“Extravagant Viciousness”: Slavery and Gluttony in the Works of Thomas Tryon

  • Kim F. Hall
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


George: I just heard that salsa is now the most popular condiment in this country.


Seventeenth Century Conspicuous Consumption Early Modern Period English Food Improper Mixture 
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  1. 1.
    Glenn Collins, New York Times, “The Americanization of Salsa; With Mexican Food Tamed, Big Business looks abroad,” January 9, 1997, D1. See also Molly O’Neill, New York Times, “New Mainstream: Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Salsa,” March 11, 1992. A later, more refined, study suggests that salsa’s ascendancy is not so clear-cut. See Marcia Mogelonsky, “Salsa Plays Ketchup,” American Demographics, 20:1 (January 1998): 36.Google Scholar
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    O’Neill, “New mainstream”.Google Scholar
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    Young, Colonial Desire, 5.Google Scholar
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    This conflation of the two items has profound political and economic overtones. Based on the debacle over the Reagan administration attempt to count ketchup as a vegetable in public school lunches, many school systems in the U.S. West refuse to allow salsa to count even though freshly prepared salsa has no nutritional relationship to ketchup.Google Scholar
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    Sophie and Michael Coe’s book, The True History of Chocolate (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996), 110 ff., gives a precise account of colonial hybridization marked through food in the early history of the Iberian conquest of Meso-America. Rachel Laudan and Jeffrey M. Pilcher’s study of Spanish, Creole, and Native American foodways offers a compelling critique of modern narratives that suggest the creation of an early mestizo cuisine that is also a cautionary tale of how cultures identify the national and the hybrid. “Chiles, Chocolate, and Race in New Spain: Glancing Backward to Spain or Looking Forward to Mexico?” Eighteenth Century Life, 23:2 (1999): 59–70.Google Scholar
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    I am aware that there still seems to be some controversy over calling early modern sugar production capitalist, but I remain convinced of Eric Williams’s early point that “sugar was and is essentially a capitalist undertaking": See Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 25. Even the earliest sugar plantations contained the nascent features of capitalist labor: “Long before the common features of the industrialized West (imported foods, time-conscious work regimes, factory production, impersonal work relations, etc.) had spread through much of Europe, they were commonplace aspects of life for Caribbean slaves. Today, and even in the most exotic corners of the Caribbean, from the river rain villages of the Guianese rain forest to the rural hamlets of the mountainous Haitian interior, European and North American interests contribute steadily and massively to the shaping of everyday life” (Sidney W Mintz and Sally Price, Carribean Contours [Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985], 9).Google Scholar
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    Anita Guerrini, “A Diet for the Sensitive Soul: Vegetarianism in Eighteenth Century Britain” Eighteenth Century Life, 23:2 (1999): 34. See also Nigel Smith. “Enthusiasm and Enlightenment: of food, filth and slavery,” in The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550–1850, ed. Gerald Maclean, Donna Landry and Joseph P. Ward (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 106–118. There is no modern account of Tryon’s life and most of the information about him comes from the Dictionary of National Biography. Google Scholar
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    Thomas Tryon, Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies (London, 1684), 76. Subsequent notes appear in the text.Google Scholar
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    I investigate the adoption of this view extensively in an essay, “Strange and Severe Mastery: Understanding Slavery in Seventeenth Century Britain” in Slavery: A Comparative Exploration, ed. Rudolph Hock, Joseph Reidy and Ibrahim Sundiata (in circulation). Much of the discussion of Tryon’s early life is duplicated in this essay.Google Scholar
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    I thank Moshe Gold for this reference. Horace’s Art of Poetry becomes the basis for the later very popular satire on foodways, The Art of Cookery in Imitation of Horaces Art of Poetry (1709) by William King. See Timothy Morton, “Old Spice: William King, Culinary Antiquarianism, and National Boundaries,” Eighteenth Century Life, 23:2 (1999): 97–101 and John Fuller, “Carving Trifles: William King’s Imitation of Horace,” Proceedings of the British Academy, 62 (1976): 3–25.Google Scholar
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    The most well known usage of the word is probably Defoe’s evocation of “That Het’rogeneous Thing, An Englishman” in his “A True-Born Englishman: A Satyr.” See Brody for a compelling discussion of hybridity in this poem.Google Scholar
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    See Horace, Ars Poetica “If a painter chose to set a human head on the neck and shoulders of a horse, to gather limbs from every animal and clothe them with feathers from every kind of bird, and make what was at the top a beautiful woman have ugly ending in a black fish’s tail—when you were admitted to view this picture, should you refrain from laughing, my good friends?” in Critical Theory since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 68.Google Scholar
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    Kim F. Hall, “Culinary Spaces, Colonial Spaces: The Gendering of Sugar in the Seventeenth Century,” in Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects, ed. Valerie Traub, M. Lindsay Kaplan and Dympna Callaghan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 175.Google Scholar
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    This is too complicated to go into here, but evidence suggests that currants were grown in England at this time, yet Tryon assumes that they are foreign. He doesn’t, for example, argue that the English should eat only home-grown currants. This gap might be explained by the English habit of valuing imported goods over domestic. Foreign currants may have been more highly prized than English and thus a ready target for Tryon.Google Scholar
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    Charlotte Sussman. “Women and the Politics of Sugar, 1792,” Representations, 48 (Fall 1994), 50.Google Scholar
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    Stephen Mennell (“On the Civilising of Appetite”) offers the very useful reminder that literary depictions of banquets do not accurately reflect eating patterns and that “from the spectacular bills of fare it is difficult to work out precisely what each individual actually ate” (Food and Culture, 317).Google Scholar
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    In part because the intake of food of slaves can be regulated rather precisely whereas the food of English workers was controlled by their income and, as Joan Thirsk has demonstrated, their ability to use creatively edibles available wild in the countryside.Google Scholar
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    Richard Dunn, Sugar and slaves; the rise of the planter class in the English West Indies, 1624–1713 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), 264; James Walvin Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery (Washington, DC.: Howard University Press, 1994), 71–77, also comments extensively on the ostentatious life-style and the great gulf between master and slave on the plantation.Google Scholar
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    Beth Fowkes Tobin, “‘And there raise yams’: Slaves’ Gardens in the Writings of West Indian Plantocrats,” Eighteenth Century Life, 23:2 (1999): 164–176 argues that enslaved Africans would also have eaten imported foods such as salt cod, but she it is not clear whether this refers to the earliest decades of the Barbados sugar trade or later in the eighteenth century when slaves were allowed (although with a great deal of hesitancy) to have kitchen gardens.Google Scholar
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    For more on race as descent, see Michael Banton, “The Idiom of Race,” in Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader, ed. Les Back and John Solomos (New York and London: Routledge, 2000); for more on race as lineage, see Liu, “Race.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip D. Beidler and Gary Taylor 2005

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  • Kim F. Hall

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