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Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World [Paperback]

Trevor Burnard
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 May 2004
Eighteenth-century Jamaica, Britain's largest and most valuable slave-owning colony, relied on a brutal system of slave management to maintain its tenuous social order. Trevor Burnard provides unparalleled insight into Jamaica's vibrant but harsh African and European cultures with a comprehensive examination of the extraordinary diary of plantation owner Thomas Thistlewood. Thistlewood's diary, kept over the course of forty years, describes in graphic detail how white rule over slaves was predicated on the infliction of terror on the bodies and minds of slaves. Thistlewood treated his slaves cruelly even while he relied on them for his livelihood. Along with careful notes on sugar production, Thistlewood maintained detailed records of a sexual life that fully expressed the society's rampant sexual exploitation of slaves. In Burnard's hands, Thistlewood's diary reveals a great deal not only about the man and his slaves but also about the structure and enforcement of power, changing understandings of human rights and freedom, and connections among social class, race, and gender, as well as sex and sexuality, in the plantation system.

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Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World + In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (31 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807855251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807855256
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.1 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 550,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A subtle, compelling, and beautifully written study of the racial, social, and gendered power systems that characterized eighteenth-century Jamaica." - Betty Wood, Cambridge University"

About the Author

Trevor Burnard teaches early American history at Brunel University in Middlesex, England, He is author of Creole Gentlemen: The Maryland Elite, 1691-1776.

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First Sentence
On 24 April 1750 at about noon, the Flying Flamborough docked at Kingston, Jamaica, after a long and troublesome voyage from London. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shining a light on a dark time 20 Nov 2009
A great book that lets Thistlewood talk in his own words (the man was one for facts rather than emotion and the book thankfully does not try to guess his feelings) - it gives a glimpse into how the slave world worked, how the businesses that relied on the slave trade functioned and the types of white men that were drawn to Jamaica during this era.
This book does not cover the issues from the slaves' perspectives but that is because the core of the book is based on Thistlewoods diaries (which were numerous) and he does not consider their opinions.
An excellent book to help understand (not judge) the white culture and economy in Jamaica during this awful period.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This book is a great introduction to those wanting to learn about the system of slavery within Jamaica. I would not suggest the book to those wishing to learn about the origins of the Atlantic slave trade but it can really add to ones knowledge of the everyday lives of master and slave on the island of Jamaica. A new perspective for me as i primarily study slavery with North America, which as stated in this book, has some significant diffrences to slave systems of the Caribbean and South America.
The author does well to bring about a full bodied story of Thomas Thistlewood from his habitual daily diary entries over his 36 years in Jamiaca. Great read overall.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars P. Stern 25 Jun 2007
By P. Stern - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This fascinating book is scrupulously researched and very well-written. It is also, in its fine-grained portrayal of the slave-holder Thomas Thistlewood, deeply disturbing. The paradox that Burnard explores is how Thistlewood, an amateur botanist and would-be student of the enlightenment, could also be a sadistic slave-holder in a viciously degrading society. It's extremely thought-provoking, and Burnard's own careful judgments seem consistently on the money. For me, this is an ideal work of academic history.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight to the past. 31 Dec 2013
By Charles Wayne Batson - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Martin Bashir said a stupid thing and paid the price. I thank him for making me aware of this book. It documents, in a dispassionate way, the cruelty of slavery. Thistlewood saw nothing wrong with his actions, because at that time they were the norm. Bashir's point that slavery should not be trivialized by comparison to conditions today, is well taken. Too bad he could not have made the point in a less explosive way.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enlightening experience 30 Dec 2008
By D. Njoku - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
May the world be ever thankful for those who, like the author of this book, can dedicate their effort to enlightening us with such brilliant insight into a relatively small, but not insignificant, part of our past.
This is an experience, not quite removed from that revealed in "King Leopold's Ghost", from which those of us with a sense of responsibility can all benefit, and be encouraged to strive to make this world a better habitat for all of us who happen to share it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Burnard does an excellent job of analyzing the life of Thomas Thistlewood from his diaries 9 Jan 2014
By Gene Rhea Tucker - Published on
Burnard does an excellent job of analyzing the life of Thomas Thistlewood from his diaries, which are long on facts but scant on any analysis. Thistlewood was your sort of typical Jamaican slave overseer and owner, though he may have been overeager to "rape" the slaves under his charge. That and, unlike white Jamaicans of his time and station, he was attuned to the Enlightenment and a voracious reader for a colonial backwater (though Burnard makes clear that Jamaica was, with the possible exception of India, the jewel in the Crown of the British Empire). Why would a man in touch with Enlightenment ideals on one hand, a fierce proponent of Jamaica's white egalitarianism, hold countless black slaves "in miserable slavery"? Burnard believes that Thistlewood quickly bought into the idea that blacks were of a race different than whites, and thus deserving of slavery.

Burnard writes well, and the subject matter is interesting enough to keep the reader's attention, though he repeats himself a bit too much. The parts about Thistlewood's intellectual and gentlemanly pursuits was very interesting to me. A good book, get it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but essential reading 20 Dec 2013
By Roy L White - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I vacillated between giving this book 3 stars or 4 stars, but finally decided that despite the flaws, the events described in Thistlewood's diary need to be as widely read as possible; so I gave it 4 stars.
I think the principle flaws are the author's (Burnard) sometimes uncritical acceptance of Thistlewood's diary entries. Clearly, relations between people, social customs, and life has changed considerably since the 18th century and the author acknowledges that early in the narrative. Despite this disclaimer I am still taken aback by the lack of skepticism or critical analysis from the author concerning a fair number of Thistlewood's diary entries that simply do not pass the "smell test". In fact, some entries seem to be written rationalizations for what even Thistlewood recognized as amoral, brutish behavior. Some of this non-criticality is evident in the narrative about Thistlewood's relations with his slaves. The author accepts Thistlewood's account of slave motivations and behavior without any disclaimers that the motivations and behavior Thistlewood described may not have been objective and were written to satisfy Thistlewood's preconceived notions.
Finally, I think that this book needs to be read along with other works such as "Saltwater Slavery...." by Stephanie Smallwood and "The Bondwoman's Narrative" by Hannah Crafts for a more complete picture of slavery. The Crafts work, while fictional, provides a written historical view of slavery written by an (escaped) slave prior to 1861.
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