Jamaica: Anatomy of an Uprising

From The Wall Street Journal:

Just after Christmas in 1831, the British Empire’s wealthiest island exploded. “Five weeks of burning, looting, crop destruction, courts-martial, on-the-spot executions, severed heads mounted atop poles, and outright human hunting for sport . . . shook slaveholding Jamaica to its foundations.” So writes Tom Zoellner, a professor at Chapman University, in “Island on Fire,” a pounding narrative of events that led to the end of slavery in the British colonies. “Soon the hills were on fire, each spiky leaf of sugar like a small torch or match head. Millions of yellow, flaming pinpricks spread in all directions in the velvety Caribbean night.”

Hundreds of slaves, having been pushed beyond endurance, attacked hated overseers and their masters’ property. “We have worked enough already, and will work no more,” striking laborers told a pair of plantation owners. “The life we live is too bad; it is the life of a dog.” In all, 145 estate houses were destroyed and many others severely damaged. Mr. Zoellner’s vigorous, fast-paced account brings to life a varied gallery of participants, black, white and “colored”— the then-standard designation for quasi-free people of mixed race.

Among these figures are Richard Barrett, one of the island’s richest sugar growers and a relative of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who passed for a moderate in the island’s reactionary society; the remarkable, precariously positioned “colored” newspaper editor Edward Jordon, who had only gained full civil rights the previous year; and the revolt’s tragic central figure, an enslaved Baptist deacon named Samuel Sharpe. An apparently gifted speaker, Sharpe preached the equality of man based on the teachings of the Bible. He also believed inaccurate rumors that the king had already declared slaves free but that their masters were keeping the news a secret. In response, Sharpe surreptitiously planned a peaceful work stoppage. He may have ultimately hoped for the establishment of an independent republic similar to the one that had come into being a generation earlier in Haiti. Whatever his intentions, the stoppage quickly spiraled beyond his control and into full rebellion.

The uprising was soon over, having been weakened by its poor organization and thwarted by the failure of the island’s 300,000 slaves to rise en masse. It was also overwhelmed by the firepower of British troops. Few whites were killed, but the colonial elite’s confidence in its ability to defend itself was deeply shaken. Hundreds of enslaved men and women were killed in battle or summarily executed, some simply because they had attended a Baptist meeting. The exact number is unknown.

The revolt failed to improve conditions for the enslaved in Jamaica, but it crucially wounded the institution of slavery itself. Mr. Zoellner acknowledges that it was only one factor in the ending of slavery, along with surging abolitionism in Britain, an increasingly muscular reform movement in Parliament, and the falling price of sugar, the islands only export crop. But the revolt, he says, “sent an unambiguous message to London that slavery was no longer sustainable—not economically, not militarily, and not morally.”

The challenge to slavery in Jamaica and the rest of Britain’s Caribbean possessions had been a long time coming. As Trevor Burnard, a professor at the University of Hull, amply shows in his expansive and scholarly “Jamaica in the Age of Revolution,” colonial Jamaica was characterized by extreme systemic violence against enslaved people. It was also ruled over by a dissolute planter class obsessed with short-term profits that made it cheaper to work slaves to death and buy new ones than to sustain them into their later, less productive years.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG has read more than one article about slavery that has described the practice as a “uniquely American” or “peculiar” institution found only or almost-only in the United States.

This is, of course, not correct. Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome each had large numbers of slaves. A great many Christians were enslaved during the Ottoman invasions of Europe. White slaves were common in Europe from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages. China formally abolished slavery in 1909.

Serfs in feudal Europe were not personal property that could be bought and sold, but, rather, they were attached to land. If a landowner sold a piece of land, the serfs living on the land went with it and were obligated to give a substantial portion of the fruits of their labors to the landowner and could be compelled to cultivate other land of their owner that was not occupied by serfs.

Russian serfdom was even more rigid.

From JSTOR Daily:

[Peter[ Kolchin writes that the Russian nobles “invented many of the same kinds of racial arguments to defend serfdom that American slave-owners used to justify” slavery. Some nobles went so far as to say they had white bones, while the serfs had black bones. Kolchin calls this an “essentially racial argument in defense of serfdom, even though no racial distinction divided lord and peasant.”

