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Vol. 1 - H.L. WESSELING (ed), Expansion and Reaction

Essays on European Expansion and Reactions in Asia and Africa, by F. Braudel, H. Brunschwig,
S.N. Eisenstadt, J.C. Heesterman, J.L. Miege, R. Robinson, I. SchOffer, H.L. Wesseling, and E.

Vol. 2 - P.C. EMMER and H.L. WESSELING (eds), Reappraisals in Overseas History
Essays on Post-war Historiography about European Expansion, by C. Bayly, H. Bley, L. Blusse, H.
Brunschwig, A. Hopkins, J.L. Miege, N. Steensgaard, J. Stengers, H.L. Wesseling, and G.D.
Hardcover ISBN-I3:978-94-010-8436-9; Paperback ISBN-I3:978-94-010-8436-9

Vol. 3 - L. BLUSSE and F. GAASTRA (eds), Companies and Trade

Essays on Overseas Trading Companies during the Ancien Regime, by P .H. Boulle, K.N. Chaudhuri,
P.C. Emmer, O. Feldbaek, F. Gaastra, A.H. de Groot, E. Kato, P.W. Klein, D. Lombard, O.
Prakash, E. Schmitt, N. Steensgaard, and G.D. Winius.

Vol. 4 - R. ROSS (ed), Racism and Colonialism

Essays on Ideology and Social Structure, by D. van Arke1, R.F. Betts, E. van den Boogaart, V.A.
February, L. Poliakov, T.O. Ranger, J. Rex, R. Ross, R.T. Smith, and D.A. Washbrook.

Vol. 5 - R. ROSS and GERARD J. TELKAMP (eds), Colonial Cities

Essays on Urbanism in a Colonial Context, by R.F. Betts, L. Blusse, C.G. Clarke, G.A. de Bruijne,
x. Guillaume, M. Karasch, A.D. King, D. Kooiman, P.J. Marshall, J.L. Miege, J.L. Oosterhof, R.
Ross and A.C. van Oss.

Vol. 6 - C.A. BAYLY and D.H.A. KOLFF (eds), Two Colonial Empires
Comparative Essays on Colonial India and Indonesia, by C.A. Bayly, S. Bayly, Dharma Kumar, C.
Fasseur, J.C. Heesterman, W. R. Hugenholz, M. Kuitenbrouwer, D.H.A. Kolff and F. Robinson.

Vol. 7 - P.C. EMMER (ed), Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after
ByE. van den Boogaart, P.C. Emmer, S.L. Engerman, H.A. Gemery, H. Gerbeau. A. Graves, W.A.
Green, F. Mauro, G. Moltmann, M. Schuler and B. H. Slicher van Bath

Subsequent volumes will deal with Colonialism and Labour Migration and Colonial Wars.
edited by

p.e. EMMER
Contributions by E. van den Boogaart,
P.C. Emmer, S.L. Engerman, H.A. Gemery,
H. Gerbeau, A. Graves, W.A. Green, F. Mauro,
G. Moitmann, M. Schuler and B.H. Slicher von Bath



jor the United States and Canada: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 190 Old Derby
Street, Hingham, MA 02043, USA
jor the UK and Ireland: Kluwer Academic Publishers, MTP Press Limited,
Falcon House, Queen Square, Lancaster LAI lRN, UK
jor all other countries: Kluwer Academic Publishers Group, Distribution Center,
P.O. Box 322, 3300 AH Dordrecht, The Netherlands

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Colonialism and migration.

(Comparative studies in overseas history; 7)

Bibliography: p.
1. Indentured servants--America--History--
Congresses. 2. America--Emigration and immigration--
History--Congresses. 3. America--Population--History--
Congresses. 4. Labor supply--America--History--
Congresses. I. Emmer, P. C. II. Series: Comparative
studies in overseas history; v. 7.
HD4875.A837C65 1986 331.11 '73 85-21809

ISBN-13:978-94-010-8436-9 e-ISBN-13:978-94-009-4354-4
DOl: 10.1007/978-94-009-4354-4


© 1986 by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht.

Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 1986

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a

retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of
the publishers,
Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, P.O. Box 163, 3300 AD Dordrecht,
The Netherlands.

PART I: Introduction

I. E. VAN DEN BOOGAART and P.C. EMMER, Colonialism and

Migration: an Overview 3

PART II: European Indentured Migration to the New World

2. B.H. SLICHER VAN BATH, The Absence of White Contract La-

bour in Spanish America during the Colonial Period 19
3. HENRY A. GEMERY, Markets for Migrants: English Indentured
Servitude and Emigration in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Cen-
turies 33
4. ERNST VAN DEN BOOGAART, The Servant Migration to New
Netherland, 1624-1664 55
5. FREDERIC MAURO, French Indentured Servants for America,
1500-1800 83
6. GUNTER MOLTMANN, The Migration of German Redemptioners
to North America, 1720-1820 105

PART III: Indentured Migration after Slavery

7. MONICA SCHULER, The Recruitment of African Indentured La-

bourers for European Colonies in the Nineteenth Century 125
8. WILLIAM A. GREEN, Plantation Society and Indentured Labour:
the Jamaican Case, 1834-1865 163
9. P. C. EMMER, The Meek Hindu: The Recruitment of Indian La-
bourers for Service Overseas, 1870--1916 187
10. HUBERT GERBEAU, Engagees and Coolies on Reunion Island:
Slavery's Masks and Freedom's Constraints 209
]I. ADRIAN GRAVES, Colonialism and Indentured Labour Migration
in the Western Pacific, 1840-1915 237

PART IV: A Comparison: Indentured Labour Before and After Slavery

12. STANLEY L. ENGERMAN, Servants to Slaves to Servants: Con-

tract Labour and European Expansion 263

Notes on the Contributors 295

Index 297
Part One

1. Colonialism and migration: an overview



European commercial and colonial expansion created the demand for interconti-
nental migration via the sea routes. The most important stream went from the
Old World (Europe and Africa) to the New World: America. This continued to
be the case, even after the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century,
when most colonies on the continent of America had detached themselves from
their parent countries. In addition, a stream of migrants between Asia and
America came then into being. The intercontinental migrations within the Old
World, directly connected with European expansion, were small compared to the
mainstream to the Americas. Within all these streams of migration there were
considerable changes in the ethnic composition and social status of the migrant
population from the 16th century onward to some time into the 20th century.
Only the minority of the approximately 10 million migrants who were brought
over from Europe and Africa to the Americas between 1492 and 1820, were
conquerors, managers, missionaries, merchants, craftsmen or farmers who could
set themselves up in business. Most of them were labourers, destined for planta-
tions in tropical and subtropical America. Ofthese, the majority by far consisted
of the approximately 8 million African slaves; roughly 25% to 30% of the 2
million European migrants are also referred to as 'bonded labour': indentured
servants, engages and redemptioners. It must immediately be added that there is
increasing doubt as to whether it is correct to put these two kinds of 'unfreedom'
under one heading!.
In comparison with the emigration to the New World, it is somewhat warped to
speak of European emigration to Asia and Africa. In fact, the majority of
Europeans set off for African and Asian trading posts, firmly resolved to return
again after a few years. Many managed to do this, but many more died in the
countries abroad or established themselves overseas. For example, against the
995,000 who departed on the ships of the Dutch East India Company between
1602 and 1795, there were only 379,000 who returned; these included a number,

Emmer P.c. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, DordrechtiBoston/Lancaster.
ISBN 90 247 3253 O.

which has not yet been estimated, who made the journey more than once. Just as
with the emigrants from Europe to America, there existed a nett outflow to Asia2 •
Moreover, the sailors and soldiers of the Companies trading with Asia (by far the
largest occupational category among the migrants) were recruited from the same
group of unmarried young men with limited work experience, as were the
indentureds and engages destined for America. For that matter, not all in the last
named group intended to emigrate permanently. Seen from the perspective of the
demographic situation and the labour market in Western Europe, we are con-
cerned here with closely related migratory movements.
At present, quantitative information about the nett outflow from Europe to
Africa and Asia via the overseas trading routes is only available for the Dutch
East India Company. These figures make one suspect that the joint Portuguese,
Dutch, English and French nett outflow between 1500 and 1821 possibly totalled 2
million people, and therefore it might have been of the same order as the outflow
from Europe to America. Alongside European-Asiatic migration, trading com-
panies were responsible for a migration stream of Asian and African slaves to
their trading posts and to the Cape Colony'. The scanty facts that are known to us
create the impression that this was a matter of some hundred thousand people in
the above-mentioned three centuries. In contradistinction with the migration
streams between the Old and the New World, the contribution of free, white
labour dominated in the migration streams within the Old World, which were
caused by Western European commercial expansion.
Between 1821 and 1920, the Western hemisphere continued to attract by far the
greatest number of migrants. Approximately 41 million Europeans went to the
independent republics on the continent of America (at least 33 million to the
United States), while 2 million African slaves and rather less than 1 million Asian
contract workers were shipped to the American plantation islands and coastal
areas, which were mostly still European colonies. In contrast with the period
before 1800, the majority of emigrants to America were now Europeans and free
wage-earners 4 •
It is more difficult to find exact figures for migration between parts of the Old
World, directly connected with Western European colonization after 1800. It
seems that, between 1800 and 1920, approximately 1 million people departed from
Europe to Africa, primarily North and South Africa, and two to three million to
the South Asiatic and Pacific colonies. The internal Asiatic migrations of contract
workers under European - and later also North American - supervision, such as
those from the Pacific Islands to Australia, from the British East Indies to
Malacca and from China and Japan to Hawaii seem to have comprised approx-
imately 500,000 people. The principal Asiatic-African streams of contract work-
ers went from the British East Indies and China to Mauritius and Reunion

(539,000) and to South Africa (255,000). These contract workers were mainly
intended for the new Asiatic and African plantations and mining areas. Bonded
labour played a relatively larger role in colonial migrations within the Old World
than in those between the Old and New World, even though the American
plantation areas again seem to have attracted the greatest number of unfree
labourers in this period5 •
The articles in this volume deal with two of these migration streams. European
contract migration during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries is examined in the first
part. In the second part, all the contributions are concerned with African and
Asian contract migration in the 19th and 20th centuries. As is evident from the
above, this volume deals with the smaller flow of the two intercontinental streams
of migrations ofbonded labour which were the result of West European colonial-
ism. Against the 10 million African slaves brought to America, there were
roughly 2 million contract workers originating from three continents with three
continents as destination. In contrast with studies of the Atlantic slave trade and
American slavery, this type of migration and this type of unfree labour had largely
been considered from within the framework of individual national colonial
history, while specialists in 17th and 18th-century contract labour seldom refer to
19th and 20th-century studies on this subject. The Centre for the History of
European Expansion tried to find out whether a comparative perspective could
contribute to the formation of new insights and the formulation of new questions.
As is usual in comparative research, the differences in the material to be
compared readily catches the eye. In his survey-article, Engerman draws our
attention to a number of contrasts between the early modern migration of
European contract workers to America, and that of the African and Asian
contract workers intended for colonial plantation and mining areas during the
19th and 20th centuries. The European contract workers, with the exception of
those who had the Antilles as their destination, went to primarily white societies
in the temperate zones. They found employment there on small farms or as
craftsmen in the towns. The Asian and African contract workers mostly per-
formed unskilled work on plantations in tropical areas with multiracial societies.
The first stream went from a relatively prosperous area to a potentially very
prosperous area; the second stream went from the very poor to less poor areas.
The Europeans often became settlers and were upwardly mobile; among the
Asian and African contract workers, there were more who returned home and
their chances of upward mobility were small. Nevertheless, Engerman sees a
connecting element - made evident in his title - between the two streams: both of
them formed an alternative to slave labour on the plantations. In the English and
French plantation colonies in America, the labour of the European indentureds
and engages preceded and was largely replaced by African slave labour, which,

after its abolition, was followed by Asian contract labour. The theme of the
historical relation between contract and slave labour in plantation areas runs as a
connecting thread through the contributions in this collection.


Europeans who went to America in the early modern period left under contract,
in as much as they were not in the service of the government, church or colonizing
company, or they went on their own initiative and paid the costs of their passage
themselves. This contract could be a verbal one, an arrangement based in
common law, between the servant and the master he accompanied. Similar
agreements could also be deposited with a lawyer. American colonists sometimes
asked their connections in the parent countries to recruit workers for them and
had them sent across at their expense. The conditions under which these recruits
departed were often notarized. In every case the contractee knew for whom he
was going to work. The contract was not transferable by the employer, at best it
could be hereditary. The opposite was true for indentured servants, engages, and
redemptioners. They committed themselves through an intermediary to work in
America for a prescribed time and for a fixed remuneration. The intermediary
bore the costs of the passage and was legally entitled to sell the work contract to
the highest bidder in America.
Contract labour, in the narrow sense of the word, did not always precede slave
labour in all plantation areas - nor did it exclusively occur in all plantation
colonies. French Canada, which was never a plantation colony, has been partly
populated by engages. The plantations in Portuguese Brazil, Spanish Latin
America, and Dutch Guyana worked with Indian and African slave labour from
the beginning. It seems that the white supervisory personnel were not attracted
here under indenture agreements. There is, however, considerable uncertainty in
particular about the conditions under which the Portuguese emigrated to Brazil.
Slicher van Bath draws attention to similar gaps in our knowledge regarding the
European migration to Spanish Latin America. As far as is known at present,
white personnel for the plantations in Dutch Guyana were recruited from those
who had been in the service of the Dutch West India Company or were specially
enlisted by the connections of the plantation owners in the Netherlands. This also
seems to have been the case for the Dutch Antilles and New Netherland on the
Hudson, neither of which were plantation colonies.
It was only in the French and English Antilles and in the southern colonies on
the Continent that indentured labour preceded slave labour and remained in
combination with it. From the contributions of Gemery, Mauro and Moitmann, it

also seems that the composition with respect to sex, age and profession of the
contract workers intended for these areas changed over time: in the 18th century,
contract workers were more frequently accompanied by their wives and children
than before. They were also older and better educated. The principal centre of
attraction in the receiving areas shifted from the Caribbean area to the North
American middle colonies. With respect to these matters, the changes between
the migration of European contract workers before 1800 and that of free Euro-
pean migration afterwards seem to have been gradual.
The transfer from European contract work to African slave labour in the
English and French plantation colonies has sometimes been explained as being
the result of changes in the relative costs of these two kinds of bonded labour. The
supposed absence of contract labour in Brazil, Spanish America and Dutch
Guyana could be explained in a similar fashion. Before collecting data for such an
argumentation, it is, however, necessary to obtain more information about the
status of the various kinds of European migrants to those areas. If it should turn
out that there was indeed no contract labour, then, in looking for an explanation,
it is not only enough to study the developments in wage scales in the parent
countries, the transport costs and the demographic data, but it is also necessary to
take into consideration the regulations that were imposed by the government and
other guardians of the prevailing morals and interests in attracting European
labour for the American colonies. There were certainly far reaching 'non-market'
restrictions in the Spanish case. Furthermore, in analyzing the labour supply in
England and the Netherlands, more attention must be paid to the rivalry of the
two respective East India Companies. At this moment, comparative research on
the migration of contract workers in the early modern period still leaves many
questions unanswered.


In the second group of contract migrations the relationship with the slave trade
and slavery is also clearly apparent, although not present in all cases. Many of the
plantation areas which had imported slaves from Africa, turned to the importa-
tion of contract workers either just before or just after the abolition of slavery. In
addition during the 19th century contract workers were used in areas which
previously had not had slavery or a slave trade. After the abolition of the slave
trade and slavery, there were also plantation areas which either never or scarcely
ever turned to attracting contract workers. In the following, each of these
categories will be discussed separately.
Actually, the importation of contract workers into former slavery areas re-

quires little explanation. Both slaves and contract workers were intended to make
possible especially labour intensive projects in relatively thinly populated areas.
If left to the market the supply of labour was not sufficient for these areas,
because hired labour only became available at exorbitantly high prices. It was
only in Europe and some parts of Asia that there existed a relatively large landless
proletariat of marginal farmers. Elsewhere in the world, the easy access to
independent agriculture remained a hindrance to the development of cheap,
hired labour6 •
With the abolition of the slave trade, a labour shortage, as contemporary
observers called it, began to show up. The price of slave labour rose, because the
importation of slaves from Africa had been the cheapest means of satisfying the
demand for labour. Without this supply from Africa, the number of slaves in the
plantation areas diminished very quickly, except in the South of the United States
and on some islands in the Caribbean?
After the abolition of slavery, the shortages of labour only increased. Desper-
ate planters tried to combat the reduction in labour supply by forcing the ex-slaves
into working for yet another fixed period as 'apprentices'. At the same time, the
planters attempted to prevent the establishment of a free labour market by
attracting contract workers 8 • For this the planters firstly turned to Africa again.
Monica Schuler's contribution demonstrates that this attempt was doomed to fail.
In West Africa it is evident that only the victims of the illegal slave trade were
prepared to sign a labour contract. As soon as a truly free recruiting system was in
full swing, it appears that the Africans were not prepared to become overseas
contract migrants. Attempts to enlist contract workers for the plantation areas
from elsewhere in the Atlantic region also failed. Neither Europe nor the two
Americas were evidently able to satisfy the demand for plantation workers,
although there were occasional exceptions as is indicated in the contributions by
Green and Gerbeau.
Only Asia, and in particular China, India and the Pacific Islands, were evi-
dently able to satisfy the demand for indentured labourers. The ex-African slaves
left the plantations and the newly arrived Asian indentureds took over. In this
respect, a parallel can be drawn with the previous change-over from European
indentured labour to African slave labour on the plantations. Indeed, it is now
evident that only the African slave trading system was able to honour the
increased demand for plantation labour during the 17th and 18th centuries, while
the supply of European labour for employment overseas had been relative
inelastic during those centuries9 • There exists another parallel between the Af-
rican slave trade and the overseas migration of Asian indentured labourers in that
both movements were connected with internal migrations. In the case of Africa,
the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade had its roots in the internal slave trade

within Africa. In Emmer's contribution, it is proposed that the migration of

Indians overseas was an extension of the non-bonded migratory labour, which
already existed within the Indian subcontinent. China also had a tradition of
labour migration to areas far beyond its bordersw.
Yet another connection between the Atlantic slave trade and the Indian
emigration overseas is the abolition movement in Britain. After the suspension of
the slave trade and of slavery this movement remained alert to the possible misuse
of the system of contract labour. Thus in 1874, under pressure from public opinion
in England and the U.S.A., which denounced in particular the abuses in the
transport of Chinese contract workers to Spanish Cuba, an end was made to
Chinese overseas contract labourll. Moreover, contract migration from India was
provided with extensive legal regulation, which was intended to give all kinds of
guarantees to the transport and overseas sojourn of Her Majesty's British Indian


After the abolition of slavery, a second group of plantation areas made no call on
the system of contract labour. In as much as plantation production continued, it
did so, in principle, with a free labour market. In part this occurred on the
plantations in the South of the U.S.A. and Brazil and in some densely populated
islands in the Caribbean area.
As has been mentioned above, slavery and contract work existed in relatively
thinly populated areas. Therefore, in densely populated islands like Barbados
and Antigua, the planters made no attempt to have plantation work taken over by
contract workers; the free supply of ex-slaves was sufficient for them. The
increase in production of sugar plantations in those islands after abolition even
leads us to suspect that, in densely populated areas with a considerable landless
proletariat, the slave system was relatively more expensive than free labour!3.
Even in the U.S. the end of legal slave importation and the abolition of slavery
did not cause a considerable importation of indentured labourers!4. The same
applies to Brazil. It so happened that both countries profited from the massive
exodus of Europeans at the time when slavery disappeared, but these phenomena
were by no means always connected with one another. Due to the increase in the
level of prosperity in Europe, most emigrants were evidently able to pay their
relatively cheap fares to the New World themselves, so that they could offer their
labour on the free market in their new home country!5. Because of this, neither
the Southern planters nor the Brazilian landowners were able to entice many of
the European emigrants to their plantations!6.

For the South of the U.S.A., various explanations have been proposed for the
fact that there was no intermediate phase of indentured labour between slavery
and free labour. In the U.S., it was not possible to imprison people for debt, and
therefore there were no legal means of impeding the flight of contract workers,
who had been imported with a great deal of difficulty and at great expense.
Moreover, in the South of the U.S.A., it was evidently possible to carryon cotton
production, which was the dominant industry there, without large plantations,
but with small family businesses without the average cost rising inordinatelyl7.
There are still no extensive analyses available for Brazil's sugar plantations in
the North-East of the country. Recent research has shown that the profitability of
the Brazilian sugar plantations had already diminished before the abolition of
slavery. The planters had sold a proportion of their slaves to the expanding coffee
areas in the South, where many of the incoming European migrants also found
work. Therefore, when the abolition of slavery came, the Brazilian sugar planters
started to use free labourers, whose labour came out as no more expensive than
that of their slaves. If the Brazilian coffee and sugar producers ever regarded
contract labour as a cheap alternative to free labour, then it is clear that the
Brazilian government was not able to provide these employers with access to the
Asian market for indentured labour, except for a small number of exceptions l8 .
From the above it will be clear that the density of population is nothing more
than an indication of the labour situation after the abolition of slavery, and is far
from being an all embracing explanation. In most cases there was a sudden
decrease in the labour supply after abolition in thinly populated areas. Planters
everywhere wanted to keep the ex-slaves on the plantations by means of vagrancy
laws and by keeping a sharp eye on the sale of land. But in thinly populated areas
they did not succeed in this scheme, with the exception of Belize l9 . Moreover, the
slaves' exodus from the plantations did not yet mean that all the planters who
were affected by it, were then also able to engage indentured labourers. Green's
contribution demonstrates that only very profitable plantation areas were able to
afford this alternative, while at the same time, political consensus had to be
obtained within the leading circles of the colony concerned. Jamaica failed to
come up to these requirements. Emmer's and Green's contributions show that for
the non-British plantation areas, in addition to the above-mentioned require-
ments, it was also still necessary to have a good understanding with London, so
that the stream of contract workers from India would continue to flow. It has
already been indicated that Brazil did not even obtain access to the British Indian
contract labour market and this is also true for Cuba, where the immigration of
contract workers from China had already been stopped for political reasons, after
which no new contract workers were supplied, not even after the abolition of

Finally, mention should be made of those areas, where plantations came into
being only in the course of the last century, and to which contract workers were
transported without slavery having been in existence beforehand. Examples of
this type of development include Queensland, Natal, Fiji and HawaiFI. In all of
these areas, the local supply of plantation workers did not fulfil the requirements
of the plantation owners. In Queensland it was evident that the Aborigines were
not suitable as 'workers in the cane', while the (ex-) Europeans were unwilling to
work for the wages which ought to make the growth in sugar production possible
in Australia 22 • A similar situation existed in South Africa, where neither the sugar
plantations in Natal nor the mines in the Transvaal could attract a sufficient
number of black or white workers23 •
It is also evident that in Fiji and Hawaii, the local population was too limited in
number to provide sufficient cheap labour for the rapidly growing sugar industry.
There existed alternative job opportunities for the native Hawaiians and for the
Fiji-islanders, while in the second case the British colonial government, in
paternalistic fashion, forbade the indigenous population to go and work on the
plantations24 •
The development of this new category of plantation areas, with indentured
labour but without a past anchored in slavery, led to the assumption that contract
work was not automatically an extension of slavery. It has been suggested that
this phenomenon was created by changes in the capitalistic structure of the
metropolis. After all, the trading capitalists had disappeared. They had tradi-
tionally invested in 'pre-.capitalistic' slave plantations and had only been inter-
ested in trading profits and not in the competitive production of the plantation
products. They had been replaced by industrial capitalists who only wanted to put
their money into plantations with contract labour in combination with more
advanced machinery, which were more economic to exploit than plantations with
slaves. It has also been suggested that slavery was difficult to combine with the use
of new technology 25.
This interpretation of the rise of contract labour in agricultural export areas is
not supported by the articles in this collection. Adrian Graves' contribution
shows, on the contrary, that the Fiji-islanders, who were taken as contract
workers to Australia were, on the whole, no better prepared for complicated
plantation techniques than African slaves, and certainly no better than those
slaves who had been born in the plantation areas themselves. Moreover, it is
evident that a relatively high number of contract workers in the Pacific Islands
returned home after the termination of their contract, by which means a great
deal of the knowledge of plantation work was lost. Moreover, the sugar planta-

tions of Queensland and Natal were, in more than one sense of the word, enclaves
in the world of sugar producers. Because of their protected position with a
primarily local market, it seems difficult to compare these areas with the sugar
producers who had to reckon with the scourge of the world market. In these
areas, therefore, the importation of contract workers was stopped by the intro-
duction of central mills, by means of which, smaller family outfits could take over
the production of sugar cane without much loss of efficiency. However, in the
Caribbean area, i.e. in Cuba and Surinam, this technological change only in-
creased the demand for unfree labour 26 .


Finally, in this introduction to the history of contract labour, attention is drawn to

Engerman's contribution, in which there is a survey of the total number of
contract workers, countries of origin and the countries in which they worked.
From this it is that the regulated intercontinental contract migration falls
into insignificance besides the much larger migration of workers within Asia and
partly also inside Africa. Apart from anything else, the labour migration from
India to Ceylon alone was more extensive than the regulated emigration outside
Even if we restrict ourselves to the relatively small stream of migratory workers
with an official contract and also to the archives of the controlling colonial
powers, there still remain large numbers of questions which are not discussed in
the contributions presented here. On analogy with studies on slave trading,
research can be undertaken into the 'production' of the contract workers, the
effects on the countries of origin, on the transport and the organisation of it, and
on the changes in the plantations where they found themselves. A survey of these
discussion points, as well aS,a number of data about the Indian Ocean plantation
islands Reunion and Mauritius are to be found in a contribution by J.L.Miege,
which was also delivered during the workshop on which this book is based, but
which will be published separately28.
This does not mean to say that all the questions mentioned above are left
undiscussed in the contributions included here, though it is still too early for a
balanced judgement. Adrian Graves, for instance, clearly regards the effect of
contract migration on the emigration area as unfavourable with respect to the Fiji
Islands. It seems, however, difficult to apply this point of view to much larger
countries such as India and China with completely different population densities
and completely different economies. It is nevertheless also claimed that the
imperialist-capitalistic expansion of Europe created the push emigration 29 . Even

if this is the case, then European penetration into 19th-century India and China
was, at best, responsible for an increase in a pre-colonial migration that had
already been going on for a long time. In contrast with the impact of the slave
trade on internal African migration, the requirements of the colonial sugar
plantations have never dominated the stream of labour migrants within Asia.
It also seems difficult to reduce the effect of the arrival of contract migrants on
the various importing colonies to one denomination. In Gerbeau's view, contract
work in Reunion was a continuation of slavery. In contrast, W. Green argues that
the Jamaican planters experienced Asian contract labour as something com-
pletely different from slavery. It can additionally be remarked that Reunion had
not yet had a very lengthy experience with respect to the 'peculiar institution',
while Jamaica indeed had.
Furthermore, the end of contract labour is a much debated issue. In complete
analogy with the discussion on 'the' origin of the abolition of slavery, opinions on
this point are divided between 'metropolists' and 'peripherists'. It has already
been put forward, that some regard the technological changes to be the true
origin for the rise and decline of contract labour on the plantations. Others also
draw our attention to the revolts and insurgency among the contract workers,
although everybody agrees that the threat of large scale revolts had been much
greater in the preceding period. The contributions of Engerman and Emmer
support the view that contract labour did not disappear because of structural
changes in world capitalism, but by a regulation from the British East Indian
government. Just as the abolition of slavery, it was a political decision 30 •
The political nature of both the legal abolition of the slave trade and of the
migration of indentured labour is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the two
trades continued afterwards outside the law. In the case of the slave trade a whole
network of international treaties was constructed in order to stop it. In the case of
indentured labour all government supervision was withdrawn, but the migration
of labourers within and away from Asia and Africa continued. In fact, Monica
Schuler shows in her contribution how the number of migrants within Africa has
increased until this day. As long as there are large differences in living standards
in the world, these labour migrations will continue, even now that colonialism no
longer has anything to do with it.


1. Philip D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade. A Census, (Madison, Wisconsin, 1969). A compilation
of the amendments that have been made since the appearance of this trail blazing work is given by
Paul E. Lovejoy in: 'The Volume of the Atlantic Slave Trade: A Synthesis', Journal of African

History, 23, (1982), pp. 473-501. For the migration of the Europeans see: David Eltis, 'Free and
Coerced Transatlantic Migrations: Some Comparisons'. American Historical Review, 88, (1983),
pp. 251-281; and W. Galenson, The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An
Economic Analysis', Journal of Economic History, 44, (1984), pp. 1-26. An impression of the
pattern of European seasonal migrations in the early modern period is given by Jan Lucassen,
Naar de kusten vall de Noordzee; trekarbeid ill Europees perspectief, 1600-1900, (Gouda, 1984).
2. F.S. Gaastra, De Geschiedenis van de VOc. (Haarlem, 1982), pp. 77. The nett outflow of the
Dutch to Asia between 1602 and 1795 would have come to approximately 600,000, somewhat less
than 113 of the total.
3. Importations of slaves into the Cape Colony: see Richard Elphick and Hermann Giliomce.
(eds.), The Shaping of South African Society 1652-1820, (Cape Town, 1979). pp. 76-83. For the
number of slaves at the Asian trading posts of the Dutch East India Company, see Gaastra, De
Geschiedenis van de VOC, p. 96.
4. Times Atlas of World History, (London. 1978), pp. 208-9; Colin McEvedy and Richard Jones,
Atlas of World Population History, (London, 1978), pp. 278-9. For the Asian migrations see
Engerman's contribution to this volume.
5. Times Atlas of World History, pp. 208-9. and Engerman's contribution. The contributions of
Monica Schuler and Gerbeau contain data on the East African slave trade after the creation of the
European colonies during this period.
6. H.J. Nieboer, Slavery as an Industrial System; Ethnological Researches, (New York, 1971'), and
E.D. Domar, The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: a Hypothesis'. Journal of Economic History,
30, (1970), pp. 18-32.
7. W.G. Sewell, The Ordeal of Free Labour in the British West Indies, (London, 1862'), and Stanley
1.. Engerman, 'Contract Labour. Sugar and Technology in the Nineteenth Century'. Journal of
Economic History, 38, (1983), pp. 635-659.
8. K.O. Laurence, Immigration into the West Indies in the 19th Century, (Kingston, 1971).
9. Richard N. Bean and Robert P. Thomas, 'The Adoption of Slave Labor in British America', in
Henry A. Gemery and Jan S. Hogendorn, (eds.), The Uncommon Market; Essays in the
Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, (New York. 1979), pp. 377-398.
10. A. Meagher, The Introduction of Chinese Lahorers to Latin America, the 'Coolie Trade', 1847-
1874, (University of California, Davis, Unpublished Ph. D. Dissertation, History. 1(75). pp.
11. Meagher. The Introduction of Chinese Laborers, pp. 307-336.
12. H. Tinker, A New System of Slavery, (Oxford, 1974). pp. 61-115.
13. William A. Green, British Slave Emancipation; the Sugar Colonies and the Great Experimelll,
1830-1865, (Oxford, 1975).
14. Charlotte Erikson, 'Why did Contract Labour not work in the 19th century United Statcs·)·. in
Shula Marks and Peter Richardson, (eds.), International Labour Migration; Historical Perspec-
tives, (London, 1984), pp. 34-56. Surprisingly, pcrhaps. the slave traoe remaincd the single most
important provider of migrants for thc New World during the first half of the 19th century: Ellis.
'Free and Coerced Transatlantic Migrations; Some Comparisons'.
15. Galenson, 'The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Amcricas·.
16. For the U.S.A.: Leon F. Litwack, Been in the Storm so Long; the Aftermath of Slaven'. (New
York, 1980), pp. 352-353. For Brazil: Alistair Hennesy. The Frontier in Latin Americall liistorv,
(London. 1978), p. 98.
17. Stanley L. Engerman, 'Economic Adjustments to Emancipation in the United States and the
British West Indies', Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 12. (1982), pp. 191-220.

18. Roberta M. Delson, 'Sugar Production for the Nineteenth Century British Market: Rethinking
the Roles of Brazil and the British West Indies', in Bill Albert and Adrian Graves, (eds.), Crisis
and Change in the International Sugar Economy, (Norwich/Edinburgh, 1984), pp. 63-64. Tinker,
A New System of Slavery, p. 274, mentions that the colonial government of British India even
stopped 'time-expired' indentured labourers from getting into Brazil.
19. See the discussion between O. Nigel Bolland, 'Systems of Domination after Slavery: the Control
of Land and Labor in the British West Indies after 1838', Comparative Studies in Society and
History, 23, (1981), pp. 112-119 and William A. Green, The Perils of Comparative History: Belize
and the British Sugar Colonies after Slavery', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26,
(1984), pp. 112-119, with a reply by O. Nigel Bolland, 'Reply to William A. Green's The Peril of
Comparative History", Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26, (1984), pp. 120-125.
20. Tinker, A New System of Slavery, p. 274, and Rebecca J. Scott, 'Explaining Abolition: Contradic-
tion, Adaptation, and Challenge in Cuban Slave Society', Comparative Studies in Society and
History, 26, (1984), pp. 83-119.
21. Engerman, 'Contract Labor, Sugar and Technology', p. 641.
22. Adrian Graves, 'Crisis and Change in the Queensland Sugar Industry, 1862-1906', in Bill Albert
and Adrian Graves, (eds.), Crisis and Change in the International Sugar Economy, p. 265.
23. Peter Richardson, 'The Natal Sugar Industry in the Nineteenth Century', in Bill Albert and
Adrian Graves, (eds.), Crisis and Change in the International Sugar Economy, p. 241, and Peter
Richardson, 'Coolies, Peasants, and Proletarians: the Origins of Chinese Indentured Labour in
South Africa, 1904-1907', in Shula Marks and Peter Richardson, (eds.), International Labour
Migration; Historical Perspectives, p. 167.
24. Ed Beechert, 'Labour Relations in the Hawaiian Sugar Industry, 1850-1937', in Bill Albert and
Adrian Graves, (eds.), Crisis and Change in the International Sugar Economy, p. 281, and Brij V.
Lal, 'Labouring Men and Nothing More: Some Problems of Indian Indenture in Fiji', in Kay
Saunders, (ed.), Indentured Labour in the British Empire, 1834-1920, (London. 1984), pp. 126-
25. Adrian Graves and Peter Richardson, 'Plantations in the Political Economy of Colonial Sugar
Production: Natal and Queensland, 1860-1914', Journal of Southern African Studies, 6, (1980),
pp. 214-229.
26. See the article by Rebecca J. Scott (note 20). In Surinam, the largest sugar mill was only
constructed after the investors obtained permission to recruit extra indentured labourers from
Java, while the regular importation of indentureds from India continued, Encyclopedie van
Suriname, (Amsterdam, 1976), p. 309.
27. Engerman, 'Contract Labor, Sugar and Technology', p. 647.
28. 1.L. Miege, Indentured Labour in the Indian Ocean, (to be published by the Leiden Centre for the
History of European Expansion in its series llIlercontinenta, forthcoming).
29. Sidney W. Mintz, 'Slavery and the Rise of Peasantries', Historical Reflections/Reflections Histori-
ques, 6, (1979), p. 215.
30. Engerman, 'Contract Labor, Sugar and Technology', p. 639.
Part Two
European Indentured Migration to the New World

2. The absence of white contract labour in

Spanish America during the colonial period


In the British American colonies the shortage of labour during the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries was met by white contract labour: the indentured
servants and the redemptioners. This system of white contract labour was un-
known in Spanish America during the colonial period, a fact confirmed by such
authors as Parry, Morner and Engermanl. How can this absence of white contract
labour be explained? Before trying to answer this question, it may be useful to
take a glance at some demographic data. The demand for labour depends partly
on the size of the total population, i.e. the supply side.
Granted that all population figures of colonial America are more or less
dubious, especially those concerning ethnic composition, the following tables
may nevertheless give a better understanding of the demographic development.
In Table I the total population of America around 1650 has been compared to that
175 years later. around 1825.
Table I. The ethnic composition of the total population of America, ca. 1650 and ca. 1825, with

Ethnic group ca. 1650 ca. 1825

Numbers Percentage Numbers Percentage

Indians 10,035,000 80.9 8,334,000 24.2

Mestizos 401,000 3.2 5,130,000 14.9
Whites 849,000 6.8 13,475,000 39.1
Blacks 857,000 6.9 6,433,000 18.6
Mulattos 269,000 2.2 1,121,000 3.2

Total 12,411,000 100 34,493,000 100

Sources: The figures have been calculated on the basis of the data published by A. Rosenblat, La
Poblaci6n Indigena de America desde 1492 hasta la Actualidad, (Buenos Aires), p. 57 (1650) and p.36
(1825); A. Rosenblat, La Poblaci6n Indfgena y el Mestizaje en America, 1.1, La Poblaci6n Indfgena,
1492-1950, (Buenos Aires, 1954), p. 59 (1650) and pp. 36-37 (1825).

Emmer P.e. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, DordrechtlBoston/Lancaster.
ISBN 90247 3253 O.

In slightly less than two centuries the total population of the New world almost
tripled. All ethnic groups, with the exception of the Indians, grew in numbers.
The greatest increase was registered by the Whitcs; their number multiplied
nearly sixteen times. Whereas the Indians' share in the total population decreased
from 80.9% to 24.2%; the number of Whites increased from 6.8% to 39.1 %; and
that of the Mestizos from 3.2% to 14.9%, and the percentage of Blacks and
Mulattos - both groups are very often taken together - from 9.1% to 21.8%.
The total population figures conceal a high degree of regional diversity. There-
fore the continent has been divided into three parts:
I. Continental Spanish America, covering all the Spanish-speaking countries on
the continent south of the Rio Grande, the modern border between the United
States and Mexico;
2. Brazil, the Guyanas and the Antilles, including the Spanish islands, hereafter
referred to as Tropical America;
3. North America, north of the Rio Grande, covering the United States, Canada,
Alaska and Greenland.
In Table II we see that around 1650 most of the Indians (83.7%) lived in the
territory conquered by the Spaniards. There we also find most of the white people
and nearly all of the Mestizos. Blacks and Mulattos were most numerous in
Brazil, the Antilles and the Guyanas (69.5%). In 1825 the ethnic composition of
the Americas had changed drastically: in continental Spanish America the per-
centage of Indians had decreased, but that of the Mestizos had increased enor-
mously; together they still made up 79.2% of the total population. This develop-
ment is called the process of mestizaje in Spanish America. In Brazil, the Antilles,
and the Guyanas the Indians had dwindled away; Blacks and Mulattos dominated
the other ethnic groups in this part of the world, representing some 74.5% of the
population. In the northern part of the continent the Whites predominated, by
79.6°/,), followed by the Blacks at 16.7%. By the early nineteenth century the
greatest numbers of Whites lived in the northern countries (67.7%).
During the period 165G-1825 the New World preserved its Indian and Mestizo
character only in continental Spanish America. In the eastern, tropical part,
Blacks and Mulattos had taken the place of the Indians, while in the north the
Whites achieved predominance. Three different Americas had come into exist-
ence. Of course, the partition was not watertight; some of the islands of the
Antilles belonged to the Spanish colonial empire. The Atlantic coasts of Colom-
bia and Venezuela did not differ very much from the coast of Brazil and the
Each of the three Americas, so different in their ethnic character, had its own
economic system, its own answer for the supply of labour. In the following
paragraphs we will direct our principal attention to continental Spanish America.

Table II. The ethnic composition ofthe population in the three parts of America, ca. 1650 and ca. 1825,
with percentages.

Ca. 1650
Ethnic group Continental Tropical America North
Spanish America America

Indians 8,395,000 780,000 860,000

Mestizos 338,000 63,000
Whites 575,000 154,000 120,000
Blacks 315,000 520,000 22,000
Mulattos 122,000 147,000

Total 9,745,000 1,664,000 1,002,000

Ca. 1825
Ethnic group Continental Spanish Tropical America North
America America

Indians 7,530,000 381,000 423,000

Mestizos 5,130,000
Whites 2,937,000 1,412,000 9.126,000

Blacks 387,000 4,126,000 1,920,000

Mulattos 1,121,000

Total 15,984,000 7,040,000 11,469,000

Percentages ca. 1650 and ca. 1825

Ethnic group Continental
Spanish America Tropical America North America
1650 1825 1650 1825 1650 1825

Indians 86.1 47.1 46.9 5.4 85.8 3.7

Mestizos 3.5 32.1 3.8
Whites 5.9 18.4 9.2 20.1 12.0 79.6
Blacks 3.2 2.4 31.3 58.6 2.2 16.7
Mulattos 1.3 8.8 15.9

Total 100 100 100 100 100 100

Principal groups in 1825:
Continental Spanish America Indians and Mestizos 79.2%
Tropical America Blacks and Mulattos 74.5%
North America Whites 79.6%

Sources: A. Rosenblat, La Poblacion 1ndigena de America, p. 57 and p. 36; Rosenblat, La Poblacion

1ndigena v el Mestizaje, t. I, La poblacion 1ndigena, 1492-1950, p. 59 and pp. 36-37.

The Spaniards conquered the most densely populated territories of America.

There were two reasons for this. In these regions gold and silver could easily be
won either by requisition or by plunder, first from the people still alive, and in a
later phase of the gold-fever, from the dead buried in their graves. The exploita-
tion of the natural deposits by mines came only some decades after the conquest.
The other reason was a religious one. The friars in their zeal for converting the
heathen went to those places where the most Indians lived; during the first years
they converted Indians to Christianity by the thousands 2 •
On the continent, the Spaniards conquered Indian empires with complicated
institutions of government and administration, special social stratifications and
intricate economic systems. These Indians had a much more complex civilization
than those in the Antilles, Brazil and the North. The Indians in the Portuguese,
British, French and Dutch colonies stood on a much lower level.
The Spanish imperial policy had its greatest successes where it could build on
the institutions of the former pre-Columbian empires. The Aztec and Inca
empires were both conqueror states and the Spaniards stepped into the places of
the old dominant caste. They even used the old tax-system up to the 1560s and
1570s. The Indian population was accustomed to delivering produce in kind and
to performing some labour tasks. Heavy population losses, caused by epidemics
imported from Europe, made it necessary to correct the worn-out, and now
unjust, pre-Columbian tax-system, but the result of Spanish legislation was an
aggravation rather than a relief of the labour obligations. The introduction of the
repartimiento system made it possible to direct Indian labour forces to the tasks
and the regions where they were most urgently needed. Indians from far-off
regions were forced to work in the mines of Potosi and Huancavelica. Elsewhere
Indians were exploited in the obrajes (workshops) for spinning and weaving.
The Indians showed great ingenuity in learning the tasks originally done by
Spanish artisans. In the 1570s many trades were still plied by Spaniards, but forty
years later their places had been filled by Indians and Mestizos3 .
In continental Spanish America the number of Indians decreased from the
conquest-period through the mid-seventeenth century or even later, but only
there and nowhere else in the Americas, a fast-growing group of Mestizos arose.
During the 1650s the Whites still dominated Mestizos by a ratio of 1.0 to 0.58, but
by 1825 the ratio had turned into 1.0 White to 1.75 Mestizo. The progressive
mestizaje did not make it attractive to poor Spaniards to emigrate to the colonies.
Cheap labour became available there in ever-swelling numbers.
Before the conquest, the coastal tropical and subtropical plains in general were
not densely populated. On the Pacific coast of Central America the Spaniards
turned to the exploitation of cacao, balsam and indigo. In their plantations they
originally used Indians from the highlands as forced labour; but these labourers

died by the thousands as a result of the unhealthy climate in which they were
forced to work and to which they were not accustomed. Their places were taken
by a Mestizo population. From the colonial times onwards a contrast existed
between the Highland Indians and the Mestizos in the coastal plains of Guate-
mala and El Salvador4 .
Another possibility to fill the labour shortage, especially in the tropical plains,
was the import of black slaves from Africa. It is not certain how many Blacks have
been imported into Spanish America. If we use the figures of Curtin, notwith-
standing the criticism they have met, then the total figures can be seen as in table
III. A problem is, however, that it is impossible to distinguish the imports into
continental Spanish America from those into the Spanish Antilles during the
period 1521-1773. Before the second half of the eighteenth century, the Spanish
islands were a backwater of the empire, without much economic interest. We may
assume that the import of slaves, who were used there for a longer period, was
probably not large. Many slaves were landed in the Antilles, and after a short
period of acclimatization they were transferred to the continent.
Table III. Imports of black slaves into Spanish America, 1521-1807.

Period Destination Number

1521-1773 Continental Spanish America and Spanish Antilles 700,000

1774-1807 Continental Spanish America only 85,300

1521-1807 Total 785,300

In Table IV the imports of slaves into continental Spanish America are com-
pared with those of the two other Americas.
Table IV. Trade in black slaves, 1451-1810, with percentages.

Destination Number Percentages

Continental Spanish America 785,300 10.3

Brazil, Antilles and Guyanas 6,359,400 82.9
North America 348,000 4.5
Europe, Sao Thome, Atlantic islands 175,000 2.3

Total 7,667,700 100

Sources: Table III is calculated on the basis of the figures in Ph.D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade, a
Census, (Madison, 1969), pp. 25 and 35. Table IV is calculated on the basis of Curtin, The Atlantic
Slave Trade, p. 268.

From Table IV we may conclude that the great bulk of slaves went to Brazil, the

Antilles and the Guyanas, especially to the British and French Caribbean,
together accounting for 3,169,200 slaves, and Brazil accounting for 2,501,400
In continental Spanish America slaves were used for many purposes: in the
cultivation of sugar, rice, tobacco and cacao, on the cattle ranches; they worked
in the harbours as dockhands, in tanneries, in saltworks, in the silver, copper and
gold mines of Mexico, and many as domestics in households. As surveyors and
superintendents they were dreaded by the Indians. As soldiers, and in some cases
even as officers, they played their role in the conquest of America. Because of the
harsh climate, Blacks could not be used in the highland mines of Peru and modern
Bolivia. Besides, a high price had to be paid for black slaves. Indian forced labour
was much cheaper by comparison; the death of an Indian represented no loss of
capital for the mine-owner5.
However, the import of black slaves was restricted. Many active Spanish
entrepreneurs asked the government to import slaves on behalf of their enter-
prises, but their requests were mostly ignored or denied 6 • This reticence on the
part of the Crown certainly had economic motivations: the Spaniards did not
control the countries of origin in Africa, and they had to pay for each imported
slave. The import was regulated through the asiento treaties, but an unknown
number of slaves were smuggled into the Spanish Antilles, the coastal regions on
the Atlantic side of Colombia and Venezuela, and into the La Plata-basin.
The reserve felt by Spanish officials concerning the import of large numbers of
Blacks also had to do with the fear of slave-revolts. Around 1600, colonial
bureaucrats came to the conclusion that a black majority would soon be imminent
in the coastal plains near Lima.
Finally, the Spanish government had religious reasons for restricting imports of
black slaves from Africa. Many of the West-African regions, where the slaves
originated, were Moslem or Moslem-influenced. Officials feared the spreading of
these heresies under the Indians, who were only superficially converted to
We know little about the demand for labour during the colonial period, but it is
possible to gain some impressions of the shortage from such general descriptions
of Spanish America as Lopez de Velasco's Geografia y descripcion universal de las
Indias, which illustrates the situation around 1570, and Vazquez de Espinosa's
Compendia y descripcion de las Indias Occidentales, from about 1615. The de-
mand for labour was very great in the mining industry. The deposits were often
found in inhospitable and deserted regions and labour forces had to be imported
for exploitation 7 •
Most complaints about labour shortage came from the Spanish Antilles, where
the original inhabitants had nearly become extinct. Around 1570, Lopez de

Velasco mentioned ten regions where labour shortages existed: Hispaniola,

Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Honduras, Panama, Colombia (two
places) and Chile. Vazquez de Espinosa (1615) goes into more geographical
detail, listing fifteen places: Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela (three
times), Honduras (two times), Colombia (four times), Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
Most labour was needed for gold-washing and gold-mining: ten places in 1570
and fifteen in 1615. For silver-mining, L6pez de Velasco mentions only Chile,
while Vazquez de Espinosa names Hispaniola, Jamaica, Honduras, Cangallo (in
Peru) and Tomina-Villar (in what is now Bolivia). For copper and cobalt labour,
this was in demand in Hispaniola and Jamaica, both around 1615.
Many black slaves were used in the gold-mining industry of Colombia. Because
of the shortage of labour mentioned in L6pez de Velasco's description, Indians
were demanded in six cases, and black slaves in two (Panama and Honduras).
Vazquez de Espinosa supposed that in three cases Indians were needed and in
one case (Colombia) Blacks could be employed. From these two descriptions we
may conclude that when a labour shortage occurred, the remedy would be sought
first among the Indians, and the importation of black slaves would only be
considered if Indians were not readily available. Economic motives would have
been decisive, since most of the mineral deposits were of poor quality.
In Spanish America the labour market was not free, for Indians, Blacks, and
not even for Spanish Whites. The religious restrictions worked here too. For-
eigners, converted Jews and Moors, gypsies and individuals convicted by the
Holy Office were all considered undesirable persons. There was a certain check,
albeit imperfect, on the migrants leaving Spain for Americas.
The official way for the prospective Spanish emigrant was to go to Madrid and
to report to the Council of the Indies. There he had to ask for the approval of his
admittance to America, presenting identity papers (among others concerning his
purity of blood, limpieza de sangre), invitation letters sent by people in America,
and proxies. The official admittance document had to be shown in Sevilla, at the
Casa de Contratacion, in order to secure a sailing permit. Lists of departing
passengers were dispatched by the Casa to the Council in Madrid.
The total number of Spanish emigrants and returnees during the whole colonial
period can only be guessed. Boyd-Bowman's researches have produced more
certain data for the sixteenth century. They give some insight into the profes-
sional and age-distribution of the migrants and their regions of origin9 • According
to Boyd-Bowman, some 200,000 emigrants left Spain for America during the
period from 1493 to 1600; Marner has a somewhat higher figure, 240,00010 • Much
less has been published about the emigration after 1600.
In total, the emigration of Whites - for the most part Spaniards with only a few
foreigners - from Spain to America remained far behind the afflux of emigrants to

Northern America. The peak ot' white immigration to continental Spanish Amer-
ica came much earlier (before 1650) than to Northern America. For the period of
the Ancien Regime most immigrants into North America arrived there during the
eighteenth century.
Push and pull factors can be distinguished among the motives for emigration.
For a time economic and religious motives worked in Spain as push factors.
Although Spain was rather prosperous during the sixteenth century, in some
regions there existed a shortage of arable land. Younger sons of farmers looked
for other possibilities to gain a living. After the reconquest of Granada, the
younger sons of the lower nobility sought new adventures. The situation changed
completely after 1600. A period of population-decline set in; in Castile villages
crumbled into ruins and fields were abandoned ll . Just as other parts of Europe,
Spain too suffered under the agrarian depression of the seventeenth century.
During the sixteenth century many Jews, forcibly converted to Christianity,
were still under suspicion and they were exposed to persecutions. They hoped to
find a refuge in America, but even there they were not safe from the all-powerful
Under the pull factors, economic motives dominated. Nearly every emigrant
hoped one day to return to Spain as a rich and much honoured man, who could
enjoy his old age free from care. Only a few saw their expectations crowned with
success: some of the first conquerors and, in later years, some high officials. For
all the others the departure from Spain was definitive.
In the early decades the Spanish clergy was motivated by religious zeal, but
after the 1580s their laudable ambitions seemed to have lost strength, and rich
parishes, affording a good living, became much sought after.
In general, the Spanish government did not encourage emigration; only in the
beginning and at the end of the eighteenth century were the authorities in favour
of emigration 12 • The long bureaucratic process, with all the documents involved,
was not inviting to a prospective emigrant. After the expulsion of the Jews and
Moriscos Spain itself suffered under an acute labour shortage. In view of Spain's
own declining population, the government was inclined to restrict rather than
promote emigration.
Just after the conquest, very few women crossed the Atlantic; during the years
1493-1519 women formed a small proportion (5.6%) of all emigrants. Their
number rose fast, however, and during the period 1560--1579 they made up 28.5%
of the emigrants I3 . Religious and civil authorities encouraged women to go with
their husbands or to join them as soon as possible. The authorities abhorred
concubinage and race mixture. Moreover, they did not want to be burdened with
the care for women and families left in Spain, very often under poor circum-

In due time, as a consequence of this policy, a sizable group of Spaniards born

in America came into existence, the erial/os. Raised in America, accustomed to
the climate and the environment, knowing the economic possibilities and the
social setting, the eriollos had the lead over the newcomers just arrived from
Spain, the peninsulares. These gaehupines or ehapetones, as the Spaniards were
called disdainfully, did not have an easy entree into an already established
society. During the first century after the conquest the societal forms were still in
flux with many possibilities for the newly arrived, but after 1600 the young
immigrant could run up against great difficulties if he did not have good relations.
Colonial Spanish America was covered by a network of relations and to know the
right people could be of crucial importance. The Bourbon legislation of the
second half of the eighteenth century sharpened the contrasts between eriol/os
and peninsulares; the former became more and more a closed group.
What kinds of people crossed the Atlantic from Spain? Among them were
government officials, clergy, some military men, the agents of the merchant
companies in Sevilla and then the peasants, petty traders, artisans, and servants,
all those who were not so official, not so rich, the whole scale from lower middle
class to the very poor. How did they manage to cross the Ocean?
As sources of migrants, a few Spanish provinces dominated all the others:
during the first period most emigrants originated from Andalusia, especially
Sevilla, and Extramadura. After 1600 the majority came from Old and New
Castile and and at the end of the seventeenth century the Basques became
prominent. Groups of emigrants came from the same town or village; many
belonged to the same family. Kinship was already important among the con-
quistadores, the men of Cajamarca l 4, the Pizarros, just as it was later among the
textile-entrepreneurs in Puebla and under the mine-owners in eighteenth century
Mexico. Perhaps family ties were stronger in Spain than in other countries of
Western Europe at the time. They were certainly an important constituent
element in all Spanish organizations, like the Church, government and trading
companies. Family relations were of importance in the requirement, set by the
government, that the prospective migrant produce sponsorship letters from
settlers already living in America 15.
In the archives in Sevilla, 668 such letters have been found, dating from the
period 1540 to 1636; this is probably not the only collection l6 • All of the letters deal
with the migration of family members: husbands asking their wives and children
to come to America, others encouraging their brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces,
cousins and in-laws to migrate. A whole network of close family relations arises
from those letters. In the whole pattern of kinship, the nephew was the key figure.
The importation of nephews was a perennial phenomenon during the whole
colonial period. Thus we can identify the typical 'nephew letter', in which an old

and lonely uncle in Mexico or Peru pleads to be joined, using all the sentimental
arguments he can imagine, and dangling the great wealth of America and the
future inheritance before the eyes of his reluctant Spanish nephew17.
The fare of the passage was often paid by the American members of the family:
sometimes money was carried to the family in Spain by private persons, or it was
sent to 'bankers' in Sevilla. Alternatively the costs might be paid upon arrival in
America l8 .
The lowest fare amounted to 100 or 150 pesos or ducats, but every traveller had
to stock the victuals for the whole journey, including cooking utensils, at his own
expense in Spainl9. Emigrants who had any possessions, such as a house of their
own, furniture or cattle, had to sell them before leaving. The costs of transporta-
tion could be reduced by carrying along goods which were cheap in Spain and
high-priced in America, such as clothes, linen, wine, bibles, pictures and black
slaves. To import gold, silver or jewels into America would have been like
carrying coals to Newcastle.
High officials, such as viceroys and members of the audiencias, archbishops,
bishops and rich merchants, travelled with a large suite. They were accompanied
by their families and friends, who had their attendants as well. This gave young
persons the opportunity to earn the costs of their fare. In the passenger lists they
are described as criados, criadas and pajes. These terms have a broader meaning
than the English 'servants', often identified in the English migration literature
with 'indentured servants'. Young noblemen were criados of high officials; many
young unmarried relatives (solteros and solteras) went as criados and criadas.
From the lists we can observe that nearly all departing persons had relations in
one or another sense with other persons on board. They were all 'protected',
especially the women, but many unmarried men as well; they all 'belonged' to a
smaller or larger group. Few went alone, the crossing of the Ocean was not an
individual adventure; even the conquerors were not solitary lions. Perhaps here
we observe a difference between the Spanish and the British emigrants of a later
Criados and criadas could make themselves useful; much work had to be done
on board: the daily cooking, the bedding, washing and cleaning of clothes, the
attendance of young children and of the sick, some secretarial work, and the men
could be used as porters. The age of the criados varied between 8 and 61 years.
During the period from 1540 to 1559 one migrant out of ten belonged to this group
of criados or criadas. At the end of the sixteenth century, when Spain suffered
under the money-crisis of the years 1596 to 1601, their percentage rose to more
than 35%; 718 criados of whom 516 were unmarried men and 109 unmarried
criadas amongst a total of 2304 passengers 211 •
Other persons could work their passage as members of the crew or as barbers.

