Contentious Liberties

Contentious Liberties: American Abolitionists in Post-Emancipation Jamaica, 1834-1866

Gale L. Kenny
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Contentious Liberties
    Book Description:

    The Oberlin College mission to Jamaica, begun in the 1830s, was an ambitious, and ultimately troubled, effort to use the example of emancipation in the British West Indies to advance the domestic agenda of American abolitionists. White Americans hoped to argue that American slaves, once freed, could be absorbed productively into the society that had previously enslaved them, but their "civilizing mission" did not go as anticipated. Gale L. Kenny's illuminating study examines the differing ideas of freedom held by white evangelical abolitionists and freed people in Jamaica and explores the consequences of their encounter for both American and Jamaican history. Kenny finds that white Americans-who went to Jamaica intending to assist with the transition from slavery to Christian practice and solid citizenship-were frustrated by liberated blacks' unwillingness to conform to Victorian norms of gender, family, and religion. In tracing the history of the thirty-year mission, Kenny makes creative use of available sources to unpack assumptions on both sides of this American-Jamaican interaction, showing how liberated slaves in many cases were able not just to resist the imposition of white mores but to redefine the terms of the encounter.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4197-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    On August 1, 1838, Americans looked south to the West Indies with great anticipation as they waited to see how Britain’s great experiment of emancipation would proceed. Five years before, Britain had passed the Abolition Act, and the first stages of the gradual abolition of colonial slavery took effect in August 1834. While Antigua proceeded to emancipate all slaves, Jamaica and Barbados reclassified most enslaved people as apprentices. American and British abolitionists alike had condemned the apprenticeship system as a useless half-measure, and Parliament eventually agreed, bringing apprenticeship to an early end in 1838. For many observers, full emancipation began...

  5. Part One.
    • [Part One. Introduction]
      (pp. 15-20)

      After the Revolutionary War, New Englanders moved west to the Ohio River Valley, spreading across the lands ceded by Iroquois tribes in western New York as well as the Western Reserve, what would become Ohio in 1803. For many migrants, this settlement was seen as the latest stage in the fulfillment of a national destiny, and the settlement in Ohio drew comparisons to the Puritan settlement of New England. One account even told of a group of settlers floating along the Ohio River on a boat named the Mayflower, and after landing in Marietta, Ohio, they “reenacted the arrival of...

    • 1 Revivals, Antislavery, and Christian Liberty
      (pp. 21-45)

      In 1825 two events occurred that would change the physical and spiritual landscape of New York state: the completion of the Erie Canal and the evangelical revivals of the Second Great Awakening. The Erie Canal created an efficient means of transportation for farm produce, manufactured goods, and people. Small settlements became towns and cities, and commercial centers like Utica and Rochester attracted young men and women from the hinterlands. Wage-labor jobs in factories and domestic work for the rising middle class provided an escape route for young people who wanted to leave behind the old order of the family farm....

    • 2 Slavery and Freedom in Jamaica
      (pp. 46-68)

      Although New England and Jamaica shared a common heritage as British colonies, they were separated by a social and cultural gulf as well as geographical distance. As the forefathers of the American missionaries built up their city on a hill in Massachusetts, another Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, oversaw the British Navy’s capture of Jamaica from the Catholic Spanish in 1655. During its first decades as a British colony, Jamaica hardly lived up to the rigorous moral standards of the Lord Protector, and it became a notorious haven for pirates interested in acquiring gold and silver from Spanish ships departing from Mexico....

  6. Part Two.
    • [Part Two. Introduction]
      (pp. 69-74)

      The first Oberlin missionary to Jamaica came to the island in 1837, at the end of the apprenticeship period. After finishing seminary at Oberlin, the one-time Lane Rebel, David S. Ingraham, arrived in Jamaica with the intention of ministering to the island’s apprentices. Over the next several years, Ingraham moved back and forth between Jamaica and the United States, trying to establish a mission church on the island while also raising funds and awareness, and recruiting new missionaries in the United States. During this time, he married a fellow Oberlin graduate, Elizabeth Hartson, and the couple had a daughter, Sarah,...

