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  • "Coloured Citizens of the World":The Networks of Empire Loyalism in Emancipation-Era Jamaica and the Rise of the Transnational Black Press

Founded just two years after the Freedom's Journal (1827-29) inaugurated the first African American newspaper in the United States, Jamaica's first black and antislavery newspaper, the Watchman and Jamaica Free Press (1829-36), steadfastly publicized the planter-dominated colonial government's refusal to implement the civil rights that the British Crown had extended to the island's free black and slave populations prior to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.1 Despite publishing in the face of the colonial government's repeated attempts to force its suppression, the newspaper achieved a scope of influence that was well attested by a variety of nineteenth-century observers: British abolitionists credited it with providing the accurate reportage they needed to pressure their government to enact more quickly full slave emancipation in the West Indies, while colonial officials denounced the newspaper's editor as a principal instigator of the massive slave rebellion that broke out in Jamaica in the early 1830s.2

Yet the important contributions made by this and other ground-breaking Caribbean periodicals have since largely disappeared from the narrative of the emergence of black periodicals and print culture in the nineteenth century. One reason for this may lie in the differences between the Afro-Caribbean experience of print and the much better-known tradition of black writing in North America. Indeed, the historical legacies of both slavery and race diverged considerably between the early Caribbean and the United States; it is at best problematic to talk about "black" phenomena in the West Indies in a manner analogous to the North American context.3 In the West Indies, the emergence of a non-white press was coterminous with the rise of the free people of color as a vocal cleavage in the island's political public sphere. As the mixed-race descendants of traditionally white European fathers and free or enslaved African or Afro-Creole mothers, the colored or "brown" community inhabited a fraught middle area in the West Indian system of racial domination—a social pyramid constituted by a white planter minority at its apex and a base of [End Page 105] enslaved blacks. Although their social and civil rights were marginalized vis-à-vis the elite white caste, free brown people could also claim some level of social privilege and distinction—many, at times, disavowed any connection with the black population or were themselves slaveholders in Jamaica.4

However, there are also compelling reasons for including the West Indian periodicals within an account of the rise of an Anglophone black press. After all, John Russworm, co-editor of what is considered be the first black newspaper in North America, was himself a Jamaican-born free man of color, the son of a white merchant father and an enslaved black mother.5 Moreover, following cultural theorist Paul Gilroy's recovery of "blackness" as a relationship to a broader diasporic and cultural consciousness forged by the legacies of African chattel slavery and the middle passage, one can discern some broadly parallel tracks in the emergence of an Anglophone black press in North America and the Caribbean.6 In the West Indian context, the story largely begins with Henry Loving, an Antiguan man of color, who took over editorial duties at the Antigua Weekly Register in 1827, the same year that Russworm and his collaborator Samuel Cornish founded the Freedom's Journal in New York. Although there had been other Caribbean periodicals that had served the brown community or were edited by men of color, Loving's was the first that had radicalized itself to agitate against the planter-dominated colonial government and the proslavery lobby in Britain. Loving published alongside the Watchman's Jamaican editors, Edward Jordon and Robert Osborn, Samuel Cable in St. Kitts, and later Samuel Jackman Prescod in Barbados, to create a bulwark of liberal nonwhite periodicals that actively undermined plantocratic hegemony throughout the Caribbean.7 Black journalists from the United States were decidedly alert to these experiments, as several panegyrics to the Watchman's primary editor Edward Jordon by his African...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-4238
Print ISSN
1054-7479
Pages
pp. 105-124
Launched on MUSE
2013-08-29
Open Access
N
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