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African Diaspora Newsletter No.10 - PH.D. CANDIDATE

BRITISH EUROPEAN PEASANTRY IN SOUTH ST. ELIZABETH, JAMAICA:
THE RISE OF POST-EMANCIPATION FREE VILLAGE COMMUNITIES
IN THE BRITISH CARIBBEAN, 1834-1900

Robert Stewart


Herman Merivale's classification of the British emancipated colonies on the basis of their population densities, and the availability of un-alienated lands to the freedmen is generally consistent with the official views of the enslaved people, which dominated the immediate pre- and post-emancipation periods. Abolitionists as well as planters and colonial officials were equally convinced that maintenance of the plantation system after emancipation was indispensable for the prosperity and civilization of the colonies. Both groups also believed that the ex-slaves needed to be guided or compelled to continue supplying the necessary labour power required to maintain the plantations' productivity. The expected reluctance of the freedmen to continue working on the plantations could be traced to ideological justifications for slavery, as well as the 'natural impetus' to remove themselves as far as possible from the symbols of their enslavement. The generally expected flight from the plantations after emancipation was therefore an issue of grave concern and advance planning, particularly in colonies with low population densities and an abundance of un-alienated interior lands, which were conducive to the anticipated flight of the ex-slaves.

This research proposal focuses on the impact of a relatively brief period of European immigration to Jamaica, 1834-42. As a preparatory response to the impending emancipation in the British colonies, the Jamaican planters and local officials had sought to inundate the more temperate interior parts of the island with white European settlers, as yeomen farmers and "examples of propriety and industry" to the ex-slaves. Most importantly, however, the white settlement of the interior highlands was calculated to force the ex-slaves to remain on the fringes of the estates as cheap and accessible labour reserves for the plantations.

In the effort to saturate the interior highlands with white settlers before full emancipation, the Jamaican legislature offered large bounties for each European immigrant that was brought into the colony. A company was organized to raise capital and to administer the establishment of three white townships in the three counties, and agents were employed to recruit immigrants for the townships as well as for individual planters. However, in spite of the efforts and its lofty projections, a mere 1,212 Germans and 2,685 British immigrants were brought into the Island between 1834 and 1842. The paltry number was further reduced by subsequent re-emigration, and by 1843 the legislature conceded that the scheme had failed. Nevertheless, the venture made an indelible imprint on the formative period of Jamaica's free peasantry, particularly in the Cornwall county township of Seaford Town and in South St. Elizabeth.

This proposed research will focus primarily on two aspects of the Jamaican British- European immigration scheme. Firstly, it will examine the process by which the British immigrants were recruited and brought to the island under the scheme, including their specific British origins, the pattern/s of their settlement in Jamaica, and their initial responses and adaptation to the new environment. Secondly, as a product of this immigration the study will examine the historical socio-economic and demographic developments of three adjoining communities in South St. Elizabeth - Southfield, Pedro Plains and Treasure Beach - where phenotypic and linguistic evidence still bear witness to earlier European peasant settlements.

The purpose of the study is to illustrate the South St Elizabeth impact of the brief period of post-abolition, European immigration to Jamaica, which (except for Douglas Hall's and Carl Senior's accounts of the German contribution to the Cornwall county township) had been all but forgotten. It is also intended to give agency to a group of 19th century European immigrants to the island, whose presence, rather than bolstering the small white ruling class contributed to the variegated character of the emergent free peasantry.
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Department of History, York University,  Toronto, Canada
Email: nigerian@yorku.ca
Fax: (416) 650-8173