Abolition of Slavery


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Country Slavery Ends Independence
Haiti 1794 1804
British Colonies 1838 only some
French Colonies 1848 only some
Dutch Colonies 1863 only some
United States 1865 only some
Puerto Rico 1873 U.S. controls
Cuba 1880 1898, 1959
Denmark ruled a group of 68 islands, the largest of which are St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. The islands, known collectively as the Virgin Islands, were sold to the United States in 1917 and they are now known as the U.S. Virgin Islands. The group of 30 islands, known today as the British Virgin Islands, were formerly held by the Dutch and acquired by Britain in 1666. Britain still controls the islands. 

The abolition of slavery in the Caribbean was the result of a number of factors in and outside of the area. Besides economic prosperity for the individual slaveholder and his country, the brutality of slavery gave rise to many revolts. The European colonial powers had to continually provide more military assistance to the plantation owners, which meant a considerable financial drain. Additionally, there were plantation owners who wished to have more freedom in how they conducted their business, and some wanted total independence from the colonial powers.

Meanwhile, the colonial rulers were in constant competition with each other, and they knew this factor added to the reality of maintaining the plantation system and quelling slave revolts would in time prove too much to bear. The possibility of the revolts one day being successful was very great given that by the 1800s, on many islands, the slaves greatly outnumbered the Whites.

In 1803 the worst fears of the plantation owners were realized when a series of revolts on Haiti led to the island gaining independence from France in 1804.

Additionally, the invention of machinery to speed up sugar cultivation made vast numbers of slaves unnecessary.

Accompanying these realities were increasing feelings in Europe that slavery was wrong and that it should be abolished. Eventually, most Caribbean countries were free of slavery by 1848. Spain, however, did not finally end slavery in Puerto Rico and Cuba until the last half of the 19th century (see above for dates).

With the abolition of slavery the plantation owners and the colonial rulers no longer had to worry about the diversion of money and lives to ongoing struggles against men who wanted to be free. Independence, though, was out of the question because the colonies, even with the abolition of slavery and the former slaves now being paid workers, were a source of considerable income. Today, some Caribbean islands are still ruled by the United States, England, France, or the Netherlands.
Chart Source:
Caribbean: West Indian, Africa-American or African, by Dr. Arthur Lewin.