Great Market day tout les nègres venent dans la ville & venent lesqueles ils ont. . . . Negroes Dance to song & Drum excellent time & Men women & Children join together in agreeable variety. At Dr. Clarks Door, 30 Mallatoes [sic] & Gentlemen standing on street watching Polly Clark [his wife], who was elegantly dressed in flame coloured silk Jacket trimmed with blue Ribband and rose. Belt of Ribbands in same still. Excellent Beed Bracelet for Wrists with large medal in each. Head covered gracefully with napkin like Highland Crutch but far more gracefully put on with a Rose inside of [it]. Mr. Carson —has child 5 months old to a handsome black Girl of Dr. Clarks a native of Antigua—it is Mallatoe a Girl—he does not own it.
—Journal of Jonathan Troup, August 17, 1789
FOR A NEWCOMER LIKE Jonathan Troup, a weekly market—which was part commercial space and part social scene—was vaguely familiar. Roseau sat upon the alluvial fan, along which were substantial wooden buildings, masonry warehouses, and factories lining the roads. Shabby houses, made of either planks or a wooden lattice plastered with daub, sat at the peripheries of those buildings. Alongside the warehouses on the coastal strip, small dugout fishing boats rested on the beach. To the south of the town was a large fort commissioned by Governor Young in 1770. It housed the second-largest garrison of troops and bore the recognizable bastions and sloped walls typical of contemporary fortifications. From this vantage, a soldier could clearly see Soufriere. The market square and the small canoes served as infrastructure crucial to the colony’s success but nevertheless were poorly documented.
Goods traded in the market came from distant shores in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, or from the provision grounds of estates in the Roseau River Valley. Polly Clark’s fashionable accessories spoke to a robust trade that Dominica had with the outside world, and the desire by Britain to control it. While illustrating relationships between groups differently positioned in a deeply stratified society, they also spoke to complex interactions beyond Dominica. The “Highland Crutch” was a tignon. In Louisiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Dominica, women tied a square of fabric on their heads in particular ways to convey information such as age, marital status, or other hidden messages.1 This fabric, along with the silk ribbons, was readily available through French merchants from Martinique. The silk itself and the cotton cloth, known as madras, were imported through European ports in the Indian Ocean. Troup’s knowledge of French served him well as he haggled over prices of goods sold by enslaved laborers. Troup frequently purchased crafts made and surplus provisions grown by them during their “free” time. He could also purchase goods from overseas, including fiddle strings and fine fabrics. While some of these goods wound up in these markets through perfectly legal channels, some speak to other kinds of trade, less well documented, but nonetheless important for the everyday life of the colony. Accounts such as Troup’s prompt the questions: To what degree did political and social boundaries affect the mobility of goods? Moreover, how did the mobility of goods beyond these boundaries shape an individual’s identity?
Mobility became a principal predicament of enslavement, as it structured the geographies of subsistence and trade in the Eastern Caribbean. The mapped networks presented here connected the regulated villages of Soufriere, Portsmouth, and beyond through goods left behind. The plans of English-speaking elites and their materialization in the Dominican landscape altered some of the fundamental structures of subsistence and trade in Dominica. By investing in lucrative, yet risky, cash crops, planters reduced the number of acres upon which food was grown before 1763, and moved food cultivation to distant and hilly plots in the forested interior of the island. The method of self-provisioning enacted through laws promulgated by colonial legislatures was premised on a degree of mobility by the enslaved. Enslaved laborers moved from poorly scrutinized parts of the interior to commercial centers in Roseau, Portsmouth, and neighboring islands. In the markets, they came in contact with other plantation workers, members of the plantocracy, merchants from Dominica and other islands, and townsfolk—both free and enslaved. This system, which emerged in situ, stretched the geography of slave life well beyond the plantation through which it was typically defined, and to places they weren’t always meant to be. In the forested interior, they might have commercial and social exchanges with workers from other plantations and people, like maroons, who secured their freedom by fleeing the plantation and making a living in the forested interior.
The other side of the predicament was the kinds of social infrastructure it created. Waterways connected slaves in enclaves of Dominica with each other and neighboring islands and shaped regional markets and the peripheral flow of objects. Social relations created through social action and interaction refashion social idioms, including slavery or kinship, and the relationships they promote over time and space. As access to fresh water became increasingly limited, people relied on objects and features to capture, store, and distribute water to meet metabolic demands. Enslaved laborers relied on regional markets both to generate capital and to obtain vessels to capture, store, and distribute water. Glass bottles, ceramic vessels, gourds, and calabashes needed for storage cost money for enslaved laborers, and required an investment of time. Central to transporting such objects, waterways also circulated the shared meanings and taxonomies of water these objects carried.
Predicament of Mobility
We have seen that people faced a predicament when they competed with industry for land and its resources, including water. Slavery’s predicament, governed by market regulations and principled arguments, can emerge only when land and its resources become limited goods. But the emergence of land and its resources as limited goods is not enough to impart the kind of governance that distinguishes slavery’s predicament and makes its violence so pernicious. Only when a person is forced to break the law, with corporal or capital implications, to make a living can the violence reproduce itself. In these conditions, the settlements described in the previous chapter and the people who lived on them relied on overlapping commercial networks to feed themselves, furnish their households, and accumulate wealth. Latitude to employ the networks to feed, furnish, and accumulate wealth was limited for a vast majority of Caribbean people, and the specter of violence was ever present.
The cost of reproduction was externalized for plantation owners by relying, at least partially, on slaves to grow their food and furnish their households. As political scientist Isabella Bakker argues, the boundary created between production and social reproduction makes firms profitable by externalizing the costs of food, shelter, clothing, and health care.2 Feminist approaches to commodity chain analysis have demonstrated the necessity for locating such expenses in nonwage labor of households and “informal” economies.3 Scholars here are not so much thinking of slavery when they employ “nonwage” labor. Rather, they describe work unaccounted for in the formal economy.4 The cost of social reproduction was mainly borne through the unaccounted labor of slaves, both male and female. This relationship between unaccounted labor and reproduction was a common element in the Atlantic World and was a feature that linked both wage and enslaved laborers, and required mobility.5 I add to this point by arguing that the predicament of mobility was not the only cost borne by slaves. Provisioning incurred risk of punishment and reprisal as such unexpected economies brought workers into legally fraught places and interactions.
The official laws that supported the sugar revolution reduced access to food that was traded and eaten by enslaved and free people living in Dominica and neighboring islands. In some cases, the commerce through which the enslaved sold their food or made a living meant that someone had to transgress a political boundary. Lines, drawn on maps at the conclusion of treaties, created political boundaries. These boundaries, while ideological impositions on the landscape, had a material effect on the way goods circulated. From the perspective of trade regimes and the customs officers that documented the flow of goods in these changing regimes, these boundaries blinked in and out of existence as new treaties were passed. These boundaries also affected the way the circulation of goods was documented. Regimentation of trade made whole populations subject to the vagaries of maritime traffic and local political shifts, unevenly distributing vulnerability and risk.
Borders that Blink
Colonies are more than physical territory and the people attached to it. They are a constellation of ambitions by actors located in various imperial spaces. Constructed as sought-after places, colonies, as imagined by multiple actors in metropolitan drawing rooms, were also lived by those forced to resolve the predicaments those imaginations created. As sites of improvised forms of governance and trade, some colonies are best characterized as “rogue.”6 For their marginalized residents, colonies presented a series of predicaments in everyday life that needed to be resolved. Historical anthropologists have mapped the differences between imperial prescriptions and daily life on the margins to understand how colonies operated in practice.7
For more than three thousand years, the channel between Dominica and Martinique represented a causeway of people and goods. Even when European treatises imposed official neutrality on islands where England, France, and Indigenous people vied for control, this did not discourage trade with contested islands or European settlement. In 1674, Grenada and St. Lucia were made dependencies of Martinique. The French followed suit with Dominica in 1728, when the governor installed a commandant in Roseau. This move signaled a formalization of casual colonization of the island by poor whites and free blacks, extending l’Exclusif to include Dominica. At the same time, Béké in Martinique guarded their monopoly, prohibiting the establishment of sugar estates on Dominica. The Béké were a rarified planter elite with enormous political sway over the social, political, and economic climate of the French islands. They encouraged the cultivation of provisions for the ordinaire and other, more experimental crops, such as coffee. This casual colony amplified the exports of established colonies and some families who maintained properties on both islands, while simultaneously augmenting the internal economy with food and other goods required to reproduce the population. When Britain annexed Dominica in 1763, a political boundary blinked into existence, creating new frictions. When France wrested control of the island during the American Revolution in 1778, the border blinked out. When the Treaty of Paris (1783) returned the island to Britain, the boundary blinked back into existence. Boundaries blinking into existence created new hazards for those who relied on the exchange of goods across them in everyday life.
