Drawing on 1,200 colonial wills made between 1670 and 1760, Chapter Four explores the inheritance strategies devised by colonists to cope with Jamaica’s catastrophic mortality rates. Free families divided estates more equitably between male and female heirs and took measures to protect married women’s property, especially in the form of enslaved people. Loosening the gendered practices that governed marriage and inheritance enabled colonists to secure their property, and captive Africans in particular, from one generation to the next. These legal alterations influenced the lives of enslaved people, who were treated as moveable property. Thus, they became a form of gendered currency used by colonial families to support female kin. Cumulatively, colonists’ bequests transferred considerable wealth into women’s hands and deepened their involvement in slavery. Female heirs, in turn, used the fruits of inheritance to purchase more enslaved Africans, further tying the material wealth of colonial families to the Atlantic slave trade.
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