The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

Although the Abo­li­tion of the Slave Trade Act 1807 ap­peared on pa­per to end the traf­fick­ing in Africans, it did not end en­slave­ment in

the Caribbean. De­spite ef­forts made by the Bri­tish Navy to sup­press the trade in Africans, slavers found ways to by­pass the law, in­clud­ing trad­ing with na­tions who had passed no such leg­is­la­tion. The men who were lib­er­ated from slav­ing ves­sels by the Bri­tish of­ten found them­selves con­scripted into the Navy for up to 14 years rather than be­ing sent back to their home­lands.

The re­bel­lions in the Caribbean did not abate in the pe­riod be­tween 1807 and 1838. In Bar­ba­dos in 1816, an armed strug­gle was led by an African­born en­slaved man called Bussa who was head ranger on a plan­ta­tion. Bussa be­lieved that the is­land’s Gen­eral Assem­bly

was op­pos­ing English ef­forts to have them freed, and that there­fore they ought to fight for their free­dom.

In Bri­tain, women had added a more rad­i­cal voice to the anti-slav­ery cam­paign, and called for im­me­di­ate abo­li­tion. El­iz­a­beth Heyrick, in her pam­phlet ‘Im­me­di­ate not grad­ual abo­li­tion’ (1824) ar­gued that “the per­pet­u­a­tion of slav­ery in our West In­dia colonies is not an ab­stract ques­tion, to be set­tled be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the planters; it is one in which we are all im­pli­cated, we are all guilty of sup­port­ing and

per­pet­u­at­ing slav­ery. The West In­dian planter and the peo­ple of this coun­try stand in the same moral re­la­tion to each other as the thief and re­ceiver of stolen

goods.” The Peck­ham Ladies Anti Slav­ery So­ci­ety wrote a pam­phlet ad­vo­cat­ing the use of East In­dian sugar rather than West In­dian slave-pro­duced sugar.

Slav­ery re­mained so prof­itable, that plan­ta­tion own­ers put eco­nomic in­ter­ests above moral crit­i­cism. They re­luc­tantly ac­cepted ame­lio­ra­tion poli­cies put for­ward by the gov­ern­ment.

“Slaves shall have one day in ev­ery fort­night, ex­cept

in crop time, but at least 26 days in the year called Ne­gro days, to cul­ti­vate their grounds, ex­clu­sive of Sun­days, un­der penalty of £20”, was one of the clauses in ‘An ab­stract of the Bri­tish West In­dian Statutes for the Pro­tec­tion and Gov­ern­ment of Slaves.’

In Eng­land the pam­phlets chron­i­cling the true state

of slav­ery in the Caribbean con­tin­ued to be pub­lished, crit­i­cis­ing the mo­rals of the planters, and their treat­ment of the en­slaved, and de­tail­ing ru­n­aways and small up­ris­ings. The Rev. R. Bick­ell, com­ment­ing on the planters’ frus­tra­tion at the num­ber of re­bel­lions said, “The gen­eral cry in Ja­maica seems to be that the mem­bers of the African and Anti Slav­ery So­ci­eties and their agents, have been the cause, by im­press­ing on the minds of the Ne­groes that they are free, or ought to be free.”

In 1831, Mary Prince, an en­slaved woman from An­tigua who es­caped from her own­ers while work­ing in Lon­don, wrote her nar­ra­tive, ‘A history of Mary Prince, a West In­dian Slave’ de­tail­ing a life filled with vi­o­lence, sex­ual abuse and end­less labour.

The Bap­tist Re­bel­lion led by Sam Sharpe in Ja­maica

dur­ing the win­ter of 1831-32 fi­nally brought mat­ters to a head. It took two weeks for the Bri­tish to re­gain con­trol and prop­erty worth over a mil­lion pounds was de­stroyed. Fear­ful that Ja­maica would be lost the same way that Haiti had been, an Act was passed in 1833 abol­ish­ing slav­ery in the Bri­tish colonies. The planters suc­cess­fully lob­bied for com­pen­sa­tion for ‘lost prop­erty’, and re­ceived £20 mil­lion. The en­slaved re­ceived noth­ing. Fur­ther, they would be­come ap­pren­tices for a pe­riod of 4-6 years af­ter which time they

would be­come free. How­ever, ap­pren­tice­ship was sim­ply slav­ery un­der another name and was heav­ily crit­i­cised by the anti-slav­ery move­ment. Joseph Sturge, an abo­li­tion­ist from Birm­ing­ham, trav­elled to

the Caribbean to in­ves­ti­gate this

sys­tem, prov­ing that the African Caribbeans were still en­slaved. Par­lia­ment was even­tu­ally

pres­sured to end ap­pren­tice­ship on 1st Au­gust 1838.


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