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Building the Bridge: Labor and Colonial Governance in Seventeenth-Century Bridgetown, Barbados

Pomerantz, Jacob Eliezer (2021) Building the Bridge: Labor and Colonial Governance in Seventeenth-Century Bridgetown, Barbados. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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For much of the seventeenth-century, Bridgetown, Barbados was one of England’s principal ports in the early modern Caribbean and wider Atlantic world. It was a dynamic center of colonial trade; the product of its location at the heart of an immensely wealth and vastly unequal sugar plantation slave society on Barbados. Despite the port’s value and vital place in the history of England’s first commercial empire in the Americas, Bridgetown’s seventeenth-century social history remains relatively under-studied. This dissertation examines the ways its inhabitants, free and enslaved, navigated the maritime landscapes of the early modern Caribbean. A consideration of Bridgetown’s seventeenth-century history reveals an unstable and fractious social, economic, political, and cultural landscape, the product of a shifting array of actors, institutions, and circumstances rather than seamless colonial development and imperial integration. Local struggles on Barbados, shaped by the fluid and feverish uncertainty of the seventeenth-century Caribbean, informed the actions of Bridgetown’s inhabitants as they worked to carve out an urban space of mobility in a maritime world revolutionized by the dramatic expansion of sugar plantations, a vastly expanded transatlantic slave trade, and the rise of global capitalism in the early modern Caribbean. As English settlers grappled with the problems of imposing social and economic control over rapidly urbanizing spaces like Bridgetown, they relied on fragmented systems of colonial power. In fits and starts, English settlers acted through multiple institutions to govern Bridgetown’s fragmented social, cultural, and economic landscapes producing a system of governance that persisted into the eighteenth century as a central component in the colony’s slave society. The realities of colonial power and governance in ports like Bridgetown were complicated by the divergent interests of colonists themselves, the aspirations of transient sailors and settlers, and the struggles of enslaved people to shape the cities and towns they lived in. By recovering these histories, this dissertation argues that the fragmented nature of colonial power systems, evident in Bridgetown’s early history, enabled the creation and expansion of remarkably durable and adaptive, if not violent and repressive, Caribbean slave societies.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Pomerantz, Jacob
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWarsh, Molly
Committee MemberRediker, Marcus
Committee MemberFrykman, Niklas
Committee MemberFields-Black, Edda
Date: 3 May 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 March 2021
Approval Date: 3 May 2021
Submission Date: 26 April 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 237
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Barbados, Slavery, Colonial Governance
Date Deposited: 03 May 2021 15:08
Last Modified: 03 May 2021 15:08


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