Influences of British Imperialist Economic Fortunes on Slavery, Sugar, and Abolition

The causes of slavery and antislavery sentiments in Britain are often tied to the rising and falling fortunes of the economic profitability of slavery. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Britain accumulated vast resources of wealth through the production of sugar in its West Indian possessions and its involvement with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The capital that poured into Britain from the sugar islands and the commerce generated between the metropolis and the colonies shaped the British economy, its cities, its industry, and most importantly, new self-interested lobbies that helped dominate the course of British political, economic, and moral discussion. Sugar and slavery created the foundation of the first British empire.

Throughout this age of dazzling success, Britain operated on the strict policy of self interest. Its colonial empire was developed for the aggrandizement of the English state--not for the gain and profit of its colonists. These same colonists, however, mirrored and personalized the British view of economic self-interest. As small circles of wealthy men began to control the sugar islands and attempted to harness control of the lucrative slave trade, they developed lobbies and monopolies. These groups sought in turn to influence if not fundamentally sway British economic policy. This political pro-sugar and pro-slavery movement was a direct consequence of the rising economic fortunes of these two sectors of British Imperial mercantilism.

However, sown within the attempts of maximizing sugar profit and nurtured by mercantilist understandings of closed economies were the seeds of sugar and slavery's weakening. The British West Indies, bound to trade with Britain through tariffs and other trade restrictions of the mercantilist understanding of economy, fostered a dependence that opened the British West Indies, the slave trade, and sugar production open to criticism at the end of the eighteenth century. During the second half of the eighteenth century, several churches led first by the Quakers and later joined by the Methodist and Evangelical faiths began to question the morality of the slave trade and the ownership of other human beings. Their arguments in favor of abolition gained credence through the perceived decline in the sugar and slave trade industries. Public opinion, fueled by abolitionist propaganda and a perceived decline in the sugar industries, shifted away from support of the sugar colonies and began to favor the ending of the slave trade and, eventually, the abolition of slavery.

This paper will suggest that the economic profitability of sugar and the slave trade fundamentally affected the growth of pro-sugar, pro-slavery, and antislavery political mechanisms. There is a crucial difference between these movements, however. The boom of the sugar and slave trade causally explains the growth and power of self-interested lobbies and monopolies; this paper suggests the subsequent decline of these two economic indicators does not fully explain the antislavery movement, but rather proposes that the antislavery movement, which had separate roots in religious and moral philosophies, took advantage of the new economic vulnerability of sugar and slave economies starting in the eighteenth century.

Long before Britain established viable colonies in the New World, she was aware of the possible fortunes of slave trading. In the 1550s, English ships had begun to follow the Spanish and Portuguese on routes through the Canaries and Madeira down to the West African coast. Voyages to the River Setos, Elmina, and Benin in the latter part of that decade familiarized the English with the coastline and the trading practices of the Africans with the Portuguese. In 1554 a trader brought with him back to England four Africans. These individuals were intended, however, as curiosities, not laborers.(1) England had yet no need for slave labor; indentured servants fulfilled this requirement. For almost a century the English made only modest progress in developing their own connections with the West African trade.

In his book Sinews of Empire, Robert Craton traces the British involvement with slavery back to the first slaving voyage of John Hawkins of Plymouth in 1562.(2) Although the system of trans-Atlantic slave trade was already well established by the Spanish and Portuguese, he was the first Englishmen to connect the potential of linking British sea power with this lucrative industry. Slaves could fetch as much as £300 apiece in Spain's more remote American colonies. English incursion into the trade, however, was limited because of a thirteen year disagreement with Spain over English rights to trade in Africa and the New World. During this period and up until 1603, English seadogs continued to ply the Atlantic with over 2800 slaves per year. A series of treaties signed between England and Spain over the next half century granted English slave traders participatory rights. Until the 1620s, however, most of this exchange involved either Spanish or Portuguese colonies. England's settlement of St. Christopher, Barbados, Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua, and Jamaica in the first half of the seventeenth century opened up a new realm of commercial possibilities.

These English colonies were established with the intention of forming a mercantilist empire. They would produce raw materials unavailable at home and provide an outlet for the surplus population in overcrowded Britain. Most importantly, the colonies would provide a "captive" market for English goods. Because England had not discovered the mineral and ore rich lands of Spanish America, the English believed they needed to bring revenue into the realm through an expanded market. From the beginning these ventures were intended to profit the mother country. Prosperity among the colonists would be an added bonus. Unlike the Spanish gold and silver that saturated and inflated the European economy, the wealth that England would find in the New World would empower that nation beyond imagination.

From the beginning, the Caribbean colonies were agriculturally based. Utilizing mostly the labor of indentured servants, English colonists experimented with the cultivation of products in demand on the continent: tobacco, cotton, and indigo. Land was initially abundant and cheap at 10s an acre. Although the products grown,(especially tobacco), compared unfavorably with those grown in the mainland colonies in the London markets, agriculturists and adventurers alike flocked to the new colonies. With little investment other than simple tools and land, a worker could profit as much as £56 5s in an year. After the bottom dropped out of the tobacco market between 1630 and 1635, the planters turned to cotton and indigo as alternatives. However these too proved to not be profitable.(3) In the late 1630s and early 1640s, Caribbean-grown commodities glutted the European markets causing drastic price drops. By 1643, when the price of indigo had collapsed, sugar commanded the highest price of any American staple. With large established estates and a ready servant labor force, Barbados led the colonies in the transition that would change the British economy forever.(4)

The rapid shift from small commodities to sugar cultivation altered production in Barbados in several areas: land holding patterns, consumption, and the composition of the work force. Between 1640 and 1646 real estate values increased ten-fold. Land sold for £5 an acre in 1646 that had been worth only 10s six years before. Large holdings increased in value even more dramatically.(5) Land changed hands rapidly as prices rose on that tiny island of less than 100,000 arable acres. Within a few years, smaller farmers were edged out in favor of men who had the fortunes necessary to invest in the burgeoning industry. Sugar production required a large initial outlay of capital. Besides the necessary investment in land, the ideal ratio of labor to cultivable land was one slave to every two acres. Such heavy expenditures were beyond the means of the majority of colonists. The milling and refining equipment alone could cost as much as £199. In a day when £200 represented twenty times the yearly wage of an unskilled laborer, the initial £1000 investment was a daunting if not realistically impossible proposition for the majority of Englishmen.(6) Because of these restrictions, Barbados was quickly controlled by a few families who had vested interests in both the colonies and England. This centralization of wealth in a few self-interested hands helped form the nucleus of power that would eventually express itself in British politics.

The Barbados landscape changed as rapidly as did its deed books. The tiny island was quickly apportioned off to planters eager to join in the sugar boom. Because almost all the land on Barbados is potentially arable, all the forests were cut down and were replaced with cane fields. In order to utilize all available land for sugar production, the Barbadians chose to import their food supply from Britain and the mainland colonies. Thus Barbados quickly became dependent upon outside supplies for even the basic necessities of food and clothing. The mother country and its satellites became the source of almost everything the planters needed, except an elastic supply of labor.

The sugar boom also created a demand for laborers beyond that which could be met by indentured servants. Although the colonists stepped up efforts to entice English servants to contract their labor in the islands, the cost of importing laborers increased during the middle of the seventeenth century. Faced with rising costs and time limits to indenture, the sugar planters looked toward another labor force: African slaves. Whereas the costs associated with indentured servitude had stabilized at about £12 per prime male servant, by 1665, slave prices ranged from £14 to £22 per head. With British advances into the slave trade the supply had increased by over 300 percent. Barbadian planters were more inclined to pay for a lifetime of servitude than for only three or four years of labor. By 1680, the total servant population had dropped from over 13,000 in the early 1650s to less than 3,000 while the slave population rose from 6,000 in the mid 1640s to 37,551.(7)

Not only would England profit from sugar, but increased demand would propel the English slave trade. The two institutions would build and enhance each other in what England hoped would be an upward spiral. In order to fully harness this potential fortune, Britain embarked on establishing metropolitan control of both sugar production and the slave trade. This growth in the slave trade would then see the rise of a similar group of interested individuals lobbying, with less success than their sugar brethren, for political control.

Because the English had been distracted by political and social upheaval at home, Barbadian planters purchased slaves from Dutch traders in the first decade of the sugar boom. With the end of the Civil Wars and the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, London was finally prepared to turn its attention toward its now very lucrative colonies. Englishmen quickly integrated with the triangular trading patterns the Dutch had already established with the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. England and the European nations supplied the exports and the ships; Africa the human merchandise, and the plantations supplied the raw materials.

