JHF Lecture 2 Vincent Brown Tacky’s Revolt


– Good afternoon, welcome. I’m Jon Levy from the history department. I’m gonna introduce our speaker, but before I do, two notes: We’ll have a reception outside immediately after the talk today, and then also, tomorrow at
10:00 a.m. in a different room, Classics 110 will have
a roundtable moderated by Destin Jenkins with Jennifer
Morgan and Vincent Brown, and also our own Brodwyn
Fisher, Adam Green, Sarah Johnson, and Julie Seville. And I’m sure tomorrow
there’ll be opportunities to explore some of the resonances between Jennifer and Vince’s work, which already began to emerge yesterday, at least from the moment that Jennifer invoked the
possibility of being kinless. Like yesterday, I wanted
to read a brief passage from Vince’s work, and
I had a few candidates. I swear one of them was the one we were trying to reach for yesterday, so I’ll read it now: Social death was a receding horizon. The farther slaveholders moved toward the goal of complete mastery, the more they found that struggle
with their human property would continue even into
the most elemental realms: birth, hunger, health,
fellowship, sex, death, and time. That’s from Social
Death and Political Life from the Study of Slavery from the American Historical Review. Vincent Brown is Charles
Warren Professor of History and professor of African and African-American studies at Harvard, where he also directs the
History Design Studio. He was the founding director. Like Professor Morgan, Professor Brown received
his PhD from Duke. He’s the author of “The Reaper’s Garden: “Death and Power in the
World of Atlantic Slavery.” In terms of analysis and
interpretation of slavery, it’s been an extraordinarily influential and consequential book, but no less, it’s a deeply affecting book to read, and this is a particular aspect of Professor Brown’s work as a whole. There’s a very distinctive quality to his engagement with his audience, and that quality has enabled him in a unified and integrated
way to work in different media and engage multiple audiences. That includes a web-based
project, Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760 to 1761: A Cartographic Narrative, an animated thematic map. That’s exactly what it is. And also a wonderful documentary
about Melville Herskovits, the Jewish-American anthropologist of African-American
culture broadcast on PBS. It’s won the American
Historical Association’s John E. O’Connor Film Award and was also chosen as Best Documentary at the Hollywood Black Film Festival. Professor Brown has a book
forthcoming January 14th: “Tacky’s Revolt: The Story
of an Atlantic Slave War,” which I think we’ll be
fortunate to hear about today. So please welcome Vincent Brown. (audience applauds) – Thanks, Jon. Thank you, Jon. Is that too loud? I can whisper,
(audience laughs) for that lovely introduction. These are fantastic introductions. I wanna keep these and have
them every time I speak. And also, I’m so grateful
for the invitation, so I want to thank Destin and Brody and Amy for inviting me here, and everyone else who was
involved in the selection. Also, Cyndee Breshock
for arranging my visit, and thank you all for being here. It’s always a pleasure to talk to notoriously intelligent
people at University of Chicago, and I’m especially grateful
to be speaking this afternoon in honor of John Hope Franklin, and to be paired with my friend, colleague, and teacher, Jennifer Morgan, although it is intimidating
to be speaking after her. That was quite amazing yesterday, and thank you for that talk. It was brilliant. How do you follow that though? I was feeling like maybe I
had to set my guitar on fire or something like that but (audience laughs) then I thought it would
be weird to have a guitar at an academic talk. Who does that? So, put on a tie and do what you can. So this talk is partly the
story of a missing footnote to an article by John Hope Franklin, published in the Journal
of Negro History in 1952 that I ran across as I was
preparing for this event. In “Slavery and the Martial South” and his subsequent 1956
book, “The Militant South,” Franklin anticipated one
of the major arguments of my forthcoming book, “Tacky’s Revolt: The Story
of an Atlantic Slave War.” He saw clearly that if the
relationship between master and slave was that of a
superior and a subordinate, a despot or tyrant and
a powerless subject, or an armed victor and a vanquished foe, it can always be described
as a state of war, a proposition I’d like to
expand upon this afternoon. Now I should have remembered reading this. So that essay was reprinted
in a collection of essays that my father gave me just
before I entered graduate school at Duke University in 1993, where I soon met John Hope Franklin and proceeded to benefit
from his enormous influence on our department of history, as Professor Morgan mentioned yesterday. But I think the reason
I’d forgotten the piece in the intervening decades is because my frame was different. Where the focus of my work
is the African Diaspora and Atlantic slavery, Professor
Franklin was interested in the South as a distinct
region of the United States, and in the legacies of what
people still sometimes refer to as its peculiar institution. Slavery was, from his perspective, the key factor in the shaping
of a militant race superiority among Southern whites, and this national or
even sectional framing, despite Franklin’s discussion of Africa and the Caribbean in
the first three chapters of his essential textbook, “From Slavery to Freedom: A
History of Negro Americans,” this national or
sectional framing has been the generally accepted way of understanding
Professor Franklin’s work. But there’s something else there. In his invocation of the
Southern need for Lebensraum, the German word for the territory
a people believes it needs for its natural development, and his conclusion that with
the onset of the Civil War, racism encouraged whites
to undertake what he called the grim task of exterminating persons and ideas hostile to their way of life. The background to Franklin’s
investigation of the problems that racism created for
civic nationalism was Nazism and the global catastrophe
of World War II. The horizon, if not the specific subject, was global politics. I’d like to draw this out a bit, framing the study of slavery in geopolitical terms more
appropriate to our present. This requires a shift in
the geographical imagination of slavery as a problem in the
study of national inequality, where it remains for most Americans, to its record as a worldwide menace of collective violence, which endures. Nationalist genocide set the stakes for Franklin’s generation,
and while I think that that danger remains
clear and present, sadly, permanent and pervasive war may
be the more intimate threat. So steering away from approaches that observe and compare
distinct societies, let me use this missing
footnote as a point of departure to illustrate Professor
Franklin’s recognition of the relation between slavery
and war on a broader canvas across a longer span of time and with particular
attention to mapping circuits of military conflict in the
world of Atlantic slavery. Slavery is recognized as a state of war in British colonial
America and in Africa too during the era of the
transatlantic slave trade. In my book on Tacky’s
Revolt accordingly in maps, the largest slave rebellion in the 18th century British Empire as a war within a network of other wars that integrated the history of the region. Taking advantage of
Britain’s Seven Years’ War against its European opponents, more than a thousand enslaved black people on Jamaica launched a series of uprisings which began on April 7th, 1760, and continued into the next year. Over the course of 18 months, the rebels managed to kill 60 whites and destroy tens of thousands
of pounds worth of property. During the suppression of the revolt and their oppression that followed, over 500 black men and
women were killed in battle, executed, or driven to suicide. Another 500 were transported
from the island for life. One planter who would live
through the upheaval wrote that, “Whether we consider the
extent and secrecy of its plan, “the multitude of the conspirators “and the difficulty of
opposing its eruptions “in such a variety of places at once, “this revolt was more formidable
than any hitherto known “in the West Indies.” According to two slaveholders who wrote histories of
the Jamaican conflict, one of them being Edward
Long pictured here, the rebellion arose at the instigation of an African man named Tacky who had been a chief in Guinea, and was organized and executed principally by people called Coromantees
from the Gold Coast, the West African region stretching between the Comal and Volta rivers, who had an established
reputation for military prowess. Scholars are familiar with rebels who reacted against their enslavement by striking violently
against their masters, as well as with the situation
of elite people in Africa who fell into the hands of slavers, but we have not fully explored
the multilayered stories of displacement, belonging,
and political predicament that linked the slave trade to what I call the diasporic warfare that convulsed the
18th-century Atlantic world. The transatlantic slave
trade spread people from Atlantic Africa
throughout the Americas. Some, who had been leaders or soldiers, suddenly found themselves uprooted from sustaining landscapes, scattered by currents and trade winds, and replanted in unfamiliar territories where they labored to
