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Island Histories

Many authors, both local and abroad, sought to describe the political or natural histories of various Caribbean islands. AAS's holdings include a variety of writings from most islands in the region, some of which are included here.

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St. Thomas, a small island now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is not as well represented amongst archival collections as its neighbors Jamaica, Cuba, and Barbados. The author of this work complains that, at the time of his writing, no “connected history of St. Thomas, and of the important events which have transpired in her sister islands,” had even been attempted. The pages that follow, therefore, touch on a variety of factors, describing the history of commerce, religion, botany, climate, slave insurrections, and more. If it is perhaps not the best work of history, it is notable for the efforts it makes to attend to a previously ignored subject of inquiry.

Part political history, part natural history of half the island of Hispaniola, this book features in this sampler for its political and demographic descriptions of the island, which allude to the historical factors that led to such composition and character among its residents.

With maps and “numerous illustrations,” the author attempts to lay out “the facts connected with the island of St Domingo” from the voyages of Columbus to the time of writing. Motivated by an ignorance of the island at a period of great regional intersection—when the U.S. Congress debated the merits of admitting San Domingo into the Union—this volume reflects on the “unsettled and uncivilised” nature of the island, which the author blames on the conduct of the various European colonial presences. 

The author essentially seeks to collect centuries of historiography about the island into one large, two-volume work, exploring the evolution of the island from the voyages of Columbus through its time as a Spanish then a French colony, and through the revolution itself. With an evident focus on political developments, this text nevertheless explores the natural history of the island, its commercial development, and the expanding role of western religion. 

A twentieth-century volume that reflects on the history of early Jamaican settlers, this book is full of family trees of early notable Jamaicans—governors, sea captains, and planters. Where information is available it reveals how closely intertwined the Caribbean islands were to one another, to Europe, and to an extent, to North America, even during the seventeenth century. It contains some of the same reprintings as Interesting Tracts, despite being printed a full century later. 

He has not presumed to write a history or a geography of Jamaica, the author modestly asserts in the preface. Yet what follows in this book is certainly a history of Jamaica, though perhaps not a complete one. Rather, this book examines the factors that have reduced Jamaica to her present deplorable condition, in familiarly American patronizing tones, but more optimistically, and the means which are in operation for her ultimate restoration. The author takes special note of Jamaicas agricultural resources, and favorably reviews her abolition of slavery, an indication of how the experiences of the Caribbean shaped the experience of North Americaand vice versa.

Bound upside-down and printed in both London and Jamaica (AAS’s copy is from the latter) this is effectively a comprehensive almanac, by virtue of containing so much information about the functioning of the island of Jamaica—commercially, legally, politically—in the years 1884 and 1885. It includes the history of the institutions that were critical to the functioning of the island. From a short biography of the governor to the history of the Jamaican constitution to the origin of the markets in Kingston, this “handbook” is a great reminder that important histories can be read in non-traditional sources. 
Consisting of “curious state-papers, councils of war, letters, narratives, and more,” this Jamaica-printed volume collected primary documents from “conquest” through 1702. Early Jamaican and Caribbean history is represented in reprintings of Columbus’s letters from Jamaica, repeated addresses from the Council of Jamaica to the King of England, and resolutions of a seventeenth-century council of war.

Written by a longtime Christian missionary to the island, this book admits it does not profess to be a full and entire history of Hayti. It does, however, cover the span of Haitian history from the arrival of Europeans, through the colonial period, the revolution, and the subsequent attempts at self-government. A Haitian commission set up to evaluate the merits of books up for publication praises its perfect frankness. 

While not a comprehensive history of Haiti by any means, nor was it intended to be, this volume is a collection of important Haitian state papers from the years 1803 to 1816. This remarkable primary history reveals the story of the Haitian government and its efforts to maintain its sovereignty and independence over the course of many years. 

The publication in 1805 of this larger history of Haiti as a territory served to make it seem as if “the rise of the Haytian Empire” was the logical narrative thread to follow, and that the trend would continue into the future. The author, in seeking to establish the factors that led to its rise in the first place, therefore traces the historical factors in Haiti that would make it strong and imperial, even dominant. A great deal of energy is understandably devoted to understanding and charting the course of the revolution itself.

This straightforward history of the island was written not by a local but by a visitor, which of course calls into question the author’s familiarity with the subject matter. However, this book remains fascinating as an example of the ways in which Cuban history was presented at the time of writing, and in particular how greatly Cuba and the Cuban people were made out to be victims of Spanish colonization.

This volume was prepared for the centenary of the titular church, celebrated in August 1910. It serves, therefore, as a history not just of that specific parish over the course of one hundred years of Bahamian history, but also of the history of Nassau and of Presbyterianism over that same time period. It includes photographic illustrations of the church and its best-known leaders and provides an interesting example of microhistory and its relation to the larger histories that swirl around it.

This two-volume set is remarkable in its devotion to recording the history of what otherwise may have seemed an inconsequential study, and so indicating the increasing interest and importance with which westerners viewed the Caribbean islands—increasingly as distinct units, and less as a homogenous region. This particular history accounts for “the time of the Caribs,” notable as natives were often erased from narratives of their ancestral homes, through to the present day, with biographical notes and statistics attached.