Tacky’s Revolt: The Story Of An Atlantic Slave War, by Vincent Brown
This is a book which could be a lot better than it is, and the faults of this book are entirely the result of an author is working too hard to impress the reader on how knowledgeable he is about Atlantic history and how woke he is for considering slavery as well as anti-slavery revolts to be warfare. The author’s strident left-wing bias makes him a booster for the violent behavior of the various leaders of slave revolts, who thought they had a chance for victory when they in fact did not, a problem that similarly afflicted many indigenous peoples who fought local wars against opponents with massive demographic advantages they simply could not fathom. In reading this book I was struck by the way that the author managed to provide insights into counter-revolutionary techniques almost in spite of himself. In the author’s mind, revolutionaries are to be praised even when unsuccessful, for me, it was pleasing to see the success of counter-revolutionary forces in dealing with acts of warfare, and I think it would be useful to see the petty aspects of crime and urban terrorism that go on nowadays as being acts of warfare that can and should be dealt with harshly. The author considers petty civil unrest to be war? Then let us have war.
This book is about 250 pages long and most of it is setup, the actual events themselves being rather short and the main subject of interest to the author the links between slave revolts in Jamaica and the world of the slave trade in Africa. The book begins with a list of illustration and a prologue that discusses the path to Rebel’s Barricade, a structure built by slave rebels that found itself named on the map. The author then discusses the development of African realms and their relationship with slave traders, showing that the growth of the slave trade led certain peoples to become much more powerful and others to be overwhelmed as a result (1). After that the author discusses the Jamaica Garrison and the society that developed in Jamaica as a result of the use of slavery for the basis of its economy (2). The author then looks at the Coromantee territory as it developed in Africa as well as Jamaica (3), before finally starting a discussion of the titular subject more than halfway into the book with a look at Tacky’s premature revolt (4). This is followed by a discussion of the broader Coromantee War (5) that developed right when Jamaica was supposed to be depleted of its military, as well as a discussion of the effects of the revolt on British imperialism, Jamaica’s support of British imperial efforts, and the future of slave revolts in the Caribbean, as well as the loss of Coromantee as a useful description of the slaves that became acculturated to Jamaica over the decades and the blacks in freedom afterwards (6). The book ends with an epilogue about the age of slave war, notes, acknowledgements, and an index.
Despite the fact that the author and I are clearly of directly opposing political worldviews, it is not as if the author’s analysis is worthless. For all of his flaws in supporting the violence of subaltern groups and hypocritically decrying the violence that is done to preserve a just law and order (or, when it comes to slavery, an unjust law and order), the author’s analysis in connecting together what have appeared to others to be unrelated slave wars with a coordinated effort where the timing was missed, and with the larger Atlantic history of the people involved, is immensely worthwhile. The author also notes, interestingly enough, that the effort of Tacky’s Revolt ended up playing a role in the successful slave revolt in Haiti that took place only three to four decades later, putting an obscure slave uprising that may be misnamed into a larger context that involves the divisions among blacks, the contrary desires of whites to preserve their labor force and social distinctions while also securing their own safety and that of their neighbors in a social system whose operation required a great deal of violence to effectively run into a context that is impressive even if its slant is misguided. If the author’s overscrupulous concern for subaltern groups leads him astray, his desire to connect things together is interesting even for those readers who disagree with him.