'Children at the Breast' on Hope estate, 1813
This is a page from a list of the 391 enslaved people on Hope Estate in St Andrew, Jamaica, compiled in the year 1813. The full list runs to 13 pages but this particular page gives the names of the 20 enslaved babies described as ‘Children at the Breast’ – aged two years or younger who had not yet been weaned.
The children are identified by given names and by their mothers’ names – Myra’s Jasper, Deborah’s Joe, Martha’s Charlotte. The list was compiled by attornies for the Duke of Buckingham, the British slave-owner and, unlike the slave registers, was not intended for publication.
It is interesting to compare this list of 20 infants with the slave register for the same estate, compiled four years later (both sets of documents are on the main LBS webpage for Hope estate, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/estate/view/2499, see documents at the bottom of the page). 10 of these 20 infants appear in the slave register – Crossman, Little Charles, Jasper, Jacob, Wignal, Betty, Beneba, Charlotte, Flora and Fanny – all as expected and between four and six years of age. Another two, Ann’s Ralph and Deborah’s Joe, may possibly appear in 1817 as William Clark (age 4, ‘mulatto’ child of Ann Scott) and Joe (age 4, with mother’s name given as Big Johannah). The remaining 8 infants do not appear in the slave register of 1817 – at least, not with the same given names and nor with the same mothers’ names. It is possible that the infants were sold along with their mothers at some point between 1813 and 1817, but at least six of the eight mothers appear to be in the 1817 register.
Numerous contemporary sources describe high rates of child mortality in Jamaica in eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In his History of Jamaica, with observations on the cimate, scenery, trade, productions, negroes, slave trade, diseases of Europeans, customs, manners and dispositions of the inhabitants, Robert Renny, a physician writing in 1807, claimed that one quarter of all infants born into enslavement died within the first two weeks of life. James Thomson, also a physician, in A Treatise on the diseases of Negroes, as they occur in the island of Jamaica (Jamaica, 1820) also gives a mortality rate of 25 per cent in the first two weeks. These infants were unlikely to appear in any of the slave registers or other contemporary lists. Nor are miscarriages, abortions and still births recorded.
Death rates for older infants and children were very high too, contributing to a mortality rate of perhaps as high as 50 per cent in the first five years of life. Of the 345 babies born on Worthy Park estate in the five years between 1787 and 1792, only 159 were still alive by the end of 1792 (Orlando Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery (Jamaica, 1967) pp. 101-102).
There is some evidence that child mortality improved in the early nineteenth century. In an analysis of the slave registers from 1832 for the parish of St James, Jamaica, Barry Higman found that, of the 389 children recorded in the register as having been born since 1829, 340 children (or 86 per cent) were still alive by the time of the 1832 register. (B. W. Higman, Slave Population and Economy in Jamaica 1807-1834 (Cambridge, 1976) pp. 47-49). This is very likely to be at least in part because of under-registration in the slave registers. More reliable figures are very difficult to come by.
For more on enslaved childhood, see Colleen A. Vasconcellos, Slavery, childhood and abolition in Jamaica, 1788-1838 (Athens, Georgia, 2015). For more on pregnancy and infancy see Kenneth Morgan, ‘Slave women and reproduction in Jamaica, c. 1776-1834’, History 91(302) 231-253.
Robert Renny’s History of Jamaica, with observations on the cimate, scenery, trade, productions, negroes, slave trade, diseases of Europeans, customs, manners and dispositions of the inhabitants (London, 1807) is published in full at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jr4NAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.
James Thomson’s A Treatise on the diseases of Negroes, as they occur in the island of Jamaica (Jamaica, 1820) is published in full at https://archive.org/stream/2574040R.nlm.nih.gov/2574040R#page/n5/mode/2up.
Matthew Lewis’s Journal of a West India Proprietor (London, 1834) is available at https://archive.org/details/journalofwestind00lewiuoft and contains information about children and child mortality.
For more about mortality in Atlantic slavery and its effect on Caribbean society, see Vincent Brown, The Reaper’s Garden: death and power in the world of Atlantic slavery (Cambridge, Mass., 2010).
A list of enslaved people on Hope estate in 1813 with details of ages, parentage, occupation and general health, page 12 of 13. From 'A General List of Negroes on Hope Estate, 1st January 1813', Stowe Papers, West Indies Box 1, folder 12, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.