Plantation Coffee in Jamaica, 1790-1848

by Kathleen E.A. Monteith

Plantation Coffee in Jamaica, 1790–1848 is the first comprehensive history of the Jamaican coffee industry, covering a period of rapid expansion and decline. The primary objective is to examine the structure and performance of the industry and to demonstrate the extent to which it contributed to the diversity of the Jamaican economy and society in this period. All of this is examined within the context of a period characterized by significant structural shifts in the then emerging global economy.

As a work in economic history, the book is based on solid archival research and econometric analysis. Kathleen E.A. Monteith examines the changing levels of production, trade, productivity, and profitability of the industry and discusses the people involved in the industry, both free and enslaved. A demographic profile of the coffee planters and their familial relationships is established. The work experience of the enslaved men, women and children in the coffee industry, their organization, the nature of their works and their resistance to enslavement are also discussed. The clash of interests between the former enslaved people and coffee planters with respect to labour availability in the industry in the immediate post-slavery period are discussed also. Throughout the book, wherever possible, comparisons are made with other sectors of the Jamaican economy, especially with the sugar industry. Differences are explained in terms of environment, scale and the nature of production.

Plantation Coffee in Jamaica, 1790–1848 contributes fresh material and interrogates data in systematic ways not previously undertaken by scholars in this area. Strikingly original are the sections dealing with the backgrounds of the coffee planters, drawing on sources only recently available for exploitation, notably the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership database, family history and genealogical websites, and the sections dealing with profitability. This book compares well with other works in Caribbean history published at this level of scholarship. It has no immediate rivals in its specific field.

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Kathleen E.A. Monteith is Senior Lecturer, Department of History and Archaeology, the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Her publications include Depression to Decolonization: Barlclays Bank (DCO) in the West Indies, 1926–1962; West Indian Business History: Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (co-edited with B.W. Higman); and Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History, Heritage and Culture (co-edited with Glen Richards).