rebuild their social lives. Inevitably, some of them determined that only war could end their enslavement. Mostly it was common people
who found themselves caught up in slaving raids and expansionary wars, cast across the ocean and
set down in alien lands where slaveholders exploited
and brutalized them. When new conflicts
promised to liberate them or offered rewards for
serving their masters, slaves might take up arms for whichever faction
presented the prospect of a better life. This process of dispersal
from a native land, transplantation, and adaptation
to a strange and new one is familiar to students of cultural change who’ve examined transformations in African religion,
expression, and identity by viewing African-American
and Atlantic history in a common frame. A similar approach shows how
the turmoil of enslavement and the daily hostilities
of life in bondage generated a militant response that traveled, took root,
and sprouted in rebellions that reverberated across the
Americas and back to Europe. This is what happened when those called Coromantees broke out in a series of revolts and conspiracies in the 17th and 18th centuries, most dramatically in
Cartagena de Indias, Suriname, Saint John, New York,
Antigua, and Jamaica: an archipelago of insurrection stretching throughout the North Atlantic Americas. The Jamaican insurrections of 1760 to 61 followed by further
uprisings in 1765 and 66 were among the largest and
most consequential of these. From what observers could glean of the aims and tactics of the rebels, it was clear that many had
been soldiers in Africa. As historian John Thornton has argued, Africans with military experience played an important role in revolts, if not by providing all of the rebels, at least by providing enough to stiffen and increase the viability of the revolts. Instead of one or two exceptional leaders, perhaps whole cadres of people had military training and discipline, or at least some knowledge of defensive and evasive tactics learned in Africa. Indeed, as Thornton and other scholars such as Manuel Barcia suggest, American slave revolts might be seen in some respects as
extensions of African wars. Doing so does more than
vindicate the importance of Africa in the making
of the Atlantic world. It reveals the complex
networks of migration, belonging, trans-regional power, and conflict that gave
the political history of the 18th century some of
its distinctive contours. Viewing slave revolt as a species of warfare is thus the first step to envisioning a new
cartography of Atlantic slavery that shows how political and
military practices travel, take root, and grow in
disparate environments. Even as the slave trade
forced people to remake and renegotiate their affiliations, the massive dispersal of Africans across the Atlantic scattered the seeds of military conflict
throughout the Americas. As Professor Franklin would later do, the former slave and military
veteran Olaudah Equiano famously defined slavery itself
as a perpetual state of war. This was not war in the conventional sense between distinct armies directed
by the rulers of states. Rather, mastery was by
nature a forceful assault to be met with simmering
violence ignited by resentment against the fraud, raping,
and cruelty of slaveholders. Equiano echoed the English
philosopher John Locke, who had argued in the late 17th century that the perfect condition
of slavery was nothing more but the state of war continued between a lawful conqueror and a captive. In theory, Locke extolled freedom as humankind’s natural condition and consent as the
basis of all government. In practice, Locke
invested in slave trading and slaveholding enterprises, and effectively defined war captives as a legitimate source of slaves who remained outside of political society. If Locke’s characterization served as an alibi for slaveholding, Equiano’s, by contrast, was an observation that emphasized the battle within societies dependent on slavery. To the slaveholders, Equiano asked, “Are you not hourly in
dread of an insurrection?” It was not a rhetorical question. Since the early years of
Jamaica’s slave societies, slaveholders had often
considered the enslaved as irreconcilable yet intestine enemies, made subject to the colonists
only by the rule of the whip. Rebellion by slaves was
a perennial anxiety, a war always the more terrible,
one slaveholder wrote, by how much there is
no quarter given in it. Equiano had been in Jamaica in 1772, when the island was still reeling from the uprisings of the previous decade. There he had seen how an
entire world could be organized around violence and counterattack, on a continuous scale from
the quotidian to the epic. He held this view in
common with black people in other times and places, where, as historian Ada Ferrer notes, slaves often characterized their bondage as a permanent state of low-intensity war, with the enslaved regularly talking about how to wage that war. In the ninth edition of
“From Slavery to Freedom,” revised by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Tacky’s Revolt gets a mention, but it is invoked as part of an argument that sees slave revolt
mostly as a reaction to the harsh, cruel
treatment of the enslaved. This is fully in line
with prevailing trends in the historiography of slavery where slave revolts are commonly classed as extreme examples of
resistance to slavery falling along a single continuum of the struggle for freedom. At one end are everyday
assertions of independent will and volition such as
malingering in the fields, breaking tools, or even
pilfering from masters. Violent collective uprisings
like Tacky’s Revolt lie on the other end. Seeing these insurrections
as dramatic refusals of slaveholders’ authority, different in scale but not in kind from less remarkable activities, allows us to understand the variety and consistency of slaves’
opposition to slaveholders. However, while enhancing our understanding of the various ways that slaves resisted the
institution of slavery, this frame masks the
complexity of large revolts, glossing over the multiple
aspirations of rebels, confining the contest to
circumscribed locations, and foreclosing important
questions about planning, strategy, tactics, and
claims to territory: the very questions we ask about wars. The Jamaican insurrection
that began in 1760 was clearly an episode of resistance. More concretely though,
it was an act of war, featuring a kind of fighting that is increasingly familiar
to military theorists: between great powers
and improvised militias, dispersed over wide areas with largely undefined battle lines, and blurred distinctions between
civilians and combatants. Viewing the revolt as a war,
as most of its combatants did, helps us to see a set of connections and dynamics that signal far more than the insubordination
and defiance of resistance. The struggle reigns well beyond the limits of plantations or colonies, encompassing and
integrating entire regions. As much as it grew out of the
everyday experience inherent to plantation slavery, it was sustained by imperial militarism and broader transformations
in the nature of commerce, governance, and cultural belonging. It was more than a local outburst, more than a continuation
of prior experience, and it involved a far larger and more diverse cast of players than studies of resistance
normally feature. It was, again, the kind
of event best narrated and mapped as a war story. Warfare migrates. This is made the more
apparent than in the era when the violence of imperial expansion and enslavement transformed
Europe, Africa and the Americas as they interacted across
the Atlantic Ocean. European imperial conflicts
extended the dominion of capitalist agriculture. African battles fed captives to the transatlantic trade in slaves. Masters and their human property struggled with one another continuously. These clashes amounted to
a borderless slave war: war to enslave, war to expand slavery, and war against slaves, precipitating wars waged by the enslaved against slaveholders, but also
among the slaves themselves. In this sense, Tacky’s
Revolt was but a war within other wars which had diverging and overlapping
provocations, combat zones, political alliances, and enemy combatants. In effect it combined
four conflicts at once. It was an extension of wars
on the African continent, it was a race war between black slaves
and white slaveholders, it was a struggle among black people over the terms of their
communal belonging, for effective control of local territory and the establishment of
their own political legacies, and it was, most immediately, one of the hardest-fought
battles of the Seven Years’ War, the titanic global conflict between Great Britain
and its European rivals. Each of these four struggles
emerged from different currents that converged and eddied in
the Jamaican insurrections of the 1760s. Charting their course
suggests new stories of place, territory, and movement, a new cartography of slave revolt that braids together the histories of Europe, Africa, and America. The half-inferred reach of each of these revolts
mapped interlocking patterns of state, commerce, migration,
labor, and militancy. Across vast distances, these wars within wars connected
