Black publics and Peasant Freedom in Post-Emancipation Jamaica


From: Mimi Sheller, Democracy After Slavery, Warwick Education Ltd, 2000, pp. 145-170

The 'Liberty Tree' that appears on the Haitian national symbol — adopted for a tropical context from the French revolutionary Liberty Tree — also makes an appearance in Jamaica's emancipation celebra­tions. John Woolridge of the London Missionary Society described the 'First of August' festival of 1839, in which a public examination of one hundred children was witnessed by an assembly of their parents, bringing a tear to their eyes. After buns and lemonade, they watered the coconut palm that they had planted the year before as a symbol of liberty.' Another missionary wrote that his congregation also 'planted a coconut tree, the emblem of liberty — this had been pulled up since, by some of the gentlemen in the neighbourhood, we have replanted it, and as one of the people remarked, "they pull up we tree, but them can't take away we August'" .2 In addition to the evident importance of education, such struggles over symbols indicate the deeper significance of non-economic factors in marking the transition out of slavery and building a new society.

We have seen above how the decline of planter domination in Jamaica allowed for the emergence of an elite, literate, oppositional public among free men of colour. This indigenous Jamaican public developed its own newspapers to influence public opinion, utilized petitioning to make claims on the government regarding the rights of free people of colour even prior to the abolition of slavery, and, more controversially, gave support to Haiti as a self-governing black repub­lic. As Gordon K. Lewis argues, the 'old groups of planter, merchant monopolist, and white colonial official were gradually superseded both in economic power and social status, by the new groups of creole culti­vator, peasant farmer, and native politician' (Lewis 1968: 72). This chapter moves on to the development of plebeian publics in the post-emancipation period and explores the claim-making styles of self-consciously fashioned 'black publics'. The emergence of popular political participation in Jamaica will be analyzed according to the same framework used in the case of Haiti: the tri-partite development of peasant economic, political and civil agency.


My overall aim is to show that there were multiple publics in Jamaica, some with a strongly 'Black' or 'African', though still 'British' identity. In contrast to Haiti, there were well-established chan­nels of communication between peasant-citizens and the state, both at the local and metropolitan levels; moreover, there were numerous ties between Afro-Jamaican publics and the wider British public. Yet, Afro-Jamaicans did not 'learn' democratic political culture from British tutelage. Rather, they seized on structural opportunities to push forward their own vision of freedom. On the one hand, they adopted elite forms of political communication such as public meetings and petitioning in an effort to expand peasant control and defend their freedom. This widening of democratic repertoires was mediated by Baptist missionaries who helped their congregations make the transi­tion from slavery to apprenticeship, and then to freedom. On the other hand, there were also potentially more violent undercurrents of labour protest and 'riotous bargaining' always threatening to break out.3

The British abolition movement was a major component in the emergence of a new national field of public opinion in Great Britain (Tilly 1995a). Abolitionists were especially effective in mobilizing public meetings, petitioning, forming corresponding societies and inventing other symbolic forms of expressing public opinion, such as boycotts of slave-grown sugar. As Drescher argues, '[in developing a whole range of agitational techniques and symbolic forms, [anti-slavery] primarily expanded the tactics and the social base of non-violent public opinion' (Drescher 1982: 47). Colonial populations were well aware of the powerful impact of these repertoires of con­tention on political decision-making, and of the involvement of their own missionaries in them. It is not surprising, then, that these methods of agitation were taken up by ex-slaves in their push for civil and polit­ical rights. Yet, there were also points of departure where Afro-Jamaicans drew on their own culture, styles of communication and unique relationship to the colonial state to develop new political prac­tices. British repertoires of contention could not be lifted in toto, but had to be reworked from the position of the former slave in relation to a colonial wing of the state.

This chapter traces the rise of peasant agency and the develop­ment of plebeian publics in post-emancipation Jamaica. It begins with economic agency as seen in the forms of mobility, labour bargaining and labour protest that developed from the period of apprenticeship to the mid-1840s. The next section focuses on peasant political agency, from voting, public meetings and petitioning to forms of riotous bargaining. The final section considers peasant civil agency, from reli­gious and voluntary associations to the increasingly autonomous subal­tern publics that emerged out of the African-rooted traditions of the Native Baptists and Myalist Revival. Each of these features of public­ity in Jamaica will be important to understanding the emergence of the Underbill Movement and the Morant Bay Rebellion which followed it

Peasant economic agency

Although our focus is the post-slavery period, it is important to keep in mind that labour bargaining in Jamaica began during slavery and gath­ered momentum during the apprenticeship period. Even workers with no rights could attempt collective protest, work-stoppage or group 'petit marronage' (in effect walk-outs) from the semi-industrial sugar plantations, all of which required some degree of organization.4 Various forms of slave resistance and rebellion have been recognized as important precedents (within constricted circumstances) for later strategies of labour bargaining (Bakan 1990; Craton 1982; Cross & Heuman 1988; Hart 1980, 1985). Mary Turner, for example, found in her study of collective action by Jamaican slaves:

Collective withdrawal of labour, the presentation of griev­ances and the use by owners and managers of mediation were methods developed by 1770. Group action by slaves with particular grievances was also used, notably by women, and secured positive results. Skilled and confidential slaves pioneered these processes and the head men... emerge as instigators and, by inference, organisers of group and collec­tive action (Turner 1988: 26).

Indeed, one of the most significant findings to emerge from compara­tive evidence is that not only wage workers, but 'all categories of worker in the Americas practiced forms of collective labour bargaining customarily associated with industrial wage labourers' (Turner 1995:1). Collective action in the post-emancipation period clearly had roots in this earlier organizing by slaves. Abigail Bakan also argues that 'a persistent ideology of class resistance has characterized the Jamaican labour force from the period of slavery, through the period of post-emancipation peasant development, and into the era of modern working-class activity' (Bakan 1990: 4).


The British Parliament finally passed legislation to abolish slavery in 1834 and instituted a period of 'apprenticeship'.5 One of the most immediate changes was in the sphere of justice. Judicial oversight of the operation of apprenticeship by Special Magistrates (instead of the earlier system of Justices of the Peace who were invariably planters) created somewhat fairer structure for adjudication of labour disputes, not by removing the legitimate use of violence from the hands of former masters and overseers, and placing it in (supposedly) more objective state institutions. Although discipline remained harsh, plant workers for the first time had contractual terms of labour and the right to complain of their treatment before a relatively neutral judge. It is evident that many apprentices took up this right immediately, even if complaints were met with imprisonment in the work-house, with its hated treadmill (Holt 1992; Sewell 1861; Sturge and Harvey 1838). There was a great deal of public attention focused on this 'great experiment' both pro-slavery and anti-slavery organizations in Britain sent their investigators to report on conditions in the West Indies. The Quaker abolitionists Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey, who travelled through Jamaica collecting accounts from apprentices, brought one apprentice James Williams, to England as a first-hand witness to abusive treatment of apprentices.6 Despite continuing semi-bondage, then, apprentice a far more public 'voice' than had slaves.7

In Jamaica, as in Haiti, claims to land were one of the important points of post-emancipation political contention, and the tiniest plots of heritable but inalienable 'family land' became cherished symbols of freedom, passed down to all descendants though unrestricted cognatic kinship networks (Besson 1979, 1993, 1995). Even during slavery, plantation workers had carved out traditional rights to particular houses and provision grounds, stamping their own conceptual schemas on the built environment (Higman 1988).8' Such land rights', argues Besson,

were not only of economic significance, providing some independence from the plantations and a bargaining position for higher wages when working on them, but also symbolized freedom, personhood, and prestige among the descendants of former slaves.... [Family land was] a dynamic cultural creation by Caribbean peasantries themselves in resistant response to the plantation system' (Besson 1993 22,27).


