`Security, Taxation, and the Imperial System in Jamaica, 1721-1782,’ Early American Studies 18, 4 (Fall, 2020)

Aaron Graham of Oxford and myself have written an article, soon forthcoming in Early
American Studies, which examines the question of how white Jamaicans ensured their
security in a colony where the majority of the inhabitants were enslaved people who hated
them and which was periodically subject to severe challenges to white authority coming from
black people. The most serious eighteenth-century challenges were the first Maroon War in
the 1730s and Tacky’s Revolt in 1760-61. These challenges were existential threats to the
Jamaican state and the people – in Britain and among colonial elites – who ran that state.
What these threats showed was that Jamaica was a society at war, Societies at war needed to
be well funded – something Britain was very good at in the eighteenth century as it developed

and perfected a fiscal-military state, designed to fight wars without incurring state
White Jamaicans welcomed a strong fiscal-military state as the basis for colonial rule because
they realized the perilous nature of their rule in their peculiar society. White Jamaicans were
willing to pay relatively high rates of taxation to support a powerful and assertive state in
schemes of settlement and security. The schemes for settlement did not work, mainly due to
dire demographic conditions for white people, but white Jamaicans’ security concerns were
generally answered, leading to a settler society that was reasonably content with what the
state offered (unlike in the settler societies developed by their American cousins, which opted
for rebellion in the 1770s) right up until the end of the American Revolution. White
Jamaicans paid relatively high taxes willingly because they were satisfied with what they
received from the state and because they were wealthy enough to afford high rates of
taxation. Furthermore, in this period white Jamaicans believed that they had a significant
stake in the processes by which taxes were collected and spent. Jamaica provides a case study
of how the imperial state worked satisfactorily for imperial rulers and those colonists whom
they ruled when both the state and colonial settlers shared common beliefs and where
negotiations made it clear that the interests of all parties coincided.
Though an extreme example, by virtue of its exposed strategic position, the demographic
imbalance between whites and blacks, and its economic importance, Jamaica differed in
degree rather than kind from other colonies and territories of the British Atlantic. Eighteenth-
century statesmen as different as Charles Townshend, Benjamin Franklin and Edmund Burke
understood these imperial realities. Less sophisticated thinkers like Lord North and George
Grenville, however, were seduced by plans that forced the empire into one colonial model
and thought that the same solutions were applicable to the problems throughout the empire.
The American War of Independence resulted from a failure to understand this fundamental
reality about the need to treat colonies within an imperial framework according to their local
circumstances, rather than as if they were all Jamaica and equally committed to the expansion
of the colonial fiscal-military state.

` “I know I have to Work:” The Moral Economy of Labor Among Enslaved Women in Berbice, 1819-1834’

map detail
In Trevor Burnard and Sophie White, eds. Hearing Enslaved Voices: African and Indian
Slave Testimony in British and French America, 1700-1848 (New York: Routledge, 2020),
ch. 9.
I have contributed a chapter to a co-edited book, coming out this northern hemisphere
summer with Routledge, edited with Sophie White of Notre Dame, in which I look at an
aspect of enslaved women’s lives in the sugar colony of Berbice, later part of Guyana, in
North-eastern South America. It looks at slave testimony (as opposed to the better-known
nineteenth-century genre of the slave narrative). Most chapters in this book, including mine,
look at how enslaved people shaped testimony, often when they were in court and often when
they were in great trouble My court documents are a little different, as they are collected from
women who are complaining about their treatment, usually unsatisfactorily, rather then
enslaved people being charged with offenses.