The termination of proprietary rule in the Caribbean islands and the acquisition of Jamaica in 1663 brought the greater part of the British West Indies under the direct control of the crown. Now more than ever England could dictate economic policy. With the passage of the 1660 Navigation Acts and the Staple Act of 1663, the interests of the colonial planters were rendered subordinate to those of the metropolis. The planters could no longer trade with the Dutch and were forced to depend completely upon British-made goods.(8) This closed system was fundamental to the seventeenth century understanding of mercantilism, in that a country would need to maximize its potential profits from its colonies to the exclusion of all other countries. Mercantilism was a belief founded on the concept of limited wealth. England's gain, by mercantilist thought, must be had at the cost of Portugal, Spain, or other economy.

London kept tight control on the sugar industry through a series of taxes and duties. After 1663, all commodities exported from Barbados and the Leeward Islands were subject to an island-paid 4.5 percent duty. Although this duty channeled £81,000 into the royal exchequer between 1670 and 1688, the principle sugar tax was levied when the sugar was unloaded at the English port. The English duty, beginning in 1651, was 1s 6d per hundredweight on muscavado and 5s. on semirefined sugar. This difference in taxation was intended to discourage the West Indian planters from refining their own sugar in favor of English industry. Despite vocal planter protest, James II's Parliament doubled the sugar duties in 1671. Nonetheless, West Indian planters were better off than their Maryland and Virginia tobacco growing counter parts.(9)

While mercantilism implemented itself in the form of higher levies on sugar and the closing of foreign trade in the Caribbean, self-interest was manifesting in the seeking of political power by the small but influential group of sugar planters. Unlike the mainland colonists, the West Indians organized a more effective lobby at Whitehall that adequately represented Caribbean interests. The Chesapeake tobacco planters were better off in one respect: the mainland colonies were far more self sufficient in terms of foodstuffs and supplies. No matter how they marketed their sugar, most of the Caribbean planters' profits were siphoned off by island factors, ship's captains, and English merchants. The planter class slipped quickly into a permanent state of debt to London commission houses that bound them further to English control.

Whereas the early West Indian colonists had to rely on the passing ships to supply them with provisions and stores, once the settlements were well established, London merchants began to consign goods to factors or agents who would sell the goods to the planters. In return, the planters could sell their produce to these agents on the island and could immediately exchange crops for commodities. This system typical of the pre-Restoration period, began to be replaced by the commission system wherein the planter would assume responsibility for the marketing of his products by consigning them on his own account to his agent. Using a bill of exchange, the planter drew upon accumulated funds or purchased goods on credit. By the end of the seventeenth century, the trend wherein a substantial proportion of West Indian planters were in chronic debt to London agents was firmly established.(10)

After several years of experimenting with creating effective institutions of colonial government, the Council of Trade and Plantations wrote into its 1672 constitution a "more thorough system of colonial control than had been established than any of its predecessors."(11) London became the center of all major decisions affecting the destinies of the sugar colonies. To counter this centralization, those West Indian planters resident in England, "absentee planters," formed an association with Caribbean-connected London merchants and political agents within the colonial legislatures. This West Indian lobby became the primary means of voicing sugar interests at Whitehall.

By mid-eighteenth century, this group included several associations of West Indian planters and merchants from the principle trade centers of Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, and London. Together they fostered ties with members of both houses of Parliament and eventually even achieved seats in that august institution.(12) Through these avenues the West India lobby began to work in their own interest. In 1733 they influenced the passage of the Sugar or Molasses act to suppress North American trade with the French islands through the imposition of prohibitive duties. Six years later the West Indian interest received permission to export sugar directly to the European continent. Although little sugar was actually exported because an expansion within the British internal market, this threat of a possible rival market raised sugar prices in England and increased planters' profits.(13) Throughout the age of the elder Pitt, the fifty to sixty MPs sat in Parliament who had West Indian or trade affiliations could effectively sway debates in their favor.(14) Once the planters became part of the government they had the opportunity to influence policies that effected the colonies.

