Jamaica's best kept secret: Blacks owned slaves

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Jamaica's best kept secret: Blacks owned slaves


Sunday, December 29, 2019

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December 27 was the beginning of the commemoration of the Christmas Uprising led by Samuel Sharpe in 1831. The story of enslavement and emancipation is about our African ancestors in the “New World” who, as historical beings, were uprooted and transported into strange lands, where they were transformed into “beasts of labour” with absolutely no human rights, and into a slave society that regarded Africans as mules and even referred to the offspring of a European and African female slave as a mulatto — a name originally given to the offspring of Amerindians and Europeans, meaning literally a young mule.

Over the years we have been fed a steady diet around our national heroes and their acts of Emancipation without further investigating the wealth of knowledge and history of Jamaica. Our traditional reputed voices have also failed in informing the narrative, especially to the fact that during the first half of the 18th century of British occupation, there were Miskito Indians, whose kingdom stretched from Nicaragua along the Caribbean rimland of Central America and included Black River, located in St Elizabeth, Jamaica. And, “among the diverse items they traded with the Europeans were captives obtained by slave raids into surrounding areas”. ('Miskito Slaving & Culture Contract'... Mary W Helms, Journal of Anthropological Research Vol 39, No 2) Neither have the masses been informed that these Indians were originally employed by the authorities in Jamaica to track down the Maroons, and that the final outcome was intimate relationships that have informed the ethnicity of Jamaicans along the southern parts of the island before the arrival of Indians from India as indentured labourers.

Not much is taught about free blacks (Negroes) living in Jamaica during the era of enslavement, only that slavery was just an act committed by white colonial masters, while ignoring that Negroes also owned slaves. When I referred to such ownerships in one of my Facebook posts a friend commented, “Nonsense! Made-up story! There were absolutely no African slave masters in Jamaica or the Caribbean.”

It was Arnold Bertram who wrote on “the rarely discussed phenomenon of Jamaica's black and coloured slave owners”. According to Bertram, “In 1833, the year the British Parliament passed the Emancipation Act, an estimate of Jamaica's population showed 16,600 whites, 31,300 free coloured, 11,000 free blacks, and 311,000 enslaved Africans and people of African descent. Interestingly, the free coloured and black population included the owners of some 70,000 enslaved Africans (R Montgomery Martin, 1854).” ('Jamaica's black and coloured slave owners', The Gleaner, August 1 2017)

It was the custom of the white planters to allot freedom and property, including slaves, to their Negro concubines. An example of the granting of such freedom can be found in the will of Edward Earl, who arrived in Jamaica around 1777:

“To my Negro woman Kitty 40 Jamaican currency. She shall reside at Seafield Penn or where else she may choose and that she shall not be bound to do any labour or servitude for any person whomsoever as long as she lives.”

In Anthony Gambrill's 'Jamaica in British: Bristol the Slaving Port', we read the story of Robert Duckenfield, who “served in the Jamaican House of Assembly, eventually representing Portland. Upon his death in 1755 he left in his will, land, slaves, and lots in Kingston to build a house for Jane Engusson, a free Negro woman, and his three children by her. Eight years earlier, he had an Act passed in the Assembly entitling his children to the same rights and privileges as English subjects born of white parents”. ( Sunday Gleaner, February 18, 2018)

I am a descendant of ancestors who were either enslaved, free blacks, as well as white and black owners of slaves. In particular, in reference to Bertram's and Gambrill's articles, my 13th great grand uncle Robert Duckenfield and his “free Negro woman” were owners of slaves. How did Jane Engusson end up as an owner of slaves some 79 years before Emancipation was granted in 1834?

Before answering that question, let me say that from time immemorial to be human has been an evolving understanding of development, guided by the ruling ideas of the ages. For example, in the first age, to be human was identified with some individual or body external to oneself, and justice could not be complete or exact before the idea of human was, for justice implies a proper estimate of the being about whom it is relating and with whom it deals. Hence, we see the monstrous forms of extermination that included wife and children as punishment, with a criminal being seen as a part of him or a complete nation.

This primitive thinking lies at the root of all genocides committed in human history, including the Assyrian (1915-1923), the Holocaust (1941-1945), Kurdish (1977-1991), Rwanda (1994), Darfur (2003-present). This primitive thinking can also be found in the Jamaican proverb, “Cyaan ketck Qwaku yuh ketch 'im shut.” — If you can't get revenge on your target, take revenge on someone close to the intended victim.

