The failure to find alternative sources of labour

British waged labour

The plantation system in Barbados was developed using poor white manual labour.

With so much new land available, labourers were always tempted to leave their job and start their own farm. Wages needed to be high enough to tempt them to stay, reducing the planters’ profit margins.

Plantation owners found ways around paying wages that cut into their profits.

British indentured servants

Indentured servants were poor people who signed contracts to work in return for food, clothes and shelter. Servants were lent the cost of transport from Europe. They worked for a fixed period, eg five or ten years, at the will of their master, for no wage, to pay off their debt. However:

  • There were not enough British workers to meet the needs of expanding plantations
  • Too few were freely choosing to perform manual labour in the new colonies for the planters to maximise their potential profits
  • Too few indentured servants were coming from Britain. (People who were offered meagre land grants that often did not materialize

British criminals

Criminals were sent as punishment for a specific period. Transportation to the West Indies was seen as an alternative to hanging. However, there were not enough British criminals who could be sent as forced labour.

Towards the end of the 17th century enslaved Africans emerged as the most profitable source of labour. This avenue was pursued so vigorously that the sources of labour from indigenous peoples, British wage labour, indentured servants and criminals, fell into insignificance.