BLACK SLAVERY IN THE CARIBBEAN
Slavery has existed throughout history. Most societies have made provisions for it within their structure, and most peoples have been sources of slaves at one time or another. The expansion of slavery was often a by-product of empire building as a dominant power turned its prisoners of war into slaves through conquest. However, from empire to empire there was considerable variation in slaves' legal status and prospects for incorporation into the polity; likewise, within a given society or state, there could be a wide range of status, labor, and opportunities among different slaves.
A plantation economy is an economy based on agricultural mass production, usually of a few commodity crops grown on large farms called plantations. Plantation economies rely on the export of cash crops as a source of income. Prominent plantation crops included cotton, rubber, sugar cane, tobacco, figs, rice, kapok, sisal, and species in the genus Indigofera, used to produce indigo dye.
The longer a crop's harvest period, the more efficient plantations become. Economies of scale are also achieved when the distance to market is long. Plantation crops usually need processing immediately after harvesting. Sugar, tea, sisal, and palm oil are most suited to plantations, while coconuts, rubber, and cotton are suitable to a lesser extent.
North American plantations
In the Thirteen Colonies, plantations were concentrated in the South. These colonies included Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. They had good soil and almost year-round growing seasons, ideal for crops such as rice and tobacco. The existence of many waterways in the region made transportation easier. Each colony specialized in one or two crops, with Virginia standing out in tobacco production
From as early as 1527 and throughout the expansion of plantation slavery in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, slaves plotted and revolted against masters. Most such revolts were small-scale events, with the aim of seeking local justice. Whether they were enacted on the individual or communal scale by the maroons, or in the wider arena of revolt or revolution, slaves overcame tremendous odds in seeking autonomy for themselves and, when possible, in extending that freedom to others. The 1791 slave revolt in northern Saint Domingue that escalated into the Haitian Revolution articulated a strong antislavery ideology and effected the first universal emancipation (of French colonies, in 1794) and the first independent republic established by former slaves (Haiti, 1804).
Planters embraced the use of slaves mainly because indentured labor became expensive. Some indentured servants were also leaving to start their own farms as land was widely available. Colonists tried to use Native Americans for labor, but they were susceptible to European diseases and died in large numbers. The plantation owners then turned to enslaved Africans for labor. In 1665, there were less than 500 Africans in Virginia but by 1750, 85 percent of the 235,000 slaves lived in the Southern colonies, Virginia included. Africans made up 50 percent of the South’s population.
According to the 1840 United States Census, one out of every four families in Virginia owned slaves. There were over 100 plantation owners who owned over 100 slaves.
In France, the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Saint Domingue slave revolt of 1791 made it expedient for the French antislavery association, the Amis des noirs, to focus on mulatto rights. In 1794, the French Convention ratified the republican commissioners' offer of freedom to slaves who would fight against the royalists in Saint Domingue, and they extended it as a universal emancipation to slaves in all other colonies still under French control. However, Napoleon's forceful reimposition of slavery to the Caribbean colonies in 1802 precipitated Haitian independence and postponed French abolition until 1848.
The French and Haitian revolutions proved a setback to the British abolitionist movement, as conservative forces asserted that the popular classes were incapable of self-rule. It was not until 1808 that the Atlantic slave trade was formally abolished by Britain and the United States, with Britain policing the seas in an attempt to prevent Spanish and Portuguese trade to the Caribbean and Central and South America. It would take another thirty years for Britain's abolitionists to eliminate slavery within its remaining colonies (for example, Jamaica and Barbados), and not until 1888 was slavery abolished within the last American state, Brazil.
Though slavery was officially abolished in the Americas in the nineteenth century, it expanded in some parts of Africa as a direct result of Euro-American abolition. Slavery and related forms of coerced labor still exist today in many countries of the world. Women and children are especially vulnerable.
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