The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 54, Issue 2

Article 11
Locating the Caribbean: The Role of Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Search for Longitude

B.W. Higman


The need for a precise system of meridians – lines of longitude – became urgent only in the context of the hazards of long-distance navigation. Thus the search for a means of determining the geographical position of a ship at sea was closely associated with the growth of the Atlantic slave trade and with the expansion of plantation slavery in the Caribbean. Although Caribbean locations were never proposed for the Prime Meridian, the region did provide sites for important events in the extended search for ways of establishing longitude. When in the eighteenth century an efficient solution to the problem was finally found, using reliable clocks, it was to Jamaica and Barbados that the instruments were taken for field testing.