SLAVERY ON THE
In the Beginning - a Multi-National Trade
The first African
slaves are thought to have been introduced into what is now known as Guyana by Dutch settlers
in the mid-seventeenth century. As plantations expanded on the coast of
Guyana, more slaves were brought from West Africa in ships owned by the
Dutch West India Company. There were occasions, too, when planters bought
slaves smuggled from the West Indies by English traders. Auctions were
held in Berbice, Essequibo, and Demerara. Entire families were auctioned,
but the buyers showed no concern over family ties and so they would often
be split. Local Indians were involved in the slave trade and, back in
Africa, Arab and African slave traders also played their part in this
trade of misery.
The Cruel Drudgery
of Daily Life
On the plantation, the slaves were housed in buildings usually with thatched
roofs and walls of old wooden boards, wattle and mud. The floor was bare
earth and there was no furniture save what basic bits and pieces the slaves
managed to make or acquire over time. While the slaves were provided with
some food by the master, they also grew subsistence crops of vegetables,
plantains, and root crops on small garden plots. However, they could only
do their farming on Sundays when they had no work on the plantation. On
Sundays they could also took the opportunity to fish in the canals, rivers
or the sea. Each adult slave was given one pound of salted cod fish every
Sunday by the plantation owner. A child received less. On special holidays,
an additional allowance of about half a kilogram of beef or pork, some
sugar and a drop of rum might be given.
The work day of the
slaves began before dawn. They were marched to the fields by slave drivers
who controlled them with whips. Slave drivers were themselves slaves -
trustees - who were specially selected by the plantation owner. An overseer
supervised the entire operation. Around midday they were given an hour's
break. The day's toil ended at about 8pm. The slaves who worked at the
sugar mills during the grinding season had to work even longer hours.
Slaves were punished in various cruel and inhuman ways, but whipping was
the most common form of punishment.
Management of the
The plantation owners used various methods to maintain complete, and often
harsh, control over their slaves. Their principal method was that of "divide
and rule". Members of the same tribe were dispersed to separate plantations
to prevent communication between them. The aim behind this was to make
it more difficult to organise any rebellions or bids for freedom.. This
separation, however, created a problem of communication, since the plantation
had groups of slaves speaking different languages. Soon a new language,
known as Creole-Dutch, developed and this became the common tongue among
the slaves. Later, when the British took control of Guyana in the nineteenth
century, English words were injected into the language and it became the
basis of the Guyanese Creolese language.
The Class System
Christian missionaries preached to the slaves on Sundays. It was thought,
perhaps, that a weekly dose of religion would make the slaves more docile.
Another means of control was the creation of a class system among the
slaves. (Not unlike the class system that existed in England, perhaps,
although without the overt "slavery" label.). Field slaves formed
the lowest group, then there were the factory slaves who worked in the
sugar boiling process. Higher up the social ladder were the artisan slaves
such as blacksmiths, carpenters and stonemasons. These slaves also had
opportunities to earn money for themselves. Towards the top of this class
system were the drivers who were specially selected by the planters to
control the other slaves. The domestic or house slave had a special place
in this arrangement, and, as they worked in the master's house and perhaps
received better treatment, they held other slaves in contempt. The slaves
on the lowest rung of this social ladder were the ones who rebelled, as
they had the least to lose, and it was the domestic slaves who reported
their schemes and plans to their master.
Then there were divisions
based on colour. In the early days, it was relatively easy for a pure
African to rise to the level of a driver. However, racial mixing, and
thus skin colour variations, occurred through the birth of children resulting
from the sexual union of a white man and black woman (to create a mulatto),
a white man and mulatto woman (mestee), and a mulatto man and a black
woman (sambo). Some slaves of succeeding generations thus had lighter
complexions, and the planters discriminated in favour of them. These slaves
with white fathers or white relatives were placed in positions above those
of the field slaves.
Of course, the Europeans
occupied the highest rung of the social ladder, but they found willing
allies amongst the mixed or coloured population who occupied the intermediate
levels. The pure Africans generally remained at the lowest level.
There was little of either. Except for the earnings enjoyed by the artisan
slaves, most of the slaves depended upon earning money by selling surplus
produce from their allotments and the sale of livestock that they reared.
On Sundays, the leisure day afforded to the slaves, village markets were
held and the slaves bartered and sold their produce. The markets were
also opportunities for the slaves to socialise and swop news and gossip.