The West Indian sugar planters eventually controlled a considerable proportion of Britain's wealth. One contemporary writer reckoned that one person in the islands, black or white, was seven times as profitable an individual in England. Another calculated that every family in the West Indies gave employment to five seamen and each member of that family returned twenty times as much as his equivalent at home. Twentieth century estimates suggest that by 1774 the sugar planters represented a net worth of approximately fifty million pounds sterling.(15) Regardless of the actual numbers, these figures represent incredible fortunes by any standard.

The rise of sugar fueled the rise of slavery, and with it, attempts by individuals to create a similar influence on the governmental economic policy in line with slave trader self-interest. The incorporation of the unsuccessful Company of Royal Adventurers in Africa in 1663 and its more fruitful counterpart the 1674 Royal African Company initiated the era of English government's monopoly on the slave trade. This policy of monopoly meant that the goods traded in Africa for slaves, the ships that transported them, the sale of the slaves and plantation produce were all under the control of this single company.(16)

Although the first venture failed because of poor organization and a war with the Netherlands over commercial outposts in West Africa, the subsequent Royal African Company acquired considerable business involvement and expertise. Over two thirds of the company shares were distributed amongst businessmen of whom many had West Indian interests.(17) However, this Stuart policy of monopoly incurred resistance from the merchants in the English ports and from the planters themselves. The planters complained of high prices for an insufficient quantity and quality of slaves. They believed that they had been better supplied at lower prices before 1672. English merchants insisted that free trade would result in the purchase of more slaves which in turn would stimulate the production of larger quantities of English goods. In response to these demands, Parliament ended the Royal African Company's monopoly of the slave trade in July 1698.(18) During its forty year tenure, the Royal African Company imported over 150,000 black slaves to the Caribbean. By 1690 the company held a collective debt from Caribbean colonists exceeding £170,000.(19)

London's attempt to control the British slave trade through the Royal African Company was never very popular or successful. The main justification of this monopoly, the establishment and maintenance of English forts along the Africa coast, drained most profits. Opponents charged that any possible benefits to this arrangement were undercut because the trade restrictions curtailed the involvement of all but the privileged few in the slave trade. The Royal African Company, furthermore, actually gave preference to the Spanish slave market while charging the English planters exorbitant prices for "inferior" slaves. After an intense petition-and-pamphlet campaign, the government gave into the free-traders demands.(20)

With the expulsion of James II in the Glorious Revolution, all monopolistic privileges were made null and void. Instead of completely opening the market to free trade, the government established the "10% Rule" in 1698. On payment of a duty worth ten percent of the trade goods' value to a custom house, private ships were allowed to enter the African trade.(21) This "10%" policy continued until 1712 when the slave trade made completely free. During the next decade, private traders flocked to the open market; by 1707 they outnumbered company ships three to one. (22) After the abolishment of the Royal African Company's monopoly on the English slave trade, merchant's prices for slaves rose along with the increased demand. Whereas in the 1670s and 1680s the Royal African Company paid for African slaves with about £3 in trade goods, by 1710 this price had quadrupled to £12. The planters' price for slaves reflected this increase; by 1700 new African slaves cost between £25 and £30.(23) Nonetheless, the opening of the slave trade to a free market caused an explosion of activity both on the high seas and at home.

In the first nine years of free trade, the port of Bristol shipped 160,950 slaves to the British West Indies. 146 ships sailed from British ports carrying 36,000 slaves in 1760 alone. By 1771 the number of vessels increased to 190 transporting 47,000. During the century between 1680 and 1786, Eric Williams estimates that over two million black souls were transported to the British colonies from Africa.(24) Britain had become the foremost slave trader in the world. Williams further suggests that the rapid expansion of the slave trade in the eighteenth century fueled and as fostered by the rise of the port city of Liverpool and its neighbor the future industrial giant Manchester.

As the monies from the colonies poured in, English ports and industry expanded to keep pace with colonial demands. The second half of the eighteenth century witnessed the ascendancy of Northern Britain's nascent industrial cities. Sleepy Lancashire villages were becoming centers of specialized production. Manchester's textile industry was supported by wool production in the surrounding countryside. One third of Manchester's textile exports went to Africa and another half to the West Indian and American colonies until the 1770s. Birmingham specialized in metal working and came to supply the slave traders with guns used in exchange for slaves. In 1729 the price of a slave in Africa was often reckoned at one Birmingham gun. Expansions in these cities, however, was surpassed by the port of Liverpool.

