The Road to Emancipation – Stabroek News

No one can be sure when the first captive Africans were brought to our shores, but we know that when the first Dutch arrived in what was to become the Berbice Colony in 1627, they brought six Africans with them. Exactly what happened to them no one knows, but we know that within two years of their arrival the Dutch themselves were in a very bad way, and had been rescued by the Amerindians who fed them.

Outside Parliament on Enfranchisement Day
Outside Parliament on Enfranchisement Day

It may be, however, that Africans were brought here even earlier than 1627, since the founding of the Colony of Essequibo before the Berbice date, although the exact date of its establishment is beyond doubt. What can be said is that when a Dutch boat sailing along this coast entered the Demerara River in 1629, the crew encountered captive Africans there trading with the Amerindians on behalf of the Essequibo authorities. Netherlands. Because he probably had some mastery of what was probably Arawak language for the sake of trading, and obviously trusted to go inside alone. , it is perhaps reasonable to speculate that he must have been in Patagonia for some time.


The number of Africans in Dutch Guyana colonies was always very small compared to those in Suriname and the larger British and French Indian plantations in Western India, however, which did not affect their resistance. The slaves in Berbice in particular were prone to rebellion – as early as the 17th century they rose in alliance with the Arawaks – and in 1763 they organized one of the Caribbean’s most significant revolts that threatened Dutch hegemony in the Guianas. For its part, Demerara is known for its large maroon community, which eventually fought the British at the turn of the nineteenth century. Due to the fact that the Spanish colonization of what is now Venezuela borders on Essequibo, captive Africans and Amerindians of the latter colony preferred to take the option of escape westward, where the Spaniards would at certain times allow them to settle .

Although these expressions of opposition made it abundantly clear that those held in captivity had refused their status, the Caribbean uprisings did not begin until the nineteenth century to have a direct impact on metropolitan policy as well as movements in Britain to bring an institution to the end of slavery.

Basic causes

The underlying causes of the abolition of slavery are thought to have been at work, not the least of which was the fact that the British economy had moved away from reliance on the West Indian colonies, and the ruling classes in particular did not feel the same economic. essential to enjoy sugar interests. Cotton was now considered more important, and cotton employed free labor. As the UK industrialized, new economic concerns were moving in the direction of free trade, and sugar was identified with an older trading age. As it was, then, the West India lobby which had so much influence in the British Parliament declined during the heyday of sugar.

There were also various other fundamental factors at work, including religious and intellectual, all indicative of a changing society that had changed its attitudes in response to a new age. Those aspects covered a range of concerns, and slavery was just one.

Abolition of slave trade

Where the active struggle in the metropolis itself was concerned, it was Quakers who could perhaps be described as pioneers of the abolitionist movement. This movement eventually came to encompass a range of groups, churches and individuals, who together carried out the first mass campaign in history. It used a variety of techniques, many of which set the standard for all subsequent pressure groups, some of which, with modifications, are still used today. It can be noted that the speakers who went up and down the country to address meetings included Africans who had personal experience of slavery.

The first target was the slave trade, which took a long time to be abolished despite many petitions to Parliament and the introduction of bills. However, this was finally achieved by an Act that received royal assent on March 25, 1807. In what was then known as the United Colony of Essequibo and Demerara, and the Colony of Berbice, the Parliamentary Act did not abolish the slave trade, because we These two territories came under the aegis of Parliament, but under the direct authority of the Crown. This was due to the fact that they, along with one or two other West Indian colonies, were given to the British during the Napoleonic Wars. The end of the slave trade came a few months earlier in their case, therefore, since it was made by Order-in-Council in 1806, and executed on January 1, 1807.


With the official end of the British slave trade, there were some who thought that slavery itself might eventually vanish, while others believed in a palliative, gradual approach. However, the slaves in the Caribbean had other ideas. The first of the great rebellions of the 19th it happened a century in Barbados in 1816, but it was the one in 1823 in Demerara that really stimulated the anti-slavery movement in Britain.

His close case was a newsletter from the Colonial Office setting out measures for alleviating slave labor conditions. These colonies that boast some of the most restorative planters in the West Indies supported in the case of the United Colony by an equally responsive Lieutenant Governor, did not publish the contents of this newsletter to the captive population, which suspect that freedom has been granted. by the King, but that the planters held him back.

The case of an accused white minister also came in connection with the uprising in the célèbre case in London, and it did not take long for the anti-slavery movement to revive. Initially committed to the gradual abolition and abolition of slavery, it was taken over by the radicals in the movement in 1827, when it was renamed the Anti-Slavery Society.

The case was replenished from a great uprising in Jamaica in 1831, which caused the Anti-Slavery Society to deviate from the gradual approach, and campaign for the early cessation of slavery. Two years later in 1833 slavery itself was abolished by an Act of Parliament which came into force on August 1, 1834.


But this was not a simple act of enfranchisement; it contained some toxic joints. The British government initially bribed the planters by giving them ‘compensation’ of £ 20,000,000 for the loss of laborers, who were treated as property; this would be almost £ 1 billion in today’s currency. The real victims, the slaves, got nothing. It was paid for by the British taxpayer, and the amounts released varied according to the colony and the size of a planter’s holding. A senior worker in British Guiana (the United Colony of Essequibo and Demerara, and Berbice in 1831 was combined to form British Guiana), for example, given a higher value than one in Jamaica. This is probably because the former was considered to have virgin soils and a higher production rate than the latter. In the end, planters were paid £ 4,295,989 to British Guiana’s 82,824 slaves.

In the second place, there was no immediate franchising; it included an apprenticeship scheme in which the slave had to work a fixed number of hours for the master; for a time beyond that they had to be paid a salary, otherwise they could choose to work on their own plots. The slaves were divided into two categories: the praedials, ie, those who worked in the fields; and the non-praedials. The duration of the apprenticeship was fixed at four years for the latter, and six years for the former.

This news caused disruption in most colonies, including our Essequibo, although there was one territory in West India – Antigua – whose Assembly decided not to bother with an apprenticeship at all, and allowed immediate enfranchisement on August 1, 1834.


As the date for enfranchisement of the non-praedials approaches, there was clear evidence that the praedials were surprisingly very hostile to another two years of slave service. Following an investigation into conditions, the Anti-Slavery Society wrote a scathing indictment of apprenticeship and the possible consequences of denying freedom to the praedials for another two years. This was sent to the British government who advised the colonies in early 1838 to enfranchise all apprentices, including the praedials, on August 1 of that year. It was the Trinidad Assembly first, followed by some of the other Eastern Caribbean territories. The British Guiana Policy Court was more degrading, but ultimately followed suit, legislating to free its captive population, effective 1 August.

There were fears on the part of the planters here that the newly released ones would be non-verbal and disorderly on August 1. No such thing happened. The free men and women of British Guiana generally attended church that day.

August 1 transformed the society fundamentally in every cycle of endeavor, as well as in the composition of its population, creating the conditions for the evolution of the nation we know today.

(Footnote: It should be remembered that members of some Amerindian nations were enslaved throughout the period of Dutch rule here, ensuring that they were enfranchised by the Dutch authorities forty years before the Africans did so under the British.)