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Comparing West African

Slavery and Caribbean

Chattel Slavery
◦ Slavery existed in most parts of the world in ancient and
medieval times: Africa, Middle East, Greece, Rome, China
and India
◦ Slavery involved the procurement of captive labour
working without wages and usually under compulsion
◦ The actual institution of the system varied and in some
places the labour would be more restricted than in other
◦ The location of the enslaved, whether in the town/urban
area or in the countryside/plantation determined the type
of work done and laboriousness
Enslavement in West Africa
◦ Differed from Atlantic slavery in that there was no
dominant race factor to it
◦ Being born into slavery provided the enslaved with
rights and protections
◦ Inability to pay debt might result in enslavement
◦ Criminals became slaves as a punishment for their
crimes or witchcraft
◦ Warfare was the main activity for obtaining slaves
Nature of enslavement in West
◦ The enslaved people were not just traded commodities to be
worked to death, but were also skilled producers in agriculture,
crafts, mineral processing, domestic activities and animal rearing
◦ Enslaved were valued as social beings as well as economic factors
◦ The owners of the enslaved in West Africa did not own the land but
the labour who worked the land
◦ Value of the enslaved went beyond capital terms
◦ Islamic law decreed that children of slave mothers were to be
◦ The system of slavery changed with evolution and development of
the trans-Atlantic Slave trade – Tradition became secondary to
profit making
Profitability of West African
◦ West Africa provided a labour force that was tractable,
relatively immune to New World diseases, had a low
transportation cost and which had also had a low purchase
◦ Because of the low purchase price on the West African
Coast Caribbean slavery was very profitable for the
European traders and planters who took part in this trade
◦ Demand for African labour led to the de-population of
people from the West African coast
◦ Disproportionate number of males taken
Role of African Chiefs
◦ African chiefs bartered African people for goods
◦ Nature of Slavery not clear to them
◦ They were accustomed to domestic slavery (which
was not degrading)
◦ Economic and Political advancement was their main
The Middle passage
• A great many died during the voyage
• Extreme overcrowding
• Deplorable conditions present aboard the vessel.
• Many suffocated or succumbed to dysentery
• Many died along the voyage due to epidemics of disease
• On board the slavers there were numerous outbreaks of the dreaded
• A few of the Africans were driven insane by the claustrophobic misery
• Those who had gone mad were often brought up on deck, at which time
they were either flogged or clubbed to death and then thrown overboard.
• Anyone showing even the slightest sign of either of these diseases was
thrown overboard alive.
• This was done by the captain to prevent at all costs an epidemic aboard
the ship. (eg of slave ship ZONG)
Caribbean Chattel Slavery
◦ Chattel slavery – has often been the term used to
describe the type of enslavement practiced in the
◦ The enslaved were viewed as property that could be
bought or sold with impunity
◦ Had no rights before the law and could be murdered or
raped without any form of redress
◦ His children inherited his status
◦ The enslaved form lowest social class
◦ Destruction of the enslaved both mentally and physically
Caribbean Chattel Slavery
◦ The enslaved were brutally punished
◦ Flogged for minor offences
◦ Women who resisted the advances of white men were
◦ Pregnant women were stripped naked and placed
face down on the ground with a hole dug to
accommodate their bellies and flogged
◦ Thistlewood wrote about administering of 50-300 lashes
to enslaved men and women
◦ Limbs severed for constantly running away
◦ Manumission was the act of freeing enslaved persons
through a legal document which made them free for the
rest of their lives
◦ Manumission rates were relatively high in the Spanish
colonies throughout the period of slavery and much
lower in the British colonies with the French, Dutch and
Danish falling between these extremes.
◦ Very few slaves were manumitted in the British colonies
during the 18th Century, but large numbers were
manumitted in Cuba.
◦ In the early 19th Century manumissions occurred in the
British Caribbean at rates less than 2 per 1000 yearly
• Manumission became more frequent between 1807 and 1834
• Manumission was more common in towns than in rural areas
◦ In the British colonies, the majority of the manumitted slaves
tended to female creole, young and colored
◦ In the Spanish and French colonies, in the early 18th century they
more often have been male and African born
◦ Offspring of white men and slave mothers always had better
chances of manumission
◦ The state manumitted some enslaved persons who revealed
potential rebellions (free the snitches)
Enslavement on Sugar Estates
◦ Sugar Planation comprised of three major categories of
enslaved workers, Skilled, domestic and field
◦ The skilled labourers were mainly males – carpenters,
millwrights, copper smiths, coopers, sawyers, distillers and
mid-wives- the boiler man was one of the most important
enslaved persons on the plantation
◦ The domestics/house enslaved persons were mainly
coloured females – cooks, washerwomen and nurse-
◦ Had less personal freedom personal freedom than field
◦ Ate and dress better than the field Slaves and had a
greater chance of being manumitted
Enslavement on Sugar Estates
◦ Domestics could be very loyal to their masters- betrayed
many rebellions
◦ The majority of the enslaved were field slaves who did
the manual task on the plantation the majority were
◦ Field Labour was divided into three work gangs
◦ The first gang was the most important work gang on the
estate and consisted of the most able-bodied individuals
who did the most laborious tasks – cutting the canes and
preparing the ground for planting
◦ The second gang included weaker and pregnant slaves
who performed more minor tasks
◦ Third gang made up mostly of children did less
demanding tasks such as tending to the animals
The Role of Enslaved Women
◦ Slave women were workers’, mothers and sexual
◦ They were producers and reproducers.
◦ Slave women were either especially oppressed or
comparatively privileged.
◦ Daily work debilitating, family life unstable, contact with
planter class miserable and depressing.
◦ Children doomed to slavery.
◦ To rebel they ran away or tried to abort their children/
infanticide– long lactation periods.
◦ House slaves were more privileged.(QUALIFY)
◦ Sexual molestation – constant.
Urban Enslaved
◦ Females operated taverns, eating houses and lodges
◦ Females worked as laundresses, domestic labourers
and prostitutes
◦ Males worked in the building trades, ship-building
Slave Resistance
◦ The enslaved constantly ◦ Arson
resisted their enslavement ◦ Abortion
◦ Slave rebellions ◦ Suicide
◦ Grand Marronage – set up ◦ Infanticide
alternative free
communities in the forest ◦ Retention of:
and mountains ◦ African
◦ Petite Marronage Languages
◦ Industrial Sabotage ◦ Beliefs
◦ Malingering ◦ Music
◦ Customs
◦ Crafts
The End of Enslavement
◦ Eric William and a number of scholars are of the view
that enslavement ended because the system was no
longer profitable for the English market
◦ It was also argued that British humanitarian intervention
by William Wilberforce in the British parliament led to
the country abolishing the institution
◦ Richard Hart , Hilary Beckles and other historians
believed that the enslaved by constantly fighting
against the system also contributed to its ultimate