Omohundro Institute


Simon P. Newman

artwork by Anthony King, maps by David Ely, and video and photography by Marenka Thompson-Odlum

Page 46 of 53

After the relative peace of his journey through rural Jamaica, the hustle and bustle of Kingston may have overwhelmed Quier. Certainly, Equiano was amazed by the marketeering of the island’s black population on a Sunday morning.



Hakewill, Harbour Street, Kingston. Additional artwork by Anthony King.

Recording of excerpts from Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself (London, 1789), 2: 105–6, 185–86. Read by Mr. Gameli Kodzo Tordzro, May 2017.75

Recording of excerpts from Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself (London, 1789), 2: 105–6, 185–86. Read by Mr. Gameli Kodzo Tordzro, May 2017.75

On Sundays large numbers of enslaved people flocked to Kingston and other Jamaican towns, and in particular to the market areas, not only to buy and sell produce and goods but also for food, sociability, music, and dance. As one observer noted, “The Negroes are the only market people,” and enslaved and free people of color hawked all manner of foodstuffs: fish and shellfish, poultry of all kinds, and meats including beef, goat mutton, veal, pork, lamb, and turtle. Grain, butter, and vegetables from North America were for sale alongside fruits and vegetables from all over the island.76 The

Pigou, “A Note on Afro-Jamaican Beliefs and Rituals,” Jamaica Journal 20, no. 2 (May– July 1987): 23–26.

          75 The accented English of a modern West African cannot replicate the accented English of the disparate populations of West Africans during the eighteenth century, but it reminds us that the English spoken by most people in Jamaica sounded very different from the regional accents of the island’s white minority.

          76 [Janet Schaw], Journal of a Lady of Quality: Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774 to 1776, ed. Evangeline Walker Andrews in collaboration with Charles McLean Andrews (New Haven, Conn., 1922), 88 (quotation); [Long], History of Jamaica, 2: 34–36.

Page 47 of 53

bright colors of all manner of produce, the noise and movement of animals and poultry, the hubbub of conversation and business transactions conducted in pidgin English and African languages, the sounds of music and the colorful clothing of buyers, sellers, and pedestrians combined to create what was quite likely the busiest and most raucous concentration of people anywhere on the island. Even witnessing a modern market cannot fully capture how such a scene would have affected Quier because, although a twenty-first-century Jamaican market is not something most readers of this journal typically experience, our time in modern cities makes us familiar with loud, colorful, and densely populated multiracial environments.



W. E. Beastall and G. Testolini, Negroes Sunday-Market at Antigua (London, 1806). Royal Museums Greenwich.

Agostino Brunias, Linen Market, Dominica. Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art.

Adolphe Duperly, Marketplace, Falmouth, Jamaica, 1844, in Duperly, Daguerian Excursions in Jamaica. . . . (Kingston, [1850]). National Library of Jamaica.

Video recording of Coronation Market, Kingston, Jamaica, recorded by Marenka Thompson-Odlum, July 2017.77

          77 The blending of historical images of Jamaican markets with soft-focus video of a present-day Jamaican market should not be read as suggesting an unchanging and timeless African experience on the island. Rather, the technique evokes the sights and sounds of the overwhelmingly black space and culture of urban marketeering in Jamaica.

Page 48 of 53

Artistic representations of Caribbean markets tend to impose an order and regularity that white men in the Caribbean found lacking. Contemporary paintings featured color, abundance, and a generally happy and well-dressed population of enslaved and free people of color. Perhaps modern Jamaican and West African markets give a better sense of the sensory overload of eighteenth-century markets in which everyone from chimney sweeps to fruit vendors jostled for attention, livestock were everywhere, and white men and women were largely absent, since they tended to “walk but little” even over short distances, traveling the city streets in small carriages. The markets belonged to enslaved and free people of color, not to whites.78

Riding along Port Royal Street and facing the city’s great harbor, Quier would have seen it all. A generation earlier this street had housed newly arrived Africans in slave yards only a stone’s throw from the homes of some of the wealthiest men on the island. Between these two extremes, many more had lived and worked along Port Royal Street, such as the free black woman Phiba, who owned one slave; the tavern keeper Philip Weston; the sailmaker John Kendrick; and the silversmith Daniel Silva. In the middle of the eighteenth century, there had been some fifty shops and businesses on Port Royal Street alone, a number that had risen by the time our traveler rode along the street a generation later. Sailors, fishermen, joiners, coopers, wheelwrights, shipwrights, sailmakers, caulkers, block makers, turners, cabinet makers, tailors, cartmen, seamstresses, washerwomen, and more filled this and neighboring streets, many of them the enslaved assistants to free white and black owners.79

Many of the people Quier would have seen in the markets and in Kingston’s public spaces inhabited homes that were often little more than shacks on the northern and eastern side of Kingston. Laws such as “An act for remedying the inconveniencies which may arise from the number of negro huts and houses, built in and about the towns of St. Jago de la Vega, Port-Royal, and Kingston” reflected white Jamaicans’ concerns about these communities, not least that “runaway negro and other slaves, from different parts of the island, [were] daily resorting to and being harboured in the said huts or houses.” Enslaved people who escaped from urban owners often had occupations and skills that were in demand in urban environments, and a constantly shifting and relatively large population of free people of color and enslaved people concentrated in a small area provided excellent cover for runaways. Serving boys and waiters, hairdressers and barbers, fishermen and washerwomen, carpenters and joiners, and others like them who eloped might hope to hire themselves out. Plantation workers and field hands also

          78 Curtis Brett Sr. to Curtis Brett Jr., Cs1, 13 (quotation).

          79 Trevor Burnard and Emma Hart, “Kingston, Jamaica, and Charleston, South Carolina: A New Look at Comparative Urbanization in Plantation Colonial British America,” Journal of Urban History 39, no. 2 (2013): 214–34, esp. 222–23.

