Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Become the Scapegoats

Catherine Hall writes:

Edward Long arrived ‘home’ in the ‘mother country’ in 1769 with his wife and three young children after 12 years as a planter in Jamaica. His return presented no problems. He was a colonist, a ‘freeborn Englishman’, welcomed back to ‘his’ country. His wife came, as he did, from an elite white dynasty and his children, though they were born in Jamaica, inherited his birthright. (The children of enslaved women inherited their mothers’ status and were born enslaved.) Long had made enough money from his cane fields and enslaved labour to return home, safe in the expectation that his plantations could be managed from a distance while he enjoyed a life of leisure. He had been keen to return to ‘his dear Native Land’, determined that his children should receive an English education. ‘I can no more be happy here than Gulliver was,’ he wrote to a close friend: the family estate in Clarendon was ‘undoubtedly the Golgotha of Jamaica’. All white colonists lived in fear, given their tiny numbers and their dependence on enslaved Africans. England, by contrast, was always imagined as a safe place. The Longs were welcomed by their relatives – rich West Indian merchants in London and landed gentry in Suffolk. They settled in Chichester, a genteel southern English town, in an area liked by returning ‘West Indians’ because of its tranquillity and its relative proximity to London. Long had brought with him a collection of documents he had acquired in preparation for what he hoped would be a peaceful literary life. He planned to devote himself to writing a new and authoritative history of Jamaica.

(LRB 23 January 2020)

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