Slavery without Sugar in Jamaica's Plantation Society.
Some Implications for Enslaved and Enslavers
Verene A. Shepherd (Working Paper for the Harriet Tubman Seminar, Department of History
York University, Canada, March 27, 2000)
[Do not cite or quote without the author’s permission]
This paper is part of a larger work in which I problematize the issue of land as contested terrain in colonial Jamaica. The aim of that larger work is not only to show the competition over land for economic exploitation, but also the socio-political implications of land-use for various classes of landowners who had differential access to land and exploited labour. Among the questions I ask in that larger work are, firstly, what impact did differential access to land and enslaved/bonded labour have on the social status of landowners? Second, were those engaged in diversified production able to carve out an identity separate from that of the sugarocracy or were they as affected by the social mores of a sugar plantation society? Third, did the existence of penkeepers (livestock farmers) in Jamaica, for example, alter economic thought and the institutional arrangements of plantation society? Also, what was slavery like for those who laboured outside of the physical context of the sugar plantation? What practical differences did variations in physical and spatial location make to enslaved/indentured men and women? In this regard, my interest is to go beyond the demographic implications studied by Barry Higman and others, and look at other implications relating more directly to gender, the division of labour and anti-slavery politics. The larger work also goes beyond the slavery period to look at the transition from enslavement to full freedom in 1838.
This discussion paper explores the implications for enslaved and enslavers of their location on livestock farms (pens) and their participation in a non-sugar economic activity.. It revisits the division of labour in a plantation society through gendered lens and examines anti-slavery politics on the pens. With respect to the enslavers, the paper will examine both the extent to which they were able to pursue a truly alternative economic and social path in colonial Jamaica, as well as the extent to which the differences in the material conditions and lifestyle of those they enslaved insulated them from anti-slavery politics.
Before delving into the empirical details of the paper, however, I should first like to contextualize it further. One of the results of the historiographical revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was the pluralization of the discourse on Caribbean slavery, with scholars paying ever-increasing attention to issues relating to class, colour, gender and ethnicity. The most radical impact was seen in the targeting of the androcentric nature of the colonial historiography which served to disarticulate the subaltern as woman. Academic feminists, critical of the hegemonic male representation of the nationalist project and spurred on by the emergence and expansion of "women's history", directed their research efforts towards a recuperation of the voice and experience of Caribbean women, in particular, those of the enslaved black woman. The florescence of social history and the popularity of the 'history from below' approach, was particularly amenable to an exploration of the implications of gender in Caribbean history. The scholarship that resulted, attempting to compensate for past discursive shortsightedness, emphasized that there was no homogeneous slave experience and that analyses of slave conditions, and, indeed, of slave society, had to take gender differentiation into consideration. But this was only part of the pluralization project. Another dimension consisted of excavating the experiences of those who, while engaged in agriculture, did not labour on the sugar plantation; or those who did not make their profits by cultivating and selling sugar. Indeed, up to 1976, and despite the existence of the contemporary writings of Edward Long (1774) and Byran Edwards (1793); and the more modern works of Kamau Brathwaite (1971) and Richard Sheridan (1974) which made references to economic diversification, the study of enslavement and Caribbean agriculture had been largely defined by the sugar plantation model developed by Best (1968), Beckford (1972) and others.
It was Barry Higman (1976, 1984, 1989) who began the radical departure from the association of slavery with sugar, taking on board the issues of diversity in commodity production in Jamaica and the wider British-colonized Caribbean and the enslaved's occupation that in large measure determined their demographic experiences. Since then, many others have joined in this project of differentiation, interrupting and subverting the other process of homogenization which has occurred in slave studies and emphasizing the multiple economic environments in which the enslaved's’ productive capacities were revealed, at times even within the same territory. They include those like Hilary Mc.D. Beckles (1993, 1998, 1999), Pedro Welch (1995, 1998), Félix Matos-Rodríguez (1995, 1998), and Lorna Simmonds (1987, 1996) who have studied slavery in urban environments; and those like Douglas Hall (1978, 1989), Shepherd (1988, 1991, 1998), Morgan (1995), Michael Craton (1978) Gail Saunders (1990), Kathleen Monteith (1991, 1998), O. Nigel Bolland (1997), Simon Smith (1998) and David Geggus (1998), who have focused on livestock, cotton, coffee, timber and indigo respectively.