the constituent elements of empire diaspora and insurrection. An integrated history of slave revolt that considers its sources, circuits, and reverberations accordingly takes us far from the plantations, beyond relations between
masters and slaves and outside the conventional locations for observing racial violence. Vectors of slave war in
Jamaica formed a knot in the intertwined itineraries of soldiers who fought in Europe,
North America, and Africa, sailors who crisscrossed
the Atlantic world for merchants and empires, and slaves who were swept
up in many conflicts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Tracking the movements of
profiteers, warlords, workers, captives, and ordinary
fighters exposes the shape of the martial archipelago as peaks in a great volcanic network constituting a world history from below. Now, before I sketch the
implications of Tacky’s Revolt, or the way I think
about history of slavery and its afterlives, let me say a bit more about
how I see the interaction of race, slaving, communal,
and imperial warfare, save what was race war to the extent that it concerned relations between masters and their vassals. From the 15th century onward, skin color was used as a
primary index of social status, with blackness becoming
increasingly synonymous with slavery over time. By the 18th century, in
British America especially, white people came to expect that blacks existed to
serve their material, sexual, and psychic desires. In slave societies like
those in the Caribbean and southern North America, whites thought of themselves as collectively belonging
to a master class. Often outnumbered by
their desperate slaves, the colonists developed
elaborate regimes of terror to keep them in submission. And on rare occasions,
when opportunities arose, slave rebels responded in kind. Revolts and conspiracies
were usually put down quickly and brutally by slaveholders who intermittently
anticipated a total onslaught by rising black people. Three decades before the
Haitian Revolution destroyed Europe’s most profitable
colony in the Americas, Tacky’s Revolt in Jamaica
represented the sum of all slaveholders’ fears. It suspended life as they knew
it, violating domestic order, halting business and promising
the end of their prestige. For colonists, the conflict was exemplary rather than exceptional. It represented a remapping
of colonial America as African territory, where
white rule would have no sway. Colonists devoted tremendous energy and spent considerable sums to fortify their societies
against this prospect. Enslaved Africans did indeed have their own designs on Jamaica’s landscape, guided by the experiences of enslavement and their understanding of
the possibilities for escape, and here is a rebels’ barricade
during Tacky’s Revolt, pictured in a map that was
drawn from surveys taken during the time of the revolt. They envisioned moving
freely through the terrain beyond the control of slave masters, distinguishing the plains
and valleys stamped with agricultural estates from the forests and mountains where
communities of runaways might turn natural dangers
to their defensive advantage. They also repurposed small spaces within the slaveholders’ domain into places where they could
protect their collective sense of self-worth from daily assault, dreaming of building their own societies even on the sites of their bondage. However they parsed their
spatial imagination, black and white people’s vision
for the island took shape within the long hemispheric history of violent transformations
that attended the slave trade. Wars that produced salable
captives were principal conduits and facilitators of Atlantic commerce, and created favorable conditions for proliferating aggression. Military conquests opened new markets and captured coerced labor forces, while armed forces guaranteed
the viability of trade. The eminent scholar W.E.B.
Du Bois clearly recognized how war and trade laid the
foundations of Atlantic empire, which rested on what he
called a hidden history of sweat, blood, death and despair. Following Du Bois, a radical tradition of historical writing on
colonial slavery heralded by writers such as C.L.R. James, Eric Williams, and Walter
Rodney has insisted that the slave trade
was the strongest cord binding the region together, the stimulus for economic growth, and a principal cause of
enduring inequalities. The slave trade linked European commerce and colonial development to the political history of African wars, which produced a majority of
the captives sold on the coast, whether they had been taken in battle or driven from their homes and made vulnerable to
predation by war’s consequences, including drought, famine,
and failed government. This symbiotic relationship
between war, enslavement, and economic expansion
rendered African diplomacy and conflict an integral part of the development of European empires. Slave traders on the Gold Coast needed at least a passing awareness
of African political territory. Early in the trade, knowing little more than the coastal silhouette
of the continent, Europeans produced speculative maps of the polities they encountered or heard about from informants. They needed to know
which rulers to flatter, who controlled access to
the best trade routes, and who was preparing for battle, since wars yielded human commodities. Europeans vied for trade from
their forts along the coast, and this jagged line of little garrisons was the first site of
European incarceration for captives marched from the interior. From there, they were wedged
into the holds of slave ships for their horrific
journeys to the Americas. Already the casualties of slaving wars, torn from their ancestral communities, now they had to battle to
make new ways of belonging, shaped by New World bondage. Among the diverse and
ever-changing populations of enslaved black people in the Americas, struggles to define community
often turned violent. Historians have commonly interpreted Coromantee slave revolts as quintessentially African rebellions, or spectacular examples of
national or ethnic revolts, mostly because they were organized and executed principally by peoples from a single broad linguistic region. But Coromantee allegiances
were more fraught and complicated than this
characterization allows. People from the Gold Coast fought both for and against the rebellion. Instead of being dominated by a specific African ethnic group with a clear sense of identity, these uprisings were the
product of political struggles among Africans on the Gold Coast
rent apart by slaving wars, among those thrown together into colonial slavery’s
crucible of misery, between Africans and black
people born in the Americas, and among Coromantees with
differing political interests. Coromantee insurrections
encompass all of these tensions even in their fight against enslavement. Assuming the coherence of
the Coromantee ethnic group obscures then the political turbulence that shaped the course of their battles. Slaves coalesced along multiple axes of difference and incorporation. Language, spiritual beliefs, practices, ideals for gender relations, and contingent political
allegiances all crossed and combined with the
prerogatives of slaveholders, the social roles required
by the labor regime, and the operations of colonial security. No single identity determined how people would respond to enslavement. They took various and
conflicting positions, leading to shifting fields
of political conflict. To appreciate how the African rebels in Jamaica managed to mobilize a scattered array of conationals for war against the most powerful
Atlantic empire of the era, and why so many other
slaves stood against them or stood to the side, we must examine how they
regrouped as slaves, making new identifications and affinities for novel political circumstances. Struggles over communal belonging mapped much more than the
making of ethnicity then, or what has been called ethnogenesis. These conflicts traced intimate spaces and close interactions
in the slave quarters and the homes of slaveholders,
at work in the fields, in port towns and aboard ships, and along the pathways that connected disparate
parts of the island. In every place one could read and interpret signs of
difference and similarity, of deference and disrespect. People created what the
historian Stephanie Camp termed rival geographies in
their politics of place. Specific bodies in motion
maintained a warring intimacy, charting fluid territories
where adversaries made claims that arose from their deepest senses of privilege, morality, and justice. Now when it comes to geography, the customary charts and
plans of nation-states and empires are admittedly
much more familiar. Having been conquered
from the Spanish in 1655, Jamaica appeared on maps
as a British possession, among the most valuable in the kingdom. The island was a tempting target in Britain’s frequent
wars against the Dutch, the Spanish, and the French, and was thus heavily
fortified against attack. Yet the most serious challenge
to British sovereignty in Jamaica came from Africans
and their descendants, rather than from European rivals. Black rebels fragmented the
territory of British control throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and they threatened to
take the entire island during the Seven Years’ War. This was a global conflict
with enormous consequences that have been well elaborated, but its historians have hardly noticed that the Jamaican
insurrection of 1760 to 61 was one of its major battles. The most comprehensive accounts
