Calamity’s Empire: Slavery, Scarcity, and the Political Economy of Provisioning in the British Caribbean, C. 1775-1834
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractThis dissertation examines how practical and conceptual concerns over ensuring the basic needs of colonial subjects shaped the political economy of slavery and empire in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century British Caribbean. Provisioning—here defined as food, clothing, shelter, and sometimes medical care—was the dominant lens through which early modern European empires viewed matters related to the health and bodily needs of soldiers, sailors, colonists, slaves, and other subjects. This dissertation offers the first focused study of provisioning in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century British Atlantic world and introduces the concept of overlapping British imperial “provisioning regimes” in order to examine how logistical and infrastructural matters related to provisioning shaped evolving conceptions of the material care and health of subjects under imperial rule. Utilizing an extensive array of primary sources—colonial governors’ correspondence, plantation letters and accounts, merchant papers, naval and military records, customs statistics, parliamentary debates and inquiries—this dissertation embeds quantitative data within a thematic framework attentive to the lived experience of slaves and other actors on several scales of analysis. Chapter One situates enslaved subsistence practices and other lifeways within an examination of where provisions consumed in the West Indies came from and how imperial trade restrictions constrained their flows. Chapter Two examines the provisioning regimes of the Royal Navy and the British Army in the wartime Caribbean in order to show how “heavy” institutions soaked up food and other resources in a region marked by scarcity. Based largely on the “ration” as the unit most proper to reckon human necessity, naval and military provisioning regimes affected other actors in the region including prisoners of war, refugees, and slaves through the immediate necessities of conducting warfare and feeding and sheltering mobile and displaced populations of permanent and transient subjects. Chapter Three reconstructs transatlantic and colonial provisioning supply chains as well as contemporary moral and political debates over the procurement of slave provisions through tenuous systems of debt-finance. Chapter Four scales down to West Indian properties and examines food cultivation and rationing within plantation provisioning and healthcare regimes holistically in order to show how subsistence functioned in the customary practices and formal laws that governed relations between masters and slaves. My research highlights in particular the ways in which slaves sought protections for customary rights related to provisioning by appealing to colonial magistrates, justices of the peace, protectors of slaves, and other authorities intended to intervene on their behalf in complaints against masters.
TypeThesis or Dissertation
Crawford, Nicholas. 2016. Calamity’s Empire: Slavery, Scarcity, and the Political Economy of Provisioning in the British Caribbean, C. 1775-1834. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.