These authors have all, in varying degrees of details and analysis, revealed the similarities and differences in slave regimes on sugar and non-sugar properties and the implications of these differences for the material conditions of the enslaved. Above all, they have shown that despite the persistence of the plantation economy model which stresses the role of the sugar plantation with its white elite sugarocracy in structuring Caribbean society along a rigid enslaver-enslaved dichotomy, diversification was a significant feature of Caribbean economy. Thus, European colonialism did not succeed completely in introducing structural discontinuities by appropriating the land resources of the region for its monopolistic sugar plantation designs. Five colonies [Anguilla, Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cayman Islands] grew no exportable quantities of sugar; and even the sugar-dominated economies like Barbados and St. Kitts produced other commodities. Jamaica's and the Hispanic Caribbean's topography were particularly encouraging to economic diversification, with investors establishing coffee, indigo, cocoa, and pimento plantations as well as large numbers of ranches/livestock farms and food-producing units. By 1832, as Higman (1976) has shown for Jamaica, sugar had 49.5% of enslaved workers; coffee, 14.4% and livestock farms, 12.8%. While those involved in coffee, cotton, pimento and sugar produced for the export market, those on food- and livestock-producing units catered primarily for the internal market. Thus, enslaved peoples not only contributed to capital formation in the core, as Eric Williams (1944) and C.L.R. James (1963) have shown convincingly, but by their participation in non-export economic activities, helped to lay the foundation for the emergence of a domestic economic sector in the Caribbean. Above all, pro-slavery ideology, manifested in control mechanisms directed at the enslaved, demonstrated a striking unifying tendency, regardless of the economic context of slavery and the class position or economic status of the enslaver.
The most developed aspects of the historiography of non-sugar slavery in the Caribbean are the organization of enslaved labour (daily and annual cycles), material conditions and the demographic features of the enslaved population (sex ratios, African-Creole ratios, fertility and mortality differentials, etc). Less readily available are data on control and anti-slavery politics outside of the context of Thistlewood's world, and the gender division of labour. Research into the lives and experiences of the slaveholders engaged in non-sugar production, again with the possible exception of the now infamous Thomas Thistlewood, is also undeveloped. This paper revisits some of the issues which continue to pre-occupy historians working on slavery outside of the sugar estates and exposes some issues that still need further research. At the heart of the research problematic is the question: what were the implications of the existence of livestock farms for both enslaved and enslavers, as well as for the colonial economy and society as a whole?
i): Some Implications of Penkeeping for the Enslavers:
By 1782, according to W.J. Gardner's estimate, Jamaica probably had 300 pens 1 owned by both independent pen-keepers and by sugar planters who had established their own 'satellite' livestock farms (some of which incorporated food production) to serve the needs of their estates. Whatever the objectives of their establishment, both types of pen owners had helped to diversify the Jamaican economy by the end of the 18th century and lessened the island's dependence on external sources of supply for some plantation inputs, particularly within the context of the articulated mercantilist ideology of the imperial power. Edward Long, a sugar planter and author, well-qualified to comment on Jamaica's 18th century economy, having spent some 12 years in the island from 1757-1769 at the height of the sugar plantation system 2 consistently supported the idea of a self-sufficient agriculture in Jamaica, though not to the extent of dismantling the mercantilist system drastically as he later revealed in the amendments to his original volumes published in 1774. He advocated the expansion of the area of white settlement to include areas unsuited for the cane but suitable for other types of farming and grazing, a reduction in dependence on external trade, especially with North America and diversification of the economy with attention to foodcrops, coffee, cattle and horses. He went to great lengths to articulate his views on the local livestock industry. Indeed, he regarded the restoration of the local livestock industry, started by the Spanish and initially destroyed by the English colonizers, as so essential a project that he urged legislative action
...to encourage the island breed and throw gradual restraints upon
... importation; by which means, beef might possibly, in course of
a few years, return to a more moderate price... thus might be saved
many thousand pounds now paid for foreign salted beef, which is neither
so wholesome, nutritious, nor pleasing ... as fresh meat.3 But was it possible for penkeepers in Jamaica to compete with foreign suppliers and service the island's needs for livestock? Long himself admitted that there were obstacles to diversification and self-sufficiency. Among the obstacles he identified were i) planter conservatism as reflected in their reluctance to dismantle the traditional economic relations dictated by the mercantilist system; ii) the reluctance of white settlers to live in interior locations; iii) the tendency of white settlers to look to the sugar industry, rather than any alternative husbandry, for upward social mobility; iv) the failure of the sugarocracy to give wider support to local efforts of diversification, many lobbying instead for the restoration of traditional trading relationships with North America, rejecting local products as inferior and alternative lines of trade as expensive. In fact, it is clear that while some locally-born whites and free-coloureds participated in non-sugar economic activities, such activities remained marginal to sugar production and subject to the imperatives of sugar production. In his seminal work on the development of creole society in Jamaica, Brathwaite reiterated Long's sentiments, concluding that "at every step...the creatively 'creole' elements of the society were being rendered ineffective by the more reactionary 'colonial'".4 Their conclusions seemed to be that despite the fundamental importance of local penkeepers within Jamaica's colonial economy, they could not support the island's total needs for livestock.
