Atlantic slave societies were notorious deathtraps. In Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean, Randy M. Browne looks past the familiar numbers of life and death and into a human drama in which enslaved Africans and their descendants struggled to survive against their enslavers, their environment, and sometimes one another. Grounded in the nineteenth-century British colony of Berbice, one of the Atlantic world's best-documented slave societies and the last frontier of slavery in the British Caribbean, Browne argues that the central problem for most enslaved people was not how to resist or escape slavery but simply how to stay alive.
Guided by the voices of hundreds of enslaved people preserved in an extraordinary set of legal records, Browne reveals a world of Caribbean slavery that is both brutal and breathtakingly intimate. Field laborers invoked abolitionist-inspired legal reforms to protest brutal floggings, spiritual healers conducted secretive nighttime rituals, anxious drivers weighed the competing pressures of managers and the condition of their fellow slaves in the fields, and women fought back against abusive masters and husbands. Browne shows that at the core of enslaved people's complicated relationships with their enslavers and one another was the struggle to live in a world of death.
Provocative and unflinching, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean reorients the study of Atlantic slavery by revealing how differently enslaved people's social relationships, cultural practices, and political strategies appear when seen in the light of their unrelenting struggle to survive.
"Deeply researched, clearly written, provocative, and significant, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean is a paradigm-shifting book."—Justin Roberts, Dalhousie University
"[A] beautifully written exposition and analysis of slavery in the Black Atlantic world . . . In this text [Browne] advances the provocative claim that enslaved societies in the Caribbean were not focused on the struggle for freedom but on the struggle to survive. It is with the struggle for survival as an interpretive key that he reimagines slavery in the Caribbean from the perspective of enslaved persons using slave codes and regulations as a basis for an appeal to authorities rather than the quest for rebellion and violent protests as tools for freedom."—Black Theology
"[An] illuminating new monograph on the slave society of Berbice during the era of amelioration . . . What results from Browne's research is a monograph replete with stories of the everyday struggles and conflicts that characterized every Atlantic slave society. Browne has crafted the best portrait of the slave driver to be found in the literature."—Social History
"Concisely and elegantly written . . . Surviving Slavery focuses on how slaves, masters, and colonial authorities negotiated the terms of labor, punishment, provisioning, and other quotidian issues. Boasting a rigorous methodology and deep archival research, Browne substantively contributes to an emerging scholarship on the metropolitan-driven reform project intended to "ameliorate" colonial slavery in the nineteenth-century British Caribbean. More broadly, Surviving Slavery yields fresh perspectives on several familiar and more recent themes central to the study of power dynamics within Atlantic slave societies.—Journal of Social History
"[A] carefully constructed and deeply researched study that challenges many prevailing perspectives, tropes, and arguments . . . This is a compelling interpretation that adds new layers of complexity to our understanding of the social and political worlds of New World slavery."—Slavery & Abolition
"Browne urges us to reconsider our assumptions about the power relationships forged during the period of Atlantic slavery, and to imagine slavery through the eyes of bondpeople themselves . . . Unapologetically, Browne scrutinizes gendered conflicts among slaves, concluding that enslaved men, their owners, and colonial officials 'cooperated across lines of color and status' to subordinate enslaved women. Slaves not only struggled to survive slavery—they also struggled to survive themselves."—Journal of Global Slavery
"Randy M. Browne's important study of the late slavery period in Berbice uses a rich, but surprisingly underused, set of sources—reports of the fiscals and protectors of slaves—to take a fresh approach to the study of Caribbean slave societies. Browne is attentive to the multiple dynamics of power and the complexity of the situation of many enslaved people."—Diana Paton, Edinburgh University
"Drawing upon a remarkable archive of protests by the enslaved, Randy M. Browne thoroughly reimagines the politics of slavery. Listening intently to his sources, he carefully teases out the slaves' multifaceted struggle for survival in some of the most brutal conditions ever known. This illuminates the elemental nature of political striving, enhancing our understanding of the fundamental aspirations, strategies, and negotiations of a subjugated people who nevertheless continued to fight. These black lives matter to Browne—and to all of us—as much for what they tell us about humanity writ large as for how they compel us to rethink the world of Atlantic slavery from the inside out."—Vincent Brown, author of The Reaper's Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery