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Contributed Scholarly Introduction: Anon, A Speech Made by a Black of Guardaloupe (1709)

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Anon, A Speech Made by a Black of Guardaloupe (1709)

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Abstract

“A Speech Made by a Black of Guardaloupe” was published in London in 1709 alongside an open letter, “A Letter from a Merchant at Jamaica To A Member of Parliament, Touching on the African Slave Trade,” both anonymously authored. In the speech, the enslaved speaker addresses slavery as contradictory to Christian doctrine and human rights, and urges his fellow slaves to look to God for relief.

Introduction

“A Speech Made by a Black of Guardaloupe” was published in London in 1709 alongside an open letter, “A Letter from a Merchant at Jamaica To A Member of Parliament, Touching on the African Slave Trade,” both anonymously authored. According to Jack P. Greene, the letter does not name the specific member of Parliament and is explicitly critical of the Caribbean slave trade. The transcribed speech attached to the letter was purportedly given in the French colony of Guadeloupe, as part of a funeral for a slave who was, according to the letter, “kill’d by his master for taking a small loaf of bread as he pass’d thro the kitchen.” In the speech, the enslaved speaker addresses slavery as contradictory to Christian doctrine and human rights, and urges his fellow slaves to look to God for relief.

The speech is of particular interest to the Early Caribbean Digital Archive because, as Nicole Aljoe points out, it is one of the “earliest first-person narratives of enslavement in the Caribbean” that speaks directly to the personal experience of slavery (7). Scholars have noted the anonymous text’s significance because it emphasizes a Caribbean slave’s experience as not only one of devastation, grief, exhaustion, but also of spiritual transcendence and a potent desire for liberation. Thomas Krise observes that A Speech “offers one of the earliest examples of an anti-slavery tract not connected closely with dissenting Protestant theology” (93). Greene argues that, “in contrast to much early antislavery literature, [the speech] explicitly uses natural rights theory as the foundation for both its attack on the slave trade and slavery and its animating claim that every human being has a ‘plain and natural Right to Life and Liberty’” (794). While Krise speculates that a white British author wrote both letter and transcribed speech, Greene contends that despite the questions of its authorship, “the speech reveals the author’s awareness that funerals were important occasions for articulating and negotiating values in slave communities” (795). At the end of his article, Greene suggests that the author of the pamphlet is likely “not a planter but a merchant, an officeholder, or a professional person, perhaps a lawyer or cleric, whose residence in Jamaica had been of short duration” (798).

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Bibliography

Works Cited

Aljoe, Nicole N. Creole Testimonies: Slave Narratives from the British West Indies, 1709-1838. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Greene, Jack P. “‘A Plain and Natural Right to Life and Liberty’: An Early Natural Rights Attack on the Excesses of the Slave System in Colonial British America.” The William and Mary Quarterly 57.4 (2000): 793–808.

Krise, Thomas W. Caribbeana: An Anthology of English Literature of the West Indies, 1657-1777. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Williamson, Karina. Contrary Voices: Representations of West Indian Slavery, 1657-1834. University of the West Indies Press, 2008.

Secondary Bibliography

Andrews, William L. To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865. University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Brown, Vincent. The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery. Harvard University Press, 2008.

Greene, Jack P. Evaluating Empire and Confronting Colonialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

---. Exclusionary Empire: English Liberty Overseas, 1600-1900. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Jordan, Winthrop D. White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812. Chapel Hill, 1968.

Paton, Diana. “Punishment, Crime, and the Bodies of Slaves in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica.” Journal of Social History 34.4 (2001): 923–954.

 

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