The Americas 61.2 (2004) 308-310
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Few regions on the globe are as intimately connected with a single agricultural crop as the Caribbean is with sugar. The almost synonymous meaning between the Caribbean and sugar has caused many scholars to neglect that even the major sugar producing islands of Hispaniola, Cuba, Barbados, and Jamaica, to name just a few, have all gone through pre- and post-"sugar cycles." Verene A. Shepherd has brought together a series of articles that have appeared elsewhere over the last ten years (many of which first appeared in Plantation Society in the Americas [fall 1998]), and original contributions to emphasize that the sugar plantation model has masked "the fact that diversification was a significant feature of Caribbean society and economy even in the age of sugar" (p. 1). In order to draw attention to the economic and social diversity that has defined the region since the seventeenth century, chapters [End Page 308] cover the French, Spanish and above all British Caribbean with thematic attention to non-sugar agricultural production, free people of color, and urban slavery.
The strength of this collection rests on the attention it brings to various agricultural commodities that have been neglected in Caribbean historiography. David Geggus' chapter on indigo production in Saint Domingue display his characteristic succinct clarity of exposition and analysis in explaining both the importance of the crop for the French colony and the detailed labor process involved that shaped slaves' life. Nigel Bolland's chapter on timber extraction in Belize draws an important contrast to the rigid labor regime of the plantations as he analyzes the mobility of the labor force and the slaves' cultural practices. Gail Saunders' detailed analysis of cotton production stresses how the task system shaped slave culture on Bahamian plantations. Reflecting the editor's area of expertise, Jamaica receives the most attention in the volume. Chapters by B. W. Higman, Verene A. Shepherd, and Kathleen E. A. Monteith focus on what are known as "pens," cattle farms or ranches that raised livestock to provide animal power and meat for the colonists. A direct correlation existed between the rapid rise in plantation production and the increase in pens since they functioned as an important supporting industry by providing beasts of burden, hides and beef. S. D. Smith's chapter employs two detailed journals by Jamaican coffee planter's to provide a comprehensive overview of the slave labor regime used for coffee production. The chapters for Jamaica emphasize the common theme of the volume: despite the dominant position of sugar in the historiography, diversity characterized the Caribbean.
The remaining five chapters focus on the related and overlapping groups of urban slaves and free people of color. Evelyn Powell Jennings' chapter on the slave labor force owned and used by the Spanish state for its massive military constructions in Havana during the second half of the eighteenth century brings much needed attention to the multiple uses of slave labor in Cuba before the sugar boom of the nineteenth century. Pedro Welch's chapter on urban slavery in Bridgetown, Barbados sheds light on the important role of "hucksters," slaves who met boats that docked at bay and offshore to sell them goods and foodstuffs. Félix V. Matos Rodríguez analyzes how the debate over urban slavery between abolitionists and slaveholders and the gendered experiences of male and female slaves served as crucial catalysts in the eventual abolition of Puerto Rican slavery. Franklin Knight offers a concise analysis of the social, economic and cultural experiences of the Cuban free people of color population that varied from 15 to 20 percent of the overall population throughout the nineteenth century. Hilary McD. Beckles also focuses on the free population of color to examine their contradictory position of being trapped between a white world of masters and a black world of slaves. Studying...