Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


Unless otherwise indicated, all OI books are distributed by The University of North Carolina Press.

Children of Uncertain Fortune

Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833

Daniel Livesay

Cloth: 978-1-4696-3443-2 ($45.00)

Copyright 2018
University of North Carolina Press


By tracing the largely forgotten eighteenth-century migration of elite mixed-race individuals from Jamaica to Great Britain, Children of Uncertain Fortune reinterprets the evolution of British racial ideologies as a matter of negotiating family membership. Using wills, legal petitions, family correspondences, and inheritance lawsuits, Daniel Livesay is the first scholar to follow the hundreds of children born to white planters and Caribbean women of color who crossed the ocean for educational opportunities, professional apprenticeships, marriage prospects, or refuge from colonial prejudices. The presence of these elite children of color in Britain pushed popular opinion in the British Atlantic world toward narrower conceptions of race and kinship. Members of Parliament, colonial assemblymen, merchant kings, and cultural arbiters--the very people who decided Britain’s colonial policies, debated abolition, passed marital laws, and arbitrated inheritance disputes--rubbed shoulders with these mixed-race Caribbean migrants in parlors and sitting rooms. Upper-class Britons also resented colonial transplants and coveted their inheritances; family intimacy gave way to racial exclusion. By the early nineteenth century, relatives had become strangers.


In this brilliant model of Atlantic history, Daniel Livesay gracefully brings to life the extraordinary, sometimes heartbreaking stories of mixed-race Caribbean people in Great Britain, revealing the long, complicated lines of family and belonging, race and alienation. This lucid and deeply researched book compellingly illuminates slavery, empire, and colonialism and their enduring impact on individuals, families, and nations.

--Sarah M. S. Pearsall

Children of Uncertain Fortune offers an unprecedented view of how elite Jamaicans and Britons came to distinguish between mixed-race and white kin. Daniel Livesay uncovers the conflicting stories families told as they constructed or challenged these concepts that would eventually define the social identities of millions of imperial subjects.

--John D. Garrigus, University of Texas at Arlington

In this tour de force, Daniel Livesay eloquently explores what confronted the mixed-race progeny of enslaved or free African Jamaican women and white men from the island’s planter class who relocated to Britain in the century before the Emancipation Act. The author’s exhaustive research unearthed hundreds of such individuals, and his astute analysis of their circumstances chronicles the increasingly adverse effects wrought by deep and inexorable shifts in the meanings of race and family. Children of Uncertain Fortune tells a quintessentially Atlantic world story of racist ideologies trumping kinship affinities, as its author points the way to exciting new directions for scholarly investigation.

--Roderick A. McDonald, Rider University; editor, Early American Studies