According to Claypole and Robottom “No one opposed slavery more than slaves themselves” (127) and for this reason they chose to revolt. They were tired of the inhumane treatments they were receiving and all in all they just wanted to put an end to the institution of slavery. The mass enslavement of Africans was as a result of the sugar revolution, which is the change from tobacco to sugar. This changed occurred as there was a glut in the tobacco market. More Africans were needed as the production of sugar was a strenuous task and for it to be profitable it had to be produced on a large scale and the indigenous people were not a reliable source of labour. While the plantation system developed the white planters no longer wanted to give prime lands, which could be used for planting sugar, to indentured labourers as an incentive to work on the plantations so they turned to African labour as they saw them as inferior hence they would not have to give them their prime lands.
According to Oxford dictionary the term slavery can be defined as a “condition of having to work very hard without proper remuneration.”(2010). The Africans who were taken from Africa were thrown into slavery this is as they had to work very hard for long hours as the sugar production process was very laborious task and they did not receive pay as they were seen by the whites as an investment. The three main revolts in the British colonies in the 19th century all occurred for a common reason; to end the institution of slavery. According to the Oxford Dictionary a revolt is “an attempt to end the authority of someone by rebelling.” (2016). Throughout this essay I will be examining the effect which the Barbadian, Damara and Jamaican revolt had on the abolition process; the social, economic and political factors which contributed to the abolition of slavery and lastly I will be deducing the main factor which caused the abolition of slavery.
In the British colonies during the 19th century there were three major revolts. The Barbadian revolt (Easter Rebellion) of 1816 started in St. Phillip and spread to the parishes of St. John and St. George. The personalities included were: Bussa, Nanny Griggs, Jackey, Roach and Ranger (these were all enslaved Africans). There were also two freed coloreds who played a role in this revolt. They were: Washington Franklyn and Cain Davis. This revolt was caused as the slaves mistakenly thought that slavery was being withheld from them; but it was the registration bill. The registration bill came about as British government wrote to all the assemblies in the British Caribbean asking them to pass an act so they would be able to identify the planters who were illegally obtaining slaves after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807-1808.
The Demerara Revolt of 1823 started on the Success plantation and spread to other estates on the east coast. The personalities were: Quamina (a slave who was a deacon), John Wray (a missionary of the Bethel Chapel) and Reverend John Smith (a white clergyman). This revolt began as a response to the amelioration proposal; this proposal was an attempt to improve the living and working conditions of the enslaved Africans on the estates. The slaves were of the belief that freedom had been granted and the planter class was withholding it from them. The last major revolt that happened in the British colonies in the 19th century was the Jamaican (Christmas) revolt in 1831. This revolt started in St. James. The main personality involved in this rebellion was: Samuel Sharpe (an educated creole slave). This revolt began as a result of the slaves being treated inhumanely and grievances about their working conditions. The white population was of the belief that the enslaved Africans were delighted with lives as slaves in the British colonies.
The slave force had succeeded in ensuring that the white population no longer felt complacent about the supposed docility in the island. “These revolts were considered a wakeup call and the antislavery societies were beginning to recognize that the colony was a microcosm of the abolition efforts if they were not redoubled to end slavery.” The term docility can be defined as ready to accept control or instruction; submissive. The extract above states that the British revolts in the 19th century enabled the colonist and others to realize that life on the plantation was not as contented as they had thought. It also proved that the enslaved population had become restive as they were tired of being treated as chattel. These 19th century revolts were considered a wakeup call to the anti slavery societies; this is as most of these societies focused mainly on the abolition of the slave trade. This is as they were only aware of the horrors of the slave trade. “Clarkson visited British ports to collect facts for his pamphlet A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of Its Abolition (1787).
The evidence that he gathered was used in the antislavery campaign led by Wilberforce in Parliament.” Thomas Clarkson visited ports such as: Bristol and Liverpool to collect evidence from sailors. He obtained a range of objects associated with slavery, namely: whips, handcuffs and branding iron as evidence. It was because of this evidence that the abolitionist began to focus on the complete abolition of the slave trade. According to Baldeosingh and Mahase “The rebellion drew the attention of the British anti slavery groups, especially as a white clergyman had been killed.”(82) This revolt took place in 1823, the same year the abolitionist began to redouble their efforts to put an end to slavery. It could be said that the death of the white clergyman helped to attract attention inside and outside of the British parliament to the evil of slavery and to the need to abolish it.
In British colonies during the 19th century there were numerous social, economic and political factors combined in the Caribbean that led to the end of this horrible institution. Social factors influencing the abolition of slavery were: the general white population in Britain was informed of the evils of slavery and wanted to put an end to it. Slavery was deeply condemned by the abolitionist groups and British humanitarians who argued by word and deed that slavery was immoral. There were many abolitionists who worked tirelessly to ensure that the institution of slavery was abolished. These groups had spread the word of the evils of slavery through different mediums. One way in which the information was spread was through pamphlets; these were given out in the streets to the general population of the country so that they could be aware of what the enslaved African endured in the colonies. Another medium was door to door, this was used because not everyone received pamphlets i.e. shut ins. By going door to door, the shut ins or persons who had not received pamphlets could also be aware of the horrendous treatment which the slaves received on the plantations.