Then there was the aristocratic paternalism of the arguments that bondage was a humane institution in comparison to the precariousness of the free labor market. Both Russians and Americans argued that their systems of bondage resulted in a superior society.

Kolchin quotes American slave-advocates who argued that the race of slaves was actually immaterial. Absent Africans, these defenders of American slavery said whites would do just as well as blacks. Because planters needed the support of non-slaveholding whites, however, such arguments never dominated the defense of slavery.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

PG intends none of this be any sort of excuse for or defense of slavery in any form or fashion. It is always and everywhere a despicable evil. However, unfortunately, while it has been an American evil, it has also been a British, Russian, Chinese, Arabian, etc., etc., evil

15 thoughts on “Jamaica: Anatomy of an Uprising”

  1. When I Woke, I realized slavery was invented in 1619 in North America. Pay no attention to all that jabbering about Arab slave traders, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, Africans…

  2. Slavery, whether in name or disguised, has been a part of every single civilization humans have created. It still exists in every single nation, sometimes well hidden, others not so much.

    The name will change, the rules might be occasionally relaxed but it will always exist as long as humans can cobble up excuses to exploit others.
    It will endure as long as people keep pretending it is limited to just some, uniquely evil, people so they don’t have to actually getting something for nothing from others.
    Pretending otherwise is ignorant or outright medacious.

  3. “But, gee whiz, Desmond! Everyone else was doing it!”
    It IS a despicable evil. I am baffled as to just why you put this post up. You cut & pasted a lot of stuff from WSJ and JSTOR telling the history; okay, so far so good. And your justification is that it is not a particularly American heritage? That’s it?

    Oh for cryin’ out loud.
    I read your cuts & pastes, and read your comments. I said to myself, “Self?” (cuz that’s what I always say when I talk to myself)… wuzen’t there a scene in that play 1776 where they argued over just what a ‘man’ is? Didn’t Franklin, Jefferson, and the guys from the South go to and fro on the topic? Molasses and Rum….?
    Yeah, it was… (for the record, I saw that play once, and the film twice… it had an effect on me I guess…)

    Here’s my point: in the SECOND FRIKKIN’ PARAGRAPH of the Declaration Of Independence it said ‘all men are created equal’. Slice and dice that and justify the ‘social relevance of the day’. I got that, I truly do.

    “But, gee whiz, Desmond! Everyone else was doing it!”
    Save it. If you were a true student of history, you’d see there did exist even then people against it. I doubt that there’s a single subscriber to this blog who was ignorant of the practices of Ancient Rome; so yeah… it was widespread.

    Nowadays, we don’t hear about sharecroppers (heirs of feudalism). Nor do we hear about wage slavery much either. In Ireland feudalism existed, just under a different name. There are many stories of starving farmers sending crops to Britain. And there were people screaming about that. Swift was (in my mind anyway) a scion of Jon Stewart when he published his proposal….

    My point is that even in ’76 the hypocrisy of the American society existed. In our founding documents, we were hypocritical beyond the beyonds. The Original Sin of the USA is in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. It was shortly backed up by genocide rivaled only by events of the mid-20th century…and Rwanda (probably many others, but I’m trying to make a point)
    The goalposts moved, that’s all. Then they painted ‘em. Feudal serf to Indentured Servant to sharecroper to wage slave is how I see them.

    I don’t give a fiddle-dee-dee about what other nations did. I’m talking about how since Jubille, Black Americans are still…STILL oppressed in the good ol’ USA. By virtue of the color of their skin. And that history is long and hard. And plenty of whites have been wage slaves alongside them since Reconstruction.

    Let’s say my statement about wage slavery is right. If so, then those examples of Jamaica, and pre-revolution Russia are historical warnings then. You’re only hearing about Portland and CHAZ b/c the media gatekeepers want you to. There is a bubbling rage out there. A justified rage. And there’s a whole lot of wage slaves living among you guys. (Live in Canada now)

    If this is an attempt on your part to calm waters by introducing a historical perspective I don’t think it was successful.

    • Just curious: do you really expect anything *significant* to change any time soon?

      Not me. The underlying trends numbers don’t support it. What I’m seeing is handwringing, gestures, and no meaningful change. Stuff like this:
      “Apple started making the changes in its own documentation and beta software released last month at its WWDC conference. But on Thursday, it started describing the changes more directly on its developer website to programmers who might be affected by the change. That’s important since some terminology changes can actually affect how code works — for example programming interfaces that use particular words.”


