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‘“Weapons from their land”: Arming strategies among West African-born soldiers in early nineteenth-century Bahia and Cuba’

Manuel Barcia, University of Leeds

Building on my previous work on West African warfare in Bahia and Cuba, this paper addresses the essential issue of weaponry and war paraphernalia used by West African men and women in Bahia and Cuba throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. It argues that it was precisely thanks to the similarities existing between their African and American environments, that they were able to reproduce, almost to the detail, the ways in which they had acquired the weapons necessary to undertake their military actions. Moving away from the concept of slave revolt, and considering these movements as actions of war, also allow for a more in-depth examination of the weaponry question. Were the weapons they used African or Western? How did West African practices associated with the arming of military forces were reproduced in the new setting provided by plantation societies in Bahia and Cuba? These, among other questions, will be raised and discussed in this presentation.

‘“Exhibits with real colour and interest”: Picturing and encountering the West India Regiment at Atlantic world’s fairs’

Melissa Bennett, University of Warwick

Beyond their role in expanding and securing the British Empire, the West India Regiment were used to sell the Caribbean region to tourists and potential investors. The Regiment travelled in person and in photographic form to numerous World’s Fairs that brought the empire to London and major American cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Through their representation at these events their likeness, and in some cases their actual physical presence, was showcased to a range of audiences who did not even have to venture outside of their home countries for the experience. For nations such as Britain, who controlled vast empires the fairs provided an opportunity to bring the peoples, places and potential profits of the empire on to home soil. They also provided a justification for empire by showcasing the lack of development of some native peoples and the advancement of others under colonial rule through human exhibits. The WIR were used as key examples of the latter and decorated promotional stands related to the West Indian Colonies.

This paper will look at photographs of the WIR circulated, sold, and displayed at these world’s fairs to develop an understanding of how they were used to sell the Caribbean nations they inhabited and present a disciplined and developed image of their populations. Photographs of the WIR related to the 1885 World’s Industrial and Cotton Exposition in New Orleans, the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition, the 1891 Jamaica Exhibition, and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago will be referenced, demonstrating the connection between the photographs as well as the fairs themselves. With regards to the representations of the West India Regiments used to promote investment and tourism at World’s Fairs, it could be argued that the black soldiers of the West India Regiment were commodified and disempowered. However, this commodification is not all that photographs of the WIR represent, especially within the environment of American world’s fairs held at a time when race relations were volatile in the host locations. In two clear cases the WIR were empowered and therefore able to challenge racist beliefs.

‘“I am willing to fight for his Majesty King George”: Black Royalism in the mid-eighteenth-century British Atlantic World’

Maria Alessandra Bollettino, Framingham State University

Scholars of both slave resistance and royalism in the eighteenth century have noted the royalism expressed by enslaved people of African descent. Such scholars have tended to focus their attention upon those enslaved people who made royalism central to their acts of resistance during the American and Haitian Revolutions. Few scholars, however, have studied those enslaved and free blacks whose royalism led them to work in concert with rather than against slaveholders. This paper examines those enslaved and free blacks who, in alliance with slaveholders, seized upon moments of mid-eighteenth-century slave insurrection or imperial war to champion the British monarch and the imperial order he embodied. It contends that the loyalty of these enslaved and free blacks convinced British imperial officials they were valuable allies upon whom they could rely to secure and expand the Empire in the Atlantic – a conviction that led British military officials to bypass slaveholders and instead make direct appeals to enslaved and free blacks for aid during the War for American Independence. An investigation of black royalism in the mid-eighteenth century thus provides an important prehistory of the revolutionary era. It also offers an opportunity to consider the full range of social and political affiliations of people of African descent and, therefore, to reframe our understanding of the loyalties of those enslaved and free blacks whom historians have tended to marginalize as “collaborators.”

