the emancipation of all enslaved Africans in 1834, the island of Jamaica was left in a stage of
rebuilding. Religion, education, and
family structure were all in disarray and were in need of reconstruction. With their new-found freedom, people also had
the task of establishing a new way of life that would allow them prosperity and
fulfillment. However, the group that
faced the most complex rebuilding process was the so-called “people of
color.” People of color, who were a
result of “miscegenation,” or sexual relationships between people of African
and European descent, faced the challenge of readjusting in the midst of
distinct color lines on the island. They
faced particular challenges in the areas of politics, marriage and family, and
slavery, white slave owners fathered numerous children with black
slaves, and generations of children of mixed race heritage were the
result. White observers tried to subdivide these people
of color into various categories.
Mulattos were one half-black and one half-white. Samboes were black
and mulatto (three fourths black and one fourth white). Quadroons were the offspring of whites and mulattos
(three fourths white and one fourth black). Mestees were the offspring
of whites and quadroons (one eight black). After the Mestees
few could perceive a color distinction because it is unlikely that
one could detect “black” characteristics if an individual had less
than one eighth African ancestry.
Observers also believed that one could detect the differences
between the various subdivisions of people of color based on particular
qualities, in addition to physical appearance. The Sambo, although
three-fourths black and one fourth white, was still seen differently
from the “Negro” in various manners and habits.
Generally, people believed that people of color were less subject
to disease than whites or “Negro.”
White observers also firmly adhered to the idea that most people
of color felt a distinct advantage and pride in being slightly removed
from the “Negro race” and attempted to take on manners and customs
of the distinctions that observers made among people of color, they
still enjoyed many advances politically.
When James Thome went on a sixth
month tour of the island of Jamaica following emancipation, he observed
activity of people of color in various social institutions. By 1831, free people of color had all of the
political offices open to them, and after emancipation they were represented
in an array of offices in Kingston.
They were justices of the peace, alderman of the city, justices
of the peace, public institution inspectors, and school trustees. At a local legislature meeting, Thome noticed that there were fifteen members present, and
just as many different shades of complexion.
A planter who clearly had aristocratic blood was sitting next
to a “deep mulatto,” born in the same parish as a slave.
Yet they all conversed freely as though they were one color,
providing a sense of “harmony, confidence and good feeling.”
There were ten colored special magistrates and
four colored members of the Assembly at the time of his visit. However they occupied only one third of the
seats in the Assembly, as whites filled the others. Yet as people of color filled seats, they voted
for white alderman and city officers.
Thome observed, “The influential
men among them, have always urged them to take up white men, unless
they could find competent men of their own color.
As they remarked to us, if they were obliged to send an ass to the Assembly, it was far better for them to send a white as than a black one.”
Nonetheless, colored people were gradually participating
in political and civil bodies on the Island and dividing the legislative and
judicial powers with whites.
a community that is rebuilding, marriage and family are important
because those institutions are essential for its growth.
However, few marriages took place among people of color because
many females believed that it was more reputable
to be the kept mistress of a wealthy white man than to marry a “Negro”
or another person of color. Beautiful women of color were “fortune-made
if they got a place in a white man’s harem.”
When females of color were asked why they did not
generally intermarry with men of their own class, the typical response
was that most brown men were either too poor or indolent to support
a wife and children and that as husbands they could be jealous and
tyrannical. Many women also
disliked the idea of marriage and viewed it as an unnecessary and
unnatural restraint. Yet numerous
females of color found themselves as a “housekeeper” to white men,
while men of color found for themselves the comfort of a black woman.
Stewart, an Englishman who lived for some time in Jamaica, also observed that men of color
were divided by society into three classes.
The first was the offspring of men of fortune, who were sent
to Great Britain to receive a liberal educated and
expected to inherit independent fortunes.
Next came the offspring of men in moderate circumstances, who
gave their children a plain education and left the bulk of property
among their children at their death.
Finally, there were the men who did not have the means or inclination
to provide for their children, which he noted as the most numerous
class. These children lived
in idleness and were what Stewart considered a burden to themselves
and the community. Few men
of color were elevated above their social stratum by the advantages
of fortune and a liberal education and received into the white population.
also visited the streets of Jamaica and places of business to see how
people of color were employed. The
market that he visited was one of the largest and the best and people
of color were the primary attendants and suppliers.
People of color owned furniture and cabinet manufactures. They were also artisans, bookstore owners, controlled
newspapers, and as well as merchants, druggists, and grocers. He noticed that colors freely associated in
the streets, making business transactions.
After emancipation and the establishment of a working class
of people of color, the general trade of the island was passing into
their hands. Prior to emancipation people of color rarely
reached a status higher than that of a clerk.
Those who conducted their own business faced the limits imposed
by white-owned monopolies, which were a direct result of slavery. “Since emancipation,” Thome
noted, “they have been unshackling themselves from white domination
in matters of trade, extending their connections and becoming every
day more and more independent.”
is essential in building a community, especially among children, as
they are being groomed to be the future leaders of the community. Thome observed that
in schools in Kingston, there was not a lot of division
among color lines and students were thoroughly intermingled. In a letter Thome
received from E. Reid, the “principle” of the Wolmer School he said he had “no hesitation in
saying that children of color are equal in both conduct and ability
to the white.”
However, as other observers noted, schools were
few and far between. While children may have been taught well, most
did not get to attend them.
all communities rebuilt themselves, people of color not only had to
build a community in the face of a distinct color line between blacks
and whites, but also in the light of division among themselves.
This division ranged from social standing to skin tone, and
affected areas such as politics, marriage and family, employment,
and education. Authors have pointed out that this division
made their rebuilding process more complex than that of any other
group. Yet people of color were also able to integrate
themselves into post-emancipation life, and today play an intricate
role on an island that is known for producing individuals with multi-ethnic