Widespread evidence shows that ex-slaves in Jamaica did not immediately flee the estates, but struggled to maintain customary 'user they had won, however marginal. As Douglas Hall argues, the 'I movement of the ex-slaves from the estates in the immediate post emancipation years was not a flight from the horrors of slavery. It was a protest against the inequities of early "freedom"' (D. Hall [1978] 1993:62)

Struggle to control land and labour created the context for the negotiation of freedom, and out of this bargaining rose distinctive citizenship identities and black publics. A vibrant peasant political culture emerged from both plantation workers' protest activities and the associational life of cultivators' villages, giving impetus to movements promoting land distribution, cooperative marketing, friendly societies and ambitious programmes for political reform. Baptist churches facilitated negotiations over labour contracts by organizing public meetings of apprentices to respond collectively to unfair practices and protest 'class legislation' by planters. In Haiti, these issues, identities and movements were far less clear not because they did not matter, but because they did not have the institutional channels with which to activate collective identities and press public claims. There was no 'transmission belt' to translate collective protest into public policy,

Extensive disputes in the immediate aftermath of emancipation oyer labour issues such as wages, hours of work and rent of houses and revision grounds on the sugar plantations, became the context for public debate over alternative directions for the post-slavery economy in Jamaica (Wilmot 1986). The first meetings of apprentices were organised by missionaries in reaction to rumours circulating among planters in the spring of 1838, that fieldworkers intended to stop working in August. The terms of apprenticeship differed for fieldworkers ('praedials') and skilled and domestic workers ('non-praedials'), with the latter scheduled for full freedom on the 1st of August, 1838, and the former expected to wait until 1840. These initial meetings seem to have been organized to quell any unrest at its source and demonstrate good faith on the part of the soon-to-be free. As reports of one meeting organized by the Baptist Reverend Walter Dendy show, the aims were initially conciliatory:

At a MEETING of about two thousand Apprentices at Sailer's Hill Chapel, St. James...the following resolution was unanimously adopted: Having heard a report has been circulated that the praedial apprentices in the parish of , St. James will not work after the 1st August next; we, the Members and Congregation of Sailer's Hill, under the pas­toral charge of the Rev. Walter Dendy, Baptist Missionary, RESOLVE — That this report is a false and malicious Libel upon us, as we never had such thoughts or intentions; but we are willing to work as usual for our Masters, so long as the present law continues in force, although we would rather be free: and that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to Sir Lionel Smith, Governor; Lord Gleneig,Colonial Secretary; and to the Rev. John Dyer, Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society.9

Public meetings like this one provided a forum for popular expressions! of hopes and desires for the future; despite its aims of reassurance, it was obviously difficult to restrain the desire for full freedom. The phrase 'although we would rather be free', sandwiched into this assur­ance to obey the law, belies the prevailing aspirations. It is also significant that the apprentices felt compelled to protect themselves publicly from libel and felt entitled to send their resolutions to the highest levels.

A meeting attended by 'between 3 and 4000 of the praedial apprentice population' at the Baptist Chapel in Montego Bay on the 12th of May, 1838, likewise proffered contradictory messages of both \ appeasement and challenge. The resolutions adopted were summarized I in the Morning Journal as declaratory of 'the determination of the apprentices industriously and peaceably to pursue their course in obe­dience to the laws of the land, and agreeably to the word of God, and the instructions received from their pastors'. Yet the actual printed pro­ceedings show that the deacons, members and congregation used much stronger language:

Resolved 3rdly — That whenever it suits the wisdom and policy of our legal Rulers to grant us a perfectly equal and just participation in the laws, we shall hail the day as one of our brightest in human prosperity; and although we feel that we are entitled to all the immunities of free subjects without distinction, yet we are determined not to be betrayed by the schemes of our adversaries into acts of insubordination; but to pursue our course industriously and peaceably.10

Though eschewing violence and insubordination, the resolution makes clear the popular sense of frustrated entitlement. The meeting also reached out to a wider political audience, resolving to send its resolu­tions not only to the Governor, the Colonial Secretary and the Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, but also to several famous abolitionists: the Marquess of Sligo, Lord Brougham and Joseph Sturge. They also wanted their proceedings published in Jamaican newspapers, as well as British ones (The British Emancipator and The Patriot). These meetings, staged with an international audience in mind, went far beyond local grievances.

The Morning Journal also reported that Rev. Thomas Burchell told a meeting of apprentices in Montego Bay, 'I have thought that you yourselves should communicate, by a public meeting, your sentiments to the Governor, to the Colonial Minister, and your friends here and in England'." Thus, even before full emancipation, the classic British forms of political communication and claim-making — public meeting and petitioning — were being extended to the entire Afro-Jamaican population, with missionaries serving as brokers between isolated rural populations, local newspapers, officials and wider metropolitan publics. These missionaries, many of whom had led efforts to abolish slavery, and some of whom were opposed to apprenticeship, found themselves caught between ex-slaves and ex-masters as they tried to mediate between estate managers and workers to help ensure a fair transition to wage labour. As Swithin Wilmot notes, missionaries mobilized the mass of ex-slaves; [and] provided them with a constitutional forum in chapels and open-air meetings, to show their dissatisfaction with the Acts' passed by the planter-dominated legislature' Wilmot 1977: 111). In addition, the earlier example of free people of colour using circulars, meetings and petitions to lobby for their rights also laid the necessary groundwork for this broadening of political participation.12

When the campaign to end apprenticeship for both praedial and non-praedial workers on the 1st of August, 1838, was successful, announcement in July of full freedom was accompanied by public setings and lavish celebrations; hereafter, the First of August became an annual public holiday. A report in the Morning Journal in July noted that Governor Smith had addressed a crowd of about two hundred 'negro headmen' from the balcony of the Court House at Halfway Tree in Kingston, 'setting forth the duties that would devolve the free apprentices'.13 The crowd listened respectfully and cheered him, then made their own speeches heard by the Governor. Some apprentices raised subscriptions for gifts to their 'benefactors' and formed delegations to present them. The selection of 'delegates' and the role of headmen in such public events attests to the already well-developed leadership structures among the apprentices, based on the status distinctions and work-gang hierarchies of the plantations. Some headmen were Baptist class leaders, and it may have been through ;m that the Baptist churches mobilized such good turnouts for their meetings.