Time and again shipmates ran away as soon as they had reached an American
When the fare was paid by American relatives, we can consider it as a gift, or if
it had to be repaid, as a personal loan, usually contracted between members of the
same family. It did not have the character of a labour contract, although on the
American side there were generally expectations about the tasks the newcomers
would perform. Thus the nephew might be obliged to continue the business of his
uncle, since it formed the principal part of the family's capital. In general,
however, Spanish society in America before 1600 was dynamic and its members
displayed a great mobility. The newly arrived were more free than the indentured
servants and redemptioners in the other American colonies.
In two letters we find indications which go in the direction of contract labour. In
the first letter, dated the 20th of February 1576, a young tailor in Puebla, Alonso
Morales, mentions that his cousin had paid his fare. In return he had to work for a
whole year in his cousin's tailor shop, without pay, which means for board and
lodging alone. The social circumstances were not ideal as he adds that he has
often been paid in blows, but - so he says - in the end his cousin did it with good
intentions 21 !
In the other letter, dated the second of October 1589, Maria de Carranza, wife
of a textile-mill owner in Puebla, asks her brother in Sevilla to bring along with
him to America 'two masters of weaving coarse woolens and carding, for they will
profit us greatly, and also a candlemaker, who should be an examined journey-
man and good at his trade. Buy their provisions and make a contract with them
from the day they sail, and I will fulfill whatever you agree to; I will pay their
passage and any debts they have when they arrive'22. Although the contract itself
has disappeared, this letter is important for the problem of white labour. This
letter, more than the first one, shows the beginning of the first phase of white
contract labour. It is remarkable that both letters came from Puebla, a completely
Spanish city, which was the centre of a large textile industry. In the beginning of
the seventeenth century the workshops (obrajes) of Puebla were already notori-
ous for their horrific and inhuman social conditions23 •
The three characteristics of the system of indentured servants and redemp-
tioners in Tropical and North America were:
1. the existence of a market for white labour;
2. the price of white labour on that market;
3. the transferability of the white labour contracts.
In short, white labour was commercialized in the British, French and Dutch
colonies, while in Spanish America this lot fell to the Indians and the black slaves.
The pattern of migration to Spanish America was set in the sixteenth century and
it did not change very much during the later centuries. The indentured servants

and redemptioners dated from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The
Spanish type of colonialism was more traditional, but the government also played
a greater role. The North-Western European type of colonialism was more
individualistic and companies with capitalistic aims were dominant.
In continental Spanish America no free labour market existed, as all was under
government control, but the laws were evaded on a large scale. The demand for
labour could in many cases sufficiently be met by criollos, Mestizos and Indians.
Where they were lacking, forced labour could be employed. In that case Indians
were preferred to black slaves.
The Spanish government did not encourage white emigration on a large scale,
especially not in times of population decline. The Spanish emigrants crossed the
Ocean mostly in groups and in America the network of social relations was very
important. The Spanish emigrant did not abandon his family ties.


1. J.H. Parry, The Spanish Seaborne Empire, (London, 19672), p. 235. Cited with adhesion by M.
Morner, 'Spanish migration to the New World prior to 1810: a report on the state of research'. in
F. Chiappelli, (ed.), First Images ofAmerica, the Impact of the New World on the Old, (Berkeley,
1976), vol. II, p. 780, note 86, and S.L. Engerman, 'Servants to Slaves to Servants: Contract
Labour and European Expansion', this volume, p. 288, note 15.
2. A.C. van Oss, 'Mendicant Expansion in New Spain and the Extent of the Colony (sixteenth
century)" in Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe, 21, (1976), pp. 32-56; A.C. van
Oss, 'De Expansie van de Bedelorden in Nieuw Spanje in de Zestiende Eeuw', in B.H. Slicher
van Bath and A.C. van Oss, Geschiedenis van maatschappij en cultuur, (Baarn, 1978), pp. 172-
3. B.H. Slicher van Bath, Spaans Amerika omstreeks 1600, (Utrecht, 1979), pp. 197-198.
4. A.C. van Oss, Catholic Colonialism, a Parish History of Guatemala, 1524-1821, (Ann Arbor,
1982), pp. 212-238.
5. For Peru, F.P. Bowser, The African Slave in Colonial Peru, 1524-1650, (Stanford, 1974), pp.
88-106, 125-135, 14-16. For Mexico, B.H. Slicher van Bath, Bevolking en Economie in Nieuw
Spanje, ca. 1570-1800, (Amsterdam, 1981), p. 211.
6. Bowser, The African Slave, p. 22. A. Vazquez de Espinosa, Compendio y descripcion de las
Indias Occidentales, B. Velasco Bayon, (ed.), Biblioteca de autores Espaiioles, t. 231, (Madrid,
1969), p. 226.
7. J. Lopez de Velasco, Geografia y descripcion universal de las Indias, M. Jimenez de la Espada,
(ed.), Biblioteca de autores Espaiio!es, t. 248, (Madrid, 1971). A. Vazquez de Espinosa, Compen-
dio y descripcion de las Indias. B.H. Slicher van Bath, Spaans Amerika, p. 210.
8. M. Morner, 'Spanish migration', pp. 737-740.
9. P. Boyd-Bowman, 'Patterns of Spanish Emigration to the Indies until 1600', The Hispanic
American Historical Review, 56, (1976), pp. 580-604. This article constitutes a synthesis of the
results of his research and of his books and articles. For the returnees, see J. Lockhart, 'Letters
and People to Spain', in F. Chiappelli, (ed.), First Images of America, vol. II, pp. 787-794.

10. P. Boyd-Bowman, Indice geobiogrtifico de cuarenta mil pobladores EspaflOles de America en el

siglo XVI, t. 11493-1519, (Bogota, 1964), pr610go, p. IX, n. 8. Marner, 'Spanish migration',
appendix 2, p. 767. During the period 1506-1600 the number of emigrants was 242,853.
11. B.H. Slichervan Bath, The Agrarian History of Western Europe, A.D. 500--1850, (London, 1963),
pp. 207-208.
12. Morner, 'Spanish migration', pp. 750--758, esp. 757-758.
13. P. Boyd-Bowman, 'Patterns of Spanish emigration', pp. 596-601.
14. J. Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 1532-1560, a Colonial Society, (Madison, 1968); J. Lockhart, The men
of Cajamarca, a Social and Biographical Study of the first Conquerors of Peru, (Austin, 1972).
15. J. Lockhart and E. Otte, Letters and People of the Spanish Indies, the Sixteenth Century,
(Cambridge, 1976), p. 114.
16. E. Otte, 'Die Europiiischen Siedler und die Probleme der Neuen Welt', in lahrbuch fur
Geschichte von Staat, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Lateinamerikas, 6, (1969), p. 3.
17. Lockhart, 'Letters and People to Spain', pp. 785-786; see also Lockhart and Otte, Letters and
People of the Spanish Indies.
18. These data and the following are based on the letters published by Lockhart and Otte in their
book Letters and People of the Spanish Indies and by Otte in his article 'Die Europiiischen Siedler'
and further in E. Otte, 'Cartas privadas de Puebla del siglo XVI', in lahrbuch fur Geschichte von
Staat, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Lateinamerikas, 3, (1966), pp. 10--87.
19. Lockhart and Otte, Letters and People of the Spanish Indies, pp. 123-127, 136. Otte 'Cartas
privadas', p. 63.
20. P. Boyd-Bowman, 'Spanish emigrants to the Indies, 1595-98: a profile', in F. Chiappelli, (ed.),
First Images ofAmerica, vol. II, pp. 725-731. On the crisis, see E.J. Hamilton, American Treasure
and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650, (New York, 1965, repr.), pp. 201-202.
21. Lockhart and Otte, Letters and People of the Spanish Indies, pp. 117-118; Spanish text published in
E. Otte, 'Cartas privadas', pp. 5fr58.
22. Lockhart and Otte, Letters and People of the Spanish Indies, pp. 13fr137; Spanish text published
in E. Otte, 'Cartas privadas', pp. 75-77.
23. A. Vazquez de Espinosa, Compendio y descripcion de las Indias, p. 96. B.H. Slicher van Bath,
Spaans Amerika, p. 202.

3. Markets for migrants: English indentured servitude

and emigration in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries*



As a labour form, indentured servitude dominated British emigration to its New

World colonies to a degree found with no other European nation. An estimated
50-60 percent of the labour flows to its colonies, during the period 1630-1780,
were servants and the volume of that servant flow was perhaps fifty to one
hundred times greater than that of the next largest national source of indentured
(or indenture-like) labour). Why was this so? What uniqueness of the British
circumstance could allow it to so outdistance its rivals in colonization efforts? An
explicitly comparative study would be needed to provide full answers to such
questions but considerable light might be shed by an intensive examination of the
workings of the English labour markets. That task will be undertaken in this
paper. Recent empirical work on English internal and international migrants in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries provides more data for that analysis
than has hitherto been available 2 • Proceeding from a review of those data, the
paper will discuss the magnitude, composition, and directions of the overseas
migrant flow, the impact of that emigration on the English economy, and the
linkage between internal mobility and emigration under indenture. A concluding
section suggests a typology for the observed emigration and assesses the inden-
ture system as a market response fostered by particular - and perhaps unique -
features of the English economy and society.

* Colleagues have been quite generous in giving me access to pre-publication materials and in holding
extended discussions. I am indebted to Stanley Engerman, David Galenson, James Horn, Jim Potter,
Roger Schofield, David Souden, and E.A. Wrigley. They are, of course, not responsible for the
interpretations I have advanced nor for any errors which may be present. Research for the paper was
funded by a Mellon grant administered by Colby College.

Emmer P.c. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster.
ISBN 90247 3253 o.



Because indentured servant flows were only a portion, albeit a major portion, of
British emigration in the 17th and 18th centuries, data on all types of emigration
are desirable in order that the scale, composition and context of servant migration
might be defined. To discover the patterns of aggregate emigration, an indirect
route was required. Records of emigrant departures are so fragmentary, as are
records of immigrant arrivals in the colonies, that there appeared little hope for
reconstructing a picture of aggregate emigration directly from surviving data 3 .
Three recent studies have, however, developed other methodological routes to
provide estimates of overall migration. The major piece of research, major in its
comprehensiveness, is that of Wrigley and Schofield who undertook a 'back
projection' of a set of population variables as an outcome of their work in
reconstructing English population patterns from a parish record base 4 • One of
those retrojected variables is emigration; their decadal series for 1601 to 1801 is
reproduced as Column 1, Table 1. Thus, one route to an inferred emigration series
is via a demographic modelling of population patterns. A different methodology,
employing in this case colonial demographic data, generated a series for English
emigration to the colonies. Gemery published such a series for the 17th century; it
appears as Column 2, Table I for the period 1630 to 17005 . Utilizing a variant of
Gemery's methodology, Galenson calculated an immigration series for 1650-60
to 1770-80. That series appears as Column 3, Table 16. Because of differences in
conceptualization and geographical coverage, the respective series are not di-
rectly comparable, nonetheless they serve to give definition to the broad outlines
of labour movement in the period. Thus they provide the numerical context
within which servant flows had to occur and, in the case of Gemery and Galenson
estimates, define the spatial patterns that characterize servant and emigrant
Complementing the research on aggregate emigration patterns are more spe-
cific studies which either analyze surviving servant lists or explore new historical
source material. In the former category are studies by Galenson. Souden, Horn
and Heavener 7 . In the latter category are works by Souden, Carr, Menard,
Walsh, and more peripherally Kussmaul and Brodsky-Elliott 8 . Studies of inden-
ture lists possess the considerable virtue of allowing focus directly on the charac-
teristics of known migrants, however they simultaneously encounter the prospect
of non-randomness of sample. When the numbers of servants shown on the
various indenture lists are large, well arrayed in time and geography, and when
their characteristics match those of the general population one has a reasonable
hope that the sampling is representative. And so most writers who have used the

Table I. English net migration, 1601-11 to 1791-1801; emigration from the British Isles to British
Mainland Colonies and British West Indies, 1630--40 to 1690--1700; net migration for British Mainland
Colonies and British West Indies, 1650-60 to 1770-80.

Decade" (1) English net (2) British emigration to (3) Net migration to
migration the colonies British colonies

1601-11 70,118
1611-21 54,618
1621-31 46,136
1631-41 71,162 69,100
1641-51 106,883 69,400
1651-61 125,271 71,800 53,372
1661-71 100,431 42,200 40,305
1671-81 60.622 5l,700 38,488
1681-91 37,426 43,100 35,166
1691-1701 41,724 30,300 12,376
1701-11 51,973 31.231
1711-21 55,154 70,092
1721-31 54,084 76,549
1731-41 48,973 88,917
1741-51 53,638 19,639
1751-61 66,382 76,098
1761-71 66,632 52,128
1771-81 48,342 25,958
1781-91 32,642
1791-1801 40,855

1601-1701 714,391 [1630-1700] 377,600 [1650-1700] 179,707
1701-1801 518,675 "" [1700-1800] 799,800 [1700-1780] 440,612

" For Columns 2 and 3, decades throughout are 0 to 0, i.e. 1650-1660.

Positive figures in Column 1 and 2 represent net outflows. The positive figures in Column 3 indicate
net immigration.
" " Totals are sums of decades except for the bracketed total noted. That figure is for European
emigration to the North American colonies. In concept it is close to but not identical with the measure
used in Column 3. The source is Gemery, 'European Emigration to North America, 1700-1820:
Numbers and Quasi-Numbers', forthcoming in Perspectives in American History, New Series, Vol. 1.
Calculated from Table II, 'Hybrid Variant'.
Column 1. Wrigley and Schofield, Population History, Table 7.14. Column 2. Gemery, 'Emigration
from the British Isles', Table A.5. Column 3. Calculated from Galenson, White Servitude, Tables H.3
and H.4.

indenture lists to infer the 'class' of the population appearing as servant immi-
grants have assumed 9 • Yet the risk in relying entirely on English indenture lists is
considerable since, in at least one detailed study done from receiving colony
records, a sizable fraction of arriving servants had no indenture contracts. Citing
the evidence from Charles County, Maryland for 1658-1705, Lorena S. Walsh

It is important to determine what proportions of the servants had indentures, because there were
doubtless systematic differences between those who had them and those who served instead
according to custom of the country. In Charles County nearly half of the servants, at least, were in
the second category. Eight hundred and four of the one thousand three hundred and eighty-seven
servants were specifically identified as serving without indentures. Only 97 were recorded as
having indentures, and the status of the remaining 486 was not given H).

A.E. Smith had earlier reached a similar conclusion from his sampling of colonial
records. Smith states:

The number of young servants imported without indenture was very considerable, if we may judge
by the frequency with which they were brought before the magistrates for proof of age on their
arrival. During the six years from 1668--1674 there were 34 such judgments of age in the Virginian
County of North Umberland alone, and a similar procedure was being carried on in all southern
colonies ll .

If further studies following Smith and Walsh should suggest that there are
systematic differences between those arriving without indenture and those with -
in terms of length of service, age distribution, or skill composition - then a caution
in utilizing indenture lists is clearly appropriate. Walsh notes that in the Maryland
case, servants 22 years of age and over relying on custom of the country were to
serve 5 years under legislation in force in 1666. However, servants with indentures
in like ages usually served four yearsl2. Proof of systematic differences between
those arriving with indentures and those without would require historians to
contemplate the possibility of a segmented market in operation. That segmenta-
tion would occur between the better-informed migrants participating in a largely
legal set of English procedures and those migrants who were either less-well-
informed or under more pressing need for immediate departure who participated
in an extra-legal or at least less formal market process. Proceeding for the
moment on the assumption that the surviving indenture lists provide a representa-
tive sample of servant flows, a carefully detailed picture of the migrants appears
in the work of Galenson, Souden and Horn 13 • That detail will be evident in the
following section which discusses the results emerging from the research focussed
on indenture lists.
English indenture lists are not the only direct data source as the Walsh and

Smith quotations make clear. Various forms of indenture registry, direct or

indirect, appeared in the colonies as well. First studied to some degree at the turn
of the century, they have been exploited somewhat more intensively over the past
decade by Menard, Walsh and Carrl4. Heavener has also used Philadelphia
registry material in examining the economic characteristics of the servant market
in Philadelphia l5 . While colonial records are of prime use in defining the market
operating in the colonies, they can as well provide evidence on the composition of
the emigrant group, the pattern of derived demand that bears on the English
labour market, and the slave/indentured servant choices being made which also
reflect back to English labour demands.
Yet another set of data sources has seen recent development and has provided
indirect evidence on the character of English emigration. The depositions of
ecclesiastical courts and apprenticeship records give indications of the nature and
extent of English internal migration and, by extension, reinforce or question the
conclusions being derived from direct studies of external migration l6 . Following
Clark's work, Souden has explicitly interpreted external migration as a step
arising from the nature of the internal migrant patterns, i.e., emigration is
migration at the margin I7 . In addition to Souden's use of ecclesiastical court
depositions and parish register reconstructions, Brodsky-Elliott and Kussmaul
have used apprenticeship and servant records in exploring internal migration.
The clear impressions of a mobile population derived from these studies suggest
that recruitment of overseas migrants would have been an easier task in the
English environment and thus lends credence to the Souden hypothesis of emi-
gration being an extension of the internal migration patterns.
The data sources then are: (1) inferential reconstructions from population data,
(2) indenture lists in England, (3) probate and other registry records in the
colonies, and (4) ecclesiastical court or apprenticeship records in England. From
these four sources there is gradually being assembled a picture of servant and
other emigrant flows. Diverse as the sources, methodologies, and scholarly
interests are, the emerging patterns are surprisingly consistent. The task of the
next section is to display those patterns.


A. Magnitude, Timing, and Direction

Writing in the 1930's, A.E. Smith concluded the following for the 17th century:

From the various evidences collected, it seems evident that a modest estimate would state 3,000 as
the number of servants who annually left the British Isles and entered the colonies. This number
would be increased by the political transportees of the Commonwealth, and also by the Mon-
mouth rebels, who do not appear in any statistics from the islands!"'

The recent scholarship permits Smith's modest estimate to be placed in a context

of overall emigration patterns. Wrigley and Schofield suggest that 17th century
England experienced a net emigration of some 700,000, of whom 540,000 emigr-
ated in the 1630-1700 period!Y. Examining that same 70 year period, Gemery
estimated that some 378,000 emigrated to the New World colonies 20 . That figure
is consistent with Smith's judgment that indentured servants accounted for over
half of the emigrants in the period 2!.
The Wrigley/Schofield and Gemery estimates also appear to be in close agree-
ment when recognition is given to the wholly different methodologies employed
in reaching them and the differing coverage of emigration they embody. The
Wrigley/Schofield figures are net for England alone while the Gemery totals are
for all emigrant departures from the British Isles to the New World. A substantial
number of English emigrants to Ireland could appear in the Wrigley/Schofield
total, thus placing it well above the total destined for the overseas colonies 22 .
Together then, the three surveyed studies indicate the broad outlines of
population movement in the 17th century. Summarizing: from an English popula-
tion averaging somewhat under five million, some 700,000 net migrants appear;
540,000 in the last seventy years of that century. Approximately 378,000 emi-
grated from the British Isles to New World colonies in those same seventy years.
Servants, emigrating at an annual average rate of 3,000 per year, would have
accounted for 210,000 or some 60% of the emigrant total.
For the 18th century, a somewhat similar outline can be assembled. Figures
from Wrigley/Schofield suggest a slowing in net emigration as the century's total
drops to some 519,000 from the 700,000 of the previous century 23. This occurs
despite a larger average population of more than 6 million for England2~. Galen-
son estimates New World immigrants at 432,000 for the years l700 through 1780,
while for a period two decades longer, l700--1800, Gemery estimates European
emigration to the North American mainland at 799,800 25 . Unfortunately, neither
of these two estimates are specific to British emigration 26 . Thus, while it is

doubtless the case that by far the bulk of the immigrants are British, no unam-
biguous conclusions regarding British trends can be drawn from these numbers.
A similar uncertainty appears with regard to the proportion of indentured
servants in the immigrant totals. Smith makes no estimate of servant emigration
for the 18th century; however the evidence of an active market for indentured
servants in the Middle Colonies in particular makes a presumptive case that a
substantial proportion of the 18th century immigrants came as indentured ser-
vants27. A sizable share of the immigrants do appear in the Middle Colonies and
Upper South. Galenson finds 40% of total immigration in the colonies of Pennsyl-
vania/Delaware and MarylandlVirginia. If the two Carolinas are added, 68% of
the immigrants are accounted for 28 • Some error is attached to the estimates of the
spatial distribution of immigration; however, the proportions are so different that
destination patterns observed here are unlikely to change radically even if mea-
surement errors could be eliminated29 • Thus, while it seems to be the case that
indentured servitude continued to account for a sizable share of the 18th century
immigrants, the evidence is not firm enough to advance a specific proportion.
In developing the numerical background of emigration, the Wrigley/Schofield
and Gemery studies have also estimated the timing of English migratory move-
ments. No inferred number can claim precise accuracy in identifying decadal
variation in migrant flows, indeed Wrigley and Schofield concede that 'while back
projection obtained approximately the right total of net migration it was not very
successful at apportioning it correctly between decades'30. However, when two
independent methodologies arrive at the same dating for a migration peak and
that dating is supported by other historical evidence, there can be confidence that
one is observing an event and not a statistical artifact. Both studies find a peak in
emigration in the mid-17th century, with migration to the New World colonies
estimated at a decennial rate of 72,000 in the 1650's and English emigration to all
destinations for the same period totalling 125,27Pl. Souden has described this
emigration timing pattern as an inverse V-shaped distribution, a feature of
English demographic history that is so pronounced that it warrants particular
attention in terms of causality and impact. That discussion will appear in Section
C following. The 18th century shows no such pronounced pattern in Wrigley and
Schofield's data, though some p,eaking at mid-century is again observed (See
Column 1, Table I.).
The overseas destinations of emigrants shift dramatically from the seventeenth
to the eighteenth centuries. Table II, drawing from the work of Galenson and
Gemery, indicates the approximate magnitude of that shift. The dominance of
the Caribbean sugar colonies in the 17th century is clearly evident, though the
impact of mortality in passage and seasoning is not. The role of migrant mortality
can be made graphically apparent by noting that during the peak decades of

Table II. British emigration by receiving region, 1630-1700 and immigration by region, 1700-1780.

Colonies 1630-1700 1700-1780

Total British emigration % Total immigration %

Caribbean 222,500 59 85,567 20

Southern 116,100 31 231,588 54
Northern and Middle 39,000 10 114,511 26

Total 377,600 100 431,666 100

Sources: Total British emigration from Gemery, 'Emigration from the British Isles'. Table A.5. Total
immigration calculated from Galenson, White Servitude in Colonial America, Tables H.3 and H.4.

emigration (1630-1660), 210,000 emigrants served to raise colonial populations by

only some 100,00032 , Knowledge of that mortality, experienced largely in the
Caribbean and Southern Colonies, was ev.entually communicated back to pro-
spective emigrants and was one of the factors that served to divert migrants from
the Caribbean. More significant in that diversion was the growing supply of slave
labour to the sugar colonies and, perhaps, the inability of indentured servants to
acquire land upon the completion of indenture. Whatever the relative importance
of these factors, it is clear that by the last quarter of the 17th century, servants
bound for the Caribbean colonies were generally receiving shorter terms as an
inducement for accepting the negative features of the region)3. Through much of
the 18th century then, only 20% of the migrants flowed to the Caribbean - a
marked drop from the 59% of the 1630-1700 period.

B. The Characteristics of the Migrants

Assiduous work on the surviving indenture lists by Campbell, Galenson, Souden

and Horn has developed a significant amount of detail about the character of the
migrant group34. Though the use of indenture lists necessarily raises the question
of randomness of sample and creates dilemmas in interpreting incomplete or
missing entries, they remain a most significant historical resource 35 • The Walsh
caution noted earlier remains a caution but until there is further evidence of a
systematic difference between those appearing on English indenture lists and
those arriving in the colonies without indenture, research based on the lists can be
presumed to be the most accurate of that available. Certainly the probability of
greater representativeness increases in the case of research utilizing multiple lists,
such as in the Galenson study where six separate registers of indentured servants
are studied 36 • In addition, many of the characteristics are so pronounced as to

make it unlikely that an aberrant portion of the emigrant population is being

observed in the surviving indenture lists.
The age selectivity characterizing the migration process is evident for both
internal migrants and emigrants in the data given in Table III. The tight clustering
about the age range 16-25 is even more apparent when the wider age distribution
receives comment. For example, Galenson notes: 'It was extremely rare for
indentured servants of either sex to be below the age of 10 or above the age of 40 37 •
In a similar vein, Souden observes: 'Although some ten to fifteen percent of
deponents had arrived at their current home in the years before age fifteen, as a
rule fewer than ten percent arrived after age forty'3s. The tight age clustering gives
a clear indication that neither internal migration nor emigration was family
migration. The heavily male sex ratios characteristic of indentured servant regis-
trations are a further confirmation of that fact. In Galenson's data, the percent
male is 76.7 in 1654-99 and 90.2 percent for 1700-75 39 • The increasing 'maleness'
of the indentured servant flow is a feature which bears comment in a following
Evidence on the occupation or status of indentured servants is less satisfactory
and thus requires more in the way of inferences. Not surprisingly, some debate
has accompanied investigations of this topic though conclusions now appear to
have a substantial degree of concensus. For the 17th century Bristol list which
contains evidence of occupation or status, servants were drawn equally from the
following groups: farmers, tradesmen and craftsmen, labourers, and youths40. A
London indenture list from the same period shows a far smaller proportion of
farmers and labourers, and a larger group of skilled craftsmen and tradesmen,

Table III. Percentage of internal migrants and indentured servants in the age range 16-25. various
dates. 17th and 18th centuries.

Internal migrants Indentured servants

Pre- Post- London Middlesex Liverpool London London
1660 1660 1683-86 1683-84 1697-1701 171&-59 1773-76

males 36.8 41.9
Males 62 74 58 82 62
males 30.9 38.6
females 43.9 45.3
Females 84 87 79 90 73
females 45.3 40.2

Sources: Internal migrants, calculated from Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields'.
Table 2.27. Indentured servants. calculated from Galenson. White Servitude, Table 2.3.

though by far the largest proportion of entries (3/Sths) showed no occupation.

Galenson, after examining the patterns of age, literacy and length of indenture,
concludes that the group without recorded occupations indeed had no occupation
to record 41 • Thus it is probable that a significant portion of 17th century servant
emigrants were unskilled and drawn from the lower levels of English society. The
three groups appearing in the 17th century lists - farmers, skilled trades and
crafts, and the unskilled - appear to approximately mirror the composition of the
English society42. Examining 18th century lists, Galenson finds that the skill
composition of the emigrant group changes with male servants 'becoming on
average both more likely to have occupational skills and less likely to have come
from agricultural occupations'43.
Literacy levels are also indicators of economic and social status and may be
inferred from the ability or inability to sign one's name on the registrations. In
examining those lists which include such information, Galenson calculated liter-
acy rates offrom 41 % to 79% depending on location and date, and concluded that
they closely compared with the results of a national sample of literacy for the mid-
18th century as well as results from a regional sample for the 1680'S44. This
evidence would again support the conclusion that the makeup of the servant
emigrant group is one that broadly represents the English society of the period.
Galenson writes:

'While the precise distribution will never be known with confidence. the evidence analyzed in this
study indicates that the indentured servants probably came in significant numbers from all levels of
the broad segment of English society bounded at one end by the gentry, and at the other by the

Horn, after analyzing servant emigration to the Chesapeake, reaches a similar

conclusion: 'From quasi-criminal elements and unskilled workers to the sons of
gentlemen, servants who emigrated to the Chesapeake compose a representative
cross section of the ordinary working men and women in England'46. Thus, in
reviewing the evidence on the composition of the migrant flow, what is striking is
the degree of agreement apparent in the more recent research undertaken on
indenture lists. Galenson, Souden, and Horn have all arrived at the conclusion
that the emigrant group reflected a fairly broad range of the English society.
David Souden's judgment after carefully surveying the Bristol lists can serve as a

'The young emigrants represented here were fundamentally part of the general degree of extra-
local mobility within pre-industrial England: they were not the rogues. the whores and the
vagabonds that the prevailing mythology might still lead us to believe '~7

C. Emigration's Imprint on the English Economy

Three pieces of data indicate that the 17th century emigration in particular was
sizable enough to leave its mark on the English society. The first kind of infor-
mation is of a demographic nature, evidence which was not available until the
back projection figures of Wrigley and Schofield were complete. Given the age
and sex specificity of migration discussed earlier, an age specificity corresponding
closely with those of both marriage and fertility, it would be expected that large
emigrations would reduce population growth 4R • The extent to which that occurs in
the English case is apparent in Table IV. Negative rates of population growth
appear in three decades of the 17th century and one in the 18th. The rate of natural

Table IV. Net migration and population growth 1601-1801.

1. Natural increase
2. Net migration
3. Compound annual percentage rate of population growth
4. Compound annual percentage rate of natural increase
5. Impact of net migration on annual growth rate (4)-(3)
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

1601-11 376488 70118 0.72 0.88 -0.16

161I-21 331242 54618 0.61 0.73 -0.12
1621-31 245741 46136 0.42 0.53 -0.11
1631-41 270307 71162 0.40 0.54 -0.14
1641-51 243639 106883 0.27 0.47 -0.20
1651-61 37533 125271 -0.17 0.07 -0.24
1661-71 --57625 100431 -0.31 -0.11 -0.20
1671-81 8320 60622 -(UI 0.02 -0.13
1681-91 37543 37426 0.00 0.08 -0.08
1691-1701 169012 41724 0.26 0.34 -0.08
1701-11 224554 51973 0.34 0.44 -0.10
1711-21 175248 55154 0.23 0.33 -0.10
1721-31 -33006 54085 -0.16 -0.06 -O.W
1731-41 361796 48973 0.58 0.67 -0.09
1741-51 249856 53638 0.35 0.44 -0.09
1751-61 440824 66382 0.63 0.74 -0.11
1761-71 367588 66632 0.48 0.58 -0.10
1771-81 642669 48342 0.89 0.95 -0.06
1781-91 730391 32642 0.95 0.99 -0.04
1791-1801 965456 40855 1.13 1.18 -0.05

Note: The natural increase figures were obtained by adding the net migration totals to the difference
between successive 'census' totals found by back projection.
Source: Wrigley and Schofield, Population History, Table 7.14.

increase is negative as well for one of the decades in each century. Though
Column 5 makes clear that net emigration served to slow population growth
throughout, that effect does not dominate fertility and mortality changes except
in particular decades. Wrigley and Schofield comment:

Between the mid seventeenth and mid eighteenth century. however, natural incrcase was low and
even occasionally negative and in these circumstances net emigration exerted a more powerful
influence on population growth rates. For example, between 1656 and 16R6, the population fcll
from 5.2Rl million to 4.R65 million, a fall of 0.416 million. and of this about 5R percent was due to
net emigration (in the back projection sense of the term) and the remainder to an adverse balance
of births over deaths. It is also noteworthy that the low rates of population growth found by back
projection in the early eighteenth century occurred because the relatively small surpluses of births
over deaths were subject to substantial proportionate reductions from net emigration"'-

Thus net emigration did leave its imprint on population growth and the 'decades
of deficit' might be expected to mark the economy in other ways.
Decreased internal mobility appears after 1660. Souden's study of local migra-
tion fields in pre-industrial England includes an estimate of the degree of immo-
bility characterizing the sampled groups. Immobile individuals are defined as
those 'who claimed never to have moved from their parish of birth'511. Expressed
as a percentage and arranged in pre-1660 and post -1660 columns as in Table V, the
increase in immobility for all males and urban females is striking. In the tighter
labour market conditions experienced after 1660, fewer of the males found it
necessary to move in order to find employment. Since female cohorts did not
incur the shrinkage from emigration that male cohorts did, labour supply condi-
tions are an unlikely explanation of the decreased mobility shown for urban
females. However, it is not clear that, in the aggregate, female mobility did
decline. Souden found that' ... women in the countryside were as mobile if not
more so after 1660 than before'51. Thus, while there is some ambiguity associated
with the findings on female mobility, it seems clear that for males, emigration had

Table V. % Immobility, rural and urban. Rural hy selected occupations.

Category Prc-1660 Post-1660

Urban male 33.9 50.3

Urhan female 29.0 45.1
Rural male 37.6 44.3
Yeoman 39.5 5~.3
Husbandman 39.9 43.9
Cloth merchant 34.~ 60.9

Source: Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields'. Table 2.20.


a pronounced damping effect on internal mobility.

Yet another effect might be anticipated from the emigration occurring; a
change in wage levels. Nominal wages for a building craftsman or a labourer did
rise by approximately 50% over the three decades from 1630-1660 as indicated in
the Phelps, Brown and Hopkins wage series52 . The wages of agricultural la-
bourers in Southern England also rose from 1Od. per day in 1620-29 to 12 in 1640-
4953 . Events other than labour supply changes could have affected wage levels,
thus no conclusive link can be drawn between emigration and wage change;
however the conjunction in timing of emigration and wage increases and the
subsequent reduction in internal mobility, is more difficult and perhaps impossi-
ble to explain with aggregate demand changes. Demand conditions were chang-
ing but in the main they changed for the worse. A number of writers have
described the deteriorating conditions of agriculture and trades as well as the
political turmoil of the middle three decades of the century. Joan Thirsk, writing
of the riots in the years before the Civil War, commented on the faltering
economy: 'The worst outbreak occurred in the years 1629-32 when the three
pillars of the economy - imported corn, spacious commons, and domestic indus-
tries - threatened to crumble simultaneously'54. Labour supply conditions, with
emigration playing a prime role, thus seem the more plausible explanatory
Wage levels, mobility patterns, and population change itself appear to bear the
imprint of the 17th century emigration. The lesser relative levels of emigration in
the 18th century show little effect on the society beyond that of a consistent
slowing of overall population growth by some 1110 of 1% (see Column 5, Table

D. Labor Markets and the Migration Process

'. .. internal and external migrations in England were intimately linked in the seventeenth
century, and represent joint but lagged responses to current circumstances, and the extension and
retraction of the margin of migration'55.

The previous section has argued that 17th century emigration was pervasive
enough to mark the English society. What was it about the structure of the labor
market that allowed such an extensive emigration to occur? The quote from
David Souden that begins this section suggests a starting point. If one can speak of
a 'margin of migration', what made it readily extensible to the emigrant case? The
literature suggests four explanations: i) The society was one characterized by, and
thus accustomed to, a high degree of local movement; ii) labour 'contracts' in
explicit or custom form were in common use; iii) access to the overseas transport

market was easy for all market participants - the transporters, the agents, and the
prospective indentured servants, and; iv) normal profits could be earned in the
business of transporting indentured servants overseas.
Examining each in turn:
The frequency and extent of internal emigration occurring in pre-industrial
England is well established 56 • Studies ranging from J. Cornwall to the Souden
work on emigration fields indicate that short, localized movements, together with
longer distance regional migrations, were occurring57. Localized movement,
largely within 20 miles or less, was closely tied to the institutions of the society -
agricultural and domestic service, apprenticeship, marriage 5H • Longer distance
movements into cities, towns, or into regions showing agricultural growth or
developing rural industries, were largely precipitated by economic conditions.
Localized movement has been characterized as 'betterment' moves while the
longer distance ones are viewed as 'poverty-driven subsistence' migrations 59 .
Facilitating this mobility was a set of labour market relationships, defined in
custom and/or in law, which offered a modicum of assurance that the con-
ventional terms of agreement would be fulfilled. Servants in husbandry, propor-
tionally the largest of the groups of hired labour and far larger than the apprentice
group, typically worked under verbal agreements for a term of one yearhll. Craft
apprenticeships were more closely prescribed, frequently carried entry restric-
tions and, by the late 17th century, carried a normal term of seven yearsClI. Both
institutions, in combination or individually, could serve as a model for the
indenture system and Galenson makes such a case for the tradition of servants in
husbandry eliding into indentured servitude 62 • 'In functional terms the indenture
system was thus primarily a geographic extension of the system of service in
husbandry 63. Significant differences develop as the extension occurs. Lengths of
indenture ran well beyond the annual terms of the servant in husbandry and
indentures were assignable64. Both changes were adaptations necessitated by the
greater investment incurred in meeting the initial transport costs of the servants.
Thus, English servitude did not equate with colonial servitude, though the full
significance of that fact was hardly likely to be apparent to prospective emigrants
of the early 17th century65. While generally aware of the differences, particularly
as the century progressed, English labourers probably extrapolated their local
labor market experience to the colonial. Envisioning some degree of customary
and legal protection, they could approach an overseas move more readily than a
population without experience in formal or informal contracting.
Access to the emigrant market in a spatial sense needs little comment since it is
amply apparent that England's geography and its maritime trade placed migrants
and maritime activity in close proximity. In the case of Bristol, 35.3%, of inden-
tured servants emigrating in 1654-60 came from distances of less than 20 miles;
77.8% came from less than 60 miles 66 •

Less obvious than the spatial compactness is the economic openness of the
servant market, the extent to which third parties entered into the business of
financing or speculating on servant passages. Horn has tabulated a list of the
occupations of Bristol masters transporting servants to the Chesapeake in 1654-
60 which reveals the wide variety of participants in the trade. Though mariners
and merchants account for 35.4% and 20.9% ofthe total sample respectively, the
remaining 29.5% of the known occupations are remarkably diverse - from soap-
boilers to vintners to a wooldraper67. Horn's conclusion that 'the whole trading
community of the city was involved' seems indisputable68 • Less diversity in the
occupations of London masters is found but, here again, the degree of small scale
participation is striking. Seventy-five to 79% of the masters in the London lists of
1682-1686 were responsible for transporting only one or two servants69 • As with
all conclusions relying on the evidence of indenture lists, a question of representa-
tiveness can be raised but it seems unlikely that servants proceeding without
indenture according to the 'custom of the country' , would have been financed by
a significantly different distribution of masters. The picture then is one of a widely
open market drawing its capital from throughout the mercantile community. For
the intending emigrant, the capital-raising ability of the market was a boon,
insuring that he could borrow on his human capitapo. For the unintending
emigrant, that same capital posed a danger as he could become a speculative
target for the more aggressive and less scrupulous masters 71 •
It is evident from the degree of participation it attracted that profits could be
earned in the servant trade. The question of whether those profits were 'normal'
or greater has had limited study and conflicting answers. Earlier work by Smith
emphasized the 'comfortable' profits to be earned in the 17th century trade and
the exploitation occurring. 'Thus a merchant who spent four to five pounds on
getting a servant to America could count on selling him for from six to perhaps
thirty pounds ... It is plain that the servant himself was grievously exploited, for
he was generally sold not simply for the cost of his passage, as is often stated, but
for a considerably higher figure'72. Galenson dissents: 'A comparison of the
auction prices of servants with the simple cost of passage reveals little difference
between them'73. Thus, in his view, price patterns tend to support ' ... the
hypothesis that the price of a servant's indenture in the colonies was equal to the
marginal cost of delivering labour there from England'74. Determining whether
profits were normal or greater is not critical for assessing the margin of migration
thesis. As long as normal profits at least could be earned, and there seems to be no
question as to that, then migrants would continue to be offered the option of
emigration under indenture - as they were throughout the 17th and 18th cen-
The Souden hypothesis postulates that in 17th century England overseas migra-

tion represented the last step in a sequence of search options that ran from the
local, to the regional or large city, thence to overseas75 • Failure to obtain employ-
ment at early points in the sequence led inevitably to the end point. Such closures
of opportunity occurred when domestic economic conditions deteriorated to the
point where the cohort entering the labour force could not be absorbed; thus the
margin of migration was forced by negative pressures to the overseas move. The
ready extensibility of the margin is explicable by the habits of domestic mobility,
the familiarity with contracting, and the economic characteristics of the servant
market. When fewer closures in the chain of options occured, as was true by the
latter part of the 17th and throughout the 18th century, the margin of migration
receded. However the same set of factors that made for the ready extensibility of
the margin continued to operate and still allowed sizable numbers of English
labourers the option of moving their individual margins of migration to the
overseas point.


The conditions under which an indenture system is apt to arise and persist can be
inferred from the forms of migration and their relationship to the labour market
conditions existing in the 17th and 18th centuries. Though specific to the English
or British context, a typology of migration can serve as a framework for assessing
other historical cases of contract labour 76 •
In the peak migration decades of the seventeenth century, the migration is one
that can be characterized as poverty-driven with high overseas demand. The
spread between the domestic price of labour and its overseas price was large
enough to ensure that third parties - mariners, merchants, and perhaps the whole
of the mercantile community - took an active interest in the profit that lay in
transporting labour. The interest of these market participants was added to that
of the overseas planters who, in all periods, were willing to pay passage costs in
return for a committed period of labour. Thus the widespread adoption of
indenture contracts, formally registered or custom of country, was not linked
simply to the intense demand for labour abroad, but rather to the conjunction of
that demand with two other circumstances: (1) an English margin of migration
that shifted to the overseas colonies as domestic employment options closed, and
(2) an active set of agents and masters who recruited, indentured, transported,
and sold servants overseas.
By the last two decades of the century the margin of migration receded as
English economic conditions improved, and, simultaneously, the large scale
introduction of slave labour to the Caribbean reduced the demand for field labour

from England 77 • The two changes re-shaped the emigrant flow into a pattern that
can be termed betterment-driven with selective demand. Where the earlier flow
occurred, largely under conditions of minimal information, a 'regime of igno-
rance', - market information improved substantially as the century progressed.
Both prospective migrants and colonial employers became more selective in their
choices78 • That selectivity is evident in Galenson's findings that the servant
registrations show a temporal shift in the composition of the emigrant population.
It became increasingly male, the proportion skilled rose, literacy levels increased,
and destinations shifted away from the Caribbean79 •
Interspersed with the two major types of migration are two other forms, lesser
in scale but significant. The initial labour transfers to the New World colonies
might be classed as 'venture' migrations, financed by the colonizing enterprise
and utilizing a form of contract or indenture labourso. The locus of recruiting
effort lay with the venturing company and its recruits were, to a degree, adven-
turers. Also appearing throughout the two centuries were various 'non-market'
migrations - the religious, political, or penal-based movements of persons to the
colonies 81 •
Indentures can be traced to the original auspices of the Virginia Company and
thus had a role in venture migration; they also appear as end-results of some of the
non-market migrations, notably the penal form 82 • However, the economic impact
and historical significance of the indenture system lie with neither of these
migration types. Only with the poverty-driven/high-demand and betterment-
driven/selective-demand migrations, accompanied by their potential for third
party profits, is it true that indentured servitude takes on its full role 83 • These large
scale, broadly representative (of males) emigrations could not have occurred at
all without the institutional vehicle indenture provided.



Somewhat fuller answers to the 'Clapham questions' - how large? how long? how
often? how representative? - have emerged in this survey of research bearing on
English emigration 84 • The magnitude of the emigrant flow, its destinations, and
its composition are discernible. Its impact on the English economy is observable,
particularly so for the 17th century. The question of representativeness remains
troubling for the research results that depend entirely on indentUfe lists, but only
more empirical work of the Carr/Walsh/Menard form is likely to provide an
answer 85 • Apparent too are the intimate links between the English indenture
system and the internal mobility, the institutions surrounding labour contracting,

and the openness and profitability of a servant market.

The degree of volition characterizing migrant choices is unresolved. Interpreta-
tions range from the Smith 'commodity' view to the Galenson 'borrowing on
human capital' interpretation86 . The historical reality is likely to be an admixture.
As poverty-driven/high-demand migration shifts toward that of betterment-
driven/selective-demand, volitional emigration is apt to be much more the case.
The indentured servant trade may thus appear more like a commodity trade at its
beginning and more like borrowings against human capital toward its end.
Whichever interpretation one chooses - that emigrants were forced to borrow on
their human capital or, alternatively, were free to exercise an option to do so - it
remains true that the limited period of indenture together with the modicum of
legal and custom protection given indentured servants in the colonies meant that
the indenture system never deteriorated to the commodity level of slavery.
Though numbers of indentured servants encountered treatment little different
and, in some cases, worse than that received by slaves, the system retained the
crucial difference of encumbering human capital rather than allowing its full
appropriation 87 • Failure to preserve human capital as a creditworthy commodity
for the individual, placing it instead in the hands of another party, may be taken as
one definition of slavery. In extending the margin of migration for its populace,
English markets served to preserve the creditworthiness of human capital. Con-
strained by law, custom, and competition, they operated in a fashion that was far
from benign, but also far from the abuses of the slave trade.


1. See S.L. Engerman, 'Servants to Slaves to Servants: Contract Labour and European Expansion',
this volume, Table I.
2. See e.g.: E.A. Wrigley and R.S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541-1871,
(Cambridge, Mass., 1981); D.W. Galenson, White Servitude in Colonial America, (Cambridge,
1981); D.C. Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields', Ph.D. Dissertation,
Cambridge University, 1981; D.C. Souden, 'Rogues, whores, and vagabonds'? Indentured ser-
vant emigrants to North America, and the case of mid-seventeenth-century Bristol', Social
History, 3. no. 1, (January, 1978), pp. 23-41; D.C. Souden, 'Seventeenth Century English
Emigration', Paper presented to the SSRC Conference on the Diaspora of the British, (July,
1981); J. Horn, 'Servant Emigration to the Chesapeake in the Seventeenth Century', in T. W. Tate
and D.L. Ammerman, (cds.), The Chesapeake in the Seventeenth Century, (Chapel Hill, N.C.,
1979), pp. 51-95; A, Kussmaul, Servants ill Husbandry in Early Modern England, (Cambridge,
1981); H.A. Gemery, 'Emigration from the British Isles to the New World, 1630--1700: Inferences
from Colonial Populations', Research in Economic History, 5, (1980), pp. 179-231; V. Brodsky-
Elliott, 'Marriage and Mobility in Pre-Industrial England', Ph.D. Dissertation, Cambridge
University, 1978; P. Clark. 'Migration in England During the Late Seventeenth and Early

Eighteenth Centuries', Past and Present, 83, (1979), pp. 57-90. Fuller bibliographies appear in the
Galenson, Gemery, and Wrigley/Schofield works cited.
3. A discussion appears in Gemery, 'Emigration from the British Isles', pp. 180-183.
4. Wrigley and Schofield, Population History.
5. Gemery, 'Emigration from the British Isles', Table A.5.
6. Galenson, White Servitude, Appendix H, Tables H.3 and H.4.
7. Galenson, White Servitude; Souden, 'Rogues'; Horn, 'Servant Emigration'; and R. O. Heavener,
'Indentured Servitude: The Philadelphia Market, 1771-1773', Journal of Economic History, 38,
no. 3, (September 1978), pp. 701-13, Economic Aspects of Indentured Servitude in Colonial
Philadelphia, (New York, 1971).
8. Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields'; L.G. Carr, and R.R. Menard, 'Immi-
gration and Opportunity: The Freedman in Early Colonial Maryland', in T.W. Tate and D.L.
Ammerman, (eds.), The Chesapeake in the Seventeenth Century, (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1979), pp.
206-42; R.R. Menard, 'From Servants to Slaves: The Transformation of the Chesapeake Labor
System', Southern Studies, 16, no. 4, (Winter, 1977), pp. 355-90; L.S. Walsh, 'Servitude and
Opportunity in Charles County, Maryland, 1658-1705' in A.C. Land, L.G. Carr and E.C.
Papenfuse, (eds.), Law, Society, and Politics in Early Maryland, (Baltimore, 1977), pp. 111-33;
Kussmael, Servants in Husbandry; Brodsky-Elliott, 'Marriage and Mobility'.
9. Some debate has accompanied the question of the class composition of the indentured servant
emigration, but it has revolved around the treatment of overall representativeness of the lists. See
M. Campbell, 'The Social Origins of Some Early Americans Reexamined', William and Mary
Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 35, no. 3, (July, 1978), pp. 499-524. A 'Response' from Campbell appears in
William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 36, no. 2, (April, 1979), pp. 277-86.
10. L.S. Walsh, 'Servitude and Opportunity in Charles County, Maryland, 1658-1705', in Land, Carr,
Papenfuse, (eds.), Law, Society, and Politics in Early Maryland, (Baltimore, 1977), pp. 112, 113.
11. A.E. Smith, 'The Transportation System in the Seventeenth Century with Special Reference to
the West Indies', Ph.D. Dissertation, Balliol College, Oxford, n.d., p. 212.
12. Walsh, 'Servitude and Opportunity', p. 113. Galenson has tabulated the differences between
indentures received according to the custom of the country and those received by male servants
appearing on London Guildhall records, 1718-1759. For Maryland and Virginia, two ofthe prime
importing colonies, the difference is approximately one year. See D. Galenson, 'British Servants
and the Colonial Indenture System in the Eighteenth Century', The Journal of Southern History,
XLIV, No.1, (February, 1978), pp. 41-66.
13. See footnote 7.
14. See references in footnotes 8 and 10.
15. Heavener, 'Indentured Servitude' and Economic Aspects of Indentured Servitude.
16. Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields'; Kussmaul, Servants in Husbandry; S.R.
Smith, 'The Social and Geographic Origins of the London Apprentices, 1630-1660', Guildhall
Miscellany, IV, 3, (1973), pp. 195-206.
17. Souden, 'Seventeenth Century English Emigration', p. 4.
18. A.E. Smith, 'The Transportation System', pp. 247, 248.
19. Wrigley and Schofield, The Population History of England, calculated from Table 7.14.
20. Gemery, 'Emigration from the British Isles', Table A.5.
2!. A.E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, pp. 3, 4.
22. For a discussion of the net migration estimates derived from the back projection method and
Gemery's estimates, see Wrigley and Schofield, Population History. pp. 223, 224.
23. Calculated from Wrigley and Schofield, Population History. Table 7.14.
24. Wrigley and Schofield, Population History, Table 7.8.