Slavery was another acceptable idea of the ruling ages; a practice common to all tribal peoples, whether Indians, Africans, Chinese, or Caucasian, in which exchange of people and material goods was conducted for social, political, ideological, as well as economic reasons. For us who live in the 21st century, we now speak of, and acknowledge that, the enslavement of fellow humans is despicable, and that the enslavement of our African ancestors was the most horrific act committed to fellow humans in the history of slavery.

Robert Duckenfield owned and operated the Duckenfield Sugar Estate in St Thomas. When he died, in 1755, he left in his will the following:

“On Jane Engusson, a free Negro woman, he setted 101 acres and 14 slaves, two lots of land in East Kingston on Duke Street and the use of his town house in East Kingston, until his brother, Samuel should arrive from England, and all his furniture and plate, with 300 to have a house built on one of the two fore mentioned lots. Also one of his chaises.

“To each of his two sons, William and Estcourt Dukinfield, by Jane Engussen, 400 acres, 4 slaves and a building lot in Kingston (opposite to Thomas Wheeter on Duke Street). To their sister Elizabeth, 417 acres, 7 slaves and a building lot in Kingston adjacent to her brother. Also 500 to William, 500 to Estcourt and 1,000 as a dowry to Elizabeth provided she marry a white man.”

William Dukinfield, a Creole, joined the exodus of Jamaican white planters to Virginia, but fate delivered a blow to his freedom. In Jamaica he was a free man; however, in America he was enslaved.

My cousin, Thomas Duckenfield, was born in Virginia and is a descendant of William Dukinfield, the son of Robert and Jane Engusson born 1732 on the plantation in Jamaica.

The family finally prospered after abolition of slavery in 1865. Thomas gained two degrees, with honours, from Princeton and Harvard. He has worked at the Pentagon on defence procurement, held several partnerships with civil rights law firms in Washington, DC, and is currently CEO of a company dealing with the recruitment of army veterans.

In his book Barons & Bastards: A History of the Duckenfield Family - From English Origins to an American Presence Thomas sheds light on the legislative process as recorded in “The minutes of the Assembly in Jamaica dated from 17th March 1747 to 2nd June 1747” that provides a picture of the process required to present, pass, and ratify this extraordinary Private Act.

“On 24th June 1752, Matthew Lamb, resident at Lincoln's Inn, advised The Lords Commissioners of the Board of Trade and Plantations that, upon reviewing the Private Act, he had no objection in point of law to their confirming the Act and naturalising the reputed children of Robert Duckingfield, Esquire.

“On 27th August 1752, the Lords Justices in Council approved the representation to this board for the confirmation of an Act passed in Jamaica in May 1747 to entitle William Duckingfield, Escourt Duckingfield and Eliza Duckingfield, infants, to the same rights and privileges with English subjects born of white parents.

“On 8th November 1752, The Lords Commissioners of the Board of Trade and Plantations, sitting in council in England, confirmed Robert Duckingfield's Private Act.”

Thomas further wrote that: “Just a month later, on 22nd December 1752, Robert Duckenfields children by Jane Enguson, namely William Duckinfield (a mulatto boy), Escourt (aka Edward) Duckinfield (a mulatto boy), and Elizabeth Duckinfield (a mulatto girl) were baptised. At the age of 40, Jane Enguson was also baptised with her children on 22nd December 1752.

“On 17th November 1755, Robert Duckenfield executed his last will and testament. Robert Duckenfield died just before 3rd December 1755, when he was buried in the chancel of Kingston Parish Church.” (p 38)

In July 2019, my cousin Thomas along with his wife Catherine and family visited the town of Dukinfield, England. Family historian Gay Jeanne Oliver reported that, “He visited the Old Hall Chapel and talked to the Friends of Old Hall Chapel about the support he was proposing to give them to agree the transfer of, and access to, the chapel from within the curtilage of the Beardsley family's construction's property.” He then visited Dukinfield Town Hall, where a statue of our ancestor was erected, and was met by the Mayor of Tameside Leigh Drennam, local Dukinfield councillors, and the head of heritage in Tameside, Leanne Feeley.

As we recall Sam Sharpe and all who participated in the quest for human freedom, let us embrace the ruling ideas of human rights, as we seek in creating a better Jamaica as a place of respect, integrity, and peace for all, despite the diverse and adverse circumstances that once informed the experiences of our ancestors.

Editor's note: Variant spelling in names undisturbed as per source.

Dudley C McLean II hails from Mandeville, Manchester. Send comments to the Observer or dm15094@gmail.com.

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