As freed people stopped work to celebrate their emancipation, meetings were attended by crowds overflowing out of the small chapels in which they gathered. In some cases, these meetings involved delegates from various estates, who presumably reported back to local gatherings on the results of the meetings. Reports indicate that these meetings were not simply celebratory; they also dealt with pressing concerns and turned almost immediately to questions of justice. Just a few days after emancipation, 'some thousands of the Apprentices of Hanover' met at the Baptist Chapel in Falmouth:              

At the meeting on Thursday night there could not have been  less than two thousand five hundred persons present: most of these were delegates from the majority of the estates in this parish; many of them came from St. James's. The rapturous bursts of applause which followed the observations of the several speakers sounded like music to our ears —- 'Justice to Jamaica' and 'Justice we will have', seemed to be the wish and the determination of everyone present: the meeting was altogether one which we shall not easily forget.'4


These freedmen were prepared to mobilize and claim their rights. On seven years on from the deadly repression that had followed the 'Baptist War', injustice would have been strong in the minds oft people of St. James. Justice was not easily won, though, and work solidarity would be crucial in opposing the power of planters.

Even before apprenticeship ended, planters were holding their meetings to discuss setting a fixed scale of wages; collusion in setting low wages and restricting labour mobility were already well in place the time apprentices were ready to enter the labour market. With the apprenticeship experiment abandoned, sugar plantation workers quid turned their attention to the fair negotiation of wage rates and ground rent, including organized strikes in demand of higher wages across many parishes. There is widespread evidence that newly freed plantation workers effectively utilized collective bargaining in the immediate post-emancipation period to wrest concessions from estate managers (Turner 1995; Wilmot 1984). This appears to have been most effective in St. Mary's parish, where all work was stopped for several months what newspapers designated a 'strike'. In other areas, workers negotiated contracts based on wages of 1s per day, but only if certain conditions were met. Newspaper reports indicate that some people were willing to work for the one shilling a day offered by most planters, others were holding out for 2s. 6d.15 In what came to be known (perhaps not without irony) as the 'Oxford and Cambridge terms', one shilling per day was accepted by first class workers if they were guaranteed rent-free houses and provision grounds, special pay for skilled workers, provision of medical services and watchmen for the remote mountain grounds. The terms also allowed workers to work only four days per week outside of crop harvesting time; this was an import concession because it allowed time for wage-workers to cultivate their own provision grounds and possibly market the produce. This agreement was reportedly adopted by forty-one properties (Wilmot 1984)

Where satisfactory labour contracts were not negotiated, however, workers turned to the new modes of claim-making that they had learned as apprentices. By the end of the first month of full emancipa­ted, newspaper editors who were initially sympathetic towards labourer’s' wage demands were becoming increasingly concerned with the continuing stoppage of work, and there was growing anger towards missionaries, especially Baptists, who were accused of encouraging the strike for higher wages. The Morning Journal angrily wrote:

We cannot believe, that any minister of religion would advise the people to sit down in idleness for three months, and waste so much valuable time, or to stand out for the exorbitant rates of wages, which some are demanding.... Still there is no denying that the stand for exorbitant wages is general, and the refusal to resume work such as to justify the opinion that the plan was preconcerted. The evil is not confined to two or three parishes, or to particular parts, or districts of a parish, but to nearly every parish in the island, and to all parts of them.


In response, the planters and attorneys held their own meetings to present their case to the governor. One meeting in St. David complained of 'the continued indisposition of the lately emancipated apprentices to labour, and the unsettled and unsatisfactory state of the affairs of the parish.’17 Dawning realization of the power of organized workers led planters to attack the missionaries who were helping the people negotiate contracts. Collective bargaining between workers and estate managers was no longer confined to the plantations, but had ken on the character of a public debate over the terms and conditions 'freedom.


One local example conveys the degree of tension between emancipated plantation workers, missionaries, planters and local officials in these initial months of hammering out 'free' contracts. On the very first weekend following full emancipation, the Falmouth area was hit by a widespread work-stoppage and an armed disturbance involving the famous anti-slavery Baptist Missionary, Rev. William Knibb. After Knibb spoke to meetings of labourers on obtaining fair wages, some white magistrates in Falmouth 'conceived the foolish and hazardous project of burning Mr. Knibb in effigy', the rumour of which was transformed into a planned attempt to murder him. Knibb's followers armed themselves with cutlasses, muskets, bills, and those who could not procure more deadly weapons, with sticks, and group after group them proceeded out of the town towards Piedmont to guard him in'; they only dispersed after he collected their weapons in his carriage,met with the planter magistrates in Falmouth and showed the d that they were on perfectly good terms.18 Most estates, however, refused to go to work, unless their demand for high wages were ceded'. Then another rumour spread that Knibb was shot, and the people ran together; and from all parts armed bodies of negroes to march upon Falmouth, threatening destruction of all the White! Mulattoes, and to all the properties. "Buckra begin the war", said they "and now we will make them see St. Domingo'" .'9 Hundreds of people entered Falmouth armed with bludgeons, threatening to burn the town, and the plantations, and uttering 'extremely hostile and treasonable language', according to local newspaper accounts. The crowd was finally quieted by a Stipendiary Magistrate who convinced them that Knibb was alive and well. This was an effective example of bargaining by riot in which fatalities were avoided, but planters and magistrates' were nonetheless directly challenged; it also shows clearly the Haitian Revolution was vivid in popular memory.

Peasant political agency

Baptist missionaries helped to organize scores of public meetings which freed slaves were encouraged to make speeches, to draw up solutions that could be printed in the newspapers and to send pet making their views known to the government and to the British public. As early as November 1838, seething dissatisfaction with labour conditions was being channelled into peaceful meetings and political petitioning among Baptist congregations, including demands for a broader franchise. It had been quickly grasped that there would be no progress in workers' social and political rights so long as former slave-owners continued to legislate for them. The increasingly defensive editors of the Morning Journal commented disapprovingly on politics in Trelawny under the headline 'Our Black Brethren':

We perceive in an extremely ill-humoured article in the Falmouth Post of the 21st, that it is the intention of the later. enfranchised 'to hold county and parochial meetings, for the purpose of petitioning Parliament to pass those just and equitable laws for the government of the colony.... [A} statement of the wrongs which the negroes yet endure will be forwarded to their ever-vigilant friends, the Anti-Slaver Society. A request will be made for an extension of the  elective franchise, to those who pay a certain rental for houses and lands, and when it is remembered that in this parish there are no less than 40,000 inhabitants chiefly blacks, among whom at present there are not as many as 40 possessing the right of returning representatives to serve them in the popular branch of the Legislature, the Post feels that so reasonable a request will meet with immediate atten­tion from the ministers of the crown [italics in original].20