of the war focus mainly on the rivalry among Europeans,
with due consideration of Native American
nations in North America, but they ignore the slave
rebellion completely. Historians of the British
Army during the period doubt that the military learned much from deployments in the Caribbean. The most important interpretations of racial attitudes in
Anglo-American warfare in the era neglect the
suppression of slave uprisings. Even chronicles of the campaign for the West Indies tend to
segregate the slaves’ war from that of Great Britain. The prodigious corpus of
British military history includes scant reference
to the suppression of slave revolts in Jamaica, despite the colony’s undisputed
military significance. Contemporary combatants
were more observant. Some of the very same
soldiers, sailors, and marines who waged the most famous
battles of the Seven Years’ War in Quebec, Senegal, Martinique, and Guadeloupe fought directly afterward against Jamaica’s rebels. Now there’s nothing surprising about armed forces deploying
to multiple theaters, yet the experiences of these
troops did not generate anything like a codified
counterinsurgency strategy among policy makers, and
perhaps for this reason, military historians concerned with officially acknowledged wars, as well as scholars of slave resistance focusing on local freedom struggles, have largely passed over
the way these small, dirty wars formed the
linchpins that fastened labor, commerce, and global power together. By custom, we treat war as an interruption in the normal course of human affairs. War is an anomaly in the regular order, a disturbance, a break, an aberration. War is also seen as a
displacement of violence from one place or territory to another, with formal military forces pursuing the conquest of territory. We commonly assume that lines of battle between warring states constitute the most important theaters
of military engagement, and that peace treaties can
mark a war’s definitive end, before another one begins with new causes and different fronts. By contrast, when war
becomes a way of life, as in the abundant violence of slave war, there is no border and no final result. Slave war was pervasive and unending, the natural consequence of slavery itself. But it did have discernible patterns. So with my remaining time, let me sketch a conceptual
map of Tacky’s Revolt and what I take to be
its historical geography. Who could exert their will
in a particular place? What landmarks and pathways
distinguish safety from danger? Where could one find justice
and live with dignity? For Africans and their
descendants, as for others in the polyglot populations
of colonial societies, spatial schemas were the product of violent struggles to address
these elemental questions. Warfare remapped and redefined territories as colonists, captives, and sojourners in the Atlantic world
charted an atlas of terrors: fear of conquest and capture, of difference and unfamiliarity, of exploitation and loss, of displacement and obliteration. Arising from battlefields sown with ambition, dread, and blood, empire and diaspora set a
process of placemaking in motion. In 18th-century West Africa, especially on the militarized Gold Coast, warring states mapped their
dominion over subject peoples, contesting for trade routes that stretched from deep in
the interior to the coast, where Europeans harvested
the fruits of war in captives bound for America. Vulnerable people learned to evade attacks and incursions by carving out spaces in the interstices of expansionist power, and to defend enclaves with small bands of committed fighters. They continued their struggles
on Atlantic slave ships and in American slave societies. Against the commercial
and sexual predations of merchants, planters,
and petty managers, the enslaved sought spaces
of communion and succor. Insurgents carved out areas of autonomy within territory patrolled by the combined armed forces of empire. Runaways and rebels used uneven
terrain to their advantage. Woods, mountains, hills, swamps, rivers, and oceans defined the
contours of rebellion and prescribed the options
for counterinsurgency, as black militancy engendered the political meaning of the environment. Slaves who spent their lives in rows of crops and clustered cabins knew plantations to be
soul-crushing machines, but also centers of social life where one might find fellowship
or potential collaborators among the majority of people
simply trying to survive. The bush and the mountains presented enduring natural
dangers, which, if surmounted, might be turned against
enemies in pursuit. A port was more than a commercial station or a node of naval power. It was also a conduit to the
wider world of information, exile, or in rare cases, permanent escape. These general associations might obtain throughout the world of Atlantic slavery, but they had specific
historical connotations in a place like Jamaica: a garrison colony created
by a European empire, staffed by veterans and
refugees from Old World wars, and continuously simmering
with insurrectionary violence. Like most slave insurrections, Tacky’s War ended badly for the rebels. The insurgents were killed or captured, publicly executed in grisly displays, or banished from the island, probably along with many bystanders who had taken no part
in the fighting at all. Looking back with a
historian’s perspective, one can see that the
outcome was never in doubt. The balance of forces doomed
the rebellion from the start. The Coromantees would not win
the colony from the British, as the North Americans would
do 2 1/2 decades later, as the Haitians would do by 1804, taking Saint-Domingue from the French. But the rebels in Jamaica
did not know they would fail. They acted with the hope of success. Even amidst the business
of war and enslavement in a colony garrisoned for battle with foreign and domestic enemies, they could find fissures in
the landscape of planter power beyond the reach of
the slaveholders whips. They could even challenge
the combined forces of the British Empire and find an enduring
place in popular memory. Jamaica’s Coromantee wars of the 1760s represented a watershed in the
course of Atlantic history. If regional political maps
had been drawn by the wars that opened new territories
for cultivation, stimulated the slave trade,
and enhanced state power, the slave rebellions etched another record of historical movement. They channeled people
into new solidarities and gave meaning to
categories of belonging, partitioned friends from
foes and bystanders, and redirected the priorities
of governing authorities. Since Jamaica was the commercial and military hub of the
British overseas empire, its most profitable settlement and most powerful overseas
military stronghold, what happened there was
bound to reverberate widely. Yet the legacy of the 1760s is ambiguous. At the close of the Seven Years’ War, Britain kept its prized colony, though Tacky’s Revolt helped to stimulate an imperial reform effort that provoked a much greater challenge on the North American continent. If the Jamaican revolts in some ways anticipated
the Haitian Revolution, offering a beacon of hope to the enslaved, they also left Maroons, free black people, and Africans divided. The Coromantees augmented their reputation as formidable fighters, helping to cast doubt on the wisdom of continuing the Atlantic slave trade, while at the same time
strengthening the association between blackness and social danger. Even in the United States as
late as the mid-19th century, anxious slaveholders would
refer to potential troublemakers as Tackies among us. Perhaps the ambiguous
nature of these legacies helps to explain why
they register so faintly in the imagination today. The Coromantee wars that
shaped the era don’t fit neatly into the prevailing narrative of the rise and progress
of liberal freedom. They are obscured by the
much greater consequences of the American and Haitian revolutions, which seem to speak more directly to the Western history of liberty. But the relative obscurity
of these events is also due to the reluctance to
acknowledge slave revolt as war. Few things terrify the
wealthy and the powerful more than the prospect of
losses to the poor and the weak, which would signify dishonor
and a world turned upside down. Dominant peoples and nation-states develop elaborate conventions
for legitimating conflict, maintaining their honor
in victory and defeat, and recognizing violence as
a regular, if unfortunate, feature of political struggle. But between the powerful and those they dominate by daily habit, there is no limit to
the lengths they may go to maintain their supremacy. They will commit atrocities
and massacres to be sure, but they will disavow them too. They will refuse to admit that their combatants
are legitimate enemies, and they will denigrate the
past and present struggles of less powerful peoples. Because slaveholders wrote the
first draft of this history, subsequent historiography
has strained to escape from their point of view. Yet from the margins, Tacky’s Revolt encourages
a fresh perspective on the period’s political landscape. In the study of slavery, the exploration of politics
has taken its horizon to be the coming of general emancipation, which points to the post-revolutionary era in Atlantic history. The 19th century, when the
