HISTORY- WHITE SERVANTS IN BARBADOS
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Barbados is a nation that has a dark past, in regards to civil, or human rights. Even though it was one of the few Caribbean nations that benefited from a thriving agriculturally based economy, more than three centuries ago, these profits were not enjoyed by the individuals who worked hardest to create them. The original natives of Barbados are believed to have been Arawak Indians who were coming from South America. The Arawaks would be attacked and annihilated by the Carib Indians, who practiced cannibalism. Upon their arrival in the island, in 1492, the Spaniards forced the Carib Indians to become slaves. They also introduced diseases such as tuberculosis and smallpox, which succeeded in drastically reducing the island?s Indian population. The Spaniards, however, were not interested in settling in Barbados. They moved on to explore other places in the region like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. In 1625, the first English ship docked in Barbados. It would be followed, in 1627, by another ship which was commanded by Captain Henry Powell, and had 80 pilgrims.
The British government, under the leadership of King James 1, began to reward socially connected British citizens with land in Barbados. As these individuals usually had plenty of capital, they were able to invest in the cultivation of cotton and tobacco over large acres of land, known as plantations. Once ready for use, these crops would be sold to trading ships which regularly passed the island. The Carib Indian population had dwindled as a result of the mistreatment they were forced to endure from the colonialists, and the diseases that they had been exposed to, and which their bodies had not developed immunity against. The cultivation of tobacco, and cotton required a lot of manual labor. At first, plantation owners in Barbados advertised for laborers in England, who were ready to relocate.
Barbados appeared to be the perfect place for poor Englishmen who wanted to try and make their own fortune. Many poor English citizens sincerely believed that they could make their fortunes in a place like Barbados; where they did not have to worry about discrimination on the basis of social class, or heredity. However, their experience in the island caused them to petition the British government for assistance, due to the deplorable working conditions they were forced to endure; resulting in the increase in freedoms for indentured servants, even as the mainstream Barbados society turned to the institution of slavery for cost effective manual laborers.
White Servants in the English Colony of Barbados
In the early 1600s, a number of poor English citizens who heard about the need for manual laborers in the English colony of Barbados would enter into legal contracts to work in plantations in before setting sail for the island. Essentially, these laborers signed the rights to their lives over to plantations owners for a specific period of time. The plantation owners would then pay for their journey to Barbados, as well as any food, and water they would need. On reaching the island, the indentured servants would work for the agreed upon period, after which their masters were compelled to reward them with a sum of money, or piece of land in order to launch them into their new lives as freedmen. This was just the kind of arrangement that appealed to poor people in England, because they were presented with a fair chance of realizing the objective of being self-sufficient, and moderately wealthy.
However, it was not just England?s poor that worked in Barbados. It became quite common for convicted criminals to be exported to the island. These prisoners would be given the option of being hanged for their crimes, or relocated to the colonies. Oliver Cromwell, who was the first non-royal person to govern England, would often punish his opponents by sending them abroad to work in difficult circumstances in plantations. In 1649, the Irish Rebellion provided him with a good reason to force thousands of his troublesome subjects to work in plantations in Barbados. As the demand for manual laborers grew, agents even began to kidnap ordinary citizens in England for the purpose of sending them to work in Barbados.
Kidnapping actually grew to be a lucrative business because ship owners would pay significant amounts of money for human cargo. Most of the time, the kidnapped victims, whether men, women, or children, would be drugged and rendered unconscious. By the time they woke up, they were on the ship that was headed to outlying colonies such as Barbados. In the early days of relocation, indentured servants were not treated unreasonably in the plantations. They were strictly supervised, and forced to work for long hours, but were not forced to endure cruelty. England?s continued acquisition of new colonies in the Caribbean, as well as the American continent, though, contributed to the change in treatment of the indentured servants.
As planters in Barbados were forced to seek laborers to work in regions all over the Atlantic, their profit margins began to suffer. There was also demand for more productivity from the British merchants who were financing trips to Britain and outlying areas for manual laborers. The indentured servants started to be perceived as being little more than livestock, or chattel; created for the sole purpose of providing labor for those who were more intelligent. The plantation owners would allow their overseers to treat indentured servants as property. This is evident in the type of punishment that they were forced to undergo. When indentured servants displeased their masters, they would be whipped, or tied to horses which were then ridden at a gallop. They slept in areas that were said to be ?worse than pig enclosures?, and could be sold at the pleasure of their masters.
Even though there were existing laws that were created to safeguard them from such excesses, the British government found that it was difficult, if not impossible, to implement laws in their colonies. In Barbados, indentured servants who complained about their mistreatment at the hands of their masters, would be whipped for trying to ?stir up trouble?. The indentured servants could not leave Barbados because they did not have any possessions, or money to finance themselves. They staged uprisings in 1634, and 1645; but both of these were crushed, and their agitators put to death. There are other ways through which plantation owners tried to ensure that the indentured servants would always remain in their employ.
For instance, upon completing their agreed-upon term of service, indentured servants would be allocated parcels of land that had the poorest of soils, which would not easily yield a good crop. Extended failure in trying to be independent would then discourage the freed servants, and force them to return to service. Indentured servants would not return easily to such servitude. Working in the sugarcane plantations in Barbados was particularly difficult. Many indentured servants perished during the terms of their lease agreement due to the deplorable conditions they lived, and worked in. Finding willing laborers of Barbados slowly became an almost impossible task- as the reputation of the sugarcane plantations preceded the agents.
The Demand for White Servants, rather than African Workers, in Barbados
In the 1600s, slaves from Africa were extremely expensive to purchase. This is because they had to be acquired first in the African continent, then transported to the place where they were expected to work. Indentured servants were readily available in Britain, as well as other European nations.
It is estimated that the 25, 000 Caucasian men and women who were sold as slaves in the 1600s in various areas of the Caribbean, actually had different occupations in Europe. This means that the vast majority of them were ordinary working people who were kidnapped, and then sold to plantations. It is believed that the largest block of indentured servants in Barbados constituted of the Irish Catholics. It is likely that the plantation owners did not even have to pay for them. In addition, indentured workers could be branded, or thrashed for minor infractions or imagined errors without this being a crime. African slaves were not exposed to the same treatment, because that would have resulted in a financial setback.ÿPlantation owners wanted to make the most of their expensive African slaves, and so spared them from some of the more physically demanding tasks that were performed by their indentured servants.
Fleeing to and from Barbados
For the poor citizens of England, as well as other European nations, the indenture contract was the only way to make a significant life change that would benefit even their children. The indenture contract was responsible for population English colonies such as Barbados because it made it possible for the emigrant to trade his physical labor for passage to a more promising land. The price for Atlantic passage from the shores of England in the 17th century was between 9 and 11 Sterling Pounds. The ordinary English citizen earned less than this amount in a year. The citizens from the labor class could not possibly hope to raise this amount to pay for their own passage to colonies such as Barbados. It is understandable that they would be deeply grateful to any plantation owner who voluntarily paid for them to be borne at his expense, so that they could work in his farm. Thus, in the indenture mar…
HISTORY- WHITE SERVANTS IN BARBADOS