OIEAHC Colloquium: Sharples on the Common Scripts of Slave Conspiracy in the U.S. and the Caribbean

“A Priest at the Bottom of Every Plot: Catholic, Indian, and Irish Contexts for Discovering Slave Conspiracies in the Seventeenth Century”

A Paper by Jason T. Sharples of Princeton University
sharples at Princeton.edu

Beginning in the 1670s, residents of English North America and the Caribbean
developed common scripts for understanding the prospect of slave
insurrection. In my larger project, I take a fresh look at 71 purported
“slave conspiracies”-or conspiracy panics-and discover that slaves confessed
to remarkably consistent rebellion plots during investigations in different
times and places between 1670 and 1780. Masters and slaves alike invoked
conventional elements such as ambushes at decoy fires, incitement by
non-slave instigators (often foreign Catholic agents), secret officer lists
written in the style of an English militia, and a planned social inversion
in which conspirators would replace masters at the head of families,
estates, and government. These tropes became instrumental in sparking and
fueling conspiracy panics, as well as making sense of them afterward.

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