An ‘Invaluable’ Supply | by Trevor Burnard

In response to:

What Do We Want History to Do to Us? from the February 27, 2020 situation

To the Editors:

Zadie Smith’s attention-grabbing overview of the art work of Kara Walker [NYR, February 27] accommodates a big part on the life and diaries of Thomas Thistlewood, a slave proprietor in Jamaica between 1750 and 1786. She claims in a footnote that she derived her info from studying three entries within the diaries of Thomas Thistlewood on the Beinecke Library, the place Thistlewood’s papers now reside, having beforehand been on the Lincolnshire Archives in England, the place I examined them and obtained a transcript of the diaries.

It’s clear to me, nevertheless, from the main points in her overview, that her details about Thomas Thistlewood is derived from my 2004 guide, Mastery, Tyranny and Want: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves within the Anglo-Jamaican World. The wording of the punishments meted out to enslaved people who she notes follows very carefully what I wrote on p. 261 of Mastery and her enumeration of Thistlewood participating in 3,852 intercourse acts seems to be derived from my counting of such acts (from the entire diaries, not simply the three diary entries famous in her footnote) on p. 156 of Mastery.

The remainder of her feedback on Thistlewood additionally appear to have been obtained from a studying of my guide. I respect that Ms. Smith has discovered my guide a priceless supply of knowledge. It will be good if she acknowledged that she bought the details about Thistlewood from work I’ve accomplished relatively than from her personal researches. It’s potential that Ms. Smith has learn the unique diaries, however my confidence in her having accomplished so is diminished by her assertion that Thistlewood wrote about Enlightenment issues on the recto facet of the diaries whereas he wrote about his sexual depravities and the way he punished enslaved individuals on the verso facet. Thistlewood didn’t, nevertheless, divide his diaries right into a recto and a verso facet however used each side of his diary notebooks to write down every day entries through which philosophical reflections have been blended together with his actions as a slave proprietor.

I hope that Ms. Smith could make an acknowledgment of her indebtedness to my work on Thomas Thistlewood.

Trevor Burnard
Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation
College of Hull, UK

Zadie Smith replies:

I’m actually very sorry for the omission. I positioned no footnote in any respect on these sections once I wrote the essay. The footnotes got here on the finish of the method, on the request of the journal’s editors, who requested the place that they had come from, at which level I instructed them to verify the wording of the quotes in Thistlewood’s diaries. The footnote was theirs. I by no means claimed to have gone to the Beinecke Library and certainly I by no means have. I did, nevertheless, learn Professor Burnard’s wonderful guide, a number of years in the past—which is once I made notes on it, evidently inaccurately within the case of the recto/verso error—and I wish to take this chance to suggest it to the readers of this journal. I discovered it to be an excellent and devastating work, and invaluable in growing my understanding of the brutal historical past of slavery within the Caribbean.

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