A Precarious Freedom: the Foundation and Justifications of Acts of Attainder for Enslaved and Free Persons of Color in the 18th Century British Caribbean
In October of 1736, in the small colony of Antigua, a group of enslaved persons plotted to overthrow the white planter class, abolish slavery, and declare independence from British rule. Four free Black men were accused of aiding the plot, which was ultimately unsuccessful, and attainted for their supposed treason: Thomas Winthorp, John Corteen, Benjamin Johnson, and William "Billy" Johnson. This thesis explores the use of acts of attainder in the British Caribbean during the 18th century, primarily focused on the case of the latter two men, the Johnson brothers. While acts of attainder were frequently used in the 17th and 18th centuries in England, traditionally a power vested in Parliament, their use in the Greater British Atlantic brings about questions as to why it became a tool to punish rebellions by enslaved people and free people of color. In effect, this thesis seeks to answer why the obscure and cruel writ of attainder was used in the Greater British Atlantic by colonial officials and legislatures, and what implications it had when used against non-white subjects and enslaved persons.