August 1, 1834, marked the end of slavery in the British Empire. This was when the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act became effective. Today, many of Britain’s former colonies in the Caribbean as well as Canada still celebrate Emancipation Day on August 1. Trinidad and Tobago was the first country in the world to declare Emancipation Day a national holiday on August 1, 1985.
During the slave trade, more than two million slaves were in Britain’s colonies in the Caribbean, working on sugar plantations. Over time, enslaved people started rejecting slavery through massive slave revolts including Bussa’s Rebellion in Barbados. This helped pave the way for emancipation in the 1800s but the Caribbean was not free.
Here are a few surprising facts about Emancipation in the British Caribbean:
Enslaved people were emancipated but not free
When Emancipation Day was officially declared on August 1, 1834, it took nearly five more years for people in the Caribbean to be really free. Slaves that were newly freed after emancipation were forced into apprenticeship, where they had to continue to work uncompensated for their former slavers. Some accounts state that they were given a small stipend but still went through similar slavery working conditions.
It was in 1838 that apprenticeship ended, that is, four years after emancipation. And this was thanks to petitions by the Anti-Slavery Society, leading to Parliament voting for full emancipation to begin from August 1, 1838. In places like Antigua and Bermuda, however, the colonial governments abolished apprenticeship and fully emancipated the enslaved in 1834.
The Caribbean got emancipation before the U.S.
Talks about emancipation began in the Caribbean in the 1800s long before the United States decided to. Britain started the process by first abolishing the slave trade in 1808. It then put an end to apprenticeship and then ensured complete emancipation.
There were some groups of freed slaves before Emancipation
History says that some groups of people were already living in freedom before Emancipation. Most of them were former soldiers. The Merikins were one of them. They were ex-slaves of the American south who were part of the British army in 1812. For helping fight against the former colonies, they were rewarded with their freedom and land in the Princes Town and Moruga area. Africa-born soldiers who also served in the West India Regiment also had their freedom and land as rewards.
There were also the Mandingo people who also owned their own land and crops and bought the freedom of their fellow Mandingo people with the money they had.
Jamaican freedom had to wait until 1962
The Jamaica Constitution was introduced after Jamaica finally gained political freedom from the United Kingdom. However, the constitution was not ratified until 1962. In other words, Jamaicans had to wait until the 1960s to gain freedom.