Tacky’s Revolt review: Britain, Jamaica, slavery and an early fight for freedom – The Guardian

By 1690, Jamaica was the jewel of Britains American possessions. An economy largely based on the production of sugar brought wealth and led to the beginnings of an imperial system.

But that system was built on the almost unimaginably brutal reality of slavery, enforced by almost equally unimaginable cruelties and daily punishments and control.

The system was ruthless and relentless. In the mid-18th century one plantation in Westmoreland Parish, site of the most serious slave revolt in 1760, recorded twice as many deaths as births, many from pure overwork. Importation of fresh slaves, often from the Gold Coast of Africa, filled the gap and reinforced the system yet contained the seeds of the systems eventual destruction.

Vincent Browns Tackys Revolt: The Story of An Atlantic Slave War, places the Jamaican revolts of 1760 firmly within the broader history of the time, notably the Seven Years War, for which Brown comments that historians have barely noticed that the Jamaican insurrection was one of its major battles. The judgment is correct when one remembers that the Caribbean, not just Quebec, was key to British strategy.

This is not popular history, perhaps in either sense of the word. But it is important history

War suffuses this book: wars among African polities, wars between the European powers such as the War of Jenkins Ear and the Seven Years War, war and violence on the daily life of the plantation between master and enslaved. These wars within wars, Brown writes, ensured that slaverys violent conflicts integrated Europe, Africa, America, and the Atlantic ocean.

Brown endorses the phrase of freed slave and soldier Olaudah Equiano: that slavery was itself a state of war. Overseer and diarist Thomas Thistlewood chronicled the inhumanity of slavery, including his own brutalities. The daily violence of plantation life was a war for control no less than the broader contest in the Caribbean between Britain, France and Spain.

It is thus a small step for Brown to conclude that recognizing slave revolt as a species of warfare is the first step toward a new cartography of Atlantic slavery.

African commanders including Tacky, who had probably held a royal office or lineage in one of the Gold Coasts eastern kingdoms, and Apongo, a leader among the Akan-speaking peoples in both Africa and Jamaica, brought knowledge of military strategy and tactics.

Brown studies the movements of the insurrection closely and draws conclusions about its military and political aims. With experience of African political and economic life, the slaves sought something more than freedom alone. As Brown writes, their pattern of warfare indicates an attempt at territorial and political control, a strategy of maneuver rather than of retreat, evasion, or escape.

The revolt of the title was put down suddenly and fiercely. It began on 7 April 1760 in St Marys Parish but was possibly premature. A larger conflict, which the British called the Coromantee war, was timed for the Whitsun holidays and for when the merchant fleet sailed to Britain, leaving the island less defended. It continued for months.

After initial success in Westmoreland Parish and retreat into the mountains and forests from which they conducted skirmishes and other tactics largely derived from African warfare, the Coromantee rebels succumbed to overwhelming British power.

The Navy brought the full resources of transatlantic empire to bear against the rebels, Brown writes, articulating the local conflict to the wider war.

Dense, closely argued and meticulously researched, this is not popular history, perhaps in either sense of the word. But it is important history. Historians have long recognized the Seven Years War as a global conflict but this book brings the role of Africa and Africans fully into the struggle.

As Brown writes in conclusion: The Coromantee war was at once an extension of the African conflicts that fed the slave trade, a race war among black slaves and white slaveholders, an imperial conquest, and an internal struggle between black people for control of territory and the establishment of a political legacy.

The economic, political and cultural consequences of this war within wars reverberated out from Jamaica to other colonies, across the ocean to Great Britain and back again to the island, where the revolt reshaped public life and lodged deeply in collective memory.

The Jamaican revolts influenced, sometimes in subtle ways, the movement for abolition of the slave trade, and eventually slavery itself, on both sides of the Atlantic. To correct a victors perspective and recover lost history and the dignity of the enslaved, Brown has written a 21st-century military history one which takes full account of all the combatants and those for whom they fought.

Read the original post:

Tacky's Revolt review: Britain, Jamaica, slavery and an early fight for freedom - The Guardian

Related Post

Comments are closed.