Like their counterparts in America, slaves in the Caribbean worked on plantations to produce cash crops that the owners could sell for a profit. While American plantation owners planted cotton and tobacco, those in the Caribbean cultivated sugar. As a matter of fact, slaves in both places endured brutal conditions, non-existent medical care, physical punishment and racial abuse. What is more, they also suffered reduced family and cultural ties as the owners split them up to minimize cohesiveness. In Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Croix, Saint Dominique, Cuba, Barbados, and Guyana, African slaves worked from dawn to sundown. They tended the cane that produced sugar and served it as a sweetener for pastries in Europe. It was also a source of foreign exchange. Slavery in the Caribbean differed from the one in America in that slaves eventually mounted successful rebellions that allowed them to establish sovereign nations in places like Haiti. This meant that they could practice self-government rather than be beholden to the crown. Specifically, in the Caribbean Slaves threw the shackles of oppression due to high populations. Virtually, enslaved people in America endured racial prejudice and subjugation longer than those in the Caribbean and Latin America.
When Europeans first settled in the Caribbean region, they found that growing cane in the hot and humid conditions led to fast exhaustion. Since they were used to the Northern hemisphere’s cold temperatures, they could not cope with the local climate. Therefore, they had no option but to import slaves from Africa. In the beginning, only several hundred African captives came to the Caribbean. For this reason, the first plantations produced just enough sugar for consumption in England. The increasing popularity of sugar in Europe led to an incremented demand for slaves. Slave traders satisfied this demand by diverting fully laden slave ships away from America. Records from the period show that in 1680, 60 slaves and 600 white men lived in Barbados. By the turn of the 19th century, the trend reversed and slaves formed 75% of the population.
For the European plantation owners, numerous slaves translated into increased labor and high acreage under sugar. Since many slaves died during the arduous journey from Africa’s western coast to the Caribbean, the owners decided to bring female slaves. However, they segregated the first group of women from the men until they realized that they could cut transportation and purchase cost by breeding slaves at home. The enslaved began to increase in number due to the small size of the islands. The increment was also possible because the owners wanted to have home grown slaves. The early abolition of slavery by the British only led plantation owners to depend on their captives to produce children and labor. However, the small island masses also posed problems because the plantation owners could not disperse related families adequately. Slaves suffered brutal corporal punishment, summary executions, poor living conditions, and inadequate diets like their American counterparts. However, the familiar climate led to lower mortality rates.
Less than 150 years after first setting foot in the Caribbean, slaves outnumbered their captors. This led to slave rebellions in places like Haiti under Toussaint Louverture, Saint John by the Akan tribe from Ghana and Jamaica in the Baptist war. The slave rebellion in Haiti started in 1791 when slaves launched surprise attacks, burnt plantations and killed thousands of whites. The rebellion eventually led to Black self-rule and Toussaint’s crowning as the governor of Saint Dominique and Haiti. In America, the white settlers outnumbered Blacks even in the antebellum South. Moreover, the large expansion of the American territory and white population by immigrants from major European countries meant that African slaves could neither organize themselves nor mount an effective rebellion. Hostile Indian tribes and the harsh cold climate further reduced chances of organized resistance.
Plantation owners in America also learned from the mistakes that the European settlers made in the Caribbean and Latin America. Rather than use white foremen to oversee Black slaves, the plantation owners gave “trusted” African slaves the mandate to oversee their fellow slaves. However, they still beat, tortured and violated them at will. Unlike European settlers in the Caribbean, white owners slept with their female slaves. This led to further broken bonds and minimal will to mount an effective resistance. There was only one slave rebellion in America’s history, although it failed despondently.
The 1831 Nat Turner rebellion failed when White militias managed to corner the small band of fugitive slaves. One can say that slaves in America differed from slaves in the Caribbean because they lacked the numerical advantage to mobilize resistance. In Latin America, the situation mirrored the one in the Caribbean. Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela imported African slaves to work in the cane plantations. The increased profitability of the sugar trade resulted in further slave importation. This profitability came from Europe’s desire to use sugar as a necessity rather than as a luxury. These slaves also suffered brutality and sub-human working conditions. They had an advantage in that unlike the white immigrants in America and the Caribbean, the Hispanics readily interbred with Africans. This interbreeding occurred between Hispanic men and African women. In some cases, American slave owners bore children with African females. However, the products of these illicit liaisons ended up as domestic servants or “house Negroes”. In Latin America, the mixed race offspring gained freedom and even took slaves. However, this did not occur on a widespread basis. These cases were only common where slave owners were too poor to get wives from the local community. Aristocrats married women with European heritages to maintain a “pure” blood line. Brutal treatment of African slaves in Latin America decreased as new rulers made steps to give slaves some freedom. In Bolivia and Brazil, revolutionaries inducted slaves into their armies to fight Spanish invaders. After their military service, they could not subjugate them for fear of provoking a rebellion. The rulers released these slaves into farming areas where most grew crops and traded with the locals. The pain of racist attitudes did not happen overnight. By analyzing the situation, one can deduce that the White ruling class in Latin America decided that they were safe in the long run and offered freedoms to slaves. Brutality towards the slaves could cause a rebellion that would be economically damaging.
