Land, Labor and Freedom: Post-Emancipation Community Formation in Jamaica and the Bahamas


Elena Abbott

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When British West Indian colonies achieved full emancipation in 1838, Jamaica occupied the unique position of being the empire?s most important Caribbean colony. At the time, it dominated British and American imaginations and came to represent the whole of Caribbean society. This popularization in the press inspired missionaries and philanthropists to move there in greater numbers than to other colonies, drastically impacting both the content of extant Caribbean records and significantly altering the formation of free communities themselves. Jamaica?s dominance both in the historical records and the resultant historiography of the Caribbean has led to an uneven study of the less imperially important islands of the Bahamas, which diverged significantly from the Jamaican paradigm both economically and demographically. Only in recent years have historians begun re-approaching Caribbean study to include the atypical social and economic patterns of the Bahamas. This study specifically interrogates the immediate post-emancipation repercussions of these differences in terms of land distribution, labor practices and the function of freedom. I examine the divergent post-emancipation community development patterns of Jamaica with the Bahamas specifically because they both had notable immigration of Africans and African Americans throughout the mid-1800s. Having this immigration in common, yet developing so differently before and after emancipation, these two colonies offer a unique comparison to explore a more complete range of Caribbean social and labor relations in freedom.


Gabrielle Foreman




The Paul K. & Evalyn E. Cook Richter Trusts - International Fellowship

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