The Slave Trade
Henry Charles Carey

Chapter II.
Of Slavery in the British Colonies.

At the date of the surrender of Jamaica to the British arms, in 1655, the slaves, who were few in number, generally escaped to the mountains, whence they kept up a war of depredation, until at length an accommodation was effected in 1734, the terms of which were not, however, complied with by the whites — the consequences of which will be shown hereafter.  Throughout the whole period their numbers were kept up by the desertion of other slaves, and to this cause must, no doubt, be attributed much of the bitterness with which the subsequent war was waged.

In 1658, the slave population of the island was 1,400.  By 1670 it had reached 8,000, and in 1673, 9,504.[1]  From that date we have no account until 1734, when it was 86,546, giving an increase in sixty-one years of 77,000.  It was in 1673 that the sugar-culture was commenced;  and as profitable employment was thus found for labour, there can be little doubt that the number had increased regularly and steadily, and that the following estimate must approach tolerably near the truth:—

Say    1702, 36,000; increase in 29 years, 26,500
       1734, 77,000;     "    "  32    ",  41,000

In 1775, the total number of slaves and other coloured persons on the island, was 194,614;  and if we now deduct from this the number in 1702, say 36,000, we obtain, as the increase of 73 years, 158,614.  In that period the importations amounted to 497,736, and the exportations to 137,114;  leaving, as retained in the island or about two and two-fifths persons for one that then remained alive 360,622[2]

From 1783 to 1787, the number imported was 47,485, and the number exported 14,541[3];  showing an increase in five years of nearly 33,000, or 6,600 per annum;  and by a report of the Inspector-General, it was shown that the number retained from 1778 to 1787, averaged 5345 per annum.  Taking the thirteen years, 1775-1787, at that rate, we obtain nearly 70,000

From 1789 to 1791, the excess of import was 32,289, or 10,763 per annum;  and if we take the four years, 1788-1791, at the same rate, we obtain, as the total number retained in that period 43,000; total: 113,000

In 1791, a committee of the House of Assembly made a report on the number of the slaves, by which it was made to be 250,000;  and if to this be added the free negroes, amounting to 10,000, we obtain, as the total number, 260,000, — showing an increase, in fifteen years, of 65,386 — or nearly 48,000 less than the number that had been imported.

We have now ascertained an import, in 89 years, of 473,000, with an increase of numbers amounting to only 224,000;  thus establishing the fact that more than half of the whole import had perished under the treatment to which they had been subjected.  Why it had been so may be gathered from the following extract, by which it is shown that the system there and then pursued corresponds nearly with that of Cuba at the present time.

“The advocates of the slave trade insisted that it was impossible to keep up the stock of negroes, without continual importations from Africa.  It is, indeed, very evident, that as long as importation is continued, and two-thirds of the slaves imported are men, the succeeding generation, in the most favourable circumstances, cannot be more numerous than if there had been only half as many men;  or, in other words, at least half the men may be said, with respect to population, to die without posterity.”—Macpherson, vol. iv. 148.

In 1792, a committee of the Jamaica House of Assembly reported that “the abolition of the slave trade” must be followed by the “total ruin and depopulation of the island.”  “Suppose,” said they, “A planter settling with a gang of 100 African slaves, all bought in the prime of life.  Out of this gang he will be able at first to put to work, on an average, from 80 to 90 labourers.  The committee will further suppose that they increase in number;  yet, in the course of twenty years, this gang will be so far reduced, in point of strength, that he will not be able to work more than 30 to 40.  It will therefore require a supply of 50 new negroes to keep up his estate, and that not owing to cruelty, or want of good management on his part;  on the contrary, the more humane he is, the greater the number of old people and young he will have on his estate.” — Macpherson, iv. 256.

In reference to this extraordinary reasoning, Macpherson says very correctly —

“With submission, it may be asked if people become superannuated in twenty years after being in the prime of life;  and if the children of all these superannuated people are in a state of infancy?  If one-half of these slaves are women, (as they ought to be, if the planter looks to futurity,) will not those fifty women, in twenty years, have, besides younger children, at least one hundred grown up to young men and women, capable of partaking the labour of their parents, and replacing the loss by superannuation or death, — as has been the case with the working people in all other parts of the world, from the creation to this day?”

