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Liberating bondage: Slavery and emancipation in the Caribbean

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  1. Introduction
  2. The history of ideas
  3. The regicide of Charles I
  4. Debates on the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean
  5. The situation of free labor places
  6. Girodet's painting
  7. Distribution and settlement plans for the Ceded Islands
  8. Conclusion
  9. Works cited

Slavery in the British Caribbean was closely connected to the agricultural cultivation of sugar-cane and cotton crops in which Africans were imported to work the land in order that the goods could be exported to Europe thereby providing the plantation-owners a net return on their investment. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, the bondage economy of the West Indies would collapse as a result of the Abolition and Emancipation movements instigated by intellectuals, politicians, Protestant religious figures, and localized slave revolts. On 1 August, 1834, the House of Commons would pass the Emancipation Act as a response to nearly fifty-years of debate on the morality and profitability of slavery. Theoretically, the Act outlawed and ended the practice of bondage or forced labor; in practice, it transformed Caribbean slaves into ?Apprentices' who were required to complete four to six additional years of indentured labor before they were truly liberated from bondage to their masters. The purpose of this essay is to explore the conditions which provided for the Emancipation of slaves in the British Caribbean, and to analyze the contribution of Protestant humanitarian ideals upon their ?amelioration' and liberation.

In the history of ideas,? Liberty? arose from the Protestant Reformation instigated by Martin Luther in 1517 which would result in subsequent Peasants' Rebellions, civil and imperial wars, and an intellectual divide between northern and southern Europeans traced between continued loyalty to the intellectual history and traditions of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and the promotion and encouragement of the individual spirit advanced by the various sects of Protestant Christianity.

[...] While slavery had certainly not ceased to be a financially viable economic system in the British Caribbean colonies, its cultural capital had since collapsed and became an intellectually intenable position for British political and moral thought. Tracing similarities between the British Caribbean and its relationship to England with another geographically proximate slave-based economy, the American South and its New England counterpart, both movements toward abolition originate from the location which is not directly and principally involved in agricultural output and proportionate slave ownership. [...]


[...] It would do well to remark that the abolition of slavery was preceded by the amelioration movement in the British Caribbean. In 1823, Reckord observes that plans were underway in the House of Commons to reform slavery and prepare the path to an eventual emancipation and freedom [Reckord, 1971]. By this point, the intellectual climate in Western Europe?sufficiently tempered by the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Enlightenment and its denouement into the Romantic Period?could no longer tolerate the reduction to poverty and bondage which was transgressed against African slaves within the West Indian colonies. [...]


[...] In order to accomplish these goals, missionaries and Anglican clergy were dispatched from England to undertake the ?reformation' and ?improvement' of slaves in the British Caribbean colonies. Marshall also comments upon the pivotal role implemented by Protestant missionaries within the West Indies, explaining the account of James A. Thome and J. Horace Kimball, American abolitionists, and their interviews with Jamaican ?apprentices' following the Emancipation Act. Marshall cites their interview with a former slave as: declare to you, massa, if de Lord spare we to be free, we be much more (re)ligious?we be wise to many more tings; we be better Christians; because we have all de Sunday for to go to meeting. [...]

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