What factors other than those articulated by Long and Brathwaite kept the island dependent on external sources of work animals, despite the existence of local livestock farms? What were the socio-political implications for the independent penkeepers of their inability to realize the full potential of their occupation? I offer the following six tentative explanations: competition from Spanish Caribbean islands, the virtual ineffectiveness of local opposing voices, the existence of relatively small pens with low livestock density, market behaviour of the local buyers, the heavy dependence of pen-keepers on the sugar sector and the persistent colonial mentality of the creole producers. Each is explored below:
i): Competition from Spanish America:
The passing of the British Free Port Act of 1766 had opened up Spanish trading to Jamaica. This Act sanctioned a branch of colonial trade that had hitherto been conducted in a clandestine manner. It facilitated the import and export of certain types of goods at certain ports in the British Caribbean by small vessels from neighbouring foreign colonies. This did not, however, represent a departure from the Navigation Acts which still attempted to control the trade of staple commodities and English manufactures. The Free Port Act was designed to allow only trade in goods which did not compete with the products of Britain and her colonies. The slave trade, North American supplies and the carrying trade between the mother country and her colonies remained firmly in British hands. In Jamaica, Lucea, Savanna-la-mar, Kingston and Montego Bay were declared free ports in 1776 and with the passing of the Act and the opening up of ports other than Kingston, the Spanish trade with Jamaica was revived.5
ii): The virtual ineffectiveness of local opposing voices:
The existence of the trade with Spanish America was a controversial issue in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Jamaica. The opponents of the trade blamed it for the failure of a larger number of small settlers to engage in penkeeping. The proponents argued that its continuation was vital to the better regulation of the price of beef and plantation stock. But the trade continued despite the opposition. At first, the numbers imported were small. Between 1729 and 1739, for example, 124 horned cattle, 1,500 horses, 4,285 mules, 243 asses, 129 horses and 825 sheep, or an annual average of 826 animals had been imported, primarily from Cuba and Puerto Rico. A total of 14,456 was imported in the following decade and averaged £11,000 per annum. The same level of importation in 1773 was estimated at £16,000.6 By 1825, the annual number imported cost £11,836.7 The largest share of the total expenditure on imported livestock in the eighteenth century was spent on mules. Between 1729 and 1749, a total of 10,477 mules was imported. In 1774, when 745 mules were brought in, the cost to the island was £11,175 sterling.8
Edward Long elaborated on two reasons that necessitated the import of mules, asses, horses, and cattle, and emphasized that once these were removed, the trade would end. The first obstacle to Jamaican self-sufficiency, he explained, was a lack of "... a sufficient stock of industrious inhabitants to have been employed in breeding the number of these animals proportioned to the annual consumption".9 The second was the absence of:
... the patriotic endeavours and subsidies of the Assembly, as well as
district, at the public charge, whereby the internal parts of the country
must have been settled and improved with greater facility and the waste of
cattle in great measure prevented.10 One of the reasons put forward by Long for the failure of more settlers to engage in penkeeping was the fear of overproduction and a consequent price fall. Long records that
... many persons have been deterred from engaging their time and capitals in
this way; imagining that a glut would be the consequence and the price of cattle
and mules would be lowered because the Spanish breed are imported and sold at a
cheaper rate than they can afford and make a suitable profit. 11
In addition, the lack of a 'creole consciousness' and the existence of prejudice against local products which were vital to encourage the local industry, impeded Jamaica's progress towards the development of a 'domestic economy'. Thus Long's view that "... most men have a prejudice in favour of foreign articles, despising their own far superior in value"12 might not have been too far off the mark. He however fails to recognize the economic fact that import substitution cannot be feasible where local producers are unable to produce goods competitively, and where government policies protect foreign suppliers.
Some of the pen-keepers themselves echoed Long's sentiments. In a petition to the Governor in 1790, the pen-keepers in the St. Ann vestry complained of
...the distressing Prospect arising in the Community in general ... and this
Parish ... in Particular of the trade carried on between the Spaniards of Cuba
and a few of the trading or commercial Persons of this country from the vicinity
of the coasts which facilitates the impolitic Intercourse.13
Like Edward Long, they stressed that the trade posed an obstacle to the expansion of the pen-keeping industry
...which is being partly discontinued by the Introduction of Spanish Horses, mules,
mares, and neat cattle, subject to no Impost or Duty whatever, and that at a time when
we are paying Taxes towards the support of Government from the time of sale.14 As the Spaniards were underselling local producers, Spanish cattle, horses, and mules were generally about one-third to one-half cheaper than local breeds. Spanish American horses could fetch as low a £10 sterling each, for example. Local breeds cost much more as their cost of production was higher.