Archaeologists interested in political space and ancient and early-modern empires have troubled models in which territory was part and parcel of empires.8 Conventions of depicting ancient states as bounded territories entail assumptions about how space was experienced, represented, and imagined in past empires.9 Although borders certainly existed, agents in a variety of positions vis-à-vis power had a complicated relationship with borders. Social archaeology has offered a particularly effective way to describe the "multiplicity of political strategies, as well as anecdotes of contemporary ambitions" in political space.10 Territorial control and its implications for daily life also vary considerably, but are always framed through relations of power. In short, not all borders are equal in their visibility or contemporary application. In cases where borders are meant to signal contiguous and defined territorial claims, such as early-modern empires controlled by the Dutch, British, and French, most recognize that borders were fluid and porous.
Maps were one way that empires represented political boundaries and regimes of control.11 Ideally, the maps documented boundaries, aided in territorial negotiation, and symbolized the “economic fortunes at stake” for the bureaucrat, adversary, and well-informed metropolitan reader.12 Cartographers working through the eighteenth century started to amass topographic details and draw atlases, often under the patronage of their respective crowns. Maps published in Paris and London divided the Eastern Caribbean into Spanish, Dutch, English, French, and neutral islands. According to these maps, disputed islands such as Dominica could be the sovereign territory of more than one nation. Treaties at the conclusions of war putatively stabilized these boundaries, though not every community viewed such territories as settled accounts. The firm of Thomas Jefferys was primarily responsible for drawing maps of Britain’s overseas territories during and after the Seven Years’ War.13 The publisher’s maps could be found in the Gentlemen’s Magazine, the published histories, and, surprisingly, the reference materials of opposing French officers. Although not indicative of any single imperial intention, they did represent a particular imagination born in the metropole that framed the space in which both the planting elite and enslaved laborers experienced island colonies.
In 1763, cartographers imposed something that never existed before on the channels between Dominica and the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique—a border. These channels formed a de facto boundary that ideally regulated the movement of goods, people, and ideas. For those who transported goods, the possibility of making money was abundant. Colonizing discourses surrounding the annexation of Dominica emphasized two primary concerns: production of goods based on slavery and the sale of manufactured goods through markets. William Young, as governor of the island, worried about illicit commerce among island residents. In his pamphlet, he asserted that because Dominica was “In the track of vessels from our [British] leeward islands . . . it is admirably well suited for commerce; and contiguous as it were to the French, is ever open to the prostitution of clandestine trade.”14 The border created a predicament for those relying on mobility for social reproduction. It was difficult to cross channels, evade the scrutiny of customs officers, and move cargo safely. For some, getting caught meant a fine and confiscation of goods. For others, it could mean death. It was a trip not to be taken lightly. Yet, such trade was necessary.
Two and a half centuries of European commercial engagement in the Eastern Caribbean set the stage for this border and the predicaments it created for those living on the ground. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, borders gained increasing salience as the mechanism through which European metropoles explained and promoted their commercial interests. An assemblage of policies referred to then and now as mercantilism included monopolizing trade in staples, limiting intercolonial trade, forbidding trade with foreign vessels, and imposing high tariffs on foreign goods. Mercantilism was well suited for colonial empires, but with some alterations.15 The motivation behind these legislative mechanisms was economic rather than cultural; proponents hoped to maximize the export market for British goods and to minimize potential competition from the colonies.16 Windward islands had long coastlines and numerous anchorages, which brought many plantations within easy reach of shipping. This simple geographic feature of islands such as Dominica insinuated their denizens and produce into a globalized empire in a way that steam engines and railroads made possible on continents a century later.
The French created an assemblage of policies aimed to restrict trade between France and its new overseas territories.17 Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the minister of finance under Louis XIV, created the initial framework for l’Exclusif in the seventeenth century.18 French West Indian farms and plantations were to trade sugar, cotton, and tobacco to France through the Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes occidentales, formed in 1665 for this very reason.19 In 1717, laws enacted through the Crown’s Lettres Patentes proscribed any foreign trade and restricted trade to a limited number of ports.20 A 1727 patent added severe punishments for merchants engaging in trade with New England.21 These laws benefited some towns, including St. Pierre and Basse-Terre, and impaired trade in Fort-Royal (Fort-de-France after the French Revolution) and Pointe-à-Pitre.22 While Martinique and Guadeloupe jealously guarded their exclusive franchise of the sugar market, they simultaneously took advantage of the demand for sugar cane’s by-products in New England.23 The trade with these foreign ports threatened l’Exclusif’s integrity.
For their part, the English structured their mercantile engagement with the Atlantic world through three parliamentary acts: the Navigation Act (1660), the Staple Act (1663), and the Plantation Duty Act (1673). The Navigation Act provided a legal monopoly over trade within the empire. Parliament repealed the act in 1849, though laws passed in 1766 and 1825 weakened these monopolies.24 These laws governed traffic from a metropolitan point of view, so these acts were re-articulated into particular legal and social contexts. Acting through a combination of prohibitions and tariffs, these laws regulated production and commerce with the American colonies, between those colonies and others, and with England and Europe. Advocates asserted that the mercantile system benefited England by providing valuable botanical commodities and sumptuary goods while at the same time securing a putatively closed colonial market. The expanding English sugar market became a virtual monopoly for planters in Jamaica, Barbados, and the Leeward and Windward Islands. It also made England the sole entrepôt for the European sugar trade.
Those in the colonies positioned to profit from the growth in sugar demand did not always adhere to the letter of the law.25 Sugar from Barbados and St. Kitts was sold to neighboring Dutch and French islands, thus increasing the returns planters enjoyed on those islands.26 By the first quarter of the eighteenth century, the direction of trade was reversed. French sugar found its way into English markets through St. Kitts and Barbados, effectively depressing their returns and increasing the cost to provision a plantation.27 Grocers and confectioners in London conspired to reduce sugar’s cost. Finally, the North American colonies reduced their tax burden by purchasing molasses, used in distilling rum, from foreign parts. These efforts highlight the weakness of mercantile regimes and exposed overseas subjects to financial risk.
