Peter Williamson was Britain’s most famous eighteenth-century Indian captive, but his story is practically unknown today. In his autobiographical narrative, Williamson claimed he was kidnapped from Scotland as a child, sold into servitude in Pennsylvania, and captured by Indians at the outset of the Seven Years’ War. After returning to his native Aberdeen in 1757, he battled authorities who doubted his story and earned his living as a writer and showman who donned Indian costume and told tales of his American adventures in taverns and coffeehouses. He eventually settled in Edinburgh, where he became known as Indian Peter, an entrepreneur and raconteur who had turned captivity—by definition, something to be escaped from—into a lifelong profession. This article retraces Williamson’s remarkable career in America and Britain, unraveling fact from fiction within it and using it to explore the cultural construction of Indians in the eighteenth-century British Empire.
By Kathleen Wilson
The Jamaican Maroons have long proffered rich resources for historians, anthropologists, and sociologists documenting the violent resistance that accompanied forced exile to the Americas. The Maroons’ distinctive contribution to the transculture of Jamaica and the Black Atlantic, however, has received far less attention. This article examines the Maroons’ daily performances of freedom in Jamaica from the 1730s through the end of the Second Maroon War (1796). A reassessment of the Maroons furnishes an important way to complicate the paradigms that have coalesced around race and slavery in Atlantic world studies. Within the transnational colonial space of Jamaica, the Maroons’ boundary-crossing, their multifaceted strategies of resistance and accommodation, and, after the treaties of 1739, their menacing mimesis of freedom were critical to the survival of the plantation complex and the spectacles of sovereignty and subjection that held all Jamaicans in thrall. This article considers the Maroo ns’ place in the theater of British colonial power as a whole and their specific contributions to the semiotic economy of the plantation system and the forms and figures of popular festival, from Jonkonnu to Jack-in-the-Green. It then considers their symbolic importance within the wider Atlantic sound, where their unique performances of freedom and militarism resonated across national boundaries. Throughout the trope of performance is read as both optic and event to appreciate its modalities as embodied forms of creating, preserving, and transmitting knowledge.
The article covers the diplomatic activities of Toussaint Louverture from the time, in 1798, when he emerged as the leading political figure in Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) to his exile and demise in 1802. During this period events of international significance included the evacuation of British troops (1798), secret treaties of commerce and nonaggression with England and the United States (1799), the War of the South with André Rigaud (1799–1800), the invasion of Spanish Santo Domingo (1801), and Louverture’s attempts to secure colonial autonomy (1801). Despite his reputation as an apostle of emancipation, Louverture was a cautious diplomat skillfully pursuing traditional political and security objectives. He actively undermined French plans to start a slave revolt in Jamaica in 1799, and the fate of Santo Domingo’s slaves played a limited role in his decision to invade that colony in 1801. Instead he pursued three main objectives. The first was political preservation, namely securing U.S. and British support against France and internal enemies such as Rigaud. His second goal was to revive the colony’s plantations, even if that meant making a controversial arrangement with Jamaican slave traders in the fall of 1801. Finally, he tried to obtain as much political autonomy as was feasible without completely severing links with France, which, among other things, would have had adverse consequences for his two sons studying in Paris.
By Gregory E. O’Malley
“Beyond the Middle Passage”argues that slave trading from the Caribbean to North America before 1808 was more significant than most scholars realize. Drawing on a database of more than twenty-five hundred slave-trading voyages—compiled mainly from the surviving British Caribbean and North American port records—the article estimates that more than seventy thousand African captives reached North America from the Caribbean. This figure amounts to roughly one-sixth of Africans imported to the mainland. The study also breaks down this figure to show wide variations by colony, which affected the development of slave cultures. South Carolina, for instance, imported only 10 percent of slaves from the Caribbean, whereas Pennsylvania drew more than half its slaves through this channel. The study asserts that almost all people carried in this intercolonial trade were Africans recently arrived in the Caribbean, not creoles or “seasoned” slaves. Finally, the article suggests that wides pread involvement in such small-scale slave trading brought far more people into contact with the trade—among the most dehumanizing aspects of slavery—than the transatlantic trade alone would have. This routine commodification of people served as a crucial arena in which European settlers developed their perceptions of Africans as debased and inferior.
“A Potent Plantation Well Armed and Policeed”: Huguenots, the Hartlib Circle, and British Colonization in the 1640s
By Thomas Leng
This article considers the Atlantic dimensions of the British civil wars of the 1640s by examining a project to settle a new American colony under the auspices of England’s Parliament. Conceived of in 1645, the project never got beyond the planning stage, yet its failure highlights shifting attitudes toward empire. The project’s leaders were Huguenot exiles with a history of colonial designs stretching back to the early 1630s. In their view colonization would enrich and empower England as a way to elevate it to leadership of the international Protestant cause. Thus they aimed to establish a “potent plantation” in which military discipline and state involvement would control the potential corrupting force of commercial self-interest. But the project prompted debate among the Huguenots’ key allies in London, associates of intellectual reformer Samuel Hartlib, about the commercial possibilities of colonial expansion. Some of these figures would later be involved in the commercial and colonial policies of the English Commonwealth, notably Benjamin Worsley, secretary of the 1650 Council of Trade. These debates therefore cast new light on the intellectual genesis of the 1651 Navigation Act that would govern commercial relations between England and its empire throughout the rest of the seventeenth century.