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Now Screening: Caribbean Newspapers

Now Screening highlights NYPL's recent electronic resource acquisitions.  This month: Caribbean Newspapers (1718-1876), available at any NYPL location, or while using NYPL wifi.

Caribbean Newspapers Home Page

If you are in need of historical newspapers, NYPL has become an even better place to look.  We recently added new material to our robust online collection: America's Historical Newspapers now includes greater coverage of early American newspaper titles from 1730 to 1900, including early issues of the New York WorldNew York Herald, and Sacramento Daily Union and expanded runs of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania GazetteNational Intelligencer, and United States Telegraph.  Even better, we have a brand new collection of historical Caribbean newspapers that document 18th and 19th century Caribbean life with over 150 different titles.

Caribbean Newspapers encompasses twenty countries during their occupation by European colonizers—predominantly British, but also French, Spanish, and Danish.  It chronicles a tumultuous time in Caribbean history: the islands increase in European economic importance and react to the independence of their American neighbor, the slave trade grows exponentially and is outlawed, and slaves are gradually emancipated in all colonies except Cuba.

Caribbean Newspapers has particularly robust coverage of Jamaica's Montego Bay slave rebellion, which began on December 27, 1831 and continued into early 1832.  Issues of the Jamaica Watchman span this entire period and track the development of the uprising, from rumor to fact to fallout.  In it April 7, 1832 issue, the Watchman covers the March 23 trial of "Colonel" Francis Gardner, one of the leaders of the rebellion.  In an editorial following an account of the trial, the Watchman's editor writes, "We have been consistent throughout, and now that the Member for Westmoreland has come over to our side, we shall be happy with him, and the other friends of humanity, to give a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether, until we bring the system down by the run — knock off the fetters, and let the oppressed go free."  Such strong language ran afoul of Jamaica's Constructive Treason Act of 1823, and a mere ten days later, editor Edward Jordon was on trial in The King vs. Jordon, covered in the Watchman's April 25 and 28 issues.  After a protracted argument over the makeup of the jury, where the Attorney-General prosecuting the case "challenged every one who was not of a fair complexion," Jordon was acquitted.

Masthead for the Watchman's Jordon trial issue
Front page of the Watchman, reporting on the trial of editor Edward Jordon

Events such as these are preserved in the Caribbean Newspapers database; you just might need to do some digging to find what you need.  Its interface promotes such discovery by searching (by title, date, and full text) or browsing (by place, publication, and language).  If you're searching in the more expansive America's Historical Newspapers or Readex AllSearch, also products from this vendor, you can include the Caribbean Newspapers collection in your search.  Interesting articles or full newspaper issues can be printed, saved locally, or emailed as a link for personal research use.

It's important to remember that the coverage for a particular publication may be spotty: there might be a year of one newspaper and a single issue of another.  Certain colonies—for example, Barbados, Bermuda, and Antigua—are better represented than others.  If you're looking to research a specific event, review the list of titles to see if there is coverage for the particular region and time period in which you're interested.

Colony Total Issues Colonizing Country*
Barbados 2396 British
Bermuda 1933 British
Antigua and Barbuda 1599 British
Grenada 1126 British
Saint Kitts and Nevis 1113 British
Jamaica 809 British
Trinidad and Tobago 756 British
Cuba 731 Spanish
Saint Lucia 364 British
Saint Barthelemy 232 French
Haiti 108 French
Dominica 83 British
Virgin Islands 36 Danish
Bahamas 30 British
Martinique 12 French
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 9 British
Puerto Rico 2 Spanish
Curacao 1 Dutch
Guadeloupe 1 French
Montserrat 1 British

*During period of Caribbean Newspapers coverage

Another thing to keep in mind is that these newspapers record the viewpoints of the Caribbean's white colonists, rather than the slaves and free people of color that represented a majority of the population, and thus reflect an inherent cultural bias, particularly with regard to emancipation issues.  Even those sympathetic to the cause of emancipation were discouraged by events like the Constructive Treason Act and the Jordon trial.  Caribbean Newspapers' coverage of Sam Sharpe is a good example of this.  Sharpe was central to the Montego Bay rebellion.  As a powerful orator, Methodist deacon, and slave, Sharpe provided motivation and organization for the uprising and is usually credited as being its primary leader.  He was arrested and ultimately executed for his involvement in the rebellion, but not before a series of jail cell meetings with various missionaries like Reverend Henry Bleby, where he reportedly uttered the now-iconic words: "I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery!"[1]  For his words and work toward emancipation, he is revered as a key figure in Jamaican and civil rights history.  Despite this, Sharpe is mentioned only once in Caribbean Newspapers, in the Watchman's June 2, 1832 coverage of his execution and burial.  

As with all primary sources, it's important to consider the context and limitations of these documents.  To complement the viewpoints represented here, consider using other databases in our African American Studies or Latin American Studies subjects, like the Black Studies Center.  This database, also available at all NYPL library locations and while using library wifi, includes materials from NYPL's own Schomburg Center

To read more about Sam Sharpe and the Montego Bay rebellion (also known as the Baptist War, Christmas Rebellion, and Great Jamaican Slave Revolt), you can also browse these subjects in the library's online catalog:

First image courtesy of Readex's Caribbean Newspapers.  Second image courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, with online access provided by Readex's Caribbean Newspapers.

[1] Henry Bleby, Death Struggles of Slavery, p. 129, available in print, microfilm, or online.

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