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H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-Caribbean@h-net.msu.edu (September 2006) B. W. Higman. _Plantation Jamaica 1750-1850: Capital and Control in a Colonial Economy_. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2005. 294 pp. Illustrations, figures, bibliography, index. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN: 9-766-40165-9. Reviewed for H-Caribbean by Selwyn H. H. Carrington, Department of History, Howard University Management and the Plantation Economy _Plantation Jamaica 1750-1850: Capital and Control in a Colonial Economy_ by Barry Higman is indeed a long overdue and necessary part of the Caribbean and British historiography. Higman's work has hopefully begun publication that is so badly needed. It is reminiscent of Heather Cateau's unpublished doctoral dissertation, which had begun to construct the base for management studies in Caribbean historiography, in the light of the fact that so many historians blame management and the attorney system for the failure of the eighteenth-century plantation system. Barry Higman sets out to do several things in _Plantation Jamaica_. First, he looks in detail at the island because it was "the most important example of absentee-proprietorship and management through agents" (p. xi). Thus, the book focuses firmly on the management of the plantation economy "underpinned by the imperial state but offering imperial opportunities for investment and demanding independent decisions by colonial officials" (pp. xi-xii). The first section of the work looks at the functions of the attorneys and their employers. It establishes the need for the attorneys; separates them from the proprietors in the managements system; and contends that in some cases attorneys were themselves proprietors. The people who did the hard work remain voiceless, even in Higman's work, although he mentions this aspect. In the second level of the work, Higman looks at two attorneys, Simon Taylor and Isaac Jackson, both who managed plantations for wealthy creoles who preferred to remain parts of the English aristocratic system and leave their estates to attorneys. He uses Douglas Hall, David W. Galenson and Richard Sheridan to show the establishment of the attorney system. Pulling together the arguments, Higman contends that the use of attorneys as practiced in Jamaica arose as a result of the complexity, accountability and absenteeism of the proprietors. These demands therefore shaped the tasks of the attorneys and gave them power and control. Under absenteeism, most were in London, but there were many in Bristol and Liverpool, among other places in Britain. Higman notes of absentee planters that "Some ... saw themselves as the beneficiaries of "aristocratic capitalism" and settled down to a life of sybaritic idleness, occasionally cultured, often vulgar. They repatriated the wealth generated in the West Indies and wasted it. Many brought elements of slave society with them, most obviously in the enslaved people carried to Britain to serve as household domestics. Others invested profitably in British industries, giving a direct impetus to the Industrial Revolution" (pp. 20-21). _Plantation Jamaica_ talks of the power of the West Indian group consisting mainly of planters and merchants who eventually became members of the West Indian Committee and, in the words of Andrew J. O'Shaughnessy, belonged to the most powerful lobby in London around the period of the American Revolution. However, its power was reduced when the balance of empire was shifted from the West Indies to the East Indies. Looking at the function of absenteeism and therefore the rise of the attorney, Higman quotes Herman Merivale who, in his lectures at Oxford (1939-1941) on the political economy, contended that "sugar and slavery" gave rise to an "unwholesome state of society in Jamaica" because of the need to develop societies of scale which reduced the growth of white societies. Merivale took pride in the fact that Englishmen safeguarded the mixing of the races unlike the situation in the Spanish and French colonies where the groups lived in close proximity (p. 25). It is now argued that absenteeism had several positives features such as the introduction of improved accounting methods, with the absentees establishing their own theoretical methods to ensure increased profits. Consequently, many of them introduced "technological and investment innovation" (p. 28). An alternative to absenteeism was to rent plantations, establish them as partnerships or to sell at high enough prices; but there were the difficulties of finding investors. Hence, the attorney was the best system adopted in Jamaica; the terminology for managerial hierarchy was borrowed from systems in the United Kingdom as well as other regions of Plantation America (p. 35). The author seeks to define the concept of "attorneys," which, outside of Jamaica, were particularly difficult "from the English attorney-at-law and from the proprietors" (p.37). Nevertheless, attorneys were responsible for the drawing up of deeds, mortgages and conveyances, the buying and selling of land, pursuing the payment of rents and for serving eviction notices. They also borrowed money, and commented on the state of the markets. In some cases, attorneys were money lenders who made loans to their proprietors on mortgages and bonds. The landed attorney had full knowledge of agricultural practices and land transfer. While Higman addresses the use of two attorneys, the documents he employs do not allow him to give the full credit to Joseph Foster Barham, who used the system of double managers as early as the last half of the