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. WOMEN’S RESISTANCE
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 negro at Simmon’s, who said she could read, was the first person who told the negroes at Simmon’s so; and she said she had read it in the Newspapers, and that her Master was very uneasy at it; that she was always talking about it to the negroes, and told them that they were all damned fools to work, for that she would not, as freedom they were sure to get. That about a fortnight after New Year’s Day, she said the negroes were to be freed on Easter Monday, and the only way to get it was to fight for it, otherwise they would not get it; and the way they were to do, was to set fire, as that was the way they did in St.
Domingo. ” In revolts, women also played non-military, supportive roles. They suppplied water; acted as guides to provision grounds, helped to guard captives, poisoned and acted as look-outs. Thus, they were key persons in revolts. BWI enslaved women also practiced economic resistance. Women cultivated a variety of crops on their provision grounds which they sold to plantations, urban stores and local markets. Despite laws put in place by planters to stop women from selling certain items and huckstering, they still continued their tried.
Enslaved women in Antigua according to Beckles and Shepherd rioted when planters tried to ban huckstering. Women also slowed economic resistance by putting more effort into working on their provision ground than on estates. Running away from plantation was another strategy used my women to resist slavery. Women ware always found among slaves who were ”pulling foot”. Females often ran away from estates with their children to seek freedom. Chief among women who ran away were these who were new on the plantation as they wanted to be free. Women also ran away to be with their husband who worked on neighbouring or far estates.
Women as young as six years old ran way from the plantation. Historians note that in some Maroon village there were more women than men. (See Appendix 2 to see the number of women who ran ways in Barbados). Lucille Mair stated that sally, a six year old girl ran away from the Passage Fort estate in 1780. To establish their freedom in these Maroon villages, women became involved in guerilla warfare. Nanny, leader of the Nanny Town Maroons was one woman who was skillful at guerilla warfare (See Appendix 1 for a photo of Nanny of the Maroons).
She was known to use for spiritual power to defeat the British. Other women participated in armed revolts against the British. Records show that guerilla women were often taken as prisoners or killed. In Jamaica, the government offered ? 10 for every rebel women captured. Guerilla women also assisted in revolts by helping to carry off spoils, set fire to villages, worked provision grounds and provided soldiers with food. Hence they were active in the success of maroon villages. Women also killed, burned and plundered estates. Woment did not hesitate to kill whites on the plantations.
They often poisoned their masters food and drink, or kelled them in revolts. Many women plundered the estates by stealing from plantations to provide runaways with food and weapons. Women who were hucksters also stole the goods they sold from the plantations. Some committed arson by burning cane fields and housed. Betty Phillips, a domestic slave on Griffiths’s estate in Barbados, ran way after setting fire to her master’s bed and curtains to burn down his house. During the period of slavery Africans were forbidden to continue the practicing their culture.
Enslaved women in various ways did not obey this law. Through religion, storytelling and dances and other ways, they upheld their tradition. They practiced religions such as Voodoo, Myal and Kumina. They told African tales to their children, combed their hair in African styles, prepared African dishes and sang ant waked, funeral and in the fields. Thus, they did not seek to submit to the planters’ views that their culture was inferior. Finally, the tongue was a useful and effective weapon for many women in their resistance as they were not afraid to let their voices be heard.
The quarrelsome nature of women made many planters regard them as viragos. Women were often taken to court for their rude behaviour and use of indecent language. In Port Royal, Jamaica, of the 3111 cases, 150 involved women being charge for using violent, abusive, indecent and threatening language. Women also made use of satirical sonds which they used to mock white men who they had affairs with, missionaries who they said were hypocrites for going after girls and white woman. One of the songs they sang was, “Hi! De Buckra, hi”
Massa W-f-e da come ober de sea Wid him rougish heart and him tender look, And while he plaver and preach him book At the gro girl he’ll winkie him yeye “Hi! De Buckra, hi! ” Women sang these songs when working in the fields to make their work lighter. They also sang protest somgs. Those who worked in the gret house would carrying information to the other slaves that they overheard the planters discussing. They would also make appeals in the courts. They would complain to magistrates about receiving bad treatment from masters.
Therefore, their tong was a powerful instrument of attack and defence. CONCLUSION In concluding, based on the information presented above, one can see that women played an equally significant role as men to the anti-slavery movement in the British West Indies. In some cases they showed more resistance than men especially as they were the victims of physical and sexual abuse. Therefore, historians should see to higtlight their efforts more as if it wans’t for these efforts slavery would have lasted for a longer time.