Moving between Britain and Jamaica this book examines the world of commerce, consumption and cultivation created and sustained through an engagement with the business of slavery. Tracing the activities of a single extended family – the Hibberts – it explores how the system of slavery impacted on the social, cultural, economic and political landscape of Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Integrating an analysis of the family as political and economic actors with an examination of their activities within the domestic and cultural sphere, the book provides an overview of the different ways in which slavery reshaped society both at home and out in the empire. From relatively humble beginnings in the cotton trade in Manchester, the Hibberts ascended through the ranks of Jamaica’s planter-merchant elite. During the abolition campaigns they were leading proslavery advocates and played a vital role in securing compensation for the slave owners. With a fortune built on slavery, the family invested in country houses, collecting, botany and philanthropy. Slavery profoundly altered the family both in terms of its social position and its intimate structure. The Hibberts’ trans-generational story imbricates the personal and the political, the private and the public, the local and the global. It is both the personal narrative of a family and an analytical frame through which to explore Britain’s participation in, and legacies of, transatlantic slavery. It is a history of trade, colonisation, exploitation, enrichment and the tangled web of relations that gave meaning to the transatlantic world.
Slave-based wealth was reinvested widely during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the planter-merchant elites entered enthusiastically into the culture of conspicuous consumption. Collecting promised to ennoble new forms of wealth, elevate the character, provide an inheritance and create alternative forms of identification. For the collector turned dealer it also represented the opportunity to enter new commodity markets. All of the Hibbert family were involved in the fashionable practices of cultural participation but it was George Hibbert who made the transition from gentlemanly consumer to serious connoisseur. This chapter focuses on the cultural world that George inhabited, giving details of his activities as a collector of art, books and botanical specimens as well as his membership of exclusive clubs and societies. It argues that George’s entry into London’s cultural elite was an important extension of his networks, giving him access to powerful allies whose support he could call upon to further his interests. The chapter explores the relationship between slavery, commerce and culture. It considers the practical ways in which merchants involved in colonial trade used their cultural connections to further scientific projects out in the empire. It also argues that culture became a centrally important discourse through which ideas about hierarchical racial difference were articulated and disseminated.
The country house is considered to be a quintessential symbol of Englishness, but increasingly research has uncovered linkages to both slavery and the wider empire. The purchase of a landed estate offered the planter-merchant elites the security and respectability that investment in Caribbean slavery could not. As slave-produced wealth from the colonies seeped into Britain’s countryside the history of slavery became embedded in these seemingly disconnected rural areas. The extended Hibbert family invested widely in buying, renovating and landscaping country estates. This chapter provides a detailed account of the properties they invested in and how these properties were transferred through the generations. The chapter also considers the practices of philanthropy that were expected of the landed gentleman. It gives details of the donations made to schools, churches, almshouses and other worthy causes. It examines the activities of those Hibberts resident in city spaces, suggesting a distinctive form of urban mercantile philanthropic practice. The chapter argues that these benevolent bequests functioned as markers of social position as well as a rebuttal of abolitionist representations of the slave owner as a cruel tyrant. It concludes with a consideration of the current controversies over the benevolent afterlife of slave owners.
In 1812 George Hibbert quit Parliament to become Agent for Jamaica – the most powerful representative of Britain’s largest Caribbean colony. During his tenure the campaign to end slavery began in earnest. George used every means at his disposal to block and delay the dismantling of the system. He was politically astute enough to recognise that reform and eventual abolition were inevitable. This chapter explores George’s handling of some of the key moments in the political struggle over slavery. As a metropolitan merchant George was attuned to the political culture of the imperial centre. He advocated a strategy of compromise and conciliation in order to buy time and wring concessions from the government. His approach was not always supported by planters in the colonies, demonstrating deep divisions within the West India interest over how best to defend the institution. Having positioned himself as a leading proslavery figure, George’s family became a target for the abolitionists. The chapter documents the public scandal which emerged following the publication of an account of one of the Hibberts’ plantations in the 1820s. It also highlights the instrumental role that George played in securing slavery compensation as the price for acquiescence in emancipation.
