‘Legacies of Slavery in the Francophone World’ which featured presentations from Fabienne Viala concerning the impact of white French supremacy on the ways and extent to which slavery is remembered; Kate Hodgson gave an historical overview of Haitian responses to reparations from the nineteenth century to the present day; and Magali Bessone explored the limits of tort law in the attempt to achieve reparations for slavery.  The day wrapped up with a public lecture by Hilary Beckles outlining the case against Britain for reparations for Caribbean slavery and its legacies.

The fact that a conference of this scale and reach could be mounted in Britain indicates that the question of reparations – for which grassroots campaigners have been working for years both in the Caribbean and Britain – is now for the first time entering academic discourse here.

Footage from the conference is available on Ustream

Henry Redhead Yorke: Politics and Identity in the Atlantic World, 1790-1813

By Amanda Goodrich, The Open University

Recently at the What’s Happening in Black History III Conference held by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, David Killingray and Ryan Hanley raised important issues about how we write ‘black history’ and who we study.  Both suggested that we need to dig deep in the archives, and find more and different black people in order to develop a broader perspective. For example, not all black people in Britain in the late eighteenth century were formerly enslaved Africans and nor were they all focused on slavery and abolition.  Hanley noted, though, that the difficulty of finding such people and the paucity of evidence about their lives presents a problem for historians. In common with the poor, women and others in the eighteenth century, black people in Britain tended to live on the fringes of society, they wrote little or nothing and anything they did write, or any record of their lives, is unlikely to have survived. There is much absent and much silence where the historian needs evidence and this means that it is often possible to reconstruct only a rather two dimensional and incomplete narrative.

Letters From FranceI am writing a book on just such an individual, Henry Redhead Yorke (1771/2-1813), a black political writer and agitator of the French Revolutionary period, little-known today. He became a revolutionary radical in 1792 but then after a spell in prison for his activities he performed a complete volte face and took up an ultra-loyalist Tory position.  We know this because he published much political writing and his arrest and trial are well-documented.   However, Yorke appears not to have left any personal letters, diaries or memoirs except an epistolary travelogue of a visit to France in 1802.  Finding evidence of his personal life required chasing threads through a motley collection of sources with many dead ends and false leads along the way.  Some of the questions this research generated illustrate the problems Hanley and Killingray identified.

Barbuda Satellite Map

Barbuda

The first such question was where did Yorke originate from?  After much detective work I discovered that his father was Samuel Redhead an estate manager for the Codrington family and sugar plantation owner in Antigua and his mother was an enslaved woman from Barbuda a poor, barren island, 30 miles north of Antigua. Yorke was born into the slave society on the island and was raised there until he was six. The only white person on the island would have been his visiting father who divided his time between Barbuda and Antigua (where he had children with another enslaved woman).

 

Antigua and BarbudaYorke was, then, an illegitimate Creole[1] and brought up with two other illegitimate children of his parents and probably a few children of either of them, all of mixed African and European descent. Samuel Redhead never married Yorke’s mother, he had been married years before to a white woman from a wealthy and established Antiguan family of English descent.  They had five children before she died in 1742.  Yorke was not Henry Redhead’s surname but one he attempted to adopt in 1792, the reason for this remains a mystery. He ended up being called ‘Redhead’ or ‘Yorke’, or Redhead Yorke, not quite one thing or another – the motif of his life.

So another question arises about parentage; was Samuel Redhead Yorke’s father? Yorke’s eldest step-brother was thirty-five when he was born and his father was sixty-nine and described in the sources as, ‘enfeebled’, shortly after Yorke’s birth. In his will Redhead left legacies to his illegitimate Barbudan children but referred to Yorke and his brother as ‘my natural or reputed sons’.  This seems to suggest uncertainty as to paternity but it was common at the time to identify the offspring of planters and enslaved women in this way.

Perhaps Henry’s real father was a Yorke, but there is no evidence of this. Samuel Redhead did take Yorke to England aged six to be educated as a gentleman which presumably he paid for.  This certainly implies paternity, but contemporary letters suggest that Yorke’s mother made false claims as to the paternity of her children and that  it was she who wanted her children to be educated in England. Unfortunately, we have no records from either her or Redhead to clarify the position.

