“To So Dark a Destiny My Lovely Babe I’ve Borne”: Slavery and Childhood Survival in Jamaica

Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM
Columbia Hall 10 (Washington Hilton)
Colleen Vasconcellos, University of West Georgia

With increased abolitionist threats against the slave trade beginning in the 1780s, planter opinion regarding child worth gradually changed throughout the Atlantic World. In Jamaica, those planters who once viewed the children on their estates as worthless burdens began to modify their attitude towards the children on their estates, gradually seeing them more as investments as well as a possible solution to the impending abolition of the slave trade.  The interference and manipulation that resulted out of these planters’ need for more slaves ultimately forced slave children into adulthood well before their time.  As Jamaican planters increasingly argued that slave children would grow up to be productive adults and lead them towards the economic stability and profit that they desired, most planters failed to acknowledge the slave children on their estates as ‘children.’  Instead, planters perceived slave children only a means of protecting and securing the plantation economy.  Meanwhile, these children continued their struggle for survival despite the increased pressures put upon them.  While this paper shows how children reacted to their enslavement through acts of resistance, violence, and crime, it also explores their lives as the children of slaves by discussing mother-child relationships and ideas of family in the slave community.  Therefore, this paper ultimately investigates the various ways in how slave children coped with the hardships of slavery and the realization that they were slaves by examining how these children developed physically and psychologically within the plantation complex.

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