25. Calculated from Galenson, White Servitude, Tables, H.3 and H.4. Gemery, 'European Emigra-
tion to North America, 1700-1820: Numbers and Quasi Numbers', forthcoming in Perspectives in
American History, New Series, Vol. 1. Calculated from Table 2. 'Hybrid Variant'.
26. See the discussion of Appendix H in Galenson, White Servitude, pp. 212-227. See Gemery,
'European Emigration ... ', p. 7 and discussion, Appendix B.
27. In Galenson's sample of indenture lists, he finds: 'More than half the men and women in all the
records considered were bound to serve in Maryland or Virginia'. Galenson, White Servitude, p.
28. Calculated from Galenson, White Servitude, Table H.3 and H.4.
29. The residual method of calculating immigrant flows cannot, in the individual colony case,
discriminate between an immigrant from abroad and an in-migrant from another colony. Thus an
unknown degree of intermixture can occur when individual colonies are used as the unit of
calculation. For a discussion of the problem, see Gemery. 'Emigration from the British Isles to
the New World'. p. 199 and footnote 62.
30. Wrigley and Schofield, Population History, p. 223.
31. Gemery, 'Emigration from the British Isles', Table A.5, and Wrigley and Schofield, Population
History, Table 7.14.
32. Gemery, 'Emigration from the British Isles', p. 197.
33. D. W. Galenson, 'The Market Evaluation of Human Capital: The Case of Indentured Servitude'.
Journal of Political Economy. vol. 89, no. 3. (1981), Table 1 and p. 460.
34. See the references cited in notes 2 and 9.
35. The interchange between Campbell and Galenson illustrates the judgments which must be made
in dealing with missing or incomplete entries. See the references of note 9.
36. Galenson. White Servitude.
37. Galenson. White Servitude, p. 26.
38. Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields'. p. 101.
39. Galenson. White Servitude, Table 2.2.
40. Galenson, White Servitude, p. 39.
41. Galenson, White Servitude, pp. 39-47.
42. Galenson, White Servitude. p. 49.
43. Galenson, White Servitude, p. 63.
44. Galenson, White Servitude, p. 70.
45. Galenson, White Servitude, p. 78.
46. Horn, 'Servant Emigration'. p. 94.
47. Souden, 'Rogues', p. 38.
48. For an indication of the effects of the heavily male emigration on crude marriage rates, see
Wriglcy and Schofield. Population History, Figure 10.9. At no other point in the three centuries of
data plotted does the marriage rate drop as low as the 400 shown for the 1660·s. A discussion of the
incidence of the marriage rate and its influence on the gross rcproduction rate appears in Wrigley
and Schofield, pp. 264-265.
49. Wrigley and Schofield. Population History, p. 228.
50. Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields'. p. 73.
51. Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields'. p. 76.
52. E.H. Phelps Brown and S. V. Hopkins. 'Seven Centuries of Building Wages'. Economica, 22.87.
(August. 1955). Figure 1.
53. P. Bowden, 'Agricultural Prices. Farm Profits. and Rents'. in J. Thirsk. (ed.), The Agrarian
History of England and Wales. Vol. IV. (Cambridge. 1967), 'Statistical Appendix'. p. 864.

54. J. Thirsk, 'Seventeenth-Century Agriculture and Social Change', Agricultural History Review,
18, Supplement,(1970), p. 168.
55. Souden, 'Seventeenth Century English Emigration', p. 8.
56. See the Clark, Souden, Kussmaul and Brodsky-Elliott citations in note 2.
57. J. Cornwall, 'Evidence of Population Mobility in the Seventeenth Century', Bulletin Institute of
Historical Research, XL, (1967), and Souden, 'Pre-Industrial English Local Migration Fields'.
58. Souden, 'Seventeenth Century English Emigration', p. 3.
59. P. Clark, 'Migration in England', p. 59.
60. E.S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom, (New York, 1975), pp. 127, 128, and
Galenson, White Servitude, p. 7.
61. A.l. Willis, (ed.), A Calendar of Southampton Apprenticeship Registers, 1609-1740, (South-
amptom, 1968), p. xix.
62. Galenson, White Servitude, Chapter 1.
63. Galenson, White Servitude, p. 9.
64. Morgan, American Slavery, p. 128.
65. For an indication of that difference, see Morgan, American Slavery, pp. 127-129.
66. Souden, 'Rogues', Table 3.
67. Horn, 'Servant Emigration', Table 5.
68. Horn, 'Servant Emigration', p. 87. See Souden, 'Rogues', Table 5 and p. 35 for an identical
69. Horn, 'Servant Emigration', Table 7.
70. See Galenson, 'Market Evaluation of Human Capital'.
71. The indenture registers themselves remain as testimonials to the concern with such practices - on
the part of the community generally and on the part of the mercantile interests who felt unjustly
accused or open to 'spiriting' charges. Later in the trade, the picture changed. In a regression
analysis of indenture lists from Middlesex, 1683-84, and London, 1718--59, Galcnson concludes
that servants at those dates were entering contracts voluntarily. 'If coercion had been an
important element in the recruiting process, merchants would have had no need to give more
valuable servants preferable bargains in the form of wages or shorter terms; that they did so
indicates that they lacked the ability to force all servants into uniformly longer terms'. Galenson,
White Servitude, p. 112. For a discussion of spiriting, see A.E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage,
Chapter 4.
72. A.E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 39.
73. Galenson, White Servitude, p. 100.
74. Galenson, White Servitude, p. 100.
75. See Souden, 'Seventeenth Century English Emigration'.
76. Numerous typologies are possible and have been suggested. See, for example, W. Peterson,
'General Typology of Migration', Americall sociological Review, XXIII, (1958), and S. Akerman,
'From Stockholm to San Francisco: The Development of the Historical Studies of External
Migrations', Allllales Regiae Scientarium Upsaliensis, 19. (1975), especially pp. 9, 10.
77. See H.A. Gemery and 1.S. Hogendorn, 'The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Tentative Economic
Model', Journal of African History. 15, no. 2, (1974), pp. 223-46; R.N. Bean and R.P. Thomas,
'The Adoption of Slave Labor in British America', in H.A. Gemery and J .S. Hogendorn, (eds.),
The Ullcommoll Market: Essays ill the Ecollomic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, (New York,
1979), pp. 377-98; Galenson, White Servitude, pp. 149-168.
78. Colonies became selective on rather broad grounds. A.E. Smith notes that by 1696 'The only
place disposed to accept convicts was Barbadoes, but even there women, children, and infirm
persons were not wanted'. A.E. Smith, 'The Transportation System', p. 73.

79. Galenson, White Servitude.

80. A.E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage. pp. 8-16.
81. A.E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, pp. 46-52. See also A.E. Smith, The Transportation System'.
82. A.E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, pp. 8, 9.
83. The critical function of third party profits can be illustrated with a speculative comparison. The
mid-19th century Irish emigration was a type that was poverty-driven like its mid-17th century
English predecessor, but without the high overseas demand. Passage costs were met by emigrant
savings, transfers from earlier emigrants, and by Irish landlord subsidies. Had indentures been
legal in the 19th century, would they have been written? It seems unlikely. With a low or non-
existent demand for emigrant labour, the profit prospects for masters and merchants in financing
passages would have been similarly low or non-existent.
84. Questions raised by Sir John Clapham, as quoted in the Cambridge Economic History of Europe,
V: 'Every economic historian should ... have acquired what may be called the statistical sense,
the habit of asking in relation to any institution, policy. group or movement the questions; how
large? how long? how often? how representative? The requirement seems obvious but a good
deal of the older politico-institutional economic history was less useful than it might have been
through neglect of it'. E.E. Rich and C.H. Wilson. (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of
Europe, Volume V, (Cambridge, 1977), p. 3.
85. The reference is to the intensive work on Chesapeake archival materials undertaken by L.('.
Carr, L.S. Walsh and R.R. Menard; Part, though not all. of that work is cited in notes 8 and 10.
86. A.E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 4; D. Galenson, 'Market Evaluation of Human Capital'.
87. E.S. Morgan, American Slavery, pp. 126-130.

4. The servant migration to New Netherland, 1624-1664*



Indentured servitude has long been recognised as a major form of labour recruite-
ment in the history of English and French colonial expansion in America. In the
English case, recent research has confirmed its importance in the making of
colonial societies. During the seventeenth century indentured servants made up
60 percent of the European migrants to the English colonies. They were a
substantial share of the labour force, especially in agriculture, except in New
England where family migration created a different pattern. Until the large scale
introduction of slavery they occupied the lowest positions in the social hierarchy
of the colonies. In the plantation areas servants were replaced by slaves in the
course of the cent!Jry. Their share in the total labour force declined, but white
servitude continued to exist alongside an increasingly 'closed' system of black
slavery. In the new social order Blacks became the most exploited and despised
group. In the Caribbean Blacks outnumbered Whites by the third quarter of the
century. On the islands servants were then, presumably, mostly employed in the
trades and the lower supervisory and administrative capacities. In the continental
plantation areas the change-over to slave labour came later and was less com-
plete. There, a majority of the population remained white. Both plantation and
non-plantation areas continued to attract servants well into the eighteenth cen-
tury, the latter accounting for the larger share. The ratio of servants in the total
migration is uncertain for this period.
In the historiography of Dutch expansion in America migration has received no
more than passing attention and the servant component even less. One Dutch
author claimed that 'the Dutch almost never had equivalents to the English
indentured servants or the French engages'l. In view of the state of the research,

• I would like to thank R. Ross, H.A. Gemery and H. Lamur for advice on the calculation of migration
from the Dutch Republic to New Netherland. S.L. Engerman and J. Folkerts supplied additional
references for demographic data; these were highly appreciated.

Emmer P.C. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster.
ISBN 90 247 3253 n.

this should be considered more as a challenging remark than as an established

The search for this alledgedly rare, and certainly little studied, Dutch migratory
species has, in this contribution, been restricted to the migrants to New Nether-
land. Not only is the population history of this colony relatively well documented
- relative to that of the other Dutch colonies; compared to the documentation for
the English territories it is poor -, but there are indications that the settlement on
the Hudson may have attracted more migrants from the Dutch Republic up to
1664 than all the other Dutch colonies put together. However, it received its
population from other sources as well: from the neighbouring English territories,
other Dutch possessions in America, the incorporated Swedish settlement on the
Delaware and, finally, the Atlantic slave trade. First, the numerical contributions
from these other sources will be estimated and the servant component in them
assessed in order to see whether or not a substantial influx of English indentureds
and slaves could have reduced the demand for servants from the Netherlands.
Then, the composition of the migratory movement from the Dutch Republic will
be discussed. An analysis of 166 labour contracts for New Netherland, collected
by the late Director of the Amsterdam Municipal Archives S. Hart, will shed
some light on the demographic and occupational characteristics of the servant
group. Finally, the position of servants within the colony will be compared to that
of the slave population in order to establish whether or not, in the case of this
white settlement colony not primarily producing for export, the difference be-
tween servitude and slavery was merely a matter of degree as has been argued for
the plantation colonies.



How many people each of the migratory streams contributed to the population of
New Netherland can only be estimated through a reconstruction of the settlement
history of the colony. (See Appendix I).
In 1639, fourteen years after the Dutch West India Company (WIC) had
acquired the authority over the Hudson and Delaware area, only 600 immigrants
from the Old World lived there. The colony consisted of four trading posts - two
on the Hudson, one on the Delaware and one on the Connecticut - and a few
farms, mainly on Manhattan. The inhabitants were servants, soldiers, slaves of
the Company and free colonists, either ex-servants of the Company or people
who had been recruited and sent over by the Amsterdam Chamber of the WIC or
by the patroon Kiliaen van Renselaer~. A competing Swedish West India Com-

pany had just built a trading post on the Delaware destined to be part of a more
extensive colonizing enterprise.
In 1639-1640, the WIC adopted certain measures to encourage emigration
under pressure from the Estates General. All the inhabitants of New Netherland
were allowed to participate in the fur trade, which up to then had been a
monopoly of the Company and the patroon. Any Dutch merchant could gain
permission to trade with the colony using his own ships, provided he paid the
required dues to the Company. Entrepreneurs willing to finance settlement could
acquire free land, although no longer the extensive tracts and the judicial auth-
ority ceded to Van Renselaer. The WIC advanced the transport costs of migrants
to New Netherland. All this stimulated emigration from the Dutch Republic.
Furthermore, the colonial authorities allowed the settlement of English groups
from New Haven and Rhode Island. Immigrants arrived from Dutch Brazil in
1643 and 1654 and, intermittently, from Cural5ao. Slaves captured on Portuguese
ships in the Caribbean were sold in New Amsterdam. Meanwhile, the Swedish
company tried to build up its Delaware colony. In 1655 it was conquered and
incorporated in New Netherland. At that time the population of the colony may
have reached 3500.
The first Anglo-Dutch war and the loss of Dutch Brazil stimulated further
colonizing efforts on the North-American continent. The City of Amsterdam
decided to start its own colony on the Delaware, which, until december 1663, was
nominally under the authority of the Company. The WIC continued on a substan-
tial scale to subsidize migration by advancing money for the passage. The popula-
tion of the patroonship Renselaerswijck did not grow, but received enough
supply to remain stationary. Between 1659 and 1664 slaves were imported from
Cural5ao on a more or less regular basis, on the small Company ships that
maintained the communication with New Amsterdam. In 1655 and 1664 New
Netherland received its only two deliverie:s from slavers that had taken their cargo
in West Africa, but only after they had sold or exchanged the majority of the
slaves in the Caribbean. Immigration from New England was sporadic after the
first Anglo-Dutch war. In september 1664, the time of the conquest by the
English, the population of New Netherland may have reached the level of 6000.
The growth can be entirely attributed to immigration since all immigrant groups,
with the possible exception of the English, were characterized by a high surplus of
males 3 •
How large was the residual left by the influx from each of these sources? The
number of the inhabitants of the English villages on the Dutch part of Long Island
can be put at ca. 1000; this was the result of the group migration in 1642-1646. The
individual immigration before and after that period is treated as negligible. The
component in the New Netherland population coming directly from Sweden (a

number of Scandinavians emigrated through the Dutch Republic) can be esti-

mated at 300 during the last eight years of Dutch rule; the result of immigration
between 1638 and 1656 (See Appendix I). In June 1644, two hundred refugees,
mainly soldiers from Maranhao, arrived on the Blauwe Haen 4 • After the fall of
Recife, 23 Jews and a few others chose New Netherland instead of the Caribbean
as their place of residences. In the register of the provincial secretary, between
1642 and 1652, a dozen men are mentioned who had previously served the
Company on Cura<;ao and who had decided to settle in New Amsterdam after
having completed their service('. The residual of the influx from the other Dutch
West Indian colonies cannot have been more than 200 in 1655 and was negligible
after that date.
The black population of New Netherland cannot be estimated on the basis of
immigration data alone. The main documentary sources - the Council Minutes
and the Correspondence of the Director General- are only available as more or
less complete series from 1638 onwards, allowing an estimate of the frequency
and size of slave imports. The only source containing an indication about the
number of Blacks in 1638 are the records of baptisms and marriages of the
Reformed Church of New Amsterdam. Between October 1639 and December
1646 the names of 19 adult women and 32 adult men in addition to the 26 baptised
children were recorded 7 • This number should be complemented by those too
young to be married, to have children or to appear as witnesses and, perhaps, a
few adults who appeared on none of these occasions. Since some familiarity with
religious teaching was a requirement for participation in the ceremonies, it is
probable that the adults were already in the colony in 1638. Eleven of the men and
three of the women were certainly in New Netherland as early as 1626-1628 R• This
group of New Amsterdam slaves, most likely all owned by the Company, must
virtually have accounted for the total black population of New Netherland. No
slaves are reported for the patroon's domain in those years. None occur in the
available estate inventories of the few private colonists of means. There may have
been a few Company slaves on the trading posts on the Upper Hudson, the
Connecticut and the Delaware. A generous estimate may put the total black
population at 100 in the year 1638 or ca. 30 percent of New Amsterdam's
These slaves had not arrived in the colony through regular trade with West
Africa, but were, rather, a part of the 2300 slaves captured by Company vessels
during raids on Spanish shipping in the Caribbean between 1623 and 1636. After
1638 New Netherland remained largely outside the Dutch Atlantic slave-trading
network. Two imports, consisting of 'a few' in 1642 and 60 in 1652, were the result
of privateerint. In 1646 the Tamandare brought, at most, 50 slaves from Brazil
having sold most of its cargo on Barbados. Earlier, in 1644, the refugees from

Maranhao had brought a few slaves with them lO • On five voyages, between 1659
and 1664,109 Blacks from Cural,;ao were taken to New Amsterdam. These were
mainly old people who could not be sold to the Spaniards. In 1655 the Witte Paert
delivered an unknown number of slaves, some of them directly bought in West
Africa. In the month preceding the English conquest the Gideon brought 291
slavesll . The effects of these imports on the total number of Blacks living in New
Netherland was limited. Virtually all of the slaves from the Witte Paert were
re-exported to Virginia. Apart from a drain to the South, it must be taken into
account that the imports had to compensate for a substantial excess of deaths over
births due to the unbalanced sex ratio. Again, at a generous estimate, the black
population may have been 150 in 1655 and 250 in august 1664, when their number
suddenly doubled by the Gideon imports. At that date, Blacks could have
accounted for 15 to 20 percent of the total population of New Amsterdam, where
they were largely concentrated. They constituted perhaps 5 percent of the total
population of the colony.
While the influx from outside the Dutch Republic contributed substantially to
the population growth of New Netherland, particularly between 1639 and 1655, it
probably did little to raise the number of servants, either slave or indentured. The
immigrants from the other Dutch West Indian areas came as free colonists. The
same status was given to the conquered Swedes and Finns on the Delaware. The
settlers from New Haven and Rhode Island seem to have conformed to the New
England family type of migration. Whatever number of indentured servants they
may have had, remained bound to their English masters. Although the Dutch in
New Netherland had regular trading contacts with the English colonies to the
North and the South, there are no indications that they tapped, directly or
indirectly, the transatlantic flow of indentured labour from the British Isles l2 •
Slaves constituted, in all probability, the largest group of colonists in bondage
arriving in the colony from outside the Dutch Republic. As long as New Nether-
land was just a string of trading posts, they may have satisfied the demand for
servant labour. When it became an agricultural settlement more servants were
needed. Slave imports were few. The sources of immigration outside the Dutch
Republic hardly provided any indentured labourers. Thus, they had to come from
the Dutch Republic. They did come.


The migrants leaving for New Netherland from Amsterdam, the exclusive port of
departure in the Republic for this colony, were of two kinds. Some were free
colonists; they had paid for their passage out of their own pockets and were

without obligations to a third party. Their movements were not restricted, nor
were they engaged for a specific job. Others left who were indeed bound by such
obligations, but not all of them can be classed as servants. The conditions under
which the WIC and the City of Amsterdam advanced passage money seem to
have been the least restrictive. The migrants agreed to remain in the colony for
three years and to repay the advance 13 • The contracts for Renselaerswijck limited
the freedom of the migrants to a greater extent. The patroon's colonists had to
stay in the domain for three or four years. They were taken on to do a specific job.
A yearly salary in addition to room and board was agreed upon for the admin-
istrative and trading personnel and the farmhands. With men to be in charge of a
farm or to work as artisans Van Renselaer made a contract that guaranteed them
a salary for the first and second year. Half the cost of setting up a mill or a craft
shop was usually paid by the patroon, the other half he advanced as a loan. After
one or two years the farmer was supposed to work as a tenant, the artisan as an
independent master. Thus, people were engaged as servants for a number of
years in some contracts, while in others they were set up as independent pro-
ducers bound to the domain l4 • The contracts of the smaller colonizing entre-
preneurs, like those of Hendrik van der Capelle and Godert van Reede, may have
been drawn up along the same lines. Those who signed on for three or four years
with the WIC on the basis of a monthly wage, in addition to room and board, were
clearly servants, but it was established practice that some private enterprise on
the side was allowed. The Director-General and some of the higher officials had
the best opportunities. They became substantial landowners. In normal times,
soldiers had three days on duty and did odd jobs during the rest of the week l5 .
Bookkeepers, clerks, and artisans had probably less chance to earn something
extra. The freedom of action of those who signed a contract to serve a private
master was at least as restricted as of those who served the Company or the
patroon. Perhaps even more, since they had to work under the eye of the master
and not as part of a larger operation; it is not clear whether custom allowed side-
line activities in this case. Thus, in many regards, the contracts of the servants
going to New Netherland were similar to those of the indentureds going to the
English and French colonies. One major difference remains: their contracts were
not negotiable.
Total migration to New Netherland from the Dutch Republic can be estimated
at 5700 (See Table I). Data on the quantitative share of the different categories
are scattered and unfortunately completely lacking for such groups as the free
colonists and the Company personel. The WIC sent over thirty Walloon families
in 1624 and another forty-five migrants the next year. It did not keep up at the
same pace as is clear from the small number of plantations and bouwerijen on and
around Manhattan in 163916 • Between 1630 and 1639 Van Renselaer dispatched

Table I. Estimated migration from the Dutch Republic to New Netherland 1624-1664.

Years No.

1624-1639 600
1640--1655 2200
1656-1664 2900

Total 5700

Note: In order to estimate the migration from The Dutch Republic the residual of this migration flow
in the New Netherland population had to be estimated first. This was done by subtracting the residuals
of migration from other points of departure from the estimated total population in 1639, 1655 and 1664.
Estimates of total population are discussed in Appendix I, the residuals of migration from outside the
Dutch Republic in the text, section I. The estimated residuals of migration from Amsterdam are: in
1639: 450 (total of 600 minus 100 African slaves and 50 Swedes and Finns on the Delaware); in 1655:
1525 (the increase of 2900 in the total population minus 875 immigrants from New England, 250 from
the other Dutch West Indian colonies, 200 Swedes and Finns from Sweden and 50 African slaves); in
1664: 2000 (the increase of 2500 in the total population minus 100 Swedes and Finns from Sweden and
400 African slaves). To estimate the migration from Amsterdam Gemery's formula for calculating the
English migration to America has been used:

M = PI - Po - Po R

where M net total of migration over the period

Po total population at the beginning of the period
PI total population at the end of the period
R average annual rate of natural increase or decrease
S proportion of migrants dying in passage.
H.A. Gemery, 'Emigration of the British Isles to the New World, 1630--1700: Inferences from
Colonial Population', in Research in Economic History. 5, (1980), pp. 179-231.

As yet, I have not found any data allowing an independent calculation of the values for Rand S.
Gemery puts the passage mortality at 10%. As for the New England population it is not necessary to
assume a seasoning mortality for the New Netherland population. Given the sex composition of the
migrants (see Table II) there can only have been a natural decrease. Independent data for New
Netherland are not available. On the basis of similarity in the sex ratio of the population, I have used
for New Netherland Gemery's values for the seasoned population of Virgin a: i.e. an annual decrease
of 0.025 before 1639 and 0.02 after that date. The incidental decrease of the population by the indian
wars of 1643-1646 and 1655-1656, 1658-1664 was ca. 30 in the Kieft War and 100 in the later skirmishes.
See Allan W. Trelease, Indian Affairs in Colonial New York. (Ithaca, N.Y., 1960), pp. 66, 67, 70, 81,
138, 147, 148, 152, 161.

100 people to his domain. The majority of migrants were probably Company
servants in 1624-1639. Of the estimated 2200 who left between 1640 and 1655, the
free colonists and those supported by the WIC most likely formed the majority;
there were 62 colonists for Renselaerswijck and at least 104 private servants.
More than half of the estimated 2900 emigrants between 1656 and 1664 made the
trip on an advance from the WIC (at least 1100) or the City of Amsterdam (950);
16 signed on for Renselaerswijck and at least 62 for private service 17 • In total,
nearly 6 percent of the entire migration consisted of people contracted by the Van
Renselaers. At least 35 percent started out on the 'easy' terms of the WIC and the
City of Amsterdam. The composition of the remaining 59 percent is uncertain.
However, it is unlikely that those in private service outnumbered the Company
servants and the free colonists.
An analysis of 166 contracts for private service and a comparison with similar
data for other groups do suggest some general demographic and occupational
characteristics of the migrating servants, although the representativeness of the
sample remains an open question, as in the case of the English indentureds and
the French engages. The demographic characteristics of the private servants
corresponded closely to those of the Renselaerswijck colonists. Both had a very
large majority of males travelling without wife and children and, presumably,
unmarried. Among the private servants were more single women (who had
signed on as maids), but predictably fewer married couples. The sex ratio among
the private servants was less severely unbalanced. It was only in the contracts for
Renselaerswijck, between 1639 and 1664, that the ages were recorded with any
regularity. The average age of these colonists was 24, somewhat higher than that
of the English and French indentureds, which may be taken as a warning that
neither in the case of the private servants a tight clustering about the age range
16-25 can be taken for granted. The demographic profile of the WIC supported
migrants was quite different. It is closer to a pattern of family migration (see
Table II). Their ages were seldom stated. Given the current late age at first
marriage, they also must have been 24 and older. Foreigners accounted for 21
percent in the last group, predominantly people from Northwestern France,
followed by Germans and Scandinavians. In the other two groups 12 percent
came from outside the Dutch Republic; Northwest Germans and Scandinavians
were best represented.
A substantial majority (75%) of the private servants signed on for 3 or 4 years; 6
percent for 1 or 2 and 19 percent for 5 to 7 years. At least 96 of a total of 166 were
recruited by people who already lived in New Netherland, either personally
during a visit to the fatherland or through a business relation, a relative and, in a
few cases, a captain sailing regularly to America. The others were contracted by
people on the verge of emigrating. All the servants knew where and whom they

Table II. Some demographic characteristics of migrant groups to New Netherland.

Private servants Renselaer's WIC supported

colonists 1629-
1639-64 1664 1654-{}4

Total no. 166 321 1104

Adult males as. % of totaP 80 81 39

Migrating families as % of total 8 27 68
Average family size 2 3.0 4.1
Children as % of total 8 38

Sources: Private servants: the labour contracts in the Amsterdam Notarial Archives. Renselaerswijck
colonists: the population appendix in VRBM; A.J.F. van Laer, 'Settlers of Renselaerswijck 1659-
1664', in The Dutch Settlers Society of Albany Yearbook,S, (1929-1930), pp. 18-34; and labour
contracts in the Amsterdam Notarial Archives. WIC supported migrants: A.J .F. van Laer, 'Pas-
sengers to New Netherland', in Yearbook of the Holland Society of New York, (1902), pp. 1-37. See
also Oliver A. Rink, The People of New Netherland: Notes on Non-English Immigration to New
York in the Seventeenth Century', in New York History, 62, (1981), pp. 5-42, esp. p. 19, Table I and
pp. 36-37, Table 4.
I The ages of the migrants are seldom given. I have assumed persons registered as travelling alone were

over 16. They are classed as adults.

1 Joyce Diane Goodfriend found small family sizes among the section of the New Amsterdam

population that remained in the city after 1664. (,Too Great A Mixture Of Nations', pp. 66-71).

were going to serve. A servant trade, in which captains or other interested parties
contracted labourers for sale in the colony, does not seem to have developed in
The lack of a servant trade is perhaps sufficiently explained by the bargaining
strength of the migrants signing a private contract in the Netherlands. Presum-
ably, in many cases, they had the alternative of leaving as a migrant subsidized by
the WIC or the City. I am not aware of any legal barriers, but there may have
been moral objections to a negotiable contract. Some Dutchmen did not look
favourably upon selling people of their own nationality. David Pietersz de Vries
and Otto Keye commented adversely on the servant trade to Virginia 1s • Even-
tually, these scruples may well have turned into an advantageous compromise of
morals and economic opportunity. In December, 1663, Alexander Hinoyossa, an
official of the City colony, sold persons he had recruited in Amsterdam to
residents on the Delaware for 'f 50,-, f 80,-, or more' depending on how long
they had to serve. 'It is almost the same method as the English use in their servant
trade', commented a Company official on the Delaware to Peter Stuyvesant 19 •
In some of the early Dutch plans for colonization, the advantages of overseas

possessions for the disposal of idle hands living on alms or crime had been
celebrated. With one exception, penal migration or slightly forcible dispatching
of the poor did not occur. In 1650 the Burgomasters of Amsterdam considered
sending 300 to 400 boys and girls from the municipal alms- and orphanhouses to
New Netherland to be given into service to private masters for 6 or 7 years. This
was only to occur with the previous, volontary agreement of the children. Due to
'a number of inconveniences', however, this plan did not materialize at the time.
Nevertheless, in the fall of 1654 ca. 30 orphans were sent to New Amsterdam,
another 17 in 1655; in 1658 and 1659 a small number went to the City colony. Their
time of service was to be four years at the most. In addition to room and board
they were to receive f 50,- to f 60,- annually. At the end of the term they would
regain their freedom. The girls were free to marry and, in such a case, would be
discharged 20 • With the exception of these cases, it is plausible that servants
emigrated without compulsion by public authorities. An analysis of their occupa-
tions and salaries may give some indication as to whether they were poverty
driven, unskilled or betterment seeking skilled migrants.
Servants registered a wide range of occupations. Of the 138 whose profession
was recorded, almost half came from outside the agricultural sector. In addition
to farmers and farmhands (52) there were artisans (33), merchant agents and
assistants (24), shipmasters and sailors (4) and single women (25) who registered
as maids. The artisans included journeymen tailors (9), shoemakers/tanners (7),
coopers (3), brewers (2) and some master blacksmiths, carpenters and lock-
smiths/armorers. In the contracts of some of the maids it was specified that they
could be employed in farmwork, others mentioned just needlework. The major-
ity of these servants were not unskilled youngsters or 'rogues, whores and
vagabonds', but rather - unless they surreptiously upgraded themselves - people
with experience in honest, skilled employment.
The remuneration stipulated in the contracts included free passage, room and
board and an annual salary. Five servants contracted a free return trip. The
annual salaries hardly ever varied with the term of service. Female, agricultural,
craft and mercantile labour were graded reward categories, although there was
some overlapping and gradations existed within categories, presumably accord-
ing to age and skill. Adult women received f 36,- to f 60,-, farmhands f 80,- to
f125,-, and farm managers f200,- to f250,-. Journeymen artisans were re-
warded somewhat better than farmhands: f100,- to f150,-. The blacksmith,
bakers, carpenters and locksmiths who received ca. f200,- must have been
master craftsmen, the potter, brewer and 'housecarpenter' with respectively
f 250,-, f 350,- and f 375,- were presumably highly trained specialists. Shipmas-
ters and sailors were paid in the same range as journeymen: f 100,-- f 200,-. The
contracts with the mercantile personel usually included a percentage of goods

traded on top of the annual salary; sometimes they were full partners in the
trading venture. Their annual salaries could exceed f 350,-.
Were these salaries, especially those of the artisans and farmers - the largest
group in the sample -, such that only the very hard pressed would be willing to
accept them? Given the present state of knowledge about wage structures in the
Dutch Republic, the answer is hard to give. The wages paid to emigrating
journeymen and farmhands approximated those paid to the sailors and soldiers of
the West and East India Companies: f84.-- f112,- yearly. According to 1.R.
Bruijn, these were about the most poorly paid jobs in the Netherlands 21 • In the
mid-century unskilled day labourers in Alkmaar earned ca. f 219,- on an annual
basis and farm labour in Holland f206,--f219,-. There were, however, con-
siderable regional variations; wages outside Holland being, as a rule, markedly
lower. Resident farm servants in Friesland. not a particularly poor province, were
paid annual wages in addition to room and board which ranged from f 11,- to
f 116,- with half the observations between f 30,- and f 50,-22. The salaries paid to
migrating servants may have looked very modest to someone living in the
province of Holland, but could have been considered fairly reasonable by those
coming from the outer provinces and foreigners.
Why would someone considering emigration sign a contract to serve instead of
accepting an advance from the WIC or the City of Amsterdam and start out as a
free colonist with presumably better chances of a higher income 23 ? Another
question that can only be answered tentatively. It may have been the 'regime of
ignorance' or segmented markets. G. Debien's observation concerning the
engages may well have applied to the Dutch migrants: a contract not only imposed
servitude upon the signer, but also bound him to someone who could give
protection 24 . Customary expectations regarding the master-servant relationship
were not written into the contract. The servant may not only have bargained for a
wage, but also on the favourable disposition towards him of someone who could,
later on, assist him in starting out on his own in an unknown environment.


T~e social position of the servants within the colony, their living standards, the
labour regime they were subject to, and their prospects after discharge can only
be sketched in the most rough-handed fashion. Servants do not loom large in the
sources. There are no documents that allow an assessment of their numerical
importance in agriculture and the trades. The unbalanced sex ratio of the New
Netherland population makes it unlikely that family enterprises predominated.
Many of the farms and craftshops must have been run by single men bound to

each other as partners in business, master and servant or employer and wage
labourer. Some family-owned and operated enterprises were large enough to
attract extra labour. Many of the farmhands in the sample of the 166 private
servants were recruited by substantial landowners. But how many labourers did
Peter Stuyvesant, Jan Jansen Damen or Adriaen van der Donck employ on their
bouwerijen? How many of these large farms were there? Did the Van Cortland
and Van Couwenhoven families employ a few or a few dozen people in their
breweries? What was the percentage of wage labourers in the total labour force?
These are just some of the blank spots. Some telling facts about servants as a
social stratum can be deduced from the laws and ordinances and the judicial
records. A comparison of the scraps of information on the slaves with the scarce
data on the servants does help somewhat to clarify the position of both groups in
New Netherland society.
The laws and ordinances of the colony do not bear witness to an intensive
public concern for keeping a large, unruly servant population in place. The
ordinance of August 1640 against fugitive servants points to some unresolved
conflicts between masters and their personel. But its re-enactment in 1648 was
equally directed against the harbouring of fugitive indentureds from New Eng-
land and Virginia 25 • The judicial records of New Amsterdam and Fort Orange/
Beverwijck contain hardly any cases dealing with servants on the run 26 • The
frequency of these transgressions cannot have been high. There are no other
ordinances dealing specifically with servants. The positions of master and servant
apparently needed no legal definition or enforcement by public authority in order
to prevent recurrent conflicts which could endanger the existing order. Clashes of
interest could be dealt with as individualized cases in the courts; disputes between
master and servant do not appear frequently in the court records either27 • The
people of New Netherland did struggle over scarce resources, one of the scarcest
being labour. The means by wich employers recruited labourers, in binding them
to their enterprises and in rewarding them, apparently did not interfere too much
with what European servants felt they could rightfully expect, or at least squared
with what they believed they had better to accept. One of the things which may
have induced servants to think of their position as tolerable was the presence of
workers who were clearly worse off: the black slaves. If they felt at all degraded
beyond what their position customarily entailed, they may have felt that the social
and cultural bonds shared with their masters protected them at least against a
further degradation. This could only be the case when some clear distinctions
between servant and slave positions were maintained.
For the English and French plantation colonies it has been argued that the
distinctions between these two types of bonded labour tended to be a matter of
degree as long as slaves were few. The argument has been presented in two

somewhat different ways. One version emphasizes the respects in which servants
were treated like slaves. They shared a harsh labour discipline enforced by cruel
punishments, a regime of poor food, lodging and clothing, and found it virtually
impossibile to defend themselves against ill-treatment in court. The terms of
indenture were often lengthened by devious means. Since marriage was not
allowed to those in service, servants lacked, like slaves, a stable family life and a
sphere of autonomy. Their chances of a better life after completing their term
were minimal. 'One in ten of all servants going to the English colonies took land,
one in ten became artisans or overseers, and the other eight died, went home or
became poor whites'28. In the other version, advanced primarily to stress the
differences between the emerging and the full blown system of racial slavery in
Virginia, it has been pointed out that at least some slaves were treated like
servants. During the 1630's and 1640's, in Virginia, Blacks were not only slaves,
but some of them were indentureds or freedmen. Slaves were allowed to earn
money by working for their own account part-time. They could buy their own
freedom and that of their relatives. Masters manumitted them in their wills and
made provisions enabling them to earn their keep. 'Whites were ready to think of
Negroes as members or potential members of the community on the same terms
as other men .... Slaves and servants worked, ate and slept together. They shared
in escapades, escapes and punishments'29. Punishments were, as a rule, meted out
without regard for colour or status. Blacks, whatever their status, were accepted
as church members. Colour prejudice existed, but no elaborate etiquette of
Black's deference towards Whites was enforced with the backing of civil author-
ity. What matters in this argument is not the frequency of these ways of behaviour
implying a certain measure of equality between lower class Whites and Blacks,
but the conscious rejection of them with the extension of slavery. No matter how
the argument for a graded distinction between indentured servitude and slavery is
put, it is clear that the more the differences became blurred the less slavery could
function as a mechanism to stabilize the power balances between masters and
Slavery in New Netherland has been paraded as an example of black bondage
that could hardly be distinguished from white indentured servitude 30 • The evi-
dence on both institutions is, however, very patchy and does not allow any firm
conclusions. Nevertheless it is enlightening to delineate the range of possible
situations, albeit with the help of some hypothetical reasoning. The comparison
between slave and servant positions is best restricted to the servants employed in
agriculture and the trades; those working for merchants were too special a group.
A diversification of slave positions should also be taken into account. Before 1639
virtually all the Blacks in New Netherland were Company slaves. Those arriving
later became generally slaves of private owners, thirty of whom have been

identified as living in New Amsterdam 3!. The Company slaves continued to live as
a group, the others spread over the homes of their masters. This meant that they
had a more limited chance of a stable family life and a sphere of autonomy. It also
implied an enlarged range of occupations among slaves. The Company employed
them in the building of forts, clearing land, cutting wood, burning lime and
working on its farms. In 1657, when Stuyvesant was admonished by his superiors
in Amsterdam to train the Negroes in carpentering, bricklaying and black-
smithing, he replied that there were no able Blacks fit to learn a trade 32 . It was
only after private colonists, among them craftsmen, became slave owners that the
range of slave employment approximated that of servants. The material living
conditions of Blacks probably became more variegated through the multiplica-
tion of masters.
It depended on the size of the enterprise and the range of available tasks
whether or not masters could differentiate between slaves and servants by assign-
ing them jobs, which differed in skills required and prestige attached. The
Company enterprise and some of the larger farms were diversified enough to
allow the slaves to be burdened with low grade jobs. In the smaller agricultural
and trading enterprises master, servant and slave shared, to a great extent, the
same type of work although the more unpleasant chores may have been left for
the slaves. Probably they all ate the same food. Many of the New Netherland
houses were too small to have contained separate bed-rooms. so they may have
used the same sleeping space as well. At any rate, this society knew little privacy
or spatial separation of social groups. Slaves were housed, fed and clothed.
Servants received in addition an annual salary, while the master pocketed what
profits were left. No examples of slaves earning some money of their own are
reported in the sources. The judicial records show that servants were not without
legal protection when masters mistreated them. No instances of slaves suing their
masters for ill-treatment have been found. The servants performed tasks which
were, on the whole, familiar; the labour discipline was probably no harsher than
in Europe. The adjustments required of the slaves were much greater. A few lines
in the correspondence of Jeremias van Renselaer are graphic. In 1661 he bought a
Negro, but the slave refused to obey orders. 'He probably thought 'do it yourself
and when I went up the river with him in the yacht I found that he was even more
refractory and a useless, dirty beast'. The slave got sick, recovered, but remained
a burden. 'He did less work than a child and was eating for three adult males'.
When, during a visit to Renselaerswijck in the beginning of spring, Stuyvesant
saw the man covered with a blanket, clutching a walnut tree, he offered to take
him back and exchange him for a more seasoned one 33 . If servants and slaves did
share, in many instances, much of their day to day working and living conditions,
it did not necessarily mean that they experienced them in the same way.

Slaves, more in particular the seasoned Company slaves, were in some respects
accepted as members of the community, a natural situation for servants except, in
some regards, the foreigners. They were persons in law. They could testify in
court, even against Whites. They were not subject to a regime of differential
punishment. It is not clear whether or not masters had private jurisdiction. In one
instance, a master asked permission of the New Amsterdam court to whip his
Negro servant 34 • The Company slaves were catechized, their children were
baptized if their parents showed some understanding of Christian living and slave
marriages were celebrated in church. The effort of private slave owners to
acquaint their slaves with Christian mores cannot be gauged. Blacks and Whites
intermingled in taverns and even committed some minor mischief together.
Occasionally, Whites were employed as day labourers by free Blacks 3s . The
church records contain one instance of an interracial marriage. There are more
numerous examples of black and white sexual relations disapproved of by the
church 36 . Language must have created some barriers to normal social intercourse,
but that was a handicap Blacks shared with other foreigners. Colour prejudice
was not, as far as can be surmised, acted out through an enforced code of deferent
behaviour of Blacks towards Whites. However, the mere fact of social-cum
-sexual intermingling does not testify to its absence. A measure of condescension
may well have been present, even on more friendly and intimate occasions.
The situations in which Blacks, slaves or freemen, were treated as members of
the community should not obscure a fundamental asymmetry in their relationship
with Whites: only Blacks could be slaves. An ominous passage in a letter of Ds.
Henricus Selijns indicates that he and probably more New Netherlanders thought
that Blacks, as a rule, ought to remain slaves and should not aspire to freedom. If
they showed those aspirations their access to shared community status with
Whites was endangered. In june 1664 Selijns wrote to the CIassis of Amsterdam
stating that he had often rejected the request of Negroes on Stuyvesant's farm to
baptize their children, partly because of their poor religious knowledge and
belief, and partly because they hoped to free their children from bodily slavery in
this way, without striving to attain spiritual salvation 37 • Blacks, even after they
had been christianized, should expect to serve for life. No one expected that of
After four years most servants regained their freedom and could decide freely
what to do with their lives. The manumission policy of the Company was designed
to discourage aspirations of freedom among its slaves without, however, stifling
them completely. Between 1643 and 1664 the Colonial Council freed 27 to 46
Company slaves, a fair share 3s . But, in all known cases, the freedmen were elderly
people who had served the WIC for eighteen years or more. The terms of
manumission were far from generous. Their children remained in slavery and the

manumitted had to provide the Company annually with a considerable amount of

corn and a hog, or were required to keep themselves available for service for an
unspecified number of days. They received up to eight acres of land, presumably
the plots they had worked before and they may have been granted some equip-
ment 39 • In one case of private manumission the slave was allowed to work for
himself and buy his own freedom for f 300,- which was to be paid in three years411 •
In the other known instance, sailors of a privateer freed a slave from a captured
ship in the Caribbean; the reason was not given 41 . Private masters do not seem to
have been more inclined to manumit their slaves than the Company.
It is fairly certain that the best a deserving slave could hope for was to end his
life as a half-free man tending his own food-plot. All that can be said with
assurance about ex-servants is that their chances were more varied. They could
either sign on for a new term of service, or try to earn a living as a wage labourer.
If they had some savings they could start their own business, in agriculture or in
one of the trades. Access to artisanship was not restricted by guild regulations, nor
was the burgher right of New Amsterdam, instituted in part to keep out unwanted
competitors, very strictly enforced. The Company freely granted as much land to
colonists as they could farm, with freedom from taxes for ten years42. The colonist
himself had to provide the tools, the seed, the animals and other necessities.
Contracts between 1639 and 1643 (they are rare for later periods, but there is no
reason why it should have been different then) show that free colonists either
formed partnerships to begin a tobacco plantation or started out as tenants of
older and wealthier residents 43 . This could be the first step towards one's own
bouwerij. At that time established plantations - small enterprises on which mostly
tobacco or corn was grown-sold for f300,- or f 1.000,-. The bouwerijen of2(}-40
acres, on which breadgrains were grown and for which some animals were
needed, changed hands for fI.600,--f2.900,--I4. This was only within reach of
the more sucessful. At the bottom of the scale of free colonists were those
employed in the small Company or City jobs, the wage labourers and those in
care of the deaconry. The social hierarchy of the colony was not yet very
consolidated. An analysis of a one-time assessment in 1655 and a list of contribu-
tors to a loan raised by the Company in 1664, in combination with a scanning of
the burgomasters and schepenen and the private slaveholders in New Amster-
dam, suggest that thirty to forty men in this oldest and most developed part of the
colony had constituted themselves, in good Dutch fashion, as 'the richest, most
honorable and notable persons' of the community. They were tied together by
business interests and family bonds and included the higher officers of the
Company, most of the merchants, some artisans (all of them landowners as well)
and some large farmers. By 1644 many of them had been in the colony for ten
years or more 4';. Not all the life stories of this 'elite' are known. There may have

been ex-servants among them, though this does not seem very likely. Whatever
the most typical career of an ex-servant may have been, it is clear that after four
years of service, if not before, the distinctions between his position and that of a
slave began to show.


In 1664 New Netherland was still emerging as a selfsustaining, agricultural, white

settlement colony. The migration it attracted was largely venture migration; a
movement of people financed by colonial entrepreneurs in the metropolis. The
conditions for its attachment to a servant or slave trading network had not yet
fully developed. The servants who came to the colony from the Dutch Republic
either accompanied free migrants or were more or less handpicked for residents
of New Netherland by their Amsterdam business relations or their relatives at
home. Their share in the total migration cannot be established, but it is unlikely
that they represented the 60 percent reported for the English colonies. As in the
case of the indentureds and the engages, a heavy male surplus was a prominent
characteristic of the group. A tight clustering in the age range 16-25 is less
apparent. The available data suggest that they came from a wide range of
'Occupations and were not predominantly unskilled. There is no clear indication
from the salaries they received that they were poverty driven, as has been argued
for the majority of seventeenth century English indentureds. Unlike the inden-
tureds and the engages who, between 1625 and 1675, were mainly recruited for
plantation labour, a substantial number of the Amsterdam sample was taken on
for non-agricultural jobs46 • Within New Netherland the distinctions between the
position of a servant and that of a slave were noticeable enough. If many of the
servants were not likely to be better off than in the Netherlands, they were at least
better off than the slaves who, as a rule, served for life.


ARA Algemeen Rijksarchief (General State Archives), The Hague.

CJVR Correspondence of Jeremias van Renselaer 1651-1674, A.J.F. van Laer. (trans. and ed.).
(Albany, 1932).
ER Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York, Edward Tanjore Corwin, (ed.), (Albany,
1901-1916),7 vols.
NYCD Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York. E.B. O'Callaghan.
(ed.). (Albany. 1856-1887), 15 vols.
NYHM New York Historical Manuscripts: Dutch. A.J.F. van Laer. (trans. and annot.), (Bal-
timore. 1974). 4 vols.
LO Laws and Ordinances, 1638-1674. E.B.O·Callaghan, (comp. and trans.). (Albany.
MOM Minutes of the Orphanmasters of New Amsterdam 1655-1663. Berthold Fernow. (trans.
and ed.), (New York, 1902).
OWIC Archives of the Old West India Company in ARA.
RNA Records of New Amsterdam. Berthold Fernow. (ed.). (New York, 1897).
VRBM Van Renselaer BowieI' Manuscripts. A.J.F. van Laer. (trans. and ed.), (Albany, 1908).
NNN Narratives of New Netherland 1609-1664. J. Franklin Jameson. (ed.). (New York, 19(9).


1. Cornel is Ch.Goslinga. The Dutch in the Caribbean and on the Wild Coast, 1580-1680, (Assen.
1971). p. 367.
2. Between 1629 and 1639. extensive tracts of land could be acquired by stockholders of the WIC,
together with the lower jurisdiction and trading rights. under the condition that they scnd sixty
people in three years to their patroonship. Only Kiliaen van Renselaer's colony on the upper
Hudson materialized.
3. The best discussion of migration to New Netherland is to be found in Bertus H. Wabeke, Dutch
Emigration to North America, 1624-1860, (New York. 1944), chapt. I. Perhaps wisely. he
refrained from making quantitative estimates.
4. Bertus H. Wabeke, Dutch Emigration, p. 44. NYHM II. pp. 284. 288. 290. 295-296. 299-300,
305-307. 451. 454-456, 484-485.
5. Samuel Oppenheim, Early History of the Jews ill New York 1654-1664, (New York, 19(9).
6. NYHM II, pp. 3,59,71,248,329,351,462-463; III. pp. 41, 161-162.306-307,332-333.
7. Collections of the New York Geneological and Biographical Society, I. pp. 10-29; II, pp. 10-38.
8. NYHM IV, pp. 212-213. A. Eekhof. De Hervormde Kerk in Noord-Amerika 1624-1664, (The
Hague, 1913), II, p. 159.
9. NYHM II. p. 58. NYCD II, pp. 23-47.
10. ARA, OWIC 62. Walings Jorisz Strijt to the Zeeland Chamber, from Barbados 18 august 1646.
NYHM II, pp. 463-464; III, pp. 228-230.
II. E. O'Callaghan. Voyages of the Slavers St. John and Arms of Amsterdam 1659-1663, (Albany,
18(7). Introduction and pp. 141-146,163-167.176-177,181-196,202-205,210-225.
12. Three cases of Dutchmen acquiring English indentureds in NYHM I. pp. 99-100,292-293; II, pp.

