According to anthropologist Sidney Mintz, two institutions have defined the Caribbean region: black slavery and colonial rule.1 No other part of the world was ruled from Europe for so long or had such a large proportion of its population living as slaves. Slavery and colonial rule shaped an export-oriented plantation economy that dominated the region from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The years 1760–1840 may be seen as a watershed in the unravelling of this history, but the changes the period witnessed were extremely uneven and contradictory. Although the Caribbean was home to the most transformative revolution of the age, which created Haiti out of French Saint Domingue,2 revolution was not necessarily the most transformative force at work in the region, which also saw the peaceful abolition of slavery in all the British colonies, a generalized abandonment of legal racial discrimination, and a weakening in the Caribbean’s position in the world market that were only partially connected to the political violence of the Age of Revolution.3 Scholarly assessment of the relative importance of European and local influences in promoting change in the region has trended in recent decades toward stressing Caribbean agency, but with varied success.
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