Labor Rebellion

1849-1882: Changes of power made a difference in the Caribbean, and all slaves were finally freed

With abolition complete on many of the Caribbean islands, those few where slavery remained found themselves fighting for control of their islands. Meanwhile, islands without slavery struggled to find labor to create the much-needed exports.

Abolition at Last

The Dutch, who abolished slavery on Sint Maarten in 1848, had not yet officially abolished slavery in their other territories. There was little pressure from inside the empire to do so, as only the intelligentsia were opposed to the practice. The Dutch state church became involved in 1858 and slavery was abolished throughout the Dutch territories five years later.

The Danish, who had ostensibly ended slavery in 1848, imposed government restrictions and compulsory labor to improve the island conditions in 1849. While this continued for a time, a revolt in 1878 ended these restrictions, and Danish slaves became fully free.

However, during this time the Danish began to see the islands as an economic liability. Without slave labor, the islands could not support themselves. The U.S. made its first strong appearance in the Caribbean when the Danish begin talks to sell the islands to the U.S. in 1865. The Danes approved the trade in 1867, but the U.S. was torn, and talks continued into the 20th century.

Spanish Laws

The Danish islands weren't the only ones to impose labor restrictions. Puerto Rico attempted to regulate labor and stop squatters in 1849, but this did not last, and the laws were abolished in 1873. Meanwhile, Cuba was still fighting for help from the Spanish crown. They requested that emancipation be compensated in 1857, but the crown did not honor the request.

During this time, many Cubans hoped for U.S. annexation. The U.S. also showed interested in this, particularly the slave states who hoped to have the ally of Cuba in the government. Some annexationist uprisings occurred, but both parties lost interest when the U.S. civil war ended.

A petition to make many legal changes on Cuba was sent to Spain in 1865, and though it earned some cooperation at first, a new Spanish government came into power in 1867 and imposed harsh laws on both Puerto Rico and Cuba. Neither island responded well to these changes.

Both Puerto Rico and Cuba began revolts in 1868. The Revolt of Yara on Cuba began a civil war known as the Ten Years' War. On the other hand, the Revolt of Lares in Puerto Rico was brief. Though a few guerrilla battles were fought, Puerto Ricans now consider the revolt's date a national holiday. In 1873 Puerto Rico's slaves were freed, and owners were compensated by the Spanish government.

Cuba's Ten Years

The civil war in Spain meant that Cuba's rebellion was left unchecked for a number of years. During this time, even those rebelling against the Spanish leadership were divided. Rebel generals were most often mulattoes fighting for abolition. However, white creole rebels hoped to gain the planters' support and opposed abolition.

After Spain's civil war ended, troops were sent to Cuba in 1874. Although the first troops did not make much of an impact, the arrival in 1877 of General Arsenio Campos and his troops helped to end the fighting when he made peace offerings. The Pact of Zanjon calmed the fighting on Cuba.

Spain never kept the promises of the Pact, and in 1880 Spain issued abolition without compensation. However, Cuba was given patrionato, which was like the apprenticeship period given to the British islands. It ended in early 1886.

Changing Hands

Both British and French islands gained the highest rates of incoming workers from Africa, China, and India throughout history. Indentured servants from India bolstered the sugar industry on Trinidad. However, Europeans also traveled to the islands.

Islands like Jamaica suffered the most from abolition because they had the largest amount of free land, where the newly-freed blacks could make their own farms. On the other hand, islands like Barbados were too small to support any new farms, as all the land had been taken over by the sugar planters. Many of these blacks simply stayed and worked on the sugar plantations. Barbados was, in fact, the only British island where the freedmen did not form their own villages.

The period of indentured servitude on British islands lasted five years. However, those who stayed for 10 received a fully subsidized return trip to India. Still, many more men and women stayed and created their own communities. Trinidad, Martinique, and Guadeloupe all had Indian communities with their own cultures.

The Europeans who came to the Caribbean again faced sickness and hardship. Many of the new indentured servants from Europe died. Because of the low likelihood of success when traveling to these islands, the majority had simply stopped arriving by the 1860s.

While some sugar planters turned to sharecropping to hold together their plantations, many on Nevis and the British Windwards began growing cocoa, nutmeg, bananas, and arrowroot as exports. An additional focus was given to food crops.

Increased Control

Though Britain had attempted to improve the control of their Caribbean colonies for much of each island's history, the most difficult battle was on Jamaica. Jamaica's Assembly fought hard to retain direct control of the island. The Crown Colony form of government was hard to take.

Morant Bay

The stalemate between Jamaica and Britain existed until the historic Morant Bay Rebellion on Jamaica gave the British crown a foothold. Jamaica's governor at the time, a man named Eyre, was not popular, and the island was experiencing economic troubles. Meanwhile, a popular mulatto leader named Gordon encouraged the people to write to the Queen.

Though the Jamaicans wrote to the Queen, the response was negative, and it was widely understood that Eyre had influenced the Queen's reply. One of Gordon's followers, Paul Bogle, led a rebellion in 1865. He and his followers were arrested. Gordon was also arrested, though it's unclear whether he even knew of the affair.

Gordon was transferred from Kingston, where he was arrested, to the Morant Bay area so Eyre could have him tried under martial law rather than in civil court. The quick and unfair trial led to his execution. Eyre then encouraged Jamaica's Assembly to give up their power in favor of a stronger government. While the crown commended Eyre's quick response to the rebellion, he was arrested in 1866 for his actions, particularly in the unfair execution of Gordon.

Forming a Federation

In 1869 Britain began attempts to form a federation of its islands, which each had their own government. This was mainly an attempt to cut their own governing costs. The more prosperous islands, such as St. Kitts and Nevis, objected to being forced to share funds with bankrupt islands such as Antigua and Montserrat.

By 1871 they had ironed out a plan and set up a system. The Federal Legislative Council would create laws and otherwise run the government. Each island would continue to have its own treasury and taxes.

Haiti's Struggles

In 1874 Haiti's dictator and president Nissage Saget became the first to serve his term, which began in 1870, and retire. Historians credit him as one of the island's most successful dictators. However, both before and after his reign, power changed hands many times - often through coups.

After Boyer's leadership ended, power changed hands a number of times until Soulouque became the leader in 1847. Two years later he crowned himself Emperor Fausti I and created a black nobility. In 1859 a conspiracy by General Geffrard ousted the emperor from control.

Geffrard made one very important move: In 1860 he gained the acknowledgment of the Vatican. He did this in the hopes that he could undermine the Vodun (Voodoo). However, he, too, was subject to a number of rebellions and was overthrown in 1867. His successor, Major Sylvain Salnave, was in power during a civil war. After Saget retired, power changed hands a number of times. In fact, 11 generals served as leader in the next quarter-century.

Becoming Dominican

During this time the Dominican Republic also began to develop into the country as we know it today. Though it suffered from Haitian occupation twice during the 1800s, Haiti was distracted during the second half of the century by its own troubles in learning to be a nation.

The Spanish re-occupied their portion of the island, and two generals, Pedro Santana and Buenaventura Baez, traded control until 1874. Santana himself even persuaded Spain to occupy the island - with himself as governor - from 1861 to 1865. Others squabbled for power until 1882.

The modern-day Caribbean truly begins to take shape in the mid-1800s. Islands begin gaining their independence, as do their slaves, and sugar's importance still dominates island economies.


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