Was Yorke free?  Samuel Redhead bought the freedom of Henry’s mother from her owner, Sir William Codrington, in 1771 and that should mean Henry was born free. But the rules about what emancipation actually meant in the West Indies at that time are unclear and vary from colony to colony. According to the contemporary writer, Bryan Edwards, manumission did not mean a complete or immediate status change to a free citizen with all the rights that might endow and certainly not to first generation offspring of manumitted enslaved people. All the inhabitants of Barbuda were enslaved except managers such as Redhead, and there was no way to make a living in such a slave economy. So on Barbuda, Yorke would have lived as more or less an enslaved person, but in England, within the Gentry milieu he was situated, it would have been assumed he was free.

Henry Redhead Yorke by James Ward, published by and after William Hay mezzotint, published 21 July 1796 NPG D4949 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Henry Redhead Yorke by James Ward © National Portrait Gallery, London

Was he ‘black’? Yorke was of ‘mixed race’[2], but does that class him as ‘black’ in terms of black history? I presume so but how different was the ‘mixed race’ experience from the ‘black’ African experience in Britain? Determining Yorke’s skin colour was not easy due to the lack of photography in his lifetime.  He did not mention it in his writings and was described by contemporaries as ‘a mulatto’, a ‘half caste’, and ‘of West Indian origin’. Two mezzotints of Yorke survive and in both he appears to have a dark skin tone. A curator at the National Portrait Gallery has confirmed that the mezzotints reflect contemporary representations of ‘mixed race’ as far as can be determined from such old black and white images.

The final question for now, then, is who was Henry Redhead Yorke? Someone committed to politics, albeit changeable politics, but working out his identity and his sense of self, is much more difficult. As an illegitimate ‘English’ gentleman of mixed African and European descent originally from a slave society in the West Indies, he clearly he had a ‘multi-layered’, ‘hybrid’ identity as historians might describe it. Only fragments as to his personal views and life can be gleaned from his published writings and these are difficult to piece together. Thus, as with many such individuals only an incomplete history of Yorke can be compiled, his story is one of absence as much as presence. Yet he gained a voice, asserted agency and made his mark on the society within which he lived.

I would argue that such micro histories of little known individuals are important. They may not alone provide conclusive answers to the big historical questions but they contribute to our understanding of the lives of ordinary people; those of excluded or low status, the poor, women, and ethnic minorities. Moreover, in developing the histories of political, cultural or social groups and movements in the past historians need, at least in part, to explore the individual histories of those involved. This may seem obvious but it is not actually what most historians do, or have done in the past as the work of E.P. Thompson illustrates. To return to  the original point perhaps we need now to expand our exploration of black history in Britain, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to incorporate those who were, black, or of ‘mixed race’, enslaved, or  not, in order to find a more accurate representation of the complexities of British culture and society.

 

[1] During the time in question, in the British context, this word was used to describe a person born in the Caribbean regardless of ethnicity. However, it had other meanings in other regions and at other times, most commonly to indicate mixed orgins.

[2] This term is being used by the author as the discussion refers to modern debates concerning ‘mixed race’ identity; it is still considered an official ethnicity category by the UK Office for National Statistics. However, the term is contested by some as it is linked to a history of thinking that implies it is possible to have pure ‘races’.

Manchester Workshop

By Catherine Hall


Manchester Central Library
On Saturday October 24 our fourth regional workshop was held in Manchester at the Central Library – one of Manchester’s impressive Victorian buildings which has recently been refurbished and is now home to digital hubs, local history activities, meeting rooms and a café with good food as well as the usual library facilities. We had a full day of talks and discussion, organised by Katie Donington, and despite a pretty early start for a Saturday morning we had an enthusiastic and interested audience. The day opened with presentations from the LBS team – I did a brief introduction about the project and Rachel Lang then talked about some of the possible uses of the database – this provoked many questions and much interest.  Katie rounded off this session with an introduction to the Hibbert family, a major slave-owning and mercantile family, their multiple Manchester connections and the ways in which they extended their business links and networks from Manchester to London and Jamaica.

cotton.com 28We were really fortunate after coffee to have the black feminist artist Lubaina Himid in conversation with Anna Arabindan-Kesson about Lubaina’s installation – Cotton.Com. Lubaina has worked as a politically engaged artist since the 1980s and not only did she bring  50 of the 100 pieces she had made from Cotton.Com to show us, but she talked about the connections between that work and other projects she has done. Much of that work has been preoccupied with those who have been rendered invisible by the ways in which histories have been constructed.

