By the mid-eighteenth century, observers of the emerging overseas British Empire thought that Jamaica—in addition to being the largest British colony in the West Indies—was the most valuable of the American colonies. Based on a unique set of historical lists and maps, along with a variety of other contemporary materials, Jack Greene’s study provides unparalleled detail about the character of Jamaica’s settler society during the decade of the 1750s, as the first century of British settlement drew to a close. Greene’s sources facilitate a close examination of many aspects of the island’s development at a particularly critical point in its history.
Analysis of the data generated from this material permits a fine-grained account of patterns of landholding, economic activity, land use, social organization, and wealth distribution among Jamaica’s free population during a period of sustained demographic, economic, social, and cultural expansion. Calling attention to local variations, the study puts special emphasis on the complexity and vitality of Jamaica’s settler population, the island’s economic and social diversity, the ubiquity and adaptability of slavery, the character and size of settler households, the range of urban professions, the value of urban housing, and the gender and racial dimensions of wealth holding. Greene’s detailed analyses amplify and enrich these subjects, offering the most refined portrait to date of Jamaican society at a crucial juncture in its formation and providing scholars a quantitative base for analyzing Jamaica’s political economy in the second half of the eighteenth century.
Settler Jamaica in the 1750s is not merely important; it is unique in the level of quantitative data arrayed and analyzed pertaining to one eighteenth-century British American colony at a specific point in time. Taken together, the data and Jack Greene’s commentaries enable us—indeed, compel us—to revise our understanding of Jamaica in the mid-eighteenth century in a variety of ways.
The great virtue of this book is that it takes a large amount of data collected in the 1750s on the society and economy of a major British American colony and subjects that data to rigorous analysis. This highly quantitative book provides a social portrait of an eighteenth-century British American colony that cannot be matched. The depth of analysis is very impressive and adds something really interesting and important to a relatively sparse literature on the British West Indies in the mid-eighteenth century.
" Settler Jamaica takes advantage of a unique collection of contemporary sources to enrich and amplify existing knowledge and to provide a new level of detail on the many subjects on which those documents shed light."
Greene is to be congratulated for considerably expanding our understanding of Jamaica’s free society in the mid-eighteenth century and providing an important examination of the complex nature of this society.
Jack P. Greene, Andrew W. Mellon Emeritus Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, is the author of numerous books, including Creating the British Atlantic: Essays on Transplantation, Adaptation, and Continuity (Virginia).