Fear of revolt

Escaping from slavery

Slaves took drastic and dangerous actions to escape from slavery, such as:

  • suicide
  • murder
  • desertion
  • revolt

For white slave owners, the threat of revolt was a very real problem. Resistance by slaves was costly as it affected production. It was also potentially very dangerous - on the plantations slaves greatly outnumbered their white masters.

Slave resistance on the Middle Passage

The Jolly Batchelor

In 1742, while taking on slaves in the Sierra Leone River, the vessel the Jolly Batchelor was attacked and captured by the enslaved Africans. The crew were killed in the fighting, the Africans stripped the vessel of its rigging and sails and freed the other Africans in the hold. They then abandoned the ship.

Slave resistance on plantations

Some African slaves on the plantations fought for their freedom by using passive resistance (working slowly) or running away. The problem of runaways became so serious that most West Indian islands passed laws to deal with this and other forms of resistance.

Examples of such laws are:

Antigua - Any slave running away for a period of three months or more is to suffer death, loss of limb or whipping at the discretion of two judges.

Montserrat - Any white person who captures a runaway slave alive is to be paid 500lbs (500 pounds) of sugar by the owner. Any runaway absent for three months or more is to be executed as a criminal.

St Christopher - Any white or free person finding a slave off their owner’s plantation without a pass, may whip them.

Jamaica - Any slave found with 5lb to 20lb of fresh meat shall be whipped by the order of two judges, not exceeding 39 lashes.

Barbados - Any slave offering violence to a Christian is to be whipped severely on first offence. For a second offence, the slave is to be severely whipped, with their nose slit and their face branded with a hot iron. On the third offence, the slave should face a greater punishment as the council and governor see fit.