The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery: 1776-1848 (Verso World History Series)

The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery: 1776-1848 (Verso World History Series)

Robin Blackburn

Language: English

Pages: 560

ISBN: 1844674754

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In 1770 a handful of European nations ruled the Americas, drawing from them a stream of products, both everyday and exotic. Some two and a half million black slaves, imprisoned in plantation colonies, toiled to produce the sugar, coffee, cotton, ginger and indigo craved by Europeans. By 1848 the major systems of colonial slavery had been swept away either by independence movements, slave revolts, abolitionists or some combination of all three. How did this happen?

Robin Blackburn’s history captures the complexity of a revolutionary age in a compelling narrative. In some cases colonial rule fell while slavery flourished, as happened in the South of the United States and in Brazil; elsewhere slavery ended but colonial rule remained, as in the British West Indies and French Windwards. But in French St. Domingue, the future Haiti, and in Spanish South and Central America both colonialism and slavery were defeated. This story of slave liberation and American independence highlights the pivotal role of the “first emancipation” in the French Antilles in the 1790s, the parallel actions of slave resistance and metropolitan abolitionism, and the contradictory implications of slaveholder patriotism.

The dramatic events of this epoch are examined from an unexpected vantage point, showing how the torch of anti-slavery passed from the medieval communes to dissident Quakers, from African maroons to radical pirates, from Granville Sharp and Ottabah Cuguano to Toussaint L’Ouverture, from the black Jacobins to the Liberators of South America, and from the African Baptists in Jamaica to the Revolutionaries of 1848 in Europe and the Caribbean.

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by specially selected Commissioners. Barnave knew that the parade of patriotism made by the colonists brought into question the legitimacy of metropolitan authority. The commissioners would be plenipotentiaries, entrusted with the power and prestige of the National Assembly itself in an effort to meet this problem. Moreover he intended that the Commissioners should themselves be prominent and respected individuals: thus Mercier de la Riviere, the eminent Physiocrat and former Intendant at

menaced the liberties and condition of the free-born. Popular anti-slavery was more than aversion to becoming a slave: it embraced the notion that slaveholding and slave trading should not be allowed within a given territory. As an element in the popular culture of early modern Europe it must be considered here since it furnished a springboard for later abolitionist appeals. While the techniques of abolitionist agitation were innovatory the anti-slavery feeling it tapped was both traditional and

by an early utopian socialist of colonial extraction, Jean de Pechmeja, and were discrepant with the moderate reformism found in other sections. They point with outrage to the involvement in slavery of the Church and of the monarchs of Europe. Those who dare to justify slavery are said to deserve the contempt of philosophers and a dagger from the slaves. It is pointed out that it would be just to carry fire, sword and emancipation into the lands of any European sovereign who upheld slavery and

free as well as Sunday (c) they were given canoes and nets for their fishing (d) they had freedom to perform their own songs and dances (e) the staffing of the mill was increased (f) rations of food and clothing were 56 Origins o f Anti-Slavery increased. In this extreme case the slave demands went far to dismantling slavery without the institution itself being named.30 The songs and dances that the Brazilian slaves wished to perform were a vital element in the Afro-American culture which

agreed in 1783 the tax measure of which it was a part failed to gain the necessary majority for implementation. 19. Madison, recollecting these events in 1830, is quoted by Lynd, Class Struggle, Slavery and the United States Constitution, p. 161. The point made by M adison explains 129 The Overthrow o f Colonial Slavery why, as recent historians have noted, slavery questions were not openly and vigorously debated at the Convention. 20. Franklin’s remark is quoted in Robinson, Slavery in the

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