The British Board of Trade, formerly the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, delivered this report to the British House of Commons as “the outcome of the first parliamentary enquiry into the slave trade” dated February 11, 1788. The 900-page parliamentary report is sourced from the testimonies of slave traders, planters, colonial agents and a few abolitionists, but no slaves or former slaves are included on record. This text has been split through our archive, this is part III of III.
The Board of Trade, formerly the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, delivered this report to the British House of Commons as “the outcome of the first parliamentary enquiry into the slave trade” dated February 11, 1788. The 900-page parliamentary report is sourced from the testimonies of slave traders, planters, colonial agents and a few abolitionists, but no former slaves (Paton 50). The report covers a wide range of topics, from “the present state of those parts of Africa from whence Slaves have been exported” in Part I, to the “view of evidence concerning the Manner of carrying Slaves to the West Indies” in Part II. The largest section, part III, concerns the “Treatment of Slaves in the West Indies, and all Circumstances relating thereto.” Part III has particular interest for the ECDA as it is the section that contains the most material on obeah. The last section, Part IV, provides extensive charts detailing the imports to and exports from the West Indies, and is titled “the several Accounts which have been called for, in order to shew the Extent of the Trade in all its Branches, and the Number of White People and Slaves in each of the Islands in the West Indies.”
The third section of the report on the “Treatment of Slaves” focuses on the following West Indian islands: Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Christopher, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. Scholars have largely cited this section of the report as a resource on obeah and obeah practitioners. While the report provides details on obeah in several of the West Indian islands, the most prominent obeah testimony is on Jamaican obeah sourced from Jamaican planters. Diana Paton notes that the report “may well be the most influential description of obeah that has ever been produced” (45). Srinivas Aravamudan includes an excerpt from this section in an appendix to his edition of Obi or, the History of Three-Fingered Jack (168-181). In addition to a resource on obeah, scholars of the Atlantic slave trade such as Richard Sheridan and Joseph Inikori have cited the report as a resource on the size of slave populations.
The narrative on Jamaican obeah includes a testimony by Stephen Fuller, Edward Long, and James Chisholme, which became a source for Bryan Edwards’ the History, Civil and Commercial, of the West Indies (1793). William Earle Jr. quotes Edwards’ description of obeah in Obi or, the History of Three-Fingered Jack (1800), as does William Burdett in Life and Exploits of Mansong, Commonly Called Three-Fingered Jack (1800). Fuller, Long, and Chisholme’s testimony thus became more widely known as it circulated through multiple editions of Edwards’ History as well as in Burdett’s and Earle’s texts.
Bilby, Kenneth M. and Jerome S. Handler. “Obeah: Healing and Protection in West Indian Slave Life.” The Journal of Caribbean History, vol. 38 no. 2, 2004, pp. 153-183.
Inikori, J. E. “Measuring the Atlantic Slave Trade: An Assessment of Curtin and Anstey.” The Journal of African History, vol. 17 no. 2, 1976, pp. 197–223.
Paton, Diana. The Cultural Politics of Obeah. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Jaudon, Toni Wall, and Kelly Wisecup. “Interview: Obeah’s Cultural Politics—A Conversation with Diana Paton.” Atlantic Studies, vol. 12 no. 2, 2015, pp. 251–257.
Sheridan, Richard B. “Africa and the Caribbean in the Atlantic Slave Trade.” The American Historical Review, vol. 77 no. 1, 1972, pp. 15–35.
Earle, William. Obi; Or, The History of Three-Fingered Jack. Edited by Srinivas Aravamudan. Broadview Press, 2005.
Jaudon, Toni Wall. “Obeah’s Sensations: Rethinking Religion at the Transnational Turn.” American Literature, vol. 84 no .4, 2012, pp. 715-741.
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