Christer Petley:

It is no surprise that the whip is synonymous with New World slavery: its continual crack remained an audible threat to enslaved workers to keep at their work, reminding them that their lives and bodies were not their own, and that they should maintain (outwardly at least) a demeanour of dutiful subordination to their overlords. The whip was a cruel and effective instrument of torture – part of the brutal technology that kept the productive machine of plantation America at work. Nowhere was this more obvious than on the islands of the Caribbean. By the middle of the 18th century, these were the most valuable parts of the British empire, and the large island of Jamaica, with its huge sugar plantations and brutal slave regime, was the jewel in the imperial crown.

As elsewhere in the Americas, the right of masters in Jamaica to punish slaves was enshrined in law, and the violence that sustained slavery went far beyond whipping. Punishments could include amputation, disfiguring, branding and more. Slaves could also be put to death – a penalty most often enforced during the aftermath of rebellions. And they were rarely killed quickly. The torturous executions meted out to those who led uprisings or who were accused of collaborating in rebellious plots provide some of the most lurid examples of human cruelty on record.

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