The Morning Journal then sneered sarcastically, 'But why make two bites of a cherry? Why not request Universal suffrage at once, and the vote by ballot [emphasis in original]'. Despite having championed the civil and political rights of the free coloured population only a few years earlier, the editors of the Morning Journal were clearly not ready for popular democracy. The planned meetings were held in Baptist chapels in January 39. The Falmouth Post printed the resolutions passed on the first of January by a meeting chaired by Rev. Walter Dendy at which [u]pwards of 3000 persons were in the chapel, and numbers standing outside who could not get admittance',21 The resolutions complained the almost total exclusion of ex-slaves from political representation, d called for the framing of 'more just and equitable laws' whether by enfranchisement or by direct intervention by the Crown. The meeting so formed the 'Falmouth Auxiliary Anti-Slavery Society' to advance abolition in North America and other parts of the world. Not only were Jamaican freedmen placing their grievances at the level of the national stem of legislation, but they were asserting their international solidarity with the continuing anti-slavery cause. An even bigger meeting Kingston later that month prepared a petition signed by around 6000 people, taking a firm stand against the House of Assembly (which had lately been challenging the Governor's authority). The resulting dress to Governor Smith expressed 'unqualified disapprobation' as British subjects' at the Assembly's 'contumacious behavior' towards ; Crown. Native Jamaicans, in other words, were claiming a greater entitlement to the name of 'British subjects' than the disloyal planters the House of Assembly. Who had the right to make decisions about the future of Jamaica? Many freed slaves immediately claimed that right as their own.


By June 1839, labour conflict was still unsettled in many areas, d Governor Smith had an official proclamation on the subject printed the island newspapers and posted on public buildings in town squares throughout the island:

Whereas it has been represented to Her Majesty's Government, that the Agricultural Population of this Island labour under considerable misunderstanding as to a supposed










right on their part, to the Houses and Provision-Grounds | which they were permitted to occupy and cultivate, during ;( Slavery and Apprenticeship: AND WHEREAS such misunderstanding, wherever it exists, is calculated to produce great evil both to the said Labouring Population and to the Proprietors of the Soils of this Island: I DO HEREBY make known that I have received instructions from Her Majesty's  Secretary of State for the Colonies to assure the Labouring People, in Her Majesty's name, that such a notion is totally erroneous, and that they can only continue to occupy their Houses and Grounds upon such conditions, as they may agree upon with the Proprietors of such Houses and Grounds, or their lawful agents in this Country.22


In response, labourers again held meetings at Baptist chapels to discus the 'rights and privileges' of the people. At a meeting chaired by Rev. Knibb in Falmouth, the separation of rent from wage payment was debated, with several labourers speaking. Edward Barrett,23 labourer on Oxford Estate and Deacon in Knibb's church, argued that 'we want to pay our rent by itself, and receive our wages under another agreement', while Alexander Stevenson argued that if anyone was confused about who owned what property, it was the overseers, or 'Bushas' who took all the estate property for their own use, living i the big house, taking supplies freely, and feeding their horses. 'It is not us who expect our master's houses and grounds; it isn't we who are looking for any new laws; it is the white people who want everything for themselves' .24 A note of anger was creeping into popular public meetings, as workers recognized the violation of their rights.

Political power would be necessary to curtail the schemes of the planters, and such power would require independence from the sugar plantation's tight control over land and labour. Mobility itself was key component of freedom. A newly mobile population was challenging planter control, not only on the plantations and in the House of Assembly, but also in the public spaces of the towns. As Rebecca Scott notes, 'one can ask to what extent juridical freedom, and the physical mobility that accompanied it, helped to make broader alliances possible' (R. Scott 1988: 426). Mobility began with movement off of tl sugar plantations, as freedmen bought their own small plots of land.

An early form of self-determination among freed men and women began in the free villages founded by missionaries on land bought from former plantations or the backlands of large estates, and broken in smaller plots to be sold to freedmen (see Figure 2 in Chapter 2). The villages involved a fairly significant number of people: 'Between 1838 and 1844, a period of six years, [at least] 19,000 freedmen and their families removed themselves from the estates, bought land, and settled in free villages' (Mintz 1958: 49). The villages were autonomous and to some extent self-governing at the local level, with many costs and tasks shared among the settlers; the experience of community self-government in free villages laid the groundwork for citizenship identities and subsequent participation in civil and political rights movements.  As Walter Rodney noted in the similar context of British Guiana, to 6 in a village was to open up the possibility of participating in a political process which was by no means totally under planter control. Village self-administration provided an opportunity of escape from the tyranny of the plantation in Guiana much like the physical movement of ; black freedmen to the mountains of Jamaica.... When the Times of London described the proprietors of Guiana's communal villages as 'little bands of socialists', this was in effect a reference to the cooperative self-government characteristic of those villages (Rodney 1981: 128).

As in Guiana, the Nonconformist churches in Jamaica 'provided an impoortant bridge between the middle classes and the working people, especially in rural areas'; within these safe settings, workers' associations and Friendly Societies contributed to the development of workers' solidarity outside of the plantation sector (Rodney 1981: 146-162 -65). Cooperation, autonomy and new collective identities emerged ie village level and contributed to new kinds of political consciousness-raising. A new peasant political culture (and sense of both economic and political agency) quickly formed, combining the protest traditions of slave communities with the exercise of new freedoms.25

Despite local elite resistance. Nonconformist missionaries put the mass of Jamaican labourers in contact with the political networks of a wider British public of reform-minded activists. Public meetings not only offered a visually powerful way of demonstrating physical critics that were not represented in the island legislature, but they also fostered personal empowerment through participation in this wider public. The Baptist church in particular was crucial to realizing mass public meeting as an effective means of popular claim making in post-emancipation Jamaica. The Baptist-led public meetings accompanied emancipation enabled the exercise of greater self assertion and decision-making powers within ex-slave communities; participants also cultivated new organizational and leadership skills that would be applied to later popular mobilizations. In the meetings, held at chapels according to strict procedural rules, participants learned about calling a speaker to the chair, moving and seconding resolutions raising subscriptions, forming delegations to draw up and frmally present resolutions, publishing proceedings in local and metropolitan newspapers and circulating and signing petitions. Many church members also gained experience in public speaking, church elections (of elders, churchwardens, deacons, etc.) and general participation the internal governance structures of the churches.            

Overall, Baptist chapels organized at least five major public meetings in 1838 involving thousands of labourers, besides holding numerous local emancipation celebrations. In 1839, there were several public meetings held at the Baptist chapel in Falmouth, and others at chapels in Kingston, Bethel Hill and St. Ann's Bay, with many locales forming auxiliaries to the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. In 1840 there were over fifteen recorded meetings, including the 'Jamaica^ Slavery Convention' held at the Spanish Town Baptist Chapel March, and several meetings to found the African Missionary Society of the Baptist Church. At such meetings, correspondence from Britian was read out and delegates were appointed to go to London and New York, for the World Anti-Slavery conventions to be held in May and June.26 Meetings continued throughout the decade, many attended by two thousand or more people. There was an especially heated series of meetings in 1844, following parliamentary proposals to remove tariff protection from sugar and the government decision to subsidize in indentured immigration.

