Survivors of the Middle Passage: Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in British America

2002 (Jerome S. Handler) “Survivors of the Middle Passage: Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in British America.” Slavery & Abolition 23: 25-56.

This paper describes fifteen autobiographical accounts by Africans who survived the physical and psychic hardships of the transatlantic crossing and passed a portion of their lives enslaved in the British Caribbean or British North America during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I focus on what the autobiographers relate about their lives in Africa before being taken from their homelands, how they were captured/kidnapped,  transported to coastal ports and placed aboard ships, and their personal experiences during the transatlantic crossing.

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On the Early Use and Origin of the Term ‘Obeah’ in Barbados and the Anglophone Caribbean

2001 (J. S. Handler and K. M. Bilby) “On the Early Use and Origin of the Term ‘Obeah’ in Barbados and the Anglophone Caribbean.” Slavery & Abolition 22: 87-100.

The medicinal complex of Barbadian (and other Caribbean slaves) fundamentally rested on African beliefs and practices in which the supernatural played a major role. What was called Obeah formed part of this medicinal complex even though Europeans who wrote about Obeah often confused and misunderstood many of its features. For whites, ‘Obeah’ became a catch-all term for a range of supernatural-related ideas and behaviors that were not of European origin and which they heavily criticized and condemned. The supernatural force (or forces) which the Obeah practitioner attempted to control or guide was essentially neutral. However, for the enslaved in Barbados (as elsewhere in the British Caribbean) the force, as accessed by the practitioner, was largely directed toward what the slave community defined as socially beneficial goals such as healing, locating missing property, and protection against illness and other kinds of misfortune; it could even be directed against slave masters, which, from the perspective of the slave community, was a beneficial goal. Although Obeah could also have negative or antisocial dimensions in the form of witchcraft or sorcery, the entirely negative view of Obeah that whites largely promulgated during the period of slavery (probably exacerbated by the fact that it was sometimes directed against them), and that has endured until the present, has distorted the social role that Obeah played in the lives of many enslaved persons, whether of African or New World birth.

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The 1816 Slave Revolt in Barbados: An Exchange in Barbados Newspapers

2000 (Jerome Handler) “The Barbados Slave Insurrection of 1816: Can it be properly called “Bussa’s Rebellion”?” The Advocate and The Nation, March and April.

A heated exchange in two Barbados newspapers concerning the only slave revolt in the island’s history. Handler’s position, stated in several articles in the Advocate, is that there is no documentary evidence that a slave named Busso/Bussa was the prime organizer or leader of the revolt or played a greater role than others who were accused by whites of leadership roles. Professor Hilary Beckles, writing in the Nation, attributes this singular role to Busso/Bussa.

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Slave medicine and Obeah in Barbados, circa 1650 to 1834

2000 (Jerome Handler) “Slave medicine and Obeah in Barbados, circa 1650 to 1834.” Nieuwe West-Indische Gids–New West Indian Guide 74: 57-60.

This article describes the medical beliefs and practices of Barbadian slaves. Author discusses the role of supernatural forces in slave medicine, the range of beliefs and practices encompassed by the term Obeah, and how the meaning of this term changed over time. He emphasizes the importance of African beliefs and practices on which Barbadian slave medicine fundamentally rested. In the appendix, the author discusses the early use of the term Obeah in Barbados and the Anglophone Caribbean.

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Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in Barbados

1998 (Jerome Handler) “Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in Barbados.” Slavery & Abolition 19: 129-41.

Scholars of New World slavery and the transatlantic slave trade are well aware that there are very few first-hand accounts by enslaved Africans of their experiences prior to being landed in the Caribbean or North America. This article gives a brief overview of some accounts that relate to Barbados and then focuses on two hitherto unpublished autobiographical narratives by Africans who lived on the island in the late eighteenth century. The main purpose of this note is to make available to a wider audience what is currently known about first-hand accounts by Africans who had some connection with the Caribbean island of Barbados.