This chapter will feed into a larger project, utilising a very rich set of documents preserved at
the National Archives – the Fiscal and Protector of Slaves records – in which enslaved people
often give close to direct testimony about the lives and circumstances. In this allied project to
the book I show how the Fiscal’s Records of Berbice, 1819–1834, provide rich evidence,
direct from enslaved people, about what mattered to slaves trapped within enslavement and
about what remedies they sought for their problems. Enslaved women were able to bring
complaints before the Fiscal and the Protector of Slaves. A great majority of their complaints
concerned the work they were forced to do as plantation workers. Such work was not gender-
neutral. Enslaved women were employed as field workers more than were men and suffered
enormous hardship to their health and even more to their ability to look after their families,
especially infant children. This chapter shows that enslaved women had clear expectations on
what they were owed from their master, based on their understanding of the moral economy
between planters and enslaved women where the relationship was viewed by them as
reciprocal, if unequal, in which both sides had rights and obligations that needed to be
I concentrate on women’s complaints about work, as this is the area which elicited easily the
most complaints about unfairness and mistreatment. Women were insistent that they should
be expected to perform a reasonable amount of work defined according to customary rules
and adjusted to the strength and competence of individual workers. Moreover, it had to be
adjusted so that women’s special expectations relating to child care could be respected.
Women complained even when, as was common, their complaints were dismissed. They
wanted their voices to be heard. The Fiscals’ returns are a rich body of sources that outline at
length the numerous times when women sought to have their concerns aired. Those concerns
changed over time and as British officials attempted to circumscribe masters’ actions through
such things as the Amelioration Act of 1826.
Women frequently made complaints after that date that they had been illegally whipped. The
many post-1826 cases indicate that managers continued to fail to realise that enslaved women
in Berbice were involved not just in production but also in reproduction – they were mothers
as well as workers. The testimonies embedded in the Fiscal and Protestor’s records allows u
to recuperate a little bit of the perspective of the enslaved in the period of amelioration.


`Atlantic Slave Systems and Violence,’ in Erica Charters, Marie Houllemare and Peter H. Wilson, eds, Violence in the Early Modern Period (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020)

In this volume, arising out of a 2017 conference at All Souls, University of Oxford, I have
contributed a chapter on violence in the Atlantic slave trade – building on and expanding the
article noted in a previous blog post for the Cambridge World History of Violence. I start by
noting how we have to be careful when talking about violence and slavery as it is easy to slip
into overwrought prose and into an uncomfortable voyeurism. There are good reasons not to
luxuriate in the details of violence and thus re-inscribe the problems of violence as
experienced by enslaved people. Brutal language hardens rather than softens the reader to the
violence of slavery, especially when acts of brutality are catalogues at repeated length,
making it hard to engage fully with a more important subject – what did violence mean and
how did violence operate to strengthen or weaken the institution of enslavement. I argue here

that brutality, violence and death were not mere by products of the extremely lucrative early
modern plantation system but were the sine qua non of the plantation world. Violence in the
Atlantic slave trade was not an atavistic throwback to a premodern age. It is closely tied to
Enlightenment values – the dark side of the Enlightenment, as it were – and were highly
In this article, I ask the following questions. First, was violence central or incidental to the
ideology of enslavement and to the workings of the Atlantic slave trade, in particular? I argue
it was central. I also ask about the effectiveness of violence in maintaining planter power. I
argue again that violence produced generally efficacious results for slave owners in keeping
control over enslaved people. It was less effective in convincing rulers in Europe that
planters’ authority over their slaves was legitimate.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that acts of violent resistance by enslaved people
were ineffective and pointless, even though such acts seldom met with any success. They
may have been unsuccessful but acts of violence by enslaved people were not
counterproductive. When enslaved people were violent, it demonstrated three things. First, it
showed fellow enslaved people that some of their compatriots were prepared to reject their
place in the system and that they were not happy being enslaved. Second, it showed to
opponents of slavery that slave masters’ propaganda about slaves being happy with their
place in society was just that – propaganda and lies, not the truth. It showed that slavery was
not a benevolent institution but was only upheld by coercion and through punishment.
Finally, violence by slaves was often interpreted by abolitionists through a Christian lens, in
which the iconography of Christ’s martyrdom was equated with suffering slaves.

`A Pack of Knaves’: The Royal African Company, the Development of the Jamaican Plantation Economy and the Benefits of Monopoly, 1672-1708

`Special Issue: European Imperialism in the early Eighteenth century’ Journal of Colonialism
and Colonial History forthcoming, 2021
This article is the first article in a special issue on the nature of European imperialism in the
first half of the eighteenth century in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, edited by myself.
It contains essays in addition by Christine Walker on gender in Jamaica, Phil Stern on the
East India Company and Marie Houllemare on law and the first French empire. My article
examines the end of the monopoly held by the Royal African Company with specific regard
to late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Jamaica. The ending of the monopoly of the
Royal African Company is an often discussed topic, usually looked at within the context of
the politics of England and Britain following the Glorious Revolution.
Because the major role of the Royal African Company was to provide Africans to the
colonies, it is a hard institution to defend. But this applies the values of today to a time where
everyone in Britain supported the British state’s advancement of slavery in the empire. What
was contested was who would be in control of the vitally important slave trade – a state
monopoly or free traders. The result of the decade long battle over the future of the Royal
African Company was to allow `separate traders,’ most of whom were large London
merchants to dominate the slave trade.

