The Caribbean often gets passed over in the study of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). The focus between the main belligerents, Great Britain and France, as well as the big prizes, India and North America, tend to overshadow any thoughts of the Caribbean as part of the worldwide wartime campaigns.

This is in error.

French and British holdings in the West Indies were significant, and the war did not merely skip over these tropical waters. During the Seven Years’ War, conflagrations in the Caribbean occurred mostly because of one major mid-eighteenth-century commodity: sugar. British strategists chose to focus on taking entire islands. Employing sizeable fleets, Britain planned to seize hundreds of French sugar plantations, thereby ensuring moneys earned from cane ended up in London treasuries rather than those of Paris. The British succeeded. Fleets attacked and were able to take full control of two small French possessions located in the leeward islands of the Lesser Antilles: Guadeloupe in 1759, and Martinique in 1762.

But sugar was an output, only made possible with considerable inputs: i.e., human beings, or African slaves. In fact, evidence clearly indicates that Africans enslaved in the Caribbean were fully aware of the war between France and Britain and, further, moved to take advantage of the conflict to better their situation. Such awareness led to a major slave uprising on the island of Jamaica in 1760. Dubbed “Tacky’s War,” this 1760 Jamaican slave revolt lasted for a year and a half.

But this is where, when I was a graduate student, my interest in what happened in Jamaica in 1760 dissipated. Why? Lack of any true primary source materials, or any secondary telling of this account beyond what was written in the nineteenth century: “Tacky’s War” thus became something filed and almost forgotten in the deep crevices of my brain.

slave revolt Jamaica

From the home page of the Slave Revolt in Jamaica: A Cartographic Narrative (found at http://revolt.axismaps.com)

However, my interest in Tacky’s War has been renewed with an article by Vincent Brown that appeared recently in the American Historical Review.[1] Here I learned that Brown is the Principal Investigator and Curator for the animated thematic map Slave Revolt in Jamaica, and, in fact, blends cartography and history in an interactive motif to expose and tell more deeply the story of Tacky’s War, its eighteen month revolt, and Britain’s reaction and abilities to suppress it.

By scouring through hundreds of primary materials and eighteenth-century maps, Brown and his team of historians digitally recreated the revolt to include rebel slave movements, counterinsurgency movements, replete with commentary along an interactive timeline. The site claims that only when combining written sources within Jamaica’s unique geographic and spatial realities can there truly be confirmation or debunking of what British contemporaries wrote of the event. The human record is, unfortunately, one-sided: written accounts did not come from slaves but rather the British who attempted to crush the rebellion. Thus, Brown’s website offers a fresh perspective on Jamaica’s slave revolt: that of geography and inference.

In fact, the written records offered as evidence include eighteenth-century American newspapers, the National Archives in London, as well as archives held in Jamaica itself. Students of the Atlantic slave trade can learn much from Jamaica’s slave revolt. For example, African slaves took advantage of the Seven Years’ War to fight for their own versions of liberty and freedom. Both British and French forces viewed sugar plantations as the ultimate ends, a prize to be plundered. But sugar plantations consisted of slaves in addition to sugar. What happened to these captured slaves? Were slaves distributed elsewhere in the Caribbean, cashed in much like stalks of cane? How did the Seven Years’ War affect the Atlantic slave trade? Brown claims that property damaged in the eighteen-month long rebellion in Jamaica came to a staggering £250,000.[2] Was this uprising then partially responsible for the Stamp Act of 1765? Did Tacky’s War supply inspiration and perhaps tactics to Haiti’s successful slave revolt some thirty years following?

Thanks to Brown’s work, the ramifications of the Atlantic slave trade is now a little bit clearer.

[1] Vincent Brown, Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761 (accessed 25 February 2016), http://revolt.axismaps.com/project.html

[2] Vincent Brown, “Narrative Interface for New Media History: Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761,” American Historical Review, vol. 121, no. 1 (February 2016), 176-186.

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