At the end of the season's crop and at Christmas and on public holidays
the slaves were allowed to hold dances. Slaves were also allowed to purchase
their freedom through the process of manumission (setting a slave free),
and women who bore the children fathered by planters might also be set
THE END OF SLAVERY
In Britain, the campaign for the end of slavery gained popular support
and momentum. It was expected that slaves in the British colonies would
soon be set free. On the 28 August 1833, the House of Commons passed the
Emancipation Bill which had been introduced by Thomas Buxton.
- The Act of Parliament,
which came into effect on 1 August 1834, stipulated that:
- Immediate and
effective measures would be taken for the abolition of slavery throughout
the British colonies.
- All children born
under the passing of the Act, or under the age of six shall be free.
- All slaves over
the age of six years would have to serve an apprenticeship of six years
in the case of field slaves, and four years in the case of others.
- Apprentices should
work for not more than 45 hours per week without pay, and any additional
hours for pay.
- Apprentices should
be provided with food and clothing by the plantation owner.
- Funds should be
provided for an efficient Stipendiary Magistracy, and for the moral
and religious education of the ex-slaves.
- Compensation in
the form of a free gift of 20 million English pounds should be paid
to the slave owners for the loss of their slaves.
See also the project undertaken by University College London (UCL) Legacies of British Slave-ownership.
Act ended just the first phase of a long and bitter struggle against
a system which transformed people into beasts of labour with few, if any,
human rights. The slaves were regarded as mules and even the offspring
of a European and an African female slave was called a "mulatto", meaning
literally a "young mule".
However, it would
not be all plain sailing, the slaves were told of their forthcoming freedom
and waited eagerly to be free. The
British Governor had informed the slaves of the date of their freedom
even before the Act was published in the colony on 19 October 1833. However,
he failed to explain clearly to the slaves the implications of the apprenticeship
system which was to succeed slavery as part of the transition to full
freedom. There were some planters who were unwilling to comply with the
Emancipation Act, others in Berbice announced their intention to remove
their slaves immediately to neighbouring Suriname before the Act came
into force so as to avoid its effect. Suriname did not abolish slavery
until 1863. The apprenticeship condition forming part of the Act bound most of the freed slaves to their former masters until 1840. It
required them to work on the masters' estates seven and a half hours each
day for six days each week of the year.
On news of their emancipation,
the slaves were either too overjoyed to note this binding condition, or
did not fully understand what it meant. Their masters, who were, in the
main opposed to emancipation, avoided any discussion about the changed
status and made no preparations for the changed status of the slaves on
1st August, 1834. The long-awaited day finally arrived. It was a public
holiday and many Africans who were now Christians attended religious services,
followed by much merrymaking late into the night. But a rude awakening
awaited the ex-slaves the next day when they were ordered back their workplaces.
This caused great confusion since they failed to understand how they could
have gained their freedom and still be forced to work for their former
masters. There was disorder on the East Coast of Demerara and disquiet
throughout the colony in this first week of freedom. The Governor appeared
in various places to address workers and explain the obligations which
now fell upon them. The planters called for martial law, but the Governor
refused this request. Confusion and disorder broke out on the West Coast
Demerara, eventually some order was restored and a degree of understanding
dawned on the workers.
1838 - 1st August, "Full and unqualified liberation of the Negroes". Finally,
with the end of slavery, the plantation owners in Guyana received compensation
from the British Government for the loss of their slaves. For each slave
they received an average of £52, for a headman or driver, they received
as much as £230. The ex-slaves, who had laboured long and hard in
appalling conditions to produce wealth for others, received no monetary
compensation - but they did get their freedom. And that was more than
what was on offer elsewhere at the time.
Britain, once one of the major parties to the slave trade, was active
in trying to stop the slave trade. However, slavery still continues in
some parts of the world today.
Antidote for the Slave-Trade
(Illustrated London News, No. 1, w/e Saturday 14/05/1842)
We submit to the amputation of a limb for sake of life; we hang a man
for the benefit of society; we remit punishment, for the sake of truth,
when evidence is furnished against accomplices. The appliances for obtaining
and rendering justice must be coincident with its demands. For national
crimes there must be national remedies. Those nations that dare the world's
scorn deserve the world's execration, and when humanity bleeds it behoves
the humane to act with energy. The slave-trade is now indelibly branded
by civilized Europe as infamous in those nations that allow it iniquitous
towards man, and a wicked defiance of the Almighty.
are no guilty deeds without guilty men. The hardened piratical crew of
a slaver are not the only, nor indeed the chief sinners. The breeders
and owners of slaves; the builders, owners and equippers of slave-ships;
the rascal dealers in our race, the bargainers for blood upon the coast,
the marketing buyers in America, Cuba, Brazil; the inhuman taskmasters
in each exacting, not only sweat from the brow, but blood from the flesh.
