Jamaica Ladies

Female Slaveholders and the Creation of Britain's Atlantic Empire

By Christine Walker

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, 5 figs., 7 tables, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5879-7
    Published: June 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5526-0
    Published: June 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5527-7
    Published: April 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5896-2
    Published: April 2020

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

2021 Cromwell Prize, American Society for Legal History

2020 Best Book Award, Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender

Finalist, 2021 Harriet Tubman Book Prize, Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery

Jamaica Ladies is the first systematic study of the free and freed women of European, Euro-African, and African descent who perpetuated chattel slavery and reaped its profits in the British Empire. Their actions helped transform Jamaica into the wealthiest slaveholding colony in the Anglo-Atlantic world. Starting in the 1670s, a surprisingly large and diverse group of women helped secure English control of Jamaica and, crucially, aided its developing and expanding slave labor regime by acquiring enslaved men, women, and children to protect their own tenuous claims to status and independence.

Female colonists employed slaveholding as a means of advancing themselves socially and financially on the island. By owning others, they wielded forms of legal, social, economic, and cultural authority not available to them in Britain. In addition, slaveholding allowed free women of African descent, who were not far removed from slavery themselves, to cultivate, perform, and cement their free status. Alongside their male counterparts, women bought, sold, stole, and punished the people they claimed as property and vociferously defended their rights to do so. As slavery's beneficiaries, these women worked to stabilize and propel this brutal labor regime from its inception.

About the Author

Christine Walker is assistant professor of history at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.
For more information about Christine Walker, visit the Author Page.


“In exploring the gendering of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Jamaica and the lives of those who perpetuated and profited from chattel slavery Jamaica Ladies demonstrates unequivocally that we cannot understand the development of colonial society and the system of enslavement on which it depended without thinking about the role that free and freed women played in that process.”—Journal of British Studies

"Jamaica Ladies is an outstanding study of gender and power in early British Jamaica, original and frequently startling in its evidence and arguments. Focusing on free and freed 'handmaidens of empire,' it reveals a world in which women cemented slavery at the heart of colonial economies and societies."--Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor, University of California, Davis

"Building on extensive archival research, Jamaica Ladies is a groundbreaking exploration of African-, British-, and Jamaica-born women who carved out lives for themselves and others at the center of Britain’s largest slave society. Christine Walker has adeptly shown that we cannot fully comprehend Jamaica unless we understand these free and freed women."--Simon Newman, University of Glasgow

"As Christine Walker demonstrates, free and freed women--always reliant on enslaved labor for their commercial and agricultural pursuits and household services--enjoyed personal benefits while both entrenching slavery and challenging the binary distinction between black and white. Jamaica Ladies makes an impressive and innovative contribution to our understanding of the gendering of colonial society."--Catherine Hall, University College London