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Contributed Scholarly Introduction: Clara, The Narrative of Clara: In The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, Edwards (1793)

Clara, The Narrative of Clara: In The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, Edwards (1793)

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Clara's narrative was published within a footnote (62-3 of Volume II) in Bryan Edwards's History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies. The footnote also includes another narrative of captivity, Cudjoe's narrative, which follows Clara's narrative.  


All details concerning the life of Clara are contained within a long footnote to Bryan Edwards’s 1793 History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies. The entire footnote can be found on pages 62-4 in Book IV, Chapter III of The History. Clara’s narrative is extremely short and is presented alongside another narrative of captivity, Cudjoe, which immediately follows Clara’s narrative. Both appear to have been given in the form of an interview with Edwards.

The summary of Edwards’ interview with Clara relates she was born near Anamaboe on the Gold Coast (in what is now the Central Region of Ghana). Her parents were enslaved and she was born into slavery to a “great man named Anamoa.” When Anomoa died, Clara and two of her brothers were then sold and in 1784 they were taken by slave ship to Jamaica. After restating the details of her family, Edwards includes his question, “I asked her which country she liked best, Jamaica or Guiney?,” to which Clara responds that “Jamaica was the better country.” After this, Clara describes the medical process by which children in the Gold Coast are inoculated against the disease yaws.

Clara’s narrative has been read most often as a product of Edwards’s pro-slavery politics. As Christa Dierksheide notes, Edwards’s intention here was to develop an “ethnography of African slaves,” with a view to determining “how they had progressed from so-called barbaric savages in Africa to improved bondsmen in Jamaica” (172). Walter C. Rucker has also remarked the emphasis in the text on the differences between Clara’s life on the Gold Coast and her life in Jamaica, noting that “the question itself [concerning which country Clara prefers] reveals much about his intentions and ulterior motives” (208); as Rucker points out, Edwards is a “staunch opponent of the anti-abolitionist movement” (208), and the presentation of the contrast between Jamaican slavery and slavery on the Gold Coast, where, as Clara notes, slaves were “killed at the funeral of their masters,” may be intended as an anti-abolitionist message by Edwards. In a reading similar to Rucker’s, James Pope-Hennessy mentions Clara’s interview when describing the “myth of the merry and contented slave” (114), according to which “the slaves had, like Bryan Edwards’ faithful old body, Clara, one further and capital cause for gratitude – they had been saved from the funereal practices of the Guinea coast” (114). By contrast, Katherine Paugh has focused on the representation of yaws in the text, and has argued for the importance of Clara’s description of inoculation for an understanding of the “conglomeration of medical knowledge” (228) in the eighteenth-century Caribbean.

For further reading, please see Cudjoe's “Narrative of Cudjoe” and Edwards’ History, Civil and Commercial, 1793. 



Works Cited

Dierksheide, Christa. Amelioration and Empire: Progress and Slavery in the Plantation Americas (Jeffersonian America). University of Virginia Press, 2014.

Paugh, Katherine. “Yaws, Syphilis, Sexuality, and the Circulation of Medical Knowledge in the British Caribbean and the Atlantic World.”  Bulletin of the History of Medicine. Vol. 88, No. 2, 2014.

Pope-Hennessy, James. Sins of the Fathers: A Study of the Atlantic Slave Traders 1441-1807. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968.

Rucker, Walter C. Gold Coast Diasporas: Identity, Culture, and Power. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2015.


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