Friday, October 29, 2021

The Diary of a Plantation Overseer

The National Library of Scotland has released an interactive story map which allows you to learn about life on a Jamaican sugar plantation in the 19th Century. Alexander Innes - Jamaica journal, 1823-1824 maps the diary entries of a decommissioned Scottish soldier who traveled to Jamaica in 1823 hoping to find work on one of the island's many sugar plantations.

In order to learn the role of an overseer Innes travels around the island visiting a number of Jamaica's sugar plantations. In his journal he recounts details about the island's climate, flora & fauna, and what he has learnt about the process of 'sugar making'. His journals also includes his observations about the nature of the slaves forced to work on the plantations and about their inhumane treatment by some of the plantation owners. 

Although Innes himself has a shockingly patronizing view of the plantation slaves he is still sometimes upset by how individuals are treated on the plantations, 

"I was shocked to day beyond measure at the inhuman, cruel manner Mr Spenser directed a poor old Female Slave to be punished who is large in the Family way".
Innes writes more than once in disapproving terms about the treatment of the slaves, in particular by an overseer called Mr Simpson. However as the National Library of Scotland notes in its brief biography of Alexander Innes that while his journal makes no mention of his own harsh treatment of the slaves it is "likely that Innes made a deliberate decision to leave out his own actions from his journal."


Only sixty three years before Alexander Innes' arrival on Jamaica there had been a slave revolt. Tacky's Rebellion, was an uprising of black African slaves that occurred in Jamaica in May, June and July 1760. The Jamaican Slave Revolt Map tells the story of this revolt, and its brutal suppression by the British Army.

Using contemporary accounts the map animates through the important events and locations in the rebellion and its subsequent suppression. A number of eighteenth-century maps were used to create the terrain map and the places map, which form the base maps for this account of the rebellion. The Jamaican Slave Revolt map was created by Vincent Brown, Professor of History and African and African-American Studies at Harvard University.

Based on the treatment of the slaves recounted in Innes' journals it is no surprise that just seven years after Innes left Jamaica there was another large slave revolt. In 1831 60,000 slaves on Jamaica went on strike. This uprising was led by a black Baptist deacon, Samuel Sharpe and subsequently was dubbed the Baptist War. During the suppression of this slave revolt British forces killed over 200 slaves. After the revolt more than 300 more slaves were killed by 'judicial execution'.

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