Whereas in the seventeenth century most of the trade in supplies and indentured servants for the West Indian colonies had come out of Bristol or London, as the slave trade rapidly expanded, the northern port of Liverpool became the focus of this new shipping interest. During the course of the eighteenth century, Liverpool was transformed from a fishing village to a great sea port that cleared an annual profit of over £300,000. Between 1709 and 1771, the shipping entering Liverpool increased four and a half times while the outward shipping increased six-fold. The importance of the slave trade to this city is demonstrated by the fact that the portals of the red brick town hall were graced with statues of slaves' heads.(25)

The ties of proslavery thought with the economic profits brought by the institution are evident. During the heyday of the British slave trade and the phenomenal profits possible in the sugar islands, few questioned the morality of enslaving fellow human beings. The Established Church in England did little to minister to the slaves in the colonies or to inquire into the ethics of slave holding. Indeed for most of the eighteenth century, most Englishmen were happy to bask in the newfound wealth and prosperity that the slave trade and sugar colonies brought to England. However, just as the British economy was expanding and changing quickly with the infusion of sugar and slave profits, so too was British society. A new consciousness was taking root and spreading among the British peoples. Although Blake's "satanic mills" were still a few decades away, England's laborers were beginning to perceive of themselves as a coherent group. At the same time, a new spirit of religious revivalism and evangelism was sweeping through all classes of Englishmen. The new religious movements, which inexorably tied religion and philanthropy, heightened the individual's sense of spiritual and social awareness. John Wesley and other Evangelicals exhorted their adherents to follow the teachings of Christ who came to save all men. As more people became involved with the Evangelical movement, concern for the plight of the slave and the morality of the slave trade radiated across Britain. Importantly, this movement began and took root even while profitability from slavery and sugar was high. Therefore, the origins of antislavery must be seen in more social and religious terms than economic terms.

The Quakers were the first group to systematically question the ethics of slavery and to begin to work to end the slave trade. Although as late as 1756 eighty-four Quakers were listed as members of the company trading to Africa, this activity was quickly condemned.(26) In 1761, after intense discussion, the London Yearly Meeting declared on theological grounds that the participation in any aspect of the slave trade by a Friend merited disownment. Over the next decade this idea that slavery was morally and philosophically wrong spread across British class and economic lines. The publicity surrounding the Sommersett case in 1772 strengthened popular condemnation of slavery and the slave trade. A black slave who was brought to England by his West Indian planter master was freed on the grounds that no law of England authorized "so high an act of dominion as slavery."(27) This ruling raised questions in the minds of many Britons: if English law did not recognize slavery in the British Isles, why should British subjects elsewhere be permitted to practice it.

The defeat of England in the American Revolution exposed the inefficiency of and the corruption within the government. American independence dislodged British hegemony in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans and was the first stage in the decline of the mercantilist system and the sugar colonies. Because the Navigation Laws now excluded Caribbean trade with America, the sugar colonies were cut off from their primary source of food stuffs. Over fifteen thousand Jamaican slaves died between 1780 and 1787 due to starvation from food shortages. Although London and the colonists hoped that Nova Scotia would replace New England, the port city was still developing and could not compensate for the loss of American trade.(28) Without the support of its largest colonial base, Britain's mercantilist system was in danger of collapse. In this way, it can seen that economics importantly affected the timing of abolitionist political adventurism though it was not fundamentally the causal origin of the abolitionist movement. By the 1780s, in this climate of economic decline, the anti-slave traders and abolitionists decided it was time to take political action.(29)

In 1783 the Quakers' petition to Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade led to an outbreak of anti-slavery propaganda. Within four years the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was represented in Parliament by minister and Tory politician William Wilberforce. The publicity surrounding the Zong insurance case of 1783 was a pivotal influence of public opinion. 132 live slaves had been thrown overboard during the journey from Africa to Jamaica. The owners sued for the cost of the slaves from the insurance company. Despite personal misgivings, Lord Mansfield was compelled to find for the owners thereby arousing a storm of public opinion. This case inspired abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to compile data that demonstrated the horrible tolls of the middle passage upon both black slaves and white sailors.

