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Caribbean History Examine The Methods Employed By Planters To Induce "Labourers" To Work On Sugar Estates After Emancipation.

1335 words - 5 pages

Question: Examine the methods employed by planters to induce "labourers" to work on sugar estates after emancipation.Full emancipation of the slaves was achieved in 1838 in the British West Indies and 1848 in the French colonies. The post-emancipation period was viewed with fear by planters who believed that mass of ex-slaves would exodus the plantations, robbing them of their labour supply. In many cases this was so. However, one can argue that the British West Indies experienced a greater labour problem than the French colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Therefore, the coercive measures put in place in the French colonies were unjust, an example of over-exaggerated panic on the part of the planters, and a form of maintaining control over their declining power over labour.The term "freed people" refers to persons who were not enslaved to anyone, who had open to them various opportunities previously closed, who maintained complete control over their movements and in general their lives. According to the historian Rawle Farley, many ex-slaves saw the estates as an oppression of this particular meaning of freedom and hence left as a form of resisting it. To desert the plantations the ex-slave had to take into consideration land availability, population density and the flexibility to move from one profession to another or even to one with similar characteristics, such as small scale farming.Within low density colonies like British Guiana where land was plentiful, ex-slaves left to settle on small plots. Many ex-slaves also left to their original plantations to work on others where pay was high, some even ventured into other professions such as hucksters, butchers, skilled workers and managers. In some low density colonies like St. Lucia, conciliatory measures like the metayage system was employed so as to make plantation work more appealing. In these cases planters provided the tools, and the ex-slaves, the labour. Both parties shared in the produce at crop time making the ex-slave more eager to not only be present at crop time, but to do the premiere labour efficiently. However, in many other islands planters created a problematic situation for ex-slaves.In high density colonies like Antigua, coercive measures were put in place as a demonstration of power by planters. Even in the low density colony of Jamaica coercive measures dominated and undermined the entire concept of freedom. According to the historian, William A. Green, Jamaica suffered from not a labour shortage but a labour problem, that is, there was a labour force but they did not want to work on the plantations. Douglas Hall furthers this argument with the statement that, "[Planters] were likely to exaggerate the withdrawal of ex-slaves from the estates". This leads one to blame the planters for being the creators of their own problems. In a panic, they attempted to force the ex-slaves to remain on the estates by applying the coercive measure of lowering wage rates while raising...

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