How St Helena’s Slaves Gained their Freedom Part 3

Better perhaps to ask the Company to put up the money as a loan to the slaves so that they could purchase their freedom. The owners would have cash in hand to pay wages to the newly free. The newly free would have to work to pay off their loan so indolence would not be a problem. Also, but not stated, the older the slaves got the less their value so if the idea was approved then better do this sooner rather than later.  Most everyone thought this was a good idea – so long as they could value their own slaves. This gleeful idea was turned down flat – it would have to be via a so-called disinterested committee composed of slave owners and Company servants (who of course were also slave owners). They all had to swear on oath that they would act impartially and in Sep 1827 the valuation of the slaves was started. The idea was that the valuation list would be available to everyone and both the owners would know what money they would get and the slaves, what their values were and how much they would have to pay back. 

There was a major drawback of course. The best slaves – the ones that were in their prime, worked hard, behaved themselves and were generally good eggs were going to valued higher and would have to pay back the most money. The less able, the idle, incompetent and generally bad lots would be valued least and would have to pay back less money. Hardly fair. The only way out of this conundrum was to class the slaves as meritorious, class 1, class 2 etc. The real bad lots would not be valued or classed at all and would be at the end of the queue for emancipation. 

The slaves would not be all freed at once – the process would be by lot and take five years and there would be a formula devised so that the highest class of slave would have a better chance of being freed early. The formula/lottery process would also ensure that a particular owner would not find that by luck he lost all his best slaves in any one draw but there would be a cross section across the classes each year. The draw would be biased in favour of the higher classed slave and this was intended to be an incentive for the lower classed ones to get off their backsides. If they moved up to a higher class they would get a better chance of an early freedom. 

The valuation took place for all 890 slaves present on the island. This document exists  and I have transcribed it and it is now available to members on our web site.  It is possible to analyse this data in many ways. I’ve prepared a few slides to show the kind of information that can be obtained from it but it would take another talk to do justice to it. The document states the name of both slave and owner, the slaves age and occupation and some personal details – character, number of children, whether they are married or cohabiting 
Figure 1 below shows a break down of the age distribution of slaves on the island. I thought it quite amazing that all the slaves should know their birthdates (only a few are annotated ‘about’) and this slide shows that some of it was probably guesswork – note the spikes at five year intervals which suggests ages were rounded off.


Fig 1

Figure 2 shows a comparison between the slave age distribution compared to England (1821). Although there were no 0-9 year old slaves (they were all free), the mothers stated how many free children they had so we can use this figure. The demog raphics look (to my untrained eye) very similar. This supports the notion that slavery on the island was no harsher and resulted in the same rates of mortality as an average English person at this time. However there is something strange happening within the 10-19 year old group; the numbers look very high – why should this be?
These children would have been born during the years 1808-1817 so perhaps it was due to a lot of children being born soon after the British Army troops arrived in 1815 – the troops enjoying a field day but not one involving marching and parading!  This happy thought is not born out by the statistics.   The reason for the 10-19 year old peak remains a mystery.


Fig 2

Figure 3 below shows the average value of men and women slaves by age range. Quite a difference. Up to the age of 50, the value of women slaves varies very little. Men reach a peak at about 30 years of age.


Fig 3

Figure 4 shows the proportion of men and women involved in domestic service. Men were only used as servants or cooks – it was the women who did the nursing, washing and needlework as well as cooking and other domestic tasks. As you can see about 90% of women were domestic and about 30% of men. This can be compared with the West Indies where in towns slightly more than 60% of adult females and slightly less than 20% adult males were employed as domestics. The numbers employed as domestics in rural areas was much less.


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