‘Playing with empire: Cricket, military bands and the West India Regiment’

Beth Cooper, British Library

This paper focuses on the ways in which the tensions of empire were “played out” in cricket and military bands in Barbados from the mid-19th through the early 20th century. While the WIR gains mention in the work of scholars such as CLR James, Hilary McD Beckles, Bridget Brerenton and Marcia Burrowes, a focused study on the regiment’s cultural activities and legacy has yet to be written. Both tools and products of the British Empire, cricket and military music could be used at cross purposes, and gained meaning and ideological significance in practice. Symbolically cricket and military bands were crucial to the Imperial expansion. While at the same time, their performance literally meant membership in the British Empire. And could therefore call into question the contours and meaning of Empire. It is thought that the first public cricket game held in the Caribbean was in 1806 at the St. Ann’s Garrison in Barbados – and the 4th West India Regiment had a role in the game. The Garrison cricket team remains a major team in Barbados throughout the 19th century. However, its participation in matches was always dependent on the availability of soldiers. 19th century military bands regulated camp life, passed orders in battles and were also sources of entertainment and relaxation. Bands would play for a wide range of events – not only military campaigns – including funerals, religious masses, and holidays. Cricket and marching bands have proven to be pillars of 20th century Caribbean popular culture. Thus, to conclude, the paper considers the political meanings and cultural legacy of the WIR in the 20th century.

‘The “beau ideal of a soldier’s dress”: The Zouavisation of the West India Regiments’

David Lambert, University of Warwick

This paper will examine the reasons for and significance of the issuing of new Zouave-style uniforms to Britain’s West India Regiments in the mid-to-late 1850s.  Representing a form of martial rebranding, this was a radical shift that ended the policy of dressing the Regiments’ rank-and-file in the same uniforms as those of the Regiments of Foot, a practice that had reflected the (qualified) equality of black and white troops.  The context for the change was a wide-ranging military review that came in the wake of the Crimean War (1853-56) and the evident shortcomings of the British army that it had revealed.  The paper examines two interpretive frames for the ‘Zouavisation’ of the West India Regiments.  First, there was a desire to emulate and replicate the picturesque valour that the French Zouaves had displayed in the Crimean War, particularly at the battles of Alma and Inkerman – a sentiment strongly expressed by Queen Victoria herself.  Figuratively, the Zouave was a half-civilised, half-savage soldier, and the wish to rebrand the West India Regiments as analogues of the French troops was part of a longer history of incorporating those from the ‘margins’, especially ‘martial races’, into imperial militaries.  Second, there was an effort in the mid-1850s to assign uniforms that were more sensitive to the local conditions in which British military units served.  In the case of the West India Regiments, this policy actually served to inscribe racial differences between troops – as demonstrated by the fact that the officers of the Regiments were not required to wear Zouave-style uniforms.  As such, this change reflected shifting ideas about people of African descent, as well as about tropicality, in this period.  These twin interpretive frames are examined in relation to other developments around the mid-century, including the increasing demographic creolisation of the Regiments, the emergence of warfare as a spectacular and highly-mediated realm, and the shockwaves felt across the British Empire following the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857.

‘“Supermen”: British military surgeons and the forging of ideas about the black body 1795-1840’

Tim Lockley, University of Warwick

This paper focuses on the military surgeons who served with the West India Regiments. Few of those posted to serve in the Caribbean would have had extensive prior experience of working on those of African descent, indeed many were fresh from Scottish medical schools. Their new posting involved interpreting and reinterpreting black bodies, as well as determining and navigating differences with white bodies, both real and imagined. All regiments had a resident surgeon whose sole purpose was to provide medical care, and the men of the West India Regiments proved to be a source of constant fascination. This paper will show how regimental surgeons attributed various ‘super-human’ characteristics to the soldiers, including powerful recuperative abilities and heightened sensory perception, and that they projected an image of the West India Regiments in their private and published writings as being populated by ‘supermen’.