Many of these meetings drew up petitions that were submitted either to the Jamaican House of Assembly, or in some case Parliament in Britain. Common grievances included complaints legislation and taxation favoured planters and disadvantaged labourers and small landholders, especially public expenditures on indentured immigration and in support of the established church. A religion infused 'civic culture' enhanced by literacy education in many ' empowered emancipated slaves as free citizens despite the recognized 'colonizing' effects of missionary movements (cf. Comaroff Comaroff 1991).27 As Gordon Catherall argues. Baptist mission 'provided an experimental framework in which to work out some practical definition of freedom with involvement.... [They] provided necessary environment for the training of citizens', thereby 'rebuilding civil society' in ways comparable to the Gandhian village communities of India, or the Christian base communities of Latin America (Catherall 1990:271-72).

At the same time, the re-emergence of African religious idioms and practices presented an ongoing resource for more radical resistance to colonialism (Stewart 1992; Chevannes 1994). Support for Africa,


Africans and the continuing anti-slavery movement were major areas of public interest among Jamaican ex-slaves. An anti-slavery meeting at Bethtephil Baptist Chapel in 1840, for example, resolved that 'consider it to be their bounden duty to use every means in their power to expose and put down the slave-trade and slavery, as carried l Africa, and in the boasted lands of freedom, the United States of America'.28 Increasing resentment of white racism led to dissension in the Wesleyan Methodist and Baptist churches in Jamaica, as k congregations recognized the limitations of white pastorship and sought to select their own leaders and preachers. Even more radically, grassroots 'revivalism' promoted Afro-Christian leaders and practices; by blurring the boundaries between Christian and African-rooted religious beliefs, the Revival movements challenged the entire basis of European religion. Also of significance for popular participation was »art played by Afro-Jamaican women both in promoting a popular voice' within the missionary societies, and in forming their own religious networks and followings (Sheller 1998).


A special case for peasant political agency must be made in rd to women. In both Haiti and Jamaica, women were responsible local marketing and they covered great distances bringing rural produce to the market centres, and urban and imported goods back to country. Their mobility, access to credit and centrality in networks of communication gave market women a greater degree of autonomy other peasant groups. Yet, women were excluded by definition l equal citizenship; they could not vote or hold public office, and no officially recognized claim to political participation.29 The modern status of citizenship was originally closely tied to bargaining between states and subject populations over the obligation of military ice (Tilly 1994). Thus, it is not surprising that male slaves often ed freedom as an incentive or compensation for military service during the Haitian Revolution, the Latin-American Wars of independence, the United States Civil War and the Cuban Ten Years' War). Military service gave men a claim on the state not available to ten. Though still excluded by property qualifications from voting aiding office, Afro-Caribbean men at least had a legitimate claim of equal political rights. Nevertheless, Afro-Caribbean women did a significant role in several major political events.30


Non-white women were a permanent presence in the public spaces of towns because of their central role in marketing agricultural produce, as well as their concentration in domestic service jobs in n areas. An 1844 census of Kingston found a total population of 50 males and 18,543 females, while the 1861 island-wide census found that in all the towns of the island there was a total of 36,805 females, compared with only 26,378 males.31 Thus, women played important part in the development of a politically active Afro-Jamaican( public in two ways: first, they facilitated flows of information between town and country; and, second, they filled the streets and squares during popular political mobilizations or demonstrations. As I have argued elsewhere (Sheller 1998), women's political leadership was not simply due to sheer numbers on the lowest social rungs. Rather, it was their special economic and social position as a link between town a country, between markets and fields, and between the state and families it tried to control. Market women, or 'higglers', brought produce from the country into the towns and carried news and information to rural districts in the process. In largely non-literate societies, women's concentration in the market towns advantaged them in gathering oral information, while their economic and familial ties throughout the countryside enabled them to disseminate news more quickly than official channels.

The importance of internal marketing networks as channels political communication during the period of slavery has been recognized by a number of historians. There has been less discusson however, of the ongoing significance of these networks after emancipation, when Jamaican markets continued to be run largely by worn with only minimal regulation of their organization.32 Whereas many studies have concluded that the street was the locale of masculine 'reputation' in the Caribbean, with women relegated to the home, fenced-in yard or the 'respectability' of the church, there is in f much evidence that urban working-class women dominated the life the streets.33 As Rhoda Reddock has noted for Trinidad & Tobago. 'For most women the street was their arena of activity. They worked there, were entertained, quarreled, fought, and even ate there. The Victor adage that women should be seen and not heard was not applicable here, and the strict division between public and private life was not instituted among the working classes'.34 Given their numerical p dominance in urban public spaces, black women played a special p in public disturbances and riots, where they often made up the major of participants in contentious gatherings.

Above all, it is clear from police reports that black women played a highly visible part in the streets and rioting 'mob', often suffering retaliatory police attack. Not only were women's public activities constant challenge to the security of the class, racial and gender identities of the white male elite, but working-class public culture often transmuted into direct verbal challenges to the authorities, something turning into violent riots. Many examples of 'violent language recorded in the British records were spoken by women, whether during

slavery and apprenticeship, or in later court-house scuffles and 'riots';

when violence occurred, working-class women were often at the fore­front, brandishing not only insults and provocation, but quite often weapons as well. By the 1850s, those words and weapons were increasingly turned not only against overseers and plantation person­nel, but against the actual representatives of the colonial state: police­men, court-houses, militias, even magistrates. At this level, we discover one of the main differences between Haiti and Jamaica, for any popular mobilizations were quickly met with armed force in Haiti. The Haitian military moved with impunity, whereas in Jamaica rights of association, speech and publication were to some extent protected, at least in so far as one could protest at their withdrawal.