      Whitelist becomes allowlist
      Blacklist becomes denylist
      Master/slave becomes leader/follower, primary/replica or primary/standby
      Grandfathered becomes legacy status
      Gendered pronouns (for example “guys”) become folks, people, you all, y’all
      Gendered pronouns (for example “he” or “his”) become they or their
      Man hours becomes person hours or engineer hours
      Sanity check becomes quick check, confidence check or coherence check
      Dummy value becomes placeholder value or sample value

      That will change everything!
      It’s brave new world!

      Diagnosis is easy, treatment is hard.
      None of the prescriptions will change anything except, maybe, the figureheads in the political media. Big freaking deal.
      If anything, the riots and occupations will make things worse, much like the riots of ’68. Destroying their own environment, the local econony, the already limited jobs, driving out their own protectors.
      And Kent State is still an option. Probably in Portland.

      What matters on the ground isn’t what somebody’s great great did to somebody else’s in 1776 but who is doing what today. Focusing on the past is meaningless talk and talk is cheap; minor gestures are a smoke screen, but in the end demographics and economics rule. The Law of unintended consequences will undercut everything the pols float. They’re peddling false hope. (What did eight years of “hope” bring? Eight years of doing nothing, waiting for someone else to “fix” everything, anything? How’d that work out?) The only solutions that work are the ones you implement yourself.

      Fifty years of progressive “solutions” have fixed nothing and defunding the police and telling the melanin-deprived to quit their jobs so “POCs” can displace them (Seattle, 2020) are silly. Nobody gives up their livelihood and security to placate rioters. They might vote for orange guys, though.

      Bussing created white flight, the “Great Society” destroyed the inner city culture, family structure, and the Bookerite ethos of self-reliance. All it achieved was short term quiet in return for long term disasters like the hosing bubble. (Look into who set in motion the sub-prime mess. Hint, Carter and Congress.) You do know who the main beneficiaries of affirmative action have been? (White women.) Minority government contract set-asides? (big corporations). Go step by step, look past the façades and the only changes are less kids growing up with fathers, increased self-segregation, and a new generation of poor kids killing each other, fighting over who gets to victimize their neighbors. What mural fixes that? How does speech suppression helps? Ubiversal Basic Income? They tried it in Norway. They just killed the experiment: it changed hothing.

      Try ignoring to emotional politician and pundit rants and look at it like a world building exercise.
      Use the tools of authors to look past the handwaving.
      What are the impersonal forces doing out there?
      How is the world changing?
      What are the concerns of the increasingly silent majority?
      Where are the new jobs coming? Where are they vanishing?
      Wage slaves? Don’t worry. Those “oppresive” jobs are going away.
      There are Trillionaires coming but they’re not coming from NYC, or DC, or SanFran, Hollywood, or Seattle. (Try Fremont, Austin, South Padre Island, Arizona. Boston.)

      The future is being built all around us but it’s not by politicians or rioters.
      There are trends all over, going unreported by media or pundits.
      And none of them involve even more government largesse, more taking from the productive, more leveling, more wards of tbe state. They do involve “white” practices like self-reliance, hard work, education, rugged individualism. You know, the conventional ways of building a life.


      Tough times are coming and meaningful social change only comes when tbe majority is comfortable and secure, when it doesn’t mean zero-sum losses. When times get tough, people hunker down and double down on their hierarchy of needs. Fretting about the dead past fixes nothing, the present is what it is, and the future is being quietly molded by the forward-looking, not the rioters.

      Sorry, but all this churning will help nothing.
      Moynihan is as right today as he was in ’70.

      And the spectre of war looms ever larger.
      That too is an ongoing trend.

      • Look into who set in motion the sub-prime mess. Hint, Carter and Congress.

        They created the CRA (Community reinvestment Act), but Clinton, Rubin, and Summers did the real heavy lifting. Every time someone asks why nobody went to jail because of the housing bust, I respond that the democrats could never survive discovery. The Woke have no idea what happened.

        • Previous administrations also had a part in it.
          The underlying problem was lenders were forced to allow loans on reasons other than economic and created the loan bundles to hide the bad ones. The bundled securities were ticking time bombs as Congress kept ramping up the requirement on lenders.
          It was an avoidable (and predicted) disaster, typical of when politicians distort markets. Same story, over and over. And people keep voting for them. (shrug)

    • Black Americans are still…STILL oppressed in the good ol’ USA.

