Cutting sugar cane
University Library, the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill

Plantation huts
The Library Company of Philadelphia

Home and work
Enslaved people might need to build their own simple homes. Some were allowed smallholdings to grow plants, such as yams, pumpkin and plantain, to supplement their meagre diet. There was little time for this though. Some kept a few livestock – or caught fish - others had no meat. Slaves often contracted diseases connected to poor diet and overwork.

Some men became craftsmen, tradesmen or stock-keepers. Some slaves worked in the sugar mills or other processing areas (the sugar mills were boiling hot, dangerous places) - and there were a few domestic jobs for men and women - but the majority worked in the fields. This was back-breaking work, and the hours were very long.

The life span for workers on some plantations averaged about two years.

Others might be more fortunate, in that they lived longer and were able to have families – but the people had no rights and families could be split up and sold, at any time, by the plantation owner. The 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act discouraged plantation owners from working people to death and then buying more from the slave ships.

It was common for plantation owners to have children by enslaved women. Sometimes the children remained as slaves; sometimes they were freed – but not the mothers. One Scotsman boasted that he had lost count of the number of children he had fathered.

Though many enslaved people became Christians, others continued to practise their own religions brought from Africa. Plantation owners were fearful of this. But some planters would not allow Christian ministers onto their plantations – because the ministers preached that all people were equal.

Rebellion in the West Indies
Ever since the island was first colonised by the British, in the 1600s, the Maroons of Jamaica had resisted them. An agreement was eventually reached - the Maroons would be left alone – if they left the British alone. However, in the late 1700s, some were transported to Nova Scotia (and then to Sierra Leone).

There were many runaway slaves. Some were caught and tortured or killed. But others escaped to the hills and remained free. They formed armed bands, and survived by growing crops and hunting. They used guerrilla tactics to raid the plantations. On the smaller islands, as the colonisers took over more land, the groups were unable to survive but, on the larger islands, such as Jamaica, the community increased.

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