To this question there can be but one reply:  Man has always increased in numbers where he has been well fed, well clothed, and reasonably worked;  and wherever his numbers have decreased, it has been because of a deficiency of food and clothing and an excess of work.

It was at this period that the Maroon war was again in full activity, and so continued until 1796, when it was terminated by the employment of bloodhounds to track the fugitives, who finally surrendered, and were transported to Lower Canada, whence they were soon after sent to Sierra Leone.

From 1792 to 1799, the net import was 74,741;  and if it continued at the same rate to 1808, the date of the abolition of the trade, the number imported in eighteen years would be nearly 180,000;  and yet the number of slaves increased, in that period from 250,000 to only 323,827 — being an annual average increase of about 4,500, and exhibiting a loss of fifty percent.

In the thirty-four years, 1775-1808, the number of negroes added to the population of the island, by importation, would seem to have been more than 260,000, and within about 50,000 of the number that, a quarter of a century later, was emancipated.

In 1817, nine years after importation had been declared illegal, the number is stated[4] at 346,150;  from which it would appear that the trade must have been in some measure continued up to that date, as there is no instance on record of any natural increase in any of the islands, under any circumstances.  It is indeed quite clear that no such increase has taken place;  for had it once commenced, it would have continued, which was not the case, as will be seen by the following figures:—

In 1817, the number was, as we see 346,150.  In 1820, it was only 342,382;  and if to this we add the manumissions for the same period, (1016,) we have a net loss of 2,752.

In 1826, they had declined in numbers to 331,119, to which must be added 1,848 manumissions — showing a loss, in six years, of 9415, or nearly three per cent.

The number shown by the last registration, 1833, was only 311,692;  and if to this we add 2,000 that had been manumitted, we shall have a loss, in seven years, of 19,275, or more than five percent.  In sixteen years, there had been a diminution of ten percent, one-fifth of which may be attributed to manumission;  and thus is it clearly established that in 1830, as in 1792, a large annual importation would have been required, merely to maintain the number of the population.

That the condition of the negroes was in a course of deterioration in this period, is clearly shown by the fact that the proportion of births to deaths was in a steady course of diminution, as is here shown:—

From 1817 to 1820, were registered 25,104 deaths, 24,348 births.
  "  1823 to 1826,    "   "        25,171  "      23,026   " 
  "  1826 to 1829,    "   "        25,137  "      21,728   "

The destruction of life was thus proceeding with constantly accelerrating rapidity;  and a continuance of the system, as it then existed, must have witnessed the total annihilation of the negro race within half a century.

Viewing these facts, not a doubt can, I think, be entertained that the number of negroes imported into the island and retained for its consumption was more than double the number that existed there in 1817, and could scarcely have been less than 750,000, and certainly, at the most moderate estimate, not less than 700,000.  If to these we were to add the children that must have been born on the island in the long period of 178 years, and then to reflect that all who remained for emancipation amounted to only 311,000, we should find ourselves forced to the conclusion that slavery was here attended with a destruction of life almost without a parallel in the history of any civilized nation.

With a view to show that Jamaica cannot be regarded as an un favourable specimen of the system, the movement of population in other colonies will now be given.

In 1764, the slave population of St. Vincent’s was 7,414.  In 1787, twenty-three years after, it was 11,853, having increased 4,439;  whereas, in four only of those years, 1784-87, the net import of negroes had been no less than 6,100.[5]  In 1805, the number was 16,500, the increase having been 4,647;  whereas the net import in three only, out of eighteen years, had been 1,937.  What was the cause of this, may be seen by the comparative view of deaths, and their compensation by births, at a later period:—

Year Deaths Births
1822  4,205  2,656
1825  2,106  1,852
1828  2,020  1,829
1831  2,266  1,781

The births, it will be observed, steadily diminished in number.