    • 3 Religion and the Civilizing Mission
      (pp. 75-99)

      A decade after the Oberlin ministers began their missionary work, the missionaries went to great pains to explain that while Jamaica had many mission churches, it had few authentic Christians. One missionary acknowledged that after emancipation in 1838 many freed people had been moved by the Holy Spirit to join churches, but after ten years it had become clear that “comparatively few conversions proved to be real and genuine.” Skeptical of the authenticity of conversions, the American ministers also blamed lax church discipline, and they regretted “that greater care and strictness were not exercised in the admission of members to...

    • 4 From Spiritual Liberty to Sexual License
      (pp. 100-128)

      In May 1850, a black Jamaican named Thomas Livingston wrote to George Whipple, the foreign corresponding secretary of the American Missionary Association, to inform him of the changes that had recently taken place at the Eliot Station’s school. The forty-seven-year-old Livingston had become a shopkeeper after emancipation in 1838, and he had belonged to the Jamaica Mission’s Eliot Church since the early 1840s. He reported to Whipple that the newest teacher at Eliot School, an American woman named Urania Hunt, “was not the person for this place,” and Livingston told Whipple that the board had hired a black Jamaican man...

    • 5 Cultivating Land, Cultivating Families
      (pp. 129-148)

      During the upheavals of 1850, the Jamaica Mission’s participants experienced firsthand and in dramatic form the social disorder they feared might happen if freedom went unchecked. The profligate John Hyde and his followers had taught a sobering lesson about the need for vigilance when it came to family bonds and sexuality, and in the wake of the Hyde fiasco, the missionaries reinvigorated their efforts to uphold the Christian family as it applied to themselves and to black Jamaicans. As we have seen, anxiety about black families and sexuality existed before the sex scandal, and the American missionaries had frequently used...

  7. Part Three.
    • [Part Three. Introduction]
      (pp. 149-155)

      In 1858, Lewis Tappan, the ama’s treasurer, voiced his growing frustration with the Jamaica Mission and its ministers. After conversing with a recently returned Mary Dean, Tappan met with an outgoing missionary to share his concerns about the field. The graying abolitionist confided to Bigelow Penfield, a twenty-four-year-old Oberlin graduate, about his dissatisfaction with “the course pursued by most of the missionaries,” and he also spoke “of the need to revolutionize the whole concern.”¹ Without question, Mary Dean’s feminine civilizing mission had clashed with the mission’s patriarchal family order, but she was not the only person to complain about the...

    • 6 Civilizing Domesticity
      (pp. 156-180)

      The Jamaica Mission is remarkable for the number of single women it employed in the decades before the Civil War. Twelve single women schoolteachers worked for the Jamaica Mission, while the much larger American Board, founded over thirty years before the ama, had only employed thirty single women by 1860.¹ The ama’s Oberlin roots as well as its abolitionist politics made it more open to female missionaries, particularly when it came to single women as moral stewards. Young white women had been among the first volunteers to teach in black schools in the United States in the 1830s, and they...

    • 7 Revival, Rebellions, and Colonial Subordination
      (pp. 181-205)

      Beginning a letter in October 1865, missionary Seth Wolcott regretted the lack of “good news!!” to convey to the ama. Instead all he had to offer was news that could only be called “sad, sader [sic],” and, Wolcott ominously wrote, “soon it will be sadest [sic].”¹ He felt frustrated that church membership and school attendance were in decline and that fewer people seemed to obey the ministers’ commands. During a conversation with “one good brother,” he had inquired, “Why do these things—God’s word, which we preach, seem to have no effect with the people? Why will they not hear...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 206-210)

    In the Jamaica Mission’s final years, the remaining ministers hoped that the United States might consider annexing Jamaica, as the annexation of nearby Santo Domingo had become a much-touted subject in the halls of Congress.¹ If Jamaica were to remain in British control, wrote Charles Starbuck, “I should be faint-hearted enough. The English cannot get over that heathenish work of condescension. They hold the people off at arm’s length and try to do them good by lecturing them.” He offered his own opinion that “a respectable American infidel is a better Christian in social respects than an English minister.”² Even...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 211-230)
    (pp. 231-246)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 247-257)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 258-258)