In the Caribbean colony of Grenada in 1797, Dorothy Thomas signed the manumission documents for her elderly slave Betty. Thomas owned dozens of slaves and was well on her way to amassing the fortune that would make her the richest black resident in the nearby colony of Demerara. What made the transaction notable was that Betty was Dorothy Thomas's mother and that fifteen years earlier Dorothy had purchased her own freedom and that of her children. Although she was just one remove from bondage, Dorothy Thomas managed to become so rich and powerful that she was known as the Queen of Demerara.
Dorothy Thomas's story is but one of the remarkable accounts of pluck and courage recovered in Enterprising Women. As the microbiographies in this book reveal, free women of colour in Britain's Caribbean colonies were not merely the dependent concubines of the white male elite, as is commonly assumed. In the capricious world of the slave colonies during the age of revolutions, some of them were able to rise to dizzying heights of success. These highly entrepreneurial women exercised remarkable mobility and developed extensive commercial and kinship connections in the metropolitan heart of empire while raising well-educated children who were able to penetrate deep into British life.
Kit Candlin is a research fellow in history at the University of Sydney, Australia. He is the author of The Last Caribbean Frontier, 1795-1815. Cassandra Pybus is professor of history at the University of Sydney, Australia. She is the author of Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty and Black Founders: The Unknown Story of Australia's First Black Settlers.