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Book Notes: Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713, Richard S. Dunn

Ralph Davis

<plain_text><page sequence="1">WEST INDIES JEWRY Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Glass in the English West Indies, 1624 1713. By Richard S. Dunn. London, Jonathan Cape (1973). Pp. 359. This is the first comprehensive history of the early stages of economic and social develop? ment of all the British Caribbean islands. The developed colonies of the eighteenth century have been much studied, and there are partial accounts of the earlier history of some of the islands; but this work pulls together what is known about its period and brings in much new material to make a wholly satisfying synthesis. The economic structure of each of the early colonies, the search for subsistence and marketable crops, and the differing timing and circumstances of the turn to sugar planta? tions in each island, are exhaustively examined. The author has gone beyond this to a thorough examination of social structure?within the white population as well as between free men and slaves?examining the demographic his? tory, births and deaths, and the age, sex, and class composition of the population. His survey is not merely statistical (though he reveals the existence of an astonishing amount of statistical material for so early a time) but goes on to inquire searchingly into explanations of what the statistics reveal. He draws a striking contrast between the sugar islands, where most Englishmen died young and left only one or two children, and the New England colonies with their village patriarchs, hordes of children, and family-centred communities. And of course he examines the slave system, its roots and operation, showing how oppress? ively its shadow lay over white life and society in the islands. Professor Dunn has produced a magnificent work, which will provoke much fresh thought and argument on colonial history. Limited Jewish Role The Jewish role was a very limited one in this first century of the British West Indian colonies. Two documents appear to set out their numbers clearly. The Barbados census of 1680 shows them not as planters but as a group confined to the capital city, Bridgetown. There were fifty-four Jewish households (with 184 members and 163 slaves), making up nearly a sixth of the town's white population. The Jamaica record of the same year shows a similar concentration in the capital, Port Royal, where there were 17 Jewish households; they had bought a plot of land in Jew Street, in 1677, to build a synagogue. Here, however, Jewish population must have been dispersed beyond Port Royal, if Andrade's estimate of 900 for 1730 is sound. Though some were very poor, the evidence suggests a general level of modest prosperity. Almost certainly they were Sephardic Jews whose forebears came out to Brazil, whether in the sixteenth century</page><page sequence="2">218 Book Notes directly from Portugal, or in the seventeenth century along with the Dutch invasion of the Portuguese colony. When the Portuguese recovered Brazil between 1640 and 1654 these Jews moved on again, some into Spanish Jamaica, where the English invaders of 1655 found them, some to English Surinam, from which they emigrated with their English neighbours when this colony was transferred to the Dutch in 1667, and some directly to the Leeward Islands or Barbados. In 1680, though they were often prosperous, they were no more than tolerated, apparently living close in their own community in Jew Street or Synagogue Street and burdened with a special Jews' tax. Only in the eighteenth century, when the British Government had prohibited financial discrimination against them, did some become substantial landowners; in Barbados and Jamaica before 1700 they were urban traders and craftsmen. (Professor) Ralph Davis (Department of Economic History, University of Leicester)</page></plain_text>