Cotton.Com, through the medium of 100 painted and framed textile blocs, evokes the conversations that might have happened between the cotton workers in Manchester, struggling in the new mills clustered around the canal in Ancoates, and the enslaved African men, women and children who were tending and picking the cotton on the plantations of the American South. When the installation was first shown the blocks were exhibited across walls with just one powerful quote from the many documentary sources that had been used: ‘He said I looked like a painting by Murillo as I carried water for the hoe gang, just because I balanced the bucket on my head.’ It was a very inspiring and moving session – reminding us all of the importance of the work that artists do in re-presenting our histories.

Robert WedderburnIn the afternoon Melinda Elder, who has done much work over the years on the slavery business in the North West, did a wonderfully illustrated talk on the Wildman family and their rise from being modest tenant farmers in Lancashire to becoming substantial members of the English gentry, via Jamaica and the spoils of King Sugar. Peter Maw then filled out the story of the transatlantic merchants and their Manchester connections, clarifying how significant these trade networks were to the patterns of colonial and capitalist development. The final talks of the day came from Alan Rice, a friend to LBS from the beginning, and the Director of the Institute for Black Atlantic Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. Alan talked about the renowned African-American activist and writer Frederick Douglass while his colleague Raphael Hoermann spoke about the impact of the revolution in Haiti and some of the black radicals in the UK such as Robert Wedderburn.

We ended the day with an open discussion. All thorough the day there were lots of questions and comments for all the speakers – one of the best characteristics of our workshops from the perspective of the LBS team is the level of audience engagement. In the last session it was good to hear from almost everyone who had been able to stay to the end. We all know what it means to give up a Saturday! Many different voices and experiences were heard, from an Irish woman who reminded us of the connections between Ireland and other sites of colonial oppression to the lively talk about possible ways of extending the reach of black histories and keeping the connections that had been made alive. Natalie Zacek gave us some terrific closing thoughts and eventually, so absorbed were we in our talk that we had to be shooed out of the building before it was locked up for the day!

Legacies of the Slave Past in the Post-Slave Present

By Nick Draper

One of the aims for LBS has been to connect more fully with the burgeoning scholarship in the US on slavery and American capitalism, and in turn to give LBS more visibility among academic audiences in North America. Accordingly, Catherine Hall and I accepted gratefully an invitation from David ScottDavid Scott of Columbia and Herman Bennett of CUNY to participate in joint CUNY/Columbia symposium in New York in early October. The genesis of the symposium was the sense on the part of the organisers (and shared by us) that LBS’ work needed to be thought through in the context of wider discussions of repair and reparation now underway, in the Caribbean, the US and Europe.

On Thursday 1st Catherine gave a wonderful and well-received lecture at the CUNY Graduate Centre on ‘What is a Man?’, which explored the importance of the writing in particular of the pro-slavery advocate Edward Long in constructing harsh racial stereotypes of enslaved Africans. On Friday 2nd, 6 scholars presented papers that to greater or lesser extents engaged with our work, and I attempted to provide a response to the papers and their relationship to our concerns in LBS. Jennifer Morgan of NYU gave a suggestive paper on the relationship between ‘political economy’ and the building of the slave-economy in the 17thC; Sven Beckert of Harvard reflected on the historiography of capitalism and slavery; Kathleen Wilson of SUNY at Stony Brook delivered a characteristically trenchant paper on liberty, slavery and Britishness; Natasha Lightfoot at Columbia supplied a densely-researched and conceptually nimble paper on Antiguan exceptionalism in dispensing with Apprenticeship; Melanie Newton of the University of Toronto complicated the CARICOM reparations claim with an wide-ranging sketch of the position of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean under both colonial rule and under post-independence nation states; and Richard Drayton at Kings College London closed with a powerful call for re-examination of the roots of modern inequalities in slavery and its colonial aftermath.

