History | Branford College

Sohum Pal
All images submitted by students

Senior Essay Title: "Debts of Empire: Centering Slavery in 19th Century West Indian Credit Markets"

Adviser: Anne Eller

Abstract: This paper argues that in financial capitalism, creditors and investors convert risk (the possibility of economic losses) into profitability through legal and financial technologies, producing value for creditors. This paper traces the development of that principle across four historical junctures. First, I examine the 1732 Debt Recovery Act. The Act, I argue, created the legal technologies that made the 1833 West India Relief Act possible. Proceeding from this foundation, I interrogate mortgages issued in the period 18321833—documents submitted to the West India Relief Board in order to secure loans in response to a hurricane (in Barbados, St. Vincent, Guyana, and St. Lucia) and the Jamaican slave rebellion led by Sam Sharpe. Examining mortgage applications pursuant to the Relief Act elaborates how plantation holders understood and collapsed enslaved Black persons into the financial logic of the mortgage. I interrogate the West India Relief Act’s aftermath, arguing that Parliament’s enforcement of debt satisfaction in the mid-19th century was constitutive of a shift towards economic liberalism. Finally, I conclude with a brief coda articulating how the relationship of enslavement to financial capitalism endures and continues to structure contemporary speculative financial capitalism.