The children of Africa in the colonies : free people of colour in Barbados during the emancipation era, 1816-1854
This thesis is a study of free people of colour during the era of emancipation in Barbados, with a particular focus on their relationships with and attitudes towards slaves. It examines the period between the 1816 slave rebellion and the 1854 cholera epidemic, encompassing the apprenticeship period of 1834-1838. The thesis argues that differences of class, political ideology, gender and the specific nature of their relationships with slaves determined emancipation's impact on free people of colour. At the same time, the thesis illustrates that pre-emancipation free people of colour as a group remained economically and politically marginal after emancipation, much as they had been during slavery. Reforms to the island's slave laws during the 1820s and early 1830s undermined the legal distinction between free people of colour and slaves. The abolitionism debate and increasing racial tension in the island led free non-whites to challenge openly the principle of racial subordination for the first time. After 1834, elite free people of colour forged a sense of "race consciousness", and adopted emancipation as the key to their battle against racial inequality, asserting themselves as the legitimate protectors of ex-slaves' interests. However class differences and disagreements over emancipation policy led to political factionalism among people of colour. The absence of fundamental change in the distribution of land and wealth after emancipation left most pre-1834 free people of colour and ex-slaves with little hope of political enfranchisement or socio-economic betterment. By the early 1850s, many came to see emigration as the solution to their difficulties. This thesis is the first study of pre-1834 free people of colour in post-emancipation Barbados, and one of few to examine both the periods of slavery and postemancipation. By focussing on the intricate relations between free people of colour and slaves/ex-slaves, this thesis shows how emancipation transformed many aspects of social relations in Barbados ― particularly with regard to race, class, labour and gender.