Meet Isaac Crichlow!
This Black History month PhD candidate Isaac Crichlow shares his research on resistance through obeah and kalenda (martial arts), and talks about his research towards his PhD at University College London.
Fulham Palace’s exhibition The Bishops of London, colonialism and transatlantic slavery: resistance examines several forms of spiritual and physical resistance that ultimately led to the end of the transatlantic traffic in enslaved people, and slavery itself, in the British Empire.
Isaac Crichlow provided extensive research for Adisa, the project artist, to use in preparation for the workshops with schools and community groups which culminated in the exhibition.
In this blog, Isaac writes about his PhD on ‘Black Troops and Resistance in the Revolutionary Caribbean: Movement, Control and Freedom, 1795-1840’.
Written by Isaac Crichlow, September 2023
I am a third-year PhD student studying the West India Regiments (WIRs) between 1795 and 1840 under the supervision of Prof. Matthew Smith at University College London (UCL). I was awarded a Studentship through the Centre of the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery (CSLBS) and as part of my degree I was involved with the work at Fulham Palace, tracing connections between colonialism and the Bishops of London. My own research is concerned with the rank-and-file soldiers of the WIRs, who were all of African ancestry and bought as slaves by the British army for military service. My thesis will explore the perspective of the men, particularly how they viewed their role in the British army. This is a difficult task given that the voice of these soldiers is not recorded within the archive. As such I will analyse overt expressions of their agency in mutinies and desertions, looking closely at testimonies offered during Court Martials to gain some insight into how these soldiers viewed their military service.
Previous scholarship has argued that the main purpose of these units was to stop white soldiers dying from tropical diseases. Many fortifications in the Caribbean were located in low-lying swampy areas, where mosquitos would breed. These insects were the vectors of tropical diseases Malaria and Yellow fever. The soldiers taken from Africa had more resilience to these illnesses, having caught them at a young age, therefore they were used to garrison these fortifications. I argue that these troops also played a fundamental role in repressing acts of resistance by the enslaved. When the enslaved rose up against British colonisers, they fought guerilla campaigns in the interiors of Caribbean colonies, tactics that were unfamiliar to European soldiers. British troops who were trained to fight in close formations, to fire by rank and march in line, were unable to perform effectively at guerilla warfare, necessitating the incorporation of black troops into the British army to perform this role.
I am currently working on a chapter which will analyse the 1808 Mutiny of the 2nd WIR which took place in a garrison called Fort Augusta, in Port Royal, Jamaica. The primary sources I have analysed so far, point to the capacity of that unit to fight against resistance by the enslaved, the trauma involved in their recruitment through the Transatlantic slave trade, and the effect of that dislocation on the decision of those involved in the mutiny to attack their white officers. The impact of the mutiny will also be addressed, including the hostile perspective harboured by white creole Jamaican society towards these black troops and the subsequent redeployment of the 2nd WIR by the army. This movement took place in part to quell the apprehensions of Jamaican colonisers, but also as a means to control the unit and ensure its continued loyalty to the British Crown. The working title of my thesis is ‘Black Troops and Resistance in the Revolutionary Caribbean: Movement, Control and Freedom, 1795-1840’. I hope to complete my degree by 2024.