‘Armed citizens: Rights, race, and warfare in post-emancipation Colombia, 1850s-1860s’

Jason McGraw Indiana University, Bloomington

The civil war in Colombia of 1859-1862 became a major test for the regime of expansive political rights founded on slave emancipation in the early 1850s.  The civil war, ostensibly a partisan struggle between Liberals and Conservatives, witnessed the mass mobilization of newly enfranchised citizens.  Joining armed forces and fighting for various political causes offered numerous moments for men of African descent to demand recognition for their service.  The service of “armed citizens,” as leaders hailed them, both fulfilled the democratic ideals laid down with emancipation and also allowed armed citizens to act as the defenders of freedom.  At other moments, armed citizens demanded recognition from officials in ways that went beyond the letter of the law.  Political opponents of armed men of color, however, construed the fighting in the name of the postemancipation democratic order as a violation of those very same ideals of freedom.  Propaganda often portrayed this violation as a race war.  At stake in the civil war and the long political shadow it cast were the formal rights, social position, and visibility of African-descended people in the Colombian republic.  Moreover, the war and its outcome shaped the legacy and memory of slave emancipation itself.

‘Communicating the colonial state: African soldiers and expeditionary warfare in German East Africa, 1890-1900’

Michelle Moyd, Indiana University, Bloomington

Between 1890 and 1918, African soldiers (askari) in Germany’s colonial army (Schutztruppe) played a foundational role in making the German colonial state. They carried out the military conquest of what became German East Africa. They also carried out many of the day-to-day tasks that helped German military and civilian administrators establish colonial rule, including taxation, labor recruitment, and legal processes. In these ways, I have recently argued, they acted as “violent intermediaries” between the colonial state and the East African populations who became subjects of German colonial rule. This paper will offer some new reflections on the intellectual project of including colonial agents of violence like the askari in the category of intermediary. It does so in two ways. First, it explores the particular ways that violence—as communication, as part of their work, and as part of their self-understandings--featured in their intermediary roles for the colonial state. Second, it assesses how we might rethink colonial soldiers as workers, in order to suggest new ways of understanding the place of violence carried out by African soldiers in the making of European colonialisms in Africa. It draws on an extraordinary German source, which documents an askari column’s violent actions during a scientific expedition undertaken in German East Africa in 1896. It offers a rare glimpse into how colonial soldiers responded to the fluid and highly mobile style of warfare employed in the conquest phase of European colonialism in the 1890s. It also clearly illustrates the tensions between German leadership priorities and those of the African soldiers who fought for them. The paper thus contributes to a number of the conference’s suggested themes.

‘“She is training her emancipated slaves for the purpose of creating insurrections in the very heart of our country”: The West India Regiments in the US Press, 1830-1860’

Rosalyn Narayan, University of Warwick

In the three decades prior to the civil war, the American slaveholding South witnessed numerous slave insurrection panics. After Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831, the South saw no actual slave rebellions, and yet, while slaveholders tried to convince themselves that their slaves were faithful and trustworthy, rumours of poisoning, arson and planned slave rebellions circulated widely.  For southern slaveholders, the armed black man, both enslaved and free, represented the threat of slave insurrection and a world turned upside down.  The southern press played a crucial role in propagating and encouraging the stereotype of the dangerous armed black man, an image that slaveholders consumed on a daily or weekly basis when they read the newspapers. Armed black men appeared in the southern press in many different guises, for example, as rebels of real and imagined slave insurrections, as free black males and as runaways. They also appeared as the soldiers of the British West India Regiments. An analysis of southern newspapers shows how representations of the Regiments often portrayed a deep-seated fear of slave rebellion within the south. It also highlights how press coverage of foreign affairs, in this case relations with Britain, could be used as a framework through which southerners could amplify their own internal fears and anxieties. By considering the different ways in which the southern press used the British West India Regiments to influence an image of the black male as dangerous, this paper will highlight how important the press was in creating and perpetuating fears and anxieties amongst the slaveholding elite.