Another, subtler, transformation took place. Island assemblies, primarily populated by merchants in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, came to be dominated by planters who fought to protect their interests. The preamble of the Barbados Act of 1715 notes, “divers Persons in this Island have of late imported, or caused to be imported, great Quantities of Sugar, Molasses, Rum, Cotton, Ginger, and Alloes, from Martinique, or other Places not under His Majesty's Subjection and Government; which lessen the Value of the Manufacture of this Island . . .”28 The Leeward Islands passed an act in Antigua that limited direct trade with Guadeloupe and Martinique.29 Local power translated into metropolitan influence through an increasingly powerful class of absentee planters, such as William Beckford, and agents acting on their behalf in London. Both cultivated friendships with politicians, published pamphlets, and submitted evidence to parliamentary committees.30 Planters adapted the Navigation Acts to the demands of the market to protect their monopoly in the wake of growing pressure from French sugar interests.31 For example, in 1733 the exporting of sugar to England, as well as to foreign countries and from one colony to another, was rendered illegal. Titled the Molasses Act, this legislation imposed a tax of six pence per gallon on imports from non-English territories.32
In 1766, the British Parliament passed the Free Port Act.33 This act opened four ports in Jamaica and two ports in Dominica to trade with the Spanish and French, respectively. The act allowed agricultural produce from the region, including cotton and sugar, to be imported into Dominica’s two ports and then sold to Britain.34 Lancashire cotton mills wishing to increase their business needed more significant volumes of cotton, grown solely in the West Indies at this moment, and Bristol sugar refiners wanted to expand the amount of produce they could re-export.35 Opening Dominica’s port also allowed merchants to expand commerce, including the lucrative slave trade, to the French islands and beyond.36 British foodstuffs, glass, iron, ceramics, and other manufactured goods were supposed to be transshipped to French merchants for use in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Advocates believed that this act supported Scottish commercial interests as they gained increasing prominence in the British Empire.37 It had the added benefit of aggravating Spanish and French colonial interests and giving Dominica’s agricultural sector a jump-start by boosting its “on-the-books” exports.38
Trade regimes had real-world implications for the ways that boundaries were experienced in Dominica. In some of these cases, these alternating sovereignties presented an opportunity. Because British trading policy was more open than l’Exclusif, planters in Martinique believed that they could sell their sugar on Britain’s more open market at a higher price.39 Shipping returns recorded between 1787 and 1809 illustrate how the act stabilized boundaries between colonies.40 Between those years, customs officials arrived by British and foreign vessels carrying American, Danish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish flags. The vessels arriving in those ports ranged in size from single-masted sloops of approximately 25 tons to square-rigged ships of 750 tons. While these distinctions were important for customs officials because of the number of tons their holds carried, quantifying that volume based on these documents is difficult.41 Vessels arriving in Dominica came directly from ports in Europe, North America, South America, and the Caribbean (table 4.1). Items in their holds included everything from a silver table service, which most likely adorned the table of some merchant or planter, to rough spun cloth slave owners supplied to the enslaved laborers.
The British maintained a monopoly over much of the trade from Europe, Asia, and Africa and shared that monopoly with American vessels. Boats arriving from South American and Caribbean ports flew a variety of flags (table 4.2). British and American vessels (which custom officials did not consider foreign) held a monopoly on rice (153), corn (135), flour (306), beef (295), wine (183), gin (51), pipes (99), lumber (247), bricks (63), nails (61), staves (262), hoops (134), and iron pots (26). Working on the behalf of resident and absentee planters, agents in London, Bristol, and Cork—the three main ports feeding this trade—purchased these items.42
Watercraft flying French flags were the most significant competitors in the Caribbean trade, while ships flying Spanish flags were the dominant traders with ports in New Grenada, Suriname, and the Guyanas. Vessels flying the French flag carried cotton, livestock, cocoa, and wood in decreasing frequency of arrivals. The Spanish moved livestock, cocoa, hardwood, and cotton. It appears that these vessels were using Dominica as a secondary market for goods produced in their home colonies by taking advantage of Roseau’s and Portsmouth’s free port status. Importantly, it seems that smaller English vessels carried items such as coffee (54) and sugar (149) from the French Antilles to Roseau’s port, while the French and Spanish concentrated on other goods.43 These documents do not appear to capture the entire story. Instead, the records show that French vessels carried little in the way of export commodities, listing cotton as the predominant cargo. This pattern could mean that either French ships mostly moved cotton in actuality or that cotton was listed to disguise what French ships were carrying. Captains aimed such subterfuge at British customs officials, and, to avoid excise taxes, French customs officials. After all, France was as protective of its franchise in exporting commodities as Britain.
Both customs records and narrative accounts detail how borders drawn by Jefferys on maps of the Eastern Caribbean blinked in and out of existence. Durable trade partnerships between islands, extended family networks, and the inability of any one island or power to meet the needs of its inhabitants meant that people engaged in commerce that circumvented the mercantile relationships upon which plantation economies were premised. Some of these economic interactions went beyond island boundaries.
To consider why political transition had such far-reaching impacts, it is necessary to consider the political landscape and its implication for the flow of food and goods. Political landscapes comprise imagined spatial representations, experiences of the things and people that move across space, and the sensibilities of actors to the meaning of that space.44 As a spatial imagination, boundaries on maps can be understood as historically contingent and porous in practice. They also represent a political and economic reality. Rather than being a static backdrop for social life, or a dimension of subjective experience illegible through archaeological means, space emerges in the relationship between objects, bodies, and places. Thirty years of historical archaeology have made one thing clear: it is difficult to infer the direction of influence between metropole and colony, between political authorities and subjects, and between the relatively powerful and the relatively powerless. That being said, archaeologists have also shown that the flow of people and things, as well as the conceptions of that movement, facilitated, shaped, and entangled shared practices.45 Mapping those practices rendered through political discourse, space becomes a primary unit of analysis in understanding power.
The markets Troup observed were vaguely familiar but not identical to those he was acquainted with in Scotland. He could get many of the same goods that he found in Aberdeen, but some of the items had a different inflection. Markets were an assemblage of economic exchanges, networks, and relationships. Markets, as assemblages, beckon, in part, to the way archaeologists work with individual materials to consider composite materials and place them within a matrix of time and space. In addition to the permanent features that accompanied the sugar revolution, the plantation was also an assemblage of smaller things: household furnishings, items of clothing and adornment, and cooking utensils. This material record can be recovered, if only partially, from factories, fields, and villages that constituted the plantation. Iron pans and steel blades, maize and wheat, ceramic vessels and glass containers—all have an archaeological signature. Importantly, each of these items signals different circuits of goods, some of which are better documented than others.
Boundaries that Wink
While a border existed between Dominica and its neighboring islands, creating legal and economic friction, Eric Taglicozzo notes that maritime boundaries instituted in colonial southeast Asia were notoriously “porous.”46 For colonial powers, many residents of the archipelago had been highly mobile for centuries before the drawing of lines on the map. In transgressing boundaries, merchants were merely activating social, religious, and trading networks that had existed in Southeast Asia for centuries. Attempts to enforce the boundaries through military force, and legitimize the boundaries through laws and treatises, did not dissolve the trade so much as signal the failure of imagination on the part of colonial powers. Boundaries that wink in and out of existence depend entirely on one’s legal and social position in colonial society. This was certainly the case in Dominica. In the case of borders that winked around Dominica, meaningful structures included the legal and social structures, which allowed some to cross boundaries with impunity, and others with great risk. Thus the specter of violence unequally shadowed those who transgressed these boundaries in order to live in colonial Dominica.
Take the contraband trade in humans essential to the success of sugar estates. Slaves were purchased and transported across colonial boundaries. The rise in the agricultural industry became the basis for the mushrooming growth in the port. It became one of many loci for the intra-Caribbean slave trade.47 Slave ships brought some of the 100,000 captive Africans to Dominica’s shores, many of whom remained on the island. The average population of enslaved workers between 1763 and 1834 was 20,000. At Sugarloaf in Portsmouth, 85 percent of the 137 enslaved laborers in 1817 were from somewhere other than Dominica. The majority, 39, were listed as natives of St. John in the Danish West Indies; 19 were from Africa, and the remainder were from Montserrat and Nevis. Different colonial regimes had different laws regarding the status of human beings as property. Such interisland trade in humans was common and part of everyday discourse, even if it took place beyond the boundaries of legality.48 It infringed on the monopoly of the state to control trade. Unlike other contraband, smuggling people, according to Karras, introduced significant risk to an island.49 Knowledge of other colonies and the political struggles of slaves in them might create unwelcome unrest in the new home. Smuggling humans undermined the colony from which the person was taken by depriving it of revenue from taxes and the labor of that person. It also meant that displacement was a constant predicament for an enslaved laborer. For the enslaved, investment in the provision grounds, social ties, and everyday life could be disrupted at a moment’s notice.
Numerous island contingencies arose, leaving colonial subjects to employ local and regional markets to resolve shortcomings of mercantile arrangements. Colonial subjects could take advantage of free ports like Dutch St. Eustatius (Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie) and Danish St. Thomas. Unsurprisingly, much of the traffic entering Dominica between 1763 and 1807 was from ports in St. Eustatius and St. Thomas under Swedish, Danish, and Dutch flags. They were flags of convenience during three decades of near-constant war, when carrying a French or British flag made one a target for privateers.50 Purchasing contraband became a de facto method of provisioning for many island residents by 1763, and Dominica had been an important part of that story.51 Young’s son, Sir William Young the second, wrote about governing diverse populations of enslaved laborers, foreign nationals, free people of color, poor whites, and a plantocracy that often worked at cross-purposes to the colonial enterprise. These diverse actors sought goods that fulfilled individual tastes, desires, and foodways, which the imposition of new trade regimes hindered. They also had economic relationships of their own that extended to nearby, yet foreign, shores.
