Women played key role
There is ample evidence that women in emancipation times used every connection they could to free other enslaved people in Barbados.
This observation by Professor Pedro Welch came as he delivered a recent lecture to the Barbados Association of Retired Persons on the topic Our Women In the Emancipation Era: Countering Patriarchal Domination.
He said this while telling the tale of emancipated woman, Nancy Clarke, in whose final will he said he found evidence that she had left her mulatto slave as the property of three white men in England, with the view that they would earn the woman’s freedom from Barbados.
“After that deed, I looked in another document which states that the executives certified that they had complied with the request and had conveyed the slave Satira, to a man called James West, a practitioner in physics and surgery – that would be a doctor, and he shortly intended to sail to the island of Barbados, had manumised, emancipated, and made free the said Negro woman named Satira,” Welch read.
He noted that Clarke had not only secured her own freedom, but used her white partners to do so for the girl Satira.
“So that is another example of what has happened in society; how women are using all the resources that they can, in some cases they are using white males and I come back to the question of transience because I have counted, and in several places over 490 slaves being set free in Barbados by the activities of free black and free coloured women who are using the contact with a white male,” the historian noted, during the lecture at Clock Tower, the Garrison.
Because of their efforts, he noted that the authorities who had caught on to what the women were doing in freeing slaves, and also in succeeding in owning land and other property in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, decided to make it virtually impossible for them to do so.
As a result, the cost of manumitting slaves in Barbados rose from 50 pounds sterling to 300 pounds; but not to be outdone, the historian told, the freed women sought to find ways around this hindrance, and did.
“This is what is interesting, it cost 15 shillings to manumit someone in England… So what are we going to do? What you do is look for a significant other with connection in England and who better can you get than a transient, sailing across the Atlantic from Bristol and Liverpool and from some of the other ports in England…landing in Barbados, a transaction is arranged whereby the person comes into possession usually of an enslaved person, the person goes back to England, and when they land in England go to the Lord Mayor’s office and get the deed of manumission done for 15 shillings, and then they return to Barbados with the freedom papers in their hands,” he explained of the process back then.
He added that 490 slaves freed using this and other means instigated through women, was only a preliminary number thus far based on his research into the matter. (LB)