Thursday , December 7 2023

Emancipation Day lecture on slavery history

Ryan Espersen, resident researcher in Saba Archaeological Research Centre (SABARC) held a presentation at Eugenius Johnson Center in Winwardside on Thursday 11 in honour of the 150th commemoration of Emancipation Day, and gave according to the Daily Herald of July the 15th an in-depth insight into Saba’s history during the time of slavery.
Espersen gave an overview of this year’s archaeological discoveries conducted by SABARC’s research team and Saba youths in collaboration with Leiden University in The Netherlands and University of Calgary in Canada. Some digs were in the proximity of Saba University School of Medicine’s campus, with important digs extending from Middle Island to the sugar plantations of Spring Bay Flat and Spring Bay.
After this introduction the presentation about the slavery period started. First enslaved West-Africans likely came to Saba between 1659-1665, after they were purchased at auction on Curaçao. The timing is associated with the onset of labour-intensive sugar cultivation on Saba where fishing, tobacco and indigo cash crops dominated before. In 1665, English pirate Edward Morgan captured Saba and deported all Dutch residents and enslaved Africans to St. Maarten where most stayed even after it was returned to the Dutch in 1672, leaving a dominant English ancestry.
Recorded transactions in sugar give insights into the scale of the operations on the recently discovered sugar plantations. Statistics indicate a recurrent pattern unique to Saba. People of European-descent and those of African-descent were demographically balanced. This had an impact on interracial relations, confirmed by household remains showing expensive pottery in enslaved African households. A diversified economy with salt fish exports, coffee and an important export of shoes to many neighbouring islands complements the picture of a thriving community only marginally affected by sugar-plantation slavery.
The destructive hurricane of August 31, 1772, catalyzed the collapse of a viable sugar plantation economy. Espersen provided detailed Saba demographics between 1665 and 1937, sales of enslaved Africans between 1825 and 1863, as well as manumissions between 1827 and 1863, which paint a complex picture of slavery. On eleven occasions between 1844 and 1859, enslaved Africans were purchased and immediately manumitted.
While documented sexual relations between European-Sabans and Sabans of African-descent date back to 1789 up to the 19th century, Saba largely remained socially divided among racial, religious, social and economic lines. Non-whites remained identified based on perceived degree of African ancestry, ranging from African to “sambo,” “mulatto” and down to “mustee.”
From 1823 to 1836, a series of laws were passed on Saba concerning the enslaved, which give a glimpse into forms of resistance to slavery. Documents also reveal that abolitionists helped enslaved Sabans escape to freedom on British Islands, with freed people establishing prosperous households, one of which was even called an estate.
After the 1863 Emancipation, Sabans of African-descent bought property from the Dinzey plantation in The Bottom. Some 25 transactions occurred between 1863 and 1875. Early African-descent landowners included Rollins in English Quarter, Beal, Gumbs, Hassell, Linzey, Riley, Simmons, Wilson, Woodly and Woods in Middle Island and Kelly on Crispeen. Similarly, in The Bottom there were the Bakers, Bealy, Flyden, Drsey, Duncan, Every, Gordon, Lake, Levenstone, Ling, Linzey, Monroe, Rock, Scott, Smith, Witfield and Woods.
SABARC efforts are parallel with those of St. Maarten Archaeological Centre (SIMARC), both the brainchild of Dr. Jay Haviser. Espersen’s fellowship is funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme EUROTAST, which is part of Marie Curie Actions Initial Training Network (ITN).

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