process of emancipation convulsed states from Haiti to Brazil, has come to be seen as a discrete epic which threw freedom into sharp relief as an animating force
of historical change. Although that era’s emancipations
certainly represented a world historical transformation, such ethical thinking generally tempts us, as Frederick Cooper has warned, to assume a coherence that complex interactions rarely produce. Instead of assessing change in
whatever dimensions it occurs and analyzing the significance and limitations of conjunctures when multidimensional
change becomes possible. Emancipation, as the master
sign of freedom then, binds the ultimate aims and strategies of centuries
of anti-slavery struggle to the 19th century, when those efforts
reached their apotheosis. Throughout the Atlantic world, the hopeful years immediately
following emancipation were followed in most cases by
the reassertion of dominance by former slaveholders. The social antagonisms established in slavery governed the tensions that shaped very tenuous liberties. Legacies of slavery
persisted through the 19th and 20th centuries reign of white power, with continuing
manifestations in the present. Yet struggles against white
power were continuous too, during and after slavery. Slaves and their descendants
undoubtedly wanted liberation from the slaveholders, but
rarely its liberal subjects, that is autonomous and
self-determined individuals. Instead they fought for the space to develop their own notions of belonging, status, and fairness
beyond the masters’ reach. Narrated as discrete events, all the insurrections of the 1760s in Jamaica are stories
of heroism and defeat, most of the rebels killed, exiled, or forced back into slavery. The memory of their deeds did
inspire future generations, but they too would be
fighting slaveholders against the longest odds. However, in their courage and ingenuity, these insurgents charted
the landscape of force and its limitations that maps of the powerful
never meant to show. These counter-mappings
reveal a geography of hope and possibility in the making: fugitive territories carved
out through political struggle that were difficult to maintain, paradoxical in their alliances, and in most cases, yet to be won. The dispersed and downtrodden
could not conquer empires and their adherents. Even the mighty Haitians, emerging victorious and independent after more than a decade
of blood and fire, were hardly able to
enjoy their sovereignty, instead suffering invasions,
local disruptions, and international insults
up to this very day. But military victory isn’t
the only object of struggle. The abolitionist Frederick
Douglass once wrote that a person without force is without the essential
dignity of humanity. As a survivor of American
slavery and the US Civil War, Douglass knew that
slave rebellion was war, and that however degrading
war itself might be, enslaved men and women fought for dignity as much as for territory. In the absence of conquest,
they claimed spaces where they could defend their self-respect and made places where their bodies could
enjoy just treatment. In 1977, Professor Franklin
commented on what was then known as the new Negro history, which had emerged during
the civil rights troubles and the urban rebellions of the 1960s, and in the context, we
should always remember, of that imperial adventure
we call the Vietnam War. Franklin had hopes that history can, and in time, will provide all America with a lesson in the wastefulness, nay, the wickedness of human
exploitation and injustice that have characterized too
much of this nation’s past. This is a lesson that
must be learned, he said, if we are to survive. The history of slave war and the African Diaspora
reinforces that lesson, I think, and perhaps suggests yet another one. Among slave war’s most
important legacies is the fact that racism’s primary evil
is less the dehumanization of black people than it
is anti-black militarism. Its most dangerous
manifestation is not exclusion, but the will to domination that treats black people
not just as outsiders, but as enemies. The racism that attended, supported, and outlived Atlantic slavery
is in this way a species of asymmetrical warfare. Lopsided as such conflicts may
be, no power is ever total. Even the most subjugated
peoples have dared to plan and fight for their own forbidden aims, with the faith that another
world is not only possible, another world is inevitable. Their struggles illuminate cracks in the edifice of racial capitalism, showing pathways to the places where all might one day lay
down the burden of militancy and study war no more. Thank you. (audience applauds) We got time? Okay. – Excellent, so we have
time for questions. I just ask when you’re called on, please wait for the microphone,
’cause we’re recording. – [Man] Thank you, Vince. So I guess I have a
question about field method in the relationship between your first and your second project, and this is a somewhat sprawling
question, so forgive me. I can clarify over dinner. I don’t know, I feel like this
is a awfully earthly story. – Earthly.
– Earthly, and one of the things that
I found really interesting about your first book
was not so much attention to the afterlives but
to the afterlife, right? The relationship between death, the spiritual, and the material, the kind of quotidian-ness of slavery. And so I guess my question is, when you laid out the
different kinds of war, race war, slaving war,
communal war, and imperial war, it seemed as if the
spiritual only finds a place in the communal war. I wonder if that is… Is that where you see the spiritual playing a particular role in
these different kinds of wars? Is the sort of absence
of or inattention to, or at least downplaying of, the spiritual a consequence
of the methods of, say, cartography and spatial mapping, a function of or product of
the field of war in society, and is there room for engagement with the spiritual in the
field of war in society? And really, I guess to take a step back, is the relationship between the questions you were interested in
in the first project and what you’ve given us today? – Okay, great, thank you. I mean, the shortest, kind
of most flippant answer is I wanted do something different. I didn’t wanna write the same book over and over and over again, and so what I got interested in was how I could kind of cast Tacky’s Revolt on a broader canvas as I said, how I could map it differently, and how in mapping Tacky’s
Revolt differently, like we could integrate the
history of Atlantic slavery in a way that it isn’t often, and that meant mostly
thinking about places and times in interaction, right? So how could I kind of take
all these moving parts, all these people moving through the Atlantic
region to fight this war, and connect them up into
a single story, right? So for me, it was ultimately
a framing exercise, a cartographic exercise, and
what I’m hoping that does as people read the book is
it reframes our understanding of space itself as movement instead. So I was encouraged by an
article by an author named, an anthropologist named Timothy Ingold, who writes about, he’s
writing about mapping, and he’s writing about cognitive maps, and he’s arguing against the idea that Native American peoples or indigenous peoples everywhere have cognitive maps in their heads, that like people have a sense of space that’s something like the cartographic, and his argument is that
they actually don’t. What people have is stories of movement through space, right? And as they accumulate
those stories of movement, they create a sense of a region. So that movement itself,
and Richard White, I think, is very much onto this at Stanford, that movement itself is
how one draws the map. So what I wanted to do in this book was move people
through this territory so they could reimagine
the Atlantic world, not as Jamaica as a distinct colony, territory, and island
with its own phenomena, but Jamaica as an extension
of what’s happening in Africa, Jamaica as an extension
of what’s happening in North America, what’s
happening in Europe. One can assert that, and
it’s kind of obvious, but to actually show it, to integrate those moving
parts, to actually map it, turns out to be quite a challenge, right? So again, that was the
challenge that I was facing. Now within that story, the
spiritual does come into play. So I didn’t talk about it here, because when I talk about this
book at kind of 30,000 feet, I tend to be thinking about the map and how I integrate the different parts, but certainly when one
talks about the affiliations that were made not only in
kind of communal struggles among the enslaved, but also certainly the British Empire’s attempt to harness all of these
kind of polyglot peoples that it’s got fighting in its armed forces by the rule of the Articles of War, right? The first paragraph of the Articles of War is all about the authority of
the Church of England, right? By the same token, Coromantees are trying to
create their own military units through earth-taking and
binding treaty obligations, which are fundamentally spiritual. If you break an oath, you owe an answer to the spiritual world, the supernatural world, not just to your fellows
in the material world. So again, kind of, I do
often talk about this as a very earthly story,
but as part of those wars, as part of making
affiliations on every side, there is a spiritual dimension to it, only what I don’t do
now is talk about combat that happens mostly or exclusively in the spiritual world, right? And that’s fundamentally important. We can go all the way
