Frontier Landscapes, Missions, and Power: A French Jesuit Plantation and Church at Grand Bay, Dominica (1747--1763)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Douglas Armstrong


Mission, Jesuit, Frontier, Landscape, Caribbean, Power, Grand Bay, Dominica, Plantation

Subject Categories



This dissertation approaches ideal and material issues of landscape in island frontiers through a case study of the plantation and church at Grand Bay, Dominica, which were owned by the French Society of Jesus from 1747 to 1763. Before Dominica became a formal British colony in 1763, Caribs, French settlers, free and enslaved Africans, and people of mixed ancestry inhabited this island frontier. The frontier is defined as a transformative, dynamic contact zone where there were daily interactions among people of varied backgrounds. Moreover, settlement of Dominica is limited to a band of coastal enclaves because of the island's mountainous topography and thick vegetation. The landscape is approached as the materiality of an ongoing interaction between Jesuit ideology and the specific and historically situated variables or "boundary processes" in this enclave, which then shaped social and economic relations in the frontier. Excavations reveal the spatial layout of the church, factory, and residence and sampled subsurface layers dating to the Jesuit period. The spatial data reveal that the mission site prioritized visibility of the cross and church and created a network of free and enslaved settlers in the Grand Bay enclave. Exchange networks are shown by fragments of hand-made pots, industrially produced wares, and imported European manufactured goods. By focusing on the frontier context this study improves understandings of space within Caribbean frontiers and explores interconnections with colonies and the metropole. This study departs from historical accounts which situate Grand Bay in the context of how this site contributed to the dissolution of the French Society of Jesus, and broadens the approach to missions, as Grand Bay functioned as a multicrop plantation using enslaved African labor and a parish church in a neutral island.


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