How English slave owners made Barbados the world’s first slave society

Michael Eli Dokosi Feb 7, 2020 at 09:00am

February 07, 2020 at 09:00 am | History

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

February 07, 2020 at 09:00 am | History

Slaves cutting sugarcane on the Caribbean island of Antigua, aquatint from Ten Views of the Island of Antigua by William Clark, 1832.

Barbados became the world’s first slave society when Britain’s first slave owners built the land on slavery.

Prof. Hilary Beckles of the University of the West Indies noted it was a historical event as there is a difference between a slave society and a society with slaves.

“All societies in the hemisphere had enslaved people but Barbados was the first to be built and sustained completely upon the enslavement of Africans with no alternative system of economic development,” he submitted in a BBC documentary.

The slave system was ruthlessly enforced from the start. A 1661 document known as the Barbados Slave Code authored by the island’s most powerful slave owners gives insight in their way of thinking.

The Slave Code via BBC

The first page described Africans as heathenish, brutish and dangerous kinds of people showing that their racism was based on hatred of the Africans and self-interest.

The Brits had arrived with an already racist view of other people, especially African people, according to Prof. Beckles, who added that it was on the basis of that mindset they built their slave economy.

The code also details slave owners reprisals against acts of resistance.

The code also stated that when a Negro offered any act of violence or struck a white or Christian, he ought to be whipped in the first instance, severely whipped and his nose split with a hot iron used on a part of his face in the second instance.

With the English making capital investment in the plantations as well as on slave labor, they were anxious to make profits. They therefore implemented a violent suppressive capitalist system.

“Barbados is an incubator, an experiment which showed it could be done,” Prof. Beckles disclosed, adding it was a place “the great experiment in human terror was first practiced.”

The Slave Code via BBC

On the back of the slavery success in Barbados, the British spread the slave code across the Caribbean and the colonies.

Jamaica’s National Institute holds a rare collection that reveals how slave owners enforced the code.

Leg shackles which prevented slaves from escaping is on display. It also shows the medieval tools used to suppress the people including shackles which cut the other leg when the bearer attempted running.

Leg shackle via BBC

Lauris Codling of the institute of Jamaica also showed a face marking tool used to emboss or put marks on the faces of the enslaved. There is also a mouth restraint put on the tongue which latches on the back of the mouth.

The cruel tools and oppressive system shows that slaves who were anxious and attempted to flee had their desire beaten out of them.

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