Individual efforts by more "humane" slave traders to insure the health of the slaves during the middle passage often did little or nothing to alleviate the mortality rate. In this pre-antibiotic age, an epidemic could decimate passengers, crew, and slaves. Eighty percent of the slave payload could die on board a ship run by even the most conscientious of captains while most might survive another voyage under intolerable conditions. Mortality rates were high both during the middle passage and once the slaves had arrived at their tropical destinations. Of 100 blacks enslaved in Africa, only 84 reached the West Indies. One third of these remaining slaves died within the next three years. Therefore, only fifty-six of the original one hundred were still alive after three years.(30)

Equally appalling is the rather ironic fact that losses among the white slave ship crews were proportionately higher. Of 3,170 sailors that embarked from Liverpool on 88 ships in 1786, 20.3 percent died enroute with another 34.7 deserting either in Africa or in the West Indian ports. These rates were five times higher than those for the East Indian trade and ten times greater than for ships sailing only between Great Britain and the colonies.(31) Although this testimony may be biased, historians have generally accepted this as truth. The overcrowded conditions would have affected all, both black and white, in that age that did not connect disease with unsanitary conditions. The slave trade clearly took its toll in lives both black and white. It became the "graveyard" of the British sailor, not the purported "nursery."

In the wake of the abolitionists' attacks, the West India lobby organized a defense of slavery. Using biblical texts to support their cause, the pro-slavery writers emphasized the "civilizing" and "humanitarian" aspects of Caribbean slavery.(32) To expose this misrepresentation, William Wilberforce initiated a series of inquiries before the Privy Council and select committees of the Commons and the Lords that delved into the actual state of the slave trade and the wretchedness of plantation slavery.(33) Although Wilberforce's first motion to bring in an abolition bill to the Commons was defeated by 163 out of 88 votes in April 1791, the abolitionists stepped up their campaign. The anti-slave trade movement carried a wide following. Through speeches, sermons, and pamphleteering, the abolitionists compelled the British people to turn away from the lucrative slave trade. Incredibly, Great Britain did.

In the past several decades, historians of the Caribbean and slavery have debated the reasons why Great Britain turned its back so suddenly on its sugar colonies. Though the role of the abolitionist movement has been acknowledged in nineteenth-century histories, Eric Williams linked a decline in profits with the metropolitan's decision to end the slave trade and slavery. Britain lost interest in protecting its colonies when the wealth began to ebb. Williams' later opponents, such as Seymour Drescher, countered that the West Indian economy, the slave trade, and sugar production were still expanding and highly profitable at the turn of the nineteenth century. Drescher believes that the abolition of the slave trade and slavery was an act of "econocide" by Whitehall in the face of popular opinion.(34) The argument over the profitability of slavery has created a rich if contentious historiographical debate.(35) Although the discussion over the end of West Indian prominence within the British Empire continues in intricate detail by a new generation of historians, it is clear that from the sugar colonies beginnings, they played an important role in the mobilization of the slave trade, the channeling of millions of pounds into the British economy, and establishing the foundations of the future industrial revolution.

Britain kept close control of its colonies at first through the economic policies of mercantilism and monopoly but later allowed considerable expansion of markets through free trade. During the course of the eighteenth century, Britain's relationship with its colonies began to change. The port cities of Bristol, London, and Liverpool were transformed through their involvement with the expansive slave trade. This expansion lead to the formation of self-interested economic power groups attempting to influence the policies of slavery and sugar. While the pro-sugar lobbies proved in the long run more adept at wielding influence than the forces that attempted to control the British Imperial slave trade, the formation of these key political power groups was directly caused by the rise of value in sugar and slaves to the British Imperial economy.

The rapid changes to British society caused in part by the transformation of the economy were evident to the social and religious thinkers of the eighteenth century. Within two generations manufacturing had become the base of the national economy and industrialists a powerful element of the ruling class. Their success had been spurred, in large part, by the circulation of capital and goods between Britain and her colonies. In his analysis of these expanding commercial and industrial sectors, political economist Adam Smith viewed slavery as part of a mercantilist system of monopolies and special privileges, that hindered the development of wealth and morality.(36) This argument was expanded and expounded by the Evangelical and abolitionist movements. The growth of the antislavery movement was inherently tied to the economic shifts and perceived and real decline in economic profitability of slavery and sugar, but its roots remained social and religious. Antislavery gained credence in all classes of society, especially the nascent working class. Although the bill for the abolition of the slave trade was twenty years away and total abolition of slavery forty five, by the 1780s the British people were no longer in favor of pursuing wealth in this manner.


