Monday, September 18, 2017

Randy M. Browne's "Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean"

Randy M. Browne is an assistant professor of history at Xavier University and a specialist on slavery and colonialism in the early modern Atlantic world, especially the British Caribbean.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells the story of an enslaved African man, La Rose, who had just been given 150 lashes and demoted from his position as driver. On Caribbean plantations, drivers were crucial go-betweens appointed by slaveowners to supervise fieldworkers, enforce rules, and punish other slaves. La Rose’s story is part of Chapter 4, “The Slave Drivers’ World,” which explores the political maneuvering of drivers who struggled to balance the competing interests of their enslavers and other slaves. In this case, La Rose’s manager lost confidence in him after La Rose supposedly gave a sick enslaved man a remedy that instead killed him. Firing La Rose, who had been a driver for at least five years, presented a series of challenges to the manager, who was so worried about La Rose’s response that he asked colonial officials to supervise him until he could be moved to a different plantation.

The manager was right to worry about La Rose’s reaction. Demoted drivers lost not only their elite status and the perks of their position but also what had probably been their best chance of forging a viable life under slavery. Caribbean slave societies were notorious death traps, and drivers stood out for living much longer and better lives than other slaves. The paradox at the heart of this chapter is that being a successful driver was a survival strategy for some enslaved men but one that necessarily required them to cooperate with their enslavers and thus perpetuate the slave system. To be sure, not all of them succeeded.

Surviving Slavery reconstructs cases like La Rose’s—documented in a remarkable archive of first-person testimony from hundreds of different slaves—to reconsider enslaved people’s world on its own terms and develop a new framework for studying the power relationships of Atlantic slavery. The basic premise of the book is that the struggle for sheer survival under desperate conditions was at the heart of enslaved people’s experience. Historians have long been preoccupied—for good reasons—with enslaved people’s efforts to resist their enslavers and achieve “freedom” but one of the biggest conclusions I reached while writing this book was that surviving the plantation world and resisting slavery were not one and the same. More importantly, for most enslaved people, survival took precedence.
Visit Randy M. Browne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue