The Reaper's Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery

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Harvard University Press, 2008 - History - 340 pages
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What did people make of death in the world of Atlantic slavery? In The Reaper's Garden, Vincent Brown asks this question about Jamaica, the staggeringly profitable hub of the British Empire in America--and a human catastrophe. Popularly known as the grave of the Europeans, it was just as deadly for Africans and their descendants. Yet among the survivors, the dead remained both a vital presence and a social force.

In this compelling and evocative story of a world in flux, Brown shows that death was as generative as it was destructive. From the eighteenth-century zenith of British colonial slavery to its demise in the 1830s, the Grim Reaper cultivated essential aspects of social life in Jamaica--belonging and status, dreams for the future, and commemorations of the past. Surveying a haunted landscape, Brown unfolds the letters of anxious colonists; listens in on wakes, eulogies, and solemn incantations; peers into crypts and coffins, and finds the very spirit of human struggle in slavery. Masters and enslaved, fortune seekers and spiritual healers, rebels and rulers, all summoned the dead to further their desires and ambitions. In this turbulent transatlantic world, Brown argues, "mortuary politics" played a consequential role in determining the course of history.

Insightful and powerfully affecting, The Reaper's Garden promises to enrich our understanding of the ways that death shaped political life in the world of Atlantic slavery and beyond.

 

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Contents

PROLOGUE Death Power and Atlantic Slavery i
1
Figure P I View of Port Royal and Kingston Harbours Jamaica
2
i Johnny Newcome
18
1 Funeral of Johnny Newcome
61
2 AfroJamaican funeral procession
67
4 Death and burial preparations for Johnny Newcome
84
THREE Expectations of the Dead
92
1 John sends for Mr Codicil
94
1 The survivors of the Zong massacre advertised for sale
161
3 A Negro hung alive by the Ribs to a Gallows
193
1 Visit of a Missionary and Wife to a Plantation Village
221
SEVEN Gardens of Remembrance
231
1 Monument of the Late Thomas Hibbert
240
EPILOGUE Regeneration
255
Appendix
265
Notes
271

2 Portrait of the Taylor family
97
1 Executions of convicted rebels
130

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About the author (2008)

Vincent Brown is Assistant Professor of History and African-American Studies at Harvard University .

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