Fear of revolt

Escaping from slavery

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

  • suicide
  • murder
  • desertion
  • revolt

White slave owners saw the threat of revolt as a problem. Resistance by enslaved people affected productivity and was costly. On the plantations, white masters were greatly outnumbered by enslaved African people and thought that revolt was a threat to their own safety.

Resistance to slavery on the Middle Passage

The Jolly Batchelor

In 1742, while docked on the Sierra Leone River, the Jolly Batchelor slave ship was attacked and captured by some of the enslaved people who were being loaded on board. The crew were killed in the fighting, the other enslaved people were freed from the hold.

Resistance to slavery on plantations

Some enslaved African people 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 away from 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.