This decision had considerable effects in Jamaica. It greatly increased the supply of Africans
to work on plantations. In this way the change was successful. But what is just as important is
that it was a political coup enacted by key stakeholders in London. It was intended to benefit
themselves and their Jamaican supporters who from the 1690s had taken control of politics in
Jamaica. It also indirectly benefited another group of merchants, those African merchants
selling captives to Europeans.
I examine how Africans were sold in the 1680s when the Royal African Company was at its
height and compare this to the structure of slave sales in the mid eighteenth century. The
changes were dramatic and very much to their disadvantage of poorer and more ordinary
Jamaican slave owners, who were increasingly excluded from the market in slaves.
The Royal African Company was a much-maligned institution, maligned most by people who
stood to gain most from its demise. Their vision for the British American plantations was one
that emphasized inequality, the rule of the rich over the poor and an especially oppressive and
brutal slave regime where enslaved people lived miserable lives working themselves to death
in the harsh regime of sugar. Their victory foreclosed another option for Jamaica – a society
full of small farms rather than large plantations – and slavery that was perhaps less
traumatizing than what in fact developed by the first decades of the eighteenth century.
blk death

`Living Costs, Real Incomes and Inequality in Colonial Jamaica,’ Explorations in Economic History 71 (2019), 55-71 (with Laura Panza and Jeffrey Williamson)

I wrote an article in 2001 in The Economic History Review where I argued that estimates of
the wealth of Jamaica needed to be revised substantially upwards. That argument showed that
Jamaica was the richest colony in British America in 1774. What I might have emphasized
more strongly is that this wealth accrued to a tiny percentage of the population – wealthy
planters and merchants. The great majority of the population, by contrast, were among the
poorest people in the world, with the worst living standards of any early modern population.
Utilizing a large body of quantitative evidence about Jamaican incomes and about prices of
commodities that might be put together to furnish `baskets’ that can be used to evaluate
standards of living, myself and my two economist collaborators constructed cost of living and
purchasing parity indicators. Our analysis lowers Jamaica’s per capita income compared to
the rest of the Atlantic economy.
We note that while the wealth of Jamaica was substantial, and made it very valuable to
imperial statesmen, it also, as a net food importer, had extremely high costs of living. These
living costs rose sharply during the American War of Independence, placing extreme strains
on the enslaved population of the island. Enslaved Jamaicans were in the uncomfortable
position of being extremely poor in a land of great plenty and extreme riches. They lived at
the best of times at a subsistence level. In harsh times, they faced famine and dearth.
Jamaica was the most unequal place yet studied in the pre-modern world and inequality also
extended to much of the white population. Nevertheless, white people were shielded from the
worst of such income inequality by a remarkably generous but racially discriminatory system
of welfare. Putting enslaved people front and centre of our analysis means suggesting caution
when describing Jamaica as Britain’s richest eighteenth-century colony. If places like
Pennsylvania were, as Benjamin Franklin heralded and which has been confirmed in recent

literature, the best poor person’s place on earth then Jamaica was the worst, particularly for
its majority enslaved population.
slave advert

`Slavery and the New History of Capitalism,’ (with Giorgio Riello), Journal of Global History 15, 2 (2020), 1-20

