The following extract is voiced by the former Jamaican slave, Miss July, as she is cajoled by her son into writing about the slave rebellion in the Caribbean. It is not about archives as such, but about ‘contemporary printed sources’, which can often be approached too uncritically, in much the same way as archive documents. It is a salutary tale for all family historians not trained in the pitfalls of using historical sources:
“So, should you desire a fuller account of what happened during this time, then perhaps you could peruse the pamphlet that my son of late brought to me. It is written by a Baptist minister named George Dovaston with the title, Facts and documents connected with the Great Slave Rebellion of Jamaica (1832).
“Although nothing that appears within this minister’s pages was witnessed by my eye, and what my eye did see at the time does not appear in this man’s report, my son assures me that this account is very good. Try that if you so desire. Do not, however, read the pamphlet written by the planter John Hoskin. For the man is a fool who does blame only the sons of Ham and men of God for what occurred. None of my readers should look upon that time through his view. I know this sort of man’s character, and his eyes would clearly be shut to all but his own consequences. Conflict and change. A view from the great house of slaves, slavery and the British Empire is the pamphlet you must run from. If you do read it and find your head nodding in agreement at this man’s bluster, then away with you – for I no longer wish you as my reader.”
The Long Song, Andrea Levy, (Headline review pbk 2011, p 103)