These are the things that Europe execrates.
sailor on a slave-ship is not so criminal as the owner of the cargo and
owner of the ship. He seeks bread - his employers gold, through the sacrifice
of blood. The sailors now employed in that trade feel that they are in
desperate course; many of them, if they could and had the inducement,
would quit it tomorrow. Now, every British port in the British colonies
offers an asylum for any kidnapped African, and restores him to his natural
freedom; and it may be hoped that, ere long, all other countries, not
excepting those who still uphold slavery, will also become such asylums.
an inducement be offered for the crews of these slave-ships to carry the
slaves into one of these ports, instead of taking them to countries where
they would be bought and sold as slaves? If
the different colonies can now subscribe to pay the passages for free
immigrants, and of free negroes, to the colonies, it would answer as well
to subscribe to meet a reasonable gratuity to the crews of slavers, and
accomplish, thereby the captives' freedom.
cry from the colonies is for free combined labour, because the manumitted
blacks work now mostly for their own account, and chiefly in occupations
hitherto neglected. Free emigration cannot be resorted to in any sufficient
degree from Europe to tropical climes, nor is it desirable; and spontaneous
emigration from Africa is prevented by the convulsions in which that country
is kept through the slave-trade.
if we combine a remedy for the honest demands and necessities of a drooping
agriculture, and, at the same time, apply a final cure to the evils of
Africa; and if the interest of humanity can be combined with those of
the planters, not only of the West Indies, but of the very shareholders
of Brazil and Cuba, whose existence is periled by further importation
of slaves, why should we hesitate to do it?
these means self-interest would be made to act as a useful assistant in
the cause of humanity. The greater risk for the owners of slave-trading
vessels to lose their property by the turning of their crews against them
would deter them from embarking in such hazardous speculations.
the Slave Trade - Then and Now
International is the world's oldest human rights organisation
with its roots stretching back to The Quakers, who petitioned Parliament
against the slave trade as early as 1783 and in 1785 a similar petition
was submitted by the inhabitants of Bridgwater in Somerset, England.
It was the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, organised
in May 1787 and the first abolitionist society, which set the movement
on its modern course. This society was at the forefront of the movements
to abolish the slave trade. In 1805 a Bill providing for the abolition
of the slave trade to conquered territories was passed by both Houses
of Parliament. The following year this was superseded by a stronger
measure that outlawed the British Atlantic slave trade altogether.
William Wilberforce (see below), a native of Hull in the East Riding, led the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807.
After 1807 British
anti-slavery entered a new phase. The Society for the Abolition
of the Slave Trade was replaced by the African Institution, whose
principal aims were to ensure that the new British legislation was
enforced and that other countries followed Britain's example. The
first of these objectives was soon realised and Britain did enforce
its legislation. However, the British were unable to sway foreign
powers to agree. Despite the efforts of the African Institution
and the British Government, the Congresses of Paris (1814) and Vienna
(1815) failed to reach specific agreement, not least because of
French opposition. The Aix la Chapelle (Aachen) Congress in 1818
also failed to reach agreement on abolition. Reports from the West
Indies suggested that conditions on the plantations had not
significantly improved since 1807.
called for more direct action, namely an attack on the institution
of slavery itself. In 1823 leading members of the African Institution
organised a new body, the Anti-Slavery Society. The Anti-Slavery
Society called for the adoption of measures to improve slave conditions
in the West Indies, together with a plan for gradual emancipation
leading ultimately to complete freedom.
it came, did not mean instant freedom for slaves. Instead, they
had to continue serving the same masters under a system many considered
an alternative form of slavery: 'apprenticeship'. This lasted between
six and 12 years, during which many were badly mistreated. Growing
public pressure in the United Kingdom led Parliament to abolish
apprenticeships on 1 August 1838, three years before the date set
by the Emancipation Act.
was one of the most important reform movements of the 19th century.
Ironically, it was the British who perfected the Atlantic slave
system during the 18th century. It has been estimated that between
1700 and 1810, British merchants transported almost three million
Africans across the Atlantic. That the British benefited from the
Atlantic slave system is indisputable, but, there were also many
in Britain who found the whole concept of slavery abhorrent and
it was the British who led the struggle to bring the Altlantic slave
trade to an end.
