West Indian Peasantry Essay

1922 words - 8 pages

West Indian Peasantry

Many wonder why the slaves of the West Indies , especially when in areas where they constituded a large portion of the population, did not revolt and free themselves. Many feel the slaves were too apathetic to their situation, and many can't fathom how the slaves would let themselves be enslaved for hundreds of years. Many don't realize, however, that the slaves did revolt in many ways, in many places, and at many times. The slaves used both covert and overt ways of revolting against their oppressive position, but were never able to create a unified vast movement that could create broad and permanent changes.
Many slaves used covert methods to revolt such as intentionally working indolently and commiting suicide. Suicide was a common way of revolt, that caused serious problems to the white traders and owners . It was used on the slave ships crossing the atlantic ocean to the plantations . The effectiveness of this tool against the white owners is evident in a note that the Royal African Company sent to a captain in 1725, telling the captain to be very careful to keep the slaves locked up and keep them from jumping overboard . However, suicide constituted only one member and did not spread beyond individual cases. Many slaves deliberately worked below their ability as a type of concealed protest to their enslavement. This also hurt the slave owners by decreasing profits, but it did not effect the institution of slavery in any major capacity.
Several slaves used overt methods to revolt such as running away, forming maroon societies and most obvious, participating and planning physical uprisings. Abandoning the plantations was a popular and a relatively effective means of revolt. Its effectiveness is evident from the attempts to control it, as illustrated in eighteenth century legislation. As is the case in many facets of slavery, punishment and intimidation were the response of slave owners to gain control. In 1717, Barbados legislators "enacted that any Negro who had been a year in the island and absented himself for thirty days should have one of his feet cut off." In 1767, St. Vincent "required every slaveowner to search the Negro houses for runaways every fortnight." In 1766, in the French West Indies, it was ruled that "thirty lashes and eight days in goal for slaves in whose dwellings runaways were apprehended." Many of these runaway slaves formed maroon societies. They developed their own settlements on undeveloped land or they joined with the Caribs. In 1639, St. Kitts had a slave revolt and many slaves fled to form a maroon society in the mountains. But the maroon fort was stormed and taken by French soldiers and many of the rebels died . In Dominica many slaves abandoned the plantations and joined the Caribs on the east of the island. However, most of the maroon societies and escaped slaves were living a dream and could wake up at any moment. When escaping slaves became a substantial problem, the...

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