In the sugar colony of Antigua, one of the British Leeward Islands in the
Caribbean just east of Puerto Rico, two major events that occurred dur-
ing the first three decades of the eighteenth century drew attention to the
tiny island community that had been built up around slavery and shaped
by it. In 1710 long-simmering friction between Governor Daniel Parke and
the assembly erupted when the assemblymen and their supporters attacked
and killed the governor- this was the only such instance in the history of
the early modern British Empire. Just how the slave population interpreted,
or responded to, such a striking demonstration of open division in the ranks
of the ruling class remains an unexplored, and perhaps unexplorable, sub-
ject because of the quality ofexisting sources; we know, however, that three
decades later, during a period of severe economic stress, the slaves them-
selves plotted a spectacular revolt to seize control of the island.
The revolt never materialized. A well-organized, islandwide affair,
the slave conspiracy of 1736, had it succeeded, would have catapulted
Antigua onto the stage of world history as the first territory in the slave
heartland of the Caribbean in which slaves seized full control. And that
would have happened a full half-century before the very different (in many
respects) upheaval in French St. Domingue, where a combination of power-
ful forces that emerged both within St. Domingue slave society itself and
from the spread ofthe tremors of the French Revolution into the Caribbean
influenced the well-known successful slave revolt that resulted in the
establishment of the black Republic of Haiti. The origins of the Antigua
conspiracy were, by contrast, overwhelmingly, ifnot exclusively, internal,
and herein lies part of the intrinsic interest of the plot.
Germinated in the fertile soil of the social relations of that slave society,
the plot graphically dramatized one possible outcome of the persistent and
potentially explosive discordance or competitive struggle between slave-
owners' aspirations to control their slaves and the slaves' own conscious
efforts to frustrate them in various ways. For the first time in the island's
history, after about half a century of development as a slave society, slave-
owners faced collective resistance on such an organized and massive scale.
Most masters had, of course, long dreaded just such a denouement, the
approach ofwhich was, however, difficult to predict, especially as the pattern
of general slave resistance was not persistently and openly confrontational,
Previous Page Next Page