The End to Slavery in the Caribbean
The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) was the first successful slave revolt
in the Caribbean, and it was one of the most important events in the history of
the Americas. Along with the obvious human rights benefits that the Haitian
Revolution achieved, there were some serious setbacks for the nation as well.
Between 1783 and 1789, Saint Domingue was the foremost sugar producer in
the region, but by the end of the war the economy was completely destroyed,
and to this day Haiti has not come anywhere close to reattaining its once
prominent economic status in the Caribbean. The results of the revolution
sent fear through the European consciousness as well as strengthened the
growing idea that slavery may be an immoral practice. In the United
Kingdom, slavery lost popularity quickly and an antislavery movement was
initiated. After May 1807, no British ship was permitted to leave with a cargo
of slaves, and by March 1808, it was made illegal for a slave to be landed in
any British colony. The law became even stricter in 1811 when the trafficking
of slaves was made into a felony. Despite the attempts to end the slave
trade, plantation slavery continued in the British Caribbean. Slavery was not
officially abolished in the Caribbean until 1834. The termination bill which
abolished it called for twelve years of apprenticeship for the “ex-slaves”,
which was not very different from slavery. This system was abolished in 1838.
During and after all of this vacillating lawmaking, a serious labor
problem developed in the Caribbean. The key to the production of the
Caribbean’s produce, mainly sugar, was the system of slavery. Slavery
practically eliminated labor costs, and allowed for the mass production of
sugar at cheap prices. The solution to the labor problem became the
importation of impoverished laborers from agrarian societies elsewhere in the
world. India and China became major players in this solution due to their
size, populations, and lack of democracy. The British acquired Trinidad and
Guiana in the 1790s, and then flooded them with east Asians when slavery
ended. Some 150,000 east Asians traveled to Trinidad to in the nineteenth
century, and 250,000 went to work in the cane fields of Guiana.
The Two Migrations of the 19th Century
In the nineteenth century, a hundred million people crossed the oceans seeking employment. Of these hundred million, around half were Europeans
(especially Italians and Irish) heading to European settlements like Argentina,
Chile, US, and Canada. The other fifty million were neither coming from nor
going to European settlements (this half was mainly composed of Indians and
Chinese heading to Trinidad or Guiana).
In essence, there were two migrations going on during the nineteenth
century. The Africans and Asians who left their continents in search of labor
mostly engaged in wage labor at rates that the...