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Recasting Tacky's Revolt as an Atlantic Slave War with Vincent Brown

Virginia is a landscape shaped by slavery and the enslaved communities who labored in bondage on plantations like Mount Vernon, Monticello, and the smaller farms that surrounded these large estates.

But in the eighteenth century, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, and other mainland colonies with sizable enslaved populations paled in comparison to the importance, profitably, and human complexity of the Island of Jamaica.

Jamaica was the crown jewel of the British Empire in this period. It was arguably the most important colony in British America, so much so that during the American Revolution, British authorities worried far more about the potential loss of Britain’s Caribbean islands, than they did the rebelling thirteen on the mainland.

And as much as the British ruling class feared French or Spanish threats to Jamaica, they also feared revolts from the enslaved population, who to them was an internal enemy.

Indeed, in April 1760, enslaved men and women in St. Mary’s Parish rose up against their oppressors, the beginning of an event we often referred to as “Tacky’s War” or “Tacky’s Revolt,” taking its name from one of the men who led it.

On today's episode, we're pleased to bring you the audio version of Jim Ambuske's recent live stream conversation with Harvard historian Vincent Brown. Brown is the author of the new book, Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War.

Historians have been writing about Tacky's Revolt almost since the moment it occurred, but Brown’s work compels us to see the rebellion as a war within a series of wars in the Atlantic world. It will help you rethink the map of eighteenth-century slavery.

About our Guest:

Vincent Brown is Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies.  He directs the History Design Studio and teaches courses in Atlantic history, African diaspora studies, and the history of slavery in the Americas. Brown is the author of The Reaper's Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (Harvard University Press, 2008), producer of Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness, an audiovisual documentary broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens, and is most recently the author of Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (Belknap Press, 2020).

About our Host:

Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.