Theses Doctoral

The peculiar class: The formation, collapse, and reformation of the middle class in Antigua, West Indies, 1834-1940

Lowes, Susan

The conception of British West Indian societies as structured into a hierarchy based on skin color is firmly embedded in the scholarly literature and the popular mind, as is the assumption that the free colored became the "brown middle class." Using a wide variety of archival documents, as well as a series of family histories, this study argues that these assumptions both misinterpret the relation between class and skin color, and obscure the changing nature and membership of each class. It traces the emergence of two middle classes in Antigua, the first of which developed after emancipation in 1834 and lasted until the mid-1890s, and the second of which developed in the late nineteenth century and lasted until the arrival of the U.S. armed forces to build a base in 1940. Part 1, "Sugar and Empire," discusses the political economy of sugar and the planter class that controlled it as both developed from colonization until the late 1890s. It outlines the problems of sugar production and labor control, which culminated in a major economic, political, and social crisis in the mid-1890s, and describes the negotiations that led to the arrival of outside capital to take control of the sugar industry. Part 2, "The Class Called Coloured, 1834-1900," begins with a discussion of the free colored in Antigua and then uses a sample of families to trace the emergence and decline of the "first" middle class, which had its roots in the free colored population. Part 3, "Arrivance, 1900-1940," turns to an analysis of the "second" middle class, tracing a sample of families from their roots in the nineteenth century to their ascent into the middle class in the beginning of the twentieth. It describes their education, their economic and occupational roles, their politics, and their social life. It ends with a discussion of the demise of this class, by-passed by the working-class-led trade unions and disoriented by the social upheaval caused by the arrival of the American armed forces.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Comitas, Lambros
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 23, 2022


Social sciences