Introduction

Slavery was abolished in 1834. It was followed by a four (4) year apprenticeship period where free men continued to work a 45 hour week without pay in exchange for living in the tiny huts provided by the plantation owners. Freedom from slavery was celebrated in 1838 at the end of the apprentice period. Emancipation did not result in as many changes as the slave owners feared. This was due to the fact that most of the land was part of plantations which supported the established order of life and class consciousness. Even though it was difficult for emancipated slaves to procure land, they now had the right to purchase property, were able to sell their labor, migrate, or squat on land. While this created a new peasantry in many of the islands the continuation of the plantation system and of white elitism maintained the traditional color and cultural inequality. This essay will outline some of the factors which facilitated the creation of the peasantry in the British Caribbean in the 19th century and discuss some of the hindrances to peasant development up to 1870.

1

are availability of lands. This caused them to vacate the plantations and venture out on their own. many of the exslaves settled down as small farmers (peasants) on these lands. fear of re-enslavement. which facilitated the creation of peasantry in the British Caribbean in the 19th century. Guyana. Still. Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo. The ex-slaves felt the joy of freedom and they were now able to make their own 2 . cultivating steep hill slopes far away from the plantations. These were called marginal lands and after Emancipation. Cuba. lands were available for grabbing. the desire for independence. Another factor is fear of re-enslavement.Some of the factors. The desire to be independent is also another factor. In some Caribbean countries such as Jamaica. emancipation and the skills acquired on the provision grounds. The physical and psychological trauma that the ex-slaves endured had caused them to shy away from plantation labour. Many ex-slaves thought that the farther away they were from the plantations. the more they would be free. the desire to acquire land. others settled on other marginal lands in the plains nearby the plantations on land leased or bought in various land settlement schemes organized and sponsored by Christian groups such as the Baptists. Even working for wages on the plantations would still be a constant reminder of being enslaved.

even though it was difficult for emancipated slaves to procure land. It encouraged them to have individuality. They were able to use their initiative to survive and fend for themselves and their families. Cultivation was the one skill that the ex-slaves possessed and moreover. especially the English Baptists. The aim was to prevent the establishment of African-type communities in the interior away from white supervision. migrate. No longer were they being told what to do and how to do it. or squat on land. Only the privilege people own land and so. the slaves adopted the concept that owning land meant wealth and power. Owning land meant wealth and power." Under this system missionaries bought large holdings. The white racist view was 3 . Independence had given them their own identity. Most ex-slaves who fled the estates attempted to acquire land. in many of the territories enough land seemed to be available to furnish the would-be cultivator with at least the elements of subsistence. created "free villages. the power to think and act. normally located in close proximity to working estates. were able to sell their labor. Nonconformist missionaries. and subdivided them in small house lots to sell to the former slaves. they now had the right to purchase property.decisions. However. Another factor is the desire to acquire land.

in many cases. They felt that the only way they could be fully emancipated was to leave the plantations. could not be satisfied in plantation labour and residence. the continuation of the plantation system and of white elitism maintained the traditional color and cultural inequality. For the former slaves emancipation meant freedom from planter control and a measure of independence from the estates. The ex-slaves felt their expectations would be met if they left the plantations rather than staying. some ex-slaves chose to remain because of lack of preparation for them by the government to integrate them into the wider society. They practiced agricultural diversification. Emancipation had widened the range of the ex-slaves’ expectations and these. While this created a new peasantry in many of the islands. Emancipation is also another factor which facilitated the creation of peasantry in the Caribbean. The varied skills acquired on the provision grounds played an important role in the creation of peasantry in the Caribbean. planting a variety of agricultural products. thus enabling them to farm all year 4 . However. They were adept at cultivation and were able to grow a variety of crops to suit their needs.that blacks would lapse into barbarism if they were allowed to wander off into the interior away from the estates and white influence.

Some hindrances to peasant development up to 1870 were difficulty in acquiring fertile land. as well as the familiar plantation crops of sugarcane.round. tobacco. As a result most of them ventured into mountainous terrain to cultivate lands. 5 . opposition of the planters and refusal to survey Crown lands. and beeswax. honey. and ground provisions. high rent. cacao. Although peasant development continued throughout the Caribbean. the plantocracy controlled large tracts of the best arable and most easily accessible lands in the country. Some crops produced were coconuts. Other factors that “pushed” the ex-slaves away from the plantation were low wages on the estate. These factors reinforced their determination to seek new and better opportunities away from their estates. The exslaves sought to gain economic and social independence through the ownership of land. the ex-slaves encountered hindrances during this development. coffee. Prior to emancipation. bananas. rice. The ruling class did not support this change in land tenure pattern and so the ex-slaves had great difficulty in acquiring fertile land. citrus limes. high land taxes and land prices. laws against squatting. arrowroot. long contracts and insecurity of tenure.

Therefore. squatting appears to be a cultural practice borne out of 6 . Due to the inadequate opportunities of securing ownership of land by the poor and landless. This policy promoted limited access to land even where it was plentiful. Crown Land was to be priced high enough to keep most people as landless labourers. But even for the ‘industrious. Crown Land sales were to be carefully priced ‘out of reach of persons without capital’ and always sold to the highest bidder above a set minimum. but not too high to discourage the most industrious workers from saving out of their wages in the hope of purchase. but merely to condense and keep together the population in such a manner that will always contain a due proportion of labourers. Most large estates lay overgrown and abandoned to bush while several were heavily encumbered. Absentee landlords held others as collateral for interests elsewhere.’ only private lands held by those either willing to sell or forced to do so by economic circumstances.High land taxes and land prices also prevented the ex-slaves from acquiring land. were generally available to the newly emancipated. ex-slaves took to squatting on Crown lands. as it was in Dominica and Demerara for instance. The object is not to force the cultivation of the present staples by depriving the Negroes of every other resource for their subsistence.

strict legislation was adopted against squatting and this quickly put a damper on this practice. In addition. 7 . the planters were opposed to ex-slaves owning land but due to the failure of the planters to maintain a united opposition. In addition. legislatures instituted costly licences for the sale of small quantities of manufactured sugar and coffee and for the production of charcoal and firewood. They also levied land taxes which discriminated against the owners of smallholdings.slavery and perpetuated after emancipation. Moreover. smallscale land acquisition became possible for the ex-slaves. many planters were constantly in debt and welcomed the cash returns they could get from the disposal of small portions of their marginal land. Another obstacle that was placed in the way of peasant development was the refusal of planter-dominated legislatures to initiate surveys of Crown land as a preliminary to smallholder settlement. However.

Conclusion Decolonization has aided the West Indies in establishing a new identity. which dictated their social and economic scenes. their social significance has declined throughout the years. tourism. mining. Although. The rise a new peasant class after the 19th-century slave emancipation and economic diversification into the realms of industry. and oil and natural gas drilling in the 20th century have transformed the economic base in most societies. plantations continue to occupy much of the land. but some areas have experienced almost 500 years of European imperialism. 8 .

caribzones. Marshall Peasant Development in the West Indies Since 1838 www.com/wfb2001/caribbean_islands September 16.jamaicans.html September 16. 2003 www.htm September 15.workmall.asp September 14. 2003 www.Bibliography Woodville K. 2003 9 . 2003 www.com/info/brief.com/research/encarta/tt_122.com/newhistory.africana.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.