Slavery was abolished in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. The 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act went into effect at this time. Today, many of Britain’s former Caribbean colonies, as well as Canada, observe Emancipation Day on August 1. On August 1, 1985, Trinidad and Tobago became the first country in the world to declare Emancipation Day a national holiday.
During the slave trade, over two million enslaved Africans worked on sugar plantations in Britain’s Caribbean colonies. Enslaved people began to reject slavery over time, as evidenced by massive slave revolts such as Bussa’s Rebellion in Barbados. This aided emancipation in the 1800s, but the Caribbean was not free.
Here are a few surprising facts about British Caribbean emancipation:
People Who Were Enslaved Were Emancipated But Not Free
It took nearly five years after Emancipation Day was officially declared on August 1, 1834, for people in the Caribbean to be truly free. After emancipation, newly freed slaves were forced into apprenticeships, where they had to continue working uncompensated for their former slavers. According to some accounts, they were given a small stipend but still worked under slavery-like conditions.
Apprenticeship came to an end in 1838, four years after emancipation. And it was thanks to the Anti-Slavery Society’s petitions that Parliament voted for full emancipation to begin on August 1, 1838. However, in places such as Antigua and Bermuda, colonial governments abolished apprenticeship and fully emancipated the enslaved in 1834.
The Caribbean Was Freed Before The United States
Long before the United States decided to, discussions about emancipation began in the Caribbean in the 1800s. Britain began the process by outlawing the slave trade in 1808. It then abolished apprenticeship and ensured complete emancipation.
Before Emancipation, There Were Some Groups Of Freed Slaves
According to history, some groups of people were already free prior to Emancipation. The majority of them were ex-soldiers. One of them was the Merikins. They were former slaves from the American south who served in the British army in 1812. They were rewarded with their freedom and land in the Princes Town and Moruga area for their assistance in the fight against the former colonies. African-born soldiers who served in the West India Regiment were also rewarded with their freedom and land.
There were also the Mandingo people, who owned their own land and crops and used their money to buy the freedom of their fellow Mandingo people.
Jamaican Independence Had To Wait Until 1962
The Jamaica Constitution was drafted after Jamaica gained political independence from the United Kingdom. The constitution, however, was not ratified until 1962. To put it another way, Jamaicans had to wait until the 1960s to achieve independence.