back to Carlo Ginzburg and “The Cheese and the
Worms” or “The Night Battles” and talk about how it
is that people imagine, maybe it’s really happening, these forces, supernatural
forces fighting with each other. That’s not really a part of this story, so in that sense, it’s very
much a materialist story with people using or invoking
a supernatural element in order to achieve their
material desires, right? I’m not writing, again, kind
of a comparative epistemology of different ways of thinking
about the spirit world, where there was more of
that in the first book. So yes, I mean, in my method,
thinking cartographically, in engaging military history and wanting to be understood
in military history, wanting to be legible in military history, the book took the form it did. – Hi, thanks for your talk. I really find it like really original to consider the condition of
enslavement as perpetual war, and I’m just wondering kind of like where you place that category between the literal and the figurative, mainly ’cause I’m wondering like how the bigger project might
put itself like in conversation with an orientation
like Saidiya Hartman’s, where it’s like actually the domestic and the quotidian where
we kind of like define like the most like emphatic kind of like forms of resistance. I’m just wondering kind of like where that approach to studying
slavery kind of factors into like your own
orientation or undertaking. – Yeah, okay, so we often
talk about categories of understanding as being
analytical categories or actors categories, or
to use fancier language, edit categories or emit categories, right? So what I’m trying to do here is recognize that someone like Olaudah Equiano and many of these slaves and
many of these slaveholders think of this as warfare,
and to take that seriously and not take the military historians pose, which is, well, that’s
just what they’re saying, but in my own analytical
categories, that’s something else. That’s just insurrection,
that’s just revolt, that’s just tension,
to take that seriously, and kind of use that as
an analytical category and say Equiano in his
revision of John Locke is actually right. Let’s take his theory
of the case seriously and try to write the history as if he is a theorist worth
engaging on that level, right? So that’s one thing. Now, one of the ways I had to do that in engaging the military history and trying to write all
scales of this story, as I said at one point, from
the epic to the quotidian, these kind of wars within
wars in domestic households, these battles over bodily integrity that someone like not
only Saidiya Hartman, but really, those ideas for me came from people like Stephanie
Camp and Thavolia Glymph or Katherine McKittrick
in “Demonic Grounds,” and that’s where I engage those to think about intimacy as
a site of that struggle, which can scale up to imperial warfare. And once you make that move, it’s a change in optic, in framing. Once you do that, you see that
for the soldiers themselves, there’s not really a difference. It’s only the historians who come later, the theorists who come later, who think like, “Oh, that’s
something else than warfare,” as opposed to like all
of these imperial armies are raping all the time
to this very day, right? That’s a fundamental part
of imperial occupation, and you’re gonna like say
that’s something else? That’s gender relations? That’s not warfare? That doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s personal as well because
I grew up in a military town. I grew up in San Diego, which is probably one of the
most potent military garrisons in the history of the world, right? The last time I was there, I think there might have been
four aircraft carriers docked at North Island in San Diego, and a single aircraft carrier
battle group can destroy a lot of different small countries, right? And so after high school,
the major industry that a lot of people
went to was the military, a lot of people to the Navy and a lot of people to the Marines, and as you all know, the Marines are often
the first people there in all of these undeclared
military occupations, and I heard a lot of stories from them, stories about brothels
overseas in the Pacific. I saw pictures of people
in the first Gulf War before this last Gulf War, ’cause the Gulf War has been going on for several decades now. I saw pictures of friends
of mine who were soldiers with corpses, like relics
that they were carrying, pictures of themselves with
corpses of Iraqi soldiers, okay? This stuff is intimate, and the idea that one could write a kind of geopolitical
history of these wars and leave all that off and peel all that off
was unacceptable to me, so I had to try and find some framework in which I could incorporate
the kinds of things I was learning from
feminist scholars of slavery with the kinds of things I was learning from scholars of imperial geopolitics. That’s the attempt here. More directly? Restate the last part your question, ’cause I think I’m not sure
I answered it directly. – [Man] I think the last part, ’cause I think like that really addressed like kind of incorporating
like the literal and the figurative in terms
of considering the category, but just wondering about
just the larger project like the book itself, just like how you like
consider like the quotidian and the domestic into– – Good.
– like the larger argument of considering slavery as
perpetual state of war. – Thank you. It’s not figurative, (laughs) I think is what I should
have said right away. It’s not figurative, right? It’s warfare, right? So I’m not using war as a metaphor here. I’m saying this is what war actually is. The least interesting thing to me is to come up with a definition of war or a new definition of slavery. I’m just uninterested in
those ontological questions. Sorry, I know that’s
unfashionable these days, but I’m not that interested. I’m interested in optics
and framing gestures which allow me to write about, to observe things as
they are as I see them, and write about dynamic
interactions as they unfold, without like constantly saying, “Well, I mean, that’s not warfare, “so I can’t think about that. “That couldn’t possibly be, “always already couldn’t
possibly be part of my story, “’cause that’s a rape. “That’s sexual violence,
that’s not warfare, right?” I wanna observe those
things together and say, “Oh yeah, that’s part of what’s happening. “That factors in, right?” So that’s what I’m doing. Now, to go back to Thavolia
Glymph, who’s a scholar I like, I’ve learned quite a lot from, she talks in her first book about the war within the war within domestic households, and her second book coming out in, or next book coming out in 2020
is all about women soldiers in the Civil War, called
“The Women’s War.” Okay, so one of the things
that we have learned but maybe learned too well is that women resisted slavery
in different ways, right? Some of these kind of more domestic ways, some of these more intimate ways. Thavolia Glymph wrote about women soldiers in the Civil War as well, right? She writes about violent women and how that might change
our understanding of how categories like femininity
and masculinity were made in first place, and in response to what? So when I saw, so to kind of give you
a sense of this source that I’m gonna highlight here, there were so few white
people for the most part in an island like Jamaica. 90% of the population was enslaved, so when they’re trying
to suppress the revolt where it breaks out in Saint Mary’s Parish at the top there in the north, if they capture some rebels, they don’t have enough
forces to kind of stay there and commit people to guarding them. They have to go pursue the
rebels who are still out. So one of the things they do is they send Royal Navy
warships around the coast, and then they put these rebels aboard a Royal Navy warship, okay? So the first 25 rebels captured after the outbreak of Tacky’s Revolt in Saint Mary’s in
April 1760 are captured, held, and put aboard the HMS Lively, which comes around from the coast, right? And because they’re on
a Royal Navy warship and because the Royal Navy is fastidious in its record-keeping,
I’ve got their names. So I’m sorry you can’t see this, but it says rebel Negros here, and then here’s a list
of these 25 rebel Negros, which goes down to the
next people they captured, which were French people aboard another ship that they captured. Okay, to cut to the
chase, 40% of those names are identifiably women’s
names, female names. As Professor Morgan was
telling us yesterday, about 40% of these populations, or at least of these people who were taken to these places were women. So that’s women among the
first 25 rebels captured at the outbreak of Tacky’s Revolt. That’s women in proportion
to their numbers in the population among
these very first captives. I can’t tell you exactly
what they’re doing, but I think that this idea that they’re doing something
categorically different than what the men are doing in this revolt needs to be rethought, and I think Thavolia Glymph’s work is helping us to rethink that. – [Woman] Thank you so
much for your paper. One of the questions that I have for you about this project is this transformation of the analytical frame
from revolt to war, and how revolt is so oftentimes framed as in opposition to something,
whereas war is generative. It’s about contesting – Exactly, exactly.