eighteenth century. Higman notes in the book that the Jamaica attorney system compared well with the "steward" system of Britain and the South. However, the system changed somewhat in the colonies, with the colonial forms tending to resemble each other. Yet, the South followed neither the model of Jamaica nor that of the England. Estates were hardly as large; and in cases where these existed, the "steward" took orders for plantation supplies; supervised the selection of overseers; advised his employees of necessary work, or methods of planting and management; and informed employers and workers of the progress of plantation affairs. Higman contends that one attorney would have normally served the estates of absentees. However, they were forced to employ different attorneys because of the immense distance, as in the case of Mathew Gregory Lewis whose lands were 150 miles apart (p. 69). Higman seeks to identify the Jamaica attorney system between 1750 and 1850. He describes the individual as "a literate white man aged in his forties or fifties, who lived in Jamaica for a decade or more and had made his way up the managerial hierarchy" (pp. 90-92). The attorney's knowledge was derived generally from employment in supervisory roles on sugar estates. The most significant individual was the planting attorney who made the important decisions regarding the estate before receiving information from proprietors. Consequently, good management called for good understanding between attorneys and proprietors, the two main players. An important element of plantation life was communication, which removed uncertainty in areas such as the necessary methods of accounting information in plantation management possessed by absentees, attorneys and merchant-factors. Failure to share this valuable information may have resulted in the failure of a plantation. Barry writes that "risk was therefore, a vital ... factor in the management of Plantation Jamaica. Communication was crucial to the sharing of knowledge and to accountability" (p. 112). This called for speedy travel and prompt writing. Delays were detrimental to the functioning of Plantation Jamaica. Many of these occurred as a result of the loss of a vessel. Here Higman provides the example of the _Salway_, which sank after hitting a reef at Corunna, Spain, some months after its maiden voyage. Part 2 of _Plantation Jamaica_ looks at the actual management of Simon Taylor and Isaac Jackson. Before comparing the work of both men, it is important to note that Simon Taylor operated at a time that was advantageous for attorneys. Here, Higman may have looked at the Letter Books of Simon Taylor that are at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. These documents deal with Jamaica estates, conditions of the island's trade with the United States and matters dealing with politics in Jamaica. Taylor may not have been as cautious as he is portrayed in Higman's _Plantation Jamaica_. Perhaps Taylor's letters to Arcedeckne point toward a far-seeing attorney and a cautious proprietor as defined by Higman, but his overall letters are much more critical of British policy in the Americas. Even though Taylor was an attorney to Chaloner Arcedeckne, both men had ascended the heights of aristocratic life; they shared in the hierarchy of Jamaican and British societies. Taylor and Arcedeckne were creoles who attended Eton College and in a sense belonged to the same class. Simon Taylor died a very rich man owning four estates and three pens, and was valued at about £1 million in 1813. Lady Nugent referred to him as the richest man in Jamaica. He managed Golden Grove Estate, one of the richest, until his death in 1813. A comparative analysis of both men is an important element of _Plantation Jamaica_. Simon Taylor was the ideal creole who lived most of his life in Jamaica and died rich; Isaac Jackson also died rich after spending his life in Jamaica. Unlike Taylor, who was jump-started in his life, Jackson was cited by Higman as the professional attorney, making his wealth almost exclusively on salaries and commissions. Taylor managed Golden Grove, a rich plantation which remained so for several years, while Jackson managed Montpelier which faced a different set of challenges from those of Golden Grove at the beginning of the American Revolution. Taylor had little respect for the creole Arcedeckne, whom he saw as the unwilling entrepreneur who remained absent from Jamaica so long that he knew very little of the realities of life in a slave society. Taylor attempted to build a house for Chaloner who refused to get married in spite of Taylor's pleadings. Probably, the most important feature of Montpelier was that the estate, though larger than Golden Grove, had to function without enslaved people. Jackson's management began in the year after slavery ended in 1839. Jackson was also a creole, about thirty years younger than Lord Seaford, another creole who was made a Lord in 1826 and was firmly entrusted in English aristocracy. It is unlikely that Jackson believed that he belonged to the same class as Seaford. Consequently, he corresponded more often with his proprietor than Taylor did with Arcedeckne. Jackson was therefore less open with his opinions and this increased his professionalism. The author shows the issues which faced Jackson and how he tried to overcome them when he took over the management of Montpelier in 1839. For him to maintain sugar production, Jackson had to negotiate rates of labor or wages; the rights of residence; rents; and hours and days of work on conditions sufficiently attractive to obtain or encourage labor first from his plantation and, failing this, from existing