- Caribbeana: An Anthology of English Literature of the West Indies
Thus, our Lords who call themselves White-men and Christians, led by their Avarice and Luxury, commit the blackest Crimes without a blush, and wickedly subvert the Laws of Nature, and the Order of Creation. —from A SPEECH made by a BLACK of Guardaloupe, 1709
In Caribbeana, Thomas W. Krise makes a significant and timely contribution to the study of early American print culture. His carefully edited anthology not only offers valuable insight into the textual representations [End Page 370] of the English colonies in the Caribbean but also greatly expands our understanding of English colonial practices throughout the Americas, particularly in regard to the establishment and development of slavery. Included in his volume are some of the earliest, and certainly some of the most powerful, representations of Black speech in English on either side of the Atlantic.
Although generally overlooked, there are actually a fair number of early texts written to depict the English experience in the Caribbean. Krise has chosen 13 texts, both whole and in part, according to criteria that he describes as "cautious eclecticism" (xi). Covering the period between the age of exploration and the age of abolition, he opted "not to produce a comprehensive survey anthology incorporating snippets of all the keys texts but rather to provide access to hitherto unknown or little-known texts" (3). Thus, while making reference to such familiar writers as Raleigh, Shakespeare, Behn, Defoe, Smollet, and Freneau, Krise chose to reproduce a range of less familiar texts based on three criteria of selection. In his introduction, he explains:
[M]y aim has been threefold: first, to select a group of texts that reflects the major issues and preoccupations of the British West Indies in the long eighteenth century (1660–1800); second, to ensure that the resulting texts represent a range of genres; and third, to provide a work of manageable length and sufficient quality to spark and sustain the interests of historians and critics of eighteenth-century.(11)
The texts Krise chose should indeed set off sparks. The anthology offers an interesting variety of texts that exemplify, in the editor's own words, "the richness of the life and literary culture of the British West Indies between the suzerainties of Oliver Cromwell and George III" (11).
Caribbeana is a significant anthology for several reasons. First, and most obvious, it greatly expands our understanding of both the British Empire during the eighteenth century and the textual representations of its colonies. Although anthologists "are beginning to notice the literature produced by English-speaking people in the British colonies outside the future United States," Krise notes that such representations are at best merely suggestive of the full body of work produced outside the mainland colonies (3). By including texts from a variety of writers, genres, and perspectives, Caribbeana does much to correct the traditionally myopic critical preoccupation [End Page 371] with the mainland colonies during the eighteenth century. As Krise states, "[T]he British West Indian colonies were at least as important as the colonies of North America to the expanding British Empire" (3). Once the cultivation of sugar became so lucrative to plantation owners, and once sugar production inaugurated "the world's first large-scale factory system," the West Indies became a source of enormous wealth and "constituted the most valuable possessions of Great Britain and France, the world's leading powers of the day" (7).
Because of sugar, the British West Indies (primarily Jamaica, Barbados, and the Leeward Islands) fashioned cultural structures much different than those found in the mainland colonies, resulting in a different set of cultural concerns. By the time the British arrived, the native populations had already been "extirpated by warfare, forced transportation, and disease" (6). Consequently, to provide a labor force large enough to run their plantations, the owners created a "colonized subject people by purchasing and transporting culturally diverse peoples from African slave traders" (6). The desire to cultivate sugar was so great that ultimately "half the Africans transported...