Troubling Freedom

Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation

Troubling Freedom

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 10 illustrations Published: December 2015

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Caribbean Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In 1834 Antigua became the only British colony in the Caribbean to move directly from slavery to full emancipation. Immediate freedom, however, did not live up to its promise, as it did not guarantee any level of stability or autonomy, and the implementation of new forms of coercion and control made it, in many ways, indistinguishable from slavery. In Troubling Freedom Natasha Lightfoot tells the story of how Antigua's newly freed black working people struggled to realize freedom in their everyday lives, prior to and in the decades following emancipation. She presents freedpeople's efforts to form an efficient workforce, acquire property, secure housing, worship, and build independent communities in response to elite prescriptions for acceptable behavior and oppression. Despite its continued efforts, Antigua's black population failed to convince whites that its members were worthy of full economic and political inclusion. By highlighting the diverse ways freedpeople defined and created freedom through quotidian acts of survival and occasional uprisings, Lightfoot complicates conceptions of freedom and the general narrative that landlessness was the primary constraint for newly emancipated slaves in the Caribbean.


"By tracing the development of Antigua in the post-emancipation period, Lightfoot has produced a work that will interest scholars who study conceptions of freedom, working-class solidarity, labor, Antigua, and the wider Caribbean. Recommended." — J. Rankin, Choice

"Lightfoot’s Troubling Freedom sheds light on how freedpeople in Antigua negotiated the terms of their labor and the conditions of their freedom in Antigua....The book also illustrates that space and spatial relations were at the heart of Antiguans’ struggle for freedom after emancipation: between Antigua and Barbuda, the city and the country, the free villages and estates." — Kaneesha Cherelle Parsard, American Quarterly

"Instead of a 'narrative of valiant and unified subaltern struggle,’ a moral tale of progress and expanding unproblematic liberation, Lightfoot offers a more complex and ambivalent history of freedom, which contains not only hope and solidarity, but also internecine conflicts and violence. For this very reason, this is an important and insightful history that deserves to be read." — Henrique Espada Lima, Canadian Journal of History

"Lightfoot aims to use the particular case of Antigua to provide a fresh analysis of the nature of post-slavery black experience around the Americas. The book succeeds in this task . . . with engaging detail." — Laura Rosanne Adderley, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"[Lightfoot's] deep examination of the daily lives of working class Antiguans and their views on freedom makes Troubling Freedom an excellent primer for scholars of the Caribbean. This book also provides a model for scholars of the African diaspora interested in a rereading of the agency of different social groups through older sources." — Caree A. Banton, History: Reviews of New Books

"Natasha Lightfoot offers a compelling history of the relationship between labor, race, and gender in the only British sugar colony to reject the apprenticeship program. Lightfoot provides readers with a study that is deeply appreciative of the ways in which freedpeople confronted new forms of white supremacy and material constraint after slavery’s demise. What emerges is a multilayered analysis of the relationship between everyday violence, organized resistance, and collective consciousness in nineteenth-century Antigua." — James Dator, American Historical Review

"Lightfoot’s carefully and deeply researched and subtly analysed study makes a valuable contribution to the literature on the transition to formal freedom in the British Caribbean." — Bridget Brereton, Slavery & Abolition

"Lightfoot’s real contribution to the scholarship of Caribbean history and the historiography of slavery and freedom in the era of emancipation is how she obfuscates our current understanding of the constraints that freedpeople faced once they achieved freedom.  . . . Freedpeople used every avenue at their disposal to expand the very limited freedom they were granted with . They worked to gain equality with their former masters, educated themselves, and resorted to violent and illicit means when they faced fervent opposition from whites. Their victories were small, and Lightfoot’s book reveals the stark difficulties that newly freed blacks faced in Antigua." — Lawrence Celani, Journal of World History

"Lightfoot does a great job of troubling freedom. Through classic deconstruction she expanded what it means to be free and how freedom comes about and how it is worked out. Through her description of Sunday market to the labor riot of 1858, Lightfoot succeeds in capturing her target audience and supporting her premise that freedom can be in quotidian acts." — Jameka Hartley, Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

"Troubling Freedom is a major contribution to the burgeoning literature on the aftermath of emancipation. More than any other scholar, Natasha Lightfoot probes the daily lives of the former slaves, illuminating their family relations, work lives, religious practices, and quotidian struggles. The end of slavery emerges not as a revolutionary watershed but as a transition from one regime of inequality to another."  — Eric Foner, author of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877

"In this carefully crafted, researched, and argued book of social history, Natasha Lightfoot probes the multilayered processes and problems of freedom in Antigua mainly through the voices, motivations, and experiences of the colony's former slaves who struggled against persistent influences of slavery, colonialism, and capitalism, to give their own meanings to real freedom. Troubling Freedom makes a strong contribution to continuing debates about the political/ideological consciousness and agency of former slaves in the Americas in their demands and strivings for full realization of what they thought freedom should be."   — David Barry Gaspar, author of Bondmen and Rebels: A Study of Master-Slave Relations in Antigua


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Natasha Lightfoot is Associate Professor of History at Columbia University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations  ix

Acknowledgments  xiii

Introduction. "Me No B'longs to Dem": Emancipation's Possibilities and Limits in Antigua  1

1. A Landscape That Continually Recurred in Passing: The Many Worlds of a Small Place  21

2. So Them Make Laws for Negro, So Them Make Law for Master: Antigua's 1831 Sunday Market Rebellion  57

3. But Freedom till Better: Labor Struggles after 1834  84

4. An Equality with the Highest in the Land?: The Expansion of Black Private and Public Life  117

5. Sinful Conexions: Christianity, Social Surveillance, and Black Women's Bodies in Distress  142

6. Mashing Ants: Surviving the Economic Crisis after 1846  167

7. Our Side: Antigua's 1858 Uprising and the Contingent Nature of Freedom  195

8. "My Color Broke Me Down": Postslavery Violence and Incomplete Freedom in the British Caribbean  224

Notes  233

Bibliography  287

Index  309
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