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Slavery in the British Caribbean: Timeline Review

This timeline covers some of the most significant events in slavery in the British Caribbean from 1562 to 1838.
© University of Glasgow

Timeline: 1562 to 1833

1562 – First English slaving expedition led by Sir John Hawkins to present day Sierra Leone. Hawkins transported a total of 1,200 African captives into slavery to Spanish-occupied Hispaniola (present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) for financial gain and trade products that included sugar and ginger.

1624-27 – English settled the ‘vacant’ island, Barbados, already depleted of its indigenous population by Spanish who took them into slavery on Hispaniola decades earlier. Amongst the settlers in 1627 were 10 Africans captured from a Portuguese ship.

1627-1640 – Barbados agricultural ventures were small farms cultivating crops including tobacco, cotton, and indigo with variable success. Workforce at this point was predominantly indentured servants from the British Isles (contracted to work for 5 – 7 years). Indenture, unlike slavery, was a temporary and not an inherited status. Slavery, though still marginal, allowed far fewer rights, and no liberties for the enslaved.

1636 – The Governor and Council of Barbados: “Negroes…that came here to be sold, should serve for Life, unless a Contract was before made to the contrary.”

1637 – Observing the overwhelming success of sugar as a cash crop by Spanish and Portuguese powers, sugar cane was imported from Brazil to Barbados.

1640s – Barbados racial demographics: 800 Blacks to 30,000 Whites

1655 – Jamaica taken from the Spanish.

1660 – Barbados is a small island and land for purchase is quickly exhausted. Racial demographics: 27,000 Blacks to 26,000 Whites. Barbadians look to other English colonial possessions to stake claim for financial ventures, such as Jamaica and South Carolina.

1661 – Barbados slave code- first codification of slavery in British Caribbean and established enslaved Africans as legal chattel property to be punished and tortured as the slaveholder deemed fit.

1664 – Jamaica slave code.

1669 – Barbados accounted for 80% of the Caribbean islands’ total sugar exports to England.

1670 – Jamaica formally becomes an English colonial possession.

1672 – The newly established Royal African Company (RAC), founded by the House of Stuart, is financed by the wealthiest and commercially influential merchants, aristocrats and royalty. RAC regulated the English slave trade of Africans, with a legal monopoly over 2,500 miles of the West African coast from the Sahara to the Cape of Good Hope in modern South Africa.

1675 – Royal Africa Company granted charter to carry African captives to the Americas.

1702 – Antigua slave code.

1730 – First Maroon War of Jamaica led to the successful rebellion against the British army. An agreed treaty recognised the free status of Maroons in 1739.

1760 – Tacky’s War, an uprising of mainly Akan enslaved people on Jamaica.

1781 – 133 Africans thrown overboard while still alive from the slaving ship Zong so that the owners can claim insurance compensation money.

1789 – Slave narrative, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself is published.

1791 – An uprising by the enslaved in Saint-Domingue triggers the Haitian Revolution, led by ex-slave and military tactician/general, Toussaint Louverture, and strikes fear in all slave societies through the Western Hemisphere.

1792 – Henry Dundas, First Viscount of Melville, successfully countered William Wilberforce’s insistence of an immediate abolition of slavery in favour of ‘gradual’ abolition of the slave trade.

1794 – Black anti-slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano dies.

1795 – Second Maroon War in Jamaica; Fedon’s Rebellion in Grenada.

1796 – The House of Commons settles on the year 1796 as the terminal date for the slave trade. Henry Dundas is instrumental in swaying enough House member to vote against abolition again.

1804 – The successful slave rebellion on Saint-Domingue leads to the establishment of Haiti or Hayti (a return to its original indigenous name that means ‘land of high mountains’) – the first Black republic in the world.

1807 – After several attempts in the late 18th century, a bill to legally abolish the transatlantic slave trade was finally passed by the House of Commons.

1833 – 1st August: British Parliament passes the Abolition of Slavery and abolishing slavery in all British colonies in 1834. William Wilberforce dies. Mary Prince dies.

1838 – ‘Protofreedom’, ‘Black peonage’ or ‘Soft slavery’? Although slavery as an institution ended, Black labourers were forced into a period of so-called ‘apprenticeship’ (working for former slaveholders for a low wage) until 1838.

© University of Glasgow
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History of Slavery in the British Caribbean

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