One of the complexities involved in talking about the Irish and the Caribbean is understanding that not all of the Irish who went there were indentured servants of the Catholic peasant class, rather there was also the Irish descended from the Normans and the Anglo-Irish.
As for Howe Peter Brown, 2nd Marquess of Sligo, he was an Anglo-Irish nobleman, whose father was given the title Marquess of Sligo.
He was appointed by British Prime Minister Robert Peele as governor of Jamaica in 1834. Upon arriving, he made it his intention to implement the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 within the island. During his time as governor, he heard horrifying reports of the conditions of the slaves, such as how the mothers would be denied their time to breastfeed their infants.
What is also an unsettling complexity is that the Irish did not always assume the role of indentured servant, rather they were also plantation owners with their own slaves. In fact, in Jamaica specifically, most of the plantation owners were Irish. While there have been commonalities made between the marginalized Irish and the enslaved Africans by abolitionists like the United Irishmen and by Pan-Africanists like Marcus Garvey, there is still the stamp placed upon the Jamaican identity by Irish slave-holders, such as the prevalence of Irish surnames and Irish place-names.
Since Sligo was himself of the Irish aristocracy, the plantation owners thought that he would side with them. However, one of his first steps as Governor was to implement an apprenticeship system in order to transition the African-Jamaican population from slaves to artisans. It involved the former slaves working for their former master for a period of 45 hours a week for four years (for domestic workers) or six years (for field laborers). They would not be given a wage, rather paid in food, clothing, medical attention; while the former slave-owners would be compensated twenty million pounds for their “losses.”
As for Richard Hill, a mixed-race lawyer who was appointed the Justice of the Peace in Trelawney Parish by the previous governor, Sligo appointed him to become Head of the Department of the Stipendiary Magistrates, which was a position responsible for supervising the Apprenticeship. Sligo would also finance two schools specifically for African-Jamaicans, repave the roads, and improve the postal system.
As such, the plantation owners completely opposed Sligo’s efforts, by poking fun at his Irish blood. They also cited his younger days, when he would journey with Lord Byron in searching for treasure in Greece, in order to scandalize his career. Eventually, the Jamaican Assembly grew tired of Sligo’s abolitionist policies, and so they ousted him from the Governorship in 1836.
Even after returning to Ireland, Sligo would continue to champion abolition to the British crown, by citing the reports made by missionaries of the maltreatment of the slaves.
Slavery in Jamaica would not be officially abolished until 1838.
There are some conflicts Sligo came across during his abolitionist venture. Considering how the freed Jamaicans would work for their former masters in exchange for provisions that were only guaranteed by the slave laws, the apprenticeship system was far from perfect, however it was but one step in Sligo’s abolitionist vision. Another noted block in his vision was the fact that Sligo himself owned slaves, which made this type of hypocrisy overshadow his denouncement of the slave-owners of Jamaica.
However, as a result of his efforts, the first Jamaican village composed of emancipated Jamaicans was named after him. Sligoville was established by Reverend James Marcell Phillipo who purchased 25 acres of land in St. Catherine in 1835. Marquess Sligo’s descendant, Sheelyn Brown, has worked alongside historian Anne Chambers in order to create an exhibition of Marquess Sligo’s time as governor over an emancipated Jamaica.
- Donnell, Alison, et al. Caribbean Irish Connections: Creolizing Histories, Historicizing Imagings. Edited by Alison Donnell, Maria McGarrity, and Evelyn O’Callaghan. Caribbean Irish Connections: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. University of West Indies Press. 2015. Pg. 6.
- Finn. Clodagh. The Irish champion of slaves. Independent.ie. 2014.
- “Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquis of Sligo”. Legacies of British Slave-Ownership.
- Mavis Campbell,The Dynamics of Change in a Slave Society(London: AUP, 1976), p. 156.
- Richard Hill (Jamaica). Wikipedia.
- Williamson, Karina. Irish Encounters with the Jamaican Plantocracy: 1814-1838. Edited by Alison Donnell, Maria McGarrity, and Evelyn O’Callaghan. Caribbean Irish Connections: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. University of West Indies Press. 2015. Pg. 84-87.
- Ynquerem, Awenoweth. Caribbean Irish Connections: Interdisciplinary Perspectives | EL Literature Review. Ebron Loos. 2021.
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