Of earth and clay: Locating colonial economies and local ceramics

Mark William Hauser*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


Of the scores of market towns located on the island of Jamaica, none is more famous locally and in traditional song than Linstead Market. A space of economic and social exchange, Linstead Market has long thought to have been founded after the abolition of slavery, when the Jamaican Railway was constructed. The assumption that Linstead Market was a nineteenth- century institution follows a line of scholarship suggesting that Jamaica's internal market system was built around the English colonial infrastructure. It has become increasingly clear, however, that places like Linstead Market existed well before the nineteenth- century railroad but outside the sphere of control of the colonizing British. The assumption that the creation of Linstead Market was a reaction to British "internal improvements" emerged from a clearly Anglocentric frame of reference, which has long underestimated the importance of markets to the independent development of African Jamaican society. As many scholars working in the Caribbean have pointed out, systems of production and oceanic networks of trade disciplined enslaved and freed labor into colonial subjects; it has long been assumed that even if the British could not control every aspect of the lives of the enslaved, they at least surveilled and kept close watch over their activities. Recently, a num ber of scholars have questioned the depth of British control over Jamaica's enslaved. The picture emerging is a complex one of interrelation and overlapping spheres of interaction in which British pretensions to regimentation and control were regularly contested and challenged by the African descent population of the island. One significant nexus of contestation was the development of market exchange, controlled in part by people of African descent, located at places like Linstead Market. What I refer to elsewhere as "black markets" existed at the periphery of British control but were central to the experience of the African diaspora in Jamaica. While numerous commodities were produced by the enslaved and sold by them in the many markets that existed in colonial Jamaica, one such class of commodity of particular interest to archaeologists is a form of locally produced low- fired earthenware known in Jamaica as yabbas. In this chapter I examine market activities and trade among enslaved laborers, writ as disorderly acts by colonial officials, and examine the ways in which markets were contested colonial frontiers. Using locally produced ceramics as a point of entry, I suggest that Linstead Market, located on what was known in the eighteenth century as Sixteen Mile Walk, was a space of colonial interaction and confrontation. Archaeological evidence points to an eighteenth- century establishment of Linstead Market as not only a space for pottery to be exchanged across the island but a social space for the exchange of ideas contesting the colonial order, culminating in what has been referred to as the 1765 St. Mary's Revolt, one of the major acts of resistance by enslaved laborers of eighteenth- century Jamaica. In this chapter I also demonstrate how the spaces and actions of local commodity production and exchange in places like Linstead Market were arenas for social negotiation outside the control of the European colonial order. The role of Linstead Market in the internal economy of post- emancipation Jamaica has been the subject of numerous popular and academic discussions. In deed, there is ample documentary evidence that points to its existence at least as early as the 1840s. Any arguments regarding its existence in the eighteenth century at this point are speculation based on models of economic necessity, our understanding of the organization of enslaved labor resistance and struggles, and demographic probabilities. At the time the area in which Linstead Market would be based was called Sixteen Mile Walk and was home to numerous plantations. The difficulty in trying to ascertain the organization of such markets in the eighteenth century is that they were inevitably poorly documented with only fragmentary accounts. In this essay I attempt to antedate Linstead Market using multiple sources of evidence including published accounts, unpublished ethnography, and archaeology. Specifically, analysis of production and distribution of yabba, a local Jamaican ceramic, suggests an eighteenth- century establishment of Linstead Market, thus tying this space to one of the significant wars of resistance organized by enslaved laborers in eighteenth- century Jamaica.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOut of Many, one People
Subtitle of host publicationThe Historical Archaeology of Colonial Jamaica
PublisherThe University of Alabama Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780817356484
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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