Friday, June 25, 2010

The Barbados Apprentership System, Located Labour and the New Middle Class


The Emancipation Act was passed on August 28th 18 a month after William Wilberforce died. It became effective on the 1st of August 1834.

To ensure the act was carried out one Governor General was placed over Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada, and Tobago. Governor Lionel Smith was stationed in Barbados while Lieutenant governors were placed in the other Islands.

On the abolition of slavery several provisions were made to ease the process for both the planter and the slave. However as you will see they mostly benefited the planter.

1. The British Government paid the Barbadian planters sum of over £1,700,000 combined.

2. Children where given their immediate freedom.

3. Full freedom was not to be issued for 6 years. In this time a period of Apprenticeship was to be in place. This was supposed to (1) Provide a peaceful transition from slavery to freedom. (2) Guarantee the planters a supply of labour for this period (3)To train apprenticeships to be responsible citizens

4. The working week was set at 45 hours and Sunday labour was abolished

5. Wages were to be paid for hours worked over 40hours and apprentices could buy purchase their complete freedom before the end of the apprenticeship period.

6. Special Magistrates where put in place and paid by the British Government to ensure these provisions where properly observed.

7. Allowances formerly ranted to slaves were to be continued.


The apprenticeship system was strictly administered from the onset in Barbados. Neither side was happy with the terms and it caused considerable strife and before long it was generally admitted that the apprenticeship system was a failure. It was at this time that the Solicitor General Robert Bowcher Clarke suggested that the house should without delay provide complete emancipation of the salves and this was so done on the 1st of Aughust 1838.

Located Labour

Under the located labour system people were paid 9d and allowed cottage and grounds. If the labourers did not perform satisfactorily they could be ejected from all their allotments. The planters had to give 4 weeks notice and the crops of the tenants was taken over at a value bellow their worth. if the tenant gave notice their growing crops where taken over without payment.

The iniquities of the system were criticized by the Liberal a newspaper edited by Smauel Jackman Prescod. Despite the Masters and servants act of the time repealed the Labour System remained in place.



Chattel Houses

Another feature of this time is the Chattel House. In most cases the land the the emancipated slaves lived on was not their own and as stated they often moved in search of kinder employers or higher wages. Therefore the tradition evolved of building homes in a manner by which they could be dismantled, transported by simple conveyance (originally, horse-drawn carts), and reassembled at a different site.

These early homes were rarely larger than one or two rooms, though some expanded to varying degrees as the needs and sizes of families grew.

Typical features:

Symmetrical fronts with centered door and 2 windows.
Expanded in modules as family growth or other needs required.
Many with steep-pitched, metal roofs shaped to resist blowing off in high winds and small ventilation windows below them.
The hoses were not built on foundations but placed on the tops of piled up stones.



New Villages

Though the freed slaves were allowed to purchase land in Barbados it was a difficult thing to do. There were few if any arable lands available. It is true that 2 years after emancipation  there were some 1,000 smallholders but these were mostly made up by poor whites  and slaves who had been freed before emancipation. Land was hard to come by as plantation owners were not ready to sell. they did not want to split up their land into small plots and they did not want to loose the monopoly that gave them control over labour. The first breakthrough came when Mr R Elcock bequested that the people would be able to purchase small lots of land at Mount Wilton Plantation this lead to the formation of rock Hall Village the first free village. Followed by Elcock was Mr. P Chapman who divided his estate in Enterprise St George into 2 acre lots  and this saw the establishment of Workmans in St George.

The New Middle Class

Following emancipation planters and labourers had quite a social adjustment to make as their relationship changed from Master and slave to Employee to employer. This was a long and arduous process. The labourers were faced with strong discrimination. The church of England was also responsible for some of discrimination as the labourers were not allowed to be seated in certain seats. They could not have communion at the same time as white members and they could not hold ministerial positions. Coloured teachers received smaller salaries and could only teach coloured children. They were required to serve with the malita but there units were segregated from the whites and they could not be promoted to higher positions. They were not allowed to vote until 1831 when a law was passed allowing free coulerd people to vote as long as they owned enough land.

Surprisingly many of the free coloured people  were indifferent or opposed to emancipation for their brothers who were still enslaved. They were at the time concerned that  emancipation would negatively affect their growth and position that they had fought hard to establish. There response however after emancipation was very supportive and they took the newly freed slaves under their wing and taught them their habits lifestyle and philosophy. That was the great contribution they made to the stability and progress of the whole island.

A notable event of the time was the formation of "the Times the first coloured newspaper followed by the Liberal. which Smauel Jackman Prescod. edited for 25 years.In 1843 Prescod was elected the first coloured man to the House of Assembly and the was quickly followed by Prescod becoming the leader of the Liberal Party which was formed by the "Ten Acre" men. The Liberal party sought to change the legislature in the Island to benefit the society as a whole, a society and legislature that had for centuries solely benefited the planter class. The policy of the middle class now composed for black, white and coloured and people gave the island a measure of stability for the next 40 years.

Grave Challenges

There came a period of time in Barbados when the planters were almost overcome in gloom. The Sugar Duties Act of 1846 that reduced the duties on colonial sugar exposed the West indies to serious competition from places like Cuba and Louisiana which still enforced slavery, produced greater amounts of sugar and possessed modern equipment that helped them in the production. Bankruptcy faced the planters and they could not have survived but for a number of events.

1.   The increase in production of sugar in other parts of the world was offset by the increased demand

2.   Barbadian planters reduced labour cost by decreasing the number of persons employees during off season. This lead to the creation of  Burning Mr. Harding in the Crop Over Festivities

3.   They planted increased acreages in canes and doubled their sugar production between 188 and 1852 and improved their methods of cultivation.

The perusal of the agricultural system, their skills and method enabled them to survive a time when bankruptcy was bringing ruin to planters in many other West Indian Islands. It is said than many believed that Emancipation would mean the end of the Golden Era in Barbados and while it is true they faced many challenges they responded to them with courage and determination and rose to the occasion and the Golden Era continued well past emancipation.

Provided with the compliments of your friends at Glory Tours. The #1 Provider of Sightseeing Tours in Barbados http://glorytours.org/

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