International is the name by which the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery
Society is now known. They continue to campaign against slavery
throughout the world. Slavery continues to be colour-blind as far as slaves and slavers are concerned. The evil trade has lasted century upon century and still flourishes today.
William Wilberforce of Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire.
He led the parliamentary campaign to abolish slavery in the British Empire.
In 1982, Hull became the first city in the western world to twin with a third world city - Freetown in Sierra Leone, which was the world’s first colony for free Africans. It was set up in 1792 by Wilberforce and his fellow anti-slavery campaigners. He was involved with the founding of the Trustee
Savings Banks (TSB), the creation of the National Gallery and the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
Read more about this great Yorkshireman here.
The War of 1812 - American Slaves Flee to the British
During the war between Britain and America, thousands of American slaves escaped to the British because of their offer of freedom, or they just fled in the chaos of war. The British settled a few thousand of the newly freed slaves in Nova Scotia. The Americans protested that the failure to return the slaves violated the Treaty of Ghent; after arbitration by the Czar of Russia the British paid $1,204,960, in damages to Washington, which reimbursed the slaveowners. (source: Wikipedia)
The Royal Navy Takes on the Arab Slave Traders.
A BLOW FOR FREEDOM
Our Jack Tars are happily engaged in no war with the enemies of their native land, but they have this year struck more than one good blow against the inhuman slavers who still carry on their infamous trade on the east coast of Africa. The crew of her Majesty's ship Nymph, Captain Mears, have in particular distinguished themselves, as we learn from the Times of India of Oct. 30. No less than nineteen dhows have been captured by the Nymph and 640 slaves liberated.
The particular action depicted on our front page occurred near Zanzibar. In the early morning news was brought to the Nymph that a dhow was embarking slaves. The first and second cutters, under the command of Sub-Lieutenants Clarke and Hodson, were accordinly ordered away, the Sultan having previously given permission to Captain Mears to take the dhow. The boats' crews boarded the dhow, and Mr. Clarke proceeded to take her in tow, upon which a volley of musketry was fired from the shore by the Arabs, which killed a seaman named Mitchell, and severly wounded Mr. Hodson, who was struck on the elbow with a bullet, whichpassed down his arm and out at the palm of his hand.
On the boats' crews boarding the dhow, most of the Arabs jumped overboard and swam ashore, but a man, supposed to be the captain, made an attempt to cut the cable for'ard, so as to allow of the vessel, which had a stern-fast, being hauled ashore. Mr. Clarke endeavoured to prevent this, and was immediately attacked by the man. Mr. Clarke had emptied his revolver, but wounded him with a sword cut on the shoulder just as the Arab thrust his spear through Mr. Clarke's thigh. The fellow on doing this jumped overboard, but had scarcely swam a dozen strokes when he was shot by the seamen.
By two o'clock the fighting was over, and the dhow and her slaves were alongside the Nymph. It is satisfactory to know that the Admiralty have marked their sense of the conduct of Mr. Clarke and Mr. Hodson by promoting them for gallantry.
The Penny Illustrated Paper, London, Saturday, December 4, 1869.
Between 1808 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron of the Royal Navy seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. (Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Africa_Squadron).
From the late 16th to the early 19th centuries, Europe was terrorised
by the Barbary pirates, who attacked shipping and coastal villages, taking
European captives back for sale to the slave markets of North Africa. British sailors, Italians, Irish villagers and many others from across Europe found themselves sold into a life of misery after being seized by Barbary Corsairs. Few slaves saw their homelands again.
Soldiers, and others, captured during wars, often found themselves consigned to a life of misery without hope, often there was no escape from servitude.
Slavery, of course, has been with mankind for a long time and is still present. It is not just something that used to happen, and it is not confined to one continent, race, civilisation or culture. Read more about the slave trade on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery.
Sources include :
The Guyana Guide - guyanaguide.com.
2. The Guyana Story By Dr. Odeen Ishmael, guyanaca.com.
3. Illustrated London News, No. 1, w/e Saturday 14/05/1842.
4.. The Penny Illustrated Paper, London, Saturday, December 4, 1869.
6. Anti-slavery International.
7. British Broadcasting Corporation.
See also the project undertaken by University College London (UCL) Legacies of British Slave-ownership.