13. NYCD XIII, p. 10; I, p. 376; XIV, p. 175 for the migrants supported by the WIC. For the City
migrants: NYCD I, pp. 619-625, 630--636. S. Hart, 'De Stadskolonie Nieuwer-Amstel aan de
Delaware River in Noord-Amerika', in Amstelodanum, 38, (1951), 90.
14. VRBM, pp. 161-163, 176-181,186-189, 193-196, 250--262.
15. NYCD XIV. p. 439.
16. See the Manatus Map in I.N.P. Stokes, (ed.), Iconography of Manhatan Island, (New York,1915-
1928), II, PI. 42 and his commentary.
17. The only documentation allowing systematic analysis of the emigrants between 1639 and 1655 are
the labour contracts collected by S. Hart from the Notarial Archives. There are, of course,
miscellaneous data on a substantial number of individual colonist in the documentary sources,
genealogical publications and the secondary literature. Especially rich: J.H. Innes, New Amster-
dam and its People, (New York, 1902): John O.Evjen, Scandinavian Immigrants in New York
1630-1674, (Minneapolis, 1916). The biographical supplement in VRBM. Stokes, Iconography,
vol. VI in his commentary on the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam. The data on WIC supported
migrants in A.J.F. van Laer, 'Passengers to New Netherland', in Yearbook of the Holland Society
of New York, (1902), pp. 1-37. The references to the numerical data on migrants to the City
Colony are given in Appendix I. note 20. The number of the colonists for Renselaerswijck and of
the private servants are based on the labour contracts in the Amsterdam Notarial Archives.
Useful profiles of the population of New Amsterdam in 1643 and 1664 are to be found in Morton
Wagman, 'The Struggle for Representative Governement in New Netherland', Unpuhl. Ph.D.
diss. (Columbia, 1969), pp. 99-104, 267-337, and in Joyce Diane Goodfriend, 'Too Great A
Mixture Of Nations'. The Development of New York City Society in the Seventeenth Century',
Unpubl. Ph.D. Diss. (UCLA, 1975), pp. 19-49.
18. Otto Keye, Het Ware Onderscheyt tussehen KOllde en Warme Landen, (The Hague, 1659), pp.
19. NYCD, XII, p. 450.
20. NYCD I, pp. 362-364, 556; II, p. 52: XIV, p. 136, 166, 175,322,326,434,471.
21. J. R. Bruijn and J. Lucassen, (eds.), Op de Schepen der Oost-Indische Compagnie. Vijf artikelen
van 1. de Hullu, (Groningen, 1980), pp. 11. 16. Salary scales for WIC personel in ARA, OWIC 1,
Resolutions of the XIX, 28 March and 19 September 1624. NYHM IV, pp. 3-15 for New
Netherland in 1638. K. Ratelband, (ed.). Vijf Dagregisters van het Kasteel Sao Jorge da Mina aan
de Coudkust 1645-1647, (The Hague, 1953), pp. LVII-LXIII for West Africa.
22. L. Noordegraaf. 'Levensstandaard en levensmiddelenpolitiek in Alkmaar vanaf het eind van de
16de tot het begin van de 19de eeuw', in Alkmaarse Historische Reeks, IV, (1980). pp. 58-59 and
95, note 9. Jan de Vries, 'An Inquiry into the Behaviour of Wages in the Dutch Republic and the
Southern Netherlands 1580--1800', in Acta Historiae Neerlandicae, vol. X, (The Hague, 1978), p.
93, Graph I and his The Dutch Rural Economy in the Colden Age 1500-1700, (New Haven/
London, 1974), pp. 183-184.
23. The wage structure in New Netherland is a completely unexplored subject. The few wage
quotations I came across suggest that wages for day labourers in agriculture and shipbuilding
varied from ./2,-- f 5,-. NYHM I. pp. 78-82:. II, pp. 45-46; RNA I, p. 85,413; III, 84, 88; Dutch
Records of Kingston 1658-1664, New York Stale His!. Association Proceedings, xi, (1912), p. 16.
This seems to agree with Os. Schaets' opinion in 1657 that wages in New Netherland were four
times as high as at home (ER I. p. 385).
24. Gaston Debien, Les Engages pour les Antilles 1634-1715, (Paris, 1952).
25. LO, (c) August 1640; 6 October 164S).
26. RNA II, p. US.

27. See e.g. RNA II, p. 247; III, pp. 65,274,280,281; IV, pp.184-185, 192. Langdon Goddard Wright
(,Local Government in Colonial New York 1640-1710', Unpub!' Ph.D. Dis. (Cornell, 1974), pp.
283-288,209-294,296-299,302-305) analysed systematically the court cases of Midwout (Flat-
bush) 1659-1672, Gravesend 1647-1673, Middelburg (Newtown) 1659-1690 and Harlem 1662-
1674. The percentages he gives for contract disputes, which presumably includes disputes he-
tween servants and masters, varies between 2.8 and 7.1 of the total; debts disputes were hy far the
most numerous; 30-60%.
28. K.G. Davies, The North Atlantic Economy in the Seventeenth Century, (Minneapolis, 1974), pp.
102 citing A.C. Smith, and 105-108. Gary B.Nash, Red, White and Black. The People of Early
America, (Englewood Cliffs N.J., 1974), pp. 52-54,217-220. Emphasizing the higher standard of
living in colonial America in comparison with any country in Europe during the old regime
making it the 'best poor man's country': Edwin J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America,
(New York, 1980), pp. 67-80.
29. Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom. The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,
(New York, 1975), pp. 154-157. This is Morgan's position on this issue. The range of earlier
positions can be gauged in Donald L. Noel, (ed.), The Origins of American Slavery and Racism,
(Columbus, Ohio, 1972). See also T.H. Breen Stephen Innes, 'Myne Owne Ground'. Race and
Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore 1640-1676, (New York/Oxford. 1980); Ira Berlin, 'Time,
Space and the Evolution of Afro-American Society in British Mainland North America'. in
American Historical Review, 85, (1980), pp. 44-78, esp. 67-77. A good historiographical essay on
early Virginia and Maryland history is Thad W. Tate, The Seventeenth Chesapeake and its
Modern Historians', in Thad W. Tate and David L. Ammerman. (cds.). The Chesapeake in the
Seventeenth Century. Essays in Anglo-American Society, (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1979), pp.
30. J.H. Innes, New Amsterdam and its People, p. 44. William Stuart. 'Slavery in New Jersey and
New York', in Americana, 16, (1922). pp. 347-367. John Hopre Franklin, in Vintage, (ed.), From
Slavery to Freedom, A History of Negro Americans, (New York. 1969 (1947), pp. 89-90. Ellis
Raesly, Portrait of New Netherland, (New York, 1945), pp. 161-162,332. More sanguine: Mrs.
Schuyler van Renselaer, History of the City of New York in the Seventeenth Cenlllry, (New York,
19(9). I. pp. 465-466.
31. Joyce D. Goodfriend, 'Burghers and Blacks: The Evolution of Slave Society in New Amsterdam'.
in New York History, (1978). pp. 125-144.
32. NYCD XIV, p. 387.
33. CJVR. p. 255.
34. RNA VII, p. 207.
35. NYHM IV. p. 256; MOM II, p. 46.
36. Collections of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, vol. L (1901). p. 16; two other
possihle cases on pp. 22, 29.
37. ER I, p. 548. After February 1655 no more baptisms of Blacks were recorded in the Reformed
Church of New Amsterdam; marriages of Blacks continued up to 1664. See also: Gerald F. de
long, The Dutch Reformed Church and Negro Slavery in Colonial America', in Church Historv,
40, (1971), pp. 423-436.
38. Edmund B. O'Callaghan, Calendar of Manuscripts in the Office of the Secretary of State, (Albany,
1865-1867), I, pp. 74, 246. 269. NYHM IV. p. 342. There are a number of landgrants to Blacks
whose manumission cannot he documented. This may be due to gaps in the Council Minutes.
39. Stokes, Iconography, II, p. 302; VI. pp. 73-76. 100. 104-106. 123. 147-148.
40. NYHM III, p. 82.

41. New York City Clerks Office, New Amsterdam Archives: Powers of Attorney, Acknowledge-
ments, 21 August 1654.
42. Clarence W. Rife, 'Land Tenure in New Netherland', in Essays in Colonial History Presented to
Charles McLean Andrews, (New Haven, 1931), pp. 41-73, esp. 47-48.
43. See e.g. NYHM I, pp. 119--120, 154-155, 166-167,174-176,196-197,223-224,228-229,246-248; II,
44. See for plantation prices: NYHM I, pp. 98-99, 152-153,166-167; II, p. 99. Farm prices: NYHM I,
pp. 31 note 3, 143-144, 146-148; II, pp. 100-101.
45. RNA I, pp. 367-375; V, pp. 29--33 and 221-225. The last reference is to an assessment list used by
Goodfriend to reconstruct the New Amsterdam 'elite' ('Too Great A Mixture oiNations', p. 41).
46. Debien found 1582 references to occupations in the total of 6200 contracts studied. Before 1660
they were rarely recorded. Of the occupations mentioned 75% was non-agricultural. Can it be
taken for granted that the majority of the engages worked on the land? G. Debien, Engages, pp.

Appendix I
Table A. Estimated population of New Netherland settlements 1629-1664

Year 1629 1639 1655 1664

New Amsterdam 300 1 400 2 9003 1750~

Haerlem 5 60 190
Staten Island" 90 75
Bergen 7 60 175

Subtotal 300 400 1110 2190

Long Island
Dutch villages:
Breukelen8 130 130
Amersfoort9 100 130
Midwout lO 250 250
Utrecht II 120
Beverwijk l2 135

Dutch villages 480 765

Long Island
English villages:
Middelburgl.1 275 275
Gravesande l4 200 200
Heemstede 15 300 300
Vlissingen l6 100 150
Rustdorpl7 300

English villages 875 1225

Schenectady IX 100 600 725
Wiltwijck, Katskil
Klaverack l9 40 325
Delaware]O 100 350 800

Total 300 600 3455 6030

The traditional figure for the population of New Netherland in 1664 is 10.000. The reference for it is a
statement by Burgomasters and Schepenen (MOM, II, p. 186). It was accepted by E.B. O'Callaghan

(History of New Netherland. II, p. 540) and by many later authors. John E. Pomfret in Harper Torch,
(ed.), Founding the American Colonies 1583-1660. (New York, 1971), p. 283) puts the total at 5000 for
reasons not given. The same figure can be found in John J. McCusker, The Rum Trade and the Balance
of Payments of the Thirteen Continental Colonies. Univ. of Pittsburg Ph.D. 1970, p. 536, Table B-lO
and in U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States. Colonial Times to
1970. Part 2, p. 1168, Series Z 1-19. In these tables the 10.000 level is reached in the 1680's. None of the
authors cited gives a breakdown according to settlements.
The traditional 1664 figure was not the outcome of a census and should be taken as an informed
guess by the contemporary authorities to be checked against other, more detailed data.
The reliability of data on the population in 1664 and at earlier dates varies. The sources contain
figures for the total population of New Netherland in 1629; New Amsterdam and Renselaerswijck in
1643; the Delaware and Staten Island in 1655; Breukelen in 1660 which look fairly reliable. The
population of the Delaware in 1655 and 1664 can be calculated with some measure of precision on the
basis of immigration figures. For all the other localities the total population has to be calculated on the
basis of data on a fraction of the total population: the number of freeholders (land lots given out),
signers of petitions claiming to speak for a whole village. the number of householders (houses) or the
number of people taxed for various purposes.
Unless indicated otherwise in the footnotes, the estimates in Table A for the Dutch villages were
calculated on the following assumptions: (1) The demographic characteristics of the populations in
1655 and 1664 corresponded to those of the WIC supported immigrants. The ratios of adult males to
total population (2,6) and household heads to total population (5,9) are supposed to have been the
same in both groups. (2) The miscellaneous data on the number of freeholders etc. are taken to give an
indication of the number of household heads. The multiplication factor of 5,9 is used to calculate the
total population. The reason for making this assumption is that freeholders etc. were likely to be more
established colonists and hence head of a household. It is obvious that the total population thus
calculated is not more than a very rough estimate.

1. VRBM, p. 169.
2. The population before the influx due to the Freedoms and Exemptions of 1639 has to be calculated
on the basis of data for 1643. Morton Wagman (The Struggle for Representative Government. pp.
99-104) presents a convincing argument for a total adult male population in the fall of 1643,
consisting of 150 Company servants and soldiers and 250 free colonists. Earlier in the year, before
the outbreak of the Kieft War, it may have been ca. 500. The population of New Amsterdam
probably more than doubled between 1639 and 1643. Compare the data on the number of
bouwerijen and plantations on the Manatus Map (1639) with those in the Journal of New
Netherland (1643): 14 bouwerijen and 31 plantations against 30 bouwerijen and 100 plantations.
(Stokes, Iconography, II, p. 181 ff. and J.W. Schulte Nordholt, 'Nederlanders in Nieuw Neder-
land. De oorlog van Kieft', in Bijdragen en Mededelingen van het Historisch Genootschap, 80,
(1966), p. 82). Thus the free, adult male population in 1639 may be put at 125. Assuming the same
ratio of adult males to total population as among the Renselaerswijck colonists, the total free
population was ca. 150. To those should be added 150 Company servants and soldiers and lOO
3. RNA, I, pp. 367-375: 230 adult males were taxed in October 1655. There is reason to believe that
all the adult males were required to contribute to this special tax. Thus, the multiplication factor
should be 2,6 and the total population 600. In 1656 there were 120 houses in New Amsterdam
(ER, I, p. 383). Multiplied by 5,9, this gives a total popUlation of 700. We estimate 650 in 1655. To
those should be added 250 for lower Company personel and slaves, who were not taxed.

4. NYCD, II, p. 248, where a total population figure of 1500 is given in a petition to Stuyvesant. In
July 1660 there were 342 houses in New Amsterdam (Eekhof, De Hervormde Kerk, II, p. 121, note
3). Multiplied by 5,9 this would give a total population of 2000. We estimate 1750.
5. Between 1645 and 1655 about 10 plantations were started. After the Indian war of 1655/6 the flats
were not tilled for a number of years. In 1663 there were 32 adult males, most of them heads of
households, (James Riker, Harlem (City of New York): Its Origins and Early Annals, (New York,
1881), pp. 202-203,226-229).
6. Staten Island had 90 inhabitants in August 1655 (NYCD, I, p. 638). After the Indian War it was
deserted until 1662. In April 1664, 12 to 14 families are reported living there. (NYCD, XIV, pp. 441
and 546).
7. The first bouwerijen on the Jersey side were started in 1630. In 1639 there were 2 bouwerijen and
4-5 plantations. Between 1639 and 1643 the settlements on the Achterkol and Vriesendael were
started. In the Fall of 1643 all the farms were destroyed. Between 1646 and 1655 about 10 farms,
large and small, were laid out along the river side. They all were destroyed again in 1655.
Hereafter, the Jersey side was deserted for a number of years. In 1658 land at Communipaw was
bought from the Indians by Stuyvesant. In 1660 Bergen was founded and 32 lots laid out. Thirty
families were reported to live in Bergen in 1660 (ER I, p. 492). Around Bergen there were a few
hamlets with an unspecified number of inhabitants. (A.C. Leiby, The Early Dutch and Swedish
Settlers of New Jersey, (New York, 1964), pp. 10,17,43-44. John C. Pomfret, The Province of East
New Jersey 1609-1702, (Princeton, 1962), pp. 12-17).
8. Breukelen. ER, I, p. 488. In October 1660 there were 134 inhabitants.
9. Amersfoort (Flatlands). It was first settled in the 1630's. In January 1657, 17 adult males were
taxed for the dominee (NYCD, XIV, p. 379). On a manuscript map of 1666 22 houses are
indicated (Ibid.).
10. Midwout (Flatbush). The settlement was started in 1645. In April 1657 43 adult men were required
to fence their land (Wright, Local Government, p. 284; Eekhof, De Hervormde Kerk, I, pp. 196-
197). On the map of 1666 (NYCD, XIV) 34 houses are indicated. We assume 43 heads of
households until 1664.
11. Utrecht. In 1657, 20 lots were laid out (Wright, Local Government, pp. 265-266; Benjamin F.
Thompson, History of Long Island, (New York, 1918), III, pp. 147-153).
12. Boswijk. In 1660, 14 lots were laid out for French colonists. A petition in 1661 was signed by 23
adult men. (Thompson, History, III, p. 83).
13. Middelburg (Mespath, Newtown). It was originally settled by Reverend Francis Doughty and his
followers in 1642. In 1656 a petition was signed by 55 men; in 1663, 47 men are mentioned on a rate
list, 65 in 1666 (Wright, Local Government, p. 297). Supposedly, the English villages had a more
balanced population than the Dutch ones, since the original migration to New England had been
largely a family migration. A multiplication factor of 5 is used to calculate the total population
from indications on the number of households.
14. Gravesande (Gravesend) was originally settled by Lady Moody and 39 families (Thompson,
History, III, p. 107). There were 64 freeholders in 1651 (Thompson, History, III, p. 117). Wright
thinks this figure is too high. On the basis of other sources he gives totals of23 freeholders in 1643
and 38 in 1651. (Wright, Local Government, p. 290). According to him there was no growth. We
assume 40 households.
15. Heemstede was originally settled by Reverend Fordham with 30-40 families in 1644. It was
deserted during the Kieft War. In 1647 there were 66 freeholders (Thompson, History, II, p. 472).
A petition in July 1656 was signed by 41 men (NYCD, XIV, p. 363). We assume 60 households in
1655. Rustdorp was founded from Heemstede in 1656. In 1657 there were 64 freeholders (Records
of the Towns of North and South Hempstead, (New York, 1896), I, pp. 30-32).

16. Vlissingen (Flushing). In October 1645, 16 land grants were given (Thompson, History, III, p. 6).
On the map of1666, 31 houses are indicated (NYCD, XIV). We assume 20 households in 1655 and
30 in 1664.
17. Rustdorp (Jamaica). There were 20 freeholders in 1656 and 59 in 1660 (Thompson, History. II, pp.
584, 586).
18. Renselaerswijck and Beverswijck. Father Jogues put the number of inhabitants of the patroon's
domain at ca. 100, living in 25-30 houses, in 1643 (NNN, p. 262). In 1639 this may have been
somewhat less, but some Company servants in the Fort should be added. In 1652, the village that
had grown up around the Fort was withdrawn from the domain by Stuyvesant. From then on, it
was called Beverswijck. In 1653 the number of adult males in the domain and Beverswijck may be
put at 230. Multiplied by 2,6, this gives a total population of 600. In 1657, there were 120 houses in
Beverswijck (ER, I, p. 383). Multiplied by 5,9 this gives a total population of 700 for the village
alone. Since it was hemmed in on all sides by the domain, there was little space left for extension
after that date and house lots were divided. (Donna Merwick, 'Dutch Townsmen and Land Use:
A Spatial Perspective on Seventeenth Century Albany, New York'. in William and Mary
Quarterly, 37, (1980), pp. 53-78). After 1652 the population of the domain did not grow.
Schenectady, founded in 1662, had 4 farms in 1664.
19. Wiltwijck (Kingston) was first settled in 1652 from Beverswijck. Up to 1658 there were perhaps 7
plantations (Marc B. Fried, The Early History of Kingston and Ulster County, (New York, 1975),
p. 17 ff.). In May-October 1658, a settlement of ca. 10 freeholders and their families was started. In
1662, at a distance of 2,5 miles, Nieudorp was founded. Fried estimates the population of both
settlements at 20G-300 (Fried, Early History. p. 60). Katskilck. settled in 1652, may have had 4-5
farms in 1664; Klaverack, founded 165417, perhaps 2.
20. The Dutch and Swedish settlements on the Delaware. The first group of Swedish settlers arrived
in 1638, consisting only of traders and soldiers. The following year they were joined by a second
group with some farmers. Their numbers are unknown, but the indications are they were not
many (Amandus Johnson, The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware 1638-/664, (New York, 1911),
pp. 112, 125-128). From 1636 on, the Dutch had a small, permanently manned and fortified trading
post on the eastern Delaware: Fort Nassau. In 1639 perhaps 100 people. Between 1639 and 1655
settlements, mainly Swedish, spread along the Delaware and tributaries. In 1655, at the time of
the conquest by the Dutch, there were 280 Swedish and 50 Dutch settlers in the area (Johnson,
Settlements, pp. 501,514,615). In March 1656, they were joined by a group of 'belated' colonists
from Sweden: llO people. Thus the Swedish population may be put at 400 in 1657. (E. Pieterse
mentioned only 20 Swedish families in 1657, but he probably overlooked a few since in 165970 to
80 'Swedish' families arc reported (NYCD, II, p. 17, and XII, p. 287). In 1657 and 1658, the few
Dutch colonists were joined by 600 migrants sent by the City of Amsterdam (NYCD, II, pp. 51
and 55). Their numbers were, however, reduced by an epidemic in 1657 and 1658. (100 were
reported to have died) and by migration to New Amsterdam and Maryland (NYCD, II. p. 69). In
the fall of 1659,126 houses were reported in the City colony and 13-14 of Swedish settlers living
nearby, but according to Stuyvesant there were 30 families and 25 soldiers in the City colony at
that time (NYCD, II, p. 76; and XII, p. 254). The population of the City colony may be put at ca.
150. In addition, there were Dutch and Swedish settlers in the area under the direct authority of
the Company: ca. 300 'Swedes' and 50 Dutchmen (NYCD XII, p. 287). The total population on
the Delaware in 1659: ca. 500. In 1660 and 1661 no new colonists were sent to the City colony. In
the subsequent years the following ships arrived: Purmerlander Kerck (Febr. 1662, number of
colonists unknown); St. Jacob (July 1663) with more than 100 colonists; PlIrmerlander Kerck (end
of 1663/beginning of 1664) with ca. 150 people (NYCD XII, pp. 360-361. 436-437. 444. 447; see

also Wabeke, Dutch Emigration, pp. 52-54). Assuming that the Purmerlander Kerck carried 100
colonist in 1662, the number of people arriving between 1662 and 1664 may have been 350. Added
to the 150 of the City colony in 1659: 500 in the City colony. To those should be added the ca. 300 in
the Company area. In 1664 there were at most 800 settlers.

5. French indentured servants for America, 1500-1800



It is very difficult to draw the exact borders of French America during the 17th and
18th centuries, because the French possessions changed very much during that
long period. By the end of the 17th century, France owned Canada and a large
territory around the Great Lakes, south to the confluence of Ohio and Mis-
sissippi. In the West Indies, France owned Saint-Domingue (i.e. the western part
of Hispaniola), Dominique, Martinique, Guadeloupe, some other small islands
and French Guyana. By the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), France had to give up
Acadia, Newfoundland (though it kept some fishing privileges there) and Hudson
Bay to England. By the Treaty of Paris (1763), France, whose expansion had
covered the whole Mississippi Basin, gave up Louisiana to England, leaving the
eastern part with New Orleans to Spain.
It would be premature to pretend giving a definite synthesis on the French
indentured servant problem in America, in spite of the considerable research
made by Gabriel Debien and his students. In a more or less empirical way,
however, it is possible to determine the essentials of this problem. Both in
tropical and North American agriculture workers were required albeit under
different conditions. In the North we find subsistence agriculture on family farms,
in the South commercial agriculture oriented towards exports.
Thanks to Louise Dechene, we have the most recent knowledge at hand on
Canada l , since she devoted a long chapter to this type of labour in her These
d'Etat, published in 1974. In using this exemplary case as a starting point, it seems
easy to gloss over the obscure origins of the system. At what time did the system
of indentured la bour incorporate emigrants working their passage or the partners
engaged by a c%n, and did it shift to a real indentured service contract? Madame
Dechene has tried to define the laws of this system. According to her, it was a
variant of the temporary service contract: 'It was common practice for someone
to alienate his liberty for a determined time, generally a fairly long period.
sometimes for ever (i.e. an indeterminate time), by becoming an apprentice.

Emmer P.c. (cd) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster.
ISBN 90 247 3253 O.

servant, soldier or sailor'. The origins of the contract of indentured service has
given rise to some controversy among historians. Gabriel Debien was of the
opinion that the indentured service for Canada was just a contract derived from
the practice by which labourers embarked for a fishing voyage 2 . Louise Dechene,
on the other hand, viewed the origins of the system of indentured labour as to be
in line with the 'servitude customs' of French rural society. According to A.E.
Smith, the Virginia Company made use of the indentured system in order to
people its plantations, and judged it to be a better system than forced enroll-
ment 3 • Also we have to take the article by Oscar and Mary Handlin into account,
which indicates that there was no real difference between a slave and an inden-
tured servant during the first decades of European penetration in the New
World4 • The difference only gradually appeared.

In the beginning, Trade Companies and a few private citizens recruited their workers directly,
paying for food and travel costs in the colony while the wages were established by the contract. In
order to function well, such a system required that the profits made on the employment of
indentured work were high enough in order to cover the inevitable losses connected with
mortality, illness or desertion, as well as the expenditures on recruitment and travel. The more
numerous the servants were and the longer the number of contracted years. the better were the
possibilities to cover these initial or accidental costs. The system of indentured labour presupposed
the immediate and profitable commercialization of the colonial production. Looking at the limited
development of Canada during the first half of the 17th century, we should be astonished that the
farmers succeeded in obtaining many hundreds of indentured servants. The only profitable
activity, the fur trade. did not demand much labour. In fact. an additional demand caused a small
immigration to continue once the fur-warehouses had been supplied. The Church was largely
responsible for the recruitment of the additional number of indentured labourers'.

The role of the Church was evident. Most of the 250 persons, who came to
Montreal-Island between 1642 and 1653, had been engaged by the Societe Notre
Dame, which appeared to have been a financial disaster6 • For five years, the
Societe was unable to feed the hundreds of servants it had engaged in 1653. All the
same, the missionary spirit stimulated the recruitment in order to compensate for
the deaths and the deguerpissement. The Society'S only source of income was the
fur trade. The profits of this trade were divided between the Societe and its
agents. Often, indentured servants were emancipated on arrival, in which case
they obliged themselves to pay an amount of money to the Governor, who
represented the Societe on the Island. This amount was to cover the travelling
costs as well as past and future advances. Those settling in Montreal were not
obliged to make the repayment. However, not all indentured servants accepted
this solution, and this gave rise to numerous lawsuits usually not ending to their
The case of the indentured servants settling in Montreal and being without

masters, was quite different from the situation regarding indentured labour in
Quebec. There, the victualling of ships kept cereal prices high and the masters in
Quebec engaged indentured labourers in order to till their lands. 'Between 1655
and the creation of the French West India Company in 1664, tradesmen from La
Rochelle, Rouen and the colony recruited more workers than the one labourer
per one ton of cargo as instituted by the Quebec CounciF. The hirer of indentured
labour could reimburse the costs for travelling and for paid advances to these
captains and shipowners. These costs were calculated in such a way as to be the
very source of their profit. Later, Montreal became prosperous because of its
merchants and the audacious policies of the Compagnie Saint Suipice, which had
replaced the Societe Notre Dame. This new company required a considerable
number of indentured servants, as well as families and nubile daughters. From
then on, the contract for indentured service was the same as in Quebec.
In 1663, Canada passed under direct control of the Ministere de fa Marine,
which intended to accelerate the peopling of this territory. Initially, it was
proposed to send more indentured servants than free colonists. The Quebec
Council, however, proposed to use 200 military recruits as servants for a period of
three years. Each year these recruits were dispatched to the colony by the
Compagnie des Indes Occidentales. This was the case between 1664 and 1671.
Quickly, the demand for workers was satisfied and from then on the indentured
servants only arrived in small numbers, most of them recruited by private
individuals as has been the case in the beginning. Metropolitan shipowners found
some difficulty in respecting the royal order stipulating the embarkation of a
number of indentured servants in proportion to the tonnage of the ship. The
agricultural system of French Canada was based on small family farms, and these
needed the additional labour of soldiers and prisoners during some seasonal
activities x• At the beginning of the 18th century, Indians were also engaged for
domestic service.
What was the exact composition of these indentured servants? Were they more
or less expelled from their home country by misery due to war and plundering
armies? This may well have been the 'push'-factor for the 119 contracts signed at
La Fleche in 1653, after the plundering of the Generalite of Angers by armies of
the 'Fronde Princes' and by royal mercenaries. In fact, when the situation
improved there, half of the signatories renounced to emigrate. Just before their
departure, they were substituted by men hired in the port of Nantes. They all
received a trunk and some old clothes as an advance on their wages. From the 103
servants registered on the departure roll, 8 seem to have died during the voyage.
In 1659, the recruitment seemed to attract people of a more diversified back-
ground: 'families, unmarried daughters, and only 30 indentured servants'. These
went to serve the Sulpicians and the nuns, who made the same crossing. Also,

some colonists were waiting for these new recruits in Montreal. This new group of
indentured servants came from La Fleche and also from the province of Aunis.
They were relatively young, between the ages of 20 and 25, and they were almost
all bachelors. About three quarters of these labourers had been unemployed and
had been destined to become farmhands.
In sum, Louise Dechene, amalgamating in using the data of the two recruit-
ments 1653 and 1659, distinguished three categories among the total of 131
indentureds with the exception of the special case of a surgeon. First there were
the unemployed (42), then the strong day labourers (55) and then the profession-
als and people who were even better qualified (25). Were there a great number of
beggars, criminals and recidivists among them, as some contemporaries claimed?
That does not appear to be so. Some of the migrants joined their families in
Canada and all of them were young enough not to be beggars. True, they were
poor people, but not altogether without honour. This explains the solid basis of
the Canadian colonization.
How were these new workers distributed? Only a quarter of the households
employed indentured servants until 1667 , and the majority of these households
had only one. The free servants appeared for the first time in 1681. During the
period 1666 and 1667, more than a quarter of the indentured servants worked on
the estates of their masters. By 1681, indentured servants were only employed by
religious communities and wealthy merchants. More and more the colonists were
assisted by their own children, but as these could not perform heavy tasks, they
relied on their own strong arms. Finally, the majority of the indentured servants
worked in gangs on large farms, supervised by a foreman.

'The masters, who did not employ more than one or two indentureds, lived in the city and sent
them to work on their land, several miles away, where loneliness was great and the cabin only a
precarious shelter. In nearly every case, the indentured servant began his life in the colony under
very difficult material conditions, which instantly put him at the bottom of the social scale'".

What were the duties of the indentured servant? He was 'a man, who, during the
time of his indenture, was obliged, like a slave, to go everywhere and to do
whatever his master ordered'lO. During this time, he was not more than a 'thing'
to his master. If an indentured servant had signed a contract for three years, at 75
pounds wages per year, the costs for the employer were as follows ll :

First year: 30£ fare paid to the captain of the ship.

70 £ advances to the indentured servant and various recruitment
60 £ food for one year.

5 £ balance of the wages paid to the indentured servant.

30 £ advances to the servant for clothes, wine, a gun, etc.
year: 50 £ consigned to the servant.
60£ food.
Third year: 35 £ advances consigned to the servant.
45 £ balance of wages.
60£ food.
30 £ return travel costs.

Total 475£

The indentured servants were well treated when they worked in the towns, at
least as long as they were able to work. The Montreal Seminary did not hesitate to
break a contract with a servant 'for his incommodious and deficient views, which
made him incapable of any duty'12. Life was much harder in the country, where
the indentured servants had 'to cut, square and trail trees with bad tools and
generally without horses or oxen, to dig across roots in clearing the stumps of
trees from the soil. These exhausting tasks had to be done during the debilitating
heat of the summer as well as during the winter colds, which were alien to their
organism, which could resist only little'l3. Moreover, some of these young men
had been unemployed in France and were not trained to work. Even those
coming from the 'Bocage' (in western France), who knew how to clear the land,
had only done this a few days a year, alternating with other, less demanding tasks.
In contrast, the clearing of land was the chief task of indentured servants in
Sometimes the indentured servant might be forced to work for a new master.
He was purchased by a colonist or by a corporate body from a French shipowner,
but might be hired out or sold to others, sometimes along with the land. Louise
Dechene cites various examples of this, calculating the profits of these transfers 14 •
When an indentured servant, who had fulfilled his obligations, wanted to estab-
lish hiqIself in the country, he received a billet de concession, i.e. the right of pre-
emption on a given piece of land. From then on he was allowed to trade in furs,
which had been forbidden as long as he was an indentured servant, with the
exception of some rare cases. Furthermore, he had had no right to go to taverns or
to marry. The punishment for servants who had been found guilty of offences or
crimes was very severe: it consisted of corporal punishment or of the prolongation
of indentured service. These penalties remain very strict until 1676-77 , because
before those years the number of indentured servants was relatively large. They
formed half the population of Montreal in 1653. In 1666, there were about 350

indentured servants in the entire colony, i.e. more than a quarter of the male
population aged over 14 years old. The most frequent and perhaps gravest offence
was desertion, and attempts were made to prevent this by obliging everybody
embarking for Canada to carry a passport. Fines and corporal punishment were
imposed for infringements on this rule. Masters were obliged to register the
written permissions to end indentured service with the Council since these
permissions were to be used as passports. It was very difficult. however, to desert
from a settlement surrounded by savage lands and natural obstacles of every sort.
For a short absence a fine had to be paid in kind, i.e. by working supplementary
days. Fortunately, palliating circumstances were frequently taken into consider-
ation. Slowly, legislation became less harsh, especially for servants born in the
colony. When, on the other hand, an indentured servant tried to harass his master
and in fact caused him to lose his patience in the hope of being dismissed, the
Court substituted the first master by another, even harsher one, until the end of
the contract, because it was necessary for the Court to maintain the integrity of
the institution.
Similar laws and rules were applied in the English colonies to the South. But
here, less rigid regulations were introduced subsequent to the introduction of
black slavery. In Canada, soldiers would replace indentured servants as workers
and as victims of the repressive legislation on bound labour.
As is shown by Louise Dechene, by the end of his service, the indentured
servant usually had failed to accumulate much capitaJl5. Very few decided to stay
on as servants after the expiration of their first contract. unless they feared the
risks of establishing themselves on their own account. Remaining a servant was
the most secure way to avoid running into debt. Those who returned to France
and who wished to go back to Canada again, were obliged to sign a new contract
of indenture or to borrow money for the passage. But they were experienced
already. Let us again take the case of servants who had been indentured between
the years 1653 and 1659. The following figures apply here: 3()'?,o of these inden-
tured servants died while still in service, 52% were still in the colony in 1666-1667
as domestics or, more often, as habitants, and 18% no longer appeared in the
documents. The number of deaths was indeed very high for an age group whose
life expectation was good, but many indentured servants had been killed in the
war against the Iroquois or in accidents such as drowning because of their
inexperience with canoes and rapids. Now, if we take the case of the servants
indentured during the years 1666 and 1667, then figures show that only 3% died
during or immediately after their indentured service. 40% were still living in the
colony in 1681, and 57% no longer appeared in the documents. The figures for
1681, however, are questionable: the population had become more numerous and
it is difficult to trace the indentured servants.

The ex-indentured servant who became a habitant was - as many of the first
indentured servants from the period 1642-1660 - better integrated into the
colonial society. French Canada relied very heavily on them in order to build the
new colony. The servants who came later were less indispensable and they found
it more difficult to rid themselves oftheir servile condition l6 . It would be interest-
ing to compare the condition of the engagj?s to that of the filles. Between 1646 and
1715, 178 women came over from France and got married on Montreal Island.
This made female immigration amount to 20% of the total permanent immigra-
tion. Generally, these women were no prostitutes, and those who gave this
impression or turned out to be one had to go back to France. They were young
and poor; that is why they agreed to come. Also, they would find a husband even
if they were not very pretty. For officers, the King provided, at large expense, a
small number of daughters from good families, who were housed in convents
during their courtship l7.
We have chosen to discuss the Montreal case as it has recently been studied. We
could add the cases of Quebec and Trois Rivieres, but in total, Canada did not
have so many indentured servants as the West Indies did. From La Rochelle
alone, 5,200 indentured servants left for the Antilles between the years 1660 and
1715, and only 928 for Canada l8 .
According to Debien, the history of the emigration of indentured servants to
Canada must be divided into two periods which were sharply different: from 1638
to 1670, with 740 departures, - and the period after 1670, with only 183 depar-
tures. After 1670, the different colonization companies did not send any more
indentured labourers. The movement towards Canada restarted some time be-
fore 1715, after a period of nearly 26 years (1687-1713) with no indentured
immigration l9 . During the 18th century, the number of indentured servants in
Canada diminished rapidly. This was due to the fact that the young and fecund
population in Canada witnessed a take off in its birth rate. The Peace of 1763 and
subsequent loss of Canada for France finally stopped all French migration into
In the French Indies, the indentured servant problem has been magistrally
studied by Gabriel Debien in 1952 and later in various works by himself and his
students complementing the book of 19522°. But before we turn to these inden-
tured labourers we need to consider briefly the case of Louisiana. There, in 1716,
the Conseil de Marine maintained the obligation, imposed by the Monarchy in
1698 to the merchants, of transporting a certain number of men in proportion to
ships' tonnage to the colonies. It did not make any concession to those who
claimed to transport less or tried to be exempted with the help of port com-
missaires2l •
Although the indentured service seemed to have been abandoned in French

Louisiana, since the first years, it accounted for the departure of some young men
who were recruited by captain Elie Jappie of the La Paix, acting on the wishes of
some colonists who were looking for workers. 'Six indentured servants, ranging
from 18 to 22 years old, and among them a marshal, a mason, two ploughmen and
a butcher from Poitou, Saintonge, Aunis and Angoumois, left on the brigantine
Crozat. All were engaged, as usual, by a three year contract, according to which
their master should provide for all their vital needs and give them a salary
corresponding to the value of 300 pounds of raw sugar at the end of their term '22.
Under John Law (1717-1720), indentured service for Louisiana was pushed, and
must be added to the forced migration to this colony 23. Afterwards the emigration
to Louisiana declined.
Let us return to the West Indies. According to G. Debien, there are five
essential sources for a systematic history of the departures of emigrants destined
for the West Indies 24 :

1) The lists of passports of each harbour, which are kept in National Archives, Colonies F5,
covering the second half of the 18th century. These are supplemented, at least for the departures
from Bordeaux, by the written applications for passports during the Directoire in the archives of
the Gironde.
2) The bills of loading, either kept in the local archives of the port of departure such as Rochefort,
or in departmental archives such as in Nantes. For Rochefort, however, these bills are only kept
covering the period after 1760. These bills give a description of the ship. and list the crew, the
passengers in the King's service and the paying passengers and, until 1775, they also list the
indentured servants.
3) The archives of the districts in which the ports Dieppe, Nantes, La Rochelle, Bordeaux and
Bayonne are situated, preserve very rich notarial archives of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Here we find the indentured service contracts of those who were engaged for three years by
colonists or merchants from the West Indies.
4) A few lists of indentured servants who. since the beginning of the 18th century, paid control
taxes, can be found at Dieppe and Nantes.
5) In the archives of the Gironde we find certificats d'identite et de catholicite. These are actually
'embarkation registers' for the period 1717-1787, which provide us with the surnames, first names,
the age, the parish, and the destination of the passengers who left Bordeaux. At the end of the 18th
century there also appeared an indication of the profession or of the social level of these
passengers. These registers do not seem to exist outside Bordeaux.

All these sources distinguish, at least until 1715, between two sorts of emigrants:
the free passengers and the indentured servants. For the 17th century, only the
latter category appeared! The above mentioned sources also provide us with a
good complement to the printed and manuscript sources on indentured service
given by Debien25 • One of the most interesting questions discussed in Debien's
study addresses itself to the types of contracts in correspondence with the types of
servants. The 6,200 contracts collected by Debien can be classified into eight
major types:

1) Among the first contracts were those we can call contrats d'accompagnement au de voyage. In
this case, the contract of indenture comprises a degree of servitude equal to the enrollment of a
sailor. The merchant made a promise to his engage to come overseas and to return with him. This
also applies to the al/oues as discussed by Jacques Petitjean Roget: the inhabitants of Saint-
Christophe recruited in France allow's or servants for their own service and returned with them to
the Antilles 26 •
2) Among the first contracts are also those of the 'hunters', the buccaneers ofthe West Indies, and
the coureurs des bois in Canada. These contracts are not very numerous. They stipulated that
masters and servants were to hunt and sell the product of their chase together.
3) According to yet another type of contract, that of an apprentice, the indentured servant was to
leave and return with his master and to work in his master's trade. He was an apprentice in
merchant trading or in surgery and he did not get a salary. Moreover, his parents were to pay a
subsidy for his food.
4) Another type of contract of indenture were called the contrats-association and they resembled
the contrats d'accompagnement and were probably derived from them. 'It was a form of inden-
tured service which was very common at the time of the first sugar-mills and refineries on
Martinique (1640-1660) and afterwards, on Saint-Domingue around 1700, when great plantations
needed professional workers from Europe. We never found these contracts for indentureds
destined for Canada".
5) Perhaps we have to classify the contrats iI condition as a special type among the contracts of
indenture. In these contracts, the indentured servant promised the Captain of his ship 300 to 500
pounds of tobacco within a fortnight after arrival. If he was unable to do this, the Captain could
hand him over to whoever he wished.
6) In the contrat personnel or particulier direct, the indentured servant always knew before his
departure for which master he would be working. This was very important because masters had
rather differing reputations as to the demands they made on their servants.
7) Specialists were necessary for public works and fortifications. They were enlisted by equipes
assorties and their contracts always included higher wages. Their service was shorter than ordinary
indentured services.
8) From 1645 onwards, captains and shipowners began to recruit on their own account (pour leur
propre compte), whereas before that year, they acted on behalf of proxies. From that year onwards
they were obviously certain to find a regular demand for workers in America and they became the
suppliers of labour.

Behind these different juridical instruments, at a structural level two great

categories of indentured servants appear. Firstly, the servants, who were to
receive a regular salary and who hired themselves out to colonists, shipowners or
captains for a period of three years or less. They were workers going overseas in
order to perform a specific task at some body's residence, which was agreed
beforehand and was known to them. Their contracts were, above all, labour
contracts. The second category was made up by those indentured servants, whose
services were paid for in kind and only after a period of three years. They were
more numerous. These indentured servants went over in groups and hired
themselves out to merchants, shipowners or captains. However, they did not
know to which employer they would be handed over. They were actually true
migrants 28 •

There seems to be no point at this stage to discuss the many aspects of the
embarkation and of the voyage of the migrants, such as: the role of the pat de vin,
the caffre de pacatille. It would be possible to discuss the period in which the
indentured servant was waiting until the ship weighed anchor at some harbour
inn. It also would be possible to look at the distribution of clothes and how the
indentured servants spent their advances before embarkation. There sometimes
occurred an occasional change of master at the last minute, a cancellation of the
contract, a failure of indentured servants to appear at the moment of departure.
More details could be given about the role of the Admiralty, the particular
characteristics of collective or family indentured services, about indentured
women and children, foreign servants and about the price and material conditions
of the voyage. However, these subjects have all been thoroughly covered by
Gabriel Debien 29 • Let us rather discuss the professional and regional background
of the 'engages'. As to the geographical distribution, the following figures are
available: see Table I and figures 4.1 and 4.2.
According to Debien it was possible to draw some conclusions from this table.
He, in fact, indicated some 'emigration centres', 'emitting regions' and 'closed
areas'. The proximity to the ports of embarkation obviously cannot explain
everything. It also should be taken into account that traditions of migrancy were
stronger in some regions than in others. And there must have been other
structural factors which account for the differences in migratory movements in
France. The same provinces always appear either at the top or at the bottom of
the list. However, it seems impossible to establish a positive correlation between
the frequency of departures and the demographic pressures within certain re-
gions. The individual reasons for departure (a large family, a tragic death or the
example set by the parents) were certainly more important than the general push
factors. Debien also reports on the role of country fairs: many indentured
servants came in small groups from the same villages or cities to the embarkation
harbours each year the same time. They had been recruited on a fair. In other
areas, recruiting took place along the highways, where hawkers spoke of the
many marvellous opportunities available in remote countries. Finally, areas
which sold products to America also supplied more migrants than areas without
such an export. These migrants followed the merchants and the merchandise 311 •
Debien's last study on the departures from Nantes does not alter these con-
clusions. As in La Rochelle. the Loire country and Britanny played a dominant
It is possible to compile a second table for the professional background of the
indentured servants, again with two sets of figures, one for La Rochelle and the
other for Nantes (see Table II).

Table I. Geographical origins of the indentured servants.

Region Port of Embarkation

La Rochelle Nantes
162{}-1715 1691-1733

Aunis 862
II Saintange 398
III Poitou 1.003
IV Marche et Limousin 125
V Touraine \04 \09
VI Orleans, Giitinais, Blasois 85
VII Anjou 129 320
VIII Maine 47 58
IX Perche 25
X Bretagne 274 816
XI Normandie 152 78
XII Paris 229 91
XIII 'Region parisienne' 44 29
XIV Picardie 55 20
XV Artois et Flandre 6 19
XVI Flandre Fram;aise 11
XVII Alsace 1
XVIII Champagne 43 16
XIX Franche Comte 3
XX Lorraine 29 \0
XXI Bourgogne 21
XXII Bourbounais 15 6
XXIII Forez 4
XXIV Lyonnais 37 20
XXV Auvergne 43 9
XXVI Perigord 55
XXVII Agenais 17
XXVIII Quercy 9
XXIX Languedoc 33
XXX Guyenne 71
XXXI Beam, Pays Basque 37
XXXII Dauphine 15
XXXIII Provence 31

Source: G. Debien, Les engages pour les Antilles. 1634-1715. (Paris, 1952), p. 99; cf. G. Debien, 'Les
departs d'engages par Nantes pour I'Amerique, 1691-1733', (n.p., n.d.), pp. 23-24.


Figure 4.1. Embarkations from La Rochelle. 1620-1715.

Craftsmen were in great demand in the West Indies, unlike farmhands. Those
indentured servants, however, who were sent to Desirade Island, in implemen-
tation of the royal order of July 15th, 1763, are excluded]l.
Gabriel Debien, in his book Les engages pour les Antilles, is unable to provide
us with precise data about the ages of the indentured servants. Nevertheless. it is
possible to make some general observations. In the early years. for instance, the
colonists in the West Indies admitted indentured servants of every age. Young
people were in the majority, but grown men were no exceptions, including men of
fifty. sixty and older. Later, only young and healthy persons made the crossing.

Figure 4.2. Embarkations from Nantes, 1691-1733.

perhaps because the reputation of both climate and working conditions in the
West Indies had become so negative, that only young people dared to go. In fact,
official regulations fixed the ages between 18 and 40. Debien, in his study on
indentureds leaving Nantes, provides a table on the age structure for the years
1691-1733, which clearly demonstrates the dominance of young people. The
majority of indentured servants leaving Nantes was made up by people between
the ages of14 and 25 years. Consult Graph I, for people between the ages ofll and
35 years. Debien's figures also show that there were only a few men aged between
the ages of 35 and 45 and only one over 60. Four indentured servants were aged 7

0 LaRochelle
• Nantes n
Table II. Occupational structure of the indentured servants.

Professions Port of embarkation

La Rochelle Nantes Total

Plough men and rural day labourers 397 105 502

II Masons and stone-cutters 124 39 163
III Coopers 144 108 252
IV Carpenters 97 25 122
V Joiners 42 26 68
VI Metal workers 63 73 136
VII Refiners 13 11 24
VIII Cooks and pastry cooks 37 36 73
IX Shoemakers 58 59 117
X Bakers 53 46 99
XI Millers 25 25
XII Textile workers 300 65 365
XIII Tailors 132 93 225
XIV Surgeons 100 41 141
XV Others 83 83

1585 810 2395

Source: G. Debien, Les engages pour les Antilles, 1634-1715, pp. 113-140. and by the same author, 'Les
departs d'engages par Nantes pour I'Amerique', 1691-1733, pp. 25-3\.

o 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
Graph I. Age structure of the indentured servants.
Source: G. Debien. 'Les departs d'engages par Nantes pour l'Amerique, 1691-1733', p. 22.

and one 9 years of age. In fact there is one indentured servant of only 5 years old
and supposed to have left France all by himself. However, this entry could well be
an error.
What was the destination of these indentured servants? It is possible to compile
Debien's findings on the 6,200 'engages' of La Rochelle (1620-1715) and those of
Nantes (1691-1733) into a table (see Table III).
There is no need to discuss the motives of indentured servants for leaving
France, nor the question of the Protestant indentured servants or that of the
deportees of the years 1686--1688 after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
Also, we will pass over the extremely hard life of the indentured servants on the·
plantations and their difficult adaptation to manual work in a tropical climate,
which was even worse than for black slaves. Also, no mention will be made of the
fate of the indentured servants after their contract had expired. Instead, we will
discuss the sequence of the departures as established by Debien for the inden-
tured servants leaving La Rochelle (see Graph II). Debien does not assume that
there existed a regular rhythm in those departures and he is unable to prove any
correlation with the fluctuations in the prices of wheat or other subsistence crises.

Table III. Destination of the indentured servants.

Port of Embarkation
La Rochelle Nantes

Saint-Christophe 1.112
Guadeloupe 373 80
27 *
Martinique 89 879
Marie-Galante 30
Saint-Croix 6
La Tortue ? 703
Saint-Dominque 1.280 742
* Guadeloupe or Martinique

Source: See Table I.

Debien seemed more inclined to favour a more political explanation of these

fluctuations. According to him, the push of 1660-1664, for instance, could be
explained by Colbert's policy to people the West Indies. Between the years 1670
and 1680, the Dutch War probably hampered maritime traffic and that could
explain the decline in departures. According to Debien the peak of 1683-1687 was
related to the official policy against the Protestants in France before and after the
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The decline in the number of departures
during 1697 and their rise again after the Peace of Rijswijck are easily explained
by the War of the League of Augsburg. The movement continued for three years,
but this time as the result of an order by the King to send indentured servants to
the Islands (February 19th, 1698)'32. For the last years of the reign of Louis XIV,
Debien says:

'The total absence of indentured service in 1709 points very strongly to a direct relation between
the emigration to the colonies and the general situation in France. The slow and highly irregular
rise during the years just before 1715 heralded the revival of the colonial spirit, which would
blossom with the System instituted by Law. Both forced recruitment as well as free engagement
would increase rapidly'''.

Naturally, white workers were substituted by black slaves and the government
finally gave up the attempt to maintain some proportion between Whites and
Blacks34 ,
Debien's graph, however, does show decennial fluctuation which is quite
regular: 1642-1652; 1652-1662; 1662-1672; 1672-1682; 1682-1690. Thereafter, the
rhythm in the number of departures became less clear but it was generally lower
than before. Also, we are able to detect larger fluctuations of more or less 20
560 ~
480 c

440 a
400 ~

320 e;
280 v.







o J ~
1640 1645 1650 1655 1660 1665 1670 1675 1680 1685 1690 1695 1700 1705 1710 1715
Source: After G. Debien, Les engages pour les Antilles, 1634-1715, pp. 24&-249.

Graph III. Wheat price nuctuations during the reign of Louis XIV; two examples.

19 I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I

18 1111111111111111
17 -Chateaudun 1
----Bez iers 2
13 I
12 I
11 I

10 ,,
8 . ,,

. .. . . . .
, '\
7 ,, ,, ,, ,,

6 \

5 \

1656 60 65 70 75 80 85 " 90 95 1700 05 10 15
- - Yearly average price of one minot (25 litres) of wheat on the market of Chateau dun 165fr1717
(in Tournai pounds, per harvest year from the 1st of October)
- - - - - - Yearly average price of one selier (66 litres) of wheat on the market of Beziers (in Tournai
pounds, per harvest year from the 1st of July)

Source: F. Braudel and E. Labrousse, Hisloire economiqllc et sociafe de fa France, (Paris, 1977), Vol.
II, p. 332.

years: 1632(?)-1652; 1652-1672; 1672-1690; 1690--1710. It would be interesting to

see whether these ten-years movements can be related to harvest fluctuations and
whether the twenty-years movements could stem from a 'Hoffmann-Kusnets
cycle' of demographic origin, in other words related to the rises in the birthrates
during the 17th century.
Let us, for instance, consider the movements in the prices of wheat during the
reign of Louis XIV (see Graph III). As we can see, the peak of 1661 in the
Chateaudun price-curve stands just before the rise in departures during 1662 as
calculated by Debien. The peak in wheat prices of 1693 also corresponds to a peak
in the graph by Debien. The peak of 1678 is just three years before Debien's one
in 1681. We can also take prices of rye at Cande or Angers, which belonged like

Chateaudun, to the Atlantic economy. They also constitute an example for the
period before 1660 (see Graphs IV and V for Paris). Here we see a peak in 164~,
just before the one in 1645 in the graph by Debien.
In the long term the pull in the West Indies during the seventeenth century Cll n
be explained by the development of small farms growing coffee, indigo ard
tobacco in the West Indies. After the expulsion of the Dutch from Brazil (165'7)
the pull can also be attributed to the introduction of sugar cane in the West Indies.
The decline in the demand for indentured labourers from France at the end of the
17th century and during the 18th century must be related to the triumph of black
slavery, in spite of the efforts to maintain a black-white equilibrium on the
Islands. We know that indentured servants were quite efficient on small farms.
However, they could not compete with the involuntary labour of black slaves on
the great sugar habitations.

Graph IV. Harvests and prices of rye at Cande and Angers.

Price of rye
40 ~

30 I I


10 Angers
1621 1631 1641 1651 1661

very bad
~ bad
V') moderate
~ aver~e
a: good
« abundant
:J: very abundant

Source: F. Braudel and E. Labrousse. Histoire economique et sociale de fa France, (Paris, 1977), Vol.
I, p. 946.

Regarding indentured service contracts for Canada, Gabriel Debien wrote:

These contracts for Canada differed in three ways from the engagements for the West Indies. The
wages were not nearly so high but they were always paid in money. Before the indentured servant
left for Canada, he received advances which corresponded to one year's wages or to half of the
wages for three years. In this way the indentured servant could buy clothes and tools. The
Canadian 'engages' were never clothed. Direct personal contracts were preponderant and each
clause had been discussed between the contracting partners. Because of that, their conditions
varied, according to the bargaining power of each servant'35.

