A Tale of Two Plantations: a Comparative Approach to Caribbean and U.S. Slavery

Richard Dunn, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of Pennsylvania and winner of a 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, has reconstructed the individual lives and collective experiences of two thousand slaves who lived on Mesopotamia sugar estate in western Jamaica and Mount Airy plantation in Tidewater Virginia.  He compares slave life on the two plantations in order to demonstrate the huge demographic difference between the British Caribbean and the U.S. slave systems–drastic population loss at Mesopotamia and vigorous population growth at Mount Airy–and shows how the black people on both plantations suffered horribly, but in strikingly dissimilar ways.

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About the Speaker:

Richard S. Dunn

Richard S. Dunn is a professor emeritus of American History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded and directed the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, the son of an academic. From adolescence, Dunn knew that he wanted to be a scholar.

After graduating from Harvard in 1950, Dunn earned a master’s at Princeton, where he completed his doctorate in history in 1955.

After two years teaching at the University of Michigan, Dunn joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, rising to lead its history department, win its Lindback teaching award and edit its Early American Studies series of books. He won a Guggenheim fellowship, another from the American Council of Learned Societies and a third from Queen’s College, Oxford University.

Dunn’s book Sugar and Slaves has become a classic work in West Indian studies. It galvanized Dunn’s interest in what slowly became A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia.

Information about the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

New York Times Book Review of A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia

Recording of the event