From Abolition to Emancipation

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The depiction of a kneeling slave was commonly used as a banner for abolitionist groups in Great Britain.

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Take notice of the gender specifications in the logos

In a previous post to this blog titled Birmingham Ladies’ Society for Relief of Negro Slaves, I briefly discussed upper class women’s groups in the 1800s, and their effect on the spread of abolition in Great Britain. In that post I presented an argument by Clare Midgley that interpreted these groups as, “kneeling enchanted women who were pathetically appealing for their freedoms.”(1) For critics like Midgley, these women’s groups had questionable impact on influencing real social and political change. This stance does find validity in the short term historical analysis of eighteenth and nineteenth century society. However, when analyzing broader scope of historical events their efforts do find greater influence.

The anti-slavery movement gave women the opportunity to take an opinionated stance in a more formal political and social forum. Many historians argue that, “the historical intersection of a feminist impulse with anti-slavery agitation helped secure white British women’s political self-empowerment.” (2) Women like Emma Courtney began to connect with the struggle behind abolition with that of emancipation.(3) The general goal of equality was shared and respected by these two groups.

While it is true that upper-class women’s groups were not actively and aggressively pushing anti-slavery ideology, their effect on a broader historical context should not be mitigated just because they were not as outspoken as some of their abolitionist counterparts. Do you agree more with Midgley’s perspective or the counter argument that was presented in this post?

 

~WDL

References

  1. Midgley, Clare. “Anti-Slavery and Feminism in Nineteenth-Century Britain.” Gender & History3(1993): 343-62. Web.
  2. Ferguson, Moira. Subject to Others British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670-1834. Abingdon: Routledge, 2014. Print.
  3. Ferguson, Subject to Others, 196.

Powder Kegs filled with Sugar

 

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The abolitionist movements on the mainland of Great Britain are widely accepted as smaller groups of, “thoughtful committed citizens out to change the world.” (1) This was very different from many of the abolitionist movements (or rebellions in some cases) witnessed in cash crop producing colonies such as Bermuda and Saint Domingue. When researching for my term paper I realized that there was a trend of stronger acts of defiance taking place in colonies where sugar plantations were the dominating economy. As discussed in previous posts to this blog, sugar plantations implemented much more brutal and oppressive systems. The level of oppression would eventually lead to increased tensions and desperation within the slave community living in these areas.

Although the reactions and effects vary depending on the colony under observation, there is a significant difference in comparison to the timeline of abolition in the mainland of Great Britain. Academics support the interpretation of the Haitian Revolution as, “unplanned and uncoordinated actions,” from people who were less dedicated to the principles of upper-class white abolitionist groups. (2) The actors behind this rebellion were motivated by desperation. Desperation to end a system of oppression they could no longer physically and emotionally tolerate. The instigators of these movements initially did not  have a long term agenda to follow their hopeful freedom. They simply could not live under the terrible conditions in the sugar plantations any longer. Do you think that these rebellions had any since of planning, or just the product of the eventual snap in the minds of the oppressed?

~WDL

References

  1. Popkin, Jeremy D. You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Backlash to Mary Prince

 

The story of Mary Prince finds significance in the history of the anti-slavery movement in the Empire of Great Britain. When researching for this blog as well as the term paper that follows, I struggled to develop analysis beyond popular and accepted interpretations of Mary Prince and her life. There are few primary source documents simply because the context of her life. As a slave Prince could not read or write. Yet many historians and academics will argue that Prince’s narrative stood as a catalyst for abolition to spread beyond the mainland of Great Britain. (1) Prince undoubtedly spread the ideologies of anti-slave rhetoric among whites on the mainland of Great Britain. This can be supported by her interactions with the Birmingham Ladies Society that has been discussed previously in this Blog. Although Prince’s narrative did strike a chord with certain groups of English society in the mainland, did she have a significant influence on strengthening the anti-slave movement in Britain’s colonies and territories abroad?

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Methodist minister Joshua Marsden preaching to Bermuda Slaves. Marsden arrived in Bermuda in 1808 and encouraged slaves to learn to read and write (Source). Although Marsden came before Prince’s book was published, his work there showed how sentiments towards the institution of slavery were already starting to change in the British territories and colonies.