Beside status, however, there existed more differences between Canada and the
Antilles with regards to engages. It has been argued that there also existed an
important situational difference, continental on the one hand, insular on the
other. We reject this thesis and we believe that the reality was different. The West
Indies were part of what we have often called the 'American Mediterranean Sea'
Graph V. Wheat prices at the Hailes of Paris (1520-1698).

40 Price in Tournai pounds

30 per harves t year


III ,~~ Price in grammes of
~ 300 fine silver per harvest
~ 200 year
QJ ,~
ro 40
.....o 30
a. 10

1520-211540-41 1560-61 1580-81 1600-01 1620-21 1640-41 1660-61 1680-811700-01

Source: F. Braudel and E. Labrousse, Histoire economique et sociafe de fa France, (Paris, 1977), Vol.
112, p. 930.

and Canada was also a 'Mediterranean Sea', since the easiest way to go from one
point to another was by means of the Saint Lawrence, its tributaries and the Great
Lakes. The two French areas of colonization in the New World were either
surrounded by the Great Atlantic Ocean as in the tropical zone, or by the ocean of
prairies inhabited by Indians, who were as hostile to the European penetrators <,s
were the waves of the sea. The climate was of course very different and more
favourable to Europeans in Canada than was the case in the Caribbean.
But why did people leave Europe in order to go to Canada or the West Indies?
The majority made a choice to go to the Islands, which were considered to be a
better proposition. Rumour had it that there were more precious metals in
tropical areas than in temperate zones. In 1763, Voltaire preferred the We:;t
Indies with their abundant vegetation to the snowy wastelands in Canada.
Nevertheless, it is highly probable that just the circumstances of the intending
migrant labourer determined his destination. He became West Indian or Cana-
dian according to his place of birth. If his birthplace was close to a port speciali,:-
ing in trade to North America, he wound up in Canada. Otherwise he went to the
West Indies. It was fate that made the decision.


1. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands de Montreal au XVIle siecle, (Paris, 1974), see. pp. 50-BO.
2. G. Debien, 'Engages pour Ie Canada au XV lIe siecIe, vus de la Rochelle', Revue d'Histoire de
['Amerique Franr;aise, VI, 2, (1952), pp. 196--197.
3. A.E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, (Chapel Hill. 1947), pp. 8-16.
4. Oscar and Mary Handlin, 'Origins of the Southern Labor-System', The William and Ml!ry
Quarterly, April, (1950), pp. 199--222.
5. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands, pp. 51--52.
6. This Societe, which was formed by six members of the (secret) Compagnie du Saint·Sacreme~t.
received the greatest part of Montreal Island in order to establish a mission, which would be
independent from the one in Quebec.
7. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands, p. 53, finding support in the Reglement de 1647; and P.E.
Renaud, Les origines economiques du Canada (Paris, 1928), p. 237; G. Debien, 'Engages pOUl Ie
Canada', pp. 190-193.
8. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands. p. 55. and J. Hamelin,Economie et Societe en NOllvtlle
France, (Quebec, 1960), p. 78. It deals with the Ordonnance de 1716.
9. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands, p. 63.
10. Memoire du Gouverneur Frontenac a Seignelay, in L. Dechene. Habitants et marchands. p. 63.
11. Table given by L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands. p. 64.
12. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands, p. 65.
13. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands, p. 65.
14. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands. p. 67.
15. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands. pp. 71--73.
16. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands. pp. 74--77.

17. L. Dechene, Habitants et marchands, pp. 77-80.

18. M. Delafosse, 'Le trafic maritime Franco-Canadien, 1695-1715: Navires et marchands a La
Rochelle', Communication at the Conference Internationale sur /' HislOire Coloniale. (Ottawa,
19. C. Debien, La societe coloniale aux XVIIe et XVIIle sireles, Les engages pour les Antil/es, (1634-
1717), (Paris, 1952), pp. 142-144.
20. G. Debien, Les engages pour les Antilles 1634-1715, (Paris, 1952); also see his famous collection
Notes d'HislOire Coloniale, especially notes 62 and 162, and the bibliography, note 153.
21. M. Giraud, HislOire de la Louisiane Fran~'aise, Vol. II. (Paris, 19(8), p. 10.
22. M. Giraud, HislOire de la Louisiane, Vol. II, p. II7.
23. M. Giraud, HislOire de la Louisiane, Vol. II, pp. 1l9-120.
24. G. Debien, Note 153, 'Antillas de lengua francesa 1970-1971'. Historiografia y bihliografia
americanis/as, XVI, 2, Seville, July, (1972), pp. 31-32.
25. G. Debien, Les engages pour les Antilles, 1634-1717.
26. Jacques Petitjean Rogel, La societe d'habitation a la Martinique: WI demi-siecle de formation
1635-1685, 2 vols., (Paris, 1980), pp. 521 and 706-771, and p. 368: 'lIs (les esclaves noirs) sont
honnetemcnt traites, ne differant en rien des serviteurs fran\ais, sinon qu'ils sont servitcurs ct
servants perpetuels' wrote an anonymous author from SI. Christopher. probably Father Pacifique
de Provins, who had worked there in 1635. Subsequently the Dominican Dutertre and the Jesuit
Pelleprat also reported on this matter based on personal experience, in the first case drawn from
Guadeloupe between 1639 and 1645, in the second case drawn from a stay in the Caribbean islands
in 1656. They wrote that the indentureds were: 'plus mal traites que les csclaves: on ne les poussait
au travail affaiblis par la misere et la faim, qu'i! coups de hallebarcles'.
27. G. Dcbien, Les engages pour les Antilles, pp. 52-53.
28. G. Debien, Les engages pOllr It's Alltilles. p. 68.
29. G. Debien, Les engages pour les All/illes, pp. 67-69.
30. G. Debien, Les engages pour les Antilles, pp. lHf-1l2.
31. G. Debicn, 'Profils de colons, V: Mauvais sujet poitevins aux iles', NOles d'Histoire Cololliffle.
note. 62.
32. G. Debien, Les engages pour les Antilles, p. 243.
33. G. Debien, Les engages pour les AlJlilles. p. 243.
34. G. Debien, Les engages pOllr les Alltilles. p. 243 and pp. 247-261.
35. G. Debien, Les engages pour les Antilles. p. 144.

6. The migration of German redemptioners to

North America, 1720-1820.


An adequate history of German redemptioners in North America does not yet

exist. German redemptioners are mentioned in general works on German immi-
gration to America, but then only briefly; they are also dealt with only as a part of
the general study of the system of indentured servitude l . Furthermore, there are
some regional and local studies on white servitude offering valuable information
and analysis2. Yet the subject deserves a much fuller investigation. Some statistics
are available, most of them concerning Germans arriving in Philadelphia, bllt
statistics concerning the whole process of emigration of German redemptioners
are scarce and incomplete; they may inspire guesswork, but they hardly provide
an overall picture of what really happened, how the movement of German
redemptioners to North America developed, and how large a proportion th~y
formed when compared with German immigration as a whole 3 . There are sorre
reports by eye-witnesses describing how redemptioners were shipped to Amer-
ica, how they were sold into servitude, and what they experienced afterwards 4•
Some primary documentation is also available, e.g., contracts between emigran ts
and captains, advertisements in American newspapers, contracts between ser-
vants and masters, notifications about run-aways and offers of rewards for their
recaptures. Finally, letters of redemptioners to their relatives in Germany exi~t
which throw light on personal experiences, although it is difficult to generali2:e
with some reliance that these individual experiences were typical of the whole
system of German redemptionist servitude6 •
These sources are, nevertheless, helpful to historians trying to reconstrw:t
which kind of migrants redemptioners were like, and what they experienced
when migrating from Germany to America and when settling in the New World.
They can serve as a mosaic, as individual pieces which once were part of a whole,
and they also provide scope for narrative. It has to be admitted, though, that it is
rather difficult to do a penetrating analysis of the whole phenomenon on the basis
of such scattered material. Most of the reports are biased. They were ofte n

Emmer P.C. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, DordrechtlBoston/Lancaster.
ISBN 90 247 3253 O.

written in anger and imbued with a sense of moral protest against immoral
practices, against the inhumane behaviour of traders dealing in 'white slaves'.
Such criticism certainly deserves respect, but one must not ignore the fact that
what are described in these accounts are individual experiences; the involved
individual is rarely balanced in his judgment. They report excessive harshness,
extreme situations, and injustice. That miseries occurred, likely reflects the truth,
but these accounts should not be accepted as if they told the complete story.
Reporters - today as in the past - tend to pick up dramatic scenes, eliminate the
routine, and sometimes exaggerate..
The fact that German redemptioners in North America have been given
relatively little attention in historical literature is understandable because they
formed only one portion of a broader stream of Europeans migrating to the
British colonies in the 18th century. There were English and a great number of
Scotch-Irish redemptioners who went over under the same conditions. Further-
more, redemptioners are often thrown into one category with other kinds of
indentured servants: Englishmen of the 17th and 18th centuries who were more or
less forced to go to America as servants because of poverty, political opposition,
or religious dissension, as well as those Englishmen who were deported as
convicts or paupers. Actually there were strong similarities among these different
kinds of servants, but there were also differences as will be shown later. A lack of
differentiation has probably been the cause of a common error in historical
writing, i.e., that the redemptioner system ended with the American Revolution.
This statement is true with regard to indentured servants from England. How-
ever, the influx of redemptioners from the European continent, mainly from
Germany and Switzerland, continued well into the 19th century and actually
reached a new peak in 1816/17 before it ebbed away later.
A rather critical account of life in the colonies and the fate of German
redemptioners is Gottlieb Mitte/berger's Reise nach Pennsylvanien im Jahre 1750
und Riickreise nach Deutschland im Jahre 1754 7 • He visited America during an
early wave of German mass migration which was poorly organized and led to
disasters and failures. In many ways his account is too negative, almost anti-
American. But his description of the redemptioners themselves, and their fate, is
fairly reliable and can serve as an introduction to the way in which the system

When the ships finally arrive in Philadelphia after the long voyage only those are let off who can
pay their sea freight or can give good security. The others, who lack the money to pay, have to
remain on board until they are purchased and until their purchasers can thus pry them loose from
the ship. In this whole process the sick are the worst off, for the healthy are preferred and are more
readily paid for. The miserable people who are ill must often still remain at sea and in sight of the
city for another two or three weeks - which in many cases means death. Yet many of them, were

they able to pay their debts and to leave the ships at once, might escape with their lives [... J
This is how the commerce in human beings on board ship takes place. Every day Englishmel,
Dutchmen, and High Germans come from PhJ.ladelphia and other places, some of them very [n
away, sometime twenty or thirty or forty hours' journey, and go on board the newly arrived vessel
that has brought people from Europe and offers them for sale. From among the healhty they pick
out those suitable for the purposes for which they require them. Then they negotiate with them is
to the length of the period for which they will go into service in order to payoff their passage, the
whole amount of which they generally still owe. When an agreement has been reached, adult
persons by written contract bind themselves to serve for three, four, five, or six years, according to
their health and age. The very young, between the age of ten and fifteen, have to serve until thl:y
are twenty-one, however [... J
It often happens that whole families - husband, wife, and children - being sold to different
purchasers, become separated, especially whel1 they cannot pay any part of the passage monel.
When either the husband or the wife has died at sea, having come more than halfway, then the
surviving spouse must pay not only his or her fare, but must also pay for or serve out the fare of the
When both parents have died at sea, having come more than halfway, then their children,
especially when they are still young and have n:)thing to pawn or cannot pay, must be responsible
for their own fares as well as those of their parents, and must serve until they are twenty-one years
old. Once free of service, they receive a suit of clothing as a parting gift, and if it has been ~o
stipulated the men get a horse and the women a cow".

Mittelberger's account reveals the major elements of the system: servitude W,IS
part of a deal in which somebody paid for someone else's debt in return for
labour. The redeemed debtor had to work without pay and relinquish his freedom
of mobility and action for a specific number of years. In return he received food
and clothing, as well as a tract of land or a sum of money at the end of his
servitude. Establishing such a relationship was a business affair, the conditions of
which were written down in a formal contract. The partners of the contract were
the master and the servant, i.e., the agreement was not made without the consent
of the servant as was the case in slave trade.
The captain of the immigrant ship was not directly involved in the contract,
though he was the moving spirit behind the immigrant's willingness to enter into
it. The immigrant owed him money and so he had the power to keep the
redemptioner on board the ship until he had received all the money due to him. [f
the redemptioner wanted his wish fulfilled, i.e., to start life in the New World, he
had to find the means for his redemption. Behind that there was another contract
which had been concluded between the captain and the redemptioner about the
conditions of payment for the 'freight". This contract had been agreed upon
before the journey had begun in a European port. The redemptioner was bound
by one contract to conclude another one. The first one he had entered into on his
own will. Therefore redemptioners were called 'free-willers', a term which
distinguished them from indentured servants from England who had been forced

to go to America, or from convicts who had been deported.

That servitude in America was part of a business agreement is particularly clear
from the fact that arrivals also had to work for those relatives who did not survive
the journey. A captain who had given transportation to a person for at least half
the length of the journey was entitled to remuneration. If the person had died on
board and therefore no subsequent contract for servitude could be concluded,
relatives inherited that debt and they had to meet it by agreeing to a longer period
of servitude so that the master would pay more to the captain.
Every resident of the colonies or the United States respectively was allowed to
buy redemptioners. Mittelberger reported that not only Englishmen came to the
ship to buy servants, but Dutch and Germans too. German-Americans who might
have come as redemptioners themselves or who might have been descendants of
redemptioners were also interested in finding additional labour on the basis of a
contract with a redemptioner. Though a majority of redemptioners probably
worked on farms, quite a few ofthem worked for craftsmen and businessmen and
could be found in towns and cities, e.g., in Philadelphia and other American
ports. In New Orleans redemptioners sometimes were bought by free Blacks until
this was forbidden by law 9 • In Baltimore two German families were bought by
free Blacks in 1817, but German residents of the city clearly were unwilling to
accept such a black-white relationship and paid for their release J1 ). In genera\'
such contracts were an exception. Only a few free Blacks could afford to hire
white redemptioners, and prejudices and discrimination existed against them.
The fact that family members could be separated when they entered servitude
was probably not due to indifference and disregard for family ties but to a lack of
buyers who wanted, or needed and could afford, to buy a whole family.
The number of years which the redemptioners had to serve ~ averaging
probably four ~ and the work load during this period seems high if compared with
transportation costs for the journey from Europe. Around 181611817 the fare for
one 'freight' ranged from about 65 to 80 dollars. An unskilled worker could
probably have earned up to one dollar a day in those yearsll. This meant that a
redemptioner's master only paid the price for 65~80 days of labour to the captain
and had a servant for serveral years, without the obligation to pay him or her daily
wages. Though this equation is too simple ~ a redemptioner received food,
clothes, and housing without charge ~ exploitation was involved. No doubt,
buyers took advantage of the desperate situation of immigrants who could not
pay for their passage.
But after all, immigrants had left their former homes as 'free-willers' knowing
that the system of redemption was one way to settle in America without possess-
ing money. They usually had good reasons for leaving their homes in Europe:
they wanted to escape from living conditions which were perhaps more miserable

than some years of servitude in America. Decisions to leave the country werl~
usually based on complex motives. Most emigrants lIeft for economic reasons. At
times bad weather, floods and war devastation had led to crop failure and
agricultural crisis. A diversified system of taxes had burdened the people heavily.
Occupational flexibility was limited. Economic distress was connected with social
problems. Sometimes religious and political pressure also led to emigration. How
large the difference was between life in Germany and North America can b,~
deducted from the bare fact that a day labourer in Southwest Germany around
1820 could earn about 30 Kreuzer a day, equal to half a Gulden, or 20 cents, which
was only a fraction of what he could expect to earn in America l2 .
Emigrants from Wuerttt'wberg, when questioned about the reasons for their
departure in 1817, answered that 'they preferred being slaves in America to bein.s
citizens of Weinsberg' (their home town)13. Others said, 'that they might have to
face great dangers and that it might well be that they would be treated as serfs in
America, but the pressure on poor people and their misery could not bear down
on them more heavily than what they had to face at home'14. To sum up, one can
say that redemptioners often traded relatively mild exploitation in America
against heavy exploitation at home and by doing so improved their position in life.
When comparing his life as a peasant in Southwest Germany and his life as a
redemptioner serving in America, an immigrant could feel satisfaction in view cf
the limited period of his dependence. Four years or more was quite a long time
span, but at the end he was free and could work for money and settle where he
wanted. He even received some extra help for beginning a new life. The prospect
of independence and self-determination helped him to overcome the burden cf
The treatment of a redemptioner during the time of his servitude dependd
mainly on the attitude and character of his master and not so much on the system
as such. There were good and bad masters, and probably many in between. Fer
the redemptioner it was a matter of luck with what kind of person he entered int J
a labour contract. It should also be mentioned here that the contract was tram;-
ferable during the time of its validity. When a master went bankrupt or had to give
up his farm or did not need a servant anymore he could give him to somebody else
who had to pay a sum of money in proportion to the time of servitude stilllefi.
However, servitude was not like slavery. A redemptioner possessed legal righ1 s
and had to be treated as a human being rather than as chattel property. He could
not acquire citizenship before he was free, but he could go to court and defend h s
The status of a redemptioner did not essentially differ from that of other kincs
of indentured servants. This can be seen by comparing a contract made out for a
servant of the earlier period coming from England and a contract for a redemp-

tioner coming from Germany or another country during the 18th or 19th century.
The first one reads as follows:

This Indenture made the [Thirteenth) Day of [May] in the Year of our Lord one thousand, seven
hundred and [eightyfour] between [Alexander Beard of Broughsham in the County of Antrim
Tayler by consent of his father] of the one Part, and [John Dukey of Cullybarthey in the said
County-gentleman-] of the other Part, witnesseth, that the said [Alexander Beard] doth hereby
covenant, promise and grant, to and with the said [John Dukey. his] Executors, Administrators
and Assigns, from the Day of the Date hereof until the first and next Arrival at [Philadelphia] in
America, and after for and during the Term of [Three] Years to serve in such Service and
Employment as the said [John Dukey] or [his] Assigns shall there employ [him) according to the
Custom of the Country in the like Kind. In Consideration whereof the said [John Dukey] doth
hereby covenant and grant to and with the said [Alexander Beard) to pay for [his] Passage, and to
find allow [him] Meat, Drink, Apparel and Lodging, with other Necessaries, during the said
Term; and at the End of the said Term to pay unto [him] the usual Allowance, according to the
Custom of the Country in the like Kind. In witness whereof the Parties above-mentioned to these
Indentures have interchangeably put their Hands and Seals, the Day and Year first above written.
[Alexander Beard, John Dukey.] Signed, Sealed, and Delivered. in the Presence of [Peter Dillon,
John Wier]".

The wording of a redemptioner's contract was very similar, in part identical:

This Indenture witnesseth, That [Martin Ernst Scheffler] of [his] own free will has bound [himself]
servant to [Jonathan Bradfield], for the Consideration of [Eighty] Dollars paid to [Jacob Sperry]
for his Passage from [Hamburgh], as also for other good causes [he] the said [Martin Ernst
Scheffler] has bound and put [himself], and by these Presents doth bind and put [himself) Servant
to the said [Jonathan Bradfield] to serve him, his Executors and Assigns from the Day of the Date
hereof, for and during the full Term of [Three] Years from thence next ensuing. During all which
Term the said servant [his] said Master. his Executors and Assigns faithfully shall serve, and that
honestly and obediently in all Things, as a good and dutiful Servant ought to do. And the said
[Jonathan Brathfieldt, his] Executors and Assigns. during the said Term shall find and provide for
the said Servant sufficient Meat, Drink, Apparell, Washing and Lodging and at the Expiration of
[his] Term the said Servant shall have two complete Suits of cloths one whereof to be new and
[Twenty] Dollars in Money. And for the true Performance hereof both the said Parties bind
themselves firmly unto each other by these Presents. In witness whereof they have hereunto
interchangeably set their Hands and Seals. Dated the [sixteenth] Day of [September] Annoquc
Domini [1800]. [Jonathan Bradfield.] [Leo de Kuhmte, Deputy Register]"'.

The conditions of servitude, as described in both contracts, were alike. The

redemptioner's contract contained more details about the rights of the servant at
the end of his term. The earlier indenture merely stated that the master had to pay
'the usual allowance, according to the custom of the country in the like kind'. This
sounds rather vague. However, it is safe to say that the details of the second
contract just spelled out the 'custom of the country' and did not offer more

There are two small differences between the contracts which should be noted.
Only the redemptioner's contract mentions the 'free will' of the person who was
binding himself as a servant. The term 'free willer' probably is derived from that
phrase. Apparently both sides wanted to stress that the redemptionist system was
not based on force or punishment. Secondly, it was mentioned right at the
beginning that payment for the passage was involved. Putting that phrase in such
a prominent place meant that here lay the major reason for the immigrant's
willingness to enter into servitude. These two points distinguished him from th,!
old-type of indentured servant and may have helped the redemptioner to main-
tain a good reputation.
The essential difference between the earlier and the later type of servant is not
to be found in the conditions of servitude., but in the way contracts were made and
in the motivation and background of those who agreed to enter into servitude. An
old-type servant signed his contract before he went to America. As far as food
and clothing were concerned, he was taken care of from that moment. This madl!
his passage easier. The disadvantage of the redemptioner was the predicament in
which he found himself after the arrival in America when there was no way to go
back. He had to accept a contract without much choice. Thus he had less freedom
than an English indentured servant before signing a contract in England.
More remarkable differences existed, however, between these types of ser-
vants. Abbot Emerson Smith in his book Colonists in Bondage has pointed out
that indentured servants of the earlier period came 'nearly always singly'li.
English regulations after 1682 required that they were unmarried and that they
had no dependents. But redemptioners could come in families, they could pay
part of the 'freight' and by so doing subsequently could contract for a shorter
period. Also they could sell the service of some members of the family whik
others remained free. Only part of the family 'would take the burden of servicl!
for the rest', mostly the children for their parents l8 . Free members of the family
could then make enough money to buyout their relatives before the end of th,!
period of their servitude. For boys under 21 and girls under 18 the redemptionist
contract contained provisions for schooling and learning a trade.
Smith, 'at some expense of overstatement', comes to the following conclusion:

... indentured servants came essentially as cargoes of merchandize representing a supply c,f
labour; redemptioners came essentially as emigrants hopefully transplanting themselves to a new
home in America. This statement does not do justice to the aspirations of many servants, but· t
helps to indicate why the redemptionist system flourished in the eighteenth century, after the
colonies had achieved a stable existence such as would be inviting to newcomers, while indenture j
servants played a greater proportional part during the years of perilous beginningsl9.

In other words, indentured servants of early times - people unwanted in England


- were sent to America where colonizing efforts were still in an early stage and
labour was badly needed. The terms of their servitude were fixed in England.
Redemptioners of later times - 'free-willers' - felt attracted to North America
and hoped to improve their living conditions. Some years of servitude for which
they had to adjust themselves to the American labour market were considered as
part of the bargain. There was still a keen demand for labour, although America
could not always absorb new arrivals easily. In times of mass immigration, e.g.,
around the middle of the 18th century or during the years 1816 and 1817, the supply
was larger than the demand. This resulted in the lengthening of the contracted
period of servitude without a change in the amount of money set against the
The redemptionist system as well as the whole system of indentured servitude
was often called 'white slavery'. Contemporaries did so, and also moralistic
historians of the German element in North America during the liberal 19th
century. The English traveller Isaac Wald in his book on North America (1800)
wrote about a trade 'which was commonly called the 'white slave trade' " and he
described an instance of particularly brutal treatment of a shipload of redemp-
tioners in the port of Philadelphia, obviously with the intention to back up his
contention of the slave-like status of such people 20 . Filio-pietist German-Amer-
icans of later years went to extremes in protesting against the fate of their
ancestors who had started life in America in servitude. Hanno Deiler, the
German-American historian at Tulane University and president of the German
Association of New Orleans, wrote in 1901:

During the time of his service the redemptioner was a slave. As a slave he was totally suhjected to
the whims of his master. No matter how heavy his burden was, the redemptioner was not allowed
to leave his servitude; run-aways were caught and received a penalty of two extra days for every
day they had stolen from their master. A redemptioner could be lent out to others or he could he
sold, and the possibility of physical punishment by his master was not even excluded 2l •

This kind of status description of a redemptioner is misleading. Although it is true

that a redemptioner sold his labour, which meant that he sold part of himself, and
although it is true that he was strictly bound to his servitude, that he had to follow
his master's will, that he was not allowed to run away and was subject to
punishment for negligence or misbehaviour, nevertheless his time of service was
limited, his status was not life-long and hereditary, he could not be punished with
a whip, and his legal status was different from that of a slave. He was not
stigmatized as an inferior kind of human being. These facts should not be
overlooked when the term 'white slavery' is used.
Of course, running away from servitude before the end of the term meant
breaking a contract which was protected by law and by the Constitution of the

United States. Article IV, Section 2, of the Constitution contained the famous
clause against runaways: 'No Person held to Service or Labour in one State,
under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shalll, in Consequence of any Law
or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be
delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due '
This clause was applicable not only to slaves but to redemptioners as well.
A run-away was usually searched for and, if caught, delivered to his master anj
probably punished by an extension of his term. Hanna Deiler in his Germal1
booklet on the redemptionist system in the State of Louisiana reprinted several
'offers of reward' for recaptured redemptioners from New Orleans newspapen..
One of them, from the Louisiana Gazette, of March 17th, 1807, reads as follow~:

Twenty Dollars Reward. Absconded on the night of the 10th instant, an indented man to the
subscriber, called Adam Miller, a native of Germany, speaks very little English and no French,
aged about 26 years, 5 feet 10 inches high, sandy hair, red whiskers, blue eyes, and large red face, a
house carpenter by trade; had on when he went off. a long blue surtout coat.- The above reward
and all reasonable expenses will be given to an:, person who will deliver the said Adam Miller, to
the subscriber in New Orleans. Nicholas Sinnot c2

How frequently servants ran away is not known. Quantitative research on this
question may prove futile because sources containi:ng figures for a large region
and for a sufficient span of time are proba bly lacking. Running away may not only
have been caused by harsh treatment on the side: of the master, but also by
impatience, adventurousness, and a longing for freedom on the part of th;:
redemptioner, or by general disasters like famine or epidemics from which 1
servant tried to escape. Sometimes a combination of such causes was responsible.
Status, conditions of life and personal experiences of the redemptioners can b;:
studied from various sources. More general questions, however, are not so easily
answered. When did the redemptionist system begin, and when did it end? How
many immigrants started a new life under the redemptionist system? What wer·;:
the areas of concentration? What was the driving force behind the whole phe-
nomenon? Why did it end? Research has yet to fill the considerable gaps in our
knowledge. The following remarks on these questions are therefore of a tentativ.;:
Historians have not yet settled the problem of when exactly the redemptionist
system began. Usually it is dated back to 1728, the year of the first contemporary
references. However, these references indicate that it had already been in exist-
ence for some time 23. Albert B. Faust, the leading historian of the German-
Americans, said that the system 'had been advocated by [Benjamin] Furley, th ~
agent of William Penn', with whom, around 1680, a pietistic circle in Frankfort on
the Main had corresponded about their plan of sending a group of emigrants to

Pennsylvania24 • Whensoever the first redemptionist contract may have been

signed, it is safe to say that between 1683 (that is, the year of the founding of
Germantown, the first German settlement in America) and 1728 the system
developed. This means that the start of the redemptionist system corresponded
roughly with the time when Germans started to migrate to North America in
groups. At first it actually was confined to Germans, though emigrants of other
countries accepted it rather soon 25 • From 1728, perhaps earlier, it was applied
extensively to German and other immigrants 26 •
When did the system end? During the great wave of immigration of 1816-1817
redemptionist contracts were still very much in vogue. There are vivid descrip-
tions of how ship captains advertised the arrival of redemptioners and how
American craftsmen and farmers came to the ports and bought servants 27 • During
the following years immigration ebbed considerably, mainly because of improved
agricultural conditions in Europe and an economic depression in North America
during the years 1818 and 1819. After that the redemptionist system never re-
gained its former volume. The last contracts of redemptioners in Philadelphia
were registered in 183128 • Oswald Seidensticker in his Geschichte der Deutschen
Gesellschaft von Pennsylvanien concluded that 'the sale of arrivals to masters in
this place had become out-moded' already several years before 183129 • In Mary-
land isolated cases occurred until 18353°. Not much is known about contracts
made elsewhere during the 1820s and 1830s. Apparently the system gradually
ended without actually being forbidden or abolished by some specific measure.
Thus it lasted for just over a hundred years.
There are numerous calculations about how many Germans migrated to the
North American colonies from 1683 to 1775 as well as estimates of inhabitants in
1775 who were of German descent. All these calculations and estimates, how-
ever, are based on the same slight evidence which is open to different interpreta-
tions. The calculations of immigration figures largely depend on Philadelphia's
harbour statistics together with estimates of how many Germans arrived in other
ports. The number of German-Americans at the time of the American Revolu-
tion is usually derived from three sources: the estimate of the population of the
thirteen colonies made by the Continental Congress in 1776, the approximate
figures of the proportion of German-Americans in every colony, and the first
federal census of 1790. Although statistical problems cannot be considered here,
the result of such calculations can be summarized.
The total population of the thirteen colonies at the outbreak of the revolution is
usually estimated 'to have been in the neighbourhood of 2,750,000'31 (including
about 500,000 slaves). The total number of German-Americans at that time has
been calculated at 225,00032 • These figures consist of immigrants of the first
generation as well as the natural increase of the population of German-Amer-

icans. It is believed that the number of Germans arriving in Philadelphia during

the colonial period ranges somewhere between 65,000 and 75,00033 . The total
number of Germans arriving at any port of the thirteen colonies may have
reached 100,00034 • The proportion of redemptioners was probably 'not less than
one-half, nor more than two-thirds', that is, between 50,000 and 66,00035 . Since
total figures of German immigration to the United States between 1775 and 1820
are lacking, it is impossible to estimate the number of redemptioners during ths
The distribution of German redemptioners over the thirteen colonies or stat~:s
was probably not too different from the distribution of the German-American
population in general. Even if employed by Americans of different ethnic back-
grounds, most of them served near those ports of disembarkation which were
favoured by the Germans, especially in and near Philadelphia. For Germans, the
most attractive area in North America was Pennsylvania; a large portion of the
German redemptioners can be traced there. At the outbreak of the revolution it IS
estimated that about 49% of all German-Americans lived in Pennsylvania, 11 % in
New York, 11% in Virginia, 9% in Maryland and Delaware, 7% in Georgia and
0.5% in New England 36 • Fifteen years later the spectrum looked somewhat
different because of the new settlemenls west of the Alh~ghenies. The propo~­
tions had probably shifted to 33% in Pennsylvania, to almost 12% in Maryland, to
9% in New Jersey and to 8% in New York 37 •
The intensity of the redemptionist trade and its distribution over the colonies or
states depended largely on the labour market. The demand for labour in America
was a driving force behind the system. Towards the end of the founding period,
with the progressive settling of the interior of the colonies and with overseas trad e
beginning to flourish, neither old-type indentured servitude nor the natural
increase of the population could meet the shortage of labour. It was under such
conditions that the redemptionist system emerged. The competing system was the
slave trade, but slave labour was often regarded as unprofitable in the middle
colonies, where farming prevailed. It appeared less suited for a mixed economy of
subsistence agriculture and commerce or for life in rural communities and in
towns than for a plantation economy with its production of staple crops. In the
middle colonies moral protest against slavery could be heard from the late 17th
century onwards. The first formal denouncement of slavery within the Briti5h
colonies in North America occurred in Germantown , Pennsylvania, in 1688; its
effect, however, was limited in view of the profits of the trade.
A brisk demand for labour in Pennsylvania and, perhaps less so, in other
middle colonies developed during the ]8th century. Germans and Scotch-Iri5h
flocked to the colonies because of unsatisfactory living conditions in Europe.
Since the immigration of 'free-willers' was important for the American labour

market, there was an attempt to match demand and supply. This, however, did
not always function well; sufficient information on both sides and an effective
system of communication across the Atlantic was lacking. A host of brokers was
busy in the redemptionist trade; propaganda agents and ship captains, often in
close cooperation, were engaged in this enterprise. They were eager to recruit as
many emigrants as possible, aiming for greater profits without caring for the
emigrants' well-being. 'Newlanders' and 'soul-sellers' were the names given to
them in Germany and in American ports, names reflecting their reputation. They
took advantage of the double contract system, selling contracts for the passage in
Europe without guaranteeing the availability of favourable contracts for servant
jobs in America. They raised the hopes of poor people about a future in paradise
and often led them into distress. In times of oversupply and despite decreasing
demand on the American market the recruitment in Europe often continued,
perhaps because the recruiter was not yet informed of the changed conditions or,
though knowing about them, did not reveal the truth from fear of losing his
The fact that the redemptionist system lost its attractiveness and became more
and more discredited in the 19th century was probably less due to the conditions
of servitude than to passage conditions and the disillusionment of many arrivals
who were misinformed when market conditions changed for the worse. Contem-
porary reports stressing the inhumanity of the redemptionist system were less
concerned with the fate of immigrants, who had sold their labour to an American
master than with the treatment of passengers during the voyage and after their
arrival when trying to obtain a favourable contract.
In times of mass immigration, such as occurred during the years 1752-1754 or
1816/1817, the redemptionist system collapsed. In 1816/1817 thousands of people
with little or no money flocked to the Dutch ports, partly lured by irresponsible
agents. Ships were overcrowded. Many emigrants were unable to find a passage
and stayed in Holland or returned home. Those who successfully contracted a
passage were exposed to extreme hardships on board. Starvation and diseases
killed many of them before they reached American shores. Those who survived,
had difficulty in finding employment as servants and, therefore, entered into
unfavourable contracts. Observers in the ports, mainly members of German-
American communities, protested against the treatment of their fellow-country-
German-American societies which had come into being between 1764 and 1784
in Philadelphia, Charleston, Baltimore and New York, but had dissolved. or had
become inactive, reorganized themselves in order to give aid and protection to
helpless immigrants from Germany and Switzerland. In Baltimore the arrival of
the ship lufvrouw lohanna with hundreds of distressed passengers led to the

rechartering of the German Society of Maryland in 1818. The charter began as


Whereas, the arrival of Germans and Switzers from Europe and the numerous settlements made
by them in various parts of the Union, have induced a number of persons in this State to associate
themselves for the purpose of removing or lessening their distresses in a strange land, and these
persons having applied to the General Assembly of Maryland, for an act of incorporation 38 •

Similar reactions occurred in Philadelphia and New Orleans.

German-American organizations, together with organizations of other ethnic
groups, asked state and federal legislators for effective measures against th:::
maltreatment of immigrants and prospective redemptioners. Their lobbying led
to protective legislation. 'An Act Relativ·e to German and Swiss Redemptioners',
was passed by the legislature of Maryland on February 16th, 1818, and provided
for 'the appointment by the governor of a trustworthy person ... , as register of aJ
contracts for apprenticeship of German or Swiss emigrants arriving in this State',
the drawing up or approval of contracts "by the register', for 'every minor under
the age of twenty-one years at least two months' schooling annually during his
servitude'. The act also prescribed that 'no emigrant shall in any case be bound to
serve longer than four years', that 'no ... German or Swiss emigrant arriving here
shall be detained longer than 30 days on board of the vessel after such arrival, and
receive during the detention on board good and sufficient provisions, without
increase in the period of their servitude', that 'no children shall be answerable for
the passage money of their parents, dead or alive, nor parents for their deceased
children, nor a husband for his deceased wife, nor a wife for her deceased
husband'. The act made it 'the duty of the register to remove on shore any sic ~
emigrant or any emigrant having been cruelly or ill-treated by the officers of the
ship, at the expense of the vessel. If no purchaser is found for him within sixty
days after arrival, the master or owner of the vessel have no further lien on such.
Similar legislation was enacted in Pennsylvania and Delaware at about the
same time4(). Of particular importance with regard to the transportation of
redemptioners was the federal 'Act Regulating Ships and Vessels' of March 2nd,
181941 • The act was a direct result of the miserable conditions of immigratiol
during the preceding years and it provided for a limitation of passengers which.
any incoming or outgoing ship was allowed to carry (two persons per five tons: ..
This act was valid for 27 years and it was then replaced by new and stricte r
legislation. The legislation, however, had its shortcomings; it provided for a
certain ratio between the number of passengers and the tonnage of the whole
ship, but disregarded the possibility that space would be taken up by freigtt
reducing the actual volume of the steerage. Nevertheless, shipcaptains had to be

more careful when taking large numbers of passengers on board.

There is reason to believe that this legislation helped to suppress the redemp-
tionist system without formally forbidding it. Limiting the number of passengers
per ship made the passage more expensive. Therefore a master had to pay more
money for a redemptioner. This made the system less profitable, perhaps un-
profitable. The demand for redemptioners declined; shipmasters and brokers
were out of business as far as their trade in redemptioners was concerned. Poor
people in Germany lost their opportunity to go to America without money. From
then on, emigrants had to have enough money in order to pay for the passage, or
somebody else had to pay for them: the home community or perhaps relatives in
Germany or in the United States.
Changes in business conditions may not have been the only reasons for the
disappearance of the system. The question as to why it declined is not yet
sufficiently understood; actually, no penetrating efforts to solve this problem
have yet been made. Research on this question is under way in the History
Department of the University of Hamburg, but it is too early to already mention
conclusive results42 • However, at least two other reasons for the collapse of the
redemptionist system need to be considered.
During the 19th century immigration from Europe increased tremendously.
Different factors were responsible for this mass migration. An accelerated in-
crease in population took place. Social unrest arose which made dissatisfied and
restless people leave their country. In times of economic crises many Europeans
turned to the United States for security and for an improvement of their living
conditions. Freedom of mobility was granted, emigration taxes were abolished.
The means of transportation improved and they made travelling easier (par-
ticularly the railway and the steamship). For the United States the mass immigra-
tion from Europe meant a sufficient supply of free labour for low wages. Re-
demptioners were simply not needed anymore.
Both in Europe and in North America the recruitment of labour in early
industrial society adopted new forms anyway. Contracts binding masters and
servants for several years may not have been flexible enough for a modern
society, which is always looking for innovation and change. The new factory
system demanded wage labourers. Changes in agriculture were relatively slow,
but here too technology forced its way in. The time when social structures favored
personal servitude was ebbing away.
The disappearance of the redemptionist system occurred at the same time as
the rise of Jacksonian Democracy. Liberal and egalitarian thinking may have
worked against a system of servitude which discriminated redemptioners. As said
before, there was no real stigma attached to indentured servitude in North
America and redemptioners, after the end of their term, merged readily with the

free society. But people of the 19th century became more sensitive to questions of
personal freedom and civil liberties. Free-willing servitude did not really contra-
dict democracy, and apparently no attempts were made to publicly forbid th~~
system, but the public spirit of the time drifted away from it. Thus, a specifi,=
mode of German immigration ended which had prevailed for more than one
hundred years and had helped thousands and thousands of people without mean.,
to take root in the New World. The redemptionist system was certainly not free of
mistreatment and arbitrariness on the side of the masters. Servitude was not
always characterized by a harmonious relationship between the two contracting
parties. But on the whole it was not a bad system. It cannot be denied that it
offered advantages to the immigrant. Moritz von Fiirstenwarther, a critical
observer of the system, wrote from Philadelphia in 1818:

For convincing reasons, derived from my own observation, I must agree with the general opinion
of judicious people, that even those who have paid their freight and have come here freely,
farmers as well as craftsmen, even if they still have some money, do better to bind themselves in
the beginning. [ ... J During the time of servitude they learn the language, the customs, th':
differences in performing crafts, they learn about local conditions; and after their term of servitud,:
[ ... J they are capable of working independently as craftsmen or, if they are farmers, of buyin.~
some acres of land [ ... J Almost all who came here as redemptioners ten or twelve years ago and
began in servitude are now well-off. I personally know of several people who settled here twent{
or thirty years ago and who are now capitalists B

The redemptionist system did not hinder social mobility, but rather promoted it.
It was a kind of Americanization from which newcomers of the later 19th centUf'1
could not profit. Speaking of the advantages for the immigrants, of course, doe:;
not mean that the economic advantages for the masters and perhaps profit from
exploitation should be overlooked.


I. Albert Bernhardt Faust, The German Elemenl in the United States, with Special Reference to III
Political, Moral, Social and Educational Influence, (New York, 1927),2 vols" esp. I, pp. 66... 72;
Rudolf Cronau, Drei lahrhunderte Deutschen Lebens in Amerika: Eine Geschichte der DeutscheJl
in den Vereinigten Staaten, (Berlin, 19(9), esp. pp. 116-123; Abbot Emerson Smith, Colonists iJ1
Bondage: White Servitude and Convict Labor in America, 1607...1776, (Chapel Hill, 1947); David
Galcnson, While Servitude in Colonial America: An Economic Analysis, (Cambridge, Mass"
19R1); Richard B. Morris, Government and Labor in Early America, (New York, 1946), esp. part
2. Frank Ried Diffenderfer, The German Immigration into Pennsylvania, part I, Through the port of
Philadelphia from 1700 to 1775, part II, The Redemptioners, (Lancaster, 1900); Cheesman A.
Herrick, White Servitude in Pennsylvania: Indentured and Redemption Labor in Colony and

Commonwealth, (Philadelphia. 1926); Eugene McCormack. White Servitude in Maryland, 1634-

1820, (Baltimore, 1904); J. Hanno Deiler, Zur Geschichte der Deutschen am unteren Mississippi:
Das Redemptionssystem im Slaate Louisiana, (New Orleans. 190\).
3. Smith, Colonists in Bondage. pp. 307-337: Ralph Beaver Strassburger, in William John Hinke.
(ed.), Pennsylvania German Pioneers: A Puhlication o(the Original Lists of Arrivals ill the port of
Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808, (Norristown. 1934). 3 vols.; sec also P. William Filby, (ed.).
Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography 1538-1900: Being a Guide to Puhlished Lim of
Arrivals in the United States and Canada, (Detroit. 1981).
4. Gottlieb Mittelberger. Gottlieh Mittelhergers Reise /lach Pennsylvanien im Jahr 1750 und
Riickreise nach Teutschland im Jahr 1754, (Frankfurt/Leipzig. 1756). pp. 13 ff.: Peter Kalm.
Travels into North America, translated from Swedish by John Reinhold Forster, 3 vols .. (War-
rington/London. 1770-1771). I, p. 304: Moritz von Fiirstenwiirther. in Hans Christoph Ernst von
Gagern. (cd.). Der Deutsche ill Nord-Amerika, (Stutlgart/Tubingen. 1818). pp. 19-20, 39-42,
48-52, 101-102.
5. Gunter Moltmann. (ed)., Aufbruch nach Amerika: Friedrich List und die Auswa/ldenmg aus
Baden und Wiirttemberg, Dokumentatioll einer Sozialen Bewegung, (Tubingen. 1979). pp. 258-
263: Oswald Seidensticker and Max Heinrici, Geschichteder Delllschen Gesellschaft von Pennsyl-
vanien, 1764-1917, (Philadelphia,1917), pp. 29-31: Faust. The German Element, I, p. 68: Fursten-
warther. Der Deutsche in Nord-Amerika, pp. 1OJ-102: Deiler, Zur Geschici7le der Deli/schen, pp.
6. See for instance letters from Chrisostimus Weis. Baltimore, June 15th. 1817. in Moltmann. (cd.),
Aufbruch nach Amerika, pp. 269-281.
7. Sec note 4.
8. Gottlieb Mittelberger, Journey to Pennsylvania. O. Handlin and J. Clive (eds.ltrans1.). (Cam-
bridge. Mass .. 19(0). pp. 16-19. Mittelberger. GOlllieb Millelbergers Reise. pp. 13 ff.
Wenn die Schiffe bei Philadelphia nach der so langen Seefahrt angelandet sind. so wird
Niemand herausgelassen. als welche ihre Seefrachten bezahlen. oder gute Burgen stcllcn
konnen. die andern. die nicht zu bezahlen haben. mussen noch so lange im Schiffe liegcn
bleiben, bis sie gekauft und durch ihre Kiiufer vom Schiff los gemacht werden. Wobey es die
Kranken am schlimmsten habcn. dann die Gcsunden werden allezcit lieber und mithin zuerst
crkauft. da dann die elenden Kranken vielmals noch zwey oder drey Wochen vor der Stadt auf
dem Wasser bleiben und ofters stcrben milssen. dahingegen ein mancher von dcnselbcn.
wann er seine Schuld bezahlen ki)nnte und gleich aus dem Schiff gclassen wurdc. mit oem
Leben noch hatte davon kommen konnen. [ ... J
Der Menschenhandel auf dem Schiff-Markt geschiehet also: Aile Tage kommen Engel-
lander, Hollander und hochteutschc Leute aus der Stadt Philadelphia und sonstcn aller Orten
zum Theil sehr weit her. wohl zwanzig, drciBig bis vierzig Stuno Wegs. und gehen auf das neu
angekommene Schiff. welches Menschcn aus Europa gcbracht und fail hat. und suchen sich
unter den gesunden Personcn die zu ihrcn Gcschiiften anstandige heraus und handeln mit
denenselben. wie lange sie vor ihre auf sich habende Seefracht. welche sie gemeinniglich noch
ganz schuldig sind. dienen wollen.
Wann man nun des Handels eins gcworden. so geschicht es, dal3 erwachsene Pcrsonen f(ir
diese Summe nach Beschaffenheit ihrer Starke und Alter drci, vier. flinf bis sechs Jahre zu
dienen sich schriftlich verbinden. Die ganz jungen Leute aber von zehn bis f(infzehn Jahrcn
mussen serviren bis sic 21 Jahre alt sind. [ ... 1
Oefters geschieht es. daB auch ganze Familien. Mann. Weib und Kinder. indem sic an
verschiedene Kaufer kommen. separirt und getrennt werden. sondcrheitlich wann solche gar
nichts an der Fracht bezahlen ki)nncn.

Wann iiber halb Wegs auf der See ein Ehegatte vor dem andern gestorben, so muB d,.s
Hineinkommende nieht allein vor sieh, sondern aueh noeh vor das Verstorbene die Fracllt
bezahlen und serviren.
Wann be ide Eltern auf dem Meer iiber halb Wegs von ihren Kindern gestorben, so miissell
solche Kinder, sonderheitlieh wenn sie noch jung sind und nichts zu versetzen oder ZLi
bezahlen haben, vor ihre sammt der Eltern Fracht serviren und stehen, bis sie einundzwanzig
Jahr alt sind. Wann sodan Eins frei worden, so bekommt es ein neues Freykleid bei seinem
Abschied, und nachdem es eingedingt ist, ein Mannsbild noch ein Pferd und ein Weibsbil:l
eine Kuh.
9. Deiler, Zur Geschichte der Deutschen, pp. 19--20.
10. Fiirstenwlirther, Der Deutsche in Nord-Amerika, p. 27.
11. Cf. Harold Underwood Faulkner, An Economic History of the United States, (New York, 1954~,
12. See Wolfgang v. Hippel, 'Bevolkerungsentwicklung und Wirtschaftsstruktur im Konigreicl
Wiirttemberg 1815/65: Uberlegungen zum Pauperismusproblem in Siidwestdeutschland', in Ul-
rich Engelhardt, a.o. (eds.), Soziale Bewegung und politische Verfassung: Beitrage zur
Geschichte der Modernen Welt, Festschrift fUr Werner Conze, (Stuttgart, 1976), pp. 270-371, esr.
13. Interrogation of emigrants by Friedrich List, Weinsberg, May 2nd, 1817, in Moltmann, (ed.:,
Aufbruch nach Amerika, p. 150; ... 'sie woUen lieber Sklaven in Amerika seyn als Biirger ill
Weinsperg' .
14. Interrogation of emigrants by Friedrich List, iHeilbronn, April 30th, 1817, in Moltmann, (ed.:,
Aufbruch nach Amerika, p. 134; ... 'es moge auch seyn, daB man sie in Amerika als Leibeigene
behandle, doch konne der Druk des arm en Mannes, und die Noth nicht groBer seyn als diejenig~,
welche ihnen hier gewiB sey'.
15. From a facsimile of an indenture, published in Faust, The German Element, I, between pp. 68 an j
69. A printed form was used; hand-written entries here in brackets.
16. From a copy in the Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Senat CI VII, Lilt. Gg, Pars 1, Nr. 1, vol. 19.
17. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 22.
18. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 22.
19. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 22.
20. Isaac Wald, Reisen durch die Vereinigten Staaten von Nord-Amerika in den lahren 1795,1796 un i
1797, (Berlin, 1800), translated from English, I, p. 112, here quoted from Seidensticker,
Geschichte der deutschen Gesellschaft, p. 34.
21. Deiler, Zur Geschichte der Deutschen, p. 9;
Der Redemptioner war wlihrend seiner Dienstzeit Sklave. Wie dieser war er ganz den Laune 11
seiner Herrschaft preisgegeben, und wie schwer sein Dienst auch werden mochte, so durfte er
ihn dennoch nicht verlassen; denn Entlaufene wurden eingefangen und erhielten fUr jedell
Tag, den sie dem Herrn entwendet, zwei Tage Strafzeit zuerkannt. Er wurde ausgeliehen un j
wiederum an Andere verkauft, und selbst die Moglichkeit der korperlichen Ziichtigung durc ~
seinen Herren war nicht ausgeschlossen.
22. Deiler, Zur Geschichte der Deutschen, pp. 11-12.
23. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 21.
24. Faust, The German Element, I, p. 66. The founding of Germantown in 1683, the first German
settlement in North America, partly resulted from that plan.
25. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 21.
26. Apparently the system was not yet developed during the first German mass migration from the
Palatinate to England and North America in 1709. Sources remain silent on that subject.

27. For instance by Furstenwarther, Der Deutsche in Nord-Amerika, pp. 19-20.

28. Herrick, White Servitude in Pennsylvania, p. 255, note.
29. Seidensticker, Geschichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft, p. 157.
30. McCormack, White Servitude in Maryland, p. lll.
31. Faulkner, An Economic History, p. 132.
32. Faust, The German Element, I, p. 285.
33. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 323.
34. Kathleen Neils Conzen, in Stephan Thernstrom, (ed.), Harvard Encyclopedia of American
Ethnic Groups, (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), p. 407.
35. Smith, Colonists in Bondage, p. 336.
36. Cf. Faust, The German Element, I, p. 285.
37. Conzen, in Thernstrom, (ed.), Harvard Encyclopedia, p. 407.
38. Moltmann, (ed.), Aufbruch nach Amerika, pp. 318-319.
39. Moltmann, (ed.), Aufbruch nach Amerika, pp. 321-322.
40. Cf. report on the developments in Philadelphia in Seidensticker, Geschichte der Deutschen
Gesellschaft, pp. 104-113, partly repeated in Moltmann, (ed.), Aufbruch nach Amerika, pp. 324-
41. For text of bill see Moltmann, (ed.), Aufbruch Ilach Amerika, pp. 328-330.
42. Dr. Hans-Jurgen Grabhe is working on his Habilitatiollsschrift 'The disappearance of redemption
labour in the 19th century'.
43. Furstenwarther, Der Deutsche ill Nord-Amerika, pp. 48-49;
Es ist die allgemeine Meinung verstandiger Manner, der ich aus uberzeugenden, aus eigenen
Beobachtungen gesch6pften Grunden meine Verpflichtung nicht versagen kann, daB selbst
diejenigen, welche ihre Fracht bezahlt hahen, und frey hieher kommen, einzelnc Landleute
sowohl als Handwerker. selbst wenn sie noch einiges Geld mitbringen, besser thun, wenn sie
sich im Anfang auf diese Art verdingen. [ ... J Sie lernen in der Zeit der Dienstpflichtigkeit die
Sprache, Gehrauche, das Verschiedene in allen Gewerben. erwerhen die n6thigen Local-
kenntnisse, und sind nach Verlauf der Dienstzeit [ ... J gleich im Stande, ein selbstandiges
Gewerbe anzufangen. [... J einige Morgen Landes zu kaufen [... J Fast aile, welche von zehn
oder zw6lf Jahren als Redemptioner hie her kamen, und auf diese Weise anfiengen, sind jetzt,
fast ohne Ausnahme, wohlhabend. Mir selhst sind mehrere Beyspiele bckannt von Leuten.
die vor zwanzig oder dreyBig Jahren sich hier niedcrlieBen, und jezt Capitalisten sind.
Part Three
Indentured Migration after Slavery
7. The recruitment of African indentured labourers for
European colonies in the nineteenth century!



