Chapter One explores the gendered nature of the imperial policies that shaped early English settlement of Jamaica after the island’s seizure from Spain in 1655. Strategists in London and Jamaica envisioned women playing important roles in their capacities as wives and mothers on the island. They sought to attract families, not single men, to Jamaica. However, the colony’s entrepreneurial focus and its lax enforcement of sexual behavior thwarted metropolitan plans to establish well-ordered patriarchal households and enforce normative gender roles there. In the 1670s and 1680s, a motley group of wives, widows, indentured servants, and prisoners migrated to the island. These settlers seized on the economic opportunities on offer in Port Royal. Female inhabitants helped to turn Port Royal into the epicenter of licit and illicit trade in the Caribbean. Foreshadowing what was to come, this initial group of women also invested in Atlantic slavery. Soon after they settled on the island, women began acquiring slaves. In doing so, they ensured the participation of future generations of female islanders in slaveholding.
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