Additionally, the provision of a plantation doctor to ease the complaints of the enslaved also fell far short of its aim of creating enslaved dependency. The level of medical knowledge was rudimentary in eighteenth century Jamaica and, even worse, was informed by many of the racist stereotypes that the planter class held of the enslaved Africans.31 As a result, when sick, many enslaved people preferred to ‘illegally’ use their own medicines and traditional healers. Here then was another area that lessened reliance on the estate’s ‘paternal’ medicine. In this sense additional ‘free spaces’ were created.

***"Always Free": An ideological framework***

     Any discourse tracing the "freedom" of enslaved West Africans during slavery requires methodological building blocks that take into consideration the limits of such freedoms prior to the abolition of the slave system. Primary among building blocks is the separation of the enslaved’s desire to be free, a function of preference, as opposed to their ability to be free, a function of plantation conditions and enslaved support structures. Unquestionably, every enslaved captured and brought to Jamaica was desirous of returning home. Some were able to mutiny onboard ship and either killed their white captives or sought through suicide or by jumping overboard to return to the West African coast. Others, who survived the middle passage and landed in slave colonies like Jamaica, were still just as eager to be free of the constraints of the plantation.

     In this context of unwilling labour, the plantation became an area of ‘power formation,’ as opposed to the more traditional mode of analysis which treats it as a ‘centre’ of power.32 The analysis of plantation managerial relations, therefore, shifts from being centred on the power base of the planter, as opposed to the enslaved’s, to a study of how, in unison, enslaved and planter management allowed for the creation of a power network having an organized social base,33 the distinction being that a scenario of power formation created a context of interdependence rather than independence between the holders of power on the plantation.34

     Resistance, then, is taken to another level through awareness and manipulation of aspects of the system of domination. Negotiations, although presenting a "kinder, gentler" face to plantation life, were really battlegrounds over which masters and enslaved fought for supremacy. In this sense, the participation of the elite in bargaining represented their willingness to do battle, not submission. It is hard to imagine that in the midst of this system of subjugation notions of freedom existed. But they did. These notions, as this paper argues, stemmed from the West African origins of the Atlantic World ‘slaves’, which gave them rights and freedoms and, more importantly,
their own appreciation of these rights and freedoms, over and above those imposed on them by their location within the productive process of the Atlantic World.


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August 2000