From the sixteenth century, European colonial labour needs pulled African
slaves to British and French dependencies in South America and in the Caribbean
and Indian Oceans. Owners exercised permanent exchange, use, and reproduc-
tive rights over their slaves, a repressed status relieved for some only by manumi~:­
sion, successful desertion, or revolt. During the nineteenth century, Africans
were also recruited as indentured labourers, and because the eradication cf
slavery did not occur in many areas until well into the twentieth century, the
African slave trade inevitably formed the context for indentured labour recruil-
Britain's attack on the slave trade began in 1808 and, by 1850, had succeeded i:1
ending most slave trading to the Americas a!1d the Caribbean. The Atlantic
islands of Sao Tome and Principe, Indian Ocean islands such as Zanzibar,
Madagascar, the Comoros and Mascarenes, as well as Middle Eastern countries,
however, continued to receive large numbers of African slaves. In addition,
expansion of Africa-based slave economies coincided with European suppression
attempts, and the continental slave trad{: continued to supply a large number of
African societies as well as European colonists in Angola, Mozambique, and
South Africa.
The slave trade also continued in the guise of indentured labour in areas where
slavery had been abolished. Former slaveowners, supported by colonial au-
thorities, searched for a substitute labour force and a labour recruitment and
control system which would mollify critics of the slave trade and slavery. In thi,
quest they ranged around the world, tapping populations in China, India, Indo-
nesia, the Pacific Islands, Mexico, Europe, the Azores, and Africa itself.
The diplomatic language of nineteenth century Europe characterized some
post-1840 slave traffic as legal but restricted to certain zones, some as illegal, and
some as 'indentured labour recruitment'2. In practice, however, African inden·
tured labour recruitment cannot be distinguished from either the 'legal' or 'illegal'

Emmer P.C. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Ind"ntured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 19R6 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht/Boston/Lanca~ter.
ISBN 90247 3253 n.






slave trade or from the European slave trade suppression campaign, for thf:y
shared identical supply sources. In addition, colonial indentured labourers, like
slaves, were aliens, and were heavily concentrated in plantation zones. When,
like slaves, they were reluctant immigrants and workers, they required coercion
in recruitment and employment3 . Huge sectors of the African branch of inden-
tured labour migration provide clear examples of such coercion, and labour
recruiters in Africa combined the recruiting techniques of the African slave trac e
with the old European bond servant traffic.
While no single method of African indentured labour recruitment was em-
ployed to the exclusion of others, some generalizations can nevertheless be mace
about the causes and characteristics of African indentured labour migration.
First, non-Africans - Europeans, Arabs, Indians -- controlled significant 'push
and pull' conditions that affected African labour migration before as well ciS
during the nineteenth century. From the sixteenth through the twentieth cen-
turies, foreigners cultivated and supplied Africans' burgeoning demands for
firearms, ammunition, metals and consumer goods, receiving in exchange Af-
rican agricultural, forest and mineral products, as well as slaves and indentured
labourers. Many Africans amassed wealth and power through a monopoly of
overseas commerce in their own regions, adding sllave grown export cash crops
such as palm oil and cloves to the older slave export business. Despite harassment
by the British navy and British diplomatic pressures, the continuing overseas
demand for slaves and indentured labourers permittted some Africans to remain
overseas slave traders or labour brokers, while a minority volunteered to work fClr
Europeans in order to acquire European trade goods. As in the heyday of the
international slave trade, the European labour demand pull constituted a key
element in the development of indentured labour migration, and thus the chid
forms of African labour supply 'push' - slave raids, warfare, abuses of civil and
criminal law - continued.
A second characteristic of indentured labour recruitment was its involuntary
nature. While Europeans recruited some voluntary indentured workers in A~­
rica, most recruits were involuntary, and their acquisition involved deliberate
violence, restraint, fraud and purchase.
A third and related characteristic was that European promoters of forcd
labour recruitment in Africa developed elaborate subterfuges and pseudc-
humanitarian arguments to avert criticism. As slavery advocates had done in the
past, they argued that they were releasing Africans from exploitation, slaver),
and even death, offering instead security, new skins, and Christian civilization.
The promoters also promised to repatriate workers who, upon their return,
would 'civilize' the native African popUlation. In fact, colonial employers and
legislatures generally reneged on promi~,es of government -assisted repatriation.

A fourth characteristic of indentured labour migration, stemming from slave

trade realities, was the preponderance of male and juvenile emigrants4.
A fifth factor in indentured labour recruitment - an African labour supply push
and pull, separate from the coercion of the slave trade - operated only in limited
regions such as the village communities of British Sierra Leone and the Kru-
Grebo area of Liberia and the Ivory Coast. In these regions Africans were
relatively free to pursue their own individual or communal interests, and viewed
temporary labour migration as a means of earning European trade goods or
money for use in their own societies. A strong supply pull consequently balanced
the labour supply push in these areas, and the failure of West Indian and
Guianese officials to provide regular shipping links and to promote repatriation
led to declining interest in emigration.
Sixth, it should be noted that even before the scramble for Africa, European
enterprises in Africa began to compete with overseas colonies for African labour.
In this competition, the labour demands of Africa-based Europeans triumphed.
Finally, commercial opportunities incidental to labour traffic attracted both
Europeans and Africans. The commercial aspect of recruiting and transporting
workers played an important role in the British and French imperial economies,
while in Africa it provided both brokers and labourers with the chance to engage
in foreign trade.



The antislave trade squadrons of Britain, the United States and France diverted
an estimated 160,000 Africans from the slave trade between 1810 and 1864, less
than ten percent of the estimated imports into the Americas between 1810 and
1870. Since these captured Africans could rarely be returned to their homelands,
they were deposited at various convenient islands or coastal stations in the
Atlantic, Caribbean and Indian Oceans'. In this way Britain, the primary pro-
tagonist in the search and seizure of slave ships, acquired large numbers of
African recaptives and subsequently transported them to British dependencies.
There, British Vice-Admiralty or international Mixed Commission Courts con-
demned slave ships and liberated their slaves. Among the most important British
reception depots were those in Sierra Leone, St. Helena and the Seychelles.
Later in the nineteenth century an increasing number of British liberated African
settlements were established on the East African mainland. Cuba and Brazil also
received captive Africans, some of whom were transferred to British Guiana,
Trinidad, Jamaica and a few smaller Caribbean islands in the 1840s and 1850s. In

all of these reception areas, liberated Africans were apprenticed or indentured tD

local employers or settled on the land6 •
Sierra Leone, with both a Vice-Admiralty and a Mixed Commission Court for
the trial of Atlantic slavers captured north of the Equator, was the largest c,f
Britain's liberated African settlements. Founded near the end of the eighteenth.
century as a colony for black people from Britain and Nova Scotia, the colony
became a home for exiled Jamaican Maroons and, after 1808, a settlement for
liberated Africans. These people were located, at British expense, in a number cf
agricultural villages supervised by Christian missionaries and British civil ser-
vants. St. Helena, like the Cape of Good Hope, had a Vice-Admiralty Court for
the trial of slavers captured south of th{~ Equator but, unlike Sierra Leone, St.
Helena could not be considered a permanent home for Africans. The island,
unsuited to agriculture, experienced a sharp economic decline after it passed
under Crown control in 1834, and th{~ temporary prosperity caused by th;!
establishment of a Vice-Admiralty Court in 1840 ceased when the naval squadron
departed in 1864. Like Sierra Leone, the island became a source of labour for th,;!
British Caribbean and British Guiana after 184F.
The first African emigrants left Sierra Leone in late February, 1841, bound for
Demerara, British Guiana. Others, destined for Trinidad and Jamaica, followed
shortly. With the exception of British Guiana, where they initially worked
without contracts, all Africans signed one and then three and subsequently fiw
year contracts upon arrival at their destinations8 • Sierra Leone's liberated African
settlements, one of only two African communities where indentured labour
recruitment might be considered voluntary, provide revealing information about
African respons~s to West Indian emigration recruiters.
Migration theorists identify five stages in the motivations of migrants, and the
early period of indentured labour migration from Sierra Leone - 1841 to 1843·-
parallels these five stages closely. The first stage - dislocation from the familiar·-
is succeeded by a second stage - a search for solutions. At the third stage, an
evaluation of various solutions occurs, a process in which promoters participate,
providing information about emigration opportunities. The actual decision to
emigrate constitutes a fourth stage, which involves a compromise between com-
peting goals and destinations. 'Voluntary' emigration thus becomes a 'highl;r
motivated, staged behaviour ... a deliberate conscious act, aimed at satisfying
certain behavioural objectives which migrants believe would not be satisfied if
they did not move'. Emigration is also a high-risk undertaking for the first
migrants, because its success or failure cannot be predicted. Thus a fifth stage,
information from pioneer migrants, is crucial to a long-term emigration move·
ment and acts to check or encourage further migration 9 .
By the time of indentured labour migration from Sierra Leone, most liberated

Africans had succeeded in creating a life similar to that of their original home-
lands; finding readymade kin in their slave ship mates, they reconstructed ethnic
neighbourhoods in their settiements lll . Emigration recruiters, anxious for la-
bourers, were blinded to the realities of Sierra Leone - to the fact that liberated
Africans could establish themselves fairly rapidly there, developing local interests
which they fiercely protected. Thus many liberated Africans were not totally
dislocated from the familiar, and they would not turn their backs on farms,
families, and friends in order to sail off into the unknown. Women were par-
ticularly reluctant to uproot themselves, and a law requiring that one-third of
every group of passengers be female proved unenforceable ll .
Most emigrants were male, but even they could not depart immediately when
the emigration agent called. Most felt they had to provide for their families and
complete their work. Only the Jamaican agent, Cathcart, appears to have
grasped this. He discovered that people living in the mountains would not leave
their farms until they had harvested and sold their food crops. Similarly, men who
worked during December loading timber on ships which traded upriver refused to
leave Sierra Leone so long as seasonal work was available. Cathcart concluded
that the April rainy season, during which work was hard to find, was the best time
for emigrant labour recruiting l2 . Even this economic hiatus did not provide large
numbers of dislocated people, however, because family, village and ethnic groups
could sustain the unemployed during the slack season.
Obviously, liberated Africans could provide no more than a small labour
reservoir for the plantation colonies, and recruiters needed to look hard for
dislocated liberated Africans. Those they found in Freetown, the colonial capital,
and the most Europeanized sector of the colony. Many emigrants, for instance,
were middle-aged, missionary-educated men employed as domestics by Euro-
peans, or were experienced artisans who had advanced as far as they could in the
colonial economy. Other pioneer emigrants were twenty-five to forty year-old
farm residents of Waterloo, a village where many soldiers discharged from British
African regiments lived13. Some emigrants sought to escape from uncongenial
marriages or restrictive apprenticeshipsl4.
A variety of solutions confronted discontented or ambitious Sierra Leonians,
including employment in the growing lumber industry; commercial undertakings
in the Sierra Leone hinterland; return to ancestral homelands such as Yoruba-
land, from which the slave trade had snatched them; or migration to European
settlements such as the Spanish island of Fernando Po where many Sierra
Leonians who came as traders remained to acquire farms. Pursuing these alterna-
tives, many Sierra Leonians proved successful entrepreneurs and in the process
became agents of British expansion in West Africa lo . Many of these activities
required initial capita!, however. and to those who lacked the ethnic network for

raising funds, the promotional blitz condlucted by West Indian labour recruiters-
offers of small wage advances, clothing, and free passages, among others - mmt
have seemed attractive. Indeed, the West Indian offers had to be compelling, in
order to offset the negative image of those colonies as slave societies, separated
from Sierra Leone by dangerous seas!".
Information thus became a significant factor in Sierra Leonian emigration to
the West Indies, and exaggeration was a key element of that information. During
1841, the first year of recruitment, Sierra Leonians were attracted by short, one-
year work contracts, or none at all, in the case of British Guiana. Recruiters
promised 'plenty of work, good wages, good living and good treatment' and led
liberated Africans to believe that wages were five to twelve times higher in the
West Indies; that the cost of living was identical; that they would have the same
freedom in the plantation colonies; and that the West Indies and British Guiana
were all one country 17. The most extreme offers emanated from the Trinidad
agent; in fact, the Sierra Leone governor ordered the island's posters withdrawn,
but not before a large number promising a house and farm, rum and five dollars a
day, had circulated among the villages!8.
These and other West Indian emigration posters caused a sensation and
disrupted the normal village routine. Lieutenant governor William Fergusson
later recalled that they produced an 'electrical effect among our population, the
public mind was violently agitated, ordinary avocations were neglected, distant
visits were paid by persons anxious to canvass with each other the whole merits of
the new measure, and its probable results on their future welfare'!9. Emigration
agents were swamped with applications. and the first ships sailed in 1841 full of
emigrants, although the first Jamaican vessels also carried a large number of
people who were not indentured workers - repatriating Jamaican Maroons and
African soldiers and their families bound for the Jamaican garrison 20 •
A careful reading of immigrant, missionary, and official correspondence sug-
gests that most emigrating Sierra Leonians saw themselves as temporary sojour-
ners in the West Indies, where they would earn enough money to send to the r
families and to build nest-eggs for their eventual return home. They were not
recruited as permanent immigrants, and they did not intend to stay2!.
The direction which this emigration movement might have taken if regula
shipping links had been maintained and if the entrepreneurial proclivities (If
Sierra Leonians had continued unhampered, is purely speculative but fascinatin~:.
Evidence from Trinidad suggests that some liberated Africans were quite capable
of manipUlating the emigration system for their own advantage; they extended to
the West Indies the same kinds of commercial activities that led them into the
Sierra Leone interior and along the West African coast. Emigrants to Trinidad
took advantage of regular chartered shipping service between 1843 and 1845 to

engage in transatlantic trade. People volunteered as recruiting delegates in order

to make frequent trips between Sierra Leone and Trinidad, returning to the
island with a variety of goods which they likewise transported free of charge as
personal baggage. These included 'boxes, mats and various household utensils'
and, more significantly, 'a great number of Barrels of ground nuts and Rice, and
kegs of Palm Oi1'22. These commercial activities, however, depended on regular
shipping service and continuing Sierra Leonian interest in emigration. both of
which were coming to an end.
In late 1841 and 1842 liberated African delegates failed to return as soon as
promised to report on West Indian and British Guianese conditions, and many
Sierra Leonians feared treachery. Between 1842 and 1845 negative feedback from
some who returned contrasted so sharply with the glowing reports of others in the
employ of the West Indian planters that on one occasion delegates were attacked
in the street. Sierra Leonians began to re-evaluate the emigration scheme and
quickly lost interest in it 2.1.
Because the promises were largely unfulfilled, recruitment passed through the
five stages of voluntary migration rather quickly. This outcome had already been
predicted by a British Colonial Office investigator, Richard R. Madden, a former
stipendiary magistrate in Jamaica despatched to British West African settlements
in 1840 and charged with assessing the feasibility of African emigration to the
West Indies. Madden's account of his meeting with three or four hundred
liberated African leaders and his predictions concerning emigration bear men-
tioning, for they were repeated by a number of Sierra Leone's governors, and
they contradict the testimony of self-interested West Indian labour recruiters.
The liberated African leaders, Madden wrote, were 'somewhat advanced in
years, had the appearance of being tolerably well off where they were, and were
in general men of staid and settled habits ... '. They were hardly likely to emigrate
to the West Indies or to countenance their people doing so. Nine-tenths of that
assembly, Madden estimated, had no wish to leave Sierra Leone. In fact, the
leaders came remarkably close to the truth of changing British policy when they
expressed the fear that emigration was a scheme to abandon the colony and
relocate all liberated Africans in the West Indies. Even Madden's explanation of
the emigration project could not change 'their attachment to the soil, and to a
great many of them their native soil, [which] seemed to predominate over every
other prospect of advantage, and the great majority seemed ... evidently strongly
indisposed to quit the colony'.
The West Indies, Madden predicted, might look for a short time to those
Africans not present at the meeting - those 'young in years, poor in pocket,
unsuccessful in cultivation, or averse from employment in it, and especially those
of the liberated Africans settled in Freetown.' He estimated that emigration

agents might, in one year, 'find a suffiCient number of this class to complete the
despatch of three or four vessels, containing in all from 500 to 800' people 24 . In
1841, 599 people left for Jamaica, but a large number were Maroons and soldiers
with their families and some were transient Kru 25 . 425 went to British Guiana, b LIt
at least 83 of those were Kru; and 181 left for Trinidad 26 • Jamaican employers
subsequently complained that the first liberated Africans were too skilled to be
contented with plantation labour 27 •
Even before Madden's visit, Sierra Leone's governor Doherty held a similar
meeting with liberated Africans. and he too concluded that there was 'no reason
to suppose that many of the agricultural people were likely to emigrate: thou~:h
some had declared themselves willing to make a trial. could they be assured of
being sent back in the event of their disliking their new country'28. Jeremi=,
Doherty'S successor, advised West-Indian agents to confine recruitment to Kru
and other West African transients in Sierra Leone, because 'those who have
quietly settled down upon their allotments, with their families' would be unlikely
recruits. British Guiana's and Trinidad's recruiters seem to have taken Jeremie's
advice, for a significant proportion of their immigrants from Sierra Leone b,~­
tween 1841 and 1845 were Kru expatria1:es 2Y •
Recruiters' disparagement of meagre opportunities and low standards of living
in Sierra Leone were not likely to convince long-term liberated African settlers 10
emigrate. governor Norman Macdonald explained to the Colonial Secretary . 'If a
man is content, and in his sphere is a quiet. well-behaved, useful member of
society, although he but gain -/6 d a day. why should that man be condemned as
being. in the opinion of others, blind to his own advantage because he does not
entertain the same views on the question of Emigration' as recruiters, whose o\\<n
livelihood depended on persuading Africans to emigrate? Macdonald empha-
sized the independent nature of the typical liberated African who 'is blessed with
a very great share of that most essential ingredient in securing happiness, wha t-
ever may be a man's lot, vizt. contentment ... he in consequence prefers passing
his life according to his own ideas of happiness and comfort, rather than in
seeking either according to the ideas or suggestions of another'30.
Still, many Caribbean and Guianese recruiters suggested that Africans did not
know what was good for them and insisted on contrasting Sierra Leone's standard
of living unfavourably with that of Jamaica, Trinidad or British Guiana; they
ignored the higher cost of living and the regimentation of plantation life, while
they railed at Sierra Leone officials who tried to protect Africans from coercion
and misrepresentation, and local employers who competed with them for la-
bourers. For example, in 1841 Alexander Barclay, the architect of Jamaica's
African labour project. observed the Freetown market and concluded that ever~l­
thing in it might be purchased for a mere twenty pounds sterling31 . R.A.K.

Oldfield, the Niger River explorer turned emigration recruiter, argued that same
year that 'thousands are living or rather existing on Cassava which is next to
starvation, thousands are in a state of nudity and would be infinitely bettered' by
emigration 32 •
Other Europeans, and Africans themselves, noted the positive aspects of local
living standards. Elizabeth Callender Melville, a perceptive observer of the
Sierra Leone scene, commented in the 1840s that for liberated Africans 'the walk
of several miles into town is an exertion deemed not merely repaid by the profits
of what they sell, but also by the opportunity of seeing their fellow-people ....
Their wants are so few, that each man, if careful, can yearly raise upon his
halfrood of allotted ground, fruit and vegetables sufficient for his subsistence
during that period, besides admitting of a part being sold']3. Governor Macdonald
recalled a conversation with a leading Y oruba resident who had obviously studied
the reports of returning emigrants: ' "this is a good country for the poor man -
everything is cheap here, and if a man can only get three pence or four pence a day
as a Labourer he is quite content, as he has enough for the wants of himself and
family"'. While conceding that in the West Indies' "a man may earn two or three
shillings a day," , he emphasized that' "out of that he has to pay so much for the
subsistence of himself and his family, that he cannot save anything" '14.
Emigration agents blamed their failure to recruit large numbers of liberated
Africans on a host of imagined opponents - colonial governors concerned with
African welfare, European missionaries and local African ministers of various
denominations, and local employers11. These accusations culminated in an inves-
tigation launched in 1844 by Robert Guppy of Trinidad and R. G. Butts of British
Guiana. After a month in Sierra Leone Guppy concluded that while local
authorities did not oppose emigration, missionaries did 3". Butts finally gave up
hope of stimulating 'a constant stream of emigration' from liberated African
villages: 'In vain have I sought for any thing in the shape of a cause affecting these
people. Love of finery they possess, and naturally a highly excitable tempera-
ment, but which is only acted on momentarily'. He concluded pessimistically,
The mandate of a chief would stop emigration at once from any part or portion of
his tribe. This, I fear, is not a state in which you can repose confidence for a
continuation of emigrCltion'37.
In 1845 a long-term Sierra Leone civil servant, Willis G. Terry, having wit-
nessed delegates from the West Indies being attacked in the streets, echoed Butt's
findings. His letter to Jamaica announced the virtual end of voluntary emigration.
He castigated the Liberated Africans as 'naturally apathetic to what relates to
their future prosperity or interferes with present ease, callous to every good
exposition of bettering themselves or persuasion to send their children to try even
the experiment of emigrating. '1 wish it were otherwise', he added wistfully, 'but
the truth must be told .. .'3S.

The views of liberated African settlers in Sierra Leone prevailed, but there still
remained the view of British commercial leaders that liberated Africans ought to
be more useful to Britain as producers and consumers, and that only their transfer
to the West Indies could increase their value. Responding favourably to tbis
argument, the British Colonial Office b<:came more committed to the emigration
scheme, issuing regulations, appointing supervisory personnel, and chartering
ships. Designed to rationalize the emigration system and prevent abuses, these
new measures succeeded at the former and failed at the latter. When Sierra
Leonians refused to emigrate, the Colonial Office relaxed protective laws which
prohibited emigration of unaccompanied minors and recruitment in the reception
depot. Over the protests of officials and teachers, recruiters gained access to
schools for liberated African orphans in early 1843, and these schools, extolled as
'nurseries of labour' for the West Indies, supplied over five hundred child
labourers for plantation colonies between 1843 and 1846. In the same period the
British abandoned their former policy of destroying coastal African slave facto-
ries in favor of search and seizure at sea, which doubled the size of the suppression
squadron and increased the number of recaptives. Recaptives now became the
major target of the emigration recruiters, and the emigration scheme itself W1S
transformed into a compulsory one 39 •
Newly liberated Africans exhibited no interest in emigrating to the West Indies
or British Guiana, and those already settled often fled to the bush when emigra-
tion recruiters approached their villages. Recruiting among newcomers in the
reception depot thus required the colonial authorities' cooperation and the use of
subterfuge, intimidation and force. It became standard practice to isolate new-
comers from all but Liberated African Department personnel and West India
Regiment and plantation recruiters; recaptives could be detained in the depot fJr
up to three months, allowing recruiters to work them over before emigrant ships
arrived and before local African residents could provide them with alternatives to
emigration. Only the most determined managed to resist such pressures, and
repatriation was never considered for those who failed to resist. British Guiana
and the islands of the Caribbean became their permanent home 40 • So, despite
arguments about the 'civilizing' impact of returning Africans, the only migrants
guaranteed an opportunity to return to Sierra Leone at colonial expense were a
relatively small number of Sierra Leone residents and Kru-Grebo migranls.
Repatriation statistics are unreliable, but available records suggest that many
who thought they had a right to government repatriation were unable to retu m
home. Less than three hundred returned from Jamaica, and probably no more
than seven hundred from British Guiana 41 •
Chartered transatlantic shipping service ended in 1845, succeeded by licensed
private shipping under perfunctory government supervision. In 1846 planter

interests pressured the government to approve an illfated scheme to use a naval

steamship to expand recruiting to the Liberian and Ivory coasts. Specially li-
censed private ships resumed the transportation of Africans from Freetown in
1848 and 1849. By awarding an exclusive contract to the London firm of Hyde,
Hodge and Company in 1849, the British government transformed the West
Indies and British Guiana into their chief receptacles for recaptive Africans, for
Hyde, Hodge and Company was made financially responsible for any Africans
who refused to migrate. Thus the coercion of recaptives, begun so tentatively
between 1843 and 1845, soon became blatant.
A diminishing supply of captured slaves led to the cessation of emigrant traffic
for five years following 1853, but in 1858 Hyde, Hodge and Company again
contracted to transport Africans to the West Indies. By then, the sporadic nature
of the Atlantic slave trade proved the nemesis of emigration, and after that
contract expired in 1861, such irregular numbers of recaptives as reached Sierra
Leone and St. Helena were transported to the West Indies in ships licensed as the
need arose. The last consignment went to St. Kitts in 1863. The government of St.
Helena, which had previously sent recaptives to Cape Colony in South Africa,
began to require emigration to British Guiana and the West Indies in 1842, and all
but ceased to supply Africans by 1863. A very small number went to British
Guiana in 1865 and Jamaica in 186742 . In all, about 32,000 Africans were dis-
patched from Sierra Leone and St. Helena to the British Caribbean and British
Guiana between 1841 and 1867, with Central Africans and Yoruba from West
Africa predominating43 •
Recaptive emigrants suffered high mortality, unlike the healthier Sierra Leo-
nians. The years 1846 to 1850, during which large numbers of recaptives arrived in
Sierra Leone and St. Helena, witnessed great mortality on emigrant ships, with
rates ranging between thirteen and twenty-six percent in 1848 alone. The hard-
ships previously endured on slave ships, unsanitary and overcrowded depots, and
the too-hasty embarkation of malnourished and sick recaptives on poorly equip-
ped emigrant vessels account for the high shipboard mortality. Dysentery was a
major killer, and it was not unusual for emigrant ships to arrive plastered with
human excrement and filled with mortally ill people 44 •
British colonial governments employed a bounty system of emigration, paying
recruiters and shipping companies for each emigrant recruited and disembarked
alive. Firms like Hyde, Hodge and Company probably sought the emigrant
transport business as much for trading opportunities provided by the labour
traffic as for passenger fares. Transportation bounties on passengers over ten
years of age were £ 6. 1 s. 10 d. from Sierra Leone and £ 6. 16 s. 10 d. from St.
Helena. Clothing was provided to liberated African emigrants, either at govern-
ment expense, or to be repaid from their first earnings4s. Even government

emigration officials in Sierra Leone carried on trade from the liberated African
depot, and at least one official was dismissed for this practice46 • Shipping com-
panies carried trade goods, made substantial 'gifts' to town officials on the Kru
coast, and advanced trade goods to prospective emigrants. According to Briti,h
Colonial Land and Emigration Office estimates, recruiting companies could earn
profits of five hundred to six hundred percent by buying goods cheaply in England
and selling them at inflated prices to emigrants or colonial governments47 •
It did not escape foreign attention that British dependencies benefitted, albeit
in a sporadic and unplanned way, from Britain's slave trade suppression polici{:s.
The British scheme for transferring recaptive Africans from Sierra Leone and ~a.
Helena to its West Indian dependencies attracted considerable attention and ga ve
French planters similar ideas 48 •


French colonial demand for African indentured labour originated in France's

Indian Ocean possessions, with more indentured Africans being transported
there than to the combined French and British Guianas and West Indies. Sin:e
the eighteenth century, French planters on the Mascarene islands of Bourbon
(subsequently renamed Reunion) and the lie de France (Mauritius) had used
slaves to produce coffee, sugar and tropical staples. Just as the slave trade came
under attack the islands' sugar industry began to expand, increasing the planters'
labour needs, and so the slave trade, well entrenched, died a lingering deathlY.
After a temporary loss to Britain, Reunion was restored to France, which al,o
took Mayotte and Anjouan in the Comoro islands and Nossi Be, an island off
northwest Madagascar5o.
Despite the abolition of the British slave trade in 1808, that of France in 1817,
and slave trade restriction treaties between Britain and Portugal, Zanzibcr,
Madagascar and Johanna in the Comoros, the Mascarenes experienced no sharp
break with the slave trade from East Africa and its offshore islands, and, in fact,
the slave trade grew in British Mauritiu.; and the Seychelles as well. It receivec a
boost when Britain dropped import duties on Mauritius sugar in 1825, th llS
increasing the island's demand for slaves and indentured labourers. Mauritills
planters expected the same labour recruitment privileges as their Reunion com-
patriots, and the islands' new British rukrs permitted the importation of Africal1s
from Zanzibar, Mozambique, eastern Madagascar and the Comoros. Mauritills
received about forty-five thousand Africans between 1844 and 1857 when Great
Britain forbade the labour traffic from Africa, but Comoro islanders continued to
enter Mauritius after that date.

Although a small French anti-slave trade squadron was based on Reunion,

French suppression did not begin until 1817 and did not become effective until the
passage of stricter legislation in 1831. At least forty-five thousand illicit slaves
entered Reunion between 1817 and 1835. Metropolitan officials on Reunion
received no cooperation from local magistrates and police, who were often
accomplices of slave traders. Even after France's 1848 revolution. which brought
about slave emancipation, France's intervention in her subjects' continued slav-
ing activities tended to be half-hearted. By then, precedents established in
Zanzibar and the Comoros in the early 1840s enabled Reunion planters. like their
Mauritius counterparts, to slide almost imperceptibly from slave trade proper
into so-called 'free labour' recruitment'!. French proprietors living outside the
Mascarenes could transfer their slaves to Reunion and Mauritius, for example,
and under cover of this regulation Mozambique slaves were sometimes trans-
ported to the Comoros, purchased by French traders and taken to the Seychelles.
After a period of 'francization' they could be exported to Reunion and Mauritius
as bona fide 'old' slaves 52 .
Such subterfuge could not provide a regular and sufficient supply of labour,
however. Employers and authorities alike required a more efficient, direct, open
labour system which could preserve a fa<;ade of free recruitment in supply
locations like the Comoros, Madagascar and East Africa where. indisputably. no
'free' labour market existed. A useful precedent already existed in French
Senegal where, under a system of engagement a temps, France permitted the
purchase of Africans, who were then indentured for fourteen years. The French
also purchased Africans for military service in the Senegal tirailleurs, for their
Gabon garrison, and for military labour in French Guiana and Martinique 53 •
As early as 1843 a governor of Reunion. taking matters into his own hands,
despatched a naval officer to negotiate with the Sultan of Zanzibar. The resulting
convention not only permitted French recruiters to purchase supposedly willing
slaves from their owners with the intention of 'freeing' them for indenture in
Reunion, but also included a clause permitting owners and recruiters to force
reluctant slaves to emigrate. The French colonial ministry subsequently dis-
allowed the accord on the grounds that it failed to respect even the appearance of
free recruitment5~.
The February Revolution of 1848 precipitated the emancipation of French
slaves, which in turn increased the plantations' need for labour. Revolution also
plunged the French economy into depression and exacerbated already-depressed
conditions in French shipping. Such economic hardships led to greater official
tolerance for the participation of French ships in the Brazilian slave trade and
undoubtedly contributed to the government's permissiveness in the matter of
labour recruitment for its own territories, for labour traffic constituted a substan-

tial branch of French commerce. French proprietors living outside French depen-
dencies could retain their slaves, but transferring them to a French colony
required, first, their liberation and, second, their consent to removal. As befon~,
such regulations provided loopholes for a continued slave trade, permitted a
number of specially purchased slaves to enter Indian Ocean colonies, and created
another euphemism for slaves, engages libres, free indentured labourers 5s •
At the same time, French planters on Mayotte in the Comoros could recruit
along the East African coast if they did not resort to purchase, a virtual impo:;-
sibility given the tenacity of slavery and slave trading in those parts. In 1849
Reunion planters, aggrieved at their exclusion from this privilege, made another
approach to the Sultan of Zanzibar. This time they secured verbal permission to
recruit only free labourers in Zanzibar and Oman, and less than fifty Africar.s
were actually engaged with five to seven year indentures - a striking testimony to
the paucity of free labourers56.
Two years later the French colonial ministry reversed its proscription again:;t
Reunion's recruitment in Zanzibar and the East African mainland but cautioned
that the engages had to be free people, not purchased slaves. Reunion recruiters
subsequently ranged as far afield as Ethiopia and Aden, but acquired only a few
people. In addition, metropolitan authorities relaxed a previous requirement that
recruitment take place only in ports with European consular officials, a regu-
lation designed to ensure the voluntary nature of labour contracts57 .
In 1853 France reinstated its old policy of allowing French installations at
Senegal and Gabon to recruit labour through purchase. Rachal prealable -
'previous ransom' followed by indenture - depended on the continuation of the
African slave trade, a French naval officer reminded his superiors in 1862, when
they considered acquiring new African territory in order to recruit forced labour.
While African territorial claims had to be justified in Europe as a move again~:t
the slave trade, really stopping the trade would cut off the supply of engages.
Since the colonial and naval 'men on the spot' had anticipated metropolitan
policies, it is not surprising that, when in 1854 the French consul at Zanzibar,
supported by the French naval divisional chief, successfully pressured the Sultan
to permit labour recruitment by purchase for a Reunion vessel, the Panther£',
Reunion's governor welcomed the action. Once rachat prealable was accepted i1
principle in 1853, blinked at in the Indian Ocean in 1854, it was a short step to its
being quietly extended in 1856 by a number of unpublicized African labour
recruitment contracts to supply workers for French Guiana, Martinique and
Guadeloupe. With such sanction, the number of Africans entering Reuni01
leaped from a mere one hundred fifty-three in 1853 to four thousand a year
between 1854 and 1857, and ten thousand in 185858 .



Madagascar, Mozambique, the Comoros. and Zanzibar and its coastal depen-
dencies of Kilwa, Lindi and Lamu all played substantial roles as entrepots for the
post-1820 Indian Ocean slave trade and the engage traffic that depended on it.
Britain's recognition of a small but aggressive Merina kingdom as the sole
representative of political power on the island of Madagascar, and its signing of a
series of largely unenforceable slave trade suppression treaties with Merina rulers
in 1817, 1820 and 1865, gave the Merina state the international recognition it
needed to justify expansion. Its ensuing conquests generated large numbers of
slaves, many of whom ended up in Nossi Be, Mayotte. Reunion and Mauritius. In
addition, throughout the nineteenth century a network of British Indian finan-
ciers, Arab slave traders, Merina officials and local Sakalava slave traders kept
both Madagascar proprietors and French Creole slave dealers there supplied with
large numbers of East African slaves 5Y •
A massive clandestine slave and arms trade to Madagascar continued in the
1880s, serviced by 'respectable' British, French, and German shipping companies
operating out of South African ports, by a fleet of smaller Indian- and Arab-
owned dhows operating in the Mozambique channeL and by an annual fleet of
larger dhows despatched from Bombay and the Malabar coast 6ll . Even though
France banned Reunion's recruitment of workers in Madagascar in the later
1880s, the passage of chained workers to the sugar islands remained largely
unchecked. Pressure from Reunionnais for unrestricted labour recruitment and
land concessions in Madagascar led to war and the French annexation of Mada-
gascar in the 1890s. French emancipation of slaves on Madagascar and the
consequent reduction of the slave trade did not dash Reunionnais hopes of
securing labourers from Madagascar. The big island's new French masters soon
found themselves faced with an acute labour shortage, however, and this forced
them to prohibit the export of workers. To console themselves for their loss
Reunion's planters turned again to the Comoros and Mayotte'l.
While Zanzibar, which needed its slaves for clove production, proved of little
value as a source of indentured labour, the Sultan's East African dependencies
from Somalia to Mozambique were another matter62 • There. British pressures
failed to persuade the Sultan to interfere with slave trading as long as he received
export taxes from the traffic. Reunion. Mayotte and Nossi Be had procured
labour at Kilwa since the 1840s, and supervised recruitment had just begun at
Kilwa. Lindi and Lamu when, in 1859, the Paris government prohibited all East
African recruitment. While the French could still purchase East Africans in the
Comoros and Madagascar, future hopes of procuring labourers in East Africa lay
largely in Portuguese Mozambique 61 .

Mozambique, unlike Zanzibar, had no alternative export cash crop, and thus
relied greatly on the slave trade and the related ivory trade. Portuguese MozaIL-
bique ports - lbo, Quelimane, Inhambane, and Mozambique Island - and the
semi-independent sultanate of Angoche had previously despatched slaves t)
France's Indian Ocean islands, and they experienced a revival of slave trading ill
the nineteenth century. Two external demands produced temporary slave trade
booms in the late 1840s and 1850s - an expanding Cuban sugar economy, and
growing plantation economies in the French islands of Mayotte, Nossi Be and
Reunion. After disappointments with other immigrant labour schemes, the
French islands fastened their hopes on Mozambique as they had on Madagascal.
'Mozambique,' enthused a French naval officer in 1855, 'is teaming with slaves
whose owners will gladly surrender them at a good price'64.
Underpaid Portuguese officials in Mozambique, from the governor general 01
down, generally ignored the 1836 abolition of slave trading in Portuguese depen-
dencies, and subsisted on slave traders' bribes65 . In the early 1850s Portugcl
forbade participation in the French engage traffic, on the grounds that it impeded
Mozambique'S agricultural developmen1 and encouraged interior slave raiding,
but not until 1857 did a governor general take action against it. When he directed
the seizure of a French ship, the Charles et Georges, France reacted so violently
that Portugal relented and even Great Britain counselled caution 66 • The French
colonial ministry's 1859 prohibition of Reunion's labour recruitment in East
Africa affected the traffic with Mozambique very little, for the naval ministr{
continued to support labour recruitment there, as did the governor of Reunion.
At the same time, the dhow traffic continued across the Mozambique Channel to
Madagascar67 .
The heavy nineteenth century demand for slaves pressed hard on the peoples 0'
the East African interior, both on the Makwa in the immediate hinterland 0:'
Mozambique island and on the Yao and others in the region around Lake
Malawi. The Portuguese on the coast amassed large fortunes and large numben
of slaves, and in the 1820s they began to challenge the Makwa and Yao position as
middlemen in the slave trade. Armed caravans led by Portuguese mulatto or
Swahili agents moved inland in search of slaves, ivory, rhinoceros horn and
malachite, and as the French demand for labour increased in the 1850s, so did the
number of Portuguese caravans.
To fill French orders, trading caravans accompanied by Portuguese Makwa·
speaking soldiers went to Uticulo, a Makwa state, and made the Makwa one of
the most numerous enslaved African groups. Uticulo, the slave-supplying state
closest to Mozambique island, had raided its weaker neighbours for several
decades in order to supply slaves to the coast, but by the mid-1850s those
exploited peoples had moved away. Never politically united, the Makwa state:;

had managed since the eighteenth century to present a united front against the
Portuguese, but now they turned on each other to procure slaves. Twenty years of
internecine struggle weakened them and paved the way for eventual Portuguese
conquest68 •
The area around Lake Malawi, one of Africa's most fertile and populous
regions, supplied Kilwa and the Mozambique ports with Yao, Bisa, Bemba,
Ngoni and Nsenga peoples collected in Bisa and Yao villages. Although the Yao
were successful slave and ivory traders, they could not always protect themselves
from Ngoni, Makwa and Lomwe attacks, and so became enslaved and sold at the
coast in the late 1850s and 1860s69 •
Although the slave trade to Cuba essentially ended in the 1860s, the Arab dhow
traffic increased, drawing slaves from the Mozambique hinterland, moving them
north to Kilwa, Lindi and lbo, where they were sold to Comoro and Sakalava
merchants. In the meantime, Portugal in 1869 ordered the gradual abolition of
slavery in all of its colonies; slaves in this transitional state would be known
henceforth as libertos.
In fact, the name may have changed, but the condition remained the same. An
1875 decree announced further government tutelage and forced labour until 1878,
when 'freedom' would begin. Article 4 of this decree established the fettered
framework of Afro-Portuguese relations - all former libertos had to be employed
under labour contracts, and the Portuguese reserved the right to define what
constituted work and to determine the conditions of African labour. In effect,
'the sanction [was] given to labour recruiting companies to do business in the old
way, to procure workers where they could and under very doubtful circumstances
of legality, and then to ship them to distant places'. The decree was the Por-
tuguese equivalent of the British and French switch from slave to indentured
labour. So even while the dhow slave traffic continued, the Portuguese regime in
Mozambique began to enlarge its options, negotiating in the 1870s and 1880s to
supply African contract labour, not only to French Indian Ocean plantations, but
also to European farms in Natal, South Africa which had formerly drawn slaves
from Mozambique 7u •
The French did not want to be excluded from the Mozambique labour pool and
approached the Portuguese government in 1876 with a request for renewal of
labour recruitment in Mozambique. British competitors in Natal, now receiving
about two thousand Mozambique Africans a year, objected to the French re-
quest. Finally, in June 1881, Portugal authorized labour emigration to Mayotte
and Nossi Be. The French labour depot was located at lbo, a Mayotte planter
supervised the indentures there, and a Nossi Be planter made arrangements for
the first shipment. He chose Gonzala, a Portuguese proprietor and judge of the
Cape Delgado district, as French agent. Despite this 'supervision', the recruits

garnered in 1883 were apparently not advised of their contractual obligations, and
African residents of Ibo rioted to prevent their embarkation. A large number
were shot and killed, and the first shipment was aborted. In April 1884, Gonzala
procured thirty-two people for Mayotte, believing that they could be transported
in a small boat without exciting too much notice. Six months later, a recruiting
attempt failed because the governor of Ibo insisted on such a detailed explanatioll
of labour prospects that none would go.
Secret Portuguese-French agreements in 1887 and 1889 added Reunion as a
destination. Hardly more than a hundred people had left for the French colonies
in 1887, but the numbers increased shortly, with nearly two thousand departing
for Reunion between 1888 and 189071 • By the end of the century, however, delays
in the repatriation of time-expired workers combined with adverse reports about
working conditions in Reunion discouraged further emigration. Portuguese and
British agreements which allowed South Africans to recruit labour in Mozambi-
que for the Witwatersrand gold mines transformed Mozambique into the largest
labour pool for mines, not only in South Africa, but ultimately in Norther:l
Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. The European conquest of Africa had de-
veloped a massive new migrant labour market to serve Africa-based European
enterprises 72.



Changes brought about by emancipation in French Guiana, Martinique, and

Guadeloupe precipitated a demand for immigrant labour. French Guiana began
to import Africans in 1854, and Martinique and Guadeloupe followed suit in 1857.
Though short-lived, the scheme took approximately twenty thousand African
contract workers to those colonies. The last African contract workers reached
Guiana in 1859, Guadeloupe in 1861, and Martinique in 1862.
Four shipping companies recruited and transported African engages, but onl:?
two did so frequently. Maison Maes of Nantes, through its agent Captain Cheva-
lier, led the way in 1854 and 1855 with government contracts to supply voluntar(
workers to French Guiana; it signed a third contract in 1856 to supply both
voluntary and ransomed Africans to Martinique. Chevalier, an experienced
maritime trader, operated sous voile - off his ship, not from a coastal trading post.
Although most familiar with the Liberian and Ivory Coasts, he recruited African
labour in a wide area from French Gorel~ in Senegal, Portuguese Bissau, Sierra
Leone, Cape Mount and the Kru-Grebo coastline of Liberia and Ivory Coast,
Whydah in Dahomey, and the Gabon estuary. Chevalier's first recruitment

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efforts encountered the hostility of French colonial officials in Senegal, who

forbade the engagement of people whose labour the colony needed, and Senegal
was placed off-limits for overseas labour recruiters.
In 1857 Victor Regis of Marseilles contracted with the French government to
recruit and transport ransomed Africans to Guadeloupe and Martinique; he also
shipped Africans from East Africa to Reunion in 1859-60. Regis was the only
labour contractor to insist that his contract specify African recruitment by pur-
chase. Of the French agents,only Regis challenged British commercial dom-
nance in West Africa. His principal factory at Whydah, Dahomey, dealt in palm
oil, gold and ivory, and he had agents in Lagos, to whom his Zanzibar representc-
tive transported cowrie shells used as currency in the palm oil trade. He also ha:l
agents on the Ivory Coast, Gabon, Angola and Mozambique. Regis' labour
recruiting went badly at Whydah, where stiff competition among foreign slave
traders drove prices up to levels which Regis could not afford to pay. Further
along the coast, the British consul at Lagos interfered with his recruiting an:l
prevented him from securing any workers there 73 .
Forced to recruit elsewhere, Regis then turned his attention to Central Afric2.
In 1857 two of his ships sailed to his factory at Luanda, but the Portuguese
stationed there did not wish to lose their labour force to the French. Only a Frenc)
naval commander's threats secured a thousand slaves for Regis, and thereafter he
shifted operations to new installations in Loango Bay and the mouth of the ZaIre
River. At Loango Regis rented land and imported materials from France to erect
shelter for at least eight hundred Africans; further south, at Banana, entrance t,)
the ZaIre estuary, he established the settlement of Saint Victor, with space for
1,400 Africans. Boma, a major slave market at the head of the ZaIre estuar),
served as the main entrepot for these depots. Most of the recruiting, by rach~,t
prealable, was conducted at Boma, and bound labourers were despatched t,)
Saint Victor by s100p74.
Loango, like Boma, remained an important slave export center well into th~
nineteenth century. It was part of the Viii kingdom of Loango, whose former
wealth and subsequent disintegration resulted from two centuries of access tl)
European imports via the slave trade. The entire Loango coast depended on this
trade, so that by 1857 only a few small, commercially insignificant kingdoms had
signed slave trade suppression treaties with Britain. Loango obtained its slaves b y
trading, despatching its own large caravans into the interior. Loango Bay, linked
commercially to the Boma market, to a large interior market at Stanley Pool, and
to the Gabon region south of the Ogowe River, attracted a wide range of enslaved
ethnic groups - Kongo and Nsundi, Bobangi, Yombe, Mbamba, Mbete, Teke,
Mboma, Viii, and slaves known generically as 'Mondongo', from north and east
of the Congo River 75 .

Recruiting for the French West Indies and Guiana also took place to a lesser
degree in the Gabon River estuary, where France had established a commercial
and naval station in 1839. A small company of Senegal troops occupied the French
fort, and a modest French anti-slave trade squadron conducted a feeble suppres-
sion campaign from there. The tiny settlement of Libreville, envisioned as a home
for recaptive slaves, never developed and certainly was not the counterpart of
Sierra Leone's Freetown. The local population of about five thousand Mpongwe
sold slaves to Spanish traders in the shadow of the French fort. The Mpongwe
purchased slaves from an interior reservoir estimated in 1850 at a hundred
thousand people. The Apindji, Eshira, Adouma and Mitsogo had the highest
numbers enslaved; the Nzabi, Massangou and Shake had fewer. By the 1860s the
estuary slave trade was over, and the Mpongwe, once powerful middlemen, were
well on their way to demographic decline and impoverishment. To this French
proto colony came recruiters for the French Antilles, carrying off some thousand
'ransomed' slaves in 1858 and 18597°.


Wherever French authorities permitted recruitment of African labour, they

provided for some official supervision. Decrees of February 13 and March 27,
1852 were supposed to regulate recruitment. and naval superintendents were to
accompany each ship on its recruiting stops. A large gap existed between princi-
ple and practice, however. Many Reunion labour recruitment firms, for instance,
simply appointed one of their own employees as superintendent; others, having
paid the salaries of government supervisors, expected them to behave as company
employees. Clandestine recruiting in the Indian Ocean meant that supervisory
laws could be ignored, and numerous incidents of ships' crews staging slave raids
were reported from the Madagascar coast. While naval superintendents have
been portrayed as well-intentioned, many of them actually supported forced
labour recruitment, including purchase followed by dubious 'consent' to inden-
ture, the consent emanating from people bound with ropes and chains, commu-
nicating through selfinterested interpreters who stood to benefit from their sale.
These so-called free workers were then transported and disembarked in chains 77 •
Two consequences followed such forced recruitment. First, large numbers of
desertions occurred while ships were in port or close to shore, and frequent
revolts took place at sea, especially in the Indian Ocean. Second, shipboard
mortality was high, for the forced migrants were usually sick when embarked and
excessive numbers sailed on poorly provisioned ships. A total of forty-two ships
transported just over twenty thousand Africans to French Guiana, Martinique

and Guadeloupe. Twenty-five had mortality rates of between one and eight per-
cent, and sixteen had rates of from nine to twenty-two percent. Only one ship
registered no deaths, and two have incomplete records. Death rates on ships
making the crossing from Africa and th(~ Comoros to Reunion are estimated t,)
have run as high as twenty-five percenC'.
'Ransom' being merely a euphemism for 'purchase,' slaves cost the same
whether they were sold to people calling themselves slave dealers or free labour
recruiters. French buyers faced stiffer competition in West and Central Africa,
where slaves were more expensive, than in East Africa. In response to externd
demand, slave prices became highly elastic. They rose steeply from the seven-
teenth century and peaked at the end of the illicit slave trade - at the very time
that Regis entered the labour market. The fact that Regis, a shrewd businessman,
combined slave and palm oil trading at Whydah underscores other evidence that
'legitimate' trade did not compete with the slave trade but rather complemented
it. Other factors did raise the delivery price of West and Central African slaves,
however. Harrassment by the suppression squadron, which increased slaven'
reliance on onshore factories and services, and an increase in Cuban slave
demands when American finance and shi ps became available to the Cuban tradt~
in the late 1850s - all increased the price of slaves. Regis' labour recruiters found
six Spanish slavers congregated at Whydah in 1857, an apparently unforeseen
development which drove up prices79 • Likewise, Regis' demand for slaves in
Central Africa raised prices, much to the annoyance of Portuguese competitors.
The Regis bounty was 300 francs per adult, of which only 200 francs were
allocated for purchase; but the price of an adult slave at Whydah in 1857 was 480
to 500 francs. When Regis established factories in the Zaire estuary in 1858, a
slave cost 120 francs, but by March of 1860 the cost had risen to 200 francs, and a
month later to 280 francs. Such inflation t:xceeded the amount Regis could afford
to pay and still make an acceptable profit, for his bounty had to cover othe r
expenses as well: taxes to local rulers, payment to African employees, payment of
crews' wages, provision of medicines and medical services, guards, and restraint:;
for recruits. In addition, a recruiter had to reserve some money to cover th(!
hazards of desertion and mortality80.
Recruiting seems to have been more freewheeling in the Indian Ocean than in
the Atlantic and Caribbean. There, no government contracts existed to limit
bounty prices, and ships' captains paid from 300 to 400 francs apiece for East
Africans in the 1850s. In Reunion entrepreneurs speculated on the sale of
individual labour contracts 'signed' at the time of ransom. Men who had no
intention of employing contract workers purchased their contracts and either
hired out their services or resold scarce indentures to the highest bidders, so that,
as in the days of formal slavery, the exchange value of Africans became at least m;
important as their use value sl .

