In September 2013, I contacted historian Dr Christer Petley, a senior lecturer in History at University of Southampton whose work focuses on the histories and legacies of slavery in the Americas, mainly on slave societies in the British Caribbean. We discussed my idea for a piece inspired by my own personal Afro-Caribbean heritage – my parents were born in Jamaica – and exploring the connections between the UK and Caribbean through the sugar trade.
For his PhD, Christer had spent six months in Jamaica researching the fall of the planter class and focussing on the life of a particularly wealthy and powerful planter Simon Taylor, a prolific letter writer. At the time of his death, Taylor owned over 2000 enslaved African men, women and children across a number of plantations each of whom were recorded in inventory ledgers by their newly given name, sex, health, work task and monetary value. Christer painstakingly transcribed a large majority of these names – some by hand from the archive at Spanish Town, Jamaica, and others from photos of the original document. These names were essentially part of an itemised list of Simon Taylor’s possessions: lists of plantation stores, equipment, household furniture, livestock, carriages, clothing, paintings, etc.
I have recorded the names of these people for this work.
You will hear a name and a value of a human being. Sometimes you won’t hear it, sometimes your mind will wander, engrossed in the sound of the names, uncontrollably accumulating in an aural hypnotic haze. These people, part of my ancestry, existed under the very worst conditions imaginable to profit a country that they would never see. Somehow their spirit was not broken and they created their own Afro-Caribbean culture. I honour them.
Presented by SPILL Festival with support from Aldeburgh Music
[NAMES] is a chapter of Sweet Tooth that was supported with public funding by Arts Council England (logo), Aldeburgh Music, University of Southampton, St George’s Bloomsbury, Centre 151, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and Bluecoat Liverpool.
With special thanks to Aldeburgh Music, Dr Christer Petley, Dave Hunt Studios, Centre 151.
Names and other details from the inventory of Simon Taylor, 1813, Jamaica
Archives, Spanish Town, Jamaica (transcribed by Christer Petley)