      How? Where? By whom?

      And if whites are wage slaves, is it because of the color of their skin? I suppose for a lot of them, we might say it is because they never finished high school, had kids without being married, and were raised in a house that was not headed by two married parents.

      But, we can’t deny many people in the country definitely are privileged. They had the privilege of being raised by two married parents who finished high school before getting married, and didn’t have kids until they were married. That is indeed a privilege. It’s a privilege that lasts for life.

    • Agitprop isn’t new.

      Neither are the proposals.
      The problem isn’t identifying the existence of ills; I said diagnostics are easy.
      Finding (and accepting) a workable solution is the problem.
      The politicians (elected and unelected) agitating may float as many hoary old concepts as they want to, looking to stir up as much trouble as tbey want to, but none of them will fix a socio-cultural problem endemic to statism. Teaching people to expect the state to solve *their* problems isn’t particularly helpful when the state has nothing to gain by solving them. It only ensures the problems endure. But as a certain recent politician said in private about a different ussue; “If we solve the problem now, we won’t havevan issue to pronote come tge election.”

      We’re in the third generation of blindly throwing money at it and headcounting without considering that how the money is granted is as important as how much. “Take the check and stop bothering me.” has only made things worse for everybody.

      Here, check out this report from the (very liberal) BROOKINGS INSTITUTE:


      “The lack of marriageable men in the black community is affected by the very high rates of incarceration and early death among black men compared to white men,” the study explains. “Among black male high school dropouts, 60 percent will be dead or incarcerated before the age of 35.”

      (You ever watch the 90’s PBS report on Shaker Hights? It discovered that even the most afluent of integrated communities consider hard work and advanced schooling to be “acting white”. Those are the children of Doctors, lawyers, and successful busibess types. If not, look it up.)

      67% single parent households makes a difference, apparently. (Vs 24% for white and 41% for hispanics.)

      And what is the response of the agitators?
      Reduce policing. Yeah, right.
      Because all their ills will be solved by letting drug dealers and gangbangers operate freely, right?
      Because black on black crime isn’t real, right?

      I saw what the 69 DC riots left behind, I saw what the 91 DC riots achieved. I tgink I have a pretty good idea what the new riots will solve.

      Because “if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you always got” isn’t just for ossified corporate publishers. At least the BPHs had a good run of success following the old practices. One can almost understand the kneejerk unwillingness to accept a new reality.

      But the rioters have no such excuses.
      They are demanding *more* of a statist “solution” that has not only failed to solve their socioeconomic ills, but is adding unto their woes. They keep on supporting the politicians telling them it is everybody else’s problem, not theirs, because it is easier than doing the hard work of looking in a mirror.

      The system expects certain values and certain decisions for success.
      Some understand and adapt and survive.
      Others riot.
      Same old, same old.

        • You need a tiger mom for the latter.
          A generations long problem needs a generations long solution.

          Cultures don’t change overnight and going from the pre-60’s strong families and self-reliance urban black culture to the single parent, misogynistic playa culture of the rioters isn’t an easy fix.

          First of all, tbey have to appreciate the harm the statist culture of dependency has foisted upon them. Then they have to reach out to the rest of the cultures for guidance on rebuilding the once-strong urban family structure.

          Mind you, single parent households are a problem for all ethnicities, but 67% is a whole different kettle of fish than 24%. And there’s a difference between divorced parents and grandparents rearing their descendants. This should be the primary problem of the day, not the “need” for “safe zones”.

          Fixing a problem requires first accepting it’s *your* problem to fix.
          Not there yet.
          It can and will get worse first.

          • You need a tiger mom for the latter.

            Sure. That means a parent who takes individual responsibility. Those kids win.

            Other parents insists the government must take responsibility for their kids. Those kids lose.

            • Especially when the government wants dependent, reliable voters, not free thinking uppity self-supporting folks.
              What was the old line? “It takes a village?”
              The village isn’t doing a particularly good job…
              …unless the kids shoot hoops or rap “real fine”.
              There’s still plenty of folks trying to do right by their kids but the raw numbers keep pointing in the wrong direction.

              There’s nothing benign about the policies of neglect.

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