Producers, Reproducers, and Rebels: Grenadian Slave Women 1783-1833
Not again, Massa, not again
Spare me pain, man, the pain, the pain
Why? Is it because you see fire in my eyes?
The smirk in my smile?
The royalty in the way I rise?
Why? Is it because I conquer all that prevails?
You do not like my ways?
The hypocrisy in my gaze?
It's all true, Massa, it's all true
But please, not the whipping,
Not the flogging,
Not the pain.
But you don't understand when I speak with my eyes,
So I might as well runaway, runaway.
Linda Roberts, St. Joseph's Convent, St. George's, Grenada, Jubilee 2000 Magazine. The Holy Will of God (Port of Spain: P.J. Production, 2000)
A major rethinking of Caribbean historical discourse on slavery has placed the role of women at centre stage. Ground breaking work has been done by Lucille Mair, Hilary Beckles, Barbara Bush, and Barry Higman, among others. These historians have shown that slave women provided the dominant agricultural labour input on British Caribbean sugar plantations from at least the end of the eighteenth century. Furthermore there was an increased dependence upon women for reproduction of plantation labour. This dual role placed the women at the centre of planter strategies designed to ensure the survival of the slave system.1 The slave woman was also shown as a rebel. These studies however have been predominantly on the larger islands (Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados). This paper seeks to answer the following questions:
Did Grenadian slave women provide the dominant agricultural labour on the sugar cane plantation?
How successful were the planters' attempts at natural increase?
What forms of resistance did slave women take against slavery?
From the onset of the slave trade to the Caribbean, female slaves were imported in smaller numbers than male slaves. This was so for Grenada in particular and the other colonies in general. (British, French and Dutch Colonies). By 1788 slave owners in Grenada estimated the proportion of male to female slaves at 5:3. They further noted that in imports from Africa, the number of males in "a well assorted cargo" usually exceeded that of females in proportion of two to one.2 In a list of slaves sold to Grenada after its restoration to the British3 between 1784 and 1788, 8216 male slaves and 5346 female slaves were bought.4 The planters also paid lower prices for female than male slaves. In response to an inquiry by agents for West Indian Affairs in 1788, the spokesman for the Grenadian plantocracy was noted as saying:
Putting tradesmen and drivers out of the question and speaking only of able healthy young field slaves, the average value of a creole man of that description may be stated at present in Grenada at sixty pounds sterling and that of a creole woman at fifty pounds sterling.5
While it could be argued that the price difference was small, there were fewer African females imported than males. Studies available on the relationship between mortality and sex in the Atlantic slave trade make it evident that mortality rates of females were the same as or even less than those of males of the same age group.6
Throughout the British slave colonies there was a tendency for the normalisation of sex ratios, moving from a male predominance under frontier conditions to female predominance with maturity. Table 1 gives an example of the sex ratio for a number of the colonies in the period 1817-1832, the last decades of British Caribbean slavery.
© Nicole Phillip, 2002. HTML last revised 16 February 2002.