Antigua: "If You Say That I'm Free, Then I'm Free"
Updated: Oct 15, 2018
I was asking the grounds manager at Betty's Hope, reportedly the first and largest sugar mill and plantation in Antigua, about the apprenticeship systems I was researching in the Jamaican archives that lasted for roughly 4 years after emancipation in the islands colonized by the British -- which thereafter transitioned into another form of containment. I noticed, in case after case, that in 1833, an estate owner's property that was not livestock or crops was marked as "slaves" with very few manumissions; and in 1834, all of a sudden more or less the same number was marked as "apprentice." Which led me to research the conditions of apprenticeship.
"When the Emancipation Act was finally passed in 1833, it did not automatically give the slaves their freedom. This was because it was felt that the slaves were not used to being independent. Instead it was thought that they needed help and training to be free men and women. Slaves therefore became ‘apprentices’ and continued to work for low wages under their old masters. Supposedly, they were being trained to be free." --- "Apprenticeship: Slavery By Another Name?
As the Governor of Jamaica in 1834, Lord Sligo, put it in an address to the apprentices: “You will be apprenticed to your former owners for a few years, in order to fit you all for freedom.”
But, Antigua was one of the few islands that sidestepped the apprenticeship process, following their August 1,1834 emancipation, saying instead, as the groundskeeper told me: "If you say that I'm free, then I'm free." Both knowing full well, that freedom has always preceded and outlasted our subjugation …
And carrying on.