Proslavery Priest: The Atlantic World of John Lindsay, 1729-1788. B.W. Higman. Kingston: University of West Press, 2011. xv + 334 pp.
During the past few years, the “Atlantic World” paradigm has produced many illuminating insights into the beliefs, behavior, and interactions of the peoples of the early modern worlds of Europe, the Americas, and West Africa. Barry Higman’s compelling study of the Reverend John Lindsay is an example of “Atlantic World” history at its very best.
Born in Scotland in 1729, the highly gifted Lindsay, who received his education at Edinburgh University where he was exposed to the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, could have entered any profession he wished.
He chose to enter the Anglican Church, and spent the early years of his career as a naval chaplain. His voyages took him to Ireland, the Americas, the Caribbean and, in 1758, to West Africa on a military mission, which he detailed in his Voyage to the Coast of Africa, published that same year.
Lindsay, who knew firsthand the “Atlantic World” infinitely better than most of his contemporaries, used not only his literary skills but also his talents as an amateur natural scientist and artist to describe this “World” to those contemporaries. By his choice of career, Lindsay would help to both shape and depict the “Atlantic World” of his day. As Higman so eloquently demonstrates, in his turn Lindsay would find himself being shaped by that “World.”
Because of his writings and artwork, Lindsay became reasonably well known in his day and, over the years, he has received some scholarly attention. Yet this is the first full-length biography, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that Lindsay did not leave a significant cache of personal papers. Higman has managed to track down, and make splendid use of, an impressively wide range of other sources that detail the course of Lindsay’s intellectual development. Toward the end of his life he came to defend what a growing number of his British and North American contemporaries, including some Anglican churchmen, had come to regard as indefensible: the racially-based slave systems of the Anglophone “Atlantic World” and the transatlantic slave trade that fuelled them.