The Price You Pay

Choosing Family, Friends, and Familiarity over Freedom in the Leeward Islands, 1835–1863

in Journal of Global Slavery
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Planters and colonial officials throughout the Caribbean feared the consequences of emancipation in the nineteenth century, especially after the British abolished slavery in 1834. Concerns were particularly strong among the planters and colonial officials of the Dutch Leeward islands of St. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius, as their geographical location left them vulnerable to the decisions of neighboring imperial powers. As early as 1825, when British law prohibited the extradition of foreign runaway slaves from their colonies, freedom was just a short boat ride away for the enslaved population of the Dutch islands, leading to worries that their islands would quickly become depopulated of their laborers. These fears were ultimately unfounded, however. As this article shows, the majority of slaves of the Dutch Leeward islands chose to either stay home or, after sojourning in another place, decided to return to their homes.

The Price You Pay

Choosing Family, Friends, and Familiarity over Freedom in the Leeward Islands, 1835–1863

in Journal of Global Slavery



  • 12

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    See Monica Schuler‘Alas Alas Kongo’: A Social History of Indentured African Immigration into Jamaica 1841–1865 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press1980) 11–12 22–23 26 114; and Monica Schuler “Liberated Central Africans in Nineteenth-Century Guyana” in Linda Heywood ed. Central Africans and Cultural Transformation in the American Diaspora (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002) 319–352.

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  • 87

    Parliamentary Papers 1839XXXVII “Papers Relative to the West Indies” 190. The disintegration of the closely-knit social fabric of the slave plantation in the post-emancipation Dutch colonies was well-documented Families fell apart and various family members migrated away to find work. See Oostinide Roosenburg en Mon Bijou 195–199.

  • 89

    Nevis Council Minutes 1840 to 1844entry for 23 Dec. 1843.

  • 90

    Parliamentary Papers 1845XXXI “Colonial Population Censuses” 331; Parliamentary Papers 1842 XIII Testimony of George Estridge 232; Parliamentary Papers 1845 XXXI “Correspondence Relative to the Laboring Population of the West Indies” 575; Nevis Council Minutes 1840 to 1844 entry for 23 Dec. 1843; Hall Five of the Leewards 40–41.

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  • 94

    Ibid.12 June 1848.

  • 101

    Bulmer-ThomasThe Economic History of the Caribbean73.


  • View in gallery
    Figure 1

    Leeward islands

  • View in gallery
    Figure 2

    Enslaved population of Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Martin, 1828–1862. Data is available for the population of St. Eustatius for the years 1828 and 1829. Data for these years are not available for St. Martin and Saba. The X axis is not continuous because consecutive yearly data is not available.Sources: NL-HaNA, Gouverneur-Generaal der Nederlandse West Indische Bezittingen, inv. nr. 351, 345; AN NAC 3757; AN NAC 4 Gouverneur 103 RT; Tweede Rapport der Staatscommissie benoemd bij koninklijk besluit van 29 november 1853, 186, 202–203, 305.

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