"Mapping the great Jamaican insurrection of 1760-61 allows us to see how the island’s topography shaped the course of the revolt, how the rebellion included at least three major uprisings, and how its suppression required the sequenced collaboration of several distinct elements of British military power. From the cartographic evidence, it appears that the insurrection was in fact a well-planned affair that posed a genuine strategic threat, checked ultimately by an effective counterinsurgency. Yet if the map draws a clearer picture of the extent and contours of the insurrection, it cannot convey the ambition, hope, desperation, shock, dread, alarm, cruelty, bloodlust, and sheer mayhem of the experience. These are matters left to the historical imagination of viewers and readers."
In 1760, some fifteen hundred enslaved black men and women— perhaps fewer but probably many more— took advantage of Britain’s Seven Year’s War against France and Spain, to stage a massive uprising in Jamaica, which began on April 7 in the windward parish of St. Mary’s and continued in the leeward parishes until October of the next year. Over the course of eighteen months the rebels killed as many as sixty whites and destroyed many thousands of pounds worth of property. During the suppression of the revolt over five hundred black men and women were killed in battle, executed, or committed suicide. Another 500 were transported from the island for life. Colonists valued the total cost to the island at nearly a quarter of a million pounds. “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,” wrote planter-historian Edward Long in his 1774 History of Jamaica, this revolt was “more formidable than any hitherto known in the West Indies.”
Long was convinced that the rebellion was the culmination of an island-wide plot by Coromantee compatriots from the Gold Coast of West Africa who hoped to conquer the colony and create a series of principalities “in the African mode.” Yet his and subsequent historical accounts have left a number of important questions unanswered. Was the revolt a unified and coordinated affair, or was it instead a series of opportunistic riots? What in fact did the rebels hope to achieve? Was there ever a real danger to the British Empire in America or was the threat blown out of proportion by panicked whites? If the insurrection was as well planned as the colonists feared, why didn’t it succeed? These questions can be partially addressed by examining how the insurrection played out in space.
Mapping the revolt and its suppression illustrates something that is difficult to glean from simply reading the textual sources. The colonists and imperial officials who produced the historical record were universally unsympathetic to the rebellion, and we have no documents produced by the rebels. So the written record skews our understanding toward the insights, fears, hopes, and desires of slaveholders. But we learn something else by plotting the combatants’ movements in space. Tracing their locations over time, it is possible to discern some of their strategic aims and to observe the tactical dynamics of slave insurrection and counter-revolt.
The uprising encompassed three major phases of sustained action— discounting the various conspiracies discovered by the whites— alongside more dispersed and sporadic skirmishes. The first was the revolt in St. Mary’s, generally named Tacky’s Revolt after one of its principal African leaders. This was followed by a much bigger revolt in Westmoreland parish. Finally, survivors of the Westmoreland insurrection trekked across two parishes, raiding estates along the way. These campaigns adapted to geographical constraints. On the windward side of the island— the north side— heavy rainfall and dense vegetation limited movement more than on the leeward side, where the drier climate allowed for greater mobility. Still, within each phase of the rebellion, the routes traveled by the rebels through woods, mountains, hills, swamps, and rivers indicated strategic objectives.
Do read the rest and check out the interactive maps via: http://revolt.axismaps.com/project.html
Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761, A Cartographic Narrative is a new interactive map developed by Dr Vincent Brown, Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard, narrating the spatial history of the greatest slave insurrection in the eighteenth century British Empire. The map unveils ground breaking new insights into the political history of slavery, dispelling the often-perceived notion that black uprisings are little more than chaotic riots and instead presents visually how scholars can discern strategic, and carefully planned military campaigns in patterns of movement.
There have been many interpretations as to the purpose and execution of this African rebellion. Planter-historians Edward Long and Bryan Edwards said in the late 1700s that it was launched ‘at the instigation of a Koromantyn negro called Tacky’, a former African chief. They believed that the rebellion had been executed mainly by Akan-speaking people from the Gold Coast, known to have formed the core of the maroon societies that had fought the British to a standstill back in the 1730s. Historian John Thornton had later confirmed more generally that ‘Africans with military experience played an important role in revolts’.
But Dr. Brown asks, should we be taking their word for it? Over the last decade he has been reimagining the revolt by examining its documented history in terms of space and time. By plotting the insurrection on a map, he has broken down its movements into the networks and circuits that sketched its progress. The result has given us not only new and groundbreaking insight into the history of slavery, but has also paved the way for a new form of historical cartography.
Although this cartographic narration cannot be taken as an exhaustive database—for instance, it does not examine major themes such as belonging and affiliation among the insurgents or the larger imperial context and interconnected Atlantic world— the map does reveal the military campaign’s spatial dynamics.
He further outlines how his research shines a light on how we perceive “riots” in the modern age, such as those associated with Notting Hill Carnival in London in the 20th century. In a recent article for The Guardian, he suggest that,Dr Vincent Brown says, “An emerging alliance between historians and mapmakers promises to enlighten public perceptions of black insurrection. As with more recent disturbances, people at the time debated whether the slave insurrection in Jamaica in 1760-61 was a spontaneous eruption or a carefully planned affair. Historians still debate the question, their task made more difficult by the lack of written records produced by the insurgents. Cartographic evidence developed in collaboration with Axis Maps shows that the rebellion was in fact a well-planned affair that posed a genuine strategic threat, not an indiscriminate outburst.”
“Understanding black rebellions will make it easier to recognise and address the conditions that compel people to go to war against their own societies. And it will also mean we can be less afraid of every street party.”
The interactive map was designed and built by Axis Maps using the open-source Leaflet mapping library. It is compatible with touch screen devices and can be viewed online at: http://revolt.axismaps.com
Above Text Credit/Source: http://ladburypr.tumblr.com/
Paulina says: I can't believe it.... Slowly our ancestors (Coromantee) big historical revolt in Jamaica against the British is coming to life via a host of new interactive maps by Dr Vincent Brown (Professor of History and of African and African American Studies) -making their fight and struggles very real... I think this is a fabulous new way to teach our history... Do read about the Revolt and see the it come to life via: http://revolt.axismaps.com/project.html