– a social order, and I’m wondering if you can
tell us a little bit more about what this war builds
for the people who are, for the soldiers, for the, not rebels, but for the combatants. What kind of spatial transformations of Jamaica come about through this, and also, what glimpses of the
social and political worlds that they are aiming to
create are available? – Yeah. Okay, that’s a great question. I don’t have a complete answer for you, but I’m gonna start it, and did
Robert Hanserd make it here? I might turn it over to
Professor Robert Hanserd, who’s got a book that
I’m very excited about, but let me start, and then
let me hand it over to you, because he’s doing some
work on exactly that, visions of Akan freedom
in the Americas derived from the politics of not only slavery, but empire, war, kingship,
kinship in West Africa. Let me start with the
geographical piece, right? And what I thought I could say
definitively about this story that I was trying to locate very precisely in space and time was that the Africans who revolted first in Saint Mary’s here kind of went up along the
commercial heart of the parish, came straight upriver, and
when they were counterattacked, they went down to the port, right? They didn’t flee into the mountains, and it didn’t look to
me like they went to try and set up another Maroon community. There was no place
where they thought like, “Aha, we can form an independent
community of our own.” One of the things I surmised from that is that they have an attempt to
take at least the whole parish, probably because of the fact that they went straight
down to another small bay with a port, which was a
short launch from Cuba. They meant to maintain contact
with the outside world, that holding that entire territory was important to them, right? Now, the second thing is that in Westmoreland, a much bigger revolt that happened after Tacky’s
Revolt was actually suppressed, the rebels do go to the mountains and the rebels’ barricade is in a detached area of the mountains, an area of the mountains detached from where the Maroons are, and the Maroons have now by this time signed a
treaty with the British, and they are assiduously actually helping to suppress the slave revolt. In fact, the British can’t
suppress this slave revolt without the participation of the Maroons, so they basically get, they basically occupy a territory of detached mountain range here that they think is going to be defensible from both the Maroons
in the mountains here and from the planters in the plains. So their attempt there is
to create a Maroon community of their own within an enclave
within Jamaican society, as opposed to trying to
take the whole parish. And in fact, when they’re dispelled, displaced from the rebels’
barricade, it’s not on here, but they do a long forced march over into the mountains
of Saint Elizabeth, where again they’re trying
to seek out some spaces where they can occupy independently. We know that one of the rebels in Westmoreland Parish had urged them, or at least he says upon torture, to go directly for the bay
and try to occupy the gateway to the strategic heart of the parish, which is like one of the
most profitable parishes in the British Empire. What I gain from that is that there’s a debate in
fact among the Africans, that I don’t know
exactly what they wanted, but I think that they were in dispute. Some wanted some things, they
won out, it didn’t go so well, and the others didn’t
get what they wanted. For me, that is almost more important than coming up with a coherent
and identifiable objective, to know that politics was in play before, during, and after the revolt, and that’s what I’m trying to highlight. But their visions of
freedom, Robert Hanserd? You’re up!
(hands clap) (audience laughs)
This book is coming out! Let’s get a picture of it. – It’s out. – You’re on.
– Thank you for putting it up there. I’m excited about that and your work. I think I would say,
it’s very interesting. You do have to be careful in sort of really making
real sort of cases for continuity coming right
out of the Gold Coast region and into this place, even
in terms of the Akan. There are other groups there: the Ga-Adangbe, the Guang
or Chireh or Chireh people. There other groups, and all
of them are participating in the creation of this
notion of the southern Akan, and so, but I do believe that
some of what has happened in terms of the conflict, in terms of the ideations of spirituality which hint at notions of freedom, do manifest themselves in these processes. That would be the argument
that I would sort of say. You can look for some continuities, you just have to be careful. I mean, but just the
idea that you have things in Saint Elizabeth, which is way over here in the north on the leeward side, and then Westmoreland west, I mean, there had to have been some form of communication or dialogue there – Absolutely.
– that we gotta think about. And there’s an interesting
tidbit in the Thistlewood Journal where they see a comet,
some guy sees a comet. He’s not a slave, he’s
wandering in the mountains, but he sees a comet, and I get the idea that for other folks, they may have had different motivations, but the importance of seeing something from the sky might have some impetus for a range of responses,
and even Tacky himself, which I know you mentioned as a figure. Some folks say that he just
looks like this beautiful man that was from the Gold Coast, but in actuality, he just looked like him. That didn’t mean he had all
these martial skill sets. So it’s– – [Vincent] That’s Edward Long. That’s Edward Long trying to demean him. – Yes.
– For sure. This takes us back to the question that Destin posed right away. Your answer gets us into
the spiritual discourse of the Akan, and again, what
I wanted to do was like, what if I were to just try
and do a narrative history of this revolt moment by
moment, point by point, with all these pieces connecting up, and not spend as much time on
that kind of thematic material as I did in the first book? And that’s the difference. That’s why my book
isn’t mutually exclusive from these other books here. It’s meant to be read
in dialogue with them. We should shout out to
Walter Rucker as well because Walter Rucker’s
book on Gold Coast diasporas posits the idea that there
is a, how does he call it, a kind of egalitarian sentiment, in part because not many of these people who were captured were
leaders, were elites, so there’s a kind of egalitarian
ethos among these people that may be also in play like, and may create a fracture
between people like Tacky and people like the rest of the rebels, that again, there’s politics in play, and that kind of egalitarian
ethos is something that he teases out of various things that he’s finding there. Yeah, I mean, I didn’t write this book so that there can be only one. I’m not the Highlander, (laughs) you know? What I wanna do is start this
conversation and say like, okay, so now we can take Kwasi Konadu, we could take Walter Rucker,
we could take Robert Hanserd, and we can locate what they
have to say very precisely in space and time, and
when you read the book, I spent a lot of time on here
but even more in the book, this is about the political
meaning of the landscape itself, not so much spiritual,
but the political meaning in terms of who can be,
the questions I ask, who can be safe where? How do I identify safety
from danger, right? Who’s coming to get me and
who’s coming to help me? What I wanted to do is locate that in the landscape of Jamaica. So again, it’s a kind of
map of how people can move through the landscape in this
fraught and violent context. Jennifer? – [Jennifer] Thank you so much for this. I don’t wanna… I guess I wanna ask you a kind
of historiographical question about where your work lies, because I see us making similar
interventions you and I, and I’m thinking it has something to do
– Surprise, surprise. – [Jennifer] with Duke or whatever, but there was a point in your talk when you’re making an argument that says that the Atlantic is a, the 18th-century Atlantic is a
site that’s a theater of war, and that that’s something that military historians are
very, are comfortable with, but they never include the lessons learned and the
battles fought around slavery and around suppressing slavery, so that to me is very much an argument about the role of slavery in the way that the modern Atlantic world opens up, like in the way that we understand these broad historical phenomena, right? I’m completely compelled
by this, obviously, we are fellow travelers,
but I also just wonder how we find ourselves making this argument over and over again.
(Vincent laughs) You know what I mean?
