Slavery on the Islands

When researching Mary Prince I learned that the abolition of slavery for many European countries was not instantaneous. For countries like England and France, abolition was a drawn out political debate. Even when slavery became outlawed by the home country, its territories and colonies still practiced the act. European governments were not quite ready to abdicate the economic gains they received from slavery. This was especially true in places like Bermuda and Haiti, where the practice of slavery took on a new level of brutality. [1] French plantation owners in Haiti would work their slaves so hard that their common lifespan was only a few years. It was cheaper for the slave owners to buy new slaves and ship them to Haiti than it was for them to improve working conditions. [2] Historians attribute over a million slaves were murdered over the hundred year French occupation of Haiti. [3] The slave narratives found in You are All Free by Jeremy Popkin details the horrors of slave life in Haiti. What was striking in Popkin’s book was the accounts of legalized torture used on the slaves. Common practices included being whipped, buried alive, restrained and allowed to be bitten by swarms of insects, mutilated, raped, and having limbs amputated.

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Jeremy Popkin’s book gives an in-depth analysis of slavery in Haiti. Popkin accounts for the Haitian Revolution and its impact on the global slave trade. If you are interested in understanding the dynamics of slavery in the Caribbean this is a good book to start with.

Reading these accounts raised several questions regarding slavery in the Caribbean. Why was the island system so much harsher than elsewhere? Were accounts of slave practices in Haiti commonly known in Europe, or did governments work to keep them out of the public eye? Finally I wondered about the effect of Mary Prince on slavery in Haiti and Bermuda. Did her narrative have an impact on slave systems outside of Great Britain? And if so to what extent?

 

References

  1. Ferguson, James. “P. 1.” Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers. Oxford, UK: B. Blackwell, 1988. N. pag. Print.
  2. Abbott, Elizabeth. Haiti: A Shattered Nation. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2011. Print.
  3. Haiti: A Shattered Nation. P. 27.
  4. Popkin, Jeremy D. You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
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