In this largely historiographical essay, Giorgio Riello and me look at the relationship between
slavery and capitalism, made famous 75 years ago by Eric Williams, by looking in particular
at scholarship produced by an American-based historiographical movement that goes by the
term `the New History of Capitalism.’ The new history of capitalism (NHC) places a great
deal of emphasis on slavery as a crucial world institution. Slavery, it is alleged, arose out of,
and underpinned, capitalist development. This article starts by showing the intellectual and
scholarly foundations of some of the broad conclusions of the NHC. It proceeds by arguing
that capitalist transformation must rely on a global framework of analysis. The article
considers three critiques in relation to the NHC. First, the NHC overemphasizes the
importance of coercion to economic growth in the eighteenth century. We argue that what has
been called ‘war capitalism’ might be better served by an analysis in which the political
economy of European states and empires, rather than coercion, is a key factor in the
transformation of capitalism at a global scale. Second, in linking slavery to industrialization,
the NHC proposes a misleading chronology. Cotton, produced in large quantities in the
nineteenth-century United States came too late to cause an Industrial Revolution which, we
argue, developed gradually from the latter half of the seventeenth century and which was well
established by the 1790s, when cotton started to arrive from the American South. During
early industrialization, sugar, not cotton, was the main plantation crop in the Americas. Third,
the NHC is overly concentrated on production and especially on slave plantation economies.
It underplays the ‘power of consumption’, where consumers came to purchase increasing
amounts of plantation goods, including sugar, rice, indigo, tobacco, cotton, and coffee. To see
slavery’s role in fostering the preconditions of industrialization and the Great Divergence, we
must tell a story about slavery’s place in supporting the expansion of consumption, as well as
a story about production.
We conclude that scholars need to consider, in discussing slavery’s contribution to economic
growth in eighteenth-century European empires, that we need to return to the global. If we
accept the NHC’s totalizing tendency, the Americas, later narrowed to the United States,
become the new core in a Wallersteinian narrative. This narrative is to the detriment of
explanations that have emphasized a multiplicity of factors in the connections between
capitalism and slavery; that have adopted comparative methodologies (between Europe and
China, or Europe and India); and that have provided much thought on the economic
mechanisms at play, beyond the commonplace view that the violence of thugs always wins.
Thugs may win a great deal, but they win only when the structures that maintain their power
make their thuggery viable.

Additional works

In addition to monographs, journal articles and book chapters, I have written a few smaller
pieces in late 2019 and 2020 that connect to work on slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic
world. I have also have finished a number of works in preparation that will be published
either in 2020 or 2021 but which do not yet have assigned publication dates.

These include:
“A New look at the Zong Case of 1783,” XVII-XVIII: Revue de la Société d’études anglo
americaines des XVII et XVIII siècles 75 (2019) http://journals.openedition.org/1718/
“Plantations,” in Claude Chevaleyre, Paulin Ismard, Benedetta Rossi, Cécile Vidal, eds.,
Histoire Mondiale de l’esclavage (Paris: Seuil, 2020)
“Tacky’s War,” in Timothy Lockley, ed., The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Race and Racism
Forthcoming articles accepted and in preparation for publication:
“Ireland, Jamaica and the Fate of White Protestants in the British Empire in the 1780s,” in
Frank Cogliano and Patrick Griffin, ed., Ireland and America: Empire and Revolution
(Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2021)
“Anthony Benezet, A Short History of Guinea and its Impact on Early British Abolitionism”
in Trevor Burnard, Joy Damousi and Alan Lester, eds., Humanitarianism, Empire and
Transnationalism in the Anglophone World, 1760-1995 (Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 2021)
“An Imperial History of the American Revolution,” in Jasmin Falk, ed., New Perspectives on
Transatlantic Relations vol. 23 Bavarian American Academy Series, (Heidelberg:
Universitäsverlag, 2020).
“The Slave Mistress: Women and Whipping in the British Caribbean, ca. 1750-1834,” (with
Deirdre Coleman), Atlantic Studies
“Special Issue: The Management of Enslaved people in British America and the American
South, 1750-1850,” Guest editor with Natalie Zacek, Journal of Global Slavery.
“The British Male Abroad: Hospitality and Work in Late Eighteenth Century Jamaica,” in
Special Issue on Intoxicants and Early Modernity, eds. Phil Withington and Kathryn James,
Historical Journal
“The Historiography of Jamaica in the Time of James Knight,” in Jack P. Greene, ed., The
Natural, Moral, and Political History of Jamaica … by J[ames] K[night] (Charlottesville;
University of Virginia Press, 2021).
“Slavery and Empire,” in David Doddington and Enrico Del Lago, eds., Writing the History
of Slavery (London: Bloomsbury, 2020).
“The British Americas before the Revolution,” in Marjoleine Kars, Michael A. McDonnell,
and Andrew M. Schocket, eds., Cambridge History of the American Revolution 3 vols.
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021)
“Unfreedom in the British West Indies in the Eighteenth Century,” in Jared Hardesty and
Allison Madar, eds., Unfreedom in the British West Indies in the Eighteenth Century (New
York: Routledge, 2021).

