Winter, Jamaica, April 1776
Winter was one of several enslaved people convicted of obeah in Jamaican slave courts in the decades after the 1760 legislation which first made obeah a criminal offence. He was tried in the slave court of the parish of St. Thomas in the East (today’s St. Thomas) and sentenced to transportation. This probably meant that he was sold to slave traders within the Caribbean. He may have ended up in Cuba or other expanding colonies of the time.
The only evidence we have about Winter or what led to his prosecution comes from a book published by the Jamaican magistrate Richard Hill, a ‘brown’ man (of mixed African and European descent) and a liberal. His 1859 book, Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History, included extracts from the Trial Book of Slaves, kept at the Vestry Office (the office of the parish church authorities) at Morant Bay. The original document has not been found. Hill included them, he said, to illustrate the harshness of ‘justice, administered under the old slave law of the colony’. He also included two other obeah cases: Philander, in 1766, and Grant in 1782. Hill records that Philander was hanged, but does not list the outcome of Grant’s trial.
Other cases in the book show harsh punishments for other enslaved people who faced trial. The punishments of Adam, Emma and Daniel are are shown in the illustration above, alongside that of Winter.
These extracts included the following account of Winter’s prosecution and conviction:
Winter, for practicing obeah, transportation. Evidence – Deponent on searching prisoner’s house, found sundry matters such as egg-shells tied up in plantain trash, fowl’s feet, fishes’ bones, feathers, and sundry other matters in a basket; also a coney-skin or some such thing, stuffed in a bottle, which those who practise Obeah commonly make use of, &c.
It is unclear who the ‘deponent’ was—perhaps the manager of the plantation on which Winter lived. If the material found did belong to Winter, he may well have been using the material found to try to obtain spiritual protection. The case is an example of a severe punishment merely for possession of items thought to be related to obeah.
Cundall, Frank. ‘Richard Hill’. Journal of Negro History 5, 1 (1920): 37-44.
Hill, Richard. Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History: Being Three Lectures, Delivered in Aid of the Mission Schools of the Colony: to Which Is Added an Appendix, with … Map of the Island. Kingston: Ford & Gall, 1859, Appendix O, p. 148, quoting from Extracts from the Trial Book of Slaves, kept at the Vestry Office at Morant Bay, Jamaica. Google books.
Winter at Caribbean Religious Trials