Omohundro Institute

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: ESCAPED SLAVES IN LATE EIGHTEENTH- AND EARLY NINETEENTH-CENTURY JAMAICA

Simon P. Newman

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

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Journeys through Jamaica and Jamaican slavery
(i) Lluidas Vale: forests, mountains, and plantations in Jamaica’s interior valleys

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Map detail showing location of Dr. John Quier’s home in Lluidas Vale. Taken from James Robertson, To His Royal Highness the Duke of York, This Map of the County of Middlesex, in the Island of
Jamaica
. . . . (London, 1804). National Library of Scotland.

Quier’s journey to Kingston originated from Worthy Park Plantation in Lluidas Vale, Saint John Parish, which was not far from the geographic center of Jamaica. The terrain through which Quier would have passed is revealed by the following 3-D topographic video map.

 

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3-D topographic video map showing Dr. John Quier’s imagined journey from Lluidas Vale to Kingston. Map by David Ely, based on Robertson, Map of the County of Middlesex; James Robertson, To His Royal Highness . . . This Map of the County of Surrey, in the Island of Jamaica. . . . (London, 1804) National Library of Scotland.

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In the 1780s Saint John was still quite sparsely populated and had fewer roads and settlements than more established parishes. Lluidas Vale was an interior valley, with a cultivated and fairly flat floor surrounded by densely wooded hills rising between 1,300 and 2,600 feet. Leaving the valley, Quier would have traveled south through sparsely settled hills that separated Lluidas Vale from Guanaboa Vale to the southeast, passing through forests with occasional pens and plantations. In Guanaboa Vale the terrain leveled out at approximately five hundred feet above sea level and Quier would have encountered more developed and densely populated areas. As he approached Spanish Town, Quier would have descended onto Jamaica’s southern coastal plain. From here all the way to Kingston, Quier’s journey would have been on relatively flat, heavily farmed, and densely populated land, often fifty or fewer feet above sea level, although there was a range of hills no more than a couple of miles to the north, with the Blue Mountains towering above the landscape ten or twenty miles to the northeast. The hinterlands of Spanish Town, Port Royal, and Kingston comprised the beating heart of plantation Jamaica, filled with people, agricultural activity, commerce, and the movement of people and goods.

 

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Topographic map showing Quier’s route. James Robertson, To The King’s Most Excellent Majesty, This Map of the Island of Jamaica, Constructed from Actual Surveys, Under the Authority of The Hon. House of Assembly. . . . (London, 1804). National Library of Scotland.

In 1788 Quier’s parish of Saint John was home to only 178 white people (3 percent of the total population), who were heavily outnumbered by 5,650 enslaved people (95.5 percent) and 92 free people of color (1.5 percent). Around Quier’s house the population density was 1.5 white people and 48.1 enslaved people per square mile, so when he encountered the much higher

 

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density in Kingston—127.5 white people and 348.5 enslaved people per square mile—the urban environment must have seemed noisy, crowded, and rather more white than he was used to in the predominantly black society of Lluidas Vale. Quier never married, but he had relationships with enslaved women such as Dolly, Jenny, Susannah Price, and Catherine McKenzie, and at his death he left property to partners, children, and grandchildren. For Quier, creolization meant, among other things, his own incomplete assimilation into the African and creolized society of Jamaica’s enslaved.24
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A map showing the racial population densities—as of 1788—in the areas of central and southern Jamaica that Quier would have passed through. Map by David Ely, based on Robertson, Map of the County of Middlesex; Robertson, Map of the County of Surrey. National Library of Scotland. The demographic data is drawn from “Return of the numbers of White Inhabitants Free People of Colour and Slaves in the Island of Jamaica,” November 1788, CO 137/87, 173, National Archives of the United Kingdom.

          24 “Return of the numbers of White Inhabitants,” November 1788, CO 137/87, 173, NA; Higman, Slave Population and Economy, table 6 (p. 53); Craton with Greenland, Searching for the Invisible Man, 262–63.

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Quier lived for more than half a century in Lluidas Vale, never once returning to Britain, and he tried to describe the beauty and attractions of his home in accordance with the literary conventions of his time. Writing for British readers, Quier portrayed a bountiful pastoral idyll, represented here by a watercolor of the area probably painted in the very early nineteenth century and a modern photograph taken from a similar vantage point.