The Kalinago continued to ply the channels between the Eastern Caribbean islands.52 There was a small and dispersed community of people identified as “Carib” in St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, and Guadeloupe throughout much of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.53 French and English writers emphasized their mobility and attachments between islands of different imperial powers. In 1825, one French administrator in Guadeloupe described a family living in Anse-Bertrand who identified descendants in St. Vincent and Dominica.54 This interisland mobility was of considerable concern.
French subjects who stayed on the island maintained commercial interests in foreign islands. Belligny and Bellot, for instance, supported financial interests in Martinique, including properties and slaves, even though they resided in the British colony of Dominica. Inter- and intraisland interactions could be mapped through local notaries in St. Pierre and Fort-Royal.55 Planters used notaries in Le Marigot, Macouba, and Le Prêcheur, Martinique, to file marriages between slaves, land transactions, and financial arrangements in Dominica. It is likely that parties to these arrangements employed free and enslaved peoples to move themselves and their goods between islands. French administrators were concerned that enslaved peoples of African descent moved on the waterways linking islands and inlets of Guadeloupe, using pirogues containing sugar, personal portable possessions, dry goods, and furnishings.56 They composed so much of the commercial infrastructure that governor Orde was apprehensive about French residents on Dominica. He worried that they conspired with merchants in Martinique and Guadeloupe to smuggle goods and sugar between islands.57
Impounded items illustrate some of the objects considered contraband. In 1764, Andrew Dewar, the Collector of Customs in Dominica, inspected and seized goods from several warehouses in Roseau. Parcels of both French and English subjects contained cotton clothes, silk shoes and slippers, men’s leather shoes, silk and cotton fabrics, thin canvas, silk umbrellas, lace, tea, and hammocks.58 Many French planters used such trade to expand their fortunes, selling island produce to British and French agents alike. British merchants frequently protested French residents who imported goods and paid for them with the sale of French sugar, which they then rebranded as British.59 While strictly legal, the merchants were upset because such transactions upended the intent of the Free Port Act.
Contraband trade was also incredibly important for ordinary people. It is for this reason that any interruption in contraband trade met with considerable opposition. In 1789, Governor John Orde and his customs officer ordered soldiers to board a vessel carrying shingles from North America and confiscate the goods. Shingles were necessary for repairing houses and building new ones. Orde stated, “After some ill treatment and injurious language, [the customs officer] was thrown into the sea, where his Loaded Musket which had been wrested from him in the Ship, presented to him and twice snapped without effect.” The following year white residents protested after John Blair had told customs officers about the “smuggling of prohibited or uncostumed [contraband] goods”—one of a few instances of civil protests led by whites.60 The mob found Blair, who had taken shelter in Fort Shirley. They proceeded to tar and feather him. Then “the soldiers who were endeavouring to save the man retired making use of the most insolent and daring languages.”61
Jonathan Troup’s journal is particularly helpful in understanding daily transactions involving foreign goods. As a physician and amateur collector, Troup kept notes on items for sale in the market, including food and crafts, what he paid for them, and sometimes even the context of their use. He carried on long conversations with other residents, discussing the cost of items and their relative quality. For example, one of the planters who employed Troup, Mr. Kemp at Bath Estate, complained about the price of hats in Martinique. At the same time, Mr. Kemp stood to profit off selling such hats, which were small, but because of ornate gold brocade, cost four dollars. That same day he met a “genteel, polite” merchant who traded primarily with the French. This gentleman could profit significantly from trading people. Troup stated, “he has an Excellent stately b[l]ack [dear-skin hat] which he paid 14 Joes for; Mr. Kemp says he’ll carry her to Guadeloupe & then make his 36 joes.”62
The currencies employed in everyday transactions provide one a sense of the cosmopolitan nature of Dominican commerce. Troup mentions the Spanish dollar and the Portuguese joe in addition to pounds, shillings, and pence. French currency was also employed. In September, he sketched a “French bit” he used to purchase a bird, presumably hunted in the interior of the island. This coin was likely used interchangeably with the other bits in circulation. The Spanish dollar, while not the coin of the realm, was the most common currency in circulation during the last half of the eighteenth century. There was an official exchange rate set in 1704, where one dollar was equivalent to fifty-six pence. The value fluctuated widely between colonies. In Dominica, one bit (one eighth of a dollar) was worth one shilling.63 Portuguese coins were called “joes” and “half-joes” after the Portuguese King Johannes V. The value of this currency is hard to determine, but it was worth more than a Spanish dollar, and by 1834 it was worth eight US dollars.64
Enslaved workers who had lived on the island before annexation and those who were brought to the island after the sugar revolution commenced also engaged in commerce. Essential actors in these markets were the set of vendors, usually women, who made a living from the informal economy. For example, in describing free and enslaved women who lived in Roseau, Troup remarked, “They love always to be spending money and buying different commodities [including] lawn [a kind of fine linen], linen, gause, calligo and they sell it at great profit and sometimes make of money if they have good management & know what will suit the times.”65 From the subsequent text, it appears that these women constituted a specific role in the market: that of a huckster. Throughout the British West Indies, they were often described as dissonant to colonial society by contemporary writers.66 Female hucksters participated in the marketing of provisions, and sometimes took on other types of work as domestic servants, washerwomen, or work where sex was conscripted. An anonymous writer, identifying himself as a resident, described Dominican hucksters: “The hucksters are furnished by their masters with baskets or trays, containing . . . crockery or glassware, finery for ladies, jewelry, fruit, pickles, sweetmeats, cakes &c. All of these are counted over, and priced.”67 These street vendors could be enslaved or free and became indispensable in the colony.68
The geographic reach of these market activities was extensive. Objects moved well beyond the shores where they were grown, made, or imported initially. For example, one observer in Barbados remarked:
From these people [hucksters] eatables, wearables, jewelry, and dry goods, of all sorts, may be purchased; but those things we find most ready sale, are pickles, preserves, with fruit, sweetmeats, oil noyau, anisette, eau-de-cologne, toys, ribbons, handkerchiefs, and other little knick-knacks, exported from Martinique.69
This observation provides important insight, because historians suggest the French Antilles (Martinique and Guadeloupe) were under-provisioned. Subsistence needs were met through a system of cabotage and intercoastal trade. Manufactured goods and supplies imported to—and sugar, coffee, and cotton exported from—the remaining islands were channeled through St. Pierre, Martinique.70 Historians propose that in addition to permitted cabotage trade, illicit contraband with other European ships and colonies helped to meet the needs of everyday life.71
The markets also extended well into the interior, to the island’s significant maroon community. Maroons began to inhabit the island well before the British took over Dominica in 1763. The island was a refuge for those crossing the channels from Guadeloupe and Martinique and escaping captivity on the early estates set up during French rule. Take the estate that grew out of the Jesuit mission established earlier in the century. After the French left the region, those once enslaved retreated to the woods and hills surrounding Grand Bay, most likely present day Petite Savanne.72 There, “they were joined from time to time [by enslaved laborers seeking refuge] from other estates,” wrote Thomas Atwood. He continues, “They secreted themselves for a number of years, formed companies under different chiefs, built good houses, and planted gardens in the woods.” There they raised, “poultry, hogs, and other small stock . . . and [with] what they got from negros they had intercourse with on the plantations, they lived very comfortably, and were seldom disturbed in their haunts.”73
Transcripts from trials of runaway slaves compiled by Polly Pattullo are particularly useful here.74 These accounts were taken in the aftermath of a maroon war in the 1810s. Much of the detail recorded in the trials—including the location of runaway camps, the manner of subsistence, and the establishment of intent—was never intended to be used in an analysis of labor and livelihood, but proves important in our overall understanding of the environment. Of the fifty-nine trials documented in this study, twelve slaves were brought up on charges of having associated with runaways providing them gunpowder, tobacco, and salt fish.75 The trials document three forms of goods circulating among slaves and maroons in the Dominica uplands: goods for sale, gifts for which return was not expected, and a particular type of reciprocity in which a calculation of labor and goods was equated. Take, for example, a trial on May 22, 1814. According to the testimony of one runaway, Robin, he and a compatriot visited enslaved villagers at Woodford Hill Estate in the northeast of the island. There they provided the enslaved with giant ditch frog and agoutis (a large rodent) in return for salt, salt fish, and mackerel.76
These transactions were not isolated. Joe, who worked on Cubbin estate in St. George Parish, like most slaves, had patches of land to grow provisions. According to transcripts from trials on March 6, 1814, Joe often received visitors: runaway slaves, one of whom—Elephant—was the leader.77 According to witnesses, while there, Joe offered hospitality, having one member of the house cook “victuals” for them. He went to market, in Roseau, to buy salt, tobacco, and salt fish. The runaways gave Joe wahwahs (wild yams). Joe hid the wahwahs in the house to use them to trade for tobacco in the market. On a different occasion, Robin and his compatriot worked the provision ground of the prisoner. In exchange, he gave him some provisions to sell in the market and he returned some of the proceeds. These transactions were not just pecuniary. They included acts of commensality. Transactions were initiated with a meal of “boiled victuals” of “boiled salt fish and plantains,” and concluded with future arrangements. When the accused did not have the provision to give immediately in return for the labor, they agreed “he would come and bring it on Sunday.”78
When the legislature instituted the codes that regulated enslaved laborers and made requirements that planters set aside enough time and land for the laborers to make a living, they set in motion an internal market system. Since people who wrote firsthand accounts gave testimony, and passed laws did not count the number of tubers they ate themselves, gave away, or sold in the market, quantities of foodstuffs originating from maroons are hard to track. We can, however, create a different sort of map that connects the woodlands of Dominica to regulated villages on estates, to provision grounds, to markets, and to small and large vessels carrying all sort of goods into town and beyond. While the accounts might not provide critical issues of volume, those items that materialized in the trade do. Specifically, archaeological materials can reveal the assemblage of trade that supported the island.
