Britain and the Caribbean

Britain and the Caribbean

The Importance of Caribbean Colonies to Britain

  • Caribbean colonies were of great importance to Britain due to their production of sugar, tobacco, and other valuable commodities. These products were highly coveted in Europe and brought significant wealth for Britain.
  • Various islands, such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Tobago, were under British control and had vast plantations worked by enslaved Africans.
  • British involvement in the Caribbean originated from the early 17th century and intensified during the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

The Role of Slavery in the Caribbean

  • The plantations in the Caribbean relied heavily on the labour of enslaved Africans. This made the area a key destination for the Middle Passage of the Triangular Trade.
  • Enslaved Africans worked in dire conditions on sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, and cotton plantations. These plantations produced the goods that formed a significant part of Britain’s economic prosperity.
  • Brutal punishments, poor living conditions, minimal food and long working hours were common for enslaved people, leading to high mortality rates.

Life for Enslaved Africans

  • Enslaved Africans in the Caribbean endured harsh and dehumanising conditions. Life expectancy was low, often only 7-9 years after arrival due to the relentless nature of plantation work.
  • Resistance and rebellion were met with extreme brutality. However, many instances of uprisings and resistance did take place, a notable one being the Jamaican Maroon War.

The Abolition Movement in Britain and Impact on the Caribbean

  • By the late 18th-century, opposition to slavery was growing in Britain, leading to the formation of the abolitionist movement.
  • The movement gathered momentum and resulted in the British Parliament passing the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, outlawing the trade of enslaved people throughout the British Empire.
  • However, full emancipation didn’t occur until 1834, after which it took another four years for the system of apprenticeships to completely end. Slavery in any form was finally abolished throughout the British Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act in 1838.
  • The abolition of slavery had a profound effect on the Caribbean colonies, leading to social and economic changes over time. The magnitude of these changes varies from island to island depending on the level of reliance on slavery before its abolition.