Bussa and the Road to Emancipation (1764 -1834)

Slavery in Barbados

Bussa and the Road to Emancipation (1764 -1834)

By the 1700s, Barbados was one of the leaders in the slave trade.

The enslaved West Africans brought to Barbados were considered ‘property’; if they died, they were replaced. They had no rights, and their culture was suppressed.

Enslaved people were forced to perform manual work like digging and plowing the soil, planting and cropping the sugar cane, and carrying the cane to the factories. The job was very demanding, with no wages and many enslaved people died from exhaustion.

Note: Some plantation owners did try to alleviate poor conditions and allowed their slaves some personal freedoms. Some enslaved people were even granted freedom, especially favored women who plantation owners regularly moved into their homes.

Did you know? Children of the women were also granted freedom; therefore, a new class of “free-colored people” emerged.

The Humanitarian Movement Grows

At the same time, in England, a humanitarian movement was growing.

In 1765, one of the first English campaigners to abolish the slave trade, Granville Sharp, secured the freedom of one enslaved Barbadian, Jonathan Strong.

In 1772, Sharp won another case that proved to be a huge stepping-stone to freedom.

In this judgment, the Chief Justice of England, Lord Mansfield, stated all enslaved people should be declared free. This landmark ruling was significant in recognizing the illegality of slavery and helped pave the way for anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce.

In 1807, Wilberforce fought successfully in the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade across all the colonies.

Although this outlawed the enslaved person ‘trade,’ the resulting Slave Trade Act of 1807 did not ultimately end slavery; what it did was prevent any further shipment of enslaved people to the colonies.

This was still a significant milestone in the history of slavery, and Wilberforce fought hard against the West Indian plantation owners to achieve it.

Soon after, the African Institution was formed to ensure the abolition of the slave trade was indeed carried out.

The Institution kept the matter alive in Parliament and believed the best way forward was to create a registered colonial slave system to account for every enslaved person and reveal any new arrivals.

In June 1815, they put forth the Slave Registry Bill to the British Parliament, presented by Wilberforce himself.

The House of Assembly rejected the Bill, and community resentment grew.

Bussa And The Road To Emancipation

The resentment resulted in a large-scale slave uprising in Barbados, known as ‘Bussa’s Rebellion.’

Bussa was a West African man captured and sold as an enslaved person in the late 18th century and then transported to Barbados.

On 14 April 1816, Bussa led his revolt against the Barbadian plantocracy, resulting in a fierce two-day battle between the enslaved people, the planters, and the West India Regiment.

Carefully executed by approximately four hundred enslaved people (400), the Rebellion is documented as the most significant revolt in Barbadian history.

Bussa was forced into submission by the Regiment and was killed in the battle; however, this historic figure continues to represent emancipation and freedom in the hearts and minds of many Bajans.

News of Bussa’s uprising quickly reached England, and Barbados was forced to accept slave registration, even bringing into place its slave registry bill.

Bussa’s Rebellion was the first of three large-scale slave rebellions in the British West Indies in the years leading up to emancipation.

It was followed by the large-scale Rebellion in 1823 in Demerara (now part of Guyana) and an even more massive revolution in 1831 – 1832 in Jamaica.

Full Emancipation Is Realized

The momentum towards complete emancipation had now begun.

The African Institution merged with the Society for the Migration and Gradual Abolition of Slavery, which also committed to the complete abolition of slavery in the British Empire.

In the British Parliament, George Canning (a British statesman and politician) put forward the ‘Plan for the Improvement of the Condition of Negroes’, which Parliament initially rejected. However, on 7 July 1823, instructions were sent to Demerara to improve slave conditions.

This information leaked to the enslaved people in Demerara, and when changes were not quickly implemented, another large-scale slave uprising took place.

It wasn’t until 1830 that the humanitarian movement in England finally complained to Parliament that nothing was being done to improve enslaved people’s conditions.

In 1831, fuelled by continuing frustration and uprisings in Barbados and Demerara, enslaved Jamaicans rose, the last of the three ‘late slave rebellions.’

These significant developments resulted in the British government passing the Slavery Abolition Act on 28 August 1833.

Then, on 1 August 1834, enslaved people across the British Empire were finally granted emancipation.

Note: Although this was when slavery was officially abolished, there was a four-year apprenticeship period whereby ‘free men’ continued to work without pay in exchange for small housing up until 1838.

Barbados Remembers …

In 1985, a giant bronze statue, the ‘Emancipation Statue’ depicting an enslaved person breaking free from chains, was erected on a local roundabout in Barbados to honor the man fondly remembered as ‘Bussa’ and his historical slave revolt.

The statue is said to symbolize the strength of emancipation and is inscribed on both sides.

One side carries the words of the now infamous chant that thousands of Barbadians hailed when slavery was officially abolished, and the other hand is inscribed with text from the Slavery Abolition Act.

Every year in Barbados, ‘Emancipation Day’ is celebrated on 1 August in recognition of the official date for abolishing slavery on the island.

In 1998, by an act of Parliament, Bussa was again publicly honored by being named as one of the ten official National Heroes of Barbados for his significant contribution to the island’s history and development.

Did you know? The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was repealed by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act of 1998. However, slavery never became legal again, as sections of the Slave Trade Act 1824, Slave Trade Act 1843, and Slave Trade Act 1873 was continued, and the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates into British Law Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the holding of persons as enslaved people.

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About Totally Barbados (Edit profile)

Brett Callaghan is the founder and managing director of Totally Barbados. I specialize in writing content for the tourism industry for my island home of Barbados. I help companies build strategies to grow online businesses with SMART marketing, advertising, and social media goals.