Standing Alone on Slavery, Barbados

By Abi King | Make Me Think

Feb 24

 Barbados - cooking live animals

Yep, we’re still working out how on earth this seemed acceptable. Welcome to part three…find the rest here:

Slavery in Barbados – Part One

Slavery in Barbados – Part Two

Slavery in Barbados – The Final Episode

The Slavery Problem

The problem, if you happened to be a slave owner, was that slaves just kept on dying. It was bad for business. Arguably, this also caused problems if you happened to be a slave, but with no money, possessions, healthcare, family, freedom, vote, and only an eight year life expectancy, as a slave in Barbados you had plenty of problems rather than just the one or two.

For slave owners, the equation was simpler. Slave deaths required fresh imports. And fresh slave imports cost money.

At some point, some bright spark with a better head for economics than philanthropy realised that more money could be made by shipping in a few more women and then raising the standard of living. The island could prosper enormously by growing their own slaves for less – and so that’s what they did.

Unlike many other Caribbean islands, Barbados wasn’t just made up of slave owners, slaves and oppressed natives. Barbados also had a free but impoverished white population as a hangover from the days of indentured servitude (a kind of short term slavery with forced relocation and labour until debts were paid off) and a settled Jewish population fleeing from persecution.

In short, a population available for policing, teaching and providing healthcare. And no-one with a passionate drive to reclaim Barbados as their “home.”

Women slaves arrived, life expectancy increased – and Barbados duly prospered.

Chattel House Barbados

Today it’s chic. Back then, these chattel houses were so called because they had to be portable so that slaves could move their homes to suit the plantations

The Abolition of Slavery

By the time the talk of abolitionism came around, Barbados was primed to promote the idea:

–        They wouldn’t lose their workforce since they’d grown their own

–        They had enough poor white folk to police the newly freed blacks

–        Their island lacked volcanoes, deep caves and forests for newly freed slaves to hide in or gather an army. Plus, it was an island. Hard to escape from without means…

–        And finally, slave owners received flipping great wodges of cash from the British government to “compensate” them for their losses.

At least, that’s the cynical view. In my outline of events here, I’d like to pause and show some respect towards those who could have preserved their own power instead of pursuing the end of slavery. And even more respect to those who were slaves and who rose up in rebellion to try to change their fate.

Ultimately, though, a combination of diplomacy and economic pragmatism had the final say.

Barbados History Plaque

Barbados was the only one of the British Caribbean islands to support the abolition of slavery.

Barbados was the only one of the British Caribbean islands to support the abolition of slavery

When the change came, the island held its breath. What would happen the following day?

Would people turn up to work? Or would they leave?

Would it be business as usual? Or would anarchy arrive?

The sun spilled its sparkle across the water of the ocean. And in the morning, those who had been slaves…To be continued. UPDATE- continues here

Overlooking beach in Barbados

Overlooking Barbados

Disclosure: I was able to bring this series to you thanks to my wonderful sponsors who let me explore Barbados and write about whatever interested me. They are Tropical Sky who arrange holidays in luxury resorts, The Club Barbados Resort And Spa right next to Sandy Lane (part of Elite Island Resorts) and the Barbados Tourist Board. All are great travel companies and deserve a visit to their sites – and then their island(s.)

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