No Increase by Natural Means on Caribbean Slave Plantations

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C. Baird.

Explain why the Caribbean slave population generally did not increase by natural means.

The Caribbean slave population before the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, was one that experienced significant and extensive demographic changes whereby said population may have moved from a ratio of more men to women or vice versa, or grew or decreased in numbers. In fact, in Barbados, in 1764, “there were 70, 706 slaves on the island, however, in 1783, after importations which totalled 41,840, the slave population was 62,258, 8,448 less than it was in 1764” (Williams). It is important to note that the Caribbean slave population generally did not increase by natural means. These ‘natural means’ speaks of a high birth rate and low mortality rate on the plantation whereby female slaves were reproducing and highly fertile and their babies survived. The absence of this particular natural population growth is largely due to the fact that slaves were relatively cheap, therefore emphasis was put on buying rather than breeding slaves before 1807, also, the malnutrition which defined and constantly overshadowed life of the enslaved/. On the plantation there was a general lack of or inadequate medical care, especially that of prenatal and postnatal, there also was high mortality among infants and young children and many diseases that further deteriorated the life of the enslaved. Many of the enslaved had a profound difficulty in acclimatising, that is that ‘seasoning’ period wherein they adjusted to the new conditions in the Caribbean. The most telling cause of the lack of natural increase, however, is seen through the self-inflicted inhibited fertility and also said low fertility due to the distinctly traumatic experience of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and then their experience on the plantation itself. The demography of the plantation must also be taken into due consideration.

Before the year 1807, planters held fast and clung dearly to the belief that it was cheaper to buy slaves at “£26 per head,” than it was to breed them on the plantations (Williams). They thought that natural increase would only result in lost productivity and profits in caring for the child and the mother, in “the women’s inability to maintain the pace of work required during their pregnancy and their need for recovery time after child-birth” (Paton). It is therefore quite easy to see why the slave population experienced no natural growth, for it is certain that the slave holders were only and always thinking of economic gain, and if y realised or believed that something-natural increase- could have reduced their profits significantly, they would have discouraged or more likely banned it with serious punishments for disobedience. Such were relationships on the plantation between slaves that may have led to pregnancy, unwanted by the planters.

Planters sought to save and gain money where and how ever possible, at all times, therefore the fact that slaves were victims of malnutrition, is not even slightly surprising at all. In fact it is somewhat expected. This malnutrition affected the entire enslaved population but it especially took extremely draconian tolls on the female slaves and those who were pregnant. These pregnant women ate not for one but for two, but considering the fact that before-hand, slaves were not given enough food, the little they received, void of much protein, starch and fat, it was nearly impossible to ensure that the unborn child received sufficient nutrients. According to Virginia and Kenneth Kiple, due to this abysmal Vitamin A and Thiamine deficient diet, the fertility rate on plantations were extremely low and mortality rate rather high for there were miscarriages, still-births, the death of mother and or child during pregnancy or birth. Despite this impediment to natural increase, it is important to note that the enslaved who had the provision grounds, established in 1662 in Curaçao were the most healthy for it was...
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