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
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
Listen to Christer Petley’s paper about Horatio Nelson, slavery and the Caribbean. It was presented to a conference about the Royal Navy and the British Atlantic empire, hosted by the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. See the letter that Nelson sent to Simon Taylor here.
Christer Petley, editor of S&R, presented a paper about the material culture of the Jamaican planter class at the Association of Caribbean Historians annual conference in Martinique. This is a version of the paper: