Slave villages on Nevis and elsewhere in the Caribbean

Detail of the estate map of Jessups 1755 (with permission of Southampton City Archives: ref D/MW 35/8a)

Historic illustrations of plantations in the Caribbean occasionally show slave villages as part of a wider landscape setting, though they are often romanticised views, rather than realistic depictions.

For the most part the layout of slave villages was not rigidly organised, as they grew up over time and the inhabitants had some choice about the location of their houses. The plan of the 18th century slave village at Jessups is a good example of this kind of layout. The British planter Bryan Edwards observed that in Jamaica slave "cottages" were;

"...seldom placed with much regard to order, but, being always intermingled with fruit-trees, particularly the banana, the avocado-pear, and the orange (the Negroes' own planting and property) they sometimes exhibit a pleasing and picturesque appearance." Edwards 1793 II, 126

By the late 18th century, some plantation owners laid out slave villages in neat orderly rows, as we can see from estate maps and contemporary views. John Pinney (1740-1818) who owned the plantation of Mountravers on Nevis gives two reasons for this layout. In the 1790s Pinney instructed that the houses in the slave village should be;

"...built at approximate distances in right lines to prevent accidents from fire and to afford each negro a proper piece of land around the house". Eickelmann and Small 2004, 27

He also planted coconut and breadfruit trees for his enslaved labourers (Pares 1950, 127).

Contemporary illustrations show that slave villages were often wooded. In 1820-21 James Hakewill drew a number of sugar plantations in Jamaica showing the slave villages in several cases set within wooded areas, which served not only as shade but also as fruit trees to provide food for the enslaved populations (eg Hakewill 1825, pls 8, 19).

Montpelier estate, Jamaica by James Hakewill. Image reference HAKE5 as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. Courtesy of authors Jerome S Handler and Michael L Tuite Jr.