Plantations and Homes

This article is about the wealth and material culture of the Jamaican elite during the age of abolition. The planter class had a huge material investment in plantation slavery, and wealth derived from this allowed it to live ostentatiously and to consume conspicuously. Those who did not migrate away from Jamaica were drawn towards colonial towns, many of them taking up residence in, or at the edges of, urban centres. Lists of personal property found in probate inventories show how planters cultivated separate spheres of activity on the plantations and at their peri-urban homes, putting physical and cultural distance between themselves and the sources of their wealth. Click here

Full text of accepted manuscript: Petley – Plantations and Homes

The Material Cultures of Slavery and Abolition

This is the introduction to a special issue of the journal Slavery and Abolition, which gathered together articles by historians and archaeologists seeking to shed new light on the system of slavery, and on the processes of abolition and emancipation, in the British Caribbean. This work, some of it based on archaeological field work, some of it on the reading of texts, enables us to pay close attention to the complex fabric of daily existence during slavery. The politics of slavery and abolition related to the most mundane but essential parts of daily life. Taking a material approach allows us to connect this to wider transatlantic, imperial and global themes. This article argues that we can only really study the politics of slavery if we accept that the meanings attached to objects and to physical locations were of fundamental importance to the institution as it was lived by its perpetrators and victims. Click here

Full text of accepted manuscript: Petley and Lenik – Introduction

The Fall of the Planter Class

This is the introduction to a special issue of the journal Atlantic Studies, about the fall of the planters. It argues that the difficulties faced by the planter class in the British West Indies from the 1780s were an early episode in a wider drama of decline for New World plantation economies. The American historian Lowell Ragatz published the first detailed historical account of their fall. His work helped to inform the influential arguments of Eric Williams, which were later challenged by Seymour Drescher. Recent research has begun to offer fresh perspectives on the debate about the decline of the planters. This article discusses that work and maps out new directions in this field. Click here

Full text of accepted manuscript: Petley – Fall of the Planter Class

Gluttony, Excess, and the Fall of the Planter Class

Food and rituals around eating are a fundamental part of human existence. They can also be heavily politicized and socially significant. In the British Caribbean, white slaveholders were renowned for their hospitality towards one another and towards white visitors. This was no simple quirk of local character. Hospitality and sociability played a crucial role in binding the white minority together. This solidarity helped a small number of whites to dominate and control the enslaved majority. By the end of the eighteenth century, British metropolitan observers had an entrenched opinion of Caribbean whites as gluttons. Travelers reported on the sumptuous meals and excessive drinking of the planter class. Abolitionists associated these features of local society with the corrupting influences of slavery. Excessive consumption and lack of self-control were seen as symptoms of white creole failure. This article explores how local cuisine and white creole eating rituals developed as part of slave societies and examines the ways in which ideas about hospitality and gluttony fed into the debates over slavery that led to the dismantling of slavery and the fall of the planter class. Click here

Full text of accepted manuscript: Petley – Gluttony and Excess

New Perspectives on Slavery and Emancipation

New approaches to British imperial history and the rise of Atlantic history have had a strong influence on historians specializing in the history of the British-colonized Caribbean during the era of slavery. Caribbean scholars have always stressed the importance of transatlantic and colonial connections, but these new perspectives have encouraged historians to rethink the ways that Caribbean colonies and the imperial metropole shaped one another and to reconsider the place of the Caribbean region within wider Atlantic and global contexts. Attention to transatlantic links has become especially important in new work on abolition and emancipation. Scholars have also focused more of their attention on white colonizing elites, looking in particular at colonial identities and at strategies of control. Meanwhile, recent calls for pan-Caribbean approaches to the history of the region are congruent with pleas for more detailed and nuanced understandings of the development of slave and post-slave societies, focusing on specifically Caribbean themes while setting these in their wider imperial, Atlantic, and global contexts. Click here