Archibald Monteath: Igbo, Jamaican, Moravian

US$55 (s)

Few among the millions of Africans snared in the Atlantic slave trade had the means or opportunity to record their autobiographies. Of those who did, Olaudah Equiano is the most famous, and others such as Venture Smith, James Albert Gronniasaw, Ottabah Cuguano, Ayuba Suleiman Diallo have gained greater recognition as scholars have sought to retrieve authentic voices from the African Atlantic. Still, among those narratives anthologized in such collections as Philip D. Curtin’s Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade (1967) and Vincent Carretta’s more recent Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century (2004), almost none features a Caribbean setting. This absence is surprising, since at least 40 percent of all enslaved Africans sent to the Americas ended up in West Indian destinations. Mary Prince wrote one of the best-known West Indian slave narratives, but as a Creole author her account figures little in studies of the slave trade itself. In Archibald Monteath, Maureen Warner-Lewis partly fills this gap by using the unusual autobiography of an Igbo man enslaved in nineteenth-century Jamaica as the basis for a thoroughly researched and convincingly rendered reconstruction of one African’s life in captivity and freedom.

Archibald John Monteath, born Aniaso sometime in the 1790s in what is now southeastern Nigeria, was captured as a child, traded out of a port on the Bight of Biafra such as Bonny or Calabar, and sent via the slave trade to Jamaica in 1802. There he was purchased by John Monteath, a Scottishborn planter, whose estate, Kep, was principally a stockyard in St. Elizabeth Parish in the southwest corner of the island. The boy was given the name Toby, which he gave up upon his christening as Archibald John Monteath in the parish church in 1821. The region around Kep Estate had been the base for the Moravian Church’s mission in Jamaica since 1757, and Archibald Monteath, who had become attracted to Christianity against the wishes of his master, joined the New Carmel mission in 1827. In time he became a “helper” or prominent assistant in the congregation, rose to plantation overseer, bought his
freedom a year ahead of Emancipation in 1838, and became a small landowner himself. His life can be seen in many ways as representative of profound forces shaping global history, for upon his death in 1864 he had experienced many of the essential features of the Atlantic slave system – African captivity and the Middle Passage, Caribbean slavery, religious revelation, rebellion (witnessing but not participating in the famous Christmas uprising of 1821-32), and transition to freedom.

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