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Problematical Glass Artifacts from Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados

1998 (Jerome S. Handler) “Problematical Glass Artifacts from Newton Plantation Slave Cemetery, Barbados.” African American Archaeology 20: 1, 5-6.

This paper discusses two virtually identical small translucent glass objects of apparent European manufacture that were found associated with two different burials in 1973. Similar objects have not been reported in African descendant sites in British America. This paper describes the physical properties of the objects, their burial contexts, and possible derivation from European buckles or finger rings.

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Escaping Slavery in a Caribbean Plantation Society: Marronage in Barbados, 1650s-1830s

1997 (Jerome Handler) “Escaping Slavery in a Caribbean Plantation Society: Marronage in Barbados, 1650s-1830s.” Nieuwe West-Indische Gids–New West Indian Guide 71: 183-225.

Slave flight or marronage, although not always with the intent or hope of permanently escaping the slave system, was a characteristic feature of Barbadian slave society as it was of slave societies throughout the Americas. However, for much of the slave period, Barbados, a small, relatively flat, and densely populated island, presented obstacles of concealment and escapee community formation that were absent or not encountered in the larger mainland or island territories. Nonetheless, marronage in one form or another occurred throughout the period of slavery in Barbados, and the island provides an excellent case study for exploring this form of resistance in the Caribbean’s smaller sugar islands, ones not conventionally associated with marronage.

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An African-Type Healer/Diviner and His Grave Goods: A Burial from a Plantation Slave Cemetery in Barbados, West Indies

1997 (Jerome S. Handler) “An African-Type Healer/Diviner and His Grave Goods: A Burial from a Plantation Slave Cemetery in Barbados, West Indies.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 1: 91-130.

An adult male buried in the late 1600s or early 1700s and excavated from a plantation slave cemetery in Barbados had the cemetery’s richest assortment of grave goods: an iron knife, several types of metal jewelry, an earthenware pipe, and a necklace of money cowries, fish vertebrae, dog canine teeth, European glass beads, and a large carnelian bead probably from India. Most of these artifacts are unique to New World African descendant sites. The individual was probably an African-type diviner/healer whose high status in the slave community is reflected in his relatively elaborate artifact inventory.

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Slave Names and Naming in Barbados, 1650-1830

1996 (J. S. Handler and J. Jacoby) “Slave Names and Naming in Barbados, 1650-1830.” William and Mary Quarterly 53: 685-728.

This article draws on a sample of Barbados slave names in order to examine the principles and significance of naming practices among North American and British Caribbean slaves in general and on Barbados plantations in particular. Analysis of plantation slave lists and other primary sources that record slave names, especially within the context of genealogical relations, provides insight into slave naming practices. These, in turn, can reveal the extent to which concepts of family, lineage, and kinship were retained beyond the Atlantic crossing and can also shed light on other domains of slave life, such as adjustment or resistance to enslavement, the nature of slaves’ kin networks, the perpetuation and modification of African practices, and creolization.

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A Prone Burial from a Plantation Slave Cemetery in Barbados, West Indies: Possible Evidence for an African-type Witch or Other Negatively Viewed Person

1996 (Jerome S. Handler) “A Prone Burial from a Plantation Slave Cemetery in Barbados, West Indies: Possible Evidence for an African-type Witch or Other Negatively Viewed Person.Historical Archaeology 30: 76-86.

Dating to the late 1600s or early 1700s, a burial excavated from a slave cemetery at Newton Plantation in Barbados had several unique characteristics. Buried in the largest artificial earthen mound in the cemetery without grave goods or a coffin, this young adult woman was the solitary interment in the mound and the cemetery’s only prone burial. Her skeleton showed no signs of unusual death although analysis of lead in her bones suggests she suffered from severe lead poisoning. Documentary evidence on Barbados slave culture in general and ethnographic/ethnohistorical evidence on West African mortuary practices suggest interpretations for this burial: She may have been a witch or some other negatively viewed person with supernatural powers who, following African custom, was feared or socially ostracized.

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