According to Lucille Mathurin Mair in her article entitled “The Rebel Woman in the British West Indies During Slavery”, coming from West African, enslaved women in the Caribbean developed a gret level of self-respect and confidence. This was due to the fact that many of them held great amount of power and authority in Africa. Being child bearers, women were held in high esteem and were an asset to their tribe. Women also held high positions such as Queen Mother in African societies. Taken from there homes in West Africa, these women lost their status as they were stripped of everything even their name when they arrived on the plantation. Being the natural warriors that they were , enslaved women sought to resist slavery in an effort to regain the status they once had, that is being free and self-respected. This paper will therefore focus on the contribution of enslaved women in the British West Indies to the dismantlement of the system of slavery in the BWI during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Female slaves on plantations, adopted some of the same methods as men to crush slavery. They employed quiet, subtle and almost negative methods of protest. Some on the other hand used positive or violent methods. These included running away, revolt , pretend to be ill and other methods peculiar to them as females. Women however rarely used active resistance because they had harsher penalties. One of the most popular methods of slave resistance used by enslaved women was what Beckles and Shepherd call ‘natural resistance”. Women as natural rebels used their bodiesd to resist slavery. After the slave trade was abolished in 1807, enslaved women became very important to the planter as they now became the main suppliers of new slaves. Planters offered women incentives such as extra food and clothing allowance to bear and rear children. Women who had six children would no longer do hard work. This was seen in Jamaica where William Ricketts of the Canaan Estate in Westmoreland encourage women to have children by giving them badges of favour such as special coats and fed young children from his own table. Realising that they were so important to the planters for their child bearing ability, women resisted using their bodies. They committed abortions, suicide and infanticide. Some also used pregmancy prevetion methods. In doing this according to John Campbell women deprived the planter of valuable property. One proprietor was forced to concede that. "I really believe that the negresses can produce children at pleasure; and where they are barren, it is just as hens will frequently not lay eggs on ship-board, because they do not like their situation."
Women also used their menstrual cycle to absent themselves from work. They prolonged the period of breast feeding so they could get extra food, and go to work an hour late and leave an hour earlier as they were to get these by law. She also did this so she could take frequent break while working. Some women also would mutilate their bodies. Beckles and Shepherd noted that a slave women in British Virgin Islands severed her hand with a cutlass in protest of slavery. Many enslaved women in the BWI can be called “rebel women”. Enslaved women were actively involved whether directly or in directly, in many slave revolts and rebellions that took place in the Caribbean. Record indicate that women were are the forefront in the panning of revolts. This was seen in the Christmas Rebellion of 1831 led by Sam Sharpe wher several women were among the planners. They include Susan (Stacry Plantation), Bina, Eliza Lawrence, Ann Guy and Kitty Scarlet. At the end of the rebellion, of the 344 persons convicted, 75 were women. In Barbados, Nanny Grigg was a chief planner and leader in the 1816 Barbados Rebellion.. Robert a slave in Barbados noted; ” Sometime the last year, he heard the negores were all to be freed on New Years Day. That Nanny Grigg, a...
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