The pulpit was another medium used. This can be seen in many religious groups which were against slavery such as the Quakers. The Quakers which was founded by George Fox in the 17th century; encouraged the followers to welcome their slaves to religious services, to treat them kindly and to free them after several years of faithful service. It was through these mediums that a widespread opposition to slavery had been formed. In the British West Indies colonies, the missionaries were able to see the evils of slavery face to face. “Slavery was wrong in the eyes of God, it was contrary to the teaching of the bible that all men were children of God, brothers in Christ and equals” (63); This was an argument used by the non-conformist missionaries to end the institution of slavery. It was contrary to the belief of the planters because they were of the belief that the enslaved Africans were property and that they were inferior to them and were meant to do menial duties.
Economic factors which influenced the abolition of slavery was: the decline in the sugar industry in the British west indies and the belief that the work of free men is cheaper than that of enslaved labour. Usually, slave traders made between 20% to 30% profits on their sugar cargos; by the 19th century profits dropped from eighteen pounds per hundredweight in 1803 to zero pounds in 1807. Plantations in Jamaica began to close between 1799 and 1807 while some were sold due to debt. Nearing the end of the 18th century the British west indies provided between 8% to 10% of Britain’s total income. It could be said that Britain never really earned these profits because they had the responsibility of maintain the warships and the soldiers that were in the Caribbean, maintaining these solider costs more than the 8% to 10% profit made by Britain.
West Indian sugar was also more expensive than the sugar from other countries therefore Britain was losing money by only allowing sugar from the British West Indies colonies to be sold in England. Smith believed that “the work of freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves” . The researcher strongly believes this extract because if the Africans were receiving remuneration for their hard work, I believe that the running away of slaves and the revolts, which caused the destruction of property, could have been avoided. One of the causes for all the revolts in the 19th century in the British Caribbean was as a result of the enslaved Africans having to work very hard without receiving any pay.
Some political factors that enabled the abolition of slavery were: the ending of the slave trade, the amelioration proposals and the apprenticeship period. The slave trade ended in 1807 and then became effective in 1808. The ending of the slave trade aided the abolition process by discontinuing the kidnaping of Africans from their homelands and bringing them into the Caribbean to become members of the institution of slavery. The amelioration proposals of 1823 were implemented in the British Caribbean as an attempt to improve the living and working conditions of the enslaved Africans on the plantations. Even though in the end the amelioration proposals had failed they were an important landmark in the struggle for emancipation. This is as it strengthened the anti-slavery societies arguments that slavery needed to be ended as soon as possible. This is as most planters refused to carry out the clauses stated in the amelioration proposal and in some colonies the planters treated the enslaved Africans even worse than before. The apprenticeship period also helped in the abolition process though it ended prematurely. This is because the white planters continued to try and oppress the enslaved Africans by not paying them on time or at all. The British government was not satisfied with how the apprenticeship system functioned and thought it best to avoid any ramifications therefore they officially granted full emancipation to all British colonies once and for all.
After examining all the factors which played a part in the complete abolition of slavery, the researcher has concluded that the abolition of slavery was a joint effort, as one would not have happened without the other. The slave revolts mentioned above opened the eyes of the different abolitionist groups that not only the slave trade needed to be ended but that slavery in its entirety needed to come to an end. Without the effort of the different abolitionist groups and the non-conformist missionaries the general British population would not have known about the horrors of chattel slavery. At the opening of the nineteenth century, abolitionists were conservative and defensive about slave rebellions, often trying to disassociate themselves from these events. The Baptist War (1831, Jamaica), however, showed that abolitionists were no longer attempting to avoid blame, but instead used these rebellions to their advantage. Enslaves Africans who fought were agents of change, which allowed abolitionists to make demands for immediate eradication of slavery throughout the Empire. The economic and political factors explained above were as a result of the different revolts and the work of the abolitionist groups. With out these economic and political factors the abolition of slavery may have never occurred.
In conclusion, these revolts revealed to the white populous that the enslaved Africans were not happy with their lives on the plantation. There were other factors which included economic factors such as: the decline in the sugar industry in the British west indies and the work of free men is cheaper than that of enslaved labour; social factors such as: the work of the missionaries and different anti abolitionist groups; political factors namely: the ending of the slave trade, amelioration proposals and apprenticeship period. This goes to show that the slave revolts in Jamaica, Demerara and Barbados in the 19th century along with the social, economic and political factors all played a part in the abolition of the institution of slavery.