Dominica: Slavery

Dominica slavery
Figure 1.--This image is a detail from a painting by Agostino Brunias (c1730-1796). He was an artist born in Rome, but was primarily active in London. He traveled to Dominica with the first British Governor after the British took control of Dominica (1770). We can see a white boy (perhaps French) with two Dominican slave boys. The boys were surely the chikldren of privlidged slaves ho worked as domestic servants for the estate owners. The condition of these domestic slaves were very different than that of the field workers on the plantations. They slave boys are also wearing uniforms. Their bare feet, however, seem as a caracteristic sign of slavery.

Slavery is an importat part of Caribbean history. The slaves brought from Africa today constitute a major part of the Caribbean population. The history of each island is unique, although there are many similarities. The same is true of slavery. Here the history of slavery in Dominica is difrent than in most other Caribbean islnds. Slavery develoed differently on Dominica than many of the other Caribbean sugar islands. Dpminican slaves working on the sugar plantations were commonly allowed to establish their own provision gardens and to raise small stock. We are not sure why thispattern developed on Dominica and not many other islands. Several destictive patterns may be involved: the small French oldings, the Britis-French competition, and the Ntive American/Maroon resistance all may be factors. Many slaves sold their produce was at Sunday markets where slaves were allowed to leave their plantations to both socialize and trade. Some saved their earnings and bought their freedom. This practice led to the development of some of te first free black communities in the Caribbean other than the Mroons who were rebels. They became known as 'Afranchis' or 'mulatre'. Over time they purchased small estates and even slaves of their own. . Thus whgat develooped in Dominica was a unique blend of slave sugar plantations owned by Europeans and afew freed Africans which functioned side by side with garden plots and small produce farms worked by a complicated mix of escaped slaves, freed slaves, and Native Americans.

Geography

Geography has played an important role in Dominican history, including the history of slavery on the island. Dominica is a small, but very mountainous island. Dominica is the most mountainous island in the Caribbean. Rather than inviting beaches, this volcanic island in many places virtuallyerupts straight out of the sea forming preciptous cliffs. This aided the natives in resisting the Europeans. It also provided refuges for runaway slaves. And it reuced the land area that could be converted to plantation sugar culture. This meant that fewer Europeans were attracted go the island

Native Americans

Dominica was settled by Native Americans at a very early point (3100 BC). The Arawaks replaced the origional Native American inhabitants (about 400 AD). Just before the arrival of the Europeans, the more war-like Caribs began to relace the Arawaks (about 1400 AD). Historians debate about the Aawaks and Caribs. Some contend that they were the same people, but that the Spanish used the term Arawaks for the Native Americans that sumitted to European rule and the Caribs who resisted which permited the Spanish to make war on and kill or enslave.

Spanish Discovery (1493)

Columbus discovered Dominica and named it because he landed on a Sunday (1493). The Spanish nd other Europeans countries, however, made not ttempt for some time to settle it The Spanish found more valuable lands to the west and had no need for another small Caribben island. The fieceness of Native American resistance was another factor. Dominica became important as a point for passing ships to collecting wood, food, and and water. Landing on the island, however, exposed the mariners to attacks from the Native Americans.

European Settlement (1630s)

The first European settlers were French planters and missionaries (1635). The French settlement was largely due to geography. Dominica is located between the already established French colonies of Guadalupe and Martiniue. Te French settlement did not go easy. The Native Americans resisted and the English decided to also contest French control. England at the time was fighting on-again off-again wars. This and the relatively limited area of flat land suitable for sugar plantatins limited the number of settlers who suceeded in establishing sugar plantations. Thus at aoint that sugar was developing as a major industry throughout the Caribbean, this did not occur on Dominica and large numbers of captive Africans were not brought to the island. The English and French eventually agreed to a truce (1686). They agreed to leave the island to the Native Americans. This did not last, the lure of lucrative new sugar plantations was just to strong. Thus more settlers returned and the number of sugar plantations grew. The Native Americans were eventually pushed to the rugged windward coast which they were able to defend and was not land suitable for plantations. [Rogozinski, p. 32.] Today this area is known as the Carib Reserve as is the only surviving Native American community in the Caribbean. The French settlement was established and grew. One study exists of the Dominica sugar plantations.[Hauser]