There was noticeable backlash to the narrative, especially from pro-slavery media outlets in the British colonies.  The Bermuda Royal Gazette published an article covering Prince’s narrative that attacked the validity of her story as well as her character, “Implying that Prince was a prostitute and wondered why the Anti-Slavery Society would believe her story.”(2) My overall question in regards to this post is what effects (if any) did the backlash to Mary Prince’s narrative had on her public perception? Did these accusations negatively impact her story and how it was viewed?

~WDL

References

  1. “Mary Prince: The First Woman to Present a Petition to Parliament.” The Abolition of Slavery Project. The Abolition Project, n.d. Web. Feb. 2017.
  2. “Biography: Mary Prince.” BermudaBios. Bermuda Biographies, n.d. Web. Feb. 2017.

Murder in the Name of Sugar

Many academics agree that systems of slavery took on different levels of brutality depending on which region is under observation. This can be explained by three main aspects within the system.  Geography Population composition, and type of crops being produced. This blog will be analyzing these aspects to validate the interpretation of the Caribbean slave system as being more ruthless than anywhere else in the triangular trade route.

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Enslaved Africans cutting sugar cane in Antigua, published in 1823. -Courtesy of Liverpool Museums  

Geography and population composition were aspects of the Caribbean system that greatly influenced the level of brutality towards slaves. Typically African slaves outnumbered their white captors three to one in conservatives, and sometimes even by ninety percent. [1] This unbalanced ratio place the smaller white population in constant fear of a slave revolt. This fear was intensified by the isolation of the island plantations. If a slave rebellion were to break out, reinforcements would be months away. Ultimately this led slave owners to implement brutal tactics to subdue and control their slaves. [2]

The type of cash crop being produced also had a huge part to play in the increased brutality in the Caribbean slave system. This area of the triangular trade route almost exclusively relied on sugar production. The sugar making process requires quick pace compared to other cash crops. This is because the harvested sugar cane will deteriorate quickly after it’s harvested. Slave owners would work slaves on sugar plantations to their maximum physical potential to keep up the pace and efficiency of the sugar plantation. Slave owners cared little for their labor force and would have to pay less just to replace slaves every few years after they were worked to death. [3]

I draw connection to Mary Prince by her birth place in British controlled Bermuda. Prince’s birth place connects her narrative to other Caribbean slaves. Did her writing directly influence the motivations behind the Haitian slave revolt? Hopefully will be exploring this question in further research.

~WDL

References

  1. Dirks, Robert, and B. W. Higman. “Slave Population of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834.” Ethnohistory1 (1986): 99. Web.
  2. Reddit Forum
  3. “Slavery in the Caribbean.” Slavery in the Caribbean – International Slavery Museum, Liverpool Museums. International Slavery Museum, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2017.

Slavery on the Islands

When researching Mary Prince I learned that the abolition of slavery for many European countries was not instantaneous. For countries like England and France, abolition was a drawn out political debate. Even when slavery became outlawed by the home country, its territories and colonies still practiced the act. European governments were not quite ready to abdicate the economic gains they received from slavery. This was especially true in places like Bermuda and Haiti, where the practice of slavery took on a new level of brutality. [1] French plantation owners in Haiti would work their slaves so hard that their common lifespan was only a few years. It was cheaper for the slave owners to buy new slaves and ship them to Haiti than it was for them to improve working conditions. [2] Historians attribute over a million slaves were murdered over the hundred year French occupation of Haiti. [3] The slave narratives found in You are All Free by Jeremy Popkin details the horrors of slave life in Haiti. What was striking in Popkin’s book was the accounts of legalized torture used on the slaves. Common practices included being whipped, buried alive, restrained and allowed to be bitten by swarms of insects, mutilated, raped, and having limbs amputated.

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Jeremy Popkin’s book gives an in-depth analysis of slavery in Haiti. Popkin accounts for the Haitian Revolution and its impact on the global slave trade. If you are interested in understanding the dynamics of slavery in the Caribbean this is a good book to start with.

Reading these accounts raised several questions regarding slavery in the Caribbean. Why was the island system so much harsher than elsewhere? Were accounts of slave practices in Haiti commonly known in Europe, or did governments work to keep them out of the public eye? Finally I wondered about the effect of Mary Prince on slavery in Haiti and Bermuda. Did her narrative have an impact on slave systems outside of Great Britain? And if so to what extent?

