This book brings back into print, for the first time since the 1830s, a text that was central to the transatlantic campaign to fully abolish slavery in Britain's colonies. James Williams, an eighteen-year-old Jamaican "apprentice" (former slave), came to Britain in 1837 at the instigation of the abolitionist Joseph Sturge. The Narrative he produced there, one of very few autobiographical texts by Caribbean slaves or former slaves, became one of the most powerful abolitionist tools for effecting the immediate end to the system of apprenticeship that had replaced slavery.
Describing the hard working conditions on plantations and the harsh treatment of apprentices unjustly incarcerated, Williams argues that apprenticeship actually worsened the conditions of Jamaican ex-slaves: former owners, no longer legally permitted to directly punish their workers, used the Jamaican legal system as a punitive lever against them. Williams's story documents the collaboration of local magistrates in this practice, wherein apprentices were routinely jailed and beaten for both real and imaginary infractions of the apprenticeship regulations.
In addition to the complete text of Williams's original Narrative, this fully annotated edition includes nineteenth-century responses to the controversy from the British and Jamaican press, as well as extensive testimony from the Commission of Enquiry that heard evidence regarding the Narrative's claims. These fascinating and revealing documents constitute the largest extant body of direct testimony by Caribbean slaves or apprentices.
Diana Paton is a Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Newcastle.
"A Narrative of Events, since the 1st of August, 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica": minutes of proceedings at Browns Town, St. Ann's - evidence of: Edward Lawrence; Mary Ann Bell; John Patterson; William Dalling; Adam Brown; William Dalling (recalled); Peter William Atkinson; William Mills; Joseph Lawrence; Amelia Lawrence; Gilbert Senior; Eliza Finlayson; Ann Campbell; Susan White; Maria Henderson; Jane Shaw Pennock; Alexander Mills; Janette Saunders; Mary James; John Clarke (formerly overseer at Knapdale); James Kinlayson; Catherine Bayley; Mary Jane Kidson; Joseph Isaacs; Margaret Jane Campbell; Eliza Nathan; Maria Henderson (recalled); Julian Morrison; John Clarke (Baptist missionary); James Brown; Samuel Pink; Lavinia Reynolds; Eleanor Howell; Elizabeth Bartley; Bella Richards; Richard Hemming; James Thomas; Israel Lemon; and Martin Brown. Additional documents: letters from Joseph Sturge; letters and affidavits of and enclosed by Gilbert William Senior and Sarah Jane Keith; senior articles in British and Jamaican newspapers.