Building Communities

Essays in this section:
Overview Essay on Building Communities
Apprenticeship and Emancipation in Barbados with a Focus on Education
Vive chef coumbite!" : The New Masters in Post-Emancipation Haiti
Mixed-race People and Emancipation-Era Jamaica


In order to understand the evolution of education on Barbados for the ex-slaves, one must first understand a little bit of how the slaves were eventually freed. The island of Barbados was under British rule until November 30, 1966. In 1834, the British government decided to begin to free the slaves through apprenticeship. The British decided that on this island, unlike in Antigua, they would try apprenticeship before the total emancipation of the slaves to see if this system of more gradual change worked better. Apprenticeship was a form of wage labor because ex-slaves were paid for their work, but it was not completely free because they were obligated to work for a specified set of hours and for a specified person. Although this situation was better than total slavery, it still was not total freedom. Still, once apprenticeship began, education on the island began to flourish. During apprenticeship, and after emancipation finally became a reality, education was a priority for ex-slaves. Through the development of education, working conditions and family life were also redefined.

As apprentices, ex-slaves were not allowed to bear arms or hold any civil office of importance. [1]   Apprentices were also obligated to work forty-five hours a week and had to work for the person who was once their master. They were not allowed to compete for better wages or more favorable working conditions. Along with these denials of rights, ex-slaves also received a few limited rights. “No apprenticed laborer can be taken from the island and no praedial apprentice can be removed from his estate without the consent of one or more of the special justices.” Praedial laborers were slaves who worked in the fields, mainly involved in agriculture and cultivation. Non-Praedial laborers were mostly domestic slaves who worked in the home. In any event, no consent could be given if the move would break up a family or have a negative impact on the health or welfare of the apprentice. [2]     

Sylvester Hovey, an observer who came to Barbados from the United States in 1838, argued that the reason that apprenticeship worked better in Barbados than in Jamaica was that both the whites and blacks of the first island were more prepared for change. The people’s preparedness came from talks at government meetings, gossip among the slaves about apprenticeship and then their eventual freedom, and from English visitors.  This acceptance of change does not mean that things always ran smoothly, but overall both the ex-masters and ex-slaves were more receptive to each other than they were on other islands where apprenticeship was also being utilized. On the island of Barbados, the apprenticeship of non-praedial laborers ended on August 1st, 1838 and the apprenticeship of praedial workers ended on August 1st, 1840. [3]

During apprenticeship and through the end of slavery, family life also changed and became less helter-skelter. While in the apprenticeship stage in Barbados, a chaplainCountrywoman and "Piccaninny" noticed that, “the married people on the estate conduct themselves more soberly and chastely, and more rare indeed is the instance of a couple going to live with each other without being lawfully married.” [4] With the growing freedom of the ex-slaves’ lives also came the freedom to form unified families. A white native in Barbadian told Hovey that “family relations are becoming more sacred; mothers are more fond of their children; and it is believed that the number of births is greater, and the number of deaths among children considerably less than it was during slavery.” [5] Children were living longer, mothers felt they could better bond with their children because there was not the great fear that they would die at such an early age or that they would be sold away.

After emancipation in Barbados, Special Magistrates, appointed bythe Birtish government to mediate between ex-owners and ex-slaves, reported monthly on the changing conditions in their provinces.  They were supposed to keep six basic elements in mind: habits of the peasantry; their tastes; the rate of mortality; the nature of criminal offenses; civil offenses; and the relationship between the newly freed apprentices and the slaveholders. The white officials back in England wanted to know if the freed slaves were developing neighborhoods and villages. All new institutions were a sign of growing prosperity and interest in the economy. They were also interested in any new inventions to make work and life easier and the labor supply. [6] During apprenticeship, these writings went back and forth “by means of two lines of packets from England to Barbadoes…a communication twice a month was maintained between England and all her West India colonies.” [7]

Along with the monthly reports on labor went requests from the citizens of Barbados and the newly freed slaves. In a letter to the Governor of Barbados, Sir Evan J. Murray Macgreggor, Baronet of England, the newly freed slaves asked for help with the education of their children and adults in order “to afford an equal opportunity (to the newly freed slaves) in competing for places (employment).” [8] It was A Dominican Schoolimportant to these newly freed people to educate themselves and their children. “In 1825 there was but one public school in the island for the instruction of slaves…the number connected with the church in 1834, for the instruction of the poor including apprentices was 155.” [9] These schools were taught by members of the church the school was connected with and usually by another person of African descent. “The school was taught by an African of pure blood, who filled his place apparently with as much ability as any gentleman I ever saw in the same situation.” [10]  

