Fear of revolt

Escaping from slavery

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

  • suicide
  • murder
  • desertion
  • revolt

For white slave owners, the threat of revolt seemd a very real problem. Resistance by enslaved people was costly as it affected production. On the plantations, enslaved people greatly outnumbered their white 'masters' and the owners may have felt physically threatened by this.

Resistance on the Middle Passage

The Jolly Batchelor

In 1742, while docked in the Sierra Leone River, the vessel the Jolly Batchelor was attacked and captured by the enslaved African people who were being loaded on board. The crew were killed in the fighting. The African people stripped the vessel of its rigging and sails and freed the other people who were captive in the hold. They then abandoned the ship.

Resistance on plantations

Some enslaved people on the plantations fought for their freedom by using passive resistance (working slowly) or running away. The number of runaways came to be seen by slave owners as such a serious problem 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.