Few documents confirm the commercial arrangements that took place in these markets between slaves, hucksters, planters, and merchants. Some of these arrangements were made in front of observers, such as Troup, but purchases by enslaved laborers were not documented routinely. It was not customary to document such transactions. In the case of contraband, or those transactions with people who might be considered dissonant (maroons, Kalinago, or enslaved people from other islands), documentation was risky. Only merchants and planters who navigated the legal channels documented their transactions. Knowledge about the exact nature of the assemblage of trade is limited to a few sources. Probate inventories might suggest illicit origins of household goods, marks or decorations might indicate provenance, or compositional characteristics betray origins. But for the most part, material culture made and used by enslaved people proves to be that source through which we can most readily map these alternative geographies.
Material culture made and used by enslaved people was traded at the Sunday market, in addition to the food they cultivated during their “free” time. Troup purchased items that slaves crafted from what was at hand. For example, early on in Troup’s visit in September 1789, vendors at the market introduced him to a dish made of crayfish (which Troup called prawns): “The Negroes catch them and sell them—though each of them not larger than a maggot. They boil and bake them into a paste.”79 A treat made from guava appeared to capture Troupe’s attention more than anything else: “Guava Jelly is the best in the West Indies.” Guavas, he continues, “grow spontaneously upon bushes over whole Island.”80 Guava jelly is a small treat, much like Turkish delight, made of boiled guava, water, and sugar. Items like these show that enslaved Dominicans did not just earn a living by growing food; they also took advantage of resources that were more freely available. Some of these conformed well to an English palate; some did not. The following month Troup tried, for the first time, a local spice cake: “Negroes make a pudding of sweet potatoes, flour, syrup and put in leaves of cinnamon bush. They toast it on a large white iron pan or dish. They sell a large piece for a doge.”81 Making pudding out of sweet potatoes was not only a way to make extra income. It was also a way to take produce that might otherwise be unmarketable and convert it into income. Sweet potatoes can go bad, and when they become too soft their value diminishes quickly. In this way, we see not only a frugality to market transactions, but a consideration of futures.
These small-scale industries were not restricted to food. On some islands, enslaved women also crafted items of personal adornment for sale on the market. Troup stated, “The negroes are excellent at making Hair-Rings for fingers which they sell for ½ bit—some of them are very neat.”82 Troup purchased three of these rings himself and was given a fourth. The presence of rings in Troup’s account, of course, suggests they played some role in the lives of enslaved populations, most obviously in personal adornment (a role usually attributed to beads and metal jewelry in archaeological interpretations). Thomas Atwood described the social role of such jewelry: “they dress themselves out in their best cloaths; many of them in good linen, silk handkerchiefs, bracelets and earrings of gold and silver, to no inconsiderable amount, in which they visit or receive their acquaintances from the neighbouring estates.”83
The hair ring also speaks to a broader set of craft industries for which there is scant archaeological evidence. Take, for example, calabash vessels, one of the items enslaved laborers were provided, according to one planter.84 In Suriname, making calabash vessels requires time, effort, and a degree of specialization on the part of women.85 Calabash fruit has to be cut open to remove the pulp. The shells are boiled, shaped, and in some cases, carved. The calabash is then put in water for a week to once again soften the shell for final surface treatment.86 In Dominica, Kalinago ancestors made calabash containers with a hole pierced on top for carrying water (bouri), and cups made of small calabash cut in half (couïs).87 During the sugar revolution, enslaved laborers made these containers or purchased them from Kalinago in local markets.88
Fortunately, markets left a material record recoverable as archaeological data, if only partially, from houseyards of enslaved laborers, kitchens of urban residents, and tenements of urban workers in the ports. Some archaeological data is more reliably recovered than others. Though iron items were plentiful, moisture and oxidation can rust them beyond recognition. While wheat, barley, and maize can provide evidence about their origin and use, a combination of the right soil conditions, a set of dedicated techniques to recover that evidence, and a specialist to help identify these attributes are required.89 Pottery and glass are very durable and readily identified in the soil. Most of these items are very generalized, and do not allow systematic examination of trade. With enough experience, imported table ceramics can be identified for provenance (England, France, Netherlands, Spain, and China) and used to establish a chronology of archaeological deposition. Locally manufactured ceramics made by peoples of African extraction allow us to model island-based networks in ways that are not possible with European-made goods.
Ceramic materials recovered from archaeological testing of residential contexts at Bois Cotlette, Morne Rouge, Morne Patate, Sugarloaf, and Café Estates give different, but equally reliable, accounts of the assemblages of trade relations that people used to furnish their houses. Typically, such archaeological deposits are used to assess differences in consumption, shaped by a combination of factors including personal preference, tastes shaped over centuries of practice, and regulations directing the possession of items. Contemporary attitudes toward hospitality among planters demanded elaborate table settings when hosting guests for dinner. After 1763, tableware made in Britain, including creamware made by or copied from Josiah Wedgwood’s factories, was readily accessible.90 Tin-enameled earthenware made in northern France, called faience, was less accessible.91 Hence, the presence of turn-of-the-century French tableware at Soufriere estate houses suggests that their occupants distinguished themselves from the British, many of whom were newcomers to the islands and unfamiliar with creole culture. In addition to consumption, such assemblages also document the markets to which people had access. Assemblages from archaeological materials deposited during and after the sugar revolution (ca. 1760–1840) contained French-made faience, bottle glass, and newly produced English ceramics including creamware, pearlware, and whiteware.
