"Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth"
The abolition of slavery in the British Empire was a process which spread over several decades. After years of political wrangling, the slave trade was eventually ended in 1807. Decades later, the date for emancipation was set. However, when the end came, it came sooner than anticipated. The apprenticeship period was supposed to last until 1840. But, as a result of increasing pressure and protests, the British government ended apprenticeship early in August 1838. On the 1st of that month, all were emancipated from slavery. It was intended that the former enslaved peoples would remain on their plantations, live in the same houses and work the same jobs, working for wages instead as slaves. It was to be, in the words of one Jamaican, the same rider, on the same mule, heading towards the same destination.
What actually occurred was that, unsurprisingly, the former slaves left the plantations in their droves, resulting in a labour crisis on the plantations. The reaction of the landholding classes was to introduce laws attempting to force the former enslaved people back on to the plantations. Methods included arbitrary taxation, anti-squatting legislation and increased implementation of vagrancy laws.
Whilst previous scholarship has examined how the colony of Jamaica faced a labour crisis in the years following emancipation, it has traditionally focused on the importation of indentured labourers from East and South Asia, the social conditions such labourers faced and the desperate attempts by the colonial government to stimulate the economy. Existing research has done little to examine the lengths the colonial government went to, from a legal perspective, to try and force the former slaves back to the estates. This research aims to understand how English law was utilised in an attempt to tie the former slaves to the estates, and the Afro-Caribbean influences on, and responses to, those laws. How exactly did the colonial government attempt to restrict land ownership by former slaves in order to force them back to the plantations? What laws were introduced in the post-emancipation years to combat vagrancy? How did Afro-Caribbean people react to the laws and what measures did they take to claim land? How did Afro-Caribbean understanding of land ownership change over the period under consideration? This inquiry endeavors to address how Afro-Caribbean people influenced the implementation of English law in Jamaica and how they found the legal spaces between their and the colonial government´s interpretation of it in order to claim land for themselves and live beyond the control of the plantations.