On this day in 1834 the British Empire officially abolished slavery in the colonies.
While the Christmas Uprising of Jamaican slaves was the impetus for Parliament to abolish slavery, former slaves were not yet fully free, being indentured to their former masters’ service for a full four additional years after Emancipation.
Further complicating the situation was domination of colony councils by strong, landowning, planter interests whose chief goal was to maintain low labour costs. While legislators titularly recognized the rights of free Blacks, Browns and “Mulattos” to vote, reality saw government dominated by well-vested, White landed interests as they were the only persons authorized by the Crown to legislate.
Former slave owners were compensated by the Crown for each slave “lost” to emancipation, yet even these payments and the forced indenture of former slaves were insufficient to maintain the economic viability of plantations the operations of which relied on free labour.
Rather than rework their business models to account for wage payments, many estate owners simply abandoned their holdings, sold their lands cheaply, or left farms fallow. Coffee plantings suffered especially during this time as the crop is harder to grow, harder to harvest, and more labour intensive to prepare than, e.g. sugar (Jamaica’s other big cash crop at the time).
Many former slaves moved into the mountains and hills building farming communities of free people on what were previously slave plantations. Jamaica’s hillsides are to this day punctuated with small family farm communities – descendants of these same freed slaves turned independent farmers.
The years following Emancipation saw a slowly and tentatively increasing tolerance by the Crown of non-White representatives on colonial councils. This would eventually lead to a popular push for self-determination and, ultimately, Jamaican independence from Britain on August 6th, 1962.
Today is a Jamaican state holiday and a day of celebration for all Jamaicans and all friends of freedom Worldwide!
Celebrate with us today, and throughout the week until August 6th: Jamaican Independence Day!