THE JOURNEY TO FREEDOM...
FROM SLAVERY TO EMANCIPATION
When the English captured Jamaica from the Spaniards in 1655, they saw the potential wealth that sugar cane known then as "yellow gold" could bring them. The English were however not physically capable of growing sugar canes themselves as this was a crop that required intensive manual labour.
By then, the Arawak Indians, the original natives of the island, had become extinct. Natural disasters such as hurricanes as well as the diseases they contracted from the Spanish who held them captive for many years, virtually wiped out this indigenous population.
The English then looked towards the continent of Africa, where it was said that the Africans could withstand the heat and their bodies were more resistant to diseases. The majority of the slaves, who were taken from West Africa, endured a dreadful journey to the West Indies referred to as "The Middle Passage". By the late 18th Century, it was noted that Jamaica had the largest number of slaves in the British West Indies and a most successful sugar industry.
As the manufacturing and export of sugar and its by products such as molasses and rum thrived, the slave trade flourished. There were however, a few members of the British Parliament who having seen the conditions in which the slaves were forced to live, were strongly opposed to slavery thus sparking an anti-slavery debate.
First came the abolition of the slave trade in 1808. In 1823, the Anti-Slavery Society was founded with the Quakers taking a prominent role along with a number of influential men like William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson.
Investigations and arguments by members of this society revealing the horrors of slavery, lead to the passing of the Emancipation Act on July 31, 1834 in the British West Indies at midnight. However, full freedom to all slaves was not granted until four years later by Queen Victoria of England on August 1, 1838.
Emancipation meant that Jamaica's over 300,000 slaves were now free to choose what they wanted to do with their lives. Some persons remained on the sugar estates and worked for wages, which they later used to buy land for themselves while others headed for the hillside eventually forming free villages the first of which is Sligoville, located in St. Catherine.