‘[A] Mere Cloak for their Proud Contempt and Antipathy towards the African Race’: Imagining Britain’s West India Regiments in the Caribbean, 1795-1838

Title‘[A] Mere Cloak for their Proud Contempt and Antipathy towards the African Race’: Imagining Britain’s West India Regiments in the Caribbean, 1795-1838
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsLambert, David
JournalJournal of Imperial & Commonwealth History
Volume46
Issue4
Start Page627
Pagination627 - 650
Date Published08/2018
Abstract

This article examines opposition to the creation and presence of the West India Regiments in Britain’s Caribbean colonies from the establishment of these military units in the mid-to-late 1790s to the formal ending of slavery in the region. Twelve regiments were originally created amid the twin crises associated with Britain’s struggle with Revolutionary France and the horrendous losses to disease suffered by British forces in the Caribbean. Their rank-and-file were comprised mainly of men of African descent, most of whom had been bought by the British Army from slave traders or, after the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, recruited from among people ‘liberated’ by the Royal Navy. ... The tensions arising from the establishment of the West India Regiments have been examined by other historians. However, much of the previous focus has been on the political conflict between the British authorities and local colonial legislatures, and on legal challenges to the regiments, especially during the early years of their existence. In contrast, this article takes a wider view of opposition to the regiments over a longer period up to the formal ending of slavery. In so doing, it examines how the regiments’ rank and file were viewed by white West Indians and the deep anxieties this reveals among colonists. The article also considers the efforts made by the regiments’ proponents and commanders to promulgate more favourable images of black soldiers, images that became more prominent by the 1830s. The more general argument is that this struggle around how the West India Regiments’ rank and file should be viewed was part of a broader ‘war of representation’ over the image of ‘the African’ during the age of abolition. [modified from author]

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