Uploaded by Tyrese Edmond

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The Researcher has for a long time developed an interest in the role women play in developing
society on a whole so the Researcher’s interest was piqued at the thought of discovering the role
of women in plantation society in Jamaica .The specific aim of the research were to discover the
role of enslaved women in the domestic and cultural life of the plantation . Secondly was to
discover the role played by women through their role in field work . A third aim was to discover
the role played by women through their reproductive ability and the final aim was to understand
enslaved women’s role in resisting slavery. The overall objective was to take an in dept look at
the roles previously mentioned played by enslaved women and learn about the contribution made
by these women. Readers will benefit from this research as they will be able to see in an in-depth
way the specific ways in which women contributed to Jamaican plantation society.The
researcher believes this will create an interest in readers especially Jamaican and Caribbean
readerswho will understand more of their historical background and the background of slave
women in plantation society.This will urge them to see from a different perspective how women
play a role in our society today and appreciate and respect women for their important role.
Slavery was at its height in the 18th century as colonies like Jamaica fed the British empires
needfor wealth built on sugar. It is the Researchers view that it is indeed true to say that
enslaved females played a significant role in the plantation society of Jamaica , during the 18 th
century. women were a critical part of slave society within Jamaica during this period. This is
evidentbased on the fact that in all areas of slave society women’s work and presence were
significant. In this essay we will consider four major areas in which the women’s roles were very
Firstly womenwere the back bone of domestic work. They kept the great houses as well as their
own homes example through the cooking of meals and planting ground provision and raising
domestic animals. They influenced the society by integrating African culture within the society
for example through their dress and selling in the markets . Secondly women played a critical
role in field work as their contribution was just as critical as that of the males on the plantation
.This research will show that women’s role in both field work and domestic matters was essential
for the smooth running of the plantations. Women also played a significant role in plantation
society through their reproductive ability by deliberately controlling the number of children they
gave birth to. Finally women were also in the resistance movement of slaves to the oppressive
system of slavery resisting both actively and passively.
According to Barbara Bush,Slave women contributed significantly to West Indian society. They
influenced the society with their culture by integrating African culture with the culture of the
whites she says that Edward long says white women adopted the slave women’s way of speaking
and dressing especially on remote plantations. It was usually the black females in constant
contact with the whites who were influenced by white women.
Slave women like men tilled their own gardens planting ground provision as they used to do in
Africa.They were also domestic servants. Bush (1990) states thatBryan Edwards wrote that it
was impossible to conduct the business either of a house or a plantation without a number of
According to her the slave woman participated in the internal marketing system and provided
fortheir families.Enslaved women had an opening for independent economic activityby visiting
the market ,women from different plantations were able to communicate with one another and
had a certain amount of freedom in the markets, which were important to the whole
society.Slavemarket activities benefited the whole society, slaves as well as whites and gave the
women some amount of independence.
Lucille Mathurin Mair has similar views about the role of women in domestic life she states that
women worked just as hard on their personal grounds as men (259).Some would join with their
malepartners so they could produce more and they were better at bargaining in the markets than
men. (Mair 261). Slave women added to the society through their dress.Some slave women made
clothes from fine fabric rejecting the clothing given to them by their masters they took pride in
these clothes buying fabric from money they saved up. (Buckridge 2004)
GenerallyPlanters controlled the lives of female slaves who were regarded as chattel. They also
tried to control the way they reproduced.Having children increased the planter’swealth and many
planters tried to force their female slaves to have children. It was even a rumor that enslaved
females could birth children at will. As written by Thomas Thistlewood “i really believe that the
Negress can produce children at pleasure…” pregnant women sufferedgynecological disorders
because of the hard work and cruel treatment.“see appendix
1” Bush states that they were
expected to work in the fields up to 6 weeks before delivering and return to work 3 weeks after.
In “race and class” it is said that slave women tried to control their reproduction and used this as
a form of resistance to slavery.They refused to have children because the Massa could have them
sold and sent away to other plantations also they did not wish to increase the wealth of the
plantersso women took steps to avoid or space out their pregnancies.Dr.Michael Clair gave
evidence to a parliamentary committee that mid-wives gave pregnant women wild cassava to
terminate pregnancies. Women also practiced lengthy weening so they could not get pregnant
soon after giving birth. It was stated in Race and Class that slavemothers nursed their children
for up to 3 years.
In terms of general resistance to slavery, Verene Shepherd states that resistance took many forms
categorized by violent and non-violent resistance.
