Transimperial Blackness: Slavery & Freedom in Jamaica & New Granada, 1655-1810

'Transimperial Blackness: Slavery & Freedom in Jamaica & New Granada, 1655-1810' is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and will run from 1 September 2020 to 31 August 2023.

Map detail from Thomas Gage, 'The Ylandes of the West Indies' (1655)
Map detail from Thomas Gage, 'The Ylandes of the West Indies' (1655). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.

Jamaica and Colombia, rarely considered together but only 530 miles apart (a little less than the distance from Aberdeen to London), have entangled histories of the slave trade and black freedom. Trade between Jamaica and the mainland port city of Cartagena de Indias was frequent when the island was a Spanish colony and continued long after its capture by the English in 1655.

British slave traders trafficked thousands of ‘rebellious’ Jamaican enslaved creoles to Spanish America, yet little is known about their fate after their sale. 'Transimperial Blackness' examines the entangled histories of slavery and black freedom in Jamaica and New Granada, from the British capture of the island from Spain in 1655 until the end of the slave trade, to showcase the importance of smaller scale forced migrations in shaping the political culture of the African diaspora.

Thousands of captives sold in the Caribbean port city of Cartagena de Indias in the 1700s arrived from Jamaica through asientos (contracts) granted to British traders. From 1714 to 1757, Jamaica was the chief supplier of bondspersons in the legal slave trade to New Granada through Cartagena. How many enslaved people had spent extended time in the island, rather than being shipped through it, remains unclear, but certainly some of them were: as early as 1677, English administrators resolved to rid themselves of “refractory, dangerous, and bad negroes” for a profit by selling them to Spanish slave traders. And Spanish colonial documents frequently refer to “Jamaican creoles” or “blacks from the plantations (plantajes) of Jamaica” as particularly rebellious.

'Transimperial Blackness' will examine the role of space, regimes of slavery, and mobility in shaping black political cultures in Jamaica and New Granada. This research stands at the intersection of three main areas of scholarship: histories of mobility, studies of imperialism, and scholarship on the slave trade and slavery, and centres on three questions:

  1. Employing a microhistorical approach, what were political and cultural afterlives of the mobilities of enslaved people in Jamaica to and within New Granada?
  2. How did inter-imperial knowledge exchange influence concepts of governance, slavery, and policy in the face of the serious threat that maroon warfare posed to colonial states?
  3. How does a transimperial approach add further nuance to our understandings of the contours of black historical presence in the Americas?

'Transimperial Blackness' analyses the cultural politics transimperial slave trade and how this movement of captives shaped imperial governance, regimes of slavery, and black radical politics in both colonies. The study of histories of forced migration and movement during slavery through a transimperial and transregional perspective reveals how the movement of black people ensured cultural connections across the African diaspora that traversed traditional boundaries of empire, language, and indeed of academic area studies.

Project Researchers