It is likely that many of these materials were purchased by laborers themselves. No doubt some of these goods were provided to enslaved laborers by planters. Ceramics easily break and chip, losing their value as items of sumptuary practice. It is easy to imagine planters furnishing laborers with these broken or orphaned pieces as they purchased new ones.92 The assertion that enslaved laborers purchased goods is not unfounded, however. Laurie Wilkie, in her study of household consumption at Clifton Estate in the Bahamas, shows that preferences of enslaved workers dictated the composition of household assemblages.93 The types of buttons, pipes, and ceramics excavated within the slave village showed little overlap with similar categories from the planter's house. The objects purchased did not generally represent the cheapest types of items available. For example, relatively expensive transfer-printed and annular wares were preferred to more affordable, plain, and minimally decorated shell-edged wares.94 Factors other than cost, such as taste, contributed to these consumption decisions, and British manufacturers shifted production to meet these demands.
Despite inexpensive manufactured goods supplied through British merchants in Roseau—elaborate tableware and durable cast-iron pots—it appears that enslaved laborers relied on the products of other workshops and artisans to furnish their households. Most broken pieces of pottery recovered from the villages of the enslaved were coarse, utilitarian terracotta pottery. Vallauris pottery was recovered in large quantities from the villages on Portsmouth and Soufriere estates. French potters from eastern Provence made this utilitarian, lead-glazed, coarse earthenware, which is closely associated with colonial French cuisine.95 Common in eighteenth-century kitchen assemblages of Eastern Caribbean enslaved and freed peoples, it has been documented in Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Virgin Islands, and Grenada.96
Imported tablewares and pottery such as Vallauris do not tell us who crossed channels or moved goods; local pottery does, however. Made in neighboring islands and sold in markets, hand‐built, low‐fired coarse earthenware has been recovered in many eighteenth-century archaeological contexts associated with slavery, suggesting that enslaved peoples used these wares. Many of these wares were also made by people of African descent. They were one of many items made on Dominica or on neighboring islands, and moved through the peripheral flows that made the colony work. Although not the only thing enslaved laborers made and used, coarse earthenware is the single consistently recoverable object surviving archaeologically. In Dominica, references to pottery manufacture are also late and vague. One 1886 book published by the Royal Commission for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition states, “Coarse pottery is manufactured at the north end of the island and exported to Guadeloupe.”97 Pottery made during the 1890s was often attributed to communities identified as “Island Carib,” with the assumption that it was a tradition predating European colonization.98 By the 1930s, ethnographers identified local potters as Dominicans of African descent who were using “Carib” technology.99
Sources cite the manufacture of pottery on neighboring islands. For example, a community of people who identified as Carib were located in St. Lucia. In 1833, when members of the British Parliament were debating the merits of abolishing slavery, one member of Parliament brought as evidence a description of “liberated negros” in St. Lucia. He states that in 1819, those “who had been brought from Martinique to St Lucia, had, of their own accord, established a pottery and had succeeded so far as to supply the island, as well as to export considerable quantities to adjacent places.”100 Two years later, the anti-slavery record published the account upon which Mr. Odnell made his remarks: “while about twenty-six had clubbed themselves together . . . under a “free coloured” man . . . from Martinique in 1824. These last had erected a pottery at a short distance from Castries.”101
These accounts do not go into detail about the shape, decoration, or material from which the pottery was made. The archaeological record, however, does. A dissertation written by a St. Lucian archaeologist working on Martinique, site reports and surveys completed by INRAP, and excavation carried out by my colleague, Ken Kelly, detail three broad groups of local pottery. Some pottery is coil-built and low-fired, most likely on open pits. Made as cooking pots, it is identified either as coq au negre or canari. Other pottery is large, wheel-thrown, kiln-fired storage jars. These thick walled “drip jars” and “sugar cones,” used to refine sugar, were often made in workshops to support factories on the islands. The slurry that resulted from boiling cane syrup was packed into sugar cones, and molasses dripped into the drip jar. Finally, there is a thin-walled, kiln-fired porous earthenware. Assemblages I documented in Dominica recalled those found in potteries, plantations, and colonial settlements identified, mapped, and described in St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Martin (figure 4.1).
Despite the accounts above, the pottery recovered from the regimented villages appears to have been made on neighboring islands. Although some sites were little more than large heaps of broken, incompletely fired, or poorly formed pottery, others were very substantial, with massive standing ruins and many well-defined chambers.102 In some cases, maker’s marks provided clues about the origins of these vessels. For example, potters at the Fidelin Kiln in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, applied an “F” to sugar cones as a way to distinguish them as one of their products. For the most part, however, place of manufacture was inferred from clay and temper; samples taken from sources near manufacturing sites offer clues to the pottery’s material origins and ceramic recipe. The ceramic recipe, techniques, and choices made by the potter are determined by a combination of techniques borrowed from earth sciences to characterize the chemical and mineralogical constituents of the pots and map their structure.
In this way, we can make two maps: one based on the pottery’s affinity in space and one based on the pottery’s affinity in composition. As such, their analysis enables us to redraw the everyday practice of economic interactions not conveyed through political or social boundaries. Many of the sherds we tested could not be assigned a particular recipe or potential provenance. Most could be organized into clusters of like chemical attributes. We found that most of the “local” coarse earthenware on Dominica was not local. It was produced in established potteries of Guadeloupe, Martinique, or St. Lucia. Cooking pots employed by slaves were purchased through diverse networks extending beyond the shores of Dominica. The networks, however, are different from those documented through ceramics made for industrial production of sugar (sugar cones and drip jars). Port towns in Basse Terre and St. Martin, and slave villages in Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Grenada, and Dominica, are all connected through these ceramic networks. Whether this circulation was illicit, it is difficult to say. But it seems to have been poorly documented (maps 4.1 and 4.2).
The customs records from the ports of Portsmouth and Roseau show that earthenware came to Dominica directly from Europe. The majority of the pottery arrived in crates from major British ports such as London, Liverpool, and Cork (table 4.3). “Earthenware” included a variety of items. For example, in The London Tradesman, Campbell makes a distinction between “earthenware” like delft and “earthen moulds” used by sugar bakers.103 In Paris and La Rochelle, potteries also produced wares for sugar-refining in the metropole and the colonies.104 At the time of Dominica’s sugar revolution, “earthen moulds” and “drips” were manufactured in England.105 Of all the recorded incoming vessels, however, only two entries specify the presence of drips.106 Earthen vessels were also transported from five ports: in Antigua, Barbados, Martinique, Grenada, and Guyana (20 vessels). Given the number of boiling houses built since 1787, it seems unlikely that the 121 drips identified in the entries would have sufficed, regardless of how poorly the sugar revolution fared.
Theoretically, the owners of sugar factories should have benefited from such trade. Relying on caboteurs in sloops traveling to the closest market in Roseau, Dominica, inhabitants obtained access not only to imported materials from Britain, but also to commercial interests from Martinique and Guadeloupe. Compositional analysis of local ceramics presents a compelling picture of networks within and between islands.107 This picture suggests that estate owners looked to neighboring colonies to provision themselves with ceramics for processing sugar. Drip jars recovered from Dominica share a recipe with ceramics recovered from kilns in Guadeloupe, Martinique, and a group for which the provenance of manufacture remains unknown. Importantly, the drip jars examined in this study were recovered from slave villages rather than from the factories where sugar was processed. This means that they were used for purposes other than their initial intention. It also suggests that enslaved workers were imbricated in these networks.
The presence of ceramic goods on these sites and the regulated villages of Dominica has important implications. They document how the predicament of mobility was negotiated through interactions and relations that are unaccounted for in imperial maps of the Caribbean. There was a vibrant intercoastal trade in goods between islands, hinted at in the documents described above. Materialized in the trade assemblages of Dominica, these flows indicate how people lived during a period of changing political regimes and trading rules, in an era when the sugar revolution created increasing insecurity on the island and threatened the social reproduction of the enslaved, and indeed the planters.
The presence of these ceramics also suggests a different map, in which people living in the regimented slave villages of different imperial powers were connected through things and possibly ideas. If enslaved laborers’ returns from growing surplus food were so minimal, and the level of extraction by the hucksters so high, why did they buy heavy, more expensive drip jars rather than relying on cheaper barrels or buckets? Ann Stahl argues that people’s and communities’ reactions to new goods are shaped by preexisting preferences and practices. In this way, local knowledge and values influenced how people incorporated new objects into their traditions, while also being transformed by those new objects. She explains that in colonial Ghana, glass beads were desirable nonlocal goods, because such beads were already crucial in local practices and economy.108 In the case of Dominica, it appears as if drip jars and goglets were two such desirable nonlocal goods. The movement of ceramics between St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique, and Guadeloupe facilitated, shaped, and entangled shared practices. These waterways enabled the sharing of cultural attitudes about things and how they should be used.
