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Caribbean Slave Revolts and the British Abolitionist Movement

Gelien Matthews

Publication Year: 2006

In this illuminating study, Gelien Matthews demonstrates how slave rebellions in the British West Indies influenced the tactics of abolitionists in England and how the rhetoric and actions of the abolitionists emboldened slaves. Moving between the world of the British Parliament and the realm of Caribbean plantations, Matthews reveals a transatlantic dialectic of antislavery agitation and slave insurrection that eventually influenced the dismantling of slavery in British-held territories. Focusing on slave revolts that took place in Barbados in 1816, in Demerara in 1823, and in Jamaica in 1831–32, Matthews identifies four key aspects in British abolitionist propaganda regarding Caribbean slavery: the denial that antislavery activism prompted slave revolts, the attempt to understand and recount slave uprisings from the slaves' perspectives, the portrayal of slave rebels as victims of armed suppressors and as agents of the antislavery movement, and the presentation of revolts as a rationale against the continuance of slavery. She makes shrewd use of previously overlooked publications of British abolitionists to prove that their language changed over time in response to slave uprisings. Historians previously have examined the economic, religious, and political bases for slavery's abolishment in the Caribbean, but Matthews here emphasizes the agency of slaves in the march toward freedom. Her compelling work is a valuable analytical tool in the interpretation of abolition in North America, uncovering the important connections between rebellious slaves on one side of the Atlantic and abolitionists on the other side.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-

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Preface

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pp. ix-x

Caribbean Slave Revolts and the British Abolitionist Movement studies the British antislavery movement and the major nineteenth-century slave revolts in the English colonies, particularly those in Barbados (1816), Demerara (1823), and Jamaica...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-

First, I must express my deepest gratitude to my supervisor at the University of Hull, Professor David Richardson. I deeply appreciate his unfailing concern for my well-being, his support of every academic adventure I embarked on during my three years...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-27

This book analyzes four aspects of the British antislavery discourse on the slave rebellions that erupted in the British West Indies in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Chapter 2 focuses on the abolitionists’ denial that antislavery agitation prompted slave revolts and their attempts...

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2. Agitating the Question

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pp. 28-57

This chapter examines the circumstances that cleared the path for the emergence of the British abolitionists’ slave rebellion discourse. The slaves’ decision to rebel just when abolitionists had begun to attack the institution of slavery itself unlocked an offensive and defensive pro- and...

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3. The Other Side of Slave Revolts

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pp. 58-95

The attempt to satisfactorily interpret the nineteenth-century slave rebellions in the British West Indies presents the historian with great difficulties. Generally uneducated, slave rebels were unable to leave records articulating their own perception of rebellion. The slave records that do...

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4. Loaded with Deadly Evidence

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pp. 96-134

British abolitionists challenged the common and negative perception of slave revolts that was shaped by slavery advocates and presented instead a more sympathetic depiction of the slaves’ revolt. They did not merely intend to dismiss planter descriptions...

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5. Apocalyptic Warning

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pp. 135-179

This chapter explores the most dynamic lesson that British abolitionists extracted from the nineteenth-century slave rebellions in the British West Indies. It examines how abolitionists used rebellions to warn of the dangers they posed to the British Empire and to individuals with economic...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 180-183

British antislavery discourse on the major nineteenth-century slave revolts in the Caribbean colonies was, in a sense, a defensive one. By taking the initiative to rise in rebellion immediately after each wave of abolitionist-sponsored programs, the slaves enabled proslavery advocates to make a...

Bibliography

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pp. 185-197


E-ISBN-13: 9780807148907
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807131312

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World