At the peace of 1763, Dominica contained 6000 slaves.  The net amount of importation, in four years, 1784 to 1787, was 23,221[6];  and yet the total population in 1788 was but 14,967.  Here we have a waste of life so far exceeding that of Jamaica that we might almost feel ourselves called upon to allow five imported for everyone remaining on the island.  Forty-four years afterwards, in 1832, the slave emancipation returns gave 14,834 as remaining out of the vast number that had been imported.  The losses by and death and the gains by births, for a part of the period preceding emancipation, are thus given:—

Deaths Births
1817 to 1820 1,748 1,433
1820 to 1823 1,527 1,491
1823 to 1826 1,493 1,309

If we look to British Guiana, we find the same results.[7]

In 1820, Demerara and Essequibo had a slave population of 77,376
By 1826, it had fallen to 71,382
And by 1832, it had still further fallen to 65,517

The deaths and births of this colony exhibit a waste of life that would be deemed almost incredible, had not the facts been carefully registered at the moment:—

Deaths Births
1817 to 1820 7,140 4,868
1820 to 1828 7,188 4,512
1823 to 1826 7,634 4,494
1826 to 1829 5,731 4,689
1829 to 1882 7,016 4,086

We have here a decrease, in fifteen years, of fifteen percent, or 12,000 out of 77,000.  Each successive period, with a single exception presents a diminished number of births, while the average of deaths in the last three periods is almost the same as in the first one.

Barbadoes had, in 1753, a slave population of 69,870.  In 1817, sixty-four years after, although importation appears to have been regularly continued on a small scale, it amounted to only 77,493.  In this case, the slaves appear to have been better treated than elsewhere, as here we find, in the later years, the births to have exceeded the deaths — the former having been, from 1826 to 829, 9250, while the latter were 6814.  There were here, also, in the same period, 670 manumissions.

In Trinidad, out of a total slave population of 23,537, the deaths, in twelve years, were no less than 8,774, while the births were only 6,001.

Grenada surrendered to the British forces in 1762.  Seven years after, in 1769, there were 35,000 negroes on the island.  In 1778, notwithstanding the importation, they appear to have been reduced to 25,021.

In the four years from 1784 to 1787, and the three from 1789 to 1791, (the only ones for which I can find an account,) the number imported and retained for consumption on the island amounted to no less than 16,222[8];  and yet the total number finally emancipated was but 23,471.  The destruction of life appears here to have been enormous;  and that it continued long after the abolition of the slave trade, is shown by the following comparison of births and deaths:—

Deaths Births
1817 451 902
1818 657 1070

The total births from 1817 to 1831, were 10,144 in number, while the deaths were 12,764 — showing a loss of about ten percent.

The number of slaves emancipated in 1834 in all the British possessions, was 780,993;  and the net loss in the previous five years had been 38,811, or almost one percent per annum.

The number emancipated in the West Indies was 660,000;  and viewing the facts that have been placed before the reader, we can scarcely err much assuming that the number imported and retained for consumption in those colonies had amounted to 1,700,000.

This would give about two and a half imported for one that was emancipated;  and there is some reason to think that it might be placed as high as three for one, which would give a total import of almost two millions.

While thus exhibiting the terrific waste of life In the British colonies, it is not intended either to assert or to deny any voluntary severity on the part of the landholders.  They were, themselves, as will hereafter be shown, to a great extent, the slaves of circumstances over which they had no control;  and it cannot be doubted that much, very much, of the responsibility, must rest on other shoulders.


1 Edwards’ West Indies, vol. i. p. 255.

2 Macpherson’s Annals of Commerce, vol. iii. 575.

3 Macpherson’s Annals of Commerce, vol. iv. 155.

4 Martin’s Colonial Library, West Indies, vol. i. 90.

5 Macpherson, vol. iv. 155.

6 Ibid.

7 Montgomery’s West Indies, vol. ii. 114.

8 Macpherson, vol. iv. 155, 228.