This book forum focuses on Trevor Burnard’s book, Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650–1820 (University of Chicago Press, 2015). In his book, Burnard argues that white men did not choose to develop and maintain the plantation system out of virulent racism or sadism, but rather out of economic logic. While plantations required racial divisions to exist, their successes were always measured in gold, rather than skin or blood. Burnard argues that the best example of plantations functioning as intended is not those found in the fractious and poor North American colonies, but those in their booming and integrated commercial hub, Jamaica. Ranging over nearly two centuries, from Guyana to the Chesapeake, the book provides many new insights and offers a revisionary interpretation of the connection between slavery and the American Revolution. The three reviewers in general praise the empirical research that underpins the book but challenge some of the conclusions. They also draw attention to a few points that, in their opinion, the author underemphasized or where he could have expanded his argument, for instance the role of support from the British Empire to the plantation system and the role of religion in shaping attitudes to slavery and the plantation system. In his response, Burnard argues against some of the criticism, such as the impact of the fear of slave revolts. In particular, Burnard stresses that his understanding of slavery in the colonial period of American history is that of an outsider to American politics. As such, he argues, his book does not speak to contemporary concerns about rising evidence of racial hatred.
Lloyd Best“The Mechanism of Plantation-Type Economies: Outlines of a Model of Pure Plantation Economy”Social and Economic Studies17 no. 3 (1968): 283–326and recalled in Kari Levitt “In Search of Model iv” in ed. Selwyn Ryan Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom: Essays in Honour of Lloyd Best (St. Augustine Trinidad: Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies 2003) 253–64.
F.E. Saunderson“The Liverpool Delegation and Sir William Dolben’s Bill”Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire124 (1972): 52–83. This measure was enacted in 1788. Colleen A. Vasconcellos Slavery Childhood and Abolition in Jamaica 1788–1838 (Athens Ga.: University of Georgia Press 2015) demonstrates the low starting points for ameliorative reforms well into the 1780s.
Richard Sheridan“The Jamaican Slave Insurrection Scare of 1776 and the American Revolution”Journal of Negro History61 (1976): 290–308; fears of expansion Virginia Gazette Dixon & Hunter (25 October 1776) p. 3a.
Howard A. FergusMontserrat: History of a Caribbean Colony (Basingstoke: Macmillan Caribbean1994) 74–76; Hilary McD. Beckles Bussa: the 1816 Revolution in Barbados (Cave Hill and St. Ann’s Garrison Barbados: Department of History U.W.I. Cave Hill and Barbados Museum and Historical Society 1998).
Edmund Morgan“Slavery and Freedom: the American Paradox”Journal of American History(1972): 5–29; George M. Fredrickson White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1981).