Peasants are small-scale farmers who own land, on which they produce much or most of their own food as well as generate a surplus for sale. The Peasantry was a term used to describe enslaved people who had access to and use of land, but did not own this land. A Peasantry began in the British Caribbean before the abolition of enslavement. Even Poor whites, freed blacks, coloured people and Maroons in the mountains and forests engaged in some form of Peasantry.
It was only after Apprenticeship had ended in 1838 that ex-slaves were allowed to buy land for farming crops such as coffee, sugar, rice, ground provisions, etc. Many planters disapproved of the Peasantry and did not encourage it because it affected the labour supply to their properties.
This paper would provide evidence to prove that the African Peasantry aided in the political, social and economic development of the British Caribbean specifically in the colonized territories of Jamaica and Trinidad. The time period is between the 1840’s to 1900’s. One of the contributions of the Peasantry was that it helped with the development of infrastructure in Jamaica and Trinidad. An example of this was that peasants were able to build many free villages.
Economic Contributions of Peasantry
Various evidence showed that the peasantry helped to stimulate the economy of the British Caribbean. The peasants cultivated a wide range of crops which were exported to Europe generating a huge income for the Caribbean colonies. In Jamaica in 1850 African peasants contributed 83 % of ground provisions and 11 % exports. By 1890 it was 74 % of ground provisions and 23 % of exports.Trinidad also exported crops such as coffee and cocoa to Europe.
The peasants also cultivated crops for other Caribbean islands. In Trinidad squatters on Crown Lands sold timber for charcoal burning and boat building. The Peasantry not only helped significantly with the imports and exports of Jamaica but also with the number of crops being sold in the local market. In Jamaica, peasant farmers in the mountainous Eastern parishes sold their produce to costal traders, who carried them to the Southwest where many wage-earners still worked on sugar plantations. This helped supply the country with fresh produce and decreased the number of items that were being imported into the country. The peasantry also diversified the sugar monoculture. Since they were very skilled from years and years in experience of cultivating sugar cane and provisions during Enslavement they had the ability to cultivate new crops for themselves for sale. African peasants in the British Caribbean cultivated crops such as arrowroot, cotton, bananas, citrus, logwood, coffee, cocoa, spices, ginger and pimento. Jamaican peasants grew ginger, bananas, coconuts, cocoa, logwood and coffee. Peasants in Trinidad harvested timber to make charcoal, coffee and cocoa. Ultimately, the African Peasantry introduced agricultural diversification, significantly aided with stimulating the economy by generating income for Trinidad and Jamaica since ex-slaves were now allowed to export their products (crops) and also produced crops for their local markets which decreased imports in Trinidad and Jamaica.
Social Contributions of Peasantry
The New York Times, Sewell, William G. visited Trinidad in 1859 and stated that: ‘step by step, not downward in the path of idleness and poverty, but upward in the scale of civilization to positions of greater independence.’
One of the social contributions of the peasantry was the development of infrastructure. Pathways and tracks were developed to transport produce from peasant land in interior villages and towns
to the coast or ports and local markets. This made it easier for the peasants to facilitate trade in far regions of Trinidad and Jamaica and also aided in the transport of local produce.
Train Tracks in Jamaica Which were Used for Transport
The growth of the Peasantry created a higher standard of living for the freed Africans. The peasantry generated huge amounts of revenue allowing blacks to have greater disposable income. Many of the Africans began purchasing clothes, animals and equipment to assist them in their agriculture and daily life. With the acquisition of land, the Africans were now able to set up small holdings and villages away from the plantations. In 1848 there were 100 to 200 free villages in Jamaica. Also in Jamaica there were 50,000 African landowners in 1859 and in Trinidad there were 11,000 landowners in 1861. These communities provided all the goods and services needed by the Africans to survive such as blacksmiths, carpenters and masons. Churches and schools were also developed.
Political Contributions of the Peasantry
Due to the Peasantry Africans were able to take part in politics. The Africans became spokesmen for cultivators also, town parties were created. These town parties demanded funding for better roads to make it easier for peasants to travel with there produce to markets and coasts. Additionally, they asked for facilities for the interior towns and villages populated by peasants and coloured classes. In Trinidad political spokesmen called for new roads to assist peasants. They also demanded colonial funds to be spent on helping African peasant farmers instead of East Indian Immigrants.
The Peasantry had a huge contribution and impact on the development of society aiding it economically, socially and politically. The Peasantry helped stimulate Jamaica and
Trinidad by generating income for the country from imports of crops cultivated by peasant farming. Peasantry also helped with development of infrastructure and allowed the Africans to obtain a higher standard of living also it gave them a chance to participate in politics and fight for they wanted. All in all, peasantry made life easier and better for the Africans and society.
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