Trevor Burnard, "Jamaica in the Age of Revolution" (U Pennsylvania Press, 2020)


Between the start of the Seven Years' War in 1756 and the onset of the French Revolution in 1789, Jamaica was the richest and most important colony in British America. White Jamaican slaveowners presided over a highly productive economic system, a precursor to the modern factory in its management of labor, its harvesting of resources, and its scale of capital investment and output. Planters, supported by a dynamic merchant class in Kingston, created a plantation system in which short-term profit maximization was the main aim. Their slave system worked because the planters who ran it were extremely powerful.

In Jamaica in the Age of Revolution (U Pennsylvania Press, 2020), prize-winning historian Trevor Burnard analyzes the men and women who gained so much from the labor of enslaved people in Jamaica to expose the ways in which power was wielded in a period when the powerful were unconstrained by custom, law, or, for the most part, public approbation or disapproval. Burnard finds that the unremitting war by the powerful against the poor and powerless, evident in the day-to-day struggles slaves had with masters, is a crucial context for grasping what enslaved people had to endure.

Examining such events as Tacky's Rebellion of 1760 (the largest slave revolt in the Caribbean before the Haitian Revolution), the Somerset decision of 1772, and the murder case of the Zong in 1783 in an Atlantic context, Burnard reveals Jamiaca to be a brutally effective and exploitative society that was highly adaptable to new economic and political circumstances, even when placed under great stress, as during the American Revolution. Jamaica in the Age of Revolution demonstrates the importance of Jamaican planters and merchants to British imperial thinking at a time when slavery was unchallenged.

Trevor Burnard is the Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation and Director of the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull. Professor Burnard is a scholar of early American, imperial, world and Atlantic history, with a special interest in plantation societies in the New World and their connections to eighteenth-century modernity. He is coauthor, with John Garrigus, of The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jerrad P. Pacatte is a Ph.D. candidate and School of Arts and Sciences Excellence Fellow in the Department of History at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. A social historian of gender, slavery, and emancipation in early America and the Atlantic World, Jerrad is currently completing his dissertation, entitled “The Work of Freedom: African American Women and the Ordeal of Emancipation in New England, 1740-1840” which examines the everyday lives, labors, and emancipation experiences of African-descended women in late-colonial and early republic New England.

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Jerrad Pacatte

Jerrad P. Pacatte is a doctoral candidate and School of Arts and Sciences Excellence Fellow in the Department of History at Rutgers.

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