The Mozambique-Madagascar slave trade and the engage traffic were inex-
tricably intertwined with arms and cattle trade. In 1858, French recruiters in
Madagascar paid three muskets or three kegs of gunpowder for one man, and one
chief was able to supply up to one thousand eight hundred workers a year on such
terms. The price was similar at Zanzibar. By 1875 an East African slave could
fetch ten Sakalava bullocks on Madagascar; these bullocks could be sold in East
Africa or the French islands for about two pounds sterling a head. Profits might
be invested in a second shipment of slaves who might then be sold to French
traders and sent to Mayotte, Nossi Be or Reunion 82 •
Like the British, French supporters of forced indentured labour migration
justified the scheme with arguments that eventual repatriation of labourers to
Africa would benefit the continent by returning skilled and disciplined workers to
it. Unlike the British, the French promised repatriation to non-free recaptives
who emigrated under the rachat system, deducting a percentage of wages to pay
for repatriation. The longer French labour indentures, the fact that African
labour traffic had already ended before repatriation deadlines approached, the
difficulty of securing transportation, Africans' loss of contact with the homelands
of their youth - all these factors contributed to the futility of any large-scale
repatriation schemes from French Guiana, the Antilles and Reunion s3 •


The Kru and Grebo peoples of the Liberian and Ivory Coasts had been involved
in the European maritime trade for many centuries as labourers on foreign ships
and docks and as exporters of slaves, ivory, palm oil, rice and other food
products. Two types of European-initiated change confronted the Kru by the
1840s, however - naval blockades terminated their middleman role in the slave
trade, and Europeans increased their demands for labour, both in Africa and
overseas. Since the Kru had participated profitably in the overseas slave trade,
the international economy had become crucial to their well-being, and they
needed to find a substitute for slave trade-related activities. Thus they increased
ivory and palm oil exports, added newly-settled Afro-Americans as produce
customers, took employment in European and American anti-slave trade squad-
rons, expanded stevedoring and lumberjacking activities, and contracted as
migrant plantation labourers, not only to the British and French West Indies and
Guianas, but also to Spanish Fernando Po and Portuguese Principe and Sao
Tome, islands off the western African coast 84 •
While little is known about pre-nineteenth century Kru society, by the time the
Kru began to migrate to the plantations, oscillating migration was well estab-

lished, and Kru migrants were well integrated into their town and village society.
Lineages, through which people held rights in farmland and villages, governed
Kru society; specific lineages were assignl~d specific public offices. Lineage head,
acted as custodians of money and property and disbursed common stock and
bridewealth. Kru society was age-graded, and junior lineage members supported
seniors. Kru town mayors did not farm, fish or travel- the three customary way:;
of earning a living - and expected women and slaves to farm while junior kinsmen
fished or travelled. Through migrant labour Kru men gained access to European
trade goods, which they and their superiors transformed into various types of
wealth, thereby increasing the importance of lineages and towns. Lineage elder:;
provided the kind of social security which pulled Kru migrants home to increasing
numbers of wives, children and dependents, as well as to ultimate leadership
Kru labour migration followed precedents established in the maritime trade.
Lineage elders and town mayors supervised Kru labour recruitment, since emi··
gration involved the loss of soldiers, road-builders and maintenance men, func··
tions normally performed by the gbo or young adult age set of Kru society. The
military functions of the gbo were important in the nineteenth century, and
sometimes Kru wars decreased the number of men available to the West Indies
A powerful and efficient soldiery such as the Kru gbo was far from being a pawn
in the power games of the elders, and the gbo was actually a foil for influential
lineage heads, who seldom reversed its decisions. Members were initiated frOlL
the kafa into the gbo age set between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four.
Thereafter Kru headmen recruited migrant workers from the gbo of their owr
towns and lineages, travelled with them, supervised their work, looked after their
welfare, and received a portion of their earnings. Gbo members usually made a
series of one- or two-year tours with a fon:ign ship before they turned forty, when
they settled down on a homestead with wives acquired for them by their fathen.
out of their foreign earnings. Before retiring from migrant labour a Kru man
would train a youth from the kafa age set to take his place. Young workers could
be initiated into an age set even in their absence, and this supervision and
integration of the migrant into the home community guaranteed that however far
the Kru ranged, the pull of the homeland remained strong85 •
The same system regulated labour recruitment for the Guianas and West
Indies. As previously noted, British West Indian recruiters had already estab-
lished contacts with and recruited labourers from the Kru expatriate community
in Sierra Leone, and beginning in 1844 West Indian agents approached local Kru
and Grebo leaders from Monrovia to Cape Palmas, travelling along the coast in
canoes. During negotiations with Kru leaders, emigration agents presented gifts
and made advances to prospective emigrants of a month's wages, worth about

fifty shillings or ten dollars. Advances usually took the form of trade goods, and
represented not merely a migrant's potential earning power, but potential trading
profits for his age-mates and relatives, to whom the advances were usually
distributed 86 .
Advances also represented profits to the shipping companies, which purchased
the goods cheaply in Europe and valued them much higher along the African
coast. Goods advanced in 1853 to two groups of Kru migrants by the British firm
of Hyde, Hodge and Company included men's clothing (a pair of duck trousers,
striped shirt and red cap for each emigrant), three hundred yards of Royal Check
cloth, a hundred yards of satin striped material, one hundred cotton hand-
kerchiefs, sixty pieces of red taffeta and forty of Mudapollams, seventy-five iron
coffers, two puncheons of rum and two hundred gallons of rum in jars, and seven-
and-a-half hundredweight of tobacco. Kru emigrants who received these goods
distributed them to leaders, friends and relatives, a largesse which left the
emigrants, as one emigrant ship's surgeon observed, 'in the same state as we
found them - naked'. Such generosity did not go unrewarded, for it earned Kru
men greater prestige at home.
The business of supplying emigrant ships with water and food also played an
important part in Kru participation in emigration, just as in the days of the slave
trade. A typical emigrant ship took on Kru water, plantains and bullocks at
several stops along the coast. Thus on the Kru coast, as elsewhere in Africa, the
labour traffic was part of a complex system which included the exchange of
European manufactures and African foods and services as well as labourers and
their labourR7 •
So long as limited contract periods and guaranteed repatriation could be
assured, Kru communities responded favourably to the call from the Guianas and
the West Indies. When British and French dependencies were slow to repatriate
Kru. however. they found it difficult to recruit new workers. On at least one
occasion Kru leaders threatened to hold a Hyde. Hodge and Co. agent hostage
until their sons returned home safely. Twice Kru leaders sent officials to check on
and collect contributions from Kru workers in British Guiana. and one Kru
emissary returned home with Kru workers and their Guiana-born sons. who were
to be initiated into their age set before returning to British Guiana. The Kru
clashed with French emigration recruiters. The appearance of Captain Cheva-
lier's ship on the Kru coast caused enough Kru discontent to make the Liberian
president complain. Victor Regis observed that the Kru were hostile to the
French, whom they considered to be liars and kidnappers. In 1858 two hundred
and seventy Kru passengers seized the Regina Caeli, the only French ship to seek
Kru labourers for Reunion, and eleven crew members were killed before the
labour recruits fled xx .
IS 1

Both French and British employers claimed that Kru migrants sometime;
misunderstood the terms of their indentures, expecting indenture periods to be
shorter, wages higher, and anticipating any kind of work but field labour. The
Kru never hesitated to complain about their plight, and frequent Kru protests and
petitions from the two Guianas, combined with strikes and desertions in French
colonies, emphasize both the solidarity of Kru age sets and the probability that
they had indeed been duped into work contracts to which they otherwise would
not have assented 89 • The last British recruitment of Kru occurred in 1853 amidst
Liberian government accusations that it was a cover for slave trading 90 • Although
French recruitment was about to begin, it lasted only a few years.
While Kru emigration to the West Indies and Guianas was short-lived, Euro·
pean expansion in West Africa during the last hallf of the nineteenth centur~'
increased Kru opportunities for migrant labour there. By 1850, for example, H
Liverpool firm operated a regular transport service 10 take Kru labourers to the
developing Niger Delta region 91 . In the 1870s, planters in Sao Tome and Principe
began to recruit Kru for one- and two-year periods, and Kru continued to work in
these African islands in the early twenti eth century, despite Portuguese indif·
ference to their repatriation. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Kru also
began emigrating to Fernando Po's cocoa plantations, and Kru stevedores could
be found in every major West African port92. By then, however, the Kru no
longer controlled their own trade and lahour migration.
In an attempt to establish its ascendancy along the coast, the new Liberian
Republic had passed a Port of Entry Law in 1865, just as foreign competition for
Kru labour was intensifying. The law limited Kru commerce and labour exporta-·
tion to six towns, all of them Afro-American rather than Kru settlements93 . By
the 1890s, the debt-ridden Liberian government began supervising Kru labour
migration, initiating a series of labour contracting agreements with private for··
eign concessionaires and foreign governments, including the Spanish authoritie~;
on Fernando Po. Placing itself above Kru lineage and town heads, the Liberiar
government derived increasing revenues from departure and re-entry taxes or
Kru migrant workers. Gradually foreign payments in gold to the Liberian govern·
ment replaced the advances formerly paid to prospective labourers and their
seniors. As in Mozambique, Liberian labour recruitment became a forced labour
system, terminated only after an international inquilry94.
In spite of such problems, Kru communities continued to provide the kind of
socio-economic security crucial to the labour supply pull of migrant labour until
World War II. But the Liberian government's continued control of Kru emigra·
tion, its imposition of labour and house taxes, its incentives to Kru to move intc
new Liberian municipalities, and its failure to develop modern infrastructure in
the Kru region all eroded what was left of the old Kru system. For their part.

European imperialists, who helped the Liberian government to suppress a num-

ber of Kru revolts, did not care who performed labour brokerage functions so
long as the supply of coveted Kru labour for colonial ships, docks and coastal
plantations continued. Thus the Kru fell into the same trap of economic depen-
dency as other African commercial middlemen in the era of European expansion
in Africa95 •


By the 1860s, the demise of emigration became evident on many fronts. Just as
Kru emigration to British Guiana succumbed to accusations of British slave
trading, so France's emigration scheme, based on purchase of African slaves,
foundered on British criticisms of French slave trading. An 1861 Franco-British
accord permitted French colonies to recruit indentured labourers in British India
in exchange for French termination of the African engage program96. At the same
time, the decline of the Atlantic slave trade resulted in a diminishing supply of
recaptive Africans, and this combined with increasing British commercial interest
in Sierra Leone and the Niger region made the British government less concerned
about promoting African emigration from Sierra Leone 97 . In fact, only West
Indian planters or merchants now argued that Africans were worth more in the
West Indies than in Africa, and to their parliamentary spokesmen Lord Pal-
merston pointed out that European settlements in Africa needed to conserve
their African populations. ' "[E]very man sent away," , he explained, ' "is a man
withdrawn from the development of the natural resources of the country" '9~.
Palmerston's analysis was one of many signals that presaged the end of over-
seas labour traffic, especially in the Indian Ocean. For example, within seven
years of the conquest of Madagascar, the French administration announced that
the island needed to conserve its manpower for local development, thereby
reversing its earlier support of Malagasy emigration to Reunion 99 • Similarly,
British agreements with Portugal in the last three decades of the nineteenth
century led to increased labour migration from Mozambique to Natal and the
Transvaal and a consequent decline of emigration to Reunion. In effect, the
European partition of Africa sounded the death knell of overseas African labour
migration LOo • When Europeans in colonial Africa discovered a labour shortage,
Africans did not cease migrating over long distances in search of work. Rather,
their movement changed direction, and their destinations became European
enterprises in AfricalO l .
As this paper has shown, the overwhelming majority of indentured African
migrants sent to plantations in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean began their

journey as slaves. The rest - the Sierra lLeonian emigrants of the 1840s and the
Kru of the 1840s and 1850s - perceived themselves as entrepreneurs rather than as
common labourers, using the Caribbean labour market to raise funds for other
projects. Profits from their indentured labour ventures had to compensate them
adequately for investments of time, labour, family separation, and local costs of
living. When their calculations of potential costs and profits turned out to be
wrong, they withdrew their investmen1s, returned home, stayed home alto-
gether, or went elsewhere. Economic advantage motivated them, just as it
continued to motivate the Europeans who desired their labour.


CA: Church Missionary Society Archives, London, mission books, original letters, journals,
and papers
CMS: Church Missionary Society
GNA: Guyana National Archives, Georgetown
PP: Parliamentary Papers
SLA: Sierra Leone Archives, University of Si~rra Leone, Fourah Bay
VHAJ: Votes of the House of Assembly of Jamaica


1. r am indebted to many members of the Workshop on Colonialism and Migration for constructive
criticism of the first draft of this paper. While this revised draft incorporates some of thei:'
suggestions, I am. of course, responsible for it, content. Some of the research for this paper wa~;
done with the aid of grants from the Wenner· Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
2. See, for instance, Suzanne Miers, Britain and the Ending of the Slave Trade, (New York, 1975),
Leslie Bethell, The Abolition of the Brazilian Slave Trade: Britain, Brazil and the Slave Trade
Question, 1807-1869, (Cambridge, 1970): R.W. Beachcy. The Slave Trade of Eastern Africa
(New York, 1976); Frederick Cooper, Plantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa, (New
Haven, 1977); D. Ellis, The Direction and Fillctuation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1821-·
1843: A Revision of the 1845 Parliamentary Paper', and Serge Daget, 'British Repression of tht·
Illegal French Slave Trade: Some Considerations', in Henry A. Gemery and Jan S. Hogendorn.
(eds.), The Uncommon Market: Essays in th:' Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade
(New York, 1979), pp. 273-302, 419-442; Edward A. Alpers, Ivory and Slaves: Changinr
Patterns of International Trade in East and Central Africa in the Later Nineteenth Century
(Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975); Johnson U.J. Asiegbu, Slavery and the Politics of Liberation
1787-1861: A Study of Liberated African Emigration and British Anti-Slavery Policy, (London
1969); Fran<;ois Renault, Liberation d'esclaves et nouvelle servitude: les rachats de captifs afr!
cains pour Ie compte des colonies fram;aises ({preS l'abolition de l'esclavage, (Abidjan, 1976).
K.O. Laurence, Immigration into the West Indies in the Nineteenth Century, (Barbados, 1(71).

Pierre Lacascade, Esc/avage et immigration: la question de la main-d'oeuvre aux Antilles, (Paris,

3. P.D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census, (Madison, 1969), p. 250, and Curtin, 'Slavery
and Empire', in Vera Rubin and Arthur Tuden, (eds.), Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in
New World Societies, (New York, 1977), p. 6.
4. Africans valued women for their reproductive as well as their labour services, sold fewer females
overseas, and generally discouraged them from becoming migrant workers. See Herbert Klein,
The Middle Passage: Comparative Studies in the Atlantic Slave Trade, (Princeton, N.J .. 1978),
pp. 222-224, 240-243; Monica Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo': A Social History of Indentured
African Immigration into Jamaica, (Baltimore, 1980), pp. 132-33 n.
5. Curtin, Census, pp. 249-250. All recaptive Africans did not survive capture at sea - many died
during the long sea chase and later in reception depots, so the figure is higher than the number of
recaptives actually available to Britain and France for other purposes.
6. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 6-7; Leslie Bethell, 'The Mixed Commissions for the Suppres-
sion of the Slave Trade', Journal of African History, 7, (1966), pp. 879-93; Gerald S. Graham,
Great Britain in the Indian Ocean: A study of Maritime Enterprise, 1810--1850, (Oxford, 1967),
pp. 143-44; Beachey, Slave Trade, pp. 85-93; Laurence, Immigration, p. 14; Colonial Land and
Emigration Commissioners, Thirteenth General Report 1853. PP 1852-53 [1647.) XL, p. 58;
Henry Light to Lord Stanley, No. 102 and enclosures, 11 June 1842, and same to same, No. 72,2
April 1844, CO 1111210.
7. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 5, 27; John Peterson, Province of Freedom: A History of Sierra
Leone, 1787-/870, (London, 1969).
8. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 1-29; Laurence, Immigration, p. 15.
9. James M.R. Cameron, 'Swan River Mania (1829-1830): A Study of the Relationship between
Migration and Information', in Mouvements de Populations dans ['Ocean Indien, (Paris, 1979),
pp. 433--49, especially 433--35, is pertinent to the shortlived voluntary phase of Sierra Leone
emigration. See also J. Wolpert, 'Behavioural Aspects of the Decision to Migrate', Papers and
Proceedings of the Regional Science Association, XV,(1965), p. 163; J.A. Jackson, (ed.),
Migration, (London, 1969), especially the chapter by R.C. Taylor, 'Migration and Motivation:
A Study of Determinants and Types', pp. 99-133, and E.S. Lee, 'A Theory of Migration', pp.
282-97; and c.J. Jansen, (ed.), Readings in the Sociology of Migration, (Oxford and New York,
1970), especially the chapter by W. Peterson, 'A General Typology of Migration', pp. 49-68.
10. Peterson, Province of Freedom.
11. Nathaniel Isaacs to West India Emigration Society, 1841. and John C. Cathcart to Beckford and
Rankin, I September 1841, enclosed in Charles Marryat to G.W. Hope, 20 April 1842, CO 3181
155; 'Answers to Rev. J. Warburton's Queries on Emigration' by Mr. C.A. Gollmer and by
William Young, 1 October 1842, CA 11M 10, pp. 335-336, 348--349; Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo',
12. John C. Cathcart to John Ewart, 26 December 1842, in VHAJ October 1843-February 1844,
Appendix No.4, p. 197.
13. Elizabeth Helen Melville, A Residence at Sierra Leone: Described from a Journal Kept on the
Spot, and from Letters Written to Friends at Home, (1849; reprint ed., London, 1968), p. 81.
'Answers to Rev. J. Warburton's Queries on Emigration' by J. Beal and C.A. Gollmer. 13 and I
October 1842, CA 11M 10, pp. 345, 335.
14. 'Answers to Rev. 1. Warburton's Queries on Emigration' by J. Beal and 1.U. Graf, October
1842, CA 11M 10, pp. 334, 336-337; Rev. J. U. Graf to Governor of Sierra Leone, 26 September
1845, CA 110 20; George Macdonald to Lord Stanley, No. 22, 7 May 1842, CO 2671175; R.

Guppy to Governor MacLeod, 18 October 1844 and R.G. Butts to Governor Light, 13 Manh
1847, PP 1847-48, XLIV, (732.), pp. 27,49.
15. Peterson, Province of Freedom; Jean Herskovits Kopytoff, A Preface 10 Modern Nigeria: The
'Sierra Leonians' in Yoruba, 1830-1890, (Madison, 1965); I.K. Sundiata, 'Prelude to Scandal:
Liberia and Fernando Po. 1880-1930', Journal of African History, 15, (1974), pp. 97-102.
16. John C. Cathcart to Beckford and Rankin, 1 September 1841, enclosed in Charles Marryat t,)
G.W. Hope, 20 Apri11842, CO 318/155; Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 19, 22.
17. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', p. 13; Alexander Barclay, 'Notice to Emigrants for Jamaica.'
enclosed in Barclay to J.M. Higginson, 21 May 1841, VHAJ October 26, 1841-January 14, 1842,
Appendix No.5, pp. 86-87; William Fergusson to George Macdonald. 5 July 1843, enclosed ill
No. 52, Macdonald to Lord Stanley, 7 July 1843, CO 267/181.
18. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', p. 12; Sir John kremie to William Hamilton, R.N., 18 March 1841,
Governor's Letterbook, 26 Apri11839-17 February 1842, SLA; also Jeremie to Lord Edward
Howard, 22 March 1841, CO 2671163. and John 1eremie to Managers of the Liberated African
Villages. 18 March 1841. enclosed in No. 36, Sir John Jeremie to Lord John Russell. 18 March
1841, CO 267/163.
19. Thus emigration publicity itself can cause dislocation - see Cameron, 'Swan River,' p. 434.
William Fergusson, 'Report on the Blue Book for 1841,' pp. 37-38. enclosed in No. 12,
Fergusson to Lord Stanley, 30 January 1842, CO 267/175.
20. Alexander Barclay to 1.M. Higginson, 5 April 1841, VHAJ October 26, 1841-January 14,1842,
Appendix No.5, p. 79; Schuler. 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 16-17.
21. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo,' pp. 18-21. 47,90,92.
22. 'Extracts of the Journal ofL!. W. Rowlatt: 26 August 1844, enclosed in British Guiana No. 508,
Lord Stanley to Governor Light, 10 February 1845, GNA.
23. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 19-20; William Fergusson, 'Blue Book Report. 1845,' enclosed
in No. 35B, Fergusson to Lord Stanley, 18 May 1845. CO 267/187; George Macdonald to Stanley.
No. 84.28 December 1842, CO 267/176; C.H. Darling to John C. Cathcart, in VHAJ October
1843-February 1844, Appendix No.4, p. 202; W.G. Terry to Darling, 12 February 1845. enclose(
in No. 31. Earl of Elgin to Stanley, 25 March 1845. CO 137/283.
24. 'Report of Commissioners of Inquiry on the Western Coast of Africa. Second Part: Sierrc
Leone 31 July 1841, pp. 16, 20. CO 267/172. This is the first printed version, with Madden'!
corrections. It is more detailed, especially on emigration, than the final published version. On
British disillusionment with Sierra Leone, see Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 4-5. 123 n.
25. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 16-17. 112.
26. James Hackett to H.E.F. Young, 29 May 1841. enclosed in No. 60, Henry Light to Lord John
Russell, 1 June 1841, CO 111/180; Richard Taylor to Hackett, 12 August 1841. Hackett to Young,
23 September 1841, and Herbert C. Southey. 'Return of Emigrants per Ship Superior from Sierra
Leone: 10 October 1841, enclosed in No. 131, Light to Russell, 7 October 1841, CO 1111180;
Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition: The Years after Slavery, (London, 1968), p. 73.
27. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', p. 46.
28. Sir John 1eremie to Lord John Russell, 19 March 1841, CO 267/163. Demerara, British Guiana
had a distinct advantage in that Richard Fisher, its emigration agent, employed Kru in his
lumber business and had close ties with them. See William Fergusson to Lord Stanley. No. 32, 3
September 1844, CO 267/185.
29. R.G. Butts of Demerara and Robert Guppy of Trinidad, emigration investigators for the two
colonies, concentrated on Sierra Leone's Kru popUlation in 1844. Butts entertained two hundred
Kru to dinner and recruited a hundred for British Guiana. Guppy agreed to free return passages

for Kru emigrating to Trinidad. and to provide a plot of land near the island's capital for Kru
headmen. but was less successful than Butts in recruiting Kru. See R.G. Butts to Governor
Light, 231uly-7 August 1844. and Robert Guppy to Governor Macleod. 18 October IH44. PP
1847-48, XLIV, (732.), pp. 29. 30, 33-34, 50.
30. Norman W. Macdonald •. Report on Annual Blue Book. 1845'. enclosed in No. 106. Macdonald
to W.E. Gladstone, 131une IH46, CO 267/193.
31. Alexander Barclay to J .M. Higginson. 21 May lR41. VHAJ October 26, 1841-January 14, 1842,
Appendix No.5, p. 90.
32. R.A.K. Oldfield to West India Emigration Society. I October IH41. enclosed in Charles Marryat
to G.W. Hope, 20 April 1842, CO 3181155.
33. Melville, Sierra Leone Residence, pp. 260-61.
34. Quoted in Norman W. Macdonald to W.E. Gladstone. No. 158, H October IH46. CO 267/194.
See A.B.C. Sibthorpe. The History of Sierra Leone, (lH68; reprint cd., London, 1'!70), pp.
35. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', p. 22.
36. Robert Guppy to Governor Macleod, 18 October IH44, PP lR47-48. XLIV, (732.), p. 26.
37. R.G. Butts to Governor Light, 23 July-7 August 1844 and 7 January 1845, PP IH47-4H, XLIV,
(732.), pp. 35,39-42.
3H. W.G. Terry to C.H. Darling, 12 February 1845. enclosed in No. 31. Earl of Elgin to Lord
Stanley. 25 March 1845, CO 137/283.
39. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 7-8, 23-25; Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of Liberation, pp.
40. Schuler. 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 25-26.
41. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 88-93 and Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of Libera/ion, pp. 108-
109,153. Nine hundred and ninety-nine Africans were eligible for government-assisted repatria-
tion from British Guiana. but by lR50 only 573 had left for Africa. In 1853 a number of Kru
returned home from British Guiana. See William Humphrys, 'Statement of the Number of
Persons Who Have Been Introduced into the Colony of British Guiana under Promise of Free
Return Passage, and the Number Who Have Left at the Expense of the Colony,' No. IH4, 14
August 1850, GNA. See also R.J. Fisher to S. Walcott, 11 July 1853, enclosed in B.G. No. ll3.
Newcastle to Lt. Governor Walker 14 September IH53, GNA. On the subject of emigration,
repatriation and the civilization of Africa, see Howard Temperley's introduction to Sir George
Stephen, Anti-Slavery Recollections, (2nd. ed., London, 1971). pp. v-ix; Asiegbu. Slavery and
Politics of Liberation, pp. 65-69, 155-56; P. D. Curtin, The Image of Africa: British Ideas and
Action, 1780-1850, (Madison, 1964), pp. 440-445. For a typical colonial view of the subject see
James Maxwell, M.D., Remarks on the Present State ofJamaica, with a Proposal of Measures for
the Resuscitation of Our West Indian Colonies, (London, 1848). pp. 20-23, 27.
42. Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of Liberation, pp. 65-156, 178-188; Schuler. 'Alas, Alas, KOflfio',
43. G. W. Roberts, 'Immigration of Africans into the British Caribbean', Population Studies, 7,
(1954), p. 259; G.W. Roberts and J. Byrne, 'Summary Statistics on Indenture and Associated
Migration Affecting the West Indies, 1834-1918', Population Studies, 20, (1966). pp. 125-34.
44. See Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of Liberation, pp. 115-117, 130-135; Schuler, 'Alas, Alas,
Kongo', pp. 115-117; Henry Light to Lord Stanley, No. 255,18 December 1845. and enclosures,
CO 1111226; Light to Earl Grey, No. 51, 19 March 1848, and enclosures, CO 111/251; Charles E.
Grey to Earl Grey, No. 34, 23 March 1848, and enclosures. CO 137/296.
45. Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of Liberation , pp. IRO. 185.98-99,165; Alexander Barclay, 'Notice

to Emigrants for Jamaica', enclosed in Appendix to Part 2 of 'Report of Commissioner of

Enquiry to the West Coast of Africa'. Sierra Leone (A.), CO 2671172.
46. Arthur Kennedy to Duke of Newcastle, Confidential, 28 May 1853, CO 267/232.
47. T.W.C. Murdoch and Frederic Rogers to Herman Merivale, 4 April 1854, copy enclosed in
British Guiana No. 17, Duke of Newcastle 10 P.E. Wodehouse 25 April 1854, GNA. Lower
profits of from 100% to 150% on advances to Kru migrants to Fernando Po are cited in Sundiat,l,
'Prelude to Scandal', p. 104.
48. See, for instance, Lawrence C. lennings, 'French Reaction to the 'Disguised British Slave
Trade': France and British African Emigration Projects, 1840-1864', Cahier d'etudes africaine~',
18, (1978), pp. 201-213; Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of Liberation, pp. 48-63; Horatio Bridge,
Journal of an African Cruiser, (1845; reprint ed., London, 1968), p. 171.
49. Auguste Toussaint, Histoire des iles Mascarelgnes, (Paris, 1972), pp. 29,38-44,49-50; Hubert
Gerbeau, 'Quelques aspects de la traite illegale des esclaves a l'ile Bourbon au XIX- Siecle', ill
Mouvements de populations dans ['Ocean Indien, (Paris, 1979), p. 274. Renault, Liberation, says
33,958 went to Reunion in 1848-61. Post-1861 records are incomplete. Jean-Louis Miege,
Indentured Labour in the Indian Ocean, (to b(' published with the Leiden Centre for the Histor:r
of the European Expansion in its series Intercontinenta, forthcoming), separates East Africans
from Malagasy and Comorian emigrants, but since most emigrants from these islands wer.:
originally from Africa, this paper considers th,~m all as Africans. Miege lists a combined total of
50,500 people entering Reunion from all three places in 1840-60.
50. Britain captured the Mascarenes, Seychelles . and France's eastern Madagascar posts in 1810.
Graham, Great Britain, pp. 105-106; Beachey, Slave Trade, p. 32; Renault, Liberation, pp. 4-11;
Gwynn Campbell, 'Madagascar and the Slave Trade, 1810-1895', Journal ofAfrican History, 22,
(1981), p. 211.
51. Beachey, Slave Trade, pp. 27-33; Renault, Liberation, pp. 5-9; Gerbeau, 'Traite iIIegale', pp.
275-294; Miege, Indentured Labour.
52. Alpers, Ivory and Slaves, pp. 214, 254n, documents such transfers between 1812 and 1820. Set:
Gill Shepherd, 'The Comorians and the East African Slave Trade', in lames L. Watson, (cd.),
Asian and African Systems of Slavery, (Oxford, 1980), pp. 73-99.
53. Gerbeau, 'Traite illegale', pp. 285,294; Claude Faure, 'La Garnison Europeenne du Senegal e:
Ie recrutement des premiers troupes noires (1779-1858)', Revue d'histoire des colonies fran·
r;aises, 8, (1920). pp. 74-80, 90-100; P.D. Curtin, Economic Change in Precolonial Africa'
Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade, (Madison. 1975), pp. 194-196; Monica Schuler,
'African Immigration into French Guiana: The Cinq-Freres Group, 1854-1860,' African Studie~'
Association of the West Indies Bulletin, 4. (1971), p. 65; Renault, Liberation, pp. 34-35.
54. Renault, Liberation, pp. 8-9.
55. Lawrence C. Jennings, 'French Policy towards Trading with African and Brazilian Slave
Merchants, 1840-1853' ,Journal ofAfrican History, 17, (1976), pp. 523-526; Renault, Liberation,
p. 19; Beachey, Slave Trade, p. 32; Gerbeau, 'Traite iJlegale', pp. 285, 294.
56. Renault, Liberation, p. 19.
57. Renault, Liberation, pp. 20-22.
58. Renault, Liberation, pp. 7,34-48,55-60,96--102,113-114,119-120. Technically, a 'ransomed'
slave could refuse to emigrate, but refusal would only mean reenslavement, and only in thl:
Regis commercial stations at Loango and Saint Victor did an alternative to emigration exist, with
some who refused, working out their indentures on the spot. Renault, Liberation, p. 117; Lucien
Wickers, L'immigration reglementee a file de la Reunion, (Paris, 1911), p. 48.
59. Campbell, 'Madagascar', pp. 210-212. To avoid British search, Arab dhows flew French or

United States flags. See M.V. Jackson Haight, European Powers and South-East Africa: A
Study of International Relations on the South-East Coast ofAfrica, 1796-1856, (New York, 1967),
60. Campbell, 'Madagascar', p. 226; James Duffy, A Question of Slavery, (Cambridge. Mass.,
1967), p. 67.
61. Campbell, 'Madagascar', pp. 222-223, 226-227; Renault, Liberation, pp.l8-19. 40-41. 75, 124-
125,149-156. Wickers, L'immigration reglementee, pp. 96-97.
62. Although Reunion's governor negotiated several recruitment agreements with the Zanzibar-
Oman government, and purchased small numbers of engages from Zanzibar and even Oman,
British intervention made Zanzibar an unproductive labour market for the French, and they
abandoned it. Renault, Liberation, pp. 19-20,22-23,40-41,87-90,94-96,124-125.
63. Renault, Liberation, p. 90; Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp. 42, 53; Beachey, Slave Trade, p. 36;
Jackson Haight, European Powers, p. 263.
64. Graham, Great Britain, pp. 115-116; Renault, Liberation, p. 41.
65. Alpers, Ivory and Slaves, pp. 209-219, 223; Patrick Harries, 'Slavery and Surplus Extraction: the
Nature of Free and Unfree Labour in South-East Africa,' lournal of African History, 22, (1981),
pp. 313-315; Duffy, Question of Slavery, p. 51; M.D. Newitt. 'Angoche, the Slave Trade and the
Portuguese ' ,Journal ofAfrican History, 13, (1972), pp. 659-672; Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp.
42-43,55-58; Graham, Great Britain, pp. 1l0, 115-116.
66. Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp. 43-44, 46-47, 50-51; Renault, Liberation, pp. 84-87.
67. Duffy, Question of Slavery, p. 53.
68. Alpers, Ivory and Slaves, pp. 215,220-229.
69. Alpers, Ivory and Slaves, pp. 232-233, 241, 250-251.
70. Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp. 60-62, 71-74, 141. See also Henry Slater, 'Land, Labour and
Capital in Natal: The Natal Land and Colonisation Company 1860-1948,' lournal of African
History, 16, (1975), pp. 257-283 for the Natal labour demand. DJ. Webster, The Origins of
Migrant Labour, Colonialism, and the Under-Development of Southern Mozambique', in P.L.
Bonner, (ed.), Working papers in Southern African Studies, (Johannesburg, 1977), pp. 253-54;
Leroy Vail, 'Mozambique's Chartered Companies: The Rule of the Feeble,' lournal of African
History, 17, (1976), pp. 398-99; Wickers, L'immigration reglementee, p. 93. Mozambicans
preferred to emigrate to South Africa because wages were higher and chances of returning home
better than in Reunion. A similar labour traffic from Portuguese Angola to Sao Tome and
Principe also developed. See Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp. 79--101, 137, 139, 160-229.
71. Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp. 71-72,88-91; Renault, Liberation, pp. 135-37,148-49; Wickers,
L 'immigration reglementee, pp. 94-95.
72. Renault, Liberation, pp. 135-37,144-46; Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp. 71-72, 88-91, 154-55 n.
73. Regis' Whydah agent was convicted of slave trading in the 1840s, see David A. Ross, 'The Career
of Domingo Martinez in the Bight of Benin' ,Journal of African History, 6, (1965), pp. 80-81, 89.
Other contractors were Vidal of Nantes and the Compagnie Generale Maritime of Marseilles,
see Schuler, 'African Immigration', pp. 62-66. The price of slaves at Whydah was 480 to 500
francs and, despite the French government's intervention, King Ghezo would not reduce the
price for Regis, and after a four month wait two of his ships left empty. See Renault, Liberation,
pp. 35-38, 46-48, 54, 67-68, 176-77, 188-89, and Bernard Schnapper, La Politique et Ie
commerce franr;ais dans Ie golfe de Guinee de 1838 a1871, (Paris, 1961), pp. 160, 170-71, 106-09.
74. Renault, Liberation, pp. 36-38, 67-70, 106-09; Phyllis M. Martin, The External Trade of the
Loango Coast, 1576-1870: The Effects of Changing Commercial Relations on the Viii Kingdom of
Loango, (Oxford, 1972), pp. 133-35,145.

75. Martin, Loango Coast, pp. 122-29, 130-34, 146; Richard Burton, Two Trips to Gorilla Land and
the Cataracts of the Congo, Vol. 2, (London. 1876), pp. 232-34, 241, 313-15.
76. Renault, Liberation, pp. 102, 104--{)5, 189; K. David Patterson, The Northern Gabon Coast to
1875, (Oxford, 1975), pp. 4,76,95--105,108--110,114,122,124-25,132-35,148--49.
77. Renault, Liberation, pp. 36-38, 40, 61--62, 66-83, 90-91, 104-05, 109--110, 117; Schuler, 'African
Immigration', pp. 66--67; Beachey, Slave Trade, pp. 32-33; Graham, Great Britain, p. 109n;
Duffy, Question of Slavery, p. 44; Patterson, Northern Gabon, p. 114; Gerbeau, 'Traite iIIegale',
78. Renault, Liberation, pp. 40, 61-83, 176-77.
79. Renault, Liberation, pp. 46-47, 67. Not only was a foreign buyer like Regis involved in botil
activities, but on the supply side the same aristocratic Dahomean merchants dominated both
trades. Palm oil and slave sources were separate, however. See Miers. Britain and Ending cf
Slave Trade, p. 54; Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch. 'De la traite des esclaves a I'exportation d~
I'huile de palme et des palmistes au Dahomey: XIX- siecle', in Claude MeiIIassoux, (ed.), The
Development of Indigenous Trade and Markets in West Africa, (London, 1971), pp. 115-li;
David Northrup, 'The Compatibility of the Slave and Palm Oil Trades in the Bight of Biafra' ,
Journal of African History, 17, (1976), pp. 353--88; Ross, 'Domingo Martinez', p. 81; E. Philip
Le Veen, 'A Quantitative Analysis of the Impact of British Suppression Policies on the Volum~
of the Nineteenth Century Atlantic Slave Trade', in Stanley L. Engerman and Eugene Gen-
ovese, (cds.), Race and Slavery in the Western Hemisphere: Quantitative Studies, (Princeton,
1975), pp. 57-58, 81; Martin, Loango Coast, pp. 142--46,148; Philip D. Curtin, Steven Feierman,
Leonard Thompson and lan Vansina, Africal1 History, (Boston, 1978). pp. 369--70, 402.
80. The Maes (Capt. Chevalier) bounty was 350 francs for an adult male, 320 for a child under
twelve. Chevalier got his bounty raised in 1858. Renault considers all but the bounties for
Dahomey to have been overpriced. Renault, Liberation, pp. 45,48,103-04; see also p. 111 for the
rise in slave prices in the Zaire R., and p. 67 for Regis' inability to pay the Whydah price.
81. Gerbeau. 'Traite iIIegale', p. 295; Renault, Liberation, pp. 90-91 shows that when the Reunioll
administration intervened in 1858--59 to prev(:nt speculation, prices dropped.
82. Beachey, Slave Trade, p. 34; Duffy, Question of Slavery, p. 67; lackson Haight, Europeall
Powers, p. 259.
83. Wickers, L'immigration reglementee, p. 95; Renault, Liberation, pp. 118, 127,189. Only 56 of the
237 Africans who arrived in French Guiana on the Cinq-Freres in 1854 returned to Africa when
their indentures expired in 1860, Schuler, 'African Immigration', p. 72.
84. Ronald W. Davis, 'Historical Outline of the Kru Coast, 1500 to the Present', (Ph. D. disserta·
tion, Indiana University, 1968), pp. 40,55-58.64-65,67; Merran Fraenkel, 'Social Change on
the Kru Coast', Africa, 36, (1966), p. 153; 10 Mary Sullivan, 'Settlers in Sinoe County, Liberia,
and Their Relations with the Kru, c. 1835--1920', (Ph. D. dissertation, Boston University, 1978)
p. 70; Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp. 82-83,95,136-37,181.
85. Sullivan, 'Settlers,' pp. 57-59, 70-71; Fraenkel, 'Kru Coast', pp. 153-54, 157-59, 160--61; Davis
'Kru Coast', pp. 40, 57-58, 64; Commander Lynch, 'Report on the West Coast of Africa, 1852-
53'. enclosed in No. 128, Arthur E. Kennedy to Duke of Newcastle, 12 August 1854, ~O 267/241:
George E. Brooks, The Kru Mariner in the Nineteenth Century: An Historical Compendium,
(Newark, Delaware, 1972).
86. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', pp. 16, 126-127 n; William Fergusson to Lord Stanley, No. 32, 3
September 1844, CO 2671185; R.G. Butts to Henry Light, 231uly-7 August 1844 and enclosures,
and Robert Guppy to Governor MacLeod, 18 October 1844 and enclosures, PP 1847--48, XLIV,
(732.); Richard Fisher, 'Report on Emigration: From A Visit to the Kru Coast in the Cutter

Zephyr in December and January 1852 and 1853', and Fisher to the Immigration Agent of
Demerara, 24 January 1853, copies enclosed in British Guiana No. 43, Duke of Newcastle to
Governor Barkly, 6 May 1853, GNA. T.W.C. Murdoch and Frederic Rogers to Herman
Merivale, 4 April 1854, enclosed in British Guiana No. 17, Newcastle to P.E. Wodehouse, 25
April 1854, GNA.
87. Richard J. Fisher to S. Walcott, 11 August 1853; Financial Statement, Messrs. Hyde, Hodge, and
Company to J .G. Thensted, 15 February 1853; 'Account of Merchandize supplied to 191 Kroo
Emigrants per Elphinstone'; O. Buxton Thibon to Messrs. Hyde, Hodge, and Company, 6June
1853, enclosed in British Guiana No. 17, Duke of Newcastle to P.E. Wodehouse, 25 April 1854,
GNA; Davis, 'Kru Coast', p. 59.
88. J. Graham Cruikshank, 'African Immigrants after Freedom', Timehri, 3rd series, 6, (1919), p.
78; R.G. Butts to Governor Light, 7 January 1845, PP 1847-48, XLIV, (732.), pp. 39-42; Henry
Barkly to Duke of Newcastle, No. 53, 7 April 1853, CO 111/294; R.I. Fisher to Immigration
Agent of Demerara, 24 January 1853, enclosed in British Guiana No. 43, Newcastle to Barkly, 6
May 1853, GNA; Murdoch and Rogers to Herman Merivale, 4 April 1854, copy enclosed in
British Guiana No. 17, Newcastle to Wodehouse, 25 April 1854, GNA; Renault, Liberation, pp.
89. See, for instance, 'Petition of Jumbo, a Krooman of Plantation Bel Air' to P.E. Wodehouse, 15
May 1854 and attached Minute, GNA; Schuler, 'African Immigration', pp. 68,70-72; Bagot
Affidavit, 14 January 1846, Jack Purser to N. W. Macdonald, 13 March 1847, also Horsford to
Wolseley, 17 August 1847, in VHAI October-December 1847, Appendix No. 44, pp 186-88.
90. Signs of Americo-Liberian discontent with Hyde, Hodge's 'enticing away' their Kru apprentices
became evident in 1850 and may have contributed to later Liberian charges of British slave
trading. See Richard Fisher, Report, 22 November 1850, enclosed in No. 151, N.W. Macdonald
to Earl Grey, 27 November 1850, CO 267/217; also Macdonald to Fisher, 12 August 1850 and
Macdonald to Henry Barkly, 18 September 1850, Governor's Letterbook, 1848-51, pp. 104-105,
113-14, SLA; 1.1. Roberts, 'Proclamation,' in Liberia Herald, 6 April 1853. enclosed in No. 86,
Arthur E. Kennedy to Duke of Newcastle, 28 April 1853, CO 267/232; J.l. Roberts to Gabriel
Thensted. 26 August 1853, Extract of Strickland letter, 10 April 1853, B.V.R. lames to J.1.
Roberts, 7 July 1853, Newnham Affidavit, 13 September 1853, all enclosed in No. 184, Kennedy
to Newcastle, 10 October 1853, CO 267/234; Richard Fisher Report. 16 September 1853, and
Emigrant Ship List, 12 September 1853, enclosed in No. 177. Kennedy to Newcastle, 18
September 1853, CO 267/233; Asiegbu. Slavery and Politics of Liberation. pp. 147-49.
91. Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of Liberation, p. 145.
92. Duffy, Question of Slavery, pp. 82n, 95, 181. 136-37; Davis, 'Kru Coast', p. 58; Sundiata,
'Prelude to Scandal', pp. 98-103.
93. Sullivan, 'Settlers', pp. 142-43,219-20; Davis, 'Kru Coast', pp. 73, 76-78, 89-90.
94. Davis, 'Kru Coast', pp. 75-101; Fraenkel, 'Kru Coast', p. 161; Sundiata, 'Prelude to Scandal', pp.
95. Sullivan, 'Settlers', pp. 71-72; Fraenkel, 'Kru Coast" p.161. For southern African counterparts
of the Kru labour experience see Harries, 'Slavery', pp. 321-22; Webster, 'Origins of Migrant
Labour', pp. 253-54.
96. Renault, Liberation, pp. 54-59. 114. 121-23.
97. See Miers, Britain and Ending of Slave Trade. p. 51. and Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of
Liberation, pp. 155-56, for discussions of MacGregor Laird's 1854 Niger Expedition as a turning
point in British economic interest in West Africa. The benefits of quinine in combatting malaria
were proved on that expedition. Following the expedition, Laird campaigned as forcefully for an

end to African emigration to the West Indies as he had done ten years earlier in support of it,
arguing that liberated Africans could become 'most efficient native agents' of British commelce
in West Africa.
98. Asiegbu, Slavery and Politics of Liberation, pp. 151-52.
99. Renault, Liberation, pp. 154-55; Wickers, i-'immigration reglementee, pp. 95-97.
100. This does not include coastal migration to Fernando Po, Principe, and Sao Tome.
101. The history of labour mobilization in colonial Africa is largely one of indentured labour
migration. For a concise overview of the subject see Colin Newbury, 'Historical Aspects of
Manpower and Migration in Africa South of the Sahara', in Peter Duignan and L.H. Gann,
(eds.), Colonialism in Africa, 1870-1960, vol. 4, (London, 1975), pp. 523-545.

8. Plantation society and indentured labour:

the Jamaican case, 1834-1865


The migration of indentured labour to the British West Indies after emancipation
buttressed the imperial government's principal institutional objective in the
region - the preservation of a plantation economy. Historians have long CO:l-
sidered the plantation a vehicle for explloitation, and some development econo-
mists contend that normal economic growth is not possible in plantation societies
because great estates engross community resources, under-utilize land and la-
bour, and prevent the evolution of alternative economic structures. An influen-
tial Jamaican economist contends that 'the plantation system must be destroyed if
the people of plantation society are to secure economic, social, political, and
psychological advancement'l. In light of the symbiotic relationship betwe(:n
indenture and plantations, an examina.tion of indentured labour migration 1:0
Jamaica might properly begin by asking why Britain chose to preserve plantation
agriculture in the Caribbean colonies after the abolition of slavery.
Three general strategies for structuring 'free' West Indian society were con-
ceivable. One would have perpetuated a rigid plantation economy, implementing
legal and physical constraints to bind freedmen to the estates. Having renden:d
emancipation nominal, this approach would have pleased most West Indic.n
planters. Alternatively, the government might have allowed, even encouraged,
the dismantling of plantations and the n:distribution of colonial land. This policy
would have gratified freedmen. But n<:ither plan was politically feasible. The
popular power of abolitionism in the 1830s precluded the former; the secor.d
option violated the sacred principle of private property and the most basic
concepts of good government advocated by the ruling classes in England. A third,
intermediate strategy was required, one which preserved traditional proper:y
rights without imposing excessive restraints on freedmen. While this approach
advocated a balance between the values of productivity and human liberty, it
accepted, as a first principle, the preservation of plantations as the fundamental
economic institution of colonial society .

Emmer P.c. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, DordrechtlBoston/Lancaster.
ISBN 90 247 3253 O.

During the 1830s, the dominant influences in colonial affairs were humanitaria-
nism and systematic colonization. Having focused attention on the destruction of
coerced labour, abolitionists exhibited remarkably inchoate, often inconsistent,
views concerning the socio-economic structures which would supplant slavery.
By contrast, systematic colonizers, self-styled Colonial Reformers, were com-
mitted to constructing new societies in the far-flung empire. They had little direct
interest in the British Caribbean, but their influence on imperial concepts of land
use and social order pervaded official thinking on the sugar colonies.
Colonial Reformers believed that overseas dependencies should preserve the
hierarchical order of the Mother Country. By establishing a high upset price for
Crown lands, it was possible to keep colonial populations geographically concen-
trated. This would avoid a major problem suffered in the North American
colonies - the critical shortage of wage labour. Where settlements were concen-
trated, wide division of labour could be achieved, permitting the establishment
and maintenance of a developed infrastructure as well as a stratified social order
with superior intellectual and cultural resources 2 • Critics of Colonial Reformers
questioned specific settlement projects, but few contemporaries denied the desir-
ability of their cardinal goals - the concentration of colonial populations and the
maintenance of hierarchical social and economic order3. The intellectual leader
of the movement, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, exerted enormous influence: Lord
Howick, Colonial Undersecretary in the early 'thirties, was converted to his
views; the Select Committee on the Dispersal of Crown Lands in the British
Colonies, 1836, recommended that Wakefield's principles be adopted by an act of
Parliament; and the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, appointed in
1840, were ardent believers in his doctrines 4 • In the Caribbean, Wakefield's
formula could only be interpreted as an endorsement of plantation agriculture'.
Abolitionists were not systematic in their approach to economic problems, but
their long-term goals obliged them to draw similar conclusions. They considered
British emancipation the first step in a long campaign to annihilate slavery
throughout the Western world 6 • Although they had long contended that free
labour would prove cheaper than slave labour7 , they appreciated that slave
masters in the American South, Brazil, and Cuba would not be convinced by
moral appeals or unproven assertions. Such men would only jettison slavery
when it was proven that freedom coincided with their material interests. Because
the British West Indies afforded the first important testing ground for anti-slavery
maxims, abolitionists hoped the plantations would provide thriving examples of
the superior merits of free labour. For this reason, they chose to reform the
planters, not to destroy them. Since it was universally understood that the
economic success of British emancipation would be judged in terms of the ability
of the free Caribbean colonies to export tropical staples, abolitionists conceived

that their credibility - and with it the prospect of an early end to chattel slavery
elsewhere in the Americas - depended upon the successful evolution of planta-
tion agriculture in the free Caribbean8 .
Plantations provided large concentrations of capital, and capital was prized Jy
contemporary Britons because it gave productive employment to labour in a
society troubled by recurring unemployment and underemployment. Prior to t1e
abolition of slavery, West Indian estates, comprising hundreds of acres of culti-
vated land, mills, boiling houses, stills, cattie, and human chattels, were am01g
the most heavily capitalized commercial holdings in the Western world 9 • There
was no disposition in Britain to sacrifice those resources. Harriet Martineau, he
renowned popularizer of contemporary economic doctrines, repeatedly informed
readers of her Illustrations of Political Economy that concentrations of capil al
served the interests of workers and capitalists alikelO. Political economy was the
common creed of middle-class Britons, eagerly advocated in their didactic litera-
ture ll . With the mechanistic certainty of Newtonian physics, it exposed t:1e
natural laws which governed human action, explained the triumph of English
industry, and informed the poor that wherever labour was not stimulated by
capital, working people suffered both physical and moral degradation. Ireland
illustrated the point.
Except in agriculture, the Caribbean offered limited opportunities for the
productive use of capital. There was no substantial manufacturing in the colonies,
not even shipbuilding. What little cottage industry existed was rudimentary.
Quality furniture, carriages, saddlery, decorative articles, linens, fine clotheS,
clocks, and metal goods were imported: even vital elements of the creole diet
came from abroad. Lacking an industrial tradition, the colonies had few inhabi-
tants who possessed industrial skills other than those learned in plantation
service. Any attempt to introduce a manufacturing component to the colonial
economy would have required capital transfers from agriculture and commerce,
the introduction of appropriate tools, the retraining of a workforce, and the
cultivation of markets where colonial manufacturers could withstand competition
from metropolitan producers. The situation was too risky for private capital;
public investment in industrial enterprise was unthinkable in the 1830s.
Even in agriculture, the colonists' options were limited. Island soils were
capable of producing a variety of export staples - sugar, coffee, cocoa, and cotton
- as well as spices and fruits. Cocoa was not in high demand in Britain; Spain, the
major consumer, imposed onerous terms upon foreign suppliers!:. West Indian
cotton had no chance of competing successfully against the American product.
Coffee production had declined precipitously in the decade before emancipation,
and there was little chance for its recovery!3. Fruits could not be exported in
quantity until new technology resolved the problem of spoilage. Ginger and

arrowroot offered limited positive prospects, but they could not be produced
widely lest the metropolitan market suffer glut, causing a collapse of prices l4 •
Dyewoods could be cut in a few areas, and pimento was collected in Jamaica as a
wild growth. If, however, the West Indies were to playa role in world commerce,
they had no alternative to sugar as their primary export product.
Colonial infrastructure was tied to sugar plantations. If the estates disinte-
grated, how and by whom would roads, bridges, and wharves be maintained 15 ?
What fate would befall the pen keepers who relied on estates for sales of stock, or
of masons, carpenters, wheelwrights, and other craftsmen whose skills were
tailored to estate needs? Without plantations, where would island governments
secure revenue to maintain existing amenities, let alone establish new institutions
appropriate to a free society - schools, asylums, even jails16? How could the West
India colonies, shorn of their plantations, acquire sufficient foreign exchange to
purchase the vast array of overseas goods to which all classes had become
accustomed 17 ? For better or for worse, sugar estates formed the skeletal system of
the Caribbean colonies. Without plantations, there would be little reason for
Europeans to remain in the colonies. Their withdrawal and the concurrent flight
of capital would isolate the islands, subjecting them to a subsistence economy and
the abiding influence of Afro-creole cultural and religious concepts18. This result
would have pleased no party in the emancipation struggle, neither the West India
interest nor abolitionists and their allies in the Christian missionary movement
who were determined to evangelize and Europeanize the freedmen.
Preservation of the plantations meant the perpetuation of a social and cultural
hierarchy. It involved an emphasis on economic productivity and European
cultural standards, not economic egalitarianism and Afro-creole cultural mores.
The latter pairing was never considered. For contemporary British policy
makers, the example of Haiti provided a chilling reminder that the destruction of
plantation agriculture offered no assurance of economic equality or individual
liberty, though it seemed certain to produce severe material privation and the
wholesale diminution of European cultural patterns19 . On no grounds did the
British consider an undermining of the plantations prudent policy for the free
West Indies. Plantations provided the only available institutional framework
through which European culture could be maintained in the British Caribbean.
Since that culture was considered the ultimate vehicle for achieving progress in
the world 20 , Britons on all sides of the emancipation issue concluded that the sole
means by which the West Indies could secure 'economic, social, political, and
psychological advancement' (to use the language of George Beckford)21 was
through the maintenance of plantation society.

