“And a child shall lead them?”: Slavery, childhood, and African cultural identity in Jamaica, 1750–1838

Colleen A Vasconcellos, Florida International University


Based primarily on archival evidence collected in Jamaica, this dissertation examined the nature of childhood in the plantation complex between 1750 and 1838, how colonial society and the slave community defined childhood, and how that definition changed over time. It proves how childhood and slavery influenced and changed each other during these years, with the abolitionist movement standing as the main catalyst for change. Although this project chronologically examined the changing nature of slave childhood in Jamaica through four shifts of Jamaican history, each chapter topically focused on slave childhood through the lenses of labor, family, resistance, race, status, culture, education, and freedom. The research showed that although slavery forced slave children into an early adulthood, childhood was a contested process that changed with each generation of children. As the abolitionist movement motivated changes in planter opinion on the value of children to the plantation economy, planters placed increased responsibility on slave children to lead them towards economic stability and profitability. Meanwhile, slave children struggled to survive slavery by reinventing and modifying their ideas of family and kinship and reacting to their situation through various acts of resistance. Although slave parents gained many opportunities to raise their children on their own terms, they struggled to maintain control over that process as planters attempted to change the nature of African cultural identity in Jamaica by impressing Christian and English values on slave children. Under apprenticeship, childhood returned to its previous status as a liability in the eyes of the Jamaican planters. Yet, Jamaican children faced the prospect of an unwritten childhood, one that was free from planter control and gave Jamaican laborers hope for the future. In the end, this dissertation told the story of an overlooked childhood, one that was often defined by Jamaican planters, but frequently contested by the slaves themselves.

Subject Area

Latin American history|History|Black history

Recommended Citation

Vasconcellos, Colleen A, "“And a child shall lead them?”: Slavery, childhood, and African cultural identity in Jamaica, 1750–1838" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3151961.