Jamaica Emancipation History - 1834
The emancipation of the slaves in the British West Indies in 1834 created further problems for the sugar industry. Any student must seek to uncover the truth behind Jamaica emancipation history. The freed men resented the way the planters had bitterly resisted emancipation, and the period of apprenticeship intended to encourage them to remain as paid laborers on the estates was not successful. Wherever they could, they left to settle on small holdings of their own.
This was most common in Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad, where plenty of unused land was still available. The Jamaica history of emancipation was least common in such small, densely peopled islands as St Kitts and Barbados, where there was no such choice and life had to go on much as before.
For some years after emancipation Britain continued to charge much lower duties on colonial sugar than on sugar from other countries. Unfortunately for the British West Indies this policy was short lived. Large manufacturing towns were springing up in Britain and as British factory workers were paid very low wages they had to have cheap foodstuffs. In the years following 1846 and emancipation in Jamaican history the duties on non- colonial sugar were gradually reduced until there was no difference in treatment between colonial and non-colonial imports.
British West Indian sugar was no longer protected. As we have seen, it was expensive. It could not easily compete on equal terms with slave-grown sugar from such rapidly developing countries as Cuba and Brazil. Many estates were sold at a fraction of their original cost. Many others could not find purchasers at any price. A telling time in
history of Jamaica after emancipation.
In spite of the difficulty of making much money from cane, it was not easy for the estate owners to find anything to replace it. Cane cultivation had been so successful for so long that it had absorbed all their capital, interest and skill. Little was known about other tropical crops, which in any case were less able to withstand hurricanes, diseases and droughts. The peasants were more adaptable. Not only did they produce a variety of foodstuffs for local markets, they often led the way in developing new export crops. However the history of Jamaican education before emancipation and after suffered as there was no need for many of the missionaries to remain. Arrowroot in St Vincent, cocoa in Trinidad and Grenada, coffee, citrus fruits, spices and cotton in several islands, and bananas in Jamaica were commercially successful crops developed as much by peasants as by estates.
On the estates the greatest efforts were still directed towards improving the sugar industry. Profits could still be made in favored areas provided there were enough workers to handle the crop. Some places, such as Barbados, had enough estate workers. Others, such as Antigua, Tobago, and Nevis, started a sharecropping system. This was a major step in the development of the history of Jamaicaís food and crops. Still others, particularly Trinidad and Guyana, were short of labor, and so in the 1840s a new wave of immigration began.
Some people moved from the densely populated parts of the region to the sparsely settled areas. Others came from Africa, Madeira and China, but by far the largest number came from India. Nearly half a million Indians arrived in the West Indies in the following eighty years. They were employed for a few years as indentured laborers and could return home when their contracts expired. Some did so, but the majority chose to remain on the estates or to settle on small holdings of their own.
Their descendants form the majority of the population in Guyana, the second largest group in Trinidad, and small proportions of the population of other islands. They are still associated with the sugar industry but they have also contributed to agricultural diversification, particularly by cultivating rice and, more recently, market garden crops that have added to the unique history of Jamaican people.
Once assured of a labor supply the estate owner could set about improving the methods of cultivating and processing their cane. Ploughs became common in the West Indies for the first time. New varieties of better yielding Jamaican sugar cane were planted. Steam-driven machinery was installed in a few of the bigger factories and gradually the dependence on water and wind power dwindled.
The quality of the sugar was much improved by boiling it at a relatively low temperature in vacuum pans. Where centrifugals were installed, dry crystals were extracted which could be sent overseas in cheap sacks instead of in the costly hogsheads required to carry the wet sugar made previously.
These improvements were under way on some estates, notably in Guyana and Trinidad, when the industry received the greatest set-back of all. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the governments of some European countries subsidized their exports of beet sugar so that it was cheaper than cane sugar. It sold so well that by 1893 cane sugar formed little more than a quarter of Britainís sugar imports. Only the sales of British West Indian sugar in America saved the industry from complete ruin.