Together these papers gave Catherine and me a sense not only of the diversity and depth of American scholarship on race and slavery, but also an indication of the sometimes divergent concerns within that corpus of scholarship. In face of the very different approaches and adjacencies of the papers, I addressed the question of in what senses we – or at least I – conceive of LBS’s work as ‘reparative’ history. The audience, which stayed with us with great patience and commitment through the day, included Robin Blackburn and Eric Foner, who in relation to the question of slavery and industrialisation engaged fully in one case and resisted equally fully in the other.

We were privileged to be able to speak about LBS’ work to the audiences on both days: it both provided reinforcement of our own belief in the importance of the LBS project and furnished a salutary reminder that our work is only one contribution to a much larger scholarly endeavour to rethink slavery and modernity. Parts of the symposium will possibly be published in a future volume of the Caribbean cultural journal Small Axe.

Visiting Lucky Valley, Longville and Sutton’s Plantations in Clarendon, Jamaica

By James Dawkins

Eighteenth-century Caribbean sugar plantations were sites of intense labour and agricultural activity that often demanded twenty-four hour attention from the estate managers and the enslaved, particularly during the cane harvesting season (February to May).[1] It was the profitability of sugar planting which attracted so many British men to the colonies, but only a minority were able to amass enough wealth to return to the metropole to become absentee landlords. The colony of Jamaica possessed one of the highest proportions of non-resident proprietors, Edward Long (1734-1813) and Henry Dawkins II (1728-1814) being two of them. This blog is about my visit, in the June of this year, to the ruins of three plantations formerly possessed by these individuals and the subsequent generations of their families.

The Longs and Dawkins were two of Jamaica’s oldest planting dynasties, settling on the island shortly after its seizure from the Spanish in 1655. Both families established landed holdings in the parish of Clarendon, the Longs possessing Lucky Valley and Longville and the Dawkins’ owning Sutton’s amongst nine others.

Plantation Locations

Barry Higman’s book Jamaica Surveyed provides an account of the Lucky Valley estate and its management under Edward Long.[2] Unfortunately, no such historical record exists for the Sutton’s estate although it was mentioned by Edward Long, in his seminal text The History of Jamaica (1774), to have been the site of “the first rebellion of importance, on record, [which] happened in the year 1690, when between three and four hundred slaves, belonging to…  Sutton’s plantation in Clarendon… killed the white man entrusted with the care of it and seized upon a large store of fire arms… [after which they] proceeded to the next plantation, and murdered the overseer…”[3]

Audene Brooks and Dexter PlumberThese three estates are significant historical sites and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit them with my primary PhD supervisor Professor Catherine Hall, who has a particular interest in the transatlantic activities of the Long family. Our trip was made possible by Dexter Plumber, a city taxi driver, and Audene Brooks, a Senior Archaeologist at the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

Trace MorganAll four of us were based in Kingston which is approximately 50-miles from where the former estates lay. Giving consideration to traffic, the distance to the former plantations, and their isolated location in the outback of Clarendon we set off early in the morning. Approximately 3 hours later we arrived in the area in which Lucky Valley plantation once stood, which is situated 20-miles north-east of May Pen, the capital of the parish of Clarendon. Once we reached the township we were tasked with finding the ruins, with the 18th century plan of Lucky Valley plantation composed for Edward Long as our only map. Fortunately, we met Trace Morgan, who told us that he knew roughly where they ruins lay and kindly agreed to come along and help us locate them.

Ivan CalabalerroIt took around another hour to reach the Lucky Valley estate. The ruins, as you can imagine, were covered in vegetation. Fortunately, Mr Morgan knew a man, by the name of Ivan Calabalerro, who lives on a large hill above Lucky Valley; Mr Morgan called over to him to ask if he knew anything about the specific location of the plantation ruins. Around 20 minutes later, Mr Calabalerro came down from the hill top on his donkey and greeted us saying that he knew of some old ruins laying nearby.

