A Narrative of Events, since the First of August, 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica

A Narrative of Events, since the First of August, 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 5 b&w photos, 2 maps, 7 figures Published: July 2001

Author: James Williams

Editor: Diana Paton

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Caribbean Studies, History > Latin American History

This book brings back into print, for the first time since the 1830s, a text that was central to the transatlantic campaign to fully abolish slavery in Britain’s colonies. James Williams, an eighteen-year-old Jamaican “apprentice” (former slave), came to Britain in 1837 at the instigation of the abolitionist Joseph Sturge. The Narrative he produced there, one of very few autobiographical texts by Caribbean slaves or former slaves, became one of the most powerful abolitionist tools for effecting the immediate end to the system of apprenticeship that had replaced slavery.
Describing the hard working conditions on plantations and the harsh treatment of apprentices unjustly incarcerated, Williams argues that apprenticeship actually worsened the conditions of Jamaican ex-slaves: former owners, no longer legally permitted to directly punish their workers, used the Jamaican legal system as a punitive lever against them. Williams’s story documents the collaboration of local magistrates in this practice, wherein apprentices were routinely jailed and beaten for both real and imaginary infractions of the apprenticeship regulations.
In addition to the complete text of Williams’s original Narrative, this fully annotated edition includes nineteenth-century responses to the controversy from the British and Jamaican press, as well as extensive testimony from the Commission of Enquiry that heard evidence regarding the Narrative’s claims. These fascinating and revealing documents constitute the largest extant body of direct testimony by Caribbean slaves or apprentices.


“[A]n excellent book. . . . [T]his book may hold clues to many of the social and political problems currently affecting the island. This book is required reading for anyone with even a passing interest on the subject of slavery, especially since it contains first hand accounts of all parties involved in such unforgivable deeds.” — Neil Murray , South Eastern Latin Americanist

“Paton’s introduction is first-rate in situating Williams’s experience in a broader, highly charged social and political frame, and in the care with which she discusses how to establish the truth and reliability of documents or texts in such a context. . . . [A]n ideal book to assign undergraduate or graduate students in a course on slavery and emancipation. . . . James Williams did not have to be shown, or tutored in, the ways of freedom. His life is eloquent proof of how one person, and one story—on its own terms and as the embodiment of many people and many stories—can change the course of history.” — Jill Dupont , Caribbean Studies

“Williams’s narrative offers a wealth of detail on a variety of topics, including relations with masters, apprentice resistance, and ideas about gender roles and sexual relations in Jamaica. Diana Paton has written a fine introductory essay that places the narrative in its historical context, discusses slave narratives as literary works, and explores the important role the narrative played in the early dismantling of the apprenticeship system. She has also included several supporting documents from a Jamaican investigation into the veracity of Williams’s claims, which are themselves revealing. Excellent explanatory notes accompany the introduction, narrative, and supporting documents. An important addition to the scholarly literature.” — M. Mulcahy , Choice

"[A] fine analysis . . . [with a] lengthy and indispensable introduction. . . . [V]aluable. . . . [A] fine piece of scholarship, not only because it releases a narrative that has not been reprinted in 163 years but because it is an in-depth analysis of how knowledge is produced." — Karen S. Dhanda , H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews

"[A] rare, first-person account of an apprenticed laborer in Jamaica. Edited and with an excellent introduction by Diana Paton. . . ." — Olwyn M. Blouet , William & Mary Quarterly

"This new edition of an important slave narrative is especially valuable because of the fine introduction by Diana Paton, which places the Williams pamphlet and story within the broader tradition of slave narratives of the Americas. . . . [V]ivid description[s]. . . ."

— David Murray , Hispanic American Historical Review

“This is simply a fabulous compilation of materials. Paton carefully addresses an impressive range of historical and literary contexts that allow the contemporary reader to fully appreciate the importance of Williams’s narrative.” — Sandra Gunning, author of Race, Rape, and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890–1912

“Williams’s narrative contributes a distinctive dimension to our understanding of the development of ‘Black Atlantic’ writing. His is a rare account of a slave’s transition to freedom under the conditions of the British emancipation program in Jamaica. The rich historical and social texture provided by Paton enhances this striking narrative’s import.” — William L. Andrews, coeditor of The Civitas Anthology of African American Slave Narratives


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Price: $24.95

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