1. Michael Craton, Sinews of Empire: A Short History of British Slavery (New York: Anchor Press, 1974), p. 33.

2. After the first of Hawkins' three voyages, he was able to attract considerable financial support. Four Privy Counselors including William Cecil and Queen Elizabeth herself invested in Hawkins' ventures. Although the queen never felt it necessary to justify English involvement with slavery, her 1601 proclamation made clear the English attitude toward "Negroes and blackamoors." All who were in England were to be rounded up and "discharged from her majesties realm." (Craton, Sinews of Empire, p. 35.)

3. Robert C. Batie, "Why Sugar? Economic Cycles and the Changing of Staples in the English and French Antilles, 1624-1654" in Caribbean Slave Society and Economy: A Student Reader, edited by Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd (New York: The New Press, 1991), p. 40.

4. Hilary Beckles White Servitude and Black Slavery in Barbados, 1627-1715 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), p 26.

5. Richard S. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973), p. 66.

6. Batie, "Why Sugar?," pp. 46-47.

7. Beckles White Servitude and Black Slavery in Barbados, p. 125.

Unskilled laborers and women servants, found competition with black slaves both economically and psychologically difficult. Many chose to emigrate; between 1643 and 1662 some 9,700 freemen left Barbados for other Caribbean islands. Few went to the mainland colonies because of stories of maltreatment equal to that experienced in Barbados. Those who stayed evolved into the impoverished and socially isolated "redlegs."

8. K.G. Davies, "The Origins of the Commission System in the West India Trade," in Caribbean Slave Society and Economy: A Student Reader, Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd, eds (New York: The New Press, 1991), p. 107.

9. Richard S. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973), p. 206.

The customs duties on tobacco were always much higher than those on sugar. In addition to having to cut back on tobacco production when prices dropped, the Chesapeake planters received less per pound of exported Virginia tobacco than the king.

10. Davies, "Origins of the Commission System," p. 104.

11. Davies, "Origins of the Commission System," pp. 102.

12. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1944), p. 94.

13. Mary Turner, Slaves and Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society, 1787-1834 (Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1982), p. 3.

14. Craton, Sinews of Empire, p. 241.

15. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery , p. 53.

16. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery , p. 31.

17. Craton, Sinews of Empire, pp. 58-59.

18. Eric Williams, "Capitalism and Slavery" in Caribbean Slave Economy and Society, p. 121.

19. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves, p. 233.

20. Craton, Sinews of Empire, pp. 63-64.

21. Craton, Sinews of Empire, p. 64.

22. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves, p. 233.

23. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves, p. 237.

24. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery , pp. 32-33.

25. Eric Williams, "Capitalism and Slavery" in Caribbean Slave Economy and Society, p. 127.

26. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery , p. 42.

27. Kenneth O. Morgan, ed, The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 418.

28. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery , p. 123.

29. Turner, Slaves and Missionaries, p. 5.

30. Eric Williams, "Capitalism and Slavery" in Caribbean Slave Economy and Society, p. 125.

31. Craton, Sinews of Empire, pp. 96-97.

32. Turner, Slaves and Missionaries, p. 6.

33. Craton, Sinews of Empire, p. 261.

34. Selwyn Carrington, "The State of the Debate on the Role of Capitalism in the Ending of the Slave System," in Caribbean Slave Society and Economy, p. 440.

35. The arguments over the profitability of American Southern slavery have created one of the most contentious issues among historians. While early important writers such as Kenneth Stampp suggested that slavery was profitable, it was Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman's 1974 publication of the two-volume Time on the Cross that ignited academic debate and indigation. Since its publication, many other quantitative economic historians have repudiated the main points of Fogel and Engerman's controversial work. The suggestion that slavery in the American South may not have been profitable leads to the implication that Eric William's thesis may have some universal application to the economics of eighteenth and nineteenth century slaveholding as a whole.

36. Turner, Slaves and Missionaries, pp. 4-5.


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