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Migration, freedom and enslavement in the revolutionary Atlantic: The Bahamas, 1783–c. 1800

Shirley, P.D.; (2012) Migration, freedom and enslavement in the revolutionary Atlantic: The Bahamas, 1783–c. 1800. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis examines the impact of revolution upon slavery in the Atlantic world, focusing upon the period of profound and unprecedented change and conflict in the Bahamas during the final decades of the eighteenth century. It argues that the Bahamian experience can only be satisfactorily understood with reference to the revolutionary upheavals that were transforming the larger Atlantic world in those years. From 1783, the arrival of black and white migrants displaced by the American Revolution resulted in quantitative and qualitative social, economic and political transformation in the Bahamas. The thesis assesses the nature and significance of the sudden demographic shift to a non-white majority in the archipelago, the development of many hitherto unsettled islands, and efforts to construct a cotton-based plantation economy. It also traces the trajectory and dynamics of the complex struggles that ensued from these changes. During the 1780s, émigré Loyalist slaveholders from the American South, intent on establishing a Bahamian plantocracy, confronted not only non-white Bahamians exploring enlarged possibilities for greater control over their own lives, but also an existing white population determined to defend their own interests, and a belligerent governor with a penchant for idiosyncratic antislavery initiatives. In the 1790s, a potentially explosive situation was inflamed still further as a new wave of war and revolution engulfed the Atlantic. The various ways in which Bahamians responded to the prospect of the new possibilities seemingly opened up by the Haitian Revolution would have lasting consequences. Whilst engaging critically with both the detail and general interpretive tendencies of existing Bahamian historiography, the thesis seeks to demonstrate the manifold, complex, and contingent nature of the relationship between the eighteenth-century revolutions and the Atlantic slave system. As such, it aims to show the potential of an Atlantic history integrating local and more general perspectives to facilitate a more nuanced and fully transnational account of the ‘Age of Revolution’.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Migration, freedom and enslavement in the revolutionary Atlantic: The Bahamas, 1783–c. 1800
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > History

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