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Classicisms in the Black Atlantic$
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Ian Moyer, Adam Lecznar, and Heidi Morse

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198814122

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198814122.001.0001

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“Nero, the mustard!”

“Nero, the mustard!”

The Ironies of Classical Slave Names in the British Caribbean

(p.57) 2 “Nero, the mustard!”
Classicisms in the Black Atlantic

Margaret Williamson

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the renaming of enslaved people in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Jamaica. Using plantation records and narrative accounts, it focuses on the classical names that made up 10–15% of inventory listings. Those who renamed newly acquired slaves after powerful historical and mythological figures from antiquity added a cruel irony to the physical practices of enslavement. They also laid claim to the cultural capital of high European culture, while mocking those denied access to it. But their claim was bogus, resting on the physical and legal power to enslave rather than on any deep knowledge of antiquity. The claim to civilizational and racial purity that underpinned it was also undercut by new meanings, including the perceptions of the enslaved: deployed in the service of racial purity, Classics became creolized. The implications can be traced in an early-nineteenth-century Johnny Newcome print and in the fiction of Charles W. Chesnutt.

Keywords:   slavery, names, creole, classical, Jamaica, plantation culture, Atlantic world, Thomas Staunton St Clair, Charles W. Chesnutt, Johnny Newcome

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