Cultural Patterns: Afranchis/Mulatre

Slavery develoed differently on Dominica than many of the other Caribbean sugar islands. Dpminican slaves working on the sugar plantations were commonly allowed to establish their own provision gardens and to raise small stock. We are not sure why thispattern developed on Dominica and not many other islands. Several destictive patterns may be involved: the small French oldings, the Britis-French competition, and the Ntive American/Maroon resistance all may be factors. Many slaves sold their produce was at Sunday markets where slaves were allowed to leave their plantations to both socialize and trade. Some saved their earnings and bought their freedom. This practice led to the development of some of te first free black communities in the Caribbean other than the Mroons who were rebels. They became known as 'Afranchis' or 'mulatre'. Over time they purchased small estates and even slaves of their own. . Thus whgat develooped in Dominica was a unique blend of slave sugar plantations owned by Europeans and afew freed Africans which functioned side by side with garden plots and small produce farms worked by a complicated mix of escaped slaves, freed slaves, and Native Americans. The House of Assembly passed an Act for Amelioration of condition of the enslaved (1788).

British-French Struggle (1756-83)

England and France beginning with the Norman invasion (11th century) fought each oher for mot of the second millenium. The French and Indian War in North America (1756) melded into the Seven Years War in Europe and became a world war between England and France. The War was finally ended with the Treaty of Paris (1763). France accepted the loss of Canada, but insisted on retaining the valuable Caribbean sugar islands of Guadelupe and Martinique. Britin obtained Domnique even though most of the planters were French. The French with the support of the islnd's French poplation managed to re captured the island during the American Revolution (1778), but had to return it to Britain after the war (1783). The British reoccupied the island (1785).

Settlement Patterns

The British upon taking control of Dominica settled in Roseau and the negboring countryside. British landowners were mostly absentee and had overseers ran their estates. The French tended to live on small estates. Most remined even after the British seized control. Graduallh a peasant-based agricultural economy and creole culture emerged.

Maroons

Dominica and St. Vincent were the only islands in the Lesser Atilles where Maroon (escaped slave) communities developed. The reason was the mountaeous terraine, but the Native American resistance was also a factor. Escaped slaves hid in the rugged mountains and gradually developed communities. They at times made common cause with the Native Americans to resist the European settlers. One source reports 13Maroon camps in the interior of Dominica (1785). After the British seiozed controlod the island, some French planters helped the Maroons obtain weapons. This begn after the French again lost the islands following the American Revoution (1783). This coninued until Naopoleon's defeat and all hope of France regaining control was lot (1815). Two full-scale Maroon wars and several smaller rebellions occurred in Dominica during the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Chief Balla led the first major Maroon uprising--the First Maroon War (1785-86). He attacked Rosalie estate, The British retaliated by attacking the maroon camps near Belles. Women such as Angelique, Calypso and Victorie were taken prisoner and give evidence in court. Some 150 maroons were killed. Balla is captured and hung in a gibbet in Roseau until dead. The slave of Belfast estate who caught him is given his freedom and a reward of £165. The British finally decisively defeated the Dominica Maroons [Honychurch, Dominican Story] The British never were able to defeat the Jamaican Maroons, but Dominica was a smaller island.