‘Racial ambiguity as racial threat: The lynching of Francis McIntosh in St Louis, Missouri (1836)’

Lydia Plath, University of Warwick

In April 1836, a free black man named Francis McIntosh was arrested on the streets of St Louis, Missouri, for some kind of “disorderly conduct.” On the way to the jail, the Deputy Sheriff, George Hammond, “jestingly” threatened that McIntosh would be given a long prison sentence, or might even be executed, for his alleged crime. Perhaps this is why McIntosh decided to pull a long knife from his pocket and to use it in an attempt to escape. He killed Hammond, and severely wounded William Mull, a deputy constable who was with them. McIntosh was soon surrounded by local citizens, and taken back to jail. Within hours, a mob had tied him to a tree, piled wood around him, and burned him to death in front of a crowd of perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

In this paper, I will use the lynching of Francis McIntosh as a corrective to the notion that spectacle lynching was a postbellum phenomenon. As Michael Pfiefer has argued, it is necessary to “probe deeper and earlier into the southern past” to understand lynching. The lynching of both free blacks and slaves in the antebellum period were part of whites’ attempts to control racial mobility and racial ambiguity in a rapidly developing world. Reports of the lynching of Francis McIntosh received widespread coverage in newspapers across the country, so Americans could read eyewitness accounts and imagine the burning for themselves, reinforcing racial hierarchies in the minds of white Americans nationwide. In a world where blackness was supposed to designate slavery, and whiteness freedom, free blacks embodied racial ambiguities that whites believed threatened the racial hierarchy and thus the very foundations of their society. Therefore when free blacks like Francis McIntosh resorted to violence, whites sometimes responded with lynching.

‘War memory and the construction of hierarchy: commemoration of black colonial servicemen in the aftermath of the First World War’

John Siblon, Birkbeck College, University of London.

In this paper, I will use a cultural history approach to examine how the First World War service of Africans and Caribbeans from British colonies was commemorated in Britain, The Western Front, the Caribbean, and Africa in the immediate aftermath of the conflict.

At the start of the war, military and colonial officials had initially connived to exclude African and Caribbean military formations from participating in the European theatre of war but later relented and allowed Africans and Caribbeans to serve in non-combatant roles. In the African theatre, Caribbean troops and African soldiers, carriers and porters were allowed Combat roles and died in large numbers. Meanwhile, African and Caribbean sailors and seamen served in the trans-oceanic theatres of war. Many of these servicemen were from Britain or had passed through Britain in the war years.

What then would be the forms of cultural commemoration of African and Caribbean colonial troops, labourers and carriers after the war? Did African and Caribbeans receive equality in commemoration? Were there specific African and Caribbean ‘sites of memory’ constructed in the memorial landscape and were Africans and Caribbeans commemorated differently in metropole and colony? Using a study of permanent, official memorials to the colonial dead and missing across different theatres I will argue that official memorialisation practice does as much to obscure our perception of black colonial military service as to present a full understanding of its extent.

‘Ceddo, Sofa, Tirailleur: Slave status and military identity in nineteenth-century Senegambia’

Sarah Davis Westwood, Boston University

One of the marked characteristics of warfare in Senegambia from at least the 17th century is the extensive recruitment and employment of slave status men in the armed forces of both its precolonial kingdoms and the French colonial forces attempting their overthrow. Defeated soldiers often shifted allegiance in order to preserve freedoms attained through military service. Whether through the ceddo armies protecting Wolof states, the sofa soldiers who fought as part of the jihadist force of El Hajj Umar Tal, or the French-recruited tirailleurs sénégalais, slave identity within a rigid caste system often meant that enlistment was one of few paths to personal autonomy.

This paper examines the conscription and recruitment of indigenous troops and their service in royal and jihadist forces, irregular armed groups, and the French colonial military in the Senegambia region. It re-examines the slave identity of Senegalese men who fought in the various realms that make up present-day Senegal. It also focuses on the development of military culture within these groups, the tactics employed in inter-state conflicts and between indigenous states and a burgeoning French colonial army, and the emergence of war making as a vocation. Furthermore, it asks questions about power relations and slave identity. When slaves have power, what does that do to their standing in society? If many or most soldiers are slaves, what does slave identity connote, and how might this shift our understanding of slavery away from Orlando Patterson’s widely cited “social death”?