Lucky Valley stone structureWhat we found next was astonishing. In a partially open field, which also contained scrubs and long grass, was a strange dome shaped bush. Mr Calabalerro pointed to a part of the bush from which a stone structure was visible. I pulled back the vegetation inside of which lay part of the Lucky Valley plantation. One of the structures that emerged was a large elongated holding tank with circular ends. Unfortunately, the dense vegetation prevented me from going further. More stone ruins were found close by. Mr Calabalerro and Mrs Brooks believed them to be the foundations of more outhouses and potential residencies of either the enslaved or the managers those who once lived on the estate. Like most former sugar plantations, there is not much left at Lucky Valley by way of ruins. Thus, we pressed on to Longville, our next stop.

Longville is now the name of a settlement which received its title from the Long family’s plantation of the same name. The remains of this estate were even more elusive than those of Lucky Valley and after 45 minutes or so of scouring the vicinity we decided to move on to Sutton’s plantation located a short distance south-west of Longville.

The surviving source material shows that the Dawkins family procured the Sutton’s sugar plantation through a combination of payments to and inheritance from John Sutton between 1721 and 1750.[4] By the turn of the 18th century, Sutton’s had become one the Dawkins’ leading plantations in terms of its sugar production and held a labour force of 197 enslaved people.[5].Boiling HouseWe arrived at Sutton’s in the middle of the afternoon. Dexter pulled up close to the sugar works, which are now all over grown, and let Catherine, Audene and myself out of the van. As we got closer to the ruins, Catherine and I decided to explore the interior of the boiling house, which involved walking through vegetation, a series of archways and fallen walls. Before we knew it we were standing in the middle of a large sugar processing house in which three large circular concrete frames are positioned against one wall. The last time I visited, I was told by the owner of the land that surrounds the boiling house, and who has been living in the area for over 35 years, that the circular structures lined up against the wall held the large copper pans used to boil the sugar. I wandered off on my own to take in the experience and pay my respects to my enslaved ancestors who had lived and laboured on the estate.

Interior of an Antiguan sugar boiling house, by William Clark, London 1823 (British Library)I felt very uneasy and disturbed with the little I know about what occurred on this plantation, and indeed the entire plantation complex that was established in the Americas and Caribbean. The sun was blazing hot and the absence of any breeze made me contemplate the kinds of conditions that existed in the boiling house when it was in operation – a closed building with blistering hot temperatures roaring from the copper pans, and little or no protection from the scorching cane juice, with the whip of the overseer driving the labour of my foreparents. A stream of thoughts ran through my head – what must it be like to wake up to the same job day in and day out with no alternative way of existence? The terror, compulsion, brutality, vulnerability, feelings of being exposed and degraded, random acts of violence, the inability to form a stable family, being denied the opportunity to read and write, the threat of having one’s partner and/or children sold off with the possibility of never seeing them again.

Visiting all three plantations was a very moving and poignant experience which allowed me to come face-to-face with one of the tangible legacies of British slavery. It was also an opportunity to commemorate the successful struggle for freedom eventually obtained by my ancestors in 1838. Indeed, I found some solace in the fact that this age old form of abhorrent commerce failed to break the spirit of liberation and hope for freedom that lit the heart of my ancestors.

[1] Justin Roberts, Sunup-to-Sundown: Plantation Management Strategies and Slave Work Routines in Barbados, Jamaica and Virginia, 1776-1810, (Published PhD Thesis, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2008), p.86.

[2] B. W. Higman, Jamaica Surveyed: Plantation Maps and Plans of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2001), p.84-91.

[3] Edward Long, The History of Jamaica, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; Originally published in 1774), p.446.

[4] MS181. Copy of Jamaica title Deeds, 1671-1750, Vol.9, Indenture for the Sale of Land from John Sutton to Henry Dawkins, (May, 1743), Lib: 116, Fol.131, p.101-102; MSS.D.D.Dawkins., C43, Bundle 3:  II 5/7, The Will of John Sutton, 1750, (Oxford: Bodleian Library); MS.D.D.Dawkins., C.43, [Jamaica II, 1-5], II, 5/10, bundle 19, Abstract of Title of Henry Dawkins Esq. to Estates in Jamaica Devised to him by his Great Uncle John Sutton Esqr, (Oxford: Bodleian Library).

[5] MSS.D.D.Dawkins. Register of Stock Upon the Dawkins’ Jamaican Estates – A List of Slaves on Sutton’s Estate, 31st December, 1800, (Over Norton: Private Family Manuscripts), p. 23-27.