French Revoution (1789)

The French Revoutiion (1789) which set off the slave revolts in Haiti, also had repercussions in the english colonies, including Dominica. Slave revolts brok out in the south and east of the island, pimarily in the parish of St.Patrick (1791). Govenor Sir John Orde oversaw the repression of the revolts. The Assembly representing the planter interests formally thnkd him for suppressing the revolt. French revolutionary forces attacked the northern coast (1795). French Republican sympathizers at Colihaut revolt to support the French attack. They marched through forest to try to join up with the invasion force. The ritish forces defeat the nvaders, after which 600 French settlers are deported. Th British organize the first Black Regiment of the West India Regiments at Roseau. Slaves were trained to support the defence of the colony and were stationed at the Cabrits Garrison. The Assembly passed the Amelioration Act concerning slave attendance at church services (1799). The French after Napoleon seizes control made one final attempt to seize the island (1805).

Emancipation (1834)

The Abolitionist movemnt began in British churches (especially the Methiodis and Quakers). The British after the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) launched a major effort to end the slave trade. This and the Great Slave Rebellion on Jamaica (1831-32) convinced the British to end slavery in the Empire. The act for abolition of slavery passed its third reading in the House of CommonsOn (July 26, 1833). Wilberforce died 3 days later, but by thus time it was clear that it would also be passed by the House of Lords. Wilberforce was buried in Westminster Abbey by request of members of both Houses of Parliament. Slavery was finally abolished throughout the British Empire (1834). [Copeland]

Land Ownership

The freed slaves eventually acquired the land of the small estates that the French had been working. Without a slave labor force, these esates had little value. The same pattern evolved on Guadalupe and Martnique.

Mulatto Ascendency (1838)

The British upon taking control of Dominica following the French and Indian War/Seven Years War set up a legislative assembly, representing only the European settlers who were mostly French (1763). With the work of the abolitionist Movement and as emanciption began to appear possible, the British Parliament passed the Brown Privilege Act (1831). This new law conferred political and social rights on non-whites who had mnaged to obtain their freedom. Three freed Blacks were elected to the legislative assembly (1832). The abolition of slavery created many new opportunities (1834). Dominica became the only British Caribbean colony to elect a black-controlled legislature (1838). It became known as the Mulatto Ascendency. The former slaves from an early period played an important role in politics, government, and cultural affairs. The newly elected Black legislators were small land holders or merchants. This and their persional expeiences as well as thoe of the people they represented had economic and social views which sharply contrasted with those of the wealthy English planter class who were limited in numbers. The planters began lobbying British officials for more direct British rule.

More African Emigrants

Small numbers of Africans reached Dominica after Emancipation. A small number of West Africa workers voluntarily agreed to become contract workers on Dominica. They worked on estates for wages and after their contracts expired tended to settle near those estates. Other Africans wre landed on Dominica as a result of the British anti-slave trade patrols. When the British Royal Navy began its efforts to end the slave trade, slavery was still legal in most contries, including Britain. America abolished the slave trade, but not slavery (1807). Gradually other coutries began to outlaw or limit slavery. As Royal Navy patrols began seizing slavers, a place needed to be found tfor the slaves on board, many of hom could not describe where they came from. Te slaves on vessels seized off West Africa were returned to places like Liberia or Sierra Leone. The slaves seized on slavers in the Caribbean area were disembarked on British islands including Dominica and after 1834 were liberated. We are not sure about the disposition of the captive Africans released earlier, but the numbers were probably small. These Africans were released in Soufriere, Woodford Hill, Castle Bruce, Portsmouth and St.Joseph. Many of these releasees retained their African family names. Modern Dominican names from these people include: Akie, Cuffy (Kofi), Carbon (Gabon), Quamie, Quashie and Africa:

Sources

Copeland, Reginald. Wilberforce: A Narrative (1923).

Hauser Mark. Slavery’s Material Record: A Comparison of Everyday Life at Two Plantation Settlements in Dominica, West Indies.

Honychurch, Lennox. Our Island Culture (Letchworth Press: Barbados, 1988), 84p.

Honychurch, Lennox. The Dominica Story: A History of the Island (Macmillan, Hong Kong, 1995). 318p.

Rogozinski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and the Carib to the Present (Meridian: New York, 1992), 324p.





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Created: 3:08 AM 9/30/2012
Last updated: 3:08 AM 9/30/2012