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Date of Award

5-2022

Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History

Department

History

First Reader/Committee Chair

Jones, Tiffany

Abstract

In 1824, an enslaved woman named Catalina (alias Susannah Mathison) induced an abortion by drinking an herbal mixture on the Castle Wemyss Estate in Jamaica. Consequently, the estate’s attorney denounced her as an African witchcraft practitioner. Many enslaved women faced similar convictions for their botanical knowledge as British colonists misinterpreted Obeah for witchcraft or superstition. This thesis sheds light on these women’s experiences and examines how the British Empire imposed imperial rule over enslaved women by reflecting on the intersectionality of race, gender, and botany. Focusing on the Greater Caribbean area and centering primarily around Jamaica, this research explores the appropriation and management of enslaved women and their botanical knowledge during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Drawing from ecofeminist framework, it begins by considering the personification and sexualization of nature in scientific journals, literature, and artwork during the rise of modern science. These beliefs and the association of nature and women were carried over the Atlantic, which furthered Western society’s depiction of Black women as sinful, inferior, and chaotic. Despite British male botanists and physicians relying on enslaved women’s botanical expertise, enslaved women’s ethnobotanical medical practices were often ignored, viewed as inferior, or even considered witchcraft. As this thesis shows, Western societies association between women, nature, and witchcraft led to the misrepresentation of alternative healing practices like Obeah and justified racial hierarchies and slavery in the minds of British colonists.

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