Early American Places


UGA PressUGA Press

Everyday Life in the Early English Caribbean:

Irish, Africans, and the Construction of Difference

by Jenny Shaw

A new examination of the experiences of Irish and Africans in the English Caribbean

Page count: 256 pp.
18 b&w photos, 1 map
Trim size: 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-8203-4505-5 (h), 978-0-8203-4662-5 (p), 978-0-8203-4634-2 (e)


A nuanced and fascinating account of how Irish Catholics shaped the emergence of racial hierarchy in the English Caribbean.
— Vincent Brown, author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery

Set along both the physical and social margins of the British Empire in the second half of the seventeenth century, Everyday Life in the Early English Caribbean explores the construction of difference through the everyday life of colonial subjects. Jenny Shaw examines how marginalized colonial subjects—Irish and Africans—contributed to these processes. Although their lives are obscured by sources constructed by elites, Shaw overcomes these constraints by pushing methodological boundaries to fill in the gaps, silences, and absences that dominate the historical record and uncovering perspectives that would otherwise remain obscured. Shaw makes clear that each group persisted in its own cultural practices; Irish and Africans also worked within—and challenged—the limits of the colonial regime. Shaw’s research demonstrates the extent to which hierarchies were in flux in the early modern Caribbean, allowing even an outcast servant to rise to the position of island planter, and underscores the fallacy that racial categories of black and white were the sole arbiters of difference in the early English Caribbean.

Jenny Shaw’s nuanced study illuminates how divisions originating in Europe—especially those that distinguished Irish Catholic servants from their English Protestant masters—shaped colonial society and ultimately the hierarchies of race that came to be the most important markers of difference. Shaw profitably lingers over the early period, when the early English Caribbean was in the process of becoming, and as a result she demonstrates that race and colonialism were negotiated, not preordained.
— Carla Gardina Pestana, author of Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World
With meticulous attention to the constraints and possibilities of everyday life, Shaw explores the way that early settlers marked and ranked social difference, finding that status distinctions were surprisingly malleable, even in a society overwhelmingly organized by slavery and race. Offering close readings of fresh sources, this is both an important study and an impressive feat of the informed imagination.
— Vincent Brown, author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery

About the Author


Jenny Shaw is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama

While good historians have always investigated how their sources were created, preserved, and invoked, Shaw moves her post-modern approach a step further to explore how ‘probing archival spaces and fissures’ can move ‘marginalized historical actors closer to the center of the historical narrative.’
— Linda L. Sturtz, Journal of Historical Geography
Shaw works comfortably within the framework of social history and she also makes an explicit call for more attention to recovering the lives of those rendered invisible, to reading the silences of the archive, and to writing history aided by disciplined imagination.
— Helena M. Wall, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
This fascinating study is one of the latest in a decade-plus body of literature on the colonial Caribbean which acknowledges the towering place of race, slavery, and imperialism in its history but also manages to explore the subtleties and nuances that shaped the region’s historical experience. . . . [T]his work is a welcome addition to the growing scholarship on marginalized populations in one of the most important sites of colonial activity in the Americas.
— Jefferson Dillman, Historical Geography
[The book]is a thoughtful and imaginative study which anyone trying to comprehend the experiences of slave yards and indentured barracks should find illuminating. . . . Shaw’s Everyday Life is a fascinating study that specialists in West Indian and neighboring fields will find thought provoking and instructors can assign to students as an introduction to a slaveholding social system.
— James Robertson, Florida Historical Quarterly