Peasant civil agency

As in Haiti, newspapers were a key component in the development of a democratic alliance in opposition to the political domination of big landowners. Some publications in Jamaica were specifically targeted at the population of freed slaves. A Baptist weekly newspaper was started in Falmouth in September 1839, with the explicit purpose of empower­ing freedmen and aiding Africans. The Baptist Herald and Friend of Africa proclaimed in its opening editorial that '[we] have long felt the desirableness of having a cheap publication by which the labouring population might be instructed in a knowledge of those rights and priv­ileges which belong to them as free men, as well as in those duties they owe to each other and to the community, now they are invested with the name of British subjects'. The same issue also advertised the 'free village system' in Trelawny, with 'sundry pieces and parcels of LAND which will be sold in LOTS to suit buyers among the labouring peas­antry', in Sturge's Town, Castle Town, New Birmingham, Calabar, Hoby's Town, and Shady Grove.35

The paper claimed to be the cheapest in the island (6s. 8d. per annum, later reduced to only 6 s, and by 1844 reported a circulation of aver one thousand per week, 'chiefly in the parishes of St. Thomas in lie Vale, St. Mary, St. Ann, Trelawny, St. James and Hanover'.36 It was not only strongly against foreign slavery, but also took some very pro-labour stands in comparison to most of the Jamaican press. In August 1844, following attempts to lower wages to 9d. per day, an editorial stated that 'we give it as our decided opinion, that labor here is worth 1s. 6d. per day. Our advice to the peasantry therefore, is to insist on present prices, and on no account, to work for less.... Let them resist the wage reduction] at once, and universally'. In February 1845, it

printed 'Advice to the Peasantry. From what is going on, we strongly advise the laborer not to enter into any agreement with the Oven Attorney, unless that agreement be in writing; and not to sign paper except in the presence of some friend who can read, i whom he has confidence' ,37                               n

Less militant whites tried to build civic culture by organizing philanthropic associations (see Table 6 for a summary of Jamaicans voluntary and welfare associations). Some institutions were founded \ the explicit aim of educating and 'bettering' the working classes 1842, the Morning Journal published an article under the head 'Reunions of the Working and Middle Classes', promoting the formation of clubs modeled on the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association to diffuse 'sound political information to the working class, an promote a kindlier feeling between them and other classes'. As author went on to explain, '[W]hat is needed is, that any change which must come, in the fulness of time, in an ever-progressive society should be approached not as a matter of bloody contest, but as a matter of co-operation, or if you like of bargain' M Along the same lines, 1ocal agricultural societies were formed in almost every parish in the early 1840s. They arranged lectures and demonstrations, offered practical advice on better techniques and new technology and sponsored fairs or contests each year in which monetary prizes were offered for the examples of produce, livestock and workmanship. The island-Royal Agricultural Society was founded in 1840, and the Royal Society of Arts in 1854 (the two were amalgamated in 1866).

'Industrial education' societies were founded to promote I agricultural practices and introduce new technologies, such a St. James and Trelawny Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education, founded in 1843 (Hall 1959: 30). Perhaps influenced by French socialism and British Christian Socialism (Lewis 1983), were several attempts to establish marketing cooperatives in this period; most, however, were unsuccessful. The most ambitious cooperative  production and marketing scheme in the 1840s was Special Magistrate Alexander Fyfe's proposed Metcalfe Central Sugar Factory and Timber Company (1846), which never got off the ground.3 later scheme, the St. David's Joint-Stock Co. and Society of Art established in 1857, 'to regulate by means of co-operative 1abour;

certain schemes of cultivation upon such lands as the Company be able to purchase' on the basis of shares of five pounds raised individual investors (Hall 1959: 202). Such projects, however, aimed more at bigger landowners, not smallholders and labourer;

In Jamaica there were also far more schools than in Haiti i because the British government financially supported education as a




Black publics and peasant freedom in post-emancipation Jamaica 163

Table 6 Voluntary Associations and Societies in Jamaica, 1823-1866

Name (Founder)

The Bienfaisance Society (Lecesne & Escoffery)

The Kingston Benevolent Society (Rev. T. B. Turner)

Society for the Protection of Civil and Religious Liberty

Falmouth Auxiliary Anti-Slavery Society & other auxiliaries


Jamaica Education Society (Baptist Western Union)

African Missionary Society of the Baptist Church

Royal [Jamaica] Agricultural Society (& various parish


St. Thomas in the East & St. David's Savings Bank

Trelawny Savings Bank

St. Thomas in the Vale Savings Bank (T. Witter Jackson)

Kingston Mechanics Institution

St. James & Trelawny Society for Industrial Education

Baptist Benefit Society

Royal Society of Arts

Trinity District Mutual Aid Society, Westmoreland

The Mutual Improvement Society, Kingston (Gardner)

The Provident Society, Kingston (Gardner)

St. David's Joint-Stock Co. & Society of Arts

Kingston & St. Andrew Ladies' Reformatory & Industrial


The Falmouth Association for Moral & Social Improvement

Industrial School, Mount Holstein, St. George (Rev. G.


S. J. Walcott's Industrial School, Richmond Estate

Hanover Society of Industry

The Benefit Building Society (Model Home Department)


Mercantile Agency Association, Black River (Barrett)

Freedman's Aid Society-Joint Stock Association (Brydson

& Plummer)

The Underhill Convention (Rodney & Burton, St. Ann's Bay)

The New Belvedere Society

The Royal Incorporated Society of Arts & Agriculture



164 Democracy After Slavery

means to 'moral reformation' of the slave, while missionaries I selves saw education as a key aspect of faith, conversion and ] development. In particular, between 1835-45 the government aw an annual subsidy of up to £30,000 to the non-denominational Mico Charity.41 The Baptists instituted a Jamaica Educational Society as soon as slavery ended, and by 1839, they reported a total of 16,313 students in day and Sunday schools (mostly in Cornwall and Middlesex); A compilation of missionary statements for 1841 shows 21 teachers attached to the Wesleyan Methodist Mission, 22 with the Church Missionary Society, and 71 with the Baptist Missionary Society, total number of school children was estimated to be between 25 and 31,800.43 These schools taught both girls and boys, and about third of the teachers were women. Many Jamaicans expressed the desire to educate their children, and some were clearly proud of their children who were literate. As in the United States, ex-slaves were willing to spend what little money they had on building schools, paying school fees and buying clothing for their children to attend school (Du Bois[1935]1992).

The economic restructuring associated with the emancipation an enslaved rural labour force (along with the continuing process of decline of an old sugar colony faced with falling sugar prices), le( more mobile and town-based popular culture in Jamaica. While some former slaves could survive by growing provisions for the local village markets — selling coffee, pimento, arrowroot, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables, as well as handicrafts (Sewell [1862] 1968: 248-49) even for export, the local economy was inadequate to support the ( population. As Elizabeth Petras suggests, after about 1840, Jamaica’s; mechanics, foremen, skilled workers, and artisans steadily aband the agricultural sector and moved into the towns' (Petras 1988 However, 'in the urban centers, they found no incipient industry could employ them. Thus, they became members of the first i floating labor reserve.... By 1850 a geographically mobile urban sub-proletariat was distinguishable in Jamaica' (Petras 1988: 49,52) Thousands of such workers left Jamaica between 1850 and recruited to work on the Panama Railroad that was being built a the isthmus by a U.S. joint-stock company. They were offered enticed wages of 3s. 2d. per day, with promises of food and medical dance, but many died in Panama, where worker mortality extremely high (Petras 1988).