Slavecodes in America provided an effectiveandfoolproofmethod of subjugating African slaves. Thesecodesdealt with whatslavesreceived as “compensation”. This way,they could congregatethepunishmentfortransgressionsandinteractions between them andtheir masters’ wives or children. In America, theearlyslaveowners,especially in places like Virginia, werequick to implementthesecodes. Anyguilty individual received punishment by publicfloggings, executions, mutilation, andevenlynching. The British plantationsettlers in the Caribbean alsoused a slavecode. Thedifference between their codeandthat of America was
that the latter delved into finer detail. From the time America gained independence, the founding fathers instituted “legal” and “constitutional” measures to ensure that African slaves and their descendants remained subjugated. These laws said that Africans constituted only three-fifths of the general population of the enslaved. The laws also prevented Africans from learning to read and write because slave owners feared that literate slaves would incite others to riot. They also feared that literate slaves would write literature that would alert the world with regard to inhuman treatment they bore. The slave codes gave white men complete authority over their Black slaves, even if they managed to gain their freedom.
In the Caribbean, the slave codes also consisted of written laws. The most basic code defined slaves as “chattel” or “property”. Although not as extensive as the American code, the slave code in the Caribbean differed in that it provided some protection for slaves. The code decreed that masters would provide slaves with one clothing item a year. However, it made no provisions for housing or diet and denied slaves the same rights as English citizens. This slave code bore a similarity to the American slave code as it limited emancipation. Children born to slaves automatically became slaves themselves. The Caribbean slave codes differed mostly because masters could not inflict “unwarranted” physical punishment on slaves. Furthermore, masters also used a special lash to administer punishment. They produced it from the naval cat o’ nine tails, and owners could only use it after gaining authorization from a resident magistrate or the governor. In America, anyone of any age could brutally abuse a slave and get away with it.
Militias and ordinary white members of society frequently attacked slaves for the flimsiest reasons. They then sought and received protection from the law. Common excuses given included alleged rape attempts against white women, theft and belligerent attitudes. The American codes even denied African slaves the right to own any livestock or permanent houses on the plantation. In contrast, the slave codes enacted by the British and Dutch allowed slaves to keep some livestock and carry out some ancient African ceremonies. Slaves could not consume any product associated with sugar such as rum, whisky or pastries. In Latin America, slave codes hardly existed, although owners brutally subjugated their slaves. The plantation owners instead resorted to divide and conquer tactics to keep the enslaved in check. In places like Brazil, Peru and Colombia, the owners divided slaves into African born slaves, locally born slaves, Quilombos, Mulattos and Native Indians. They then pitted these slaves against each other. Mulattos or slaves with mixed African and European heritage received much better treatment than original slaves from Africa. Locally born slaves also held higher ranks than imported slaves. The masters used Native Indians who stubbornly showed resistance as scapegoats and objects of everyone’s hate. As slave populations increased, the phenomenon of slavery took another dimension. Slaves worked not only in the fields, but also in gold, silver, and tin mines. This gave them greater freedom than those in farm settings. New unwritten slave codes sought to placate the new breed of slaves by offering temporary inducements in exchange for cooperation. Those who adhered to these codes received preferential treatment, while those who resisted were subjected to economic marginalization and brutality. One can say that the slave codes in the Caribbean were less widespread or restrictive than the countries discussed herein. They sought to placate and control the slaves with violence as a last result.
Beckles, Hilary. Caribbean Slave Society and Economy, 7-11. Chicago: Springer, 2010.
Bentley, Jerry & Ziegler, Herbert. Traditions & Encounters: A Brief Global History Volume 2, 3-10. California: Spartan Press, 2010.
Bergad, Laird. The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States, 1-9. California: Pallsiade Press, 2010.
Galeano, Eduardo. Open veins of Latin America, 23-29. New York: SUNY Press, 2012.
Meltzer, Milton. Slavery: A World History Paperback, 23-36. New York: Wiley Press, 2012.
Morgan, Edmund. American Slavery, American Freedom, 11-17. New York: Lansdale Publishers, 2009.
Nowara, Christopher. Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World, 12-19. New York: Springer, 2009.
Walvin, James. Atlas of Slavery, 9-14. New York: Anchor, 2011.
 Bergad, Laird. The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States. California: Pallsiade Press, 2010, p. 1-9
 Beckles, Hilary. Caribbean Slave Society and Economy: Chicago: Springer, 2010, p. 7-11
 Meltzer, Milton. Slavery: A World History Paperback. New York: Wiley Press, 2012, 23-36
 Walvin, James. Atlas of Slavery. New York: Anchor, 2011, 9-14
 Walvin, James. Atlas of Slavery. New York: Anchor, 2011, p. 9-14
 Nowara, Christopher. Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World. New York: Springer, 2009, 12-19
 Galeano, Eduardo. Open veins of Latin America. New York: SUNY Press, 2012, p.23-29
 Bentley, Jerry & Ziegler, Herbert. Traditions & Encounters: A Brief Global History Volume 2. California: Spartan Press, 2010, p. 3-10
 Morgan, Edmund. American Slavery, American Freedom. New York: Lansdale Publishers, 2009, 11-17