Intent on preserving their plantations, eighteenth-century British slaveholders created a rhetoric that naturalized African labor in the Caribbean. Examining this history demonstrates the ways in which slavery and the environment are deeply entwined. In the late eighteenth century, West Indian planters began to fear for the long-term future of their plantations on two fronts. First, planters suspected that their enthusiasm for clear-cutting in attempts to maximize cropland had reduced precipitation and made the climate drier. While medical theories held that less rainfall was beneficial to human health, crops began to suffer from drought conditions. Second, parliamentary hearings on the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade threatened the labor supply on plantations. Seeking to preserve the trade, planters argued that only Africans could perform difficult labor, including clearing wooded land, in the West Indies. A close examination of planters' writings demonstrates that their arguments for African labor were in fact early articulations of environmental racism, as they deliberately placed black bodies in environmentally hazardous situations. Considering climatic change and abolition debates together shows how race is essential to the environmental history of the West Indies.


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pp. 259-286
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