Verene Shepherd | ‘Dead people’ developed Britain and made our freedom possible
In this edition of Reparation Conversations, a collaboration between The Gleaner and the Centre for Reparation Research (CRR), University of the West Indies, Professor Verene Shepherd, director of the CRR, reflects on another Emancipation Day commemoration while remembering the lives of our enslaved African ancestors who were forced to endure the brutality of slavery, all this in the wake of a recent public attempt to invalidate Jamaica’s demand for reparatory justice. While the justification for reparation for our African descendants is clear-cut, it is important that Emancipation Day be used as a reminder – lest we forget.
Much has been said about reparation over the last week, not least by Asif Ahmad, outgoing high commissioner for the United Kingdom in Jamaica whose parting shot on the matter was published by the Jamaica Gleaner on July 20, 2021. Without resurrecting his rather undiplomatic remarks, met with outrage and indignation by many African people in Jamaica, and the diaspora, most of whom still feel the grave effects of the continued legacy of African chattel slavery inflicted upon our ancestors (for Mr Ahmad referred to our ancestors as simply ‘dead people’), I will just say that in summary, he insensitively dismissed the reparation demand.
The sentiments the diplomat expressed were not unexpected. He and other diplomats, apparently, are not supposed to express any independent thought. Rather. they have to carry the position of the country they represent, and they tend to speak with one voice on reparation each time the matter comes up. So in the final analysis, it, perhaps, makes no sense to waste one’s energies on responding to most diplomats. They cannot depart from their instructions, for otherwise they may not get any more cushy postings like Jamaica, where there is a “no problem mon” stereotype; where they can insult people and suffer no consequences, not even from politicians or from those who will, in turn, grin and drink wine with them and even turn around and support their pro-colonial sentiments.
WEALTH CREATED BY ‘DEAD PEOPLE’
As we prepare to mark another Emancipation Day in the CARICOM region, though, I remind all of us that the wealth of the Caribbean generated by ‘dead people’ – read Africans that Europeans worked to death or deliberately murdered when they rose up against oppression – developed Europe and made it possible for High Commissioner Ahmad to live in a developed country, at least in terms of economic development. The Caribbean’s plantation economy was an important cog in Britain’s burgeoning Atlantic trading system. Such was the region’s productive capacity that Prof Richard Sheridan estimated Jamaica’s total wealth alone in 1775 at £18 million. Sheridan’s estimates have since been revised by economic historian Prof. Trevor Burnard, who argues that the island’s wealth was, at £25 million pounds sterling, some £7 million (or 39 per cent) higher.
Such wealth was a testimonial to the island’s productive capacity, and more importantly, its economic viability during the 18th century. When compared to mainland North America, Caribbean planters’ per capita earnings were significantly greater than their mainland counterparts. Burnard suggested that per capita wealth among whites in the Caribbean was £1,042.5 pounds compared to only £60.2 pounds per white person in Britain’s mainland territories. The plantation economy was so strong by the early 19th century that Prof Barry Higman suggested that its productive capacity could be compared to emerging industrial economies at the time. Where did that wealth go? Who benefited from chattel enslavement of the conservatively estimated 1.2-1.5 million Africans trafficked to Jamaica (600,000 from 1700-1786 alone), and the £20 million in compensation money paid to British planters at Emancipation (6.2 million pounds sterling to those in Jamaica or £5.5 billion at 2019 calculations?). Who benefited from the scam called Apprenticeship that delayed Emancipation for most Caribbean countries to 1838 and which has been estimated by Prof Hilary Beckles to have given the planters another £27 million in free labour value? Who did not benefit, and who should be making repair through a development plan as set out in the CARICOM Ten-Point Plan, which if monetised, would run into trillions of pounds sterling?
While we ponder the answers to those questions, I invite the region to remember and pay tribute to the “dead people”, so flippantly dismissed by Mr Ahmad, who led or participated in revolutionary acts to liberate the Caribbean from the brutality of the African holocaust (the Ma’angamezi), including King Cuffee, Bussa, and Nanny Grigg of Barbados; Nanny of the Maroons, Chief Takyi, Samuel Sharpe, and Eliza Whittingham of Jamaica; Boukman Dutty, Cecile Fatiman, Tousssaint L’Ouverture, and Dessalines of Ayiti; King Court of Antigua and Barbuda ; Alida of Suriname; One Tete Lokhay of St Martin; Pompey of The Bahamas; Kofi/Cuffy of Guyana; and so many, many more.
I also remind the high commissioner that the country he represents must bear total responsibility for the murder of our ancestors who fought to get rid of chattel enslavement in Jamaica in the 1831-32 Emancipation War. The blood of the following women is on Britain’s hands:
Ann James Free woman Hanover Executed
Jenny Kirkpatrick Hall St James Executed
Frances Duncan Dumfries Trelawny Executed
Eliza Whittingham Cowpark Westmoreland Executed
Jane Whittingham Cowpark Westmoreland Executed
The blood of the following men from the parish of Manchester who were sentenced to death for their real or perceived role in the war that also cost Samuel Sharpe his life is on Britain’s hands:
Property/Owner Name Age Sentence
Wickham William Wilson 36 Death
Spur Tree Robert Brown 42 Death
Malbro Mount Sam Boucher 50 Death
Malbro Mount Jacob 40 Transportation
Bullhead Thomas Cole 29 Death
Bullhead William Proudlove 42 Death
Bullhead William Sterling 28 Death
Glenhead Ellick 50 Death
Skiddaw William French 35 Death
Moreland Thomas Lamb 45 Death
Berry Hill Richard Lewis 20 Death
Content Joseph Melville 30 Death
Hopeton James Miller 35 Death
Spice Grove Edward Robinson 40 Death
Spice Grove Richard 30 Death
Spice Grove Abraham Peart 30 Death
Kingsland John Ricketts 40 Death
New Forest Wellington 35 Death
Goory James Young 40 Death
The argument that present governments cannot bear responsibility for past wrongs of the State has long been dismissed. Reparation now!!!
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