Regional markets and the peripheral flows of objects they fostered shaped waterways of eighteenth-century Dominica. As discussed above, sugar cultivation created a predicament common to capitalist production. Access to fresh water became increasingly limited, and people relied on objects and features to capture, store, and distribute water to meet metabolic demands. Glass bottles, ceramic vessels, gourds, and calabashes cost money and time for enslaved laborers. Slaves relied on regional markets to obtain vessels that captured, stored, and distributed water. These markets can be seen as a peripheral flow, a “cultural encounter [that] takes place not just between the West and the rest but also within the periphery itself.”109 Attending to peripheral flows of goods allows us to map infrastructures of social reproduction—that is, power and its relationship to food, shelter, clothing, and health care.110
There are several possible explanations for the ubiquity of forms across the Eastern Caribbean. A popular and long-held theory relies on the cultural repertoire Africans brought with them. The need for portable and potable water inspired African-descended potters to make forms such as monkey jars, which were sold to slaves and used in the house and field.111 Other shapes might be inspired by other social functions in an “African” cultural repertoire. Archaeologists invested in answering questions related to symbolic meaning and use in social context have looked toward decorative inventories.112 The most famous examples of this argument are versions that link x’s inscribed, scratched, or painted on vessels to cosmograms popular in Bakongo material culture.113
Another approach describes the material conditions and the economic networks that fed a trade in ceramic vessels. I have been one of the principal proponents of this theory, arguing that there were relatively few locations where ordinary pottery, crafted by slaves, was made.114 Some of these locations, such as potteries and workshops owned by Europeans, were yet another condition of enslavement—less studied, but important. Other potteries, organized by enslaved laborers themselves, offered an alternative frame of the colonial economy: one which was unexpected, but nonetheless economic in orientation. In cases of both European-organized and African-organized potteries, manufacture was limited to a few locales, and trade was controlled by hucksters or caboteurs, creating alternative, less-studied vectors of economic power.115 In the case of pottery recovered from regimented villages in Dominica, the earthenware seems to have been “made anywhere but Dominica.”116 The assumptions guiding this interpretation were few but critical. First, solutions to everyday problems of enslavement were not ad hoc. For example, planters thought about how slaves got their food, but did not consider cooking the vessels needed to prepare the food. The resolution was not ad hoc, because solutions were reached through planning, execution, and drawing on long-term understandings of economy and scale.
These two bodies of scholarship are reconcilable. Given the above descriptions of types of water in circulation during the eighteenth century, there can be little doubt that people’s different relationships with water were formed through different material repertoires. There are reasons, however, to suspect that more ancient, less-documented waterways contributed to the material repertoires as well. Patterns of trade that connected islands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries continued to inform the cultural repertoire of people living in the regimented slave villages of the Eastern Caribbean, despite the imposition of political boundaries in 1763.
Drinking water presented particular problems for eighteenth-century enslaved laborers. In 1763, physicians had yet to recognize the implications of clean water. John Snow only determined that water could act as a vector for cholera in 1854. Whether widely recognized or not, contaminated water had direct implications for the health and well-being of people, free or enslaved, living in densely populated villages or towns.117 Colonial administrators in Basse-Terre and Pointe-à-Pitre attempted to provide safe water for residents.118 Waterborne illnesses, including typhoid and dysentery, stressed organs and often resulted in death.119 Contaminated water was the only water available to many slaves in some places.120 Slaves suffered differentially from waterborne illnesses, including guinea worm, dysentery, and typhoid.121 When, in 1700, the Dominican priest Jean-Baptiste Labat visited Barbados, he speculated that “the water causes numerous illness, which becomes epidemic among the negroes.”122
The characteristics of water were essential to past people and, as such, they employed different qualities to describe water and methods to make it palatable. Between 1700 and 1800, sailors, doctors, and settlers in the Americas described water as fouled. Wholesome water was water that was fresh or “sweet,” free of particulates, and “cool.” Hans Sloane, the naturalist whose collections formed the nucleus of the British Museum, describes the taxonomy of sweet water: pond water contains “clay, mould, water-herbs, or other impurities” and spring water is “preferable to others.”123 In areas with little surface water, the free population relied on cisterns for drinking water, and enslaved laborers relied on ponds and rainwater. Storage jars, buckets, glass bottles, calabashes, and earthenware pitchers were important intermediaries between those ponds and the household.
Vessel fragments recovered from Sugarloaf and Bois Cotlette used to store water came to Soufriere and Portsmouth from various sources and provide a glimpse into the types of water available to slaves. Items like barrels, leather buckets, gourds, and calabashes are challenging to document archaeologically because they disintegrate. For example, most estates had coopers. Either through reuse or commission, barrels they made were used as cisterns in and around houses. These vessels could have been recycled as cisterns to be placed near slave houses. Recovered iron fragments that could have been strapping for barrels or wooden buckets were found at houseyards at both estates. The fragmentary nature of the iron and the lack of diagnostic indicators make it difficult to identify.
Containers held water but could also illuminate how water was classified. Holy water was an important category of water in the French Antilles. By holy water, I mean specifically water sanctified through Catholic practices that involve storing water in basins and draining it directly into the earth. Labat noted that slaves in Guadeloupe used gourds to obtain holy water, which they drank every morning to protect themselves.124 The enslaved living in Guadeloupe may have stored holy water in pots they inscribed with x’s.125 Cool water and holy water demonstrate a crucial but often overlooked feature of the things we examine in the archaeological record. What is of value here is not the container itself, but what it contained.
The vessels that were circulating in the Caribbean during the sugar revolution had many forms, some of which were depicted in the contemporary drawings discussed in the previous chapter. Glass bottles probably stored drinking water of varied qualities, liquor (both homemade and purchased), and beverages including mauby (water boiled with the bark of the mauby tree). They also stored rum and water infused with plants for medicinal purposes. Identifying bottle provenance on external features alone is difficult. These bottles were often documented at Roseau. As described above, officials responsible for applying duties and monitoring trade documented numerous ships carrying glass bottles from the British Isles between 1763 and 1807. In general, empty bottles and casks of wine were shipped to colonial ports. From there, those wine bottles could be purchased empty or filled with liquid.126 For example, in 1789 an empty glass bottle cost one quarter of a dollar, and a bottle filled with wine cost one shilling.127
Large water jars have been documented in multiple urban and rural contexts associated with slavery. In Jamaica, for example, slaves repurposed Spanish olive jars and placed them underneath roofs to collect rainwater.128 Olive jars have an analogue in the Eastern Caribbean. Like Spanish olive jars, Biot jars were traditionally used to preserve olives—hence the distinctive glazed rim around the neck. They were popular throughout the French-speaking Caribbean. They were shipped empty to Martinique or Guadeloupe and sold in St. Pierre, Basse-Terre and Fort-de-France.129 According to an 1830 advertisement, vessels stored between 22 to 272 liters.130 According to Myriam Arcangeli, the average price of a Biot jar in 1829 was 17.3 livre.131 At Bois Cotlette, they were listed as part of the probate inventory. While clearly identified as a French ceramic, they have been found in the Danish and British West Indies as well.
In addition to expensive Biot jars, people living in the estate houses and regimented villages of Portsmouth and Soufriere appear to have reused local jars for domestic purposes. Jamaicans, from 1655 forward, made and used large storage pots (modeled after the Spanish olive jars mentioned above) called Spanish jars. Unlike olive jars, which were glazed to prevent evaporation of oil or desiccation of olives, Spanish jars tended to be unglazed. While no tradition existed for such jars in the Eastern Caribbean, French potteries in Martinique, Les Saintes, and Basse-Terre specialized in making vessels for the sugar industry.132 After their utility as a drip jar was complete, they took on an afterlife and re-entered a peripheral flow of goods, potentially to be used as waterways by the enslaved. In 1829, a drip jar with a ladle was valued for two livre in Guadeloupe.133 Potteries devoted to making these ceramics have been documented in Antigua, Barbados, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Grenada.
