November 11, 2014 / by admin / American History / No Comments

Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World

Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World

Trevor Burnard

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 0807855251

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Eighteenth-century Jamaica, Britain's largest and most valuable slave-owning colony, relied on a brutal system of slave management to maintain its tenuous social order. Trevor Burnard provides unparalleled insight into Jamaica's vibrant but harsh African and European cultures with a comprehensive examination of the extraordinary diary of plantation owner Thomas Thistlewood.

Thistlewood's diary, kept over the course of forty years, describes in graphic detail how white rule over slaves was predicated on the infliction of terror on the bodies and minds of slaves. Thistlewood treated his slaves cruelly even while he relied on them for his livelihood. Along with careful notes on sugar production, Thistlewood maintained detailed records of a sexual life that fully expressed the society's rampant sexual exploitation of slaves. In Burnard's hands, Thistlewood's diary reveals a great deal not only about the man and his slaves but also about the structure and enforcement of power, changing understandings of human rights and freedom, and connections among social class, race, and gender, as well as sex and sexuality, in the plantation system.

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his charge. In chapter 5, I analyze why whites were able to retain power in Jamaica despite being heavily outnumbered by a group of people with weapons of their own who were motivated by an all-consuming hatred of their oppressors. From an exploration of white-black interactions, I turn in chapter 6 to an examination of the structures within which Thistlewood’s slaves lived and study in detail four male slaves’ interactions with their master. For individual slaves, two countervailing principles

operated in dealing with masters. On the one hand, proximity to a master spelled danger, assuring slaves of frequent punishment and constant changes in condition. On the other hand, only by getting close to masters could slaves escape from the debilitating grind of field work. In chapter 7, I examine female slaves’ lives through the prism of resistance and assess whether this common paradigm in studies of 34 | t h e g r ay z o n e slave societies can explain female slaves’ behavior. The chapter

account book—a means of keeping track of bills, monies received, and profits made or lost. A study of how Thistlewood acquired a competency helps answer several important questions: What economic and social possibilities existed in a mature plantation society for people who were not accomplished planters? Was Jamaica “the best poor man’s country,” as well as a prime destination for men of capital determined to make large fortunes? Did the development of a highly profitable sugar industry reduce

fourteen slaves owned by Thistlewood could not be put to work. Moreover, one did not need to own property to be able to earn income from one’s slaves. The demand for slave labor, especially on sugar estates, where the need for healthy slaves was always acute, was as great as for white labor. Second, slaves were a valuable investment that appreciated considerably over time. Slave prices skyrocketed during Thistlewood’s time in Jamaica. In 1756, Thistlewood bought his first slave, Lincoln, a

Europeans upheld their mastery over Africans through their near monopoly of force. Mastery in a land where hostile, brutalized, barely c o o p e r at i o n a n d c o n t e s tat i o n | 177 assimilated Africans vastly outnumbered Europeans was necessarily achieved through physical violence, unvarnished brutality, and terror. But, as chapter 5 has detailed, whites devised management strategies to control slaves that exploited the uncertainty that slaves necessarily felt in a system predicated on

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