In Agency of the Enslaved: Jamaica and the Culture of Freedom in the Atlantic World, D.A. Dunkley challenges the notion that enslavement fostered the culture of freedom in the former colonies of Western Europe in the Americas. Dunkley argues the point that the preconception that out of slavery came freedom has discouraged scholars from fully exploring the importance of the agency displayed by enslaved people. This study examines those struggles and argues that these formed the real basis of the culture of freedom in the Atlantic societies. These struggles were not for freedom, but for the acknowledgment of the freedom that enslaved people knew was already theirs. Agency of the Enslaved reveals several major incidents in which the enslaved in Jamaica—a country Dunkley uses as a case study with wider applicability to the Atlantic world—demonstrated that they viewed slavery as an immoral, illegal, unnecessary, temporary, and socially deprecating imposition. These views inspired their attempts to undermine the slave system that the British had established in Jamaica shortly after they captured the island in 1655. Acts of resistance took place throughout the island-colony and were recorded on the sugar plantations and in the courts, schools, and Christian churches. The slaveholders envisaged all of these sites as participants in their attempts to dominate the enslaved people. Regardless, the enslaved had re-envisioned and had used these places as sites of empowerment, and to show that they would never accept the designation of ‘slave'.
D. A Dunkley —
Daive A. Dunkley teaches in the Department of History and Archeology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
Dunkley, D. A. Agency of the enslaved: Jamaica and the culture of freedom in the Atlantic world. Lexington Books, 2013. 222p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780739168035; ISBN 9780739168042 e-book. Reviewed in 2013jul CHOICE.
Historian Dunkley (Univ. of West Indies, Jamaica) argues that the concept of freedom in the written history of the Caribbean and the Atlantic world has never been examined from the perceptions and experiences of the enslaved. Freedom is usually defined as an external condition; Dunkley argues that the feelings and consequent actions of individuals proclaim freedom despite enslavement. These feelings, convictions, and behaviors influenced the larger societies in which slaves lived. An important example is education. Clerics and mission societies provided religious and literacy instruction to make better slaves. Those educated, however, achieved deeper understanding of the wider society and the ways in which they could undermine its power. Similarly, the marriage of enslaved persons by Anglican clergy asserted freedom because slave marriage was illegal and presented a host of legal and financial problems to slaveholders. Slaves resist, as is well known, but Dunkley focuses on resistance as a consequence of internal conviction and defines this conviction as freedom. Readers may agree or not. This well-written book, based on both archival and published sources, has a place in all academic libraries.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. -- R. Berleant-Schiller, emerita, University of Connecticut