History lesson for Shalman Scott
Kathleen Monteith, Guest Columnist
Please allow me the space to add to the response offered by Professor Emeritus, Sir Roy Augier, to the report on Mr Shalman's Scott Emancipation Lecture in the August 1, 2014 issue of The Gleaner, titled 'Orthodox history riddled with errors'.
According to the report, Mr Scott charged that "huge chunks of Jamaica's history are steeped in errors and deliberate omissions, especially accounts of the Sam Sharpe Rebellion and issues relating to the development of the Church", making specific reference to both The Making of the West Indies (1960) and A History of Jamaica (1958).
Mr Scott's audience and readers of the Gleaner report might have been left with the impression that these publications are currently the main texts for the teaching of Jamaican and West Indian history at the secondary and primary-school levels, respectively.
Prior to their publication, there existed none that had utilised information available from archives in the Caribbean, the USA and Europe, and written by West Indians. Since then, there have been several publications on Jamaican and West Indian history in general, authored by West Indians. Among these, your readers will find in Chapter 19 (pp 212-245) The Story of the Jamaican People (1998) by Philip Sherlock and Hazel Bennett, a full account of the Sam Sharpe Rebellion.
A more recent discussion of the rebellion can be read in Chapter 5 (pp 71-81) of The Caribbean, the Atlantic World and Global Transformation. Lectures in CAPE History (2010), published by the Department of History and Archaeology, The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. Another work suitable for students at the tertiary level which discusses the Sam Sharpe Rebellion and its implications and significance for the abolition movement is Mary Turner's Slaves and Missionaries. The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society, 1787-1834 (first published in 1982). Turner, who, as Reckord, was also a co-author of The Making of the West Indies.
Mr Scott also laments that none of the free villages established in Jamaica and in the other English-speaking Caribbean has been named after either an African Jamaican/Caribbean preacher or a black emancipator in England. According to the report, Scott stated that this issue is not just confined to the Church, but "ought to be an issue of national concern, regarding the squalid way in which our Jamaican history generally has been published, and that "too much of our history has remained obscured, too much of our history to foster logical connectivity has been deliberately omitted, and too much has been twisted".
Free villages were named by the missionaries, and given the
status quo at the time, this was to be expected. Mr Scott might find some relief in the information provided in Swithin Wilmot's Freedom in Jamaica. Challenges and Opportunities, 1838-1865 (1997), published by the Jamaica Information Service, which informs us that many of the former enslaved and their descendants established their "own piece of ground", free villages independent of those established by the missionaries, and named them At Last, Comfort Victoria, Fathers Gift, Giliad, Happy Freedom, Happy Land, Happy Valley, Littleman Feeling, Never Expect, and Trysee.
In essence, Mr Scott's comments do not
recognise that history, like any other discipline, is not static, but
dynamic. It is forever evolving, as factual information is discovered or
made available, that often results in existing conclusions being
modified or excluded. Through teaching and research, new generations of
historians record by exposition and argument the new conclusions deduced
from the new information.
The accusation that
Jamaican, and, by extension, West Indian historians have "deliberately
omitted, and ... twisted" history is unfortunate, and it is not obvious
how Mr Scott arrived at that conclusion. The only response one can offer
at this time is to bring to his attention the publications mentioned
above, and those listed in the annually updated published catalogues
(available online) of the two leading West Indian publishing houses: The
University of the West Indies Press, and Ian Randle Publishers. Also
useful are research articles published in the Jamaica Journal,
the Jamaican Historical Review, and the Journal of
The accusations by Mr
Scott besmirch the reputation and outstanding contribution that both Sir
Roy and Mr Black have made to Jamaican and Caribbean history throughout
their respective careers.
Mr Clinton V. Black
(1918-93), a Jamaican, through his work as government archivist of the
Jamaica Archives, Spanish Town, was almost single-handedly responsible
for putting in place our national archives, which became the envy of the
region. Indeed, because of Black's work, the Jamaica Archives was
listed "among the top 10 archival institutions" internationally, and has
allowed Jamaicans and others, including international scholars and
graduate students across Europe and North America, to conduct research
for their books and doctoral theses.
Jamaica's government archivist, Black was instrumental in the
development of Caribbean archives: Belize, Dominica, the Turks and
Caicos Islands, Grenada, Guyana, St Kitts-Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, St
Vincent and the Grenadines, and the British Virgin Islands. He also
provided tutelage to others, who eventually succeeded him. The UWI
assisted with its own Committee of Archives, chaired by the notable
historian, Professor Elsa Goveia.
Sir Roy's commitment
to fostering the continued development of Caribbean history and, by
extension, Jamaican history, is only too evident in his continued active
participation in the department.
Monteith is head of the Department of History and Archaeology, UWI,
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