The Bahamas from Slavery to Servitude, 1783-1933

The Bahamas from Slavery to Servitude, 1783-1933

The Bahamas from Slavery to Servitude, 1783-1933

The Bahamas from Slavery to Servitude, 1783-1933

Synopsis

In the only scholarly treatment of Bahamian socio-economic history in post-emancipation years, Johnson begins by examining the last phase of slavery as one element in the foundation of later, and often more exploitative, labor systems. Looking at both urban and rural slave populations, Johnson discusses the systems of slave hire, apprenticeship, and indenture and highlights the ways in which the people of the Bahamas formed a proto-peasantry, often exerting more autonomy and power as slaves than as a "free" people. Following emancipation in 1838, export economies of cotton, salt, sponges, and pineapples spawned coercive credit and truck systems, which bolstered the dominance of a white mercantile elite that would exercise control until the early 1960s. Various government policies further perpetuated a "machinery of class slavery", making migration (primarily to Key West, and later to Miami) one of the few escape routes available to the lower classes. Throughout, Johnson relates historical movements and events in the Bahamas to those in neighboring Caribbean islands, Latin America, and the United States, making this an important source book for all Caribbeanists. It will also be of interest to scholars of the historiography of slavery in the Americas and the transition from slavery to freedom - or, in a post-emancipation system of domination like that of the Bahamas - from slavery to servitude.

Excerpt

Historical writing on the Bahamas is primarily a twentieth-century phenomenon. Until the first decade of this century, Bahamian history was discussed either as a part of the general histories of the British West Indies or mentioned briefly in travelers' accounts. James H. Stark had published History of and Guide to the Bahama Islands in 1891, but it was a popular historical account intended for visitors to the colony. James M. Wright "History of the Bahama Islands," published in 1905, was the first scholarly treatment of the colony's history. This study, which focused narrowly on the last phase of slavery and the early postemancipation years, was the earliest extended treatment of the black experience in the Bahamian context.

In the forty years following the appearance of Wright's monograph, the modest historical literature on the Bahamas centered on the early period of white colonization and on the Loyalist influx of the late eighteenth century. Wilbur H. Siebert The Legacy of the American Revolution to the British West Indies and the Bahamas, published in 1913, discussed the early years of the American Loyalists in the colony as an aspect of United States history rather than as a contribution to an autonomous Bahamian history. White Bahamians, who were important participants in this early phase of historical writing, directed their attention to the history of their forebears in what was often an exercise in filial piety. In 1914, for example, A. T. Bethell published privately The Early Settlers of the Bahamas, which was primarily a source book on white settlement up to the Loyalist era. Until the early 1950s, no general history of the Bahamas was published. This is not surprising, for British and British imperial history continued to dominate the history curricula of Bahamian schools at the elementary and secondary levels. In that decade, three editions of A. Deans Peggs A Short History of the Bahamas were published locally. The decade of the 1960s was marked by the publication, in 1962, of the first extended and comprehensive general history of the Bahamas, written by Michael Craton, who had served as a history teacher in the colony during the 1950s. This pioneering volume, which quickly established itself as the main text on Bahamian history, has been published in . . .

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