This chapter documents the political world of the London West India interest during the campaign to abolish the slave trade. Acknowledged as the first house in the Jamaica trade, the Hibberts were a powerful family within the lobby group. By the 1780s George Hibbert had established himself as a key member of the Society of West India Planters and Merchants. From this position he played a leading role in the defence of the slave trade. George used both official and unofficial channels to defend his interests, including the cultivation of personal relationships with influential individuals. The chapter explores how some of these connections were used to mobilise popular and parliamentary support for slavery. It charts George’s impact on shaping the strategy and rhetoric of the anti-abolitionists, including in evidence to the Select Committee in 1790 as well as in private correspondence. George became a Member of Parliament in 1806 and took his seat in time to defend the slave trade during the 1807 debates which led to its eventual abolition. The chapter analyses his speeches, arguing that he developed a specific form of metropolitan mercantile anti-abolitionist rhetoric.
The epilogue for the book considers the fate of the next generation of Hibberts in the wake of the abolition of slavery. It documents their careers, marriages and inheritances. It suggests that the trans-generational slave-based wealth they benefited from provided them with both financial security and other less tangible forms of privilege including access to social networks and cultural capital. Shifting from the micro to the macro, the chapter uses the notion of the ‘implicated subject’ to argue that the nation too must grapple with the ways in which it was, and is, enriched by its participation in the business of slavery. The chapter also considers the Caribbean’s inheritance from its experience of transatlantic slavery. It argues that continued forms of oppression under colonialism and a lack of redistributive land policies led to the entrenchment of racial inequalities in the wake of abolition. The epilogue concludes with a reflection on the notion of reparative history as one way in which Europe might address the slaving past particularly in relation to the multicultural present.
This chapter provides an introduction to the Hibbert family and their trans-generational activities within the slave economy. It gives an overview of the frameworks, key themes and historiographical debates which the book engages with. It argues for the centrality of the family as a unit for analysis in understanding trade and colonisation in the Atlantic world. It considers the importance of the family and marriage to the maintenance of the slaving system in terms of the transference and management of capital, property and commercial interests. More intimately it suggests the ways in which family structures were reconfigured by the experience of transatlantic slavery. The role of culture is explored in relation to both the reinvestment of slave-based wealth and the establishment of racial hierarchies based on ideas of civilisation. Shifting between the narrative of the family and the nation, the chapter examines how microhistories can act as a useful lens for analysing broader issues of identity, legacies and historical memory.
This introduction contextualises the thirteenth-century Dominican Jacopo da
Varagine (also known as Jacobus de Voragine) as a historical figure and
author, introducing the history and urban culture of medieval northern Italy
as well as the genre of the civic chronicle. It outlines the history of
medieval Genoa, an Italian city-state developing in ways that were both
typical (in struggling with factional conflict) and atypical (as a hub of
international trade). Finally, the introduction provides a short biography
of Jacopo, reviews his vast scholarly output, and introduces his Chronicle:
its transmission tradition, methodologies, main sources, and chief
This book provides the first English translation of the Chronicle of the city of
Genoa by the thirteenth-century Dominican Jacopo da Varagine (also known as
Jacobus de Voragine). While Jacopo is better known for his monumental
compilation of saints’ lives, the Golden legend, his lesser known Chronicle of
Genoa exemplifies the important medieval genre of the civic chronicle. The work
mixes scholarly research about the city’s origins with narrative accounts based
on Genoese archival sources, more didactic and moral reflections on the proper
conduct of public and private life, and personal accounts of Jacopo’s own
experience as archbishop of Genoa from 1292 until his death in 1298. Divided
into twelve parts, the work covers the history of Genoa from its ancient origins
up to Jacopo’s own day. Jacopo’s first-hand accounts of events in which he
himself participated—such as the great civic reconciliation of 1295, over which
he himself presided—provide a valuable contrast to the more scholarly and
didactic sections of the work. Together they form an integrated, coherent
approach to urban history, which illustrates some of the most important styles
of historiography in the Middle Ages.
This chapter charts the rise of the family in Jamaica, from the arrival of its colonial founder Thomas Hibbert senior in 1734 until the abolition of slavery in 1834. It gives an overview of their commercial activities, including their business partnerships, slave factorage and money lending. It documents their shift into plantation management and ownership as the family laid deeper roots on the island. Where possible, evidence of the treatment of the enslaved people on the Hibberts’ estates has been included. This material offers a window into the brutal exploitation which underpinned the family’s material comfort and commercial success. As part of their rise into the plantocracy, the Hibbert men adopted positions of considerable political and civic power. The chapter argues that it was the combination of commercial, landed and political power which enabled the Hibberts to become a dominant force in the Jamaica trade. Using the diaries of Robert Hibbert junior it explores the social and cultural world of the planter-merchant elites as well as the intergenerational relationships between the Hibbert men who worked and lived together in Kingston. The chapter ends with a consideration of some of the legacies of slavery which continue to shape Jamaica.