No Increase by Natural Means on Caribbean Slave Plantations

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Explain why the Caribbean slave population generally did not increase by natural means. The Caribbean slave population before the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, was one that experienced significant and extensive demographic changes whereby said population may have moved from a ratio of more men to women or vice versa, or grew or decreased in numbers.

In fact, in Barbados, in 1764, “there were 70, 706 slaves on the island, however, in 1783, after importations which totalled 41,840, the slave population was 62,258, 8,448 less than it was in 1764” (Williams). It is important to note that the Caribbean slave population generally did not increase by natural means. These ‘natural means’ speaks of a high birth rate and low mortality rate on the plantation whereby female slaves were reproducing and highly fertile and their babies survived.

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The absence of this particular natural population growth is largely due to the fact that slaves were relatively cheap, therefore emphasis was put on buying rather than breeding slaves before 1807, also, the malnutrition which defined and constantly overshadowed life of the enslaved/. On the plantation there was a general lack of or inadequate medical care, especially that of prenatal and postnatal, there also was high mortality among infants and young children and many diseases that further deteriorated the life of the enslaved.

Many of the enslaved had a profound difficulty in acclimatising, that is that ‘seasoning’ period wherein they adjusted to the new conditions in the Caribbean. The most telling cause of the lack of natural increase, however, is seen through the self-inflicted inhibited fertility and also said low fertility due to the distinctly traumatic experience of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and then their experience on the plantation itself. The demography of the plantation must also be taken into due consideration.

Before the year 1807, planters held fast and clung dearly to the belief that it was cheaper to buy slaves at “? 26 per head,” than it was to breed them on the plantations (Williams). They thought that natural increase would only result in lost productivity and profits in caring for the child and the mother, in “the women’s inability to maintain the pace of work required during their pregnancy and their need for recovery time after child-birth” (Paton).

It is therefore quite easy to see why the slave population experienced no natural growth, for it is certain that the slave holders were only and always thinking of economic gain, and if y realised or believed that something-natural increase- could have reduced their profits significantly, they would have discouraged or more likely banned it with serious punishments for disobedience.

Such were relationships on the plantation between slaves that may have led to pregnancy, unwanted by the planters. Planters sought to save and gain money where and how ever possible, at all times, therefore the fact that slaves were victims of malnutrition, is not even slightly surprising at all. In fact it is somewhat expected. This malnutrition affected the entire enslaved population but it especially took extremely draconian tolls on the female slaves and those who were pregnant.

These pregnant women ate not for one but for two, but considering the fact that before-hand, slaves were not given enough food, the little they received, void of much protein, starch and fat, it was nearly impossible to ensure that the unborn child received sufficient nutrients. According to Virginia and Kenneth Kiple, due to this abysmal Vitamin A and Thiamine deficient diet, the fertility rate on plantations were extremely low and mortality rate rather high for there were miscarriages, still-births, the death of mother and or child during pregnancy or birth.

Despite this impediment to natural increase, it is important to note that the enslaved who had the provision grounds, established in 1662 in Curacao were the most healthy for it was a supplement to plantation rations and it provided food to sell and trade for vegetables, meat or livestock-pigs and chickens. According to Humphrey Lamur, low birth rates had been observed in Curacao in the years of bad harvest and this illustrates a direct relation of nutrition to fertility.

When sich is taken into consideration, the fact that slave diets were more often than not poor and deficient is a clear and distinct cause of the absence of natural increase. Plantations had little to no medical care, especially that of prenatal and postnatal. There were no hospitals or nurses and it was extremely difficult to have a baby born healthy and keep him thus afterwards/ One must note that there were indeed plantations like Worthy Park in Jamaica, 1767, that had doctors.

However, these doctors were “ignorant of the etiology of tropical diseases” and said ignorance contributed nothing to effective treatment or curing of the diseases, but often made matters worse (Craton). It is easy to assume therefore that babies and young children often died due to this lack of effective medical treatment for whatever fatal diseases they possessed, thus contributing to the factors accountable for the absence of increase by natural means on Caribbean slave plantations.

The amelioration legislation, 1787, passed in all British West Indian colonies should have largely improved life of the enslaved on plantations, however “towards the end of slavery, the effects of any improvements were offset by the decline in plantation profits, which made masters more inclined to work their slaves harder and spend less on their upkeep and care” (Craton). This lack of expenditure for bettering the care and health on the plantation prevented increase by natural means. The afore-mentioned malnutrition and lack of medical care greatly increased mortality among infants and young children.

