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Slave codes and penal laws in eighteenth-century Jamaica and Ireland: a comparative and historiographical survey

Graham, AB; (2018) Slave codes and penal laws in eighteenth-century Jamaica and Ireland: a comparative and historiographical survey. Jamaican Historical Review Green open access

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Abstract

During the long eighteenth century, a period stretching roughly between 1660 and 1840, the British elites of both Ireland and Jamaica faced very similar problems of social control. Both were small and embattled minorities within a society made up mainly of Catholic Irish in the one place and black slaves in the other, who were in general overwhelmingly hostile to elites and unwilling to accept their subordinate status. In Ireland between about 1695 and 1719, the Protestant Ascendancy in the Irish Parliament created a body of laws known as the ‘Penal Laws’ intended to regulate the behaviour of the Catholic Irish population, and to destroy its religious, political, social and economic power. In Jamaica and the West Indies, the planters used colonial assemblies to construct a body of laws known as the slave code, which defined the nature of slavery, the position of slaves, and the power of their masters. Both were comprehensive systems of social control that lasted largely unchanged until they were swept away between 1772 and 1795 in Ireland, and between about 1823 and 1838 in Jamaica and the West Indies. Both have also been the subject of intense reassessment over the past five decades, but have either the codes themselves or these process of reassessment been compared with each other, though the slave codes have been fruitfully compared to similar codes in French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese territories, while Declan Downey’s recent comparison of penal laws in Ireland and the Dutch Republic in this period has identified several interesting areas of overlap. This article argues that there is some value to the direct comparison, as the twin processes of reassessment, themselves arising from parallel historiographical trends hitherto examined in isolation from each other, suggest that the slave codes and penal laws were distinctively British forms of social control, and that insights from one region can illuminate and inform our understanding of the other.

Type: Article
Title: Slave codes and penal laws in eighteenth-century Jamaica and Ireland: a comparative and historiographical survey
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://jamaicanhistorical.tripod.com/
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10041038
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