Page 49 of 53

came to urban areas in the hope of securing employment for themselves, and the degree of independence that came with it.80 Quier and other whites who visited or lived in urban areas would constantly interact with enslaved and free black people, from stable boys, waiters, and maids in the inns, coffeehouses, and private homes they visited to the food and drink sellers on the streets from whom they purchased refreshments. In the streets, moreover, Quier would have seen constant activity, with boys carrying messages, fishermen bringing in their catch, washerwomen carrying clothes, higglers marketing goods, and carpenters and others engaging in construction work. Some of these people were runaways, but even when masters knew where runaways were and what they were doing, such knowledge did not ensure recapture.


Hakewill, King’s Square, St. Jago de la Vega. Additional artwork by Anthony King.

Recording of excerpts from autobiographical letters from Curtis Brett Sr. to Curtis Brett Jr. written in England in July 1775, recalling the former’s first morning in Kingston on Dec. 18, 1748. Read by Dr. William Mulligan, May 2017. Bound volume in the private collection of Dr. Martin Brett and quoted with his kind permission. Manuscript volume Cs1, 12–13.81

          80 “An act for remedying the inconveniencies. . . . ,” Dec. 19, 1770, in Laws of Jamaica, 2: 88.

          81 It is difficult to know how English was spoken by Dublin-born Irish men and women of this era, although both contemporary accounts and more modern scholarship indicate a good degree of alignment between historical and modern accents and pronunciation. See Thomas Sheridan, A Rhetorical Grammar of the English Language: Calculated solely for the Purpose of Teaching Propriety of Pronunciation, and Justness

Page 50 of 53

The large community of free and enslaved black people in Kingston, Spanish Town, and other urban centers provided a significant degree of cover. Robin, a Congo waiter who was branded on each shoulder with the initials of his owner, eloped from Spanish Town. Despite being spotted in Kingston, he remained at liberty for at least ten months.82 Tom Hall had been hired out as a coachman in Kingston when he ran away, after which he was spotted in the eastern end of the city and “often seen going in and out of the gaol, to visit some of his comrades there.” Bute, who eloped in January 1791, had been a carriage boy in his youth and then “hired as postilion and waiting man to sundry gentlemen in Kingston.” The previous year Bute had been “put to learn the carpenter’s business,” increasing his marketable skills. Three months after his escape, Bute’s owner readvertised, stating that the runaway “has been seen with his wife in Kingston,” a higgler named Fanny. Quaw, “a young Mungola Barber and Waiting Man,” escaped from the Richmond Vale Estate; he was “seen some days ago in Spanish Town, and probably is either there or in Kingston,” but ten months after he eloped, the young man remained free.83

Robin, Tom Hall, and Bute were among the many boys and men who were able to remain at liberty within the dense urban population of enslaved and free people of color, as did women and girls. Phibby was a Congo woman who eloped from Kingston; her master reported that she was “harboured at the east-end of the town, and has frequently been seen there.” Barbary escaped from the home of the wealthy planter Simon Taylor, who believed that she was “harboured in this town by her Aunt Bessy Byfield,” yet such knowledge had not immediately led to Barbary’s recapture. Hannah, a Kingston-based seamstress, had also been absent for a year when her master once again advertised for her: eighteen newspaper advertisements over the following month may still not have secured Hannah.84 When Phoebe and Barbara absconded from a plantation in Saint David Parish, their master

of Delivery in That Tongue, by the Organs of Speech (Dublin, 1781); Jeffrey L. Kallen, “English in Ireland,” in Burchfield, Cambridge History of the English Language, 5: 148–96.

          82 “Ran Away . . . Robin,” Gazette of Saint Jago, Apr. 25, 1782, 3. Robin eloped on Mar. 5, 1782, but Daniel Singer continued advertising for him from Apr. 25, 1782, until Jan. 16, 1783.

          83 “Run Away . . . Tom Hall,” Jamaica Mercury, July 30, 1779, [issue of July 31, 1779, supplement, 174], in Chambers, “Runaway Slaves in Jamaica,” 1: 24 n. 13 (“gaol”), UFDC; “Fifteen Dollars reward . . . Bute,” Royal Gazette, Mar. 2, 1791, in Chambers, “Runaway Slaves in Jamaica,” 1: 130–31 (“postilion,” 1: 130), UFDC; “Fifteen Dollars Reward,” Daily Advertiser, Apr. 29, 1791, 3 (“with his wife”); “Run Away . . . Quaw,” Royal Gazette, Apr. 15, 1780, 8 (“Barber”). Quaw escaped in December 1779; his owner, William Brown, was still advertising for him in mid-October 1780.

          84 “Ran Away . . . Phibby,” Daily Advertiser, Dec. 20, 1791, 3 (“east-end”); “Run Away . . . Barbary,” Gazette of Saint Jago, July 12, 1781, 2 (“her Aunt”); “Absconded . . . Hannah,” Daily Advertiser, Aug. 31, 1791, 3 (repeated until Sept. 28, 1791).

Navigate by page:

Introduction | 1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20 | 21-25 | 26-30 | 31-35 | 36-40 | 41-45 | 46-50 | 51-53

Omohundro Institute

© 2019 Omohundro Institute. All Rights Reserved.