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Scholarly Introduction

Contributed Scholarly Introduction: longedward-historyofjamaica-1774-vol3

About this Intro


Scholarly Introduction

First published by T. Lowndes in London in 1774, Edward Long's History of Jamaica is considered to be a seminal work in Caribbean historiography. The three-volume work provides a comprehensive account of geographical, political, social and economic makeup of Jamaica from 1665 to 1774. The English-born son of a prominent Jamaican plantation owner, Long (1734–1813) spent twelve years running his father's property, an experience which invariably permeates in History of Jamaica through descriptions of the island's past, present and future.

History of Jamaica was generally received as offering insight into colonial rule in the colonies and as a culmination of Long’s work on imperial policies and the slave trade. Advertisements of the work were telling of its importance in revealing the state of the colony of Jamaica, though reviewers’ foci differed. Notices like those published in the Oxford Journal’s July 30, 1774 issue and the Manchester Mercury dated Tuesday, August 02, 1774 simply advertise the work as “a new work” with “maps, illustrations and ornamental views”, its price and where it could be purchased. The Caledonian Mercury dated August Wednesday, August 24, 1774 ran at least one long excerpt to the “just published text”: The detailed racial descriptions of the inhabitants of the island of Jamaica and how the reader could distinguish them. In the year of its publication, the public could buy the book in Oxford, Marlborough, “all booksellers in Town and Country and the Oxford Newsmen.”

Volume 1, “Reflections on its Situation, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws and Government,” provides the reader with an overview of colonial government under British rule and outlines the history of Spanish colonization of the island. It also gives details of the population, economy and statistics on the purchase and export of slaves. Volume II gives reflections on the island’s topographical descriptions of the island and its inhabitants. Volume III looks at the island’s meteorology and the effects of climate on health.

Many historical and literary scholars agree on the importance of this work as one of the most comprehensive accounts of a Caribbean territory during the time of slavery, though from as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century, criticism of the work’s accuracy and bias began to emerge. One Robert Renny Esq. would construct his own History of Jamaica in 1807, with observations similar to Long’s on the island’s geography, inhabitants, customs, manners etc., but with an amendment. Renny’s provides “an illustration of the advantages which are likely to result from the abolition of the slave trade.” In his preface, Renny takes issue with Long’s “voluminous, ill-digested, unconnected” history which he claims was priced to “exclude most purchasers” (ix).

Long’s work is praised for its detailed descriptions of colonial government, island geography and the system of slavery, but widely criticized for its racialist tone and uncritical acceptance of what he felt was the inevitability of slavery. Indeed, as Braxton Bird (2007) opines, “The collection combines a wealth of scientific, legal, and historical information which has served as an important primary source for early Jamaica and British West Indian culture from the conquest of 1655 to the stresses of the late eighteenth century.” Others highlight the work as influential in cultivating European ideologies on race and human difference, and critics like Kenneth Morgan notes the evident plagiarism in the work. In commenting on his examination of the materials in Long’s History, Morgan writes: “The book combines encyclopaedic detail with polemics and propaganda; some sections are plagiarised from other writers.”

Long’s study of Jamaica has been used extensively by historians like Elsa V. Goveia in her work, A Study on the Historiography of the British West Indies to the End of the Nineteenth Century (1956); Richard B. Sheridan in Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623-1775 (1974) and John J. McCusker, Rum and the American Revolution : The Rum Trade and the Balance of Payments of the Thirteen Continental Colonies, 1650-1775, 2 volumes. (1989). Modern facsimile reprints of this work were published by Frank Cass ( introduction by George Metcalf) in 1970 and by Ian Randle in 2002, with an introduction by Howard Johnson.



Works Cited

Braxton Bird, Robert. “Eighteenth Century Transformations of the Jamaican Plantocracy: Edward Long and Bryan Edwards,” Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Florida State University, 2007. 

Renny, Robert. An History of Jamaica with Observations. J. Cawthorn, 1807.

Sheridan, Richard B.  Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623-1775.  John Hopkins University Press, 1974.

Secondary Bibliography

Goveia, Elsa V. A Study on the Historiography of the British West Indies to the End of the Nineteenth Century. Howard University Press, 1956.

McCusker, John J. Rum and the American Revolution: The Rum Trade and the Balance of Payments of the Thirteen Continental Colonies, 1650-1775. Garland Publishing, 1989.

Morgan, Kenneth. “Materials on the History of Jamaica in the Edward Long Papers held at the British Library: An Introduction to the Microfilm Collection.” Microfilm Academic Publishers, 2006.


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Atlantic Slave Trade, Climate, History, Jamaica, Edward Long, Reports, Slavery, Treatises

Cite this Introduction

Dwyer, Dania. "A Scholarly Introduction to Edward Long's History of Jamaica. Reflections on its Situation, Situation, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Product, Commerce, Laws and Government (1774)” The Early Caribbean Digital Archive. Boston: Northeastern University Digital Repository Service. 2016.


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