plantations. Jackson had to achieve all of this without imposing conditions that seemed negative. Higman wonders if Jackson's failure to make the estates profitable was due to his less aggressive status and whether he would have done better had he been more aggressive. It is likely, however, that had Jackson changed his approach, sugar production would have had to be abandoned and Montpelier would have been even less successful than it was in the early 1850s. In order to make Montpelier as profitable as possible in spite of the abolition of slavery, Jackson adopted a variety of new methods of cultivation. One of his first was to travel the entire island inspecting implements and machines to be adopted on Montpelier, according to Higman. Thus, he sought new methods of information on fencing so as to separate cattle and crops. Jackson practiced manuring to improve the sugar crops. He also studied the capability of the different fields and pieces in order to estimate their value for cane supplies as against the carrying capacity for livestock. "He also developed a strategy for preserving a core cane supply area that saw Montpelier through its hardest days, and in the 1840s this proved quite successful," writes Higman (pp. 274-275). Jackson also turned his attention to the mill, which he kept functioning by using existing technologies and repairing broken parts. Jackson was certainly aware of modern instrumentation that changed sugar production from an art to a science. In 1842, he ordered a sacchrometer with a set of tables, and a Sykes hydrometers with tables calculated to 100 degrees heat and one-half spare glasses. While these were important, sugar would not be measured by its sucrose content until the twentieth century. The new craze in the West Indies was the adoption of the steam mill. Seaford and Jackson never adopted one for Montpelier. It was left to Jackson's son, Howard de Walden, to build a steam mill at Ellis Cayamanas on his assumption of the properties. Jackson's problem, unlike that of Simon Taylor, was the labor supply which he was unable to command, and which affected his cane production. One of the features of the period, which many planters and attorneys of Jamaica adopted, was to maintain a mill size to meet their cane supply--a larger more efficient mill (without increased cane supply) would have been a wasted investment, writes Higman (pp. 275-276). One area of policy with which Jackson disagreed, but which Lord Seaford followed, was white immigration. Jackson felt that this was a waste of time and lands. Even if he had the right view of the needs of Montpelier, he did not get the opportunity to use indentured Africans. The new craze was East Indian immigration, which was employed at Montpelier and which helped in increasing sugar but not for long. In the end, Montpelier abandoned sugar and switched to cattle production; but as expected, this failed and only helped to preserve the land for Seaford and his heir. I very much liked Higman's concept of the existence of honor among thieves in in "Plantation Jamaica." Were the attorneys good managers of the plantations of absentees? The two examples used by Higman are in themselves unsatisfactory to answer the question. Jamaica has left the historian numerous examples of plantation books that would help the researcher to answer the question. The examples of Taylor and Jackson point to creole attorneys and creole proprietors who had different views of the future. This is clearly seen in Simon Taylor's attitude to the American Revolution. Only small sections of it come out in the correspondence between Taylor and Arcedeckne. This attitude is better seen in his letter Books in the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. Both men saw limitations in British policy and therefore left their wealth to their nephews. In the same way that Simon was more "far-seeing" than his proprietor (Chaloner Arcedeckne), Jackson had a much bigger view of the future than Lord Seaford. Both Arcedeckne and Seaford are conservatives, even though they were creoles, while Taylor and Jackson see changes in light of the colonial mind. More radical-minded planters left their attorneys to make changes for the long-run. They came to realize that "the attorneys gained their authority through the complexity of sugar production and marketing and the need for accountability rather than emerging as a simple reaction to absenteeism" (pp. 287-292). Certainly, in the real world of the plantation system throughout the West Indies, the attorney system would have emerged irrespective of the level of absenteeism and not vice-versa. Thus in _Plantation Jamaica_, between 1750 and 1850, as in the rest of the West Indies, no version of settler society flourished. "Under slavery, the provision ground and the internal marketing system foreshadowed peasant development but the growth of a creole economy [unlike white creoles], had little chance" (p. 294). Quite a modern system, the separation of capital and control, ownership and management, was ushered in by the managers who were the attorneys and the saviors of the plantation system (p. 294). Notes . Heather Cateau, "Management and the Sugar Industry in the British West Indies, 1750-1810" (Ph.D diss., Univ. of the West Indies, 1994). . Andrew J. O'Shaughnessy, _An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean_ (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000). . Taylor Papers, London Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 120/1/B-H, 1798-1807. For the period covering 1815-1819 see 120/VIII, AD. Copyright (c) 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. 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