A distinctive working-class consciousness was apparent as 1842, as seen in this article written by a self-described 'Mechanic in The Morning Journal:




To the Mechanics of Jamaica. Fellow Craftsmen. Most of you, it may be presumed, in common with myself, have experienced many drawbacks in our varied avocation, for want of an institution where mutual sociality and commu­nion of sentiment and ideas might be unrestrictedly and beneficially enjoyed.... A mechanic's society would not only be of essential service to the master, but particularly to the labouring operative, whose present very prescribed know­ledge or total ignorance of practical mechanics in most instances, renders him intolerably intractable to his master.... What is there to prevent the formation of such a society among us, where we might have the advantage of at least a well stored library, if not of popular lectures, with our museum and school of arts and sciences?44

With his plans for a Kingston Mechanic's Institution, this worker was aware of an international labour movement; he also planned to 'open a connecting correspondence with the "London Mechanics Institution", through whose paternal means we might derive every assistance possible in establishing a library, museum and school'.45

There were also attempts, especially in the 1840s, to found Savings Banks for the 'poorer classes' in order to encourage 'habits of thrift'. At a public meeting in Morant Bay in 1841, inhabitants of St. Thomas-in-the-East and St. David resolved:

'   That the establishment of a Savings Bank... would be productive of great benefit to the community; and especially to the labouring Classes, as affording them a safe and conve­nient investment for their surplus earnings, and good interest for the deposits they may make; and as tending toward their moral improvement, by checking their too frequent inclina­tion to useless and extravagant expenditure, and encouraging industrious and frugal habits.46

The bank was to be opened in the Old School Room at the Court House on Saturdays. It was soon found, though, that the labourers were lot very enthusiastic about putting their money into elite-run savings banks: 'the labouring population of the parish are not yet aware of the principles on which such an institution is conducted'.47 For most labourers with a stake in family land, there was no better bank than a fattening pig.

In the 1850s, many associations were created with the needs of he working class in mind. The Trinity District Mutual Aid Society, for instance, was founded in Westmoreland in 1855 and aimed at 'persons! of the labouring class'; for a small subscription, it offered medical attendance, disability payments and old age support.48 A London! Missionary Society report mentions several societies connected with! the Kingston Station, including a Mutual Improvement Society' founded in 1856 with over 300 members, offering lectures and a periodical for 4s. a year; and a Provident Society founded in 1857, which insured for sickness and death for 1s. 6d. a month. They also formed a Benefit Building Society in 1864, which built model homes and gave grants for renovation of dilapidated buildings.49 Besides  joining voluntary associations, freed men and women often volun­teered their labour to complete collective projects in the community or to support a missionary.

Edward Holland of the London Missionary Society wrote that his congregation was donating both cash and labour to build a new chapel. He linked this to the prevailing low wages: 'In one instance I had the Father, Mother, daughter and two sons — the whole family for the week... As they are so ill requited for their labor on the neighboring Estates since the introduction of the Hill Coolies who work for 6d. per day and their food, they prefer laboring at their Chapel' .50 This kind of voluntary labour could involve single families, but it could also draw on the contributions of large gangs. Holland reported in 1847 that he had planted 'a small patch of canes' to support his family, and a young man in his congregation 'cheerfully consented' to bring his work fellows to harvest it: 'he came accompanied with seventy-six others and ground away until the day began to dawn — three of the number remained to boil the liquor. Besides that they planted all my provisions, corn, and gave upwards of 600 days labour to the new chapel, free of expence.51 For low-paid agricultural workers, cooperative labour had significant returns not only in terms of the expectation of future help in digging or harvesting one's own grounds, but also in some instances as a kind of barter replacement for cash payments.52

Missionaries clearly hoped that civil institutions such as churches, schools, friendly societies and savings banks would build a sense of community; former slaves, however, already had their own ideas of community, and their own public networks. Unlike Haiti, 'native' reli­gions were tolerated to some extent in Jamaica, at least in the form of 'Native Baptist' practices. A crucial part of changes in public life in post-emancipation Jamaica was the emergence of distinctive 'African' and 'black' identities. Baptists played an important part in raising con­sciousness about the ongoing struggle against slavery throughout the world, and the need for Jamaican solidarity with Africa; perhaps, they did not realize quite how strong the symbolic meaning of Africa could

become. At the chapel in Falmouth in 1842, for example, a commemorative monument was placed above the pulpit with an inscription, 'By Emancipated Sons of Africa, To Commemorate the Birth-Day of their Freedom, August the First, 1838'; it included the prophetic psalm verse: 'Ethiopia Shall Soon Stretch Out Her Hands Unto God'.53 What fed Africa mean to Afro-Jamaicans? And how did the collective identity of being a 'son of Africa' dovetail with the identity of being a British subject' ?

During emancipation celebrations at Kettering, at which a 'large |nap of Africa... [was] suspended behind the speaker's chair', Edward Barrett of Oxford Estate significantly summed up the debts owed Africa:

'The set time had come' when Africa was required payment for the wrongs she had suffered; and he trusted they would shew their gratitude for their own freedom, by trying to send the Gospel to their Fathers and Mothers in Africa. Black, White, and Brown — all were interested in Africa. Let none say they had nothing to do in the work. For the white ladies and gentlemen, who were not related to Afric' people, had received much of their property, from those who got it out of the blood of Africa.54

This consciousness of being African, and of owing some repayment to the people of Africa was partly fostered by the abolitionist wing of the Baptist church, but if a/so reflected a deeper Afro-Jamaican sense of identity. Missionary churches themselves began to come under fire torn Afro-Jamaican publics realizing their own power and resources |s Barren makes clear, those people back in Africa might be their own fathers and mothers; for others, they were symbolic ancestors. This African identity was one of the bases for an alternative political culture that increasingly broke free from the Baptist churches which had helped to incubate it.55

Christianity was not the only spiritual resource to be called upon by the 'children of Ethiopia'. The missionary vision of a Christian Bblic was melting into an autonomous and powerful Afro-Jamaican public, and Jamaicans were beginning to assert (and seek public recognition for) their African cultural identities in new ways. If Baptist missionaries had started out in the role of mediators, they had become clearly aligned on the side of the peasantry, against the planter. The Baptist churches became central locales for the emergence of black leaders and black publics out of slavery, as they did in other post-emancipation contexts, for example in the United States (Higginbotham 1993, 1997), or in Guyana (Rodney 1981). The alliance between white missionaries and black congregations in Jamaica would be effective for some time, but it would eventually lead to dissentions within the churches, as increasingly autonomous black congregations turned their | attention to the churches themselves, which also became objects for reform and democratization. By the 1840s, it was apparent that there was a vast social chasm between white missionaries and black congre­gations. If petitioning, public meeting and formation of voluntary soci­eties were engagements within the terms of the existing civil and | political system, the emergence of Afro-Christian religious revivals "i provided a more radical challenge.                               

