The small and remote island of Barbados seems an unlikely
location for the epochal change in labor that overwhelmed it and
much of British America in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. However, by 1650 it had become the greatest
wealth-producing area in the English-speaking world, the center of
an exchange of people and goods between the British Isles, the Gold
Coast of West Africa, and the New World. By the early seventeenth
century, more than half a million enslaved men, women, and children
had been transported to the island. In A New World of
Labor, Simon P. Newman argues that this exchange stimulated an
entirely new system of bound labor.
Free and bound labor were defined and experienced by Britons and
Africans across the British Atlantic world in quite different ways.
Connecting social developments in seventeenth-century Britain with
the British experience of slavery on the West African coast, Newman
demonstrates that the brutal white servant regime, rather than the
West African institution of slavery, provided the most significant
foundation for the violent system of racialized black slavery that
developed in Barbados. Class as much as race informed the creation
of plantation slavery in Barbados and throughout British America.
Enslaved Africans in Barbados were deployed in radically new ways
in order to cultivate, process, and manufacture sugar on single,
integrated plantations. This Barbadian system informed the
development of racial slavery on Jamaica and other Caribbean
islands, as well as in South Carolina and then the Deep South of
mainland British North America. Drawing on British and West African
precedents, and then radically reshaping them, Barbados planters
invented a new world of labor.
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