Women played a significant role in resistance using their presence in otherareas plantationwork
to resist their slave master’s oppressive and abusive tendencies. Women took part in both forms
of resistance.Women slaves often ran away more often than less for short periods of time.Female
slaves also took part in rebellions not only playing an auxiliary role but also playing the part of
The stories of brave and fierce maroon women such as Nanny of theMaroons and Cubah are
proof of the enslaved female’svital presence in guerilla warfare in Jamaica according to Verene
They also provided areas of expertise needed in warfare such as the knowledge of medicine
provided by the mid wives.
At times female slaves would take an even more direct way of rebellion through the use of the
domestic slave’s access to the master’s food through poisoning.
Enslaved women were often put through harsh treatment as they were not only slaves but also
women as such their bodies were coveted for the slave master’s profit and pleasure. As
mentioned above enslaved women in an act of rebellion often practiced abortion through the
ingesting of herbs provided by mid wives.
With regards to fieldwork there has been the mistaken view that women worked less hard than
men and were less valuable. According to Verene Shepherd enslaved women were valued
greatly as their place as the main crop producers within the plantation was quite important as
they were vital to the work force as well as keeping the balance. Women’s working ability and
hourswere equal to that of the men and the value of a female slave was on par with that of most
males. Between 1790 and 1807 males slave could be purchased in Jamaica for 50 to 70 pounds
while the price of a healthy female was 50 to 60 pounds . Barbra Bush (1990)
Women outnumbered males in thefields,this was due to the lack of occupational choices for
female slaves as they were not only seen as inferior for theircolour but also their sex.The two
plantation occupations allowed to female slaves were domestic work and field work none of the
artisan jobs were allowed to female slaves. Traveler William Beckford as quoted by Barbra Bush
“Slave Women In Caribbean Slave Society” observed “a Negro man is purchased either for a
trade or cultivation of the different processes of the cane but the occupations of women are only
2, the house with its several departments and supposed indulgences or the field with its
exaggerated labours”.
In 1789 the Worthy ParkEstate in Jamaica had a slave labour force of 339,162 females and 177
maleswith a little over 43 per cent of thewomen working in a field gang while little over 16 per
cent males worked within the fields( Shepherd 47). In facttheir work in the fields may have been
even harsher as Women were subjected to the same work regime as men even in advance stages
of pregnancy or early motherhood. It is said that women did most of the work on coffee estate
and livestock farms “ As indicated in appendix 2 women were equal in number or were a
majority as seen in the inventories of Unity Inventory and Halse Hall Estate .“
Beckford who owned properties in Jamaica indicated that thirty-six of the males were field
workers compared to fifty-seven percent of the women.( Shepherd and Beckles 391)
The research shows according to “Race and Class” that the majority of slavewomen were
restricted to the more menial and monotonous task of sugar production only a small minority
who were mid wives and domesticslaves, managed to escape field work.
Based on the evidence discovered as researchwas carried out for this paper, one can definitely
draw the following conclusions. Slave women influenced the culture of Jamaican society through
African cultural practices such as farming, speech and dress. They were critical to field work
with more women in some cases doing field work than men they were thus responsible for
creating great wealth for Britain. Women resisted slavery by both violent and non-violent means
they were critical in rebellions and even were leaders in rebellions. Women used their
reproductive abilities to resist slavery but also used it to show their own control over their
bodies. Enslaved females therefore playeda Significant Role in the Plantation Society of Jamaica
Inthe 18th Century by influencing many critical aspects of the society’s life.
Bush,Barbra. Slave Women In Caribbean Society. Heinemann Publishers (Caribbean) Kington,
1990. Indiana UniverityPress ,BloomintonIndianopolis , James curry London
Mathurin, Lucille. A Historical Study of Women in Jamaica 1655-18447A Gibraltar Hall road
Mona Kingston 7 Jamaica
Shepherd, Verene. Women in Caribbean History. Ian Randler publishers 1999
Sivanandan , A. Ahmad, Egbal. Institute of Race Relations. (Eds) Race and class A Journal for
Black and Third World Liberation volume 32 October - December 1990 #2. Long Island City
New York, USA 1990
Steve, Buckridge. The Language of Dress Resistance and Accommodation in Jamaica, 17601890. University ofthe West Indies Press 1Aaquduct Flats Mona Kingston 7 Jamaica
Thistlewood, Thomas. In Miserable Slavery In Jamaica 1750-86. Douglas Hall the University
ofthe West Indies press Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica
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