– Yeah. – [Jennifer] And I think that, in a way, your insistence that revolt
needs to be understood not just as reactive, but as generative, as an attempt to be generative, is also, it’s very much sort of in line with Cedric Robinson’s notion about what constitutes a
black radical tradition. I thought I was gonna end
this up as a question, but I think it’s really
more just an acknowledgement that there is a task at hand here that you are clearly taking
up and that I have taken up and that others have as well, which is about demanding a reframing of these
broader imperial histories in which the lives of African people and African-descended
people are at the center. So, yeah, so it’s great– – So I think I can add at
least little story to that, one that emerges from the book,
and the first, the kind of, the negative argument
with military historians and then the positive argument about the black radical tradition. So the Royal Marines are newly reorganized for the Seven Years’ War in
the British Empire, right? It’s a brand-new outfit, and the first campaigns
of the Royal Marines are the conquest of Senegal, where
they have one great victory, and then they lose to a combined
African and French force, and it’s mostly Africans, it’s Africans allied with the French, at Albreda when they go up
the Gambia River, right? And the lead ship on this adventure, this attempt to conquer
Senegal, is HMS Harwich, and the Harwich sails straight
from Senegal to Jamaica, where those very marines are involved in the suppression of Tacky’s Revolt. One of the other major campaigns in the Seven Years’ War is
the conquest of Guadeloupe, the failed attempt at Martinique, and the conquest of Guadeloupe, and the marines who conquer Guadeloupe are fighting black French
soldiers who are under arms, many of them enslaved, when
they conquer Guadeloupe. They take a lot of these black
French soldiers to Jamaica and sell them as slaves, where some of them escape
and join Tacky’s Revolt. So you’ve got marines
on the Harwich fighting and losing to black
people in the Gambia River and then coming to Jamaica
to suppress this revolt. You’ve got Marines fighting in Guadeloupe, conquering French black soldiers there, and then coming to Jamaica
directly after Guadeloupe, and having to fight them again. I don’t have the names
of those black soldiers, but I’ve got the names of
a lot of those marines, and I know they go
straight into the mountains to fight these people who probably include some
of these black soldiers, having to fight them on the same island, and yet military historians are like, “Oh, I don’t think the marines
learned anything from that,” even though these are their very first amphibious engagements, and that’s what they do,
amphibious engagements. That’s what the marines
do, have always done. That’s what they’re organized to do. Their very first lessons they learn are from fighting black people in the bush in Africa and the Caribbean, and yet the military
historians ignore that. So yes, I mean, if they
wanna know their stuff, they gotta know my stuff. That’s that point. The broader point though that, and again, this is just to affirm your point, which is that, I mean, I
think that it’s important not to assume that the
struggle for black humanity, for dignity, begins with emancipation, begins with civil rights. It begins with the indignities themselves, and I do think that there’s a pessimism which often suggests that
one needs only to understand the logic of anti-blackness in order to understand the
politics of anti-blackness, and what I’m saying is the logic of anti-blackness
only gets you so far, because it is emergent, and it is always in
dialogue with, reacting to, responding to, engaged
with black struggle, going all the way back, right? So if I only understand,
say, the logic of slavery or the logic of racism, I’m not understanding how it emerges from these actual
struggles, nay, these wars which all these ideas take
their generative form from. – Hi, thank you for that talk. It’s really fascinating. I wanna come back to Destin’s
question again if I may. One of the things that I was thinking of as you were engaged in the
sort of the later iteration of that conversation was Ranajit Guha’s “The Prose
of Counter-Insurgency.” The basic premise is that the way in which
Europeans rendered events can’t simply be inverted
to get us at some sort of, brushing against the grain
doesn’t get us to where we are. There is also a second layer, and access to that layer
requires some sort of knowledge that’s challenging to come by. But one of the things that
it occurs to me about the way in which you explain the
patterns of movement is that it’s always instrumental,
it’s always motivated by, they go to the harbor because the harbor opens
them to be outside world, or they go to the mountains because there’s some sort of
strategic advantage to doing so as opposed to what I take to be the more, the alternative conception
of space and place that relates to, say, indigenous studies that you invoked in your own talk is that it’s motivated more by the sort of, the meanings of particular
kinds of boundary locations or the meanings of particular
kinds of spatial phenomena that have a different kind of
resonance in that instance. It might have nothing to do with strategic advantage or motivation, and so I wondered, to what extent, when you’re trying to infer with this sort of very partial record that’s available to you, the intentions behind particular
kinds of mobilized actions in the context of a conflict, how you balance some sort of rationalist, strategic sensibility with something that simply wouldn’t be operating in relationship to the same kind of metric and how you can draw out
that second-order information from the kinds of sources
that you’re working with. – Yeah, and that’s a great question, and it’s a fair critique as well implied, and it’s one they anticipate
in a map that I made, a kind of animated map
of the revolt itself, where I say that the spatial
schemas of the rebels, kind of their landmarks and pathways, their understandings of
certainly what space means, whether it’s sacred space or
whether it’s profane space, is probably irretrievable
in cartographic form, right? So there’s that. And since I don’t have much of their, I don’t have any of their writing, I don’t have any kind of
commentaries from them for the most part about what
particular places meant, it was something that did not fit within the kind of temporality
I was using for this story, and let me kind of back up and explain that a little bit more. When I decided, when I
committed to a narrative account which was going to try and
locate things in place and time, I also in some ways eschewed
a far more thematic account in which the temporality
would be radically different, in which one would
understand a place culturally as a logic that might
obtain over centuries. It just did not fit, and
I was never comfortable, and still wouldn’t be,
never comfortable saying, “Aha, I’ve got an ethnographic
account of a place “which I can then infer it
might have meant in 1760,” and because I couldn’t do that, I left that conversation alone. I think that’s a conversation
one could still have. Again, as I was saying to Robert, I think that one could
take my book and then say, “Aha, but like here are the ways “in which these spaces
signified ethnographically “in various places and times
with a different temporality “and maybe I can project back, “I can upstream what that
space might have meant.” It was a conversation I
didn’t really wanna get into. What I wanted to spend my
time doing was really locating what happened, when happened, some gestures toward why
it might have happened, most of them not as ethnographic as the gestures in my first book, in part because I think that it would be a different kind of book. I think it would have a different, it would have a different kind of, it would just be a
different kind of narrative. It would be far more thematic, far more synchronic than
I wanted to have here, and this was a different exercise for me. There was something else
in your invocation of Guha. Yeah, so one of the
things that I try to do is not just kind of take one
account like Edward Long’s and just reverse it, but to
take as many possible accounts of various kinds of
movement as I can and say, we can see from this that
Edward Long is mistaken or he’s lying or he’s lost the plot. Maybe he’s, just he’s panicked, but a lot of his writing emerges out of that larger
conflicted milieu, right? And we can see that by surrounding him with lots of other sources, so it’s not so much a matter
of just taking a single source or a couple of sources and
reading them against the grain. It’s trying to read every source as an artifact of the larger universe that one can see by looking
at many other sources, right? So one of my, I don’t even
think it’s a disagreement, but one of the limitations of writing about the limitations of sources, as a lot of us have done in
the studies of the archive, and as I’ve done myself in various places, is that we kind of assume that the sources we know are
the universe of sources, right? But oftentimes, other sources, they allow you to see things
from different angles, and they allow you to see this
source that you thought like, “Oh, that source fixes
what I can say, right?” They allow you to see it differently, and you can say something different. So it’s not just reading that
source against the grain, it’s reading that source
against all these other sources, and I’m inspired in this by
people like archaeologists, who are trying to
reconstruct whole societies from shards of pottery. They don’t feel sorry for me (laughs) (audience laughs) and the challenges I have with sources. So again, there are scholars
who acknowledge the limitations of certain kind of sources, and then kind of dare, maybe foolishly, to read as creatively and
expansively as possible, and those are the scholars I most admire and I most wanna emulate. – Excellent, I think we’ll stop there. I think we’ll stop there. One more time, tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., we’re in a different room, Classics 110. Thank you so much.
– Thank you all. – Thank you.
(audience applauds)

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