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A Tale of Two Plantations

A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia

Richard S. Dunn
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 540
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  • Book Info
    A Tale of Two Plantations
    Book Description:

    Richard Dunn reconstructs the lives of three generations of slaves on a sugar estate in Jamaica and a plantation in Virginia, to understand the starkly different forms slavery took. Deadly work regimens and rampant disease among Jamaican slaves contrast with population expansion in Virginia leading to the selling of slaves and breakup of families.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-73562-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book has two goals. First, it reconstructs the individual lives and collective experiences of some 2,000 slaves on two large plantations—Mesopotamia sugar estate in western Jamaica and Mount Airy plantation in Tidewater Virginia—during the final three generations of slavery in both places. Second, it highlights the chief differences between Afro-Caribbean slave life in the British West Indies and African American slave life in the antebellum U.S. South by comparing Mesopotamia with Mount Airy. I have spent forty years working on this project, which is not a recommendedmodus operandifor historians. This long gestation period reflects the...

  4. 1 Mesopotamia versus Mount Airy: The Demographic Contrast
    (pp. 23-73)

    When Philip Curtin publishedThe Atlantic Slave Tradein 1969, he boldly discarded previous estimates that fifteen million or more Africans had been shipped to the New World. Instead, he postulated that a total of 9,391,000 African slaves were landed in the Americas, with 4,683,000 coming to the Ca rib be an islands and 399,000 to North America.¹ Critics insisted that Curtin’s total of less than ten million was far too low, but what struck me when I read his book was the revised shape that he gave to the distribution of the transatlantic slave trade. He was one of...

  5. 2 Sarah Affir and Her Mesopotamia Family
    (pp. 74-105)

    When examined year by year, as we saw in Chapter 1, the Mesopotamia and Mount Airy inventories show how each of these two slave populations looked at a particular date, and how they changed in size, in gender balance, and in age structure over time. When examined person by person, they reveal the skeletal biographies of all the 1,103 slaves who lived at Mesopotamia between 1762 and 1833, and all the 973 slaves who lived at Mount Airy between 1808 and 1865. The documentation for most of these 2,076 slaves is admittedly minimal, but the inventoriesdoannually track the...

  6. 3 Winney Grimshaw and Her Mount Airy Family
    (pp. 106-130)

    When I started to explore slave life at Mount Airy, I expected that the richly detailed documentation compiled by the Tayloes for bookkeeping purposes could be readily converted into a comprehensive series of slave biographies. Yet reconstructing the lives of the Mount Airy people turned out to be more challenging than working with the Mesopotamia biographical data. While hardly any of the Mesopotamia people permanently left the estate until they died, the Mount Airy slaves were frequently shifted from one work site to another, and many were moved or sold from the Virginia plantation and suddenly disappeared from the inventories...

  7. 4 “Dreadful Idlers” in the Mesopotamia Cane Fields
    (pp. 131-180)

    This book offers many opportunities to observe the fatuous opinions of the white planters about Afro-Caribbean (or African American) slave character. Joseph Foster Barham II provides a classic example in his 1823 pamphlet entitledConsiderations on the Abolition of Negro Slavery, where he warned that the Caribbean slaves could not be made to perform satisfactorily as free wage laborers should the British government decide to emancipate them. Black people, in his view, were morally deficient and lacked any sort of work ethic. “The Negro race,” Barham declared, “is so averse to labour that without force we have hardly anywhere been...

  8. 5 “Doing Their Duty” at Mount Airy
    (pp. 181-223)

    When John Tayloe III completed his education at Eton and Cambridge and returned to Mount Airy in 1791 at the age of twenty, he was one of the ten largest slaveholders in Virginia.¹ No census of his slaves survives for this date, but county tax records indicate that in 1791 he held about 350 slaves at Mount Airy and many additional slaves at ironworks and farm quarters elsewhere in the Chesapeake.² Had Tayloe allowed his slave population to grow unchecked at its natural rate, he would have owned close to 1,000 enslaved people at Mount Airy by the time he...

  9. 6 The Moravian Christian Community at Mesopotamia
    (pp. 224-270)

    One of the major differences between U.S. and British Caribbean slavery is that the North American slaveholders permitted and even encouraged their slaves to join the Christian church from the late eighteenth century through the Civil War, while almost all of the slaveholders in Jamaica and the other British islands strenuously opposed any program of religious instruction for their “heathen” black workers. The Anglican clergy in Jamaica sided with the slave masters, since they supposed that Christianity was for whites only. As late as the 1830s most of the Jamaican planters were outraged because Baptist and Methodist missionaries were daring...

  10. 7 The Exodus from Mount Airy to Alabama
    (pp. 271-322)

    William Henry Tayloe (1799–1871), the master of Mount Airy from 1828 to 1865, was a different sort of person from his father, John Tayloe III, and he also lived in a different era, when southern leadership was passing from the old seaboard states to the new cotton states. As a slaveholder, however, William shared much in common with John III. Recognizing that his cohort of enslaved laborers was constantly increasing, he took full advantage of this situation by moving surplus workers to more profitable work sites or selling them to make money. William did not proclaim, as John III...

  11. 8 Mesopotamia versus Mount Airy: The Social Contrast
    (pp. 323-367)

    While the demographic contrast between our two plantations is strong and clear, the social contrast, though equally strong, is much harder to synthesize. At Mesopotamia there was a constant influx of new people; at Mount Airy there was a constant exodus of young people. At Mesopotamia a great many of the slaves were born in West Africa, bringing with them their vital native culture; at Mount Airy none of the slaves were born in Africa. At Mesopotamia interracial sex was openly practiced and well documented; at Mount Airy interracial sex was secretly practiced and undocumented. At Mesopotamia corporal punishment was...

  12. 9 Emancipation
    (pp. 368-410)

    The slaves in the British West Indies were freed thirty years before the slaves in the United States, but there were broad similarities in the emancipation process in both regions. In the British Caribbean there was a four-year preparatory stage, from 1834 to 1838. Slavery was officially terminated, but the ex-bondsmen were thought to need training for their new role as free wage workers, so they were designated as apprenticed laborers in continued (though somewhat lightened) service to their former owners. In the United States the preparatory stage, totally different in character, was a four-year war between the slave states...

  13. Appendixes
    (pp. 413-462)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 463-524)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 525-528)
  16. Index
    (pp. 529-540)