Goglets were also recovered from estate houses and laborer houses alike. Archaeologically, this vessel shape has been documented in St. Martin, Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, and Grenada. Ethnographic specimens were also documented in Jamaica, St. Vincent, and Cuba. Goglets held only approximately one liter, and in the 1800s were favorite items in the dining rooms of Martinique and Guadeloupe.134 The same potteries responsible for drip jars produced coarse earthenware pitchers. In Guadeloupe, servants used these vessels to fetch water from jars or have a quantity available for use in the kitchen. They cost between one and three livre.135 Most specimens of these vessels that were chemically characterized came from neighboring islands of Martinique, St. Lucia, and Guadeloupe.136 This is true for the vessels recovered from Morne Patate, Bois Cotlette, and Sugarloaf.
The observation that assemblages used to store water are so similar between estates has an important implication: there was a vibrant intercoastal trade in goods between islands. The documents described above hint at this trade. From the perspective of this book, these flows, as materialized in the trade assemblages of Dominica, were a way to resolve the predicament of subsistence in a period of changing political regimes and trading rules, in an era when the sugar revolution created increasing scarcity on the island and threatened the social reproduction of the enslaved, and indeed the planters. The channels between the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe also constituted another kind of waterway, which enabled the sharing of cultural attitudes about things and how they should be used. They evidence a different sort of map, in which people living in the regimented slave villages of different imperial powers shared cultural attitudes to food. The predicament of insecurity was negotiated through interactions and relations that are unaccounted for in imperial maps of the Caribbean, and which are not contiguous with the borders and boundaries of imperial design.
Unrealized ambitions and realized identities shaped the colonial enterprise, creating opportunities and generating resistance. Waterways were often used to repudiate the colonial state. At the trial for his principal role in the 1791 New Year’s Day Revolt, Henri Polinaire provides important details about a day when the whole of the island’s enslaved population in the southeast rose up in revolt, to create an independent state on the windward side of the island.137 He describes the organization of the rebellion, including key persona, where they rendezvoused, and the order of battle. The reason for the revolution, according to Polinaire, had to do with the mistreatment of enslaved workers. They had heard that Governor Orde had ordered enslaved workers be given three days a week to work their gardens and provision grounds, “and the planters refused to do it.” Each estate had “a chief” who was responsible for organizing other slaves and “that free people of color who refused to assist should be put to death.”138 The ringleaders, Pharcelle and Pangloss, commanded 500 muskets between them. Their plans included a division of the island, where they took hold of the windward (eastern) side of the island and left the leeward (western) side of the island to whites who had not been killed in the insurrection. Planters who “were good to their negroes,” meaning that they allowed sufficient time to work the grounds, were permitted to hold onto their estates. The plot was foiled by a series of unfortunate events.
Polinaire’s testimony also included fewer concrete details, including the nature of the relationship between conspirators, the attitudes of rebels to violence, and their plans for an alternate possibility. There was a mistrust of free people of color, whom chiefs were to assassinate if they “should speak of the matter.”139 For their part, colonial administrators feared that the Kalinago were assisting the revolutionaries. Between 1783 and 1786, a protracted maroon war took place in Dominica. With news of unrest in Dominica and the destruction of the mill and great house at one of the island's most significant sugar plantations, Rosalie Estate, there was considerable concern about potential solidarities that could not be anticipated by the British.140 A news report in The Gentlemen’s Magazine stated:
The harmony of Grenada is changed into discord and anarchy, which prevail in every walk and sphere of life, from the highest magistrate to the lowest, insomuch, that a governor's arrival is prayed for by all sober and well-disposed people. The inhabitants of St. Vincent's are trembling for fear of bad effects from the Caribbees, who most certainly communicate with the rebels of Dominica.141
The above report suggests that enslaved laborers, maroons, and some Kalinago conspired in Dominica’s first Maroon War. It also indicates that the nature of this conspiracy was not restricted to its shores. Whoever wrote this account feared that such violence would and could spread to other ceded islands. Such solidarities were not one-sided. Polinaire described one of the ringleaders, Pharcelle, coming down from the mountain to a spring to gather water, where he was spotted by “a caraibe named Bigaire who lives on Mr. LaRonde’s Estate.”142 What this document implied is that Kalinago did live on plantations, and they had some rights to property there. It also implied that the Kalinago worked in concert with at least some of the planters.
Insurrections, such as the New Year Day’s Revolt, bring to our attention an often-overlooked point and prompt an important question. These collective actions called “slave revolts” involved the willing and active participation of people who were legally defined as free, such as Polinaire, or asserted their freedom through force, such as maroons. The political alliances built were not clear cut, but they were informed by taxonomies of race circulating through the Eastern Caribbean and used by Europeans to govern their laborers. The account stresses the importance of communication within and between islands. The waterways that connected people on different islands were critical. The planning of the revolt, while focused on the southeast of the island, involved the coordination of slaves across the island and maroons living in the hardest-to-reach locations. As a “free coloured” of Martinique, Polinaire had seen firsthand the fear struck by the Haitian revolution and heard about the alternative possibilities such actions afford. The account also stresses the importance of geography—specifically, the difficult terrain that forms the spine of the island running north-south, splitting the windward and leeward sides of the islands. Features such as springs and rivers were part of an alternative geography used by collaborators to mark the land and navigate its contours. It is important to note that in Polinaire’s account, the institution of slavery was never questioned, nor was it made clear what the status of revolutionaries was after the revolution. Taken together, these observations suggest that enslaved people planning the rebellion believed that in order to enjoy a franchise of freedom, obtaining rights over land and its resources was the critical first step. It also suggests that the predicaments created by slave relations extended meaningfully beyond those legally defined as property.
Regional markets fostered a trade in goods, and some of these goods were necessary elements in the strategies employed by enslaved laborers to resolve the predicament of water in plantation society. Glass bottles most likely arrived through shipping routes organized by merchants. Cabotage, or locally organized interisland traffic in goods, was responsible for other water vessels. Biot jars and goglets found their way into the internal economy of Dominica’s slave population through a complicated set of sea and land routes. All of these were used to negotiate the predicament of water insecurity that came in the wake of the sugar revolution in Dominica.
These peripheral flows also created predicaments since they violated political boundaries. While in most cases organized and paid for by those considered marginal to colonial society, these flows benefited the planter class, although the expense of social reproduction was borne by enslaved people of African descent. Enslaved laborers relied on glass bottles, Biot jars, and goglets to store, transport, and serve water and furnished these items themselves—using the money they earned from selling surplus foodstuffs grown in their gardens at local markets. Biot jars and goglets were relatively expensive. Glass bottles and reused drip jars were less expensive, but they still required time and money to obtain and use. Even calabash required some expenditure and time on the part of slaves. While the production of sugar limited water availability for the majority of the people living on estates, these same enslaved laborers were burdened with the expense of purchasing and making items to store water. This had the effect of reproducing social positions. Getting a glass of water was both socialized and socializing. By externalizing the cost of reproduction by relying on unaccounted work on the part of slaves, planters were able to convert earnings into other forms of capital, some of which allowed them to achieve new social stations. By subsidizing planters’ profits through unaccounted work, it became close to impossible for enslaved laborers to obtain legal manumission through purchasing their freedom.
Waterways were continually activated through peripheral flows of goods that water insecurity necessitated. At Bois Cotlette, ponds held water in which people might have washed, watered cattle, and obtained water for themselves. At Sugarloaf, humans and animals had access to rivers and millraces. Biot jars, local jars, and barrels held clear water with which one could cook, make beverages, and in some cases wash. Still other vessels held water to drink. Some water might quench one’s thirst (sweet water). Other water might be used to protect oneself through the course of the day (holy water). These categories were not unique to Dominica.143 Instead, vessels acted as a medium to transmit waterways across diverse regimented slave communities in rural Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Dominica, and to share ideas about making and using water.