USC professor studies slavery in the Caribbean Islands
By Sydney KornegayCub@TheColumbiaStar.com
Kenneth Kelly is a modern- day treasure hunter. With 18th century maps, shovels, and an explorer's spirit, the USC professor goes in search of hidden knowledge, uncovering a wealth of information about past societies.
Kelly's recent work has focused on the slave trade in the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. On April 13, he presented some findings to the Greater Piedmont Chapter of the Explorer's Club and painted a picture of what life was like for slaves in the French West Indies.
The slave trade began in the French West Indies in the 1600s when plantation owners began importing slaves to work in the deadly sugar fields. As the plantations flourished, so did the slave trade, with over 1.6 million brought to the colonies. Slavery continued on all islands of the West Indies until the late 18th century when the French revolution occurred. At that point, the roles of slaves on Guadeloupe and Martinique took very different paths.
In Guadeloupe, a decree by French Revolutionaries abolished slavery in 1794. However, eight years later, Napoleon sent troops to re- impose slavery, and the residents revolted. In the end, French troops succeeded, and 300 members of the rebellion chose to commit suicide rather than give up.
This violent history is evident in the remains of slave villages in Guadeloupe. By comparing 18th century maps, modern topographical maps, and his knowledge of settlement patterns, Kelly was able to locate several slave villages on Martinique. There, he unearthed evidence of both 18th and 19th century structures with the later structures often built right on top of the former.
Kelly found the earlier homes were spaced randomly across the village; whereas, the latter ones were laid out in a grid fashion meaning slave owners began imposing more rigid patterns for the settlements after slavery was re- instituted in the 19th century.
Martinique, however, has a vastly different history when it comes to slavery. Planters on Martinique invited British occupation in the 18th century to ensure slavery on the island. As a result, homes from that era were not destroyed in a rebellion, and remains can still be seen today. Kelly has used these structures to compare what life was like for slaves on Guadeloupe with those in Martinique.
Kelly has also found pottery remains that indicate differences between the two islands. On Guadeloupe, for instance, there was little evidence of handmade pottery, and most of the ceramics were of French origin. Martinique, however, has large quantities of locally- made ceramics, indicating that pottery was made there on the island.
While his findings have provided him valuable insight into patterns of society in the French West Indies, Kelly's work is not done yet. He plans to continue studying the sites there, and hopes to return to the West Indies this summer.