When comparing Antigua, where emancipation was granted immediately, to Barbados, Sylvester Hovey was quick to point out that in Barbados, “education is by no means common among them as it is in the same class in Antigua…they have much less moral principle, but in the use of language and general intelligence, they are full their equals.” Since skin tone was such an important factor on both Barbados and the other islands, one which often determined social status, Hovey also noted color’s role (or lack thereof) in education. “Though the children (in school) took their places at the recitations, according to their answers, I did not perceive that their rank in the class corresponded at all to the shades of their skin.” In line with the prejudices at the time, even sympathetic whites like Hovey initially assumed that darker-skinned people were more ignorant and idle. In many cases, despite his observation, the lighter the skin, the more opportunities a person of African or partially African descent was offered in education, job placement and positions for public office. [11] It was also apparent to Hovey that although there were separate schools for girls and boys, the appearance of the boy’s school was superior to that of the girls. Through the end of apprenticeship and the beginning of emancipation, the focus of education turned to a select few on the island.

While the British and white Barbadians did not cast the net of education equally over the whole population, some officials soon realized that within their limited sample of the populace they were finding students with tremendous intelligence and talent, who merited a more extensive and polished education. In a letter to Lord John Russel, Governor Sir E. J. Murray Macgregor wrote he has “exhorted the most intelligent, as they cannot afford to instruct their children individually, to act in concert…in order to effect by subscribing for the education in England, of some of these youths, who indicate talent.” [12] Of course, this would be accompanied by an exorbitant cost. In order to offset this cost, both the parents of the children and the local officials devised a plan to finance their education. He went on to say:

I am thereby induced to submit to your Lordship, the expediency of devoting a portion of the National Funds destined to the forming of schools, to the purpose of defraying the expense of supporting a certain number of young persons of color, while residing in Britain, in attendance in our public seminaries; as well as the cost of their voyages from the West Indian colonies. [13]

Macgregor’s was not the only plan devised. Another plan devised by the people of color on the island was to raise funds by voluntary contributions. [14] These funds would be collected in order to help their children “obtain opportunities of acquiring a knowledge of the world, rarely to be obtained in these small settlements, and of contracting friendships…with powerful individuals whose protection would encourage and support them in their future career abroad.” [15] These letters, which were written to England, document the emphasis the freed slaves were putting on the education of both their children and their people.

However, by taking money out of the National Fund, this plan in essence took money away from other children who also warranted and merited a good education. Others also realized that by asking for donations, those who sought to raise funds to educate a select few abroad were asking for money from people who barely had enough A native Hutmoney to eat and clothe themselves. An ex-slave realized this defect and wrote to England: “But we fear, from the deficiency of our hereditary possessions, and from the general limited resources of the colored population…it will be next to impossible, of themselves at this period, without the benevolent interposition of the parent State, to carry out this desirable project.” [16]  So, even though plans were devised by both the ex-slaves and the white officials on the island to attain money from both the National Fund for the building of schools and from the colored people on the island individually, they knew nothing could really be done without help from England.

Apprenticeship and emancipation was a great time of change in Barbados. Work, family life and education were all being reinvented and redefined for newly freed slaves.   The will to form schools and educate themselves after years of oppression and being left in the dark demonstrates the willingness of these people to transform their own lives, to get ahead in the world, and to start doing so immediately. Through education this newly freed people saw a way to advance in the world and they were going to take full advantage of all opportunities available to them.

Works Cited

Hovey, Sylvester. Letters from the West Indies: Relating especially to the Danish island St. Croix, and to the British Islands Antigua, Barbadoes, and Jamaica. New York: Gould and Newman, 1838.

Parliament. Papers Relative to the West Indies. 1840-42 Jamaica-Barbados. London: W. Clowes and Sons, 1842.

[1] Sylvester Hovey, Letters from the West Indies: Relating especially to the Danish island St. Croix, and to the British Islands Antigua, Barbadoes, and Jamaica, (New York, 1838), 39, 96-116.  

[2] Hovey, Letters from the West Indies

[3] Hovey, Letters from the West Indies

[4] Hovey, Letters.

[5] Hovey, Letters.

[6] Hovey, Letters.

[7] Parliament, Papers Relative to the West Indies. 1840-42 Jamaica-Barbados,  58-61.

[8] Papers Relative to the West Indies. 1840-42 Jamaica-Barbados, 58-61.

[9] Hovey, Letters, 96-106.

[10] Hovey, Letters, 96-106.

[11] See Kiara Bell’s paper in this section

[12] Hovey, Letters, 96-116.

[13] Papers Relative to the West Indies. 1840-42 Jamaica-Barbados, 58-61.

[14] Papers Relative to the West Indies. 1840-42 Jamaica-Barbados, 58-61.

[15] Papers Relative to the West Indies. 1840-42 Jamaica-Barbados, 58-61.

[16] Papers Relative to the West Indies. 1840-42 Jamaica-Barbados, 58-61.