In Jamaica, the practices known as Myalism and Obeah, with African origins, were the root of subsequent 'syncretistic' Afro-Christian religions, many of which came to be associated with crucial peasant political movements (Chevannes 1994; Post 1978; Schuler 1991; Stewart 1992; Turner 1982). These 'roots' religions were the :fundamental basis for post-emancipation community formation throughout the Caribbean (Bastide 1978; Chevannes 1994; Metraux 1960). Practitioners of Myal, both male and female, were not only community leaders — gathering a 'flock' of followers, advising them on personal affairs, spiritually guiding them, and healing illnesses — but were quite often Baptists as well. As Barry Chevannes explains, Myalism took root mainly in Baptist congregations because the Baptist class and leader system 'provided greater autonomy and freedom for Myal to refashion the symbols and teachings of Christianity into its own image, to snatch the "Christian message from the messenger'" (Chevannes 1994: 18). Moreover, as Robert J. Stewart argues, 'Black religion, in its unique and several Jamaican syntheses of African and European elements, provided communities of cultural cohesion and spiritual motivation for political protest' (Stewart 1992: 122-23). Thus, in examining structures of popular religion in Jamaica, one is also examining the resources and ideologies for political mobilization. 'The Myal tradition,' suggests Monica Schuler, had a this-world orientation that 'formed the core of a strong and self-confident counter-culture. It guaranteed that none of the evils of the postslavery period would be accepted passively, but would be fought ritually and publicly' (Schuler 1991:301).

This public component, I suggest, was fundamental to the politi­cal and civil agency fostered by these religions. There were two major Afro-Christian Revivals (or Myal 'outbreaks'), in post-emancipation Jamaica, in 1842-43 and 1860-61. The Revival of the early 1840s occurred mainly in St. James and other western parishes. White observers were dumbfounded by the rate at which the revival 'sponta­neously' spread, but it was an indication of the hidden word-of-mouth networks through which news travelled in the black community. Waddell wrote that the ‘wild outbreak of Myalism, in 1842,….[was] one of the most startling events in the history of Jamaica missions, and showed how deeply rooted the old heathenism of the race still was among the negroes.’ Others described how a group at Flower Hill said y were 'sent by God... to purge and purify the world, they had the spirit, and were Christians of a higher order than common'. They performed public -rituals of purification:

After these fanatics had spent several days extracting the supposed pernicious substances from the houses and gardens of their own class, with singing and dancing, and various peculiar rites[...], we found them in full force and employ­ment, forming a ring, around which were a multitude of onlookers. Inside the circle some females performed a mystic dance, sailing round and round, and wheeling in the center with outspread arms, and wild looks and gestures. Others hummed, or whistled a low monotonous tune (Waddell [1863] 1970: 187-89).

Some groups seized chapels and prayer-houses 'for their heathenish dices', opened graves and disrupted prayer meetings with violent spirit 'possessions'. Myal rites were a radical expression of self-determination, demonstrating grassroots control of religion; they also indicate the exercise of 'popular justice', as communities tried to solve collective problems by rooting out harmful Obeahmen and digging up 'wanga' or evil charms that these sorcerers had planted.

These public ceremonies indicate one kind of subaltern public bringing its 'hidden trancripts' into the light of day (J. C. Scott 1990). What is significant about revivalism as it developed from the early 1860s', argues Stewart, 'was that it was increasingly open, independent, and self-confident in a way that Obeah could never be and that Myalism had only been previously during periodic "outbreaks'". It broke the walls of the churches, as it were, and took to the road' swart 1992: 147). Beyond overtly political claim-making directed at government, I suggest that these religious forms of peasant agency must be theorized as part of the emergence of black publics. As Stewart suggests, in some instance 'impromptu revivalist services served the same purpose as many political marches and street demonstrations today' (ibid: 147; cf. Schuler 1991). 'To a far greater extent n most people realize', argues Chevannes, 'Myal and its later manifestation, Revival, have shaped the worldview of the Jamaican people, ping them to forge an identity and a culture by subversive participation in the wider polity' (Chevannes 1994: 20-21). Baptist churches had once provided safe locales in which to develop communities after slavery and practise repertoires of democratic participation, but former slaves were beginning to develop a new sense of collective agency and to create their own subaltern publics. As mobilization outrank confines of churches, black leaders emerged, expressing grievances new ways and making new demands.





1 LMS, Box 2, Woolridge to Directors, 2 Aug. 1839. The event also raised £20.

2 LMS, Box 2, W.G. Barret to Directors, Four Paths, 15 Aug. 1839. Whi Jamaicans recognized the revolutionary origins and Haitian resonance of symbolic tree is unclear.

3 As John Bohstedt has argued in regard to England and Wales, riots 'were s politics in the sense that they tested rioters' and magistrates' resources of force. persuasion, affected the policies of local authorities and the distribution of go and social burdens, and took place within calculable conventions' (John Bohst Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales, 1790-1810 [Cambridg Harvard University Press, 1983], 4-5).

4 I follow James (1938) and Fraginals (1976) in referring to plantations as 'sen industrial' in so far as they concentrated a workforce in partly factory-like corn tions and thus created 'proto-proletarians' (cf. Mintz, 'Slavery and the Rise Peasantries').

5 The actual campaign to abolish slavery, on which there is an extensive historiogi phy, will not be discussed here. See Chapter I for an overview.

6 Williams' narrative was presented in the House of Lords, and used in the forn parliamentary enquiry that contributed to the early ending ot'praedial apprentii ship. See 'A Narrative of events since the First of August, 1834', by Jan Williams, An Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica', bound with Lord Brougham Speech on the Slave Trade in the House of Lords, 29 January 1838 (Londo] J. Rider, 1838); cf. Morning Journal, Vol. 1, no. 2, 11 Apr. 1838.             ]

7 It should not be forgotten that the community of freed slaves living in England ib' the late eighteenth century also played a crucial part in the abolition movement,' including public speaking tours and well-known narratives by Ottobah Cuguano and Olaudah Equiano. Thus, began a black diaspora public. See Henry L. Gates Jr., ed.. The Classic Slave Narratives (New York: Mentor, 1987); Peter Fryer, | Staying Power: Black People in Britain Since 1504 (Atlantic Highlands, N]:l Humanities Press, 1984); Gretchen Gerzina, Black London: Life Before Emancipation (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995); Douglas A. Lorimer, 'Black Resistance to Slavery and Racism in Eighteenth Century England' in Essays in the History of Blacks in Britain, ed. J.S. Gundara and I. Duffield (Aldershot: Avebury, 1992), pp. 58-80.

8 Land-use studies of plantations in the U.S. also suggest that 'slaves carved out landscapes of their own' (John M. Vlach, Back of the Bighouse: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993], x).

9 Morning Journal, no. 11,21 Apr. 1838.

10 Morning Journal, no. 34, 18 May 1838.

11 Morning Journal, no. 36, 21 May 1838.

12 On the development of petitioning among the tree coloured and free black popula­tions, including tensions between the two groups, see Sheila Duncker, 'The Free