 

References

  1. Ferguson, James. “P. 1.” Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers. Oxford, UK: B. Blackwell, 1988. N. pag. Print.
  2. Abbott, Elizabeth. Haiti: A Shattered Nation. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2011. Print.
  3. Haiti: A Shattered Nation. P. 27.
  4. Popkin, Jeremy D. You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Stolen Words: The Legacy of Mary Prince’s Writings

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Thomas Pringle

While I have presented some critical analysis over the question of authorship in The History of Mary Prince, there has been little connection to its effect in a broader historical sense. Focusing on the aspect of authenticity, let’s assume that Mary Prince’s voice suffered some sense of loss in translation. Does this negatively affect Prince’s role as a “spokeswoman for Black people in Britain and the Caribbean?” [1] Many historians don’t think so.  Critical analysis from Sandra Paquet views the influence of white abolitionists as, “heteroglot voices that compete with but do not dominate Mary Prince’s fully integrated sense of self.” [2] Paquet’s analysis (which I agree with for the most part) concedes that there was an obvious and inevitable influence on Mary Prince’s memoir because it was transcribed and then edited by someone who was not Prince herself.

It is also important to understand that Thomas Pringle made clear distinctions when he was presenting his own thoughts/feelings, and when he was presenting those of Mary Prince. Most of his additions to the book are separated by their own chapter. [3] The entirety of her narrative is followed by a, “supplement to the History of Mary Prince by the editor,” which essentially a quick descriptive analysis regarding the legality and altruistic issues of Mary Prince’s “freedom.” [4] Pringle is not hijacking Princes voice, simply articulating her thoughts and conclusions in a way that can be better understood by its intended audience. Which at the time was those who were literate (mostly white upper-middle class English citizens). Although many have questioned whether Prince’s voice was manipulated to popularize an anti-colonialist/anti-slave writing, I do not believe that Prince’s personal sentiments would have been much different than those presented in the book by Thomas Pringle. In primary accounts, “Prince portrays herself as extraordinarily hard working, resourceful and progressively resistant.” (5) She was not a naive bystander to the interests of the anti-slavery movement, rather an active participant.

~WDL

 

References

  1. Prince, Mary, and Thomas Pringle. The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. London: F. Westley and A.H. Davis, 1831. Print.
  2. Paquet, Sandra. “The Heartbeat of a West Indian Slave: The History of Mary Prince.” African American Review 26.1 (1992): 134. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web.
  3. The History of Mary Prince. P. 142
  4. Logsdon, Joseph, and Frances Smith Foster. “Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-bellum Slave Narratives.” The Journal of Southern History1 (1980): 117. Web.
  5. The Heartbeat of a West Indian Slave. P. 134

In Her Own Words: The Voice of Mary Prince

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Proclamation of the Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies 1849, by Francois Auguste Biard 

When analyzing the Mary Prince and the impact of her book The History of Mary Prince, many historians have questioned the authenticity of her voice and identity throughout the narrative. It is known that Prince received help in transcribing and publishing her narrative. This help came mostly from white abolitionists such as her editor Thomas Pringle. [1] Because of this influence an argument has been made by academics that questions, “the circumstances governing the textual production of Mary Prince’s narrative that unquestionably altered her individual authorial voice.” [2] Criticism arise from historians who assert that Prince’s book is a conventional slave narrative and bears a striking resemblance in terms of theme and content to the anti-slave reports published by white abolitionists at the time. [3]

While it is true that Prince’s account may have lost a certain degree of authenticity in transcription/editing, her voice is not misrepresented. Prince is not a, “neutral passive recorder but rather a creative active shaper.” [4] By using her a personal account of her life, Prince is able to validate a slave’s point of view for many white people.

Taking into account both interpretations and their arguments, which can be more validated it terms of accurately representing Mary Prince’s voice? Is the fact that Price’s narrative was influenced by white abolitionists detrimental to its influence on society? Or just its “authenticity”?

~WDL

References

  1. Prince, Mary, and Thomas Pringle. The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. London: F. Westley and A.H. Davis, 1831. Print.
  2. Paquet, Sandra Pouchet. “The Heartbeat of a West Indian Slave: The History of Mary Prince.” AfricanAmerican Review 26.1 (1992): 131. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web.
  3. The Heartbeat of a West Indian Slave, p. 131
  4. Olney, James. “”I Was Born”: Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and asLiterature.” Callaloo No. 20 (1984): 46-73. JSTOR. Web. 14 Jan. 2017.