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Feast & Fast

The Art of Food in Europe, 1500 – 1800

96: Letter

Letter of 5 March 1797 to sugar plantation-owner, William Perrin, from his managers in Jamaica, detailing the harvest; with a list of enslaved people purchased to work on his plantations Many Europeans owned West Indian sugar plantations and exploited enslaved Africans to work on them. William Perrin inherited 5 Jamaican estates in 1769, together with 135 enslaved people; by his death in 1820, this number had increased to 950. St John’s College recently acquired 8 letters concerning Perrin’s plantations, for its Slavery Abolition Movement Collection, which exists because it was the undergraduate college of two leading anti- slavery campaigners, William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson. Written between 20 April 1772 and 5 March 1797, these letters discuss in racist terms the value and sale of enslaved Africans alongside that of sugar and other crops. The letter displayed here, of 5 March 1797, makes little distinction between the estates’ produce and those whose forced labour produced it. The separate enclosure lists 54 enslaved people recently bought by Perrin to work on his plantations: 35 men and 19 women, aged between 13 and 50. The total bill of £5,100 has been calculated as roughly £500,000 today, reminding us of the huge financial interests at stake when Clarkson and Wilberforce pushed for the abolition of the slave trade.

Lent by the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge (St John’s College Library Slavery Abolition Movement/Box 7/1/8)

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