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Children of Uncertain Fortune

Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833

By Daniel Livesay

432 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 4 figs., 3 graphs, 4 tables, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3443-2
    Published: January 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3444-9
    Published: January 2018

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

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Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Awards & distinctions

2018 Best First Book Award, Phi Alpha Theta

By tracing the largely forgotten eighteenth-century migration of elite mixed-race individuals from Jamaica to Great Britain, Children of Uncertain Fortune reinterprets the evolution of British racial ideologies as a matter of negotiating family membership. Using wills, legal petitions, family correspondences, and inheritance lawsuits, Daniel Livesay is the first scholar to follow the hundreds of children born to white planters and Caribbean women of color who crossed the ocean for educational opportunities, professional apprenticeships, marriage prospects, or refuge from colonial prejudices.

The presence of these elite children of color in Britain pushed popular opinion in the British Atlantic world toward narrower conceptions of race and kinship. Members of Parliament, colonial assemblymen, merchant kings, and cultural arbiters--the very people who decided Britain’s colonial policies, debated abolition, passed marital laws, and arbitrated inheritance disputes--rubbed shoulders with these mixed-race Caribbean migrants in parlors and sitting rooms. Upper-class Britons also resented colonial transplants and coveted their inheritances; family intimacy gave way to racial exclusion. By the early nineteenth century, relatives had become strangers.

About the Author

Daniel Livesay is assistant professor of history at Claremont McKenna College.
For more information about Daniel Livesay, visit the Author Page.


"Contributes to new understandings of the long history of connection between Britain and the Caribbean and shifting patterns in racial thinking and racial practices. Work such as this can play a vital part in repairing at least some of the damage done by colonialism."--Catherine Hall, London Review of Books

“This book makes a significant contribution to the history of non-white migration between Britain and its colonies.”--Choice

Children of Uncertain Fortune is masterful. . . . Livesay’s sophisticated analysis offers a model of solid and creative investigation.”--William and Mary Quarterly

“In this brilliant model of Atlantic history, Daniel Livesay gracefully brings to life the extraordinary, sometimes heartbreaking stories of mixed-race Caribbean people in Great Britain, revealing the long, complicated lines of family and belonging, race and alienation. This lucid and deeply researched book compellingly illuminates slavery, empire, and colonialism and their enduring impact on individuals, families, and nations.”--Sarah M. S. Pearsall, University of Cambridge

Children of Uncertain Fortune offers an unprecedented view of how elite Jamaicans and Britons came to distinguish between mixed-race and white kin. Daniel Livesay uncovers the conflicting stories families told as they constructed or challenged these concepts that would eventually define the social identities of millions of imperial subjects.”--John D. Garrigus, University of Texas at Arlington

“In this tour de force, Daniel Livesay eloquently explores what confronted the mixed-race progeny of enslaved or free African Jamaican women and white men from the island’s planter class who relocated to Britain in the century before the Emancipation Act. The author’s exhaustive research unearthed hundreds of such individuals, and his astute analysis of their circumstances chronicles the increasingly adverse effects wrought by deep and inexorable shifts in the meanings of race and family. Children of Uncertain Fortune tells a quintessentially Atlantic world story of racist ideologies trumping kinship affinities, as its author points the way to exciting new directions for scholarly investigation.”--Roderick A. McDonald, Rider University; editor, Early American Studies