Recording of Dr. John Quier’s description of Lluidas Vale

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Unknown, Worthy Park in Lluidas Vale, watercolor painting, in bound folder of maps and paintings of Worthy Park, CO 441/4/4, 16, National Archives of the United Kingdom.

Photograph of Lluidas Vale by Marenka Thompson-Odlum, July 2017.

Recording of Dr. John Quier’s description of Lluidas Vale, from Quier to Dr. D. Monro, 1768, in Letters and Essays on The Small-Pox and Inoculation, The Measles, The Dry Belly-Ache, The Yellow, and Remitting, and Intermitting Fevers of the West Indies. . . . (London, 1778), xxvi–xx- vii, read by Prof. Matthew Strickland, May 2017.25

Despite his colonial fantasies, Quier would have been constantly reminded of the non-British character of the society he inhabited. Sometimes he might have been awakened at night by the sounds made by enslaved people gathering together in the wooded hills and mountains that surrounded Lluidas Vale, just as Thomas Thistlewood lamented in his diary in July 1750: 

“Last night much Negroe musick, disturbed me.” “Music is a favourite diversion of the Negroes,” observed one white Jamaican, and Britons believed

          25 Quier was from Somerset. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones reveals that both ordinary folk and the local landed gentry in Somerset spoke English with a distinctive accent, and Daniel Defoe describes pupils in a Somerset school reading the Bible with a similar dialect. Both appear to share clear characteristics with modern Somerset accents. See Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (London, 1749); [Daniel Defoe], A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain. . . . (London, 1753), 1: 331–32; Ihalainen, “The Dialects of England since 1776,” 198, 205.

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of their enslaved laborers that “notwithstanding their constant Labour, they would revel and dance five or six nights in a week, were they permitted.”26

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Recording of a “jawbone” piece of music for dancing: “See Dem Gyal a Molain,” by Moore Town Maroons, track 6 on Drums of Defiance: Maroon Music from the Earliest Free Black Communities of Jamaica, recorded, compiled, and annotated by Kenneth Bilby, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW40412, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1992. Used by permission.27

Having been in Jamaica for about fifteen years by the time of his trip, Quier might have had some sense of the African ethnicity of the music echoing around the darkened valley, which may have sounded something like this modern recording of a Jamaican “jawbone” piece. Yet recognizing such sounds was unlikely to make the music emanating from the darkness any more familiar or comforting.

The sense of immersion in an alien culture would have been confirmed in myriad ways throughout Quier’s journey to Kingston. He would likely have departed soon after dawn, perhaps hearing “a large Cone Shell [that] is blown at Dawn of each Day, which can be heard at a considerable Distance, & immediately the Slaves repair from their Huts or Cabins to the Field of Work.”28 As he set off through Worthy Park, the plantation would have been coming to life: “every thing is in motion: the negroes are going to the field, the cattle are driving to pasture, the pigs and the poultry are pouring out from their hutches, the old women are preparing food on the lawn

          26 Diary of Thomas Thistlewood, vol. 1, Mon., July 9, 1750, p. 326 (“Last night”), accessed Sept. 12, 2016, http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3472441; Characteristic Traits of the Creolian and African Negroes in Jamaica, &c. &c. (1797), ed. Barry Higman (Mona, Jamaica, 1976), 16 (“favourite diversion”); Curtis Brett Sr. to Curtis Brett Jr., bound manuscript volume Cs1, 25 (“notwithstanding”), in the private collection of Dr. Martin Brett and quoted with his kind permission. Commentators wrote about how in musical performance “the Negroes of each Nation [are] by themselves” and “the Negroes of each tribe or nation assemble in distinct groups with their several instruments.” See Diary of Thomas Thistlewood, vol. 1, Mon., Apr. 29, 1750, p. 292 (quotations), accessed Sept. 12, 2016, http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/ Record/3472441; Characteristic Traits, 20.

          27 This song was performed in 1977–78 by Moore Town Maroons, inhabitants of a community some distance from Lluidas Vale. However, it can convey a sense of how music performed by Africans and their descendants might have sounded. This is a “jawbone” piece, with some words in English (patois), intended for recreational dancing. Instruments used include printing (from the Twi oprenteng) drums, “a length of bamboo tube played with two sticks . . . and a machete struck with a piece of metal, known as the ‘iron’ or adawo.” See Kenneth Bilby, liner notes, Drums of Defiance.

          28 Curtis Brett Sr. to Curtis Brett Jr., Cs1, 24.

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