slaves in the 1660s -- 2/27/24

Today's selection -- from Beyond 1619 by Paul J. Polgar, Marc H. Lerner, and Jesse Cromwell. The competition for lucrative plantations and labor in the form of slaves in the Caribbean in the 17th century:

“Hours before dawn on Sunday July 23, 1665, the free and enslaved residents of Dutch St. Eustatius awoke to the sounds of cannon fire echoing across the island. From the fort, Governor Peter Adrianson and the island militia watched several English frigates cruise along the coast as they prepared for an invasion. Simultaneously, 450 Englishmen led by the lieutenant governor of Jamaica, Edward Morgan, disembarked unseen on the opposite side of the island. After a brief skirmish, Adrianson surrendered, preferring capitulation to testing the ‘angry soldiers’ from whom he did ‘not expect any quarter.’ As the Dutch and English leaders met to discuss terms of surrender, the invaders fanned out across the island to seize ‘all [the] plunder’ that they could before ‘equally divid[ing]’ it between seamen and soldiers.

Historical engraving showing the view from out in the Caribbean Sea, approaching the island of Sint Eustatius

“For the enslaved captives on St. Eustatius, the English invasion began another in a repeated process of ‘serial displacements’ that punctuated the lived experience of slavery.  Searching the island, the English bands of ‘angry soldiers’---composed of individuals who signed onto the expedition for the promise of gain-seized women and men, young and old, and marched them to the recently occupied Dutch fort. Along with ‘coppers and stills’ taken from plantations on the island, the English soldiers of fortune took people, dividing the captives based on perceived value, prizing young, healthy, and experienced captives, described by a contemporary as ‘brawny [and] knowing blacks.’ In the end, the English seized 942 people between St. Eustatius and neighboring Saba. Of those, they selected nearly 500 individuals to carry back to Jamaica, selling the remainder into slavery on St. Christopher and Nevis. For the captives, the sorting process by the English paralleled other moments during slavery in which their bodies were physically handled, appraised, and priced based on their anticipated productive capacity.

“Raids like the one carried out by Anglo-Jamaicans against the Dutch in 1665, point to the continuity of the kind of interimperial captive-taking that resulted in the sale of the first enslaved Africans in Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619. During a century of near-constant warfare, raiding and captivity in the Caribbean remained a constant threat for communities of African descent. In this chapter, I examine mid-seventeenth-century raiding and captive-taking in the Caribbean from two perspectives. First, I seek to understand the impact of violent raids and serial dislocation on Afro-descended individuals and communities, including how some individuals used their knowledge of European rivalries and Caribbean geography to change their circumstances. And, second, how European governors' and colonial officials' reliance on captive-taking to marshal armed forces and improve their local economies led to competing claims of ownership over captives. Soldiers and sailors used their understanding of the Laws of War to defend their claims to captive people, while colonial governors negotiated for the rendition of captives using rhetoric drawn from their understanding of the Law of Nations. Crucially, these competing claims unfolded in the context of multiple raids on many of the islands of the Lesser Antilles between the 1660s and 1680s, raids in which African and Indigenous captives experienced repeated violence and forced dislocation.”



Paul J. Polgar, Marc H. Lerner, Jesse Cromwell


Beyond 1619: The Atlantic Origins of American Slavery (The Early Modern Americas)


University of Pennsylvania Press


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