Anticipating Freedom: Slave Rebellion, Amelioration, and Emancipation in Barbados, 1816-1838

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2022

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Anticipating Freedom explores the numerous ways enslaved and freedpeople shaped the politics and policies of gradual emancipation in the British Empire, using Barbados as a case study. It binds antislavery debates, legislative reforms, and slave resistance into one conceptual frame to reveal the processes that informed the British Parliament’s decision to pass the Emancipation Act of 1833, thereby conditionally freeing thousands of enslaved men, women, and children across the British Caribbean. As a major sugar-producing colony for the British Empire, Barbados offers a unique context for studying emancipation in the Atlantic World. At first glance, the prospect of freedom seemed impossible due to the planters' utter dependence on slave labor. Still, emancipation in Barbados was achieved through the unyielding determination of enslaved people to resist their captivity and the antislavery legislation initiated by abolitionists in the British Parliament. Hence the project is arranged both chronologically and thematically. It begins with Bussa’s Rebellion of 1816 — the only large-scale slave insurrection in the history of Barbados — and its impact on British Parliamentary reforms designed to lessen some of the coercive aspects of slavery during the 1820s. Then, I examine the rise of slave resistance in the months leading up to Emancipation Day and their effect on the Emancipation Act of 1833. My dissertation concludes with a discussion on the implementation of conditional freedom known as ‘Apprenticeship’ in 1834 and the factors that led to its premature demise in 1838. Anticipating Freedom argues that the covert and explicit means through which men and women of African descent resisted enslavement influenced the British Parliament’s decision to implement an intermediate period between slavery and absolute freedom in Barbados. This revelation is significant because it broadens our understanding of what factors were taken into consideration during the antislavery debates between the abolitionists, planters, Members of Parliament, and Barbados legislators. Moreover, by prioritizing the wants, needs, and desires of enslaved and freedpeople in Barbados, we step away from romantic notions often associated with emancipation to focus on the quotidian realities of a society no longer ruled by slave labor.

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Williams, Kristina (2022). Anticipating Freedom: Slave Rebellion, Amelioration, and Emancipation in Barbados, 1816-1838. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25223.

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