The drain of capital occasioned by the import trade from Spanish America was a matter of concern towards the end of the eighteenth century. According to Long, "... vast amounts of our small hammered silver rials [ryalls] and pistorins are constantly exported together with dollars for purchasing mules and cattle".15 Planters even sold some of their rum internally in order to obtain cash to purchase Spanish stock. This "... in every respect", said Long, "... seems to be a traffick extremely pernicious to the island and it is from this consideration probably that it has been more connived at by the Spaniards than any other".16 He urged that immediate steps be taken to end this `pernicious trade'. Two solutions were first, for the Assembly to impose a tax on imported stock and, second, for local pen-keepers to give credit -say of six to nine months - to enable the poorer proprietors to defray the cost of their purchase out of the rent or succeeding crop.
Up to 1816, however, neither solution seems to have been adopted. The matter of taxation was especially problematic and Long's call for a tax to be imposed on foreign stock was echoed by pen-keepers all over the island. In 1816, for example, the pen-keepers of St. Elizabeth and Manchester petitioned the House of Assembly to impose a tax on imported stock on account of the hardships they suffered from the allowance of foreign imports.17 The St. Elizabeth graziers, supported by those in Manchester, complained that:
... from late large importation of horned or neat cattle, mules and horses,
the stock of the native breeder and grazier has become almost unsaleable,
more particularly in respect of mules, there having been scarcely a spell of
mules disposed of this season in the whole pen] district ....18
The complaints of the penkeepers were referred to a Committee of the House of Assembly and in 1817 `An Act for laying a duty on all horses, mares, geldings, mules, and horned cattle, imported into this island, except from Great Britain and the United States of America', was effected. The duty initially levied on each head of cattle was £11.70 but this was increased to £12 in the 1830s after repeated agitation by the penkeepers that the stock duties be raised. By 1843 the duties seemed to have been lowered, with those on neat cattle being once more just around £11 0s. 0d. per head.19 The petitions of the penkeepers may not have had led to the level of tax increase desired; and members of the House of Assembly continued to disagree over the cattle duty and even towards the end of the century, the matter was still not satisfactorily settled. But it should be stressed that the very imposition of an import tax on imported stock in the 19th century was testimony to the changing political situation among which was the declining power of the sugar interests in the Jamaican Assembly.
It is evident that the lack of a high social standing in white society [in contrast to the sugar planters], of political power and an effective lobby in the House of Assembly clearly worked to the penkeepers' disadvantage. Indeed, the economic relations between planters and penkeepers while reciprocal in some regards, nevertheless, contained an exploitative element. The House was dominated by sugar planters who, naturally, advanced their economic self-interest; this explains their failure to acquiesce to the growing petitions of the graziers for an increase in the duty imposed on Spanish livestock. They responded to economic imperatives rather than any blind support for local producers. This is clear from their argument that there was a great price differential in the horses, mules and cattle purchased from Spanish America, even after adding the profits of the middlemen merchants. They sought the cheapest markets when procuring these. Indeed, the very nature of the sugar plantation system, despite Jamaica's slight deviation from the classic model, made any non-economic considerations irrelevant. The sugar industry was primarily export-dependent; it needed to control operational costs, and sugar planters naturally sought plantation inputs from the cheapest sources.20 iii): The existence of relatively small pens with low livestock density:
Jamaica's relatively small pens with low livestock densities were incapable of meeting sugar estates' total livestock needs, estimated at over 700,000 in the late 18th century, and were unable to compete with external suppliers. Climatic and other physical environmental factors restricted their expansion in the period of slavery. Additionally, pens were not necessarily allowed to develop on lands eminently suitable for pasture. The greater commitment to the sugar industry meant that estates tended to develop on the flat, coastal lands and the interior plains. As the sugar economy expanded and created competition for landspace between agrarian units in the island, pens were unable to maintain the required acreage of pasture and livestock population to supply the market. Pens were, sometimes, confined to marginal interior lands. Even where estates went out of production due to changes in the climate [as in St Catherine where deforestation caused extremely dry conditions], abandoned estates lands were not necessarily turned over to pasture.
Even with restricted space, the absolute numbers of pens in Jamaica, around 400 by the end of slavery, may have been sufficient to supply the total livestock needs of the island's sugar had they devoted all land space to pasture or maintained larger herds. The mean size of pens was 824.58 acres in the period 1780-1845 [with a range from 300-3,750 acres]. This was large by island standards; but not all of this land was suitable for pasture.21 Of the total of 1,248 acres comprising Shettlewood Pen, for example, 68.26% was devoted to grass; and the average in grass for most pens was even lower.22 Pens were organized as self-sufficient units, much like sugar estates, and so had land devoted to buildings, provision grounds and forestland for timber.