Agency of the Enslaved

Agency of the Enslaved : Jamaica and the Culture of Freedom in the Atlantic World

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In Agency of the Enslaved: Jamaica and the Culture of Freedom in the Atlantic World, D.A. Dunkley challenges the notion that enslavement fostered the culture of freedom in the former colonies of Western Europe in the Americas. Dunkley argues the point that the preconception that out of slavery came freedom has discouraged scholars from fully exploring the importance of the agency displayed by enslaved people. This study examines those struggles and argues that these formed the real basis of the culture of freedom in the Atlantic societies. These struggles were not for freedom, but for the acknowledgment of the freedom that enslaved people knew was already theirs. Agency of the Enslaved reveals several major incidents in which the enslaved in Jamaica-a country Dunkley uses as a case study with wider applicability to the Atlantic world-demonstrated that they viewed slavery as an immoral, illegal, unnecessary, temporary, and socially deprecating imposition. These views inspired their attempts to undermine the slave system that the British had established in Jamaica shortly after they captured the island in 1655. Acts of resistance took place throughout the island-colony and were recorded on the sugar plantations and in the courts, schools, and Christian churches. The slaveholders envisaged all of these sites as participants in their attempts to dominate the enslaved people. Regardless, the enslaved had re-envisioned and had used these places as sites of empowerment, and to show that they would never accept the designation of 'slave.'show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 240 pages
  • 152.4 x 228.6 x 22.86mm | 498.95g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 0739168037
  • 9780739168035

Review quote

Historian Dunkley argues that the concept of freedom in the written history of the Caribbean and the Atlantic world has never been examined from the perceptions and experiences of the enslaved. Freedom is usually defined as an external condition; Dunkley argues that the feelings and consequent actions of individuals proclaim freedom despite enslavement. These feelings, convictions, and behaviors influenced the larger societies in which slaves lived. An important example is education. Clerics and mission societies provided religious and literacy instruction to make better slaves. Those educated, however, achieved deeper understanding of the wider society and the ways in which they could undermine its power. Similarly, the marriage of enslaved persons by Anglican clergy asserted freedom because slave marriage was illegal and presented a host of legal and financial problems to slaveholders. Slaves resist, as is well known, but Dunkley focuses on resistance as a consequence of internal conviction and defines this conviction as freedom. Readers may agree or not. This well-written book, based on both archival and published sources, has a place in all academic libraries. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. CHOICE The most innovative element of the book is its extended analysis of the changing role of the Anglican Church in Jamaica...As a philosophical rumination, Dunkley's concept of slave freedom has a lot to offer toward a powerful corrective to narratives that presume to know how slaves viewed their enslavement or what they hoped to achieve by engaging in acts of resistance...Agency of the Enslaved prompts readers to avoid pat assumptions about the mindsets of the enslaved and demonstrates the sophisticated legal and religious strategies enslaved Afro-Jamaicans used to challenge the island's slave regime. New West Indian Guide Dunkley powerfully and cogently articulates the agency of captive Africans working on commercial Plantations in Jamaica under British colonialism from 1655-1834. Dunkley moves the argument beyond the passive and active resistance dichotomy to show that the notion of freedom was deeply embedded in the world view, ethos and psyche of the enslaved that saw themselves as free people... Dunkley eloquently reveals that some of the most ardent supporters of freedom and the role and rights of the individual in the social contract were the captives Africans in the Americas who were not legally seen as members of the contract. Academia This is a highly innovative, thoughtful, and interesting study of slavery in Jamaica. It is particularly good in dealing with the agency of the enslaved and their resistance to enslavement. -- Gad Heuman, University of Warwick In writing Agency of the Enslaved, D. A. Dunkley has continued that tradition of scholarship that seeks to identify the ideological foundations of the activism of the enslaved. He is less concerned with the means-the 'how' of their agency-and more intent on showing that the status of slavery never functioned in the consciousness of the enslaved, which is why they used every means at their disposal to end it. His analysis ensures that this lively debate will continue. -- Verene A. Shepherd, The University of the West Indies, Jamaica All too often, studies of slavery and freedom presuppose what slaves thought and felt without considering too deeply how we get to understand slaves' true thoughts. In this bold, controversial, and compelling investigation of slave agency in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Jamaica, D. A. Dunkley issues a major challenge to naive assumptions that slaves were passive actors in the drama of transforming slaves into free men and women. This book makes a major contribution to an exciting new discourse about freedom in the Atlantic World and slaves' role in shaping ideas of freedom in that world. -- Trevor Burnard, University of Sussex An original and provocative exploration of concepts of freedom within slave societies that challenges the ways historians have conceived individual independence. Dunkley's work offers an intellectual history that puts enslaved people at the centre, offering fresh knowledge about schooling, churches, manumission, family life, and much else, taking examples from the experience of the pivotal island of Jamaica. -- B. W. Higman, Australian National Universityshow more

About D. A. Dunkley

Daive A. Dunkley teaches in the Department of History and Archeology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.show more

Table of contents

Acknowledgments Abbreviations and Tables 1.Slave Freedom: An Introduction 2.Those "Perverse" Slaves 3.Questioning Running Away 4.Instructing the Enslaved 5.Enslaved and in School 6.The Anglican Mandate 7.Colonization of the Church 8.Slave Laws and Amelioration 9.Amelioration, War, and Individual Freedom 10.Conclusion Bibliography Indexshow more