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.