Searching for the Invisible Man: Slaves and Plantation Life in Jamaica

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Though centered on a single Jamaican sugar estate, Worthy Park, and dealing largely with the period of formal slavery, this book is firmly placed in far wider contexts of place and time. The "Invisible Man" of the title is found, in the end, to be not just the formal slave but the ordinary black worker throughout the history of the plantation system.

Michael Craton uses computer techniques in the first of three main parts of his study to provide a dynamic analysis of the demographic, health, and socioeconomic characteristics of the Worthy Park slaves as a whole. The surprising diversity and complex interrelation of the population are underlined in Part Two, consisting of detailed biographies of more than 40 individual members of the plantation's society, including whites and mulattoes as well as black slaves. This is the most ambitious attempt yet made to overcome the stereotyping ignorance of contemporary white writers and the muteness of the slaves themselves.

Part Three is perhaps the most original section of the book. After tracing the fate of the population between the emancipation of 1838 and the present day through genealogies and oral interviews, Craton concludes that the predominant feature of plantation life has not been change but continuity, and that the accepted definitions of slavery need considerable modification.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674796294
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/26/1978
  • Pages: 466
  • Product dimensions: 8.64 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: Worthy Park and Its Context, 1670-1975

Part 1: The Slave Population at Large

1. The Population before 1783

2. Demographic Patterns, 1783-1838

3. Mortality, Fertility, Life Expectancy, 1783-1838

4. Death, Disease, Medicine, 1783-1838

5. Economics, Employment, Social Cohesion, 1783-1838

Part 2: Individuals in Slave Society, Selected Biographies


6. Bunga—Men: Six Africans

7. Conformists: Ten Ordinary Slaves

8. Specialists: Five Slave Craftsmen

9. Accommodators: Five Patterns of Miscegenation

10. Resisters: Five Slave Nonconformists

11. Backra: Three Plantation Whites

Part 3: The Sons of Slavery

12. The Transition to Free Wage Labor, 1834-1846

13. Continuities: Worthy Park's Modern Workers

14. The Rope Unraveled and Respliced: The Evidence of Genealogy

15. From House Slave to Middle Class: The Descendants of John Price Nash

16. From Field Slave to Peasant-Proletarian: The Descendants of Biddy and Nelson

17. Coda and Conclusion: The Seamless Cloth


A. The Slave Data and Its Deficiencies

B. The Computer Programs

C. A Doctor's Views on Childbirth, Infant Mortality, and the General Health of His Slave Charges, 1788

D. Medicine at Worthy Park, 1824


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