Already having an immune system, not fully developed, put together with a lack of nutrients essential to a healthy and long life and little or no medical care that could adequately treat fatal diseases, the little ones on the plantations suffered greatly. Associated with this mortality rate were also “the unsanitary conditions of many slave quarters, on the one hand, and West African practices such as packing the stump with mud, on the other hand guaranteed a high black as opposed to white death rate from disease” (Kiple).

Many mothers committed infanticide, strangling or stifling their child, refusing to nurse, feed or care for the baby, or even aborting the unborn child. Maybe it was due to a sort of insanity and mental illness or just that the women recognised that slavery was definitely no place for a baby. One must note that it is obviously impossible for increase by natural means if sexual relations between men and women do not result in babies that do not grow and survive past their majority. Disease tremendously impeded increase by natural means on the plantations.

Micheal Craton posits that if the debilitating effects of deficient of diet and less crippling than hookworm are included, nearly all slaves were subjected to tropical ailments which lowered their efficiency, fertility and enjoyment of life. ” The diseases like yaws, jawful-neonatal tetanus which was a major infant killer, were all related to malnutrition and severely unhygienic conditions on the plantation. All these things co-existing in one place was like a plague, wiping out many infants and even adults.

Kiple proffers that “neonatal tetanus has been credited with carrying off about one quarter of all slave infants within their first two weeks of life. ” He also puts across the idea that Beriberi, a nutritional disease, “affected the demographic history of West Indian slave populations due to infant mortality. ” Such concepts are simple enough to grasp for these diseases lowered fertility and increased mortality rates on the plantation. Kiple says that the mortality rate on Cuban plantations was “between 60 and 75 per cent. ”

The enslaved Africans, on arrival to the West Indies were always in poor health, suffering from measles and small pox, relatively starving after rations of dried grain and dirty water for five weeks or in some cases nearly three months. These weak bodied and sometimes feeble minded Africans were taken to the plantations to recover from all that ailed them so that they could commence the labour they were bought and brought to do. This recovery time, better known as the ‘seasoning’ period lasted months or even up to three years for the enslaved.

It was the period of time wherein the enslaved would become adjusted to working and living conditions on the plantations in the New World, or succumb to them and perish. Hilary Beckles estimates that “33 per cent of the new enslaved people to die within the first three years of being on the islands. ” This was as a result of exposure to all manner of tropical diseases that they could not accustom themselves to. Many often had psychological issues. If said diseases did not kill them, the eventually killed themselves.

This ‘seasoning’ period hindered reproductive behaviour and negatively affected fertility, thereby provoking a standstill in increase by natural means on the plantation. The enslaved women on the plantation, to prevent themselves from becoming pregnant, according to Deborah G. White “may have used some form of birth control or abortion in order to bar any child from the tumultuous life that was slavery. ” She however posits that this cannot be a sure thing but planters thought that the woman did indeed utilise some preventative measure.

It is important to note that constantly having abortions lowers fertility and to such an extent that women can no longer become pregnant. After the extremely traumatising and horrid experience of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade wherein death, starvation and disease were usual aspects of the Middle Passage, and then the same of similar experiences on the plantation, it is rather easy to assume that female slaves were conscious of the horrors on the mind and body that the system of chattel slavery could have inflicted upon the children, also the separation and demolition of the family unit and unhappiness that were direct results of slavery.

They therefore were wary of bringing a child into such an environment, such a life, in which freedom was no guarantee. Humphrey Lamur gives a little insight into the daily life on the plantation. He suggests that “sugar estates producing for the world market, where heavy, physically demanding labour and long working hours usually prevent slave fertility from rising. He compares said sugar estates in Suriname to the conditions in Curacao and such a statement is self-explanatory for it clearly shows why Caribbean slave population underwent increase by natural means. Small coffee plantations and mountain pens, estates like Worthy Park in spacious highland, according to Craton, had lower mortality rate than populations in swampy low lands, especially sugar plantations which were extremely cramped and labour intensive.

Such conditions were not conducive to increase by natural means, healthy slaves, pregnant women and little children especially. In conclusion, the reasons why the Caribbean slave population generally did not increase by natural means before 1807 are extremely deep-rooted and closely related one to the other. Such increase was hindered by the fact that slaves were cheap and planters put emphasis on buying rather than breeding them before 1807.

The malnutrition and lack of or inadequate medical care- pre natal and post natal that slaves were subjected to is quite telling in itself, for as humans, they required the necessary nutrients for healthy lives. The high mortality among infants and young children, the diseases, the difficulty slaves faced in acclimatising or during the ‘seasoning’ period, the self-inflicted inhibited fertility and low fertility due to the never-ending traumas of the entire slavery process and demography all operated hand in hand with each other.

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No Increase by Natural Means on Caribbean Slave Plantations. (2016, Sep 27). Retrieved from

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