Interactive map ‘contradicts slave uprising theories’

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The great Jamaican slave insurrection of 1760-61 was a well-planned affair that posed a genuine strategic threat, and not a chaotic riot as was previously thought, according to a new interactive map put together by Harvard University professor Dr Vincent Brown.

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The map, which charts the greatest slave insurrection in the 18th-century British empire, claims to dispel the notion that black uprisings were little more than chaotic riots.

Produced in conjunction with Axis Maps, the map is also said to provide new insights into the political history of slavery.

The 1760 insurrection saw more than 1,500 enslaved black men and women stage uprisings in parishes across Jamaica. Over 18 months rebels killed 60 white people and destroyed thousands of pounds worth of property.

More than 500 black men and women were killed in the clash or committed suicide, while another 500 were deported from the island.

Historians have long debated the purpose and execution of the African rebellion, with many claiming it was a spontaneous eruption. Historians Edward Long and Bryan Edwards said in the late 1700s it was launched “at the instigation of a Koromantyn negro called Tacky”, a former African chief.

But by plotting the insurrection on a map, Dr Brown claims to show the rebellion was in fact a carefully planned affair.

By breaking down its movements Brown demonstrates how the rebellion was shaped by the island’s topography; how it included at least three major uprisings; and how its suppression required collaboration of several elements of British military power.

This, he claims, provides a new insight into the history of slavery, and paves the way for a new form of historical cartography.

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“An emerging alliance between historians and mapmakers promises to enlighten public perceptions of black insurrection,” said Brown.

“As with more recent disturbances, people at the time debated whether the slave insurrection in Jamaica in 1760-61 was a spontaneous eruption or a carefully planned affair. Historians still debate the question, their task made more difficult by the lack of written records produced by the insurgents.

“Cartographic evidence developed in collaboration with Axis Maps shows that the rebellion was in fact a well-planned affair that posed a genuine strategic threat, not an indiscriminate outburst.”

Dr Tim Lockley, reader in history at the University of Warwick, told historyextra: “The map is really quite impressive. It is building on a growing trend among historians to pay more attention to place, geography and topography.

“A recent book by Peter Hoffer on the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina did a similar revelatory thing, studying the locations and distances between places to deepen our understanding of motives for revolt.

“In the Jamaican case these maps show the extent of the revolt, increasing the likelihood of planning being a central issue.

“In the Stono case, conversely, the confused movements of the rebels suggested a lack of planning.”

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The map can be viewed at revolt.axismaps.com.