The Overseer, Bookkeeper, and Driver


Each plantation had an overseer who was directly responsible to either the resident proprietor or the absentee proprietor’s attorney. He was the man who made sure the plantation ran smoothly and usually lived in the great house when the landowner was an absentee. Whereas, the attorney may be responsible for numerous plantations, the overseer was in control of only one plantation. He was a man who superintended several gangs of field laborers on a plantation. In Jamaica, the “overseer” became “obisha” by the late 1700’s and “busha” by the early 1800s. Usually, the attorney started his apprenticeship as an overseer.

The overseer might have several bookkeepers working under him. In Jamaica, these bookkeepers had nothing to do with keeping books. In fact, many times they were illiterate white men, whose sole function was to get the maximum work out of the slaves.

At the bottom of the supervisory level below the bookkeepers were the drivers. These were always slaves.

The hierarchy of management was paralleled by a hierarchy of punishment. Corporal punishment would be meted out to slaves by the drivers, bookkeepers or overseers. Whereas, the white bookkeepers would never receive corporal punishment. If the offense was great, they would be summarily dismissed without a horse to ride. The overseer would force them to walk off the plantation. If an overseer was dismissed, he would be given a horse or mule to leave with dignity. If corporal punishment was to be given to a member of the white management team, it would be administered by the government of Jamaica.


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About Dr. Raul A. Mosley

Raul is the founder of the Fort Worth Portrait Project (FWPP). He holds a Ph.D. in Public Affairs & Issues Management from Purdue University. After teaching for 16 years as a university faculty member at both Purdue and Indiana University, Raul moved to Fort Worth and founded the FWPP in 2014.

4 responses to “The Overseer, Bookkeeper, and Driver”

  1. Dionne Bee says :

    Hi Michael, I love the layout of your blog:-D

    Do you have any information on the likely race/skin colour of planters and cultivators in the mid to late 1800s or where I could possibly find this information?



    • mwmosley68 says :

      I think I’ve seen an article on your question about the race/skin color of the planters. I did mention that the owner of Hampstead and Retreat Sugar Estates was a slave who became the wife of Jonathan Barnett. I will do a bit of research and get back to you.



  2. Dionne Bee says :

    Hi Michael, did you see my question? Would appreciate the help. Thanks.


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