Jamaica was the pre-eminent British slave colony, possessing nearly half the tOlal
Caribbean slave population. Her legislature was the most powerful, indepen-
dent, and assertive in the West Indies. Parliamentary inquiries concerning be
extinction of slavery confined their attention to Jamaica, and the Emancipation
Act was drafted in light of Jamaican conditions22 . The early termination of
Apprenticeship was occasioned by circumstances arising chiefly in J amaica 2J , and
it was widely and correctly believed that the world would assess British emancipa-
tion principally in terms of what transpired in Jamaica.
Jamaica was not, however, an archetype for the remaining West India colonies
- nor, for that matter, was any other. The sugar colonies differed widely in size,
topographical configuration, constitutional structure, and population density.
The ratio between arable land and population was perceived as the critical
material factor influencing the security of plantation agriculture in the years after
emancipation. Unlike Barbados, Antigua, and St. Kitts - colonies with high
population densities and little or no open land - Jamaica had large tracts of vacant
backlands as well as ruinate upland coffee plantations to which freedmen might
flee in order to avoid regular estate labour24 • Trinidad and British Guiana
possessed vastly larger empty zones - indeed, the whole continent stretched out
beyond Guiana's cultivated tidal strip. Both of these colonies had many fewer
slaves than Jamaica, and both suffered serious labour shortages in the final years
of slavery25. Together with Jamaica, they offered the best physical prospects br
plantation agriculture while in terms of the reliability of labour their economies
were at greatest risk. In effect, Jamaica occupied something of a middle position
among the important sugar colonies. If her situation was less secure than that of
Barbados or St. Kitts, it was less perilous than that of Trinidad or Guiana, though
in size and relative population density. Jamaica was clearly identified with the
latter group.


From the beginning of Apprenticeship, the British government supported labollr

migration to colonies having low population density. At the same time, the
Colonial Office exercised extreme caution concerning the origins of immigrant
labour, and it carefully regulated the te:rms of indenture. Africa was absolutely
off-limits. All contracts of indenture were limited to one year, and it was required
that labour contracts be signed in the colony in which they took effect 26 .
Jamaica experimented with European immigration, offering bounties to mEr-

chants who conveyed white workers to the island. European immigrants were not
expected to enlarge the plantation labour supply; rather, it was hoped they would
settle in higher elevations, occupying vacant lands which might otherwise lure the
freedmen. By raising crops for island markets, they could lower the cost of local
foodstuffs and discourage freedmen from resorting to peasant production. By the
end of Apprenticeship, nearly 2,500 Europeans - some of them Germans - had
arrived. Adequate preparations had not been made to accomodate them: the
immigrants objected to settling in the highlands; many sickened; hundreds died;
and most of the survivors fled the island for Europe or North America at the
earliest opportunity27.
African recaptives were occasionally admitted to Jamaica either from the
Mixed Commission Court at Havana 28 or through the emergency action of naval
officers, but these were unreliable and unimportant sources of contract labour.
North America was considered the most desirable field for acquiring workers.
The free coloured population of the United States - presumed to number around
35,000 - was vigorously recruited by agents from all the large West India colonies.
Well above a thousand Americans ventured to the West Indies, mostly to
Trinidad. Generally trained for domestic service and mechanical arts, they found
the rigors of cane labour unsupportable. Most ofthem returned home, discourag-
ing others from migrating. By mid-1840, West Indian recruitment in the United
States was abandoned 29 •
A crisis was building in the sugar colonies. Immigrants preferred by the Crown
could not significantly augment colonial population. Productivity was declining in
Jamaica, Trinidad, and British Guiana; freedmen in those colonies were fleeing
estate villages in favour of peasant settlements; and pressure was mounting in
Britain to relax the sugar duties. In the years immediately following abolition of
Apprenticeship, sugar imports from the British Caribbean fell sharply, causing a
30 percent rise in prices and a substantial decline in individual consumption.1O. A
dietary necessity was fast becoming a luxury, and stories abounded of English
villagers watching their fruit spoil because they could not obtain, or not afford,
sugar to preserve it 3!. Such conditions played into the hands of free traders who in
1839, and again in 1840, presented motions to parliament for lowering duties on
colonial sugar.
By 1841, reduction of the sugar duties had become a government measure.
Domestic shortages compounded by increasing economic hardship32 provided
one justification for lowering tariffs; reports from the West Indies offered an-
other. Intelligence from the colonies indicated that freedmen in Jamaica, Trin-
idad, and British Guiana were earning high wages and enjoying abundant lux-
uries without performing regular wage labour - a condition that did not apply
among the working people of Great Britain. A Quaker philanthropist touring

Jamaica was astounded by the money possessed by island labourers 33 • Tle

governor called them the most comfortable and independent workers in he
world 34 • He may have overstated his case, but stipendiary magistrates and mis-
sionaries commented repeatedly on the freedmen's ownership of horses and
finery35. It appeared to Melbourne's government that the emancipated popula-
tion possessed advantages superior to those of English workers and vastly greater
than anything known to the Irish. Rather than continue to subsidize Caribbean
colonists, the Whig government called for a reduction of tariffs on foreign sugar
from 63 shillings to 36 shillings a hundredweight, recommending a rate only 12
shillings above the duty on colonial sugar 36 •
Melbourne's government was defeated on the sugar duties and resigned. Anti-
slavery sentiment was still strong enough to derail a measure that was certain to
place slave-grown sugar on English tables. But warning signs were evidenf'7 . As
colonial productivity declined, planters had become increasingly dependent on
artificial price supports provided by protective tariffs 38 • Herman Merivale, a
future permanent undersecretary at the Colonial Office, recognized this in his
famous Oxford lectures delivered between 1839 and 1841. A free trader, he
believed the nation would not long endure serious scarcities and high sugar
prices. To redress the situation he called for 'copious immigration' to the larger
sugar colonies. If immigration did not bring down the price of labour before the
inevitable reform of tariffs introduced cheap slave-grown sugar, the whole soci al
structure of the Caribbean colonies would collapse. No subject had greater claim
to public attention, he argued: to allow the major British Caribbean colonies to
sink into Haitian-like obscurity would be a shock to the interests of humanity
'which it may take centuries to repair'3".
The Whig government's assault on the sugar duties was one aspect of a wider
strategy. In compensation for the intended r~duction in protection, the govern-
ment chose to strengthen the competitive position of West India plantations by
permitting the transfer of free labour from Sierra Leone to the larger Caribbean
colonies. This dramatic departure from earlier policy involved a sensitive moral
question. From the beginning of Apprenticeship, West Indians had appealed to
the Colonial Office for the right to recruit immigrant labour in West Africa. The
Glenelg Colonial Office 40 had been unyielding, insisting that however carefully
regulated an English-sponsored migratlion from Sierra Leone might be, foreign
states would suspect British motives. They would cry 'hypocrisy', accuse the
nation of legalizing a slave trade under the euphemism 'emigration', and proceed
to launch unregulated 'emigration' proJects of their own. How, asked Stephen,
the permanent undersecretary, could Britain say to others, 'Your practice is an
evasive Slave Trade, ours, a bona fide Emigration of Freedmen'41. Stephen was
implacably opposed to African immigration: because of their 'ignorance, super-

stition, and moral debasement', he asserted, African immigrants would retard the
growth of Christian civilization among Caribbean freedmen 42 . But by the end of
1840, Stephen was isolated on the issue. The new Colonial Secretary, Lord John
Russell, and most others at Downing Street considered the gathering crisis in the
large sugar colonies ample reason for risking Britain's vaunted moral ascendancy
in the tropical Atlantic.
The Colonial Office evinced little concern for the impact of emigration on
Sierra Leone. A refuge for slaves who were liberated by British naval action, the
colony had not fulfilled the promise of its evangelical patrons. Its economy was
perpetually sluggish; its missionary outreach limited; and its cost in European
lives considerable 43 • Most colonial authorities genuinely believed that Africans
already settled at Sierra Leone, as well as those who might be liberated there in
the future, would benefit from migration to the large sugar colonies where
freedom was certain, material prosperity substantially greater, and the cultural
environment considerably more European.
Russell's advocacy of African emigration received wide support in 1841-42.
R.R. Madden, a British commissioner of inquiry on the west coast of Africa,
strongly endorsed the emigration scheme 44 . A former Governor of Sierra Leone,
Richard Doherty, approved the emigration plan, arguing that the West Indies
could bestow important advantages on Africa: if African migrants would use their
time in the sugar colonies to acquire knowledge of cash crop agriculture, they
might, upon their return to Africa, introduce the cultivation of agricultural
staples, generate legitimate exports, and thereby undermine the slave trade 45 .
Doherty'S views were akin to those of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and the
African Civilization Society whose disastrous philanthropic adventure in the
Niger, 1841, seemed to prove that development projects in Africa could only be
accomplished by Africans seasoned to the 'climate'46. During post-mortems on
the Niger expedition, the importance of trans-oceanic labour migration between
Africa and the West Indies was advocated more powerfully than ever. It was
perceived as a way to educate Africans in advanced agricultural techniques as
well as Christian doctrine while concurrently creating a 'black agency' for dis-
seminating this learning in Africa. Properly regulated and manifestly free, Af-
rican migration to the West Indies could, its most zealous advocates contended,
strike the slave trade at its root and transform the British sugar colonies into
tropical showpieces47 .


The success of Britain's grand Atlantic strategy rested squarely on the willingness
of Africans in Sierra Leone to migrate. That willingness was not forthcoming.
Despite blandishment, pressure, even intimidation the recaptive population at
Sierra Leone persistently resisted what cabinet officers, the British Treasury,
colonial governors and assorted commissioners, merchants, and philanthropists
deemed their best interest as well as the best interest ofthe United Kingdom, th~
British West Indies, the rest of West Africa, and the prospects of world-wid~
abolitionism. By 1846 only 8,000 people had left Sierra Leone, a mere 2,110 of
them having arrived in Jamaica48 •
The poor results of the African migration program necessitated a wider searC1
for labour. The possibility of indenting Chinese workers who ventured seasonall y
to British settlements in the Straits of Malacca was considered but not pursued.
St. Helena produced several shiploads of immigrants for Jamaica 49 , but the
expanding colonial demand for contract labour could not be satisfied from any cf
the more proximate or desirable locations. In 1843, Lord Stanley, Peel's Colonial
Secretary, turned to India. About 25,000 Indians had migrated to Mauritius
between 1834 and 1839, but that process had given rise to serious abuses causing
the Indian government to forbid further emigration 50 • The ban was lifted at the
end of 1842 with the establishment of a new set of controls, and in the following
year, 34,525 Indians went ashore at Mauritius 51 • When the Government of India
approved emigration to the Caribbean in 1844, Stanley announced that Britain
would administer a program of Asian migration to the three largest sugar colonie s
if its colonial governments paid the costs.
British Guiana and Trinidad responded favourably, Jamaica guardedly. Al-
though the Colonial Secretary was prepared to allot Jamaica 5,000 Asian immi-
grants for the first year, the colonial assembly requested merely 2,00052 • Jamaica
was in the throes of a paralysing drought, the fourth in six years, and planters
feared that among the island's multiple difficulties it was experiencing a perma-
nent change of climate53 • Many of them had come to their rope's end. Island
revenue was declining, and the £ 50,000 required to meet the cost of 2,000 Indian
immigrants strained the extended colonial budget.
In Jamaica, as elsewhere, a strict regulatory system, based largely on the plan
adopted earlier for Africans, was employed to protect Indian immigrants. In
exchange for nine hours of work, Indians were to be paid up to one shilling and
afforded housing, garden space, medicine, and medical attention. They were
distributed in groups of twenty-five or more for their own physical and emotional
security, and plantations employing their services were required to undergo
inspection to ascertain that dwelling places and general provisions were satisfac-
t ory54.

Initially, the program seemed to function well. Planters who indented Indians
arriving on the lone immigrant ship of 1845 reported to the House of Assembly
that the Asians were working effectively55. That was all the Assembly needed.
Abundant rains had returned in 1845; the worst anxieties of the previous year had
diminished; and the Assembly raised its annual request for Indian labour to 5,000
in 184656 •
That action was premature. 1846 would prove a catastrophic year for the
Jamaica planters. Abolition of the British sugar duties, the return of drought, and
the deepening of international depression savaged the island's plantation society.
The Sugar Duties Act of August 1846 marked the beginning of Britain's imperial
transition to free trade; news of the measure arrived in Jamaica when that year's
drought was in its final disabling stages. Some estates in the south of the island
made no crop that year; eight months without rain had left streams and wells
parched dry. Repeated droughts since 1838 had crippled herds and limited the
planters' ability to test new techniques, new fertilisers, and new equipment.
When, in 1847, foreign sugar imports to Britain rose by 38 percent, the Gazette
price on sugar fell from 37s. a hundredweight to 22s.6d., well below the cost of
bringing the product to market for many Jamaican producers57. This catastrophic
drop in prices in a period of deepening economic depression bankrupted many
West Indian merchant houses upon which the planters relied for credit. The
Planters Bank of Jamaica folded; money was difficult to obtain; and many
planters were unable to pay taxes or meet their wage bills 5K •
Before the Sugar Duties Act, Jamaica's Agent-General for Immigration re-
ceived applications for the services of 8,000 indentured Indians 5,!. After the Act,
the number fell to 1,200, and the colony reduced its annual request from 5,000 to
1,50060 • In November 1846, the Assembly rejected any further Asian immigration
and, a year later, the new governor asserted that Jamaica would never resume
high cost immigration from India 61 • The island's immigration law was allowed to
expire in 1849"2 .


For the next two decades, Jamaica's experience with immigrant labour veered
away from that of the large eastern colonies. In 1850, Trinidad and British Guiana
reaffirmed their commitment to the sugar economy and renewed their programs
of Indian indenture. Jamaica demured. A majority of the colony's politicians,
conscious of the island's £750,000 debt (nearly half of which had been incurred
since 1843, mainly for immigrationY)\ were unwilling to increase the public
burden on behalf of an industry whose future under free trade was, at best,

Before 1850, Jamaica's experience with immigration had paralleled that of the
other large sugar colonies. All three had recruited immigrants in North America,
the Mixed Commission Courts, and Sierra Leone; each had received recaptive,
from St. Helena; and all of them had attempted European immigration - the
Crown colonies concentrating on Madeira, Jamaica on Northern Europe. After
their first blush of enthusiasm for Indian indentures, all three colonies had turned
sour on Indian labour. By 1847, the 4,551 Indians who had entered Jamaica werl~
considered, at best, a mixed blessing. They performed work which otherwisl~
would not have been accomplished, and they were deemed more thorough than
Creoles in the lighter tasks of weeding and trashing. But Indians were uniforml~1
perceived as vastly inferior in physical strength to Creoles and African immi·
grants, being altogether incapable of performing the most demanding tasks of
sugar cultivation. Some Indians had no experience with agricultural labour ill
their homelands; their religious views rendered them ineffective as drivers of
cattle; and their poor health occasioned an irritating amount of absenteeism6~.
After enduring a single year under contract, most indentured Indians refused to
engage in further contracts. Those who did often broke them, left their estates,
and sought a poor subsistence through odd jobs and mendicancy. In Jamaica, a,
in the other colonies, they became a blight upon the towns bS .
Without tariff protection, planters in all the large West Indian colonies de-
spaired for the future of free-grown colonial sugar. No palliative measures
offered by the imperial government - not even renewed labour recruiting in West
Africa at British expense - could conciliate the colonists66 • Borne down by th,~
combined forces of depression and free trade, legislators in British Guiana and
Jamaica refused to vote money for the administration of colonial government,
hoping that a constitutional crisis would! pressure London into a restoration of
protection (Trinidad would probably have done the same, but the colony did not
have the constitutional machinery to launch such a protest)67. Devoted to free
trade as a first priority, Russell's government stood firm, and the protracted
colonial protests failed. When the legislature in British Guiana gave way after a 1
eleven month trial of strength, it accepted the London government's offer of a
guaranteed loan for the purpose of renewing Asian immigration. Jamaica rtc-
jected the loan.
The explanation for Jamaica's refusal cannot be answered entirely by reference
to her public debt. Jamaica had political, psychological, and demographic qua-
ities that distinguished her from the large Crown colonies. Having been an
English colony since the time of Cromwell- in fact, for most of those years, the
most important of English colonies - Jamaica had an identity, pride and sel'-
consciousness not equalled and not even approached by the relatively new,
comparatively undeveloped eastern colonies. Because the island had been under

intense cultivation much longer than Trinidad or British Guiana, its soils offered
less natural fertility. Jamaica's estates bore the scars of age. Burdened during
their eighteenth century heyday with numerous mortgages, legacies, and other
charges, they were, by 1850, weighed down by debts nearly always exceeding
their market values. Nominal owners were unable to sell them or to raise money
on their depressed values 68 • In Trinidad and British Guiana, encumbrance was
not a comparable problem.
Jamaica's political life was structured differently from that of Trinidad and
British Guiana. Jamaica was a legislative colony boasting a long history of
political autonomy; the latter two were Crown colonies subject to the direct
authority of London. The small Legislative Council of Trinidad and Court of
Policy in British Guiana were partly appointed bodies whose membership was
comprised of wealthy planters and their merchant allies 69 • Although a colored
middle class was evolving in those colonies, it was much smaller, less self-
conscious, less educated, and far less vocal than that of Jamaica, and it had no
formal political voice. In Jamaica, coloured colonists had risen to positions of
importance in the government and magistracy; they were leading printers, news-
papermen, teachers, and clergymen; and they held a number of seats in the House
of Assembly. Though still a minority, colored assemblymen could, on specific
measures, gain support from a half-dozen Jewish members, the descendants of
trading families who tended to resent the high-handedness and Anglicanism of
the leading planters7o •
In the eastern Crown colonies, white planters did not confront serious political
opposition: they were free to advocate a line of policy dedicated to serving their
estates even at the long-term social or financial peril of the colonies. If their
ventures failed, they could retire from the sinking sugar colonies to rebuild their
lives in Britain or Canada. This was not the case in Jamaica. There, social roots
were deeper, and important political groups had a permanent stake in the colony.
Coloured Jamaicans, as well as the great planters, were prepared to run risks to
restore protection: both believed the best interests of the island depended upon
the preservation of plantations71 • But coloured Jamaicans distinguished between
the preservation of plantation property and the preservation of a dominant white
proprietary class. While they could tolerate a reduction in the prosperity of sugar
property, particularly if it provoked the withdrawal of white planters from the
island, they could not accept with indifference a wholesale collapse of the staple
industry. To one degree or another, all colonial prosperity depended upon the
export of sugar. The coloured middle class expected, in the course of time, to
assume control of property as well as power in the island. When that happened,
they wanted both to be worth something.
If Jamaicans had accepted the guaranteed loan for the purpose of initiating

systematic immigration, the only place from which reliable immigration could
have been obtained was India. The island's brief encounter with Indian immigra·
tion had not been successful. Indians had created new social problems, and the
cost of introducing more of them could not be justified unless their immigration
offered strong assurance of economic recovery. Because Jamaica's debt wa:;
higher, because her plantations were more burdened and generally less fertile
than those of British Guiana and Trinidad, and because the island - for better or
worse - was the permanent home of a large middle class having importan t
political power but no fondness for Indians and no desire to be stuck with the
repayment of public debts incurred primarily in the interests of white planter:;
who might at any time leave the island, Jamaica refused to accept both the
guaranteed loan and Indian immigration.

The early 1850s were demoralizing years in Jamaica. Half the island's estates were
abandoned between 1844 and 1854; roads deteriorated; railway projects con·
templated in the 'forties were abandoned. Peasant income fell sharply. Epidem·
ics of cholera, influenza, and smallpox swept away at least 30,000 people, contri·
buting to a serious decline in social morality72. While Jamaica suffered gallopin~;
internal decay, Trinidad and British Guiana began to enjoy the first fruits of an
economic recovery based largely on Indian immigration.
World sugar prices began to rise during the Crimean War. In 1857 they reached
their highest level since the early 1840s. Many Jamaicans who had given up hope
in the future of the sugar industry suddenly looked to the plantations to reverse
the island's precipitous decline 73 . The Colonial Office, still committed to planta·
tion agriculture as the most desirable mode of operation in the Caribbean
encouraged a resumption of Indian immigration. The issue was intensely debatec
in 1858: memorials poured into Spanish Town from planters, Anglican clergy·
men, even some small farmers indicating a desire for immigration; only the
Baptists vehemently opposed it, contending that heathen and savage immigrant~
would set a poor and idolatrous example to others74 • The House of Assembly dul)
drafted a law restoring immigration from I ndia 75 , but coloured members and theil
allies refused to provide generous financing for the planter faction. The Jamaica
measure required that the cost of immigration be paid entirely by the employer5
of immigrant labour. This was not the practice in Trinidad or British Guiana
where an important part of immigration costs had always been paid out of general
colonial revenue. In effect, the Jamaican payment plan severely limited the
number of applications for immigrant workers. Not until 1861 did the Assembl)

permit export duties to defray a portion of the cost of immigration 76. By that time
the program was in jeopardy. Applications had stopped by late 1862, and planters
who had taken on Indian workers were trying to escape the burden of their
contracts. The average annual price of sugar had plummeted from 36s.lld. in 1857
to its all-time low of 21s.7d. at the beginning of 186377 . The American Civil War
drove up the price of imports, subjecting planters to an impossible cost-price
squeeze, and in February 1863, Jamaica cancelled Asian immigration. During the
brief revival of immigration the colony had admitted 4,646 Indians 78 •


In the critical three decades following emancipation, Jamaica acquired only

25,000 immigrants. British Guiana secured up to 125,000, Trinidad more than
50,00079 • Immigration clearly revived the flagging sugar economies in the eastern
colonies: Trinidad's production in the 'sixties was double its pre-emancipation
figure; British Guiana was producing at record levels by 1865. In Barbados,
where dense population precluded any need for immigrant labour, annual sugar
exports were nearly two and a half times greater than during the final decade of
slavery. Only Jamaica among the major Caribbean colonies suffered deteriora-
tion in sugar exports, from 68,465 tons a year in the decade before emancipation
to a mere 25,168 in the period 1857-668°.
Jamaica's economic decline was not confined to sugar. Coffee production fell
in the free period. In the middle third of the century, ginger exports dropped by
55%. Pimento sales were up, but this offered little comfort since the success of
pimento, a spontaneous growth, suggested that areas once cultivated in more
valuable crops were returning to bush 81 • Without substantial exports, imports fell
sharply. By 1860 the per capita annual value of Jamaica's imports was about
£2.8s. per person; in Trinidad the figure was £9.lOs 82 . A peasantry had been
established in Jamaica, and its domestic product compensated, in part, for the
decline in exports; but the wholesale abandonment of plantations narrowed the
market for peasants' food crops and deprived them of the money wages which had
generated substantial material prosperity in the early years of freedom. By the
1860s all sectors of the Jamaican economy were depressed, and stipendiary
magistrates bewailed the colony's moral as welI as material degeneracy.
Wakefieldian arguments appeared to have been vindicated in the West Indies.
The abandonment of estates in Jamaica had left large numbers of freedmen
scattered and isolated. Roadways and civic institutions had deteriorated; im-
poverishment was widespread; and social demoralization produced a rising tide
of petty crime in the 'fifties and 'sixties83 • Private observers who toured the

Caribbean lamented the depressed condition of J arnaica while generally compli·

menting the state of society in the other major sugar colonies84 . In Trinidad,
Indian immigrants had become the mainstay of the plantations. By choice,
Creoles worked during critical seasons for relatively high wages, and black
peasants sold their food crops to an expanding estate population. For every two
immigrants introduced, another Creole was given employment, and by 1860 up to
5,000 Creole workers were venturing seasonally to Trinidad from the Windward:;
to secure wage work in the cane fields 85 •
Heavy immigration saved the plantation economies of Trinidad and British
Guiana, but there is no certainty that it would have halted economic decay in
Jamaica. Recurrent drought in the 1840s weakened estates already burdened by
debt. Many of those properties were located in upland regions unsuited to animal
powered machinery and unable to bear repeated ratooning 86 • Without certain
supplies of cheap labour - and immigrants were not cheap - they could not have
operated profitably after the equalization of sugar duties. Of the colonies having
low population density, Jamaica appeared least endangered when coerced labour
ended. The large absolute number of people residing in the island led Baptis
missionaries to insist that the existing population was sufficient to maintain the
plantations. The Baptists were mistaken. Creoles sought relief from the disciplin··
ary rigors of plantation service. In the main, they resisted the planters demand for
'continuous labour', preferring to withdraw from estate properties in order to
achieve some measure of economic independence, however meagre, on the
colony's vacant backlands87 . A similar situation arose in British Guiana ancl
Trinidad after emancipation, but large-scale Indian immigration to those colonie:,
permitted a working system whereby immigrants performed steady, year-round
work on the estates while more robust Creoles (many from the depressed
Windward Islands) were hired seasonally to provide heavy labour such as cane
cutting. Except in Barbados and the most densely populated Leeward colonie~,
where there was no viable alternative to plantation service, the immigration 01'
contract labour proved to be essential to the health, if not the survival, of thf
plantation economy.
Political factors discouraged unconditional commitment to immigration ir
Jamaica. The colony's politically important coloured middle class was torn be·
tween conflicting objectives. It enjoyed an elite position in the island; it sup·
ported plantation agriculture; and it deplored the loss of protection, the decline of
prosperity, and the increase in social disorder. At the same time, coloured middlE
class Jamaicans benefitted from the expanding political and official opportunitie~,
occasioned by the misfortunes of Europeans, and they enjoyed a growing abilit)
to speculate in depressed agricultural property88. As a class, their interests werE
best served by an erosion of power among the old planter establishment, but no1

by a destruction of the plantation system. They did not oppose immigration in

principle, but their political power prevented a massive commitment to Indian
immigration during the early 'fifties. In the late 'fifties, when the price of sugar
rose momentarily, they took a cautious approach to financing Indian immigra-
tion. If, in spite of heavy public expenditure, the sugar estates continued to
decline, Europeans, they suspected, would retire to England, leaving them to
carry the colony's indebtedness. Moreover, they were reluctant to incur substan-
tial public debts to import a population whose habits and culture they found alien
and unattractive.
The Colonial Office considered immigration the lesser of two evils89 • When
Jamaica became a Crown colony after the Morant Bay crisis and control of her
affairs passed from the Assembly to the imperial executive, immigration from
India was revived. Some 27,000 indentured Asians were brought to the island
between 1867 and 19149°. In the official view, large Caribbean colonies would
either continue to maintain active export economies with some semblance of
modern civic amenities and a fertile environment for European cultural norms, or
they would decay into primitive subsistence economies with woeful social and
cultural consequences. Conceiving their choice to lie between these alternatives,
Britain's mid-Victorian colonial authorities accepted the costs and compromises
of indentured labour.


I. George L. Beckford, Persistent Poverty: Underdevelopment in Plantation Economies of the Third

World, (New York and London, 1972), p. 215. See also, Lloyd Best, 'Outlines of a Model of Pure
Plantation Economy', Social and Economic Studies, XVII, (1968), pp. 283-326. Andre Gunder
Frank's works on the relationship between development and underdevelopment treat this prob-
lem on a more universal scale, and his conceptual framework has given rise to a large body of
economic and historical literature. See, for example, his Capitalism and Underdevelopment in
Latin America, (New York and London, 1967), Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution,
(New York and London, 1969), On Capitalist Underdevelopment, (Bombay, 1975).
2. Boers in Southern Africa and Spaniards in the Argentine served systematic colonizers as savage
examples of uncontrolled population dispersal. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, England and Amer-
ica, (Reprint, New York, 1967), pp. 216--217.
3. R.N. Ghosh, 'The Colonization Controversy: RJ. Wilmot-Horton and the Classical Econo-
mists', in A.G.L. Shaw, (ed.), Great Britain and the Colonies 1815-1865, (London, 1970), pp. 110--
131; Paul Knaplund, 'Mr. Oversecretary Stephen', Journal of Modern History, I, (1929). pp.
41-43; Paul Bloomfield, Edward Gibbon Wakefield. (London, 1961), pp. 94-96,285.
4. W.P. Morrell, British Colonial Policy in the Age of Peel and Russell, (Oxford, 1930), pp. 7-13.
Although no British colony was founded on pure Wakefieldian principles, Wakefield was the
driving force in the settlement of South Australia after 1834 and of New Zealand at the end of the
decade. By 1834, Wakefield's views had been endorsed by many leading economic thinkers:

Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Nassau Senior, Torrens, Whately, and Scrope. Donald Winch,
Classical Political Economy and Colonies, (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), pp. 12!H43; Klaus E.
Knorr, British Colonial Theories 1570-1850, (Toronto, 1944), pp. 305-308.
5. A reading of Colonial Office memoranda, particularly those of Lord Howick, during the period
when the Emancipation Bill was under consideration affords unmistakable evidence of the
application of the Wakefieldian model (large farms worked by hired labourers under the direction
of capitalist farmers) to the West Indian situation. Public Record Office, Colonial Office,
(hereafter, C.O.), 320/8, Outlines of Plans for the Abolition of Slavery; C.O. 3181116 and 117,
Abolition of Slavery. The leading planter of Trinidad vehemently advocated the application of
Wakefield's principles to that island. William Hardin Burnley, Observations on the Presem
Condition of the Island of Trinidad, (London, 1842), p. 165.
6. Howard Temperley, British Antislavery 1833-1870, (Columbia, S.c., 1972), pp. 25-41.
7. See, for example, Thomas Clarkson, Thoughts on the Necessity of Improving the Condition of
Slaves in the British Colonies with a View to Their Ultimate Emancipation, (New York, 1823), p.
29; Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter, 1,1, (1825), IV, 2, (1831); Joseph Conder, Wages or the Whip.
An Essay on the Comparative Cost and Productiveness of Free and Slave Labour, (London, 1833).
In the House of Commons debate on the Emancipation Bill, one member observed, 'Those whc
have advocated emancipation have always said that free labour would be more efficient than slave
labour, and that therefore the planters had no reason to complain', The Debate in Parliament-
Session 1833 - on the Resolutions and Bill for the Abolition of Slavery in the British Colonies,
(London. 1834), p. 481.
8. Buxton argued that transforming the British West Indies into a showpiece would do more than
anything to end slavery in the world. Temperley, British Antislavery, p. 24. After emancipation.
itinerant abolitionists in the colonies urged freedmen to work diligently on the estates to sho,",
slave-holders in other lands that free labour could produce higher profits than slave labour.
William A. Green, British Slave Emancipation: The Sugar Colonies and the Great Experiment,
1830-1865, (Oxford, 1976), p. 191.
9. Using calculations of Edward Long, Richard S.heridan concludes that the estimated value of a
medium-sized Jamaican plantation in 1774 was over £19,000. Bryan Edwards. writing at the enc
ofthe 18th century, determined that the average Jamaican estate of 900 acres and 250 slaves wouk
represent a capital value of £ 30,000. Individual planters frequently held numerous properties, a!
did Simon Taylor whose collective assets in sugar estates and pens amounted to over £ 400,000 ir
1813. On the eve of emancipation, Sheridan argues, the average value of Jamaica's estates ma}
have been £ 65,000 sterling. Richard Sheridan, Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of thf'
British West Indies 1623-1775, (Baltimore, 1973); "Sweet Malefactor': The Social Costs or
Slavery and Sugar in Jamaica and Cuba, 1807-54', The Economic History Review, 2nd ser.,
XXIX, (1976), pp. 245-246; 'Simon Taylor, Sugar Tycoon of Jamaica, 1740-1813', Agricultura:
History, XLV, (1971), pp. 285-296. Fourteen Demerara estates that were sold between 1838 ane
1840, for which data was presented to the Select Committee on Sugar and Coffee Planting, had ar
average estimated value before emancipation of about £60,000. Parliamentary Papers, (hereaf·
ter, P.P.), 1847-48, XXIII-Part 2, (206), papers delivered by Dr. Ranken, Appendix 1. The mos!
advanced large multi-storied cotton mills being built in England at the end of the 18th century COS!
between £10,000 and £15,000; most mills wert! much less costly. Stanley D. Chapman, 'Fixee
Capital Formation in the British Cotton Industry. 1770-1815', The Economic History Review, 2ne
ser., XXIII, (1970), p. 241; A.E. Musson, The Growth of British Industry, (New York, 1978), p.
84. J.H. Clapham noted that ten iron works in the Black Country, 1812, cost on average abou!
£ 50,000. See his An Economic History of Modern Britain: The Early Railway Age, (Cambridge

1930), p. 188. In 1833, iron works with a capacity to produce 300 tons of bar iron a week might cost
between £ 50,000 and £ 150,000. Single collieries could have a capital value ranging from £ 10,000
to £ 150,000. G.P. Jones and A.G. Pool, A Hundred Years of Economic Development, (London,
1963), pp. 105, 114.
10. H. Scott Gordon, 'The Ideology of Laissez-Faire', in A.W. Coats, (ed.), The Classical Econo-
mists and Economic Policy, (London, 1971), pp. 193-196.
11. R.K. Webb, The British Working Class Reader 1790-1848, (New York, 1955), pp. 97-1O\.
12. British colonial planters were obliged to ship cocoa to Spain via Cuba and Puerto Rico where
cargoes were landed, bonded, and re-shipped in Spanish vessels. R. Montgomery Martin, History
of the West Indies, (London, 1836), vol. 1, pp. 122-123, vol. 2, pp. 286. Cocoa prices rose to $19 a
fanega (UO pounds) in the early 1820s, then fell to $ 6 by 1841. Trinidad's cocoa planters, the only
important group in the islands, were ruined. CO., 2951143 no. 53; CO. 295/154, Board of Trade
13. The average annual value of coffee exports from Jamaica, the only substantial West Indian
producer, fell from £ 23,448,000 in the years 1824-28 to £ 12,412,000 in the period 1834-38. Export
values would collapse more sharply after emancipation. CO., 137/287, Return of Exports from
14. Ginger was a scourging crop requiring growers to continually bring new lands into cultivation. In
St. Vincent, small estates developed arrowroot cultivation after repeal of the sugar duties, but an
increase of exports from 300,000 to 490,000 pounds in the four years, 1847-51, precipitated a fall in
prices from 3s. 6d. per pound to 6d. John Davy, The West Indies, Before and Since Slave
Emancipation, (London, 1854), pp. 187-188.
15. Roads and bridges, built to serve the estates, were maintained by them. Port facilities were geared
to the sugar trade. Towns were tiny and ragged; their inhabitants catered to the plantations. Large
merchants dealt in plantation stores; professional attornies managed estates; and physicians
worked under contract to the planters. Directly or indirectly, almost everyone survived on wealth
generated by the plantations.
16. Estates generated the largest source of colonial revenue through the import-export trade. In
Jamaica, parish revenue was employed to maintain roads, schools, churches, and the indigent. It
was raised primarily through hereditaments, an assessment on personal property that was borne
largely by planters.
17. Lloyd Best observes that a decline of plantations does not lower the propensity of ex-plantation
workers to acquire imports. 'Model of Pure Plantation Economy', p. 299.
18. Even so strong an opponent of plantation agriculture as Beckford acknowledges that the uproot-
ing of plantations would endanger economic and social order. Beckford distinguishes between the
private family plantations common to the West Indies in 1834 and the multi-national corporations
of the 20th century, noting that in the former case planters were capable of putting community
needs ahead of profits. In the 1980s, plantation societies are, as a rule, politically independent,
generally literate, and in possession of more varied economic options than their prototypes in the
1830s. But Creole leadership in these communities exhibits no powerful inclination to dispense
with plantations. Even in Cuba, since the rise of Castro, the structure of plantations has remained
intact although the island government has undertaken their management. Considering this, it is
easier to understand why 19th century Britons, dealing with an illiterate and volatile ex-slave
population and no attractive economic alternatives, were unwilling to dismantle the plantations.
See Beckford, Persistent Poverty, p. 5ff.
19. Sidney Mintz has attempted to disarm unrestrained criticism of Haiti. In an essay exhibiting great
empathy with the people of Haiti, Mintz produces a portrait of that community which, if available

for the perusal of early Victorian readers, would have reinforced, not moderated, their convictior
that the British Caribbean must avoid, at all reasonable cost, the conditions of life in Haiti
Despite his sympathies, Mintz does not conceal! he absence of national institutions and infrastruc·
ture. the primitive level of crafts, meagre productivity of agriculture, massive illiteracy, low statt
of health and hygiene, belief in vodoun, widespread polygamy, isolation from the rest of tht
world, and unmitigated poverty of the people - probably the deepest, most universal poverty ir
the Western Hemisphere. Sidney Mintz, Caribbean Transformations, (Chicago, 1974), pp. 267-
20. British commitment to European culture as the vehicle of progress is best evidenced in India, n01
the West Indies. Having visited India in the year of Caribbean slave emancipation, Thoma!,
Babington Macaulay presented his celebrated minute on Indian education, declaring the issue 0:'
India's future one of stagnation or progress, of despotism or liberty. The most precious treasun'
England could bestow on India, he argued, was her civilization. English education and tht'
English language became the medium for 'uplif! ing' Moslems and Hindus of the subcontinent. E
Stokes, The English Utilitarians and India, (London, 1959), pp. 20-46. Even Wilberforce believecl
Europeanization of India 'the greatest of all cau:;es'. Quoted in Bernard Porter, The Lion's Share'
A Short History of British Imperialism 1850-1970, (London and New York, 1975), p. 19. Consider·
ing the commitment to Europeanization undertaken in the East, it is unlikely that the nation
would have considered jeopardizing the institutional structure through which its 'civilizing
mission' in the Caribbean could have been pursued.
21. See. p. 163, above.
22. Taylor's important memorandum initiating deliberations on emancipation treated the question
exclusively in terms of Jamaica. e.O., 3181117. Abolition of Slavery.
23. The transitional Apprenticeship period, scheduled to end in 1840, was prematurely terminated I
August 1838. Izhak Gross, 'Parliament and the Abolition of Negro Apprenticeship 1835-1838',
English Historical Review, XCVI, (1981), pp. 560-576.
24. A crude estimate of population density can be achieved by determining the slave population per
square mile in the sugar colonies. For Barbado:;, the density was roughly 500; for St. Kitts, about
300; for Trinidad, 11; for Jamaica, about 75. Considering Guyana's continental position. such
computations become altogether meaningless.
25. Some indication of the relative scarcity of slav~ labour in the years before emancipation can b,:
determined by reference to the average compensation per slave awarded in various colonies.
Compensation awards were based on the average price at which slaves had been sold in the eight
years preceding 31 December 1830. In Guiana, compensation amounted to £ 114.11.5 per slave; ill
Trinidad, £ 105.4.5; in Jamaica, £44.11.5, e.O., 318/117. Inter-colonial Apportionment, Office of
Commissioners of Compensation, 7 July 1835.
26. e.O., 318/141, Circular, 30 July 1838; e.O., 854/2, Circular, 30 July 1838; K.O. Laurence, 'The:
Evolution of Long-Term Labour Contracts in Trinidad and British Guiana, 1834-1863', Jamaicall
Historical Review, V, (1965). p. 11.
27. W.L. Burn, Emancipation and Apprenticeship ill the British West Indies, (London, 1937), pp.
290-292. e.O .• 318/171, Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners to Stephen, 8 May 1847,
with enclosure.
28. After 1836, the British government stationed an agent in Havana to resettle liberated Africans ill
British colonies. That officer, R.R. Madden, preferred to place weak and diseased recaptives ..
few in number anyway - in the adjacent Bahamas islands. e.O .. 138/127 Madden Correspon·
29. Mary Elizabeth Thomas, Jamaica and Voluntmy Labourers from Africa 1840-1865, (Gainesville.

1974), pp. 18--22; C.O., 295/132, Burnley Correspondence. The American government did not
impede the flow of free coloured emigrants though it did express concern that abolitionists would
encourage southern slaves to escape to the north as a means of making their way to the Caribbean.
C.O., 318/158, H.S. Fox to Aberdeen, 29 July 1843 (copy), 27 August 1843 (copy).
30. For sugar prices, see tables printed in P.P., 1852-53, XCIX. Lord John Russell contended that
sugar consumption had fallen by a quarter since the end of slavery, Russell Papers, Public Record
Office, 30, 22/4A, Memorandum. More recently, scholars have determined that per capita
consumption of sugar in England was 29.2 pounds in 1811, 20.1 pounds in 1831, and 17.6 pounds in
1841. Sidney Pollard and David W. Crossley, The Wealth of Britain, (New York, 1969), p. 206.
31. John Prest, Lord John Russell, (Columbia, S.c., 1972), p. 173.
32. S.G. Checkland, The Rise of Industrial Society in England 1815-1885, (New York, 1964), pp.
17-21; Derek H. Aldcroft and Peter Fearon, British Economic Fluctuations, 1790-1939, (London,
1972), pp. 9, 77.
33. Joseph John Gurney, A Winter in the West Indies, Described in Familiar Letters 10 Henry Clay of
Kentucky, (London, 1840), pp. 103-104. William Knibb, the Baptist missionary and renowned
enemy of Jamaica planters, would tell a Select Committee in 1842 that Jamaican freedmen were
better off materially than English workers. P. P., 1842, XIII, (479), Select Committee on the West
India Colonies, evidence 6158, 6275.
34. C.O. 137/248, no. 50, Metcalfe to Russell, 30 March 1840.
35. In November 1841, Hall Pringle, a stipendiary magistrate in Jamaica, wrote, 'the negroes, both
males and females, are, with few exceptions, each of them in possession of a horse, and most
expensive clothing, and many other superfluities ... '. C.O., 137/248, no. 50, enclosure. Years
later, a missionary recalled that after emancipation freedmen were 'wasting their earnings on
pride and show-horses and guns, for which they had no use ... '. Hope Masterton Waddell,
Twenty-Nine Years in the West Indies and Central Africa, (London, 1863), p. 145.
36. Between 1835 and 1841, the imperial government had voted equal sums for education in Britain
and the West Indies, though the metropolitan population was twenty times that of the Caribhean
colonies. Believing that Caribbean freedmen could more easily afford education for their children
than English workers, Lord John Russell systematically trimmed the educational subsidy for the
sugar colonies. Green, British Slave Emancipation, pp. 330--337.
37. Many of Britain's abolitionists, profoundly committed to fixed ideological positions, refused to
acknowledge these portents. At the international anti-slavery convention held in London, 1840,
the principal theme propounded by delegates was that free labour was cheaper than slave labour.
Despite contrary evidence from the British colonies, the most zealous speakers insisted that
British planters would swiftly drive slave-grown Brazilian and Cuban sugar out of world markets.
British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, Proceedings of the General Anti-Slavery Convention,
(London, 1841), pp. 396-398.
38. The average pre-duty price per hundredweight of British West Indian sugar in 1841 was 39
shillings, 8 pence. The average [or Cuban was 21 shillings, 6 pence; [or Brazilian, 20 shillings, 9
pence, P.P., 1847-48, LVIII, (422); P.P., 1866, LXVI, (193).
39. Herman Merivale, Lectures on Colonisation and Colonies, (London, 1928), p. 332. Merivale was
most alarmed for the future of Trinidad and British Guiana, less so for Jamaica, where there was a
relatively greater population density. He advocated securing the desired immigration from North
America hut. by the time his words were uttered, North American immigration to the West Indies
was floundering.
40. Between 1835 and 1839, the Colonial Office was administered by Lord Glenelg, a well-inten-
tioned humanitarian whose languid hahits rendered him unequal to the monumental prohlems

which converged upon the department. Effective leadership passed to his permanent undersecre··
tary, James Stephen, nephew of Wilberforce. son of a leading abolitionist, and a man of deep
religious sentiment and profound empathy for Caribbean freedmen. Stephen concurred in th(:
desirability of preventing cultural regression among freedmen, and he accepted the necessity 0:·
perpetuating a plantation system. But he was not sanguine about either, and when the plante£!:
economic interests conflicted with the personallibertyofthe freedmen, he consistently supportec.
the latter. For an examination of Stephen's views on various aspects of West India policy, se(
William A. Green, 'James Stephen and British West India Policy, 1834-1847', Caribbean Studies,
XIII, (1974), pp. 33-56.
41. e.O., 318/148, Stephen to Vernon Smith, memorandum, 3 Nov. 1840.
42. This was not a frivolous point. In 1838, Barbados refused to accept Africans liberated from slav(
ships on these grounds, as did St. Vincent. e.O., 281123, no. 158, MacGregor to Glenelg, 4 Jul)
1838; e.O., 28/133, no. 21, MacGregor to Russell, 22 Feb. 1840.
43. Sierra Leone was widely considered 'white man's grave'. Between 1810 and 1830, all full gover·
nors of the colony saving one perished in Africa or en route home. Philip D. Curtin, The Image oj'
Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780-1850, (Madison, 1964), pp. 177-180. Of the first 7S
missionaries and wives sent to the colony by the Church Missionary Society, 53 died at their posts.
In January 1840, 13 CMS people arrived; by July five were dead and five had returned to England
in failing health. John Peterson, Province of Freedom. A History of Sierra Leone 1787-1870,
(Evanston, 1969), p. 140. Insurance companies refused to insure governor's lives; the annual
death rate for English soldiers in the colony was 483 per 1,000. Merivale, Lectures, p. 332. In 1837,
yellow fever carried away one-third of the Europeans; a hurricane devastated Freetown in 1838;
fever returned in 1839. Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone, (Oxford, 1962), p. 211.
44. Madden was an abolitionist, an ex-stipendiary magistrate in Jamaica, and Commissioner fO!
Liberated Africans at Havana. He was no ally of the Jamaica planters, but he endorsed African
migration to the Caribbean as being in the best interests of Africans. Aspects of his report on
Sierra Leone have been challenged, but not his observation that wages in the colony were very
low, unemployment rife, and the land infertile. He suspected that recaptives were occasionally
kidnapped and sold up-country, and he believed that the colonial population aided and abetted
the slave trade. P.P., 1842, XII, (551), Report of Commissioner of Inquiry on the West Coast of
Africa, pp. 246-249, 258--259, 261, 285. It is Iikdy that Madden received his information on the
kidnapping of recaptives in Cuba rather than Sierra Leone. A British judge in the Mixed
Commission Court of Havana informed Palmen.ton that he was personally aware of Cuban slaves
who had been liberated at Sierra Leone, lured out of the colony, then seized and resold into
slavery. e.O., 318/143, Kennedy to Palmerston, 28 Sept. 1839 (copy).
45. P.P., 1842, XII, (551), Doherty Correspondence. Appendix l7.
46. See, for example, William Allen and T.R.H. Thompson, Narrative of an Expedition to the River
Niger in 184/, (London, 1848), vol. 2. p. 434; Samuel Crowther and Samuel Schon, Journals of an
Expedition up the Niger in 1841, (London, 1842). p. 349. For a general discussion of 'native
agency', see Curtin, Image of Africa, pp. 419-423.
47. This was the view of Macgregor Laird, veteran of an earlier attempt in the Niger who testified
before a parliamentary select committee for two days in June 1842. P.P., 1842, XII, (551), Report
of the Select Committee on the West Coast of Africa, Appendix 27. That committee devoted a
substantial part of its report to emigration, arguing that the slave trade to Cuba and Brazil had
expanded since British emancipation, and that the only sure way to diminish it was to achieve 'the
production of Sugar by Free Labour in the British Colonies on lower terms'. The best way of
achieving that objective, it asserted, was immigration of free labour from Africa. Moreover, the

Committee concluded, 'it would be well for the African. in every point of view. to find himself a
Free Labourer in the free British West India Colonies, enjoying there. as he would, higher
advantages of every kind. than have fallen to the lot of the Negro race in any other portion of the
Monica Schuler, in this volume, p. 125-163.
48. G.W. Roberts, 'Immigration of Africans into the British Caribbean', Population Studies, VII.
(1954). p. 260; P.P., 1846, XXIV, (706) and P.P., 1847, XXXIII, (809), Annual Reports of
Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners; M. Schuler, 'Alas, Alas. Kongo': A Social
History of Indentured African Immigration into Jamaica, (Baltimore. 1980), p. 112.
49. Although St. Helena's Vice-Admiralty Court occasionally liberated African recaptives seized
south of the Equator, that remote rocky colony could not support them, and the imperial
government secured their removal by distributing them in rotation to the large sugar colonies.
Nearly 900 Africans entered Jamaica from St. Helena before the end of 1846. e.O. 2951150.
Gladstone to Harris, 13 June 1846; Schuler. 'Alas, Alas, Kongo', p. 113.
50. Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: the Export of Indian Labour Overseas 1830-1920,
(London and New York, 1974), p. 70.
51. Tinker, A new System of Slavery, p. 81.
52. e.O., 137/280, no. 123, Resolution of the Jamaica House of Assembly.
53. Green. British Slave Emancipation, pp. 209-211.
54. e.O .. 137/284, no. 49, Elgin to Stanley, 25 May 1845; e.O., 137/283, no. 2, Elgin to Stanley. 4 Jan.
1845; C.O., 137/287, no. 15. Report of Agent-General of Immigration. 28 Oct. 1845.
55. Votes of the Jamaica Assembly, 1845, Appendix VIII.
56. e.O., 137/285. no. 96, Elgin to Stanley, 19 Nov. 1845; e.O., 318/165. Burge to Gladstone. 31 Dec.
57. Sugar production from all the British West India colonies in 1847 was 23 percent above the
average for the foregoing eight years. The combination of larger British and foreign supplies
occasioned the sharp fall in price.
58. e.O., 137/297, nos. 75, 96, 107, Aug. to Dec. 1847, Correspondence on failure of Planter's Bank;
Douglas Hall, Free Jamaica 1838-1865: An Economic History, (New Haven, 1959). pp. 112-114.
59. e.O .. 137/289, no. 37. Darling to Berkeley, 22 Oct. 1846.
60. e.O., 137/289. no. 44, Berkeley to Grey. 21 Nov. 1846.
61. e.O., 137/293, no. 105, e.E. Grey to Earl Grey, 23 Oct. 1847.
62. e.O., 137/302, no. 36, e.E. Grey to Earl Grey. 10 Mar. 1849.
63. e.O., 137/311, no. 115. e.E. Grey to Earl Grey. 31 Dec. 1851.
64. One planter after another bewailed the Indians' filthy habits and sickliness, complaining most
often of their susceptibility to cutaneous ulcers and infestations of chigoes. Indians refused to
cover their feet, and they resisted the attentions of Negroes who were skilled at extracting
burrowing insects from human flesh.
65. The views expressed in this paragraph are drawn from a wide variety of public documents and
published sources, including reports from the Agent-General of Immigration in Jamaica. e.O ..
137/293, no. 108, and e.O., 137/296, no. 26. It was a common topic among witnesses before the
Select Committee on Sugar and Coffee Planting. 1847-48.
66. Though an avid free trader, Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary 1846-52, supported plantation
agriculture. He often declared that a destruction of the plantations would produce a 'fatal check to
the civilization of the Negroes'. e.O .. 2951151. Grey to Harris, draft, 24 Oct. 1846; Earl Grey. The
Colonial Policy of Lord John Russell's Administration, (London. 1853), I, pp. 62-63. Grey
recommended a variety of tax policies designed to compel freedmen to perform regular estate

work, including capitation taxes which would weigh heavily on the working population, obligin~
them to labour to satisfy the tax collector. Those who could not pay, he thought, should be
compelled to work on roads or be hired out in gangs to planters. Earl Grey, Colonial Policy, I, pp.
111.367-389; e.O .. 137/293, no. 106, minute by Earl Grey which formed the basis of an out-letter.
6 Nov. 1847; e.O., 295/160, no. 21, minute by Earl Grey. Grey's tax schemes were not appropriate
to Caribbean circumstances. In 1847 he inaugurated steamship traffic between Sierra Leone and
Trinidad and Guiana, but this experiment failed. The Colonial Secretary permitted African
recruitment on the Kroo coast, a territory outside British jurisdiction, and he applied heav}
pressure on recaptives to emigrate. In 1848, tte imperial government assumed the full cost of
trans-Atlantic labour movements as a means of assisting the financially embarrassed Caribbean
colonies. 3,700 Africans were admitted to Jamaica from Sierra Leone and St. Helena between
1848 and 1851, but that migration was almost entirely composed of recent recaptives. The sharp
rise in the slave trade following Britain's passage of the Sugar Duties Act generated those
recaptives. This source dried up in 1851 when Brazil abolished the slave trade in response to strong
British pressure.
67. Although British Guiana was a Crown colony, her unique constitution gave an elected body of
colonists control over the public purse. In Trinidad, also a Crown colony, the Legislative Council
did not possess equivalent power. For a discussion of these constitutional crises, see Green,
British Slave Emancipation, pp. 240-247.
68. Sir Reginald J. Cust, A Treatise on the West Indian Incumbered Estates Act, (London, 1859).
69. In Trinidad, the Council was entirely appointed. The Court of Policy was comprised, in part, of
appointed office-holders and, in part, of persons elected by a curious. but extremely narrow,
franchise. e.O .. 111/163, no. 77, Light to Normanby, 