`Slaves and Slavery in Kingston, 1770-1815,’ International Journal of Social History 65 (2020), 39-65

If you wander down to the magnificent Kingston waterfront, you will see nothing which
marks the fact that Kingston was the `Ellis Island’ of African American life in British
America. It was the place where nearly 900,000 Africans were landed to begin a usually
miserable and often foreshortened life as slaves working on sugar and other plantations and
occasionally enjoying a slightly better life as an urban enslaved person in Kingston. Slavery
and the slave trade were central to eighteenth-century Kingston and in turn Kingston is vital
as a place to study so that we understand Jamaican and Atlantic slavery in the period of the
Atlantic slave trade. But our knowledge of Kingston and its slaves is very limited. This article
looks at slavery in Kingston from when the slave trade was at its height, between the early
1770s, and through to the immediate aftermath of the ending of the slave trade in Jamaica in
This article summarizes what we know about slavery in Kingston already and provides some
empirical data which can be helpful in drawing attention to Kingston’s importance in the
history of slavery. The Atlantic slave trade in Kingston was easily the largest business in

eighteenth-century British America and had a very distinctive character. Contrary to popular
legend, African captives were seldom sold directly from ships in what was described as a
`scramble’, when potential buyers pushed and shoved each other in order to acquire valuable
property. Slaves cost too much money for any factor selling slaves to allow such chaos to
occur. Instead, Africans were purchased in large lots by carefully selected merchants and
were moved to merchant houses where they were corralled (`like sheep’, Olaudah Equaino
lamented) and then sold usually in small lots to planters. In short, the slave market in
Kingston harbor was a wholesale market and was followed by retail sales. Everyone took
their cut at all times and the money that flowed was so substantial as to make Kingston and
its slave merchants very wealthy.
The manner of slave sales meant that enslaved Africans experienced the transformation of
themselves into `commodities’ first in Kingston. That was a profound, and profoundly
disturbing, human moment. From Kingston, they were dispersed throughout Jamaica, in ways
that made enslaved populations very polyglot – Africans from various ships from various
places in West Africa were purchased together and sent to very ethnically diverse plantations.
Some enslaved people, of course, stayed in Kingston, and I discuss what they did as
tradespeople, domestics and sailors in the article.
One would think that the end of lucrative slave trade would spell disaster for Kingston and its
wealthy merchant class. Surprisingly, this did not happen. Why not? What seems to have
occurred, although much more work needs to be done on this subject, is that Kingston moved
quickly from being a major slave trading entrepot to being the centre of trade with Spanish
America. It was a depot from which British manufactured goods were dispersed throughout
the Spanish American empire. In an ironic restatement of the famous thesis by Eric Williams
that slavery created capitalism, after 1807 capitalism remade slavery as capitalism in the form
of British manufactured goods stimulating the slave system and slave economy in places like
The slave trade ended in 1807 but slavery remained in Kingston, I finish this article with the
perspective of the enslaved, and their participation in festivals, such as Jonkunnu. A spatial
inversion occurred during these carnivals, during which black entertainers invaded the spaces
of white authority. Slavery was complicated and diverse in Kingston, as in the rest of

Britain in the Wider World, 1603-1800 (London: Routledge, 2020)

2020, it now seems clear, is a decisive year in British history, however it ends. It is a year that
has seen the disaster of a major pandemic and which will probably see Britain’s withdrawal
from Europe and possibly even herald the breakdown of the United Kingdom itself. Just
potentially, 2020 will see the final end of a process that began as long ago as 1603, when
England/Wales and Scotland were joined together through having a common monarch,
coming together properly in 1707 and being enlarged by the addition of the kingdom/colony
of Ireland into a new polity in 1801 called the United Kingdom. 1603 preceded by a couple of
years the founding of the East India Company, giving England and then Britain a toehold in
India, which became much bigger after Britain’s victory in the Seven Years War in 1763. It
was followed by the tentative starts of a British Empire in the Americas, begun in a chaotic
and disastrous fashion in England’s first settlement in North America, in Jamestown,
Virginia. By 1800, that empire, despite the political loss of the 13 colonies and the creation of
the USA, was extremely large and world-spanning. My book on how England and then
Britain went through this dramatic transformation, one that might be on the verge of finally
collapsing, between 1603 and 1800 is a British history as written by an historian of the
Atlantic world. It explores how the British nation was made in this period and how

England/Wales moved from being the pariah of Europe – insular nations devoted to
Protestantism and to the killing of monarchs – to near global dominance, with a powerful
empire and an even more flourishing economy. Britain by 1800 had become a mighty world
power and through the Industrial Revolution the richest country in the world, overturning in a
few decades China’s millennium-long presence at the top of wealthy nations. I pay particular
attention in my book to three things: imperialism, economic growth and changes in gender
And within these three topics, slavery is important, though it is only one of many themes that
I cover in this survey of a lengthy period in British history. I deal with slavery here less than I
do in other works but I take for consideration Barbara Solow’s famous statement that `it was
slavery that made the empty lands of the western hemisphere valuable … [and] what moved
in the Atlantic … was predominantly slaves, the output of slaves, the inputs of slave societies
and the goods and services purchased with the earnings of slave products.’ America was
valuable to Britain because it had plantations and it had plantations due to the work of
enslaved Africans. Britain became the most important slavery nation in the eighteenth
century. That this was the case makes us pause when thinking about imperialism and the
development of settler societies in North America and Australasia. Britain’s movement into
the wider world was immensely successful for Britain itself, not least for its poorest
inhabitants, who got goods that they wanted from the colonies and could improve their
standard of living by moving out of Britain. It came, however, at great cost, including the
immiseriment of thousands of enslaved slaves, living miserable lives as coerced worker. The
gap between British prosperity and the misery Britain caused its non-white imperial subjects
was something that increasingly bothered thinking Britons, not least of whom was a young
Hull-born politician and evangelical, William Wilberforce, born in the triumphal year of
1759, when Britain acquired Canada, Senegal and Bengal, and who lived his life in a time
when Britain and its empire were important in the world in ways Britain never had been
booker cover

The Atlantic in World History (London: Bloomsbury, 2020)

Atlantic history is a way of envisioning the making of the early modern world that was a
historiography that arose in the 1970s, became more fully developed in the 1990s and 2000s,
and has now become an established field of historical inquiry by 2020. My synthesis of
Atlantic history, based as being a practitioner of such history for nearly thirty years, provides
for students and the general reader a quick introduction to this interesting field. It is a field
that is diverse and which means different things to different people but at bottom is an
exploration of movement across the ocean and between the four continents of Africa, the
Americas, and Europe – that movement being the movement of people, things and ideas. It
starts with European involvement in Africa in the mid-fifteenth century and Columbus’
epoch-making voyages to the Caribbean from 1492. It ends in the mid-nineteenth century,
with the abolition of slavery in most New World societies. It explores the ways in which the
peoples and the environments of Atlantic places were linked together, in ways that were both
good and bad, but always historically interesting. I show how the Atlantic has been more than
just an ocean – it has been an important site of circulation and transmission, allowing

exchanges and interchanges between various peoples in ways that have profoundly shaped
the development of the world, beyond as well as within the Atlantic.
The Atlantic world was about more than slavery, the Atlantic slave trade and the plantation
system sustained by African slavery. Thus, slavery is only part of a book in which gender,
religion and trades are extensively discussed. Nevertheless, slavery is a vital part of the
Atlantic world and indispensable to its workings Thus, slavery courses throughout the
volume as a major theme in Atlantic history. I explore its Iberian origins, its African
dimensions and its apogee in the eighteenth-century Caribbean and North America before
examining how the most central institution in Atlantic history, outside empire and the
monarchy, was abolished in a very quick time, with the movement for abolition begun by a
determined and small number of evangelical Britons in the last eighteenth century. William
Wilberforce, of course, was principal among this small group of committed early
abolitionists. Wilberforce and his friends were supported by resolute black abolitionists and
was built in part out of enslaved resistance to enslavement occurring in the Americas. The
most important slave resistance to planter power was in Haiti between 1791 and 1804 – an
event that has a prominent role in my chapter on the age of revolutions.
I end my account by recalling the quintessential American song `Oh! Susanna’ written by
Stephen Foster in 1847. It is a very African and Atlantic song as well as an American song –
a `negro melody,’ as Foster called it. It is a comic, indeed tragicomic, retelling of an enslaved
person left behind in the many breakups that characterized African American slavery in the
nineteenth century. It is a song written by a person of European heritage using the voice of a
descendant of Africans wanting to leave a place which had once been Native American land.
Thus, it unites through culture the ways in which peoples of the Atlantic were brought, often
unwillingly, together. These many connections point to the relevance of Atlantic history
today and to why it is such an exciting field that really helps us understand how the modern
world is shaped as it is.
book cover