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Contributed Scholarly Introduction: Long, Edward, the History of Jamaica (1774) Vol2

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Long, Edward, the History of Jamaica (1774) Vol2

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Abstract

First published by T. Lowndes in London in 1774, Edward Long's (1734–1813) History of Jamaica is a thorough work of Caribbean historiography. Written based on the twelve years (1757-1769) Long had spent living on the island maintaining his family's plantations, it comprises Long's accounts of the island's geographical, political, social and economic make-up of the islands from the years 1665-1774. It has been oft cited and praised by a number of historians and scholars, but has also been met with criticism and controversy for issues of plagiarism, and lack of critical thinking about race and economics.

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 spent twelve years (1757-1769) 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 both the Oxford Journal’s July 30, 1774 issue and the Manchester Mercury's August 02, 1774 issue 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 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 I provides the reader with an overview of colonial government under British rule and outlines the history of Spanish colonization of the island. It also provides details of the population, economy and statistics on the purchase and export of slaves.

Volume II describes the island's topographical landscape, its inhabitants, and a number of sites throughout.

Volume III examines the island’s meteorology, and the effects of climate on health.

Although 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, beginning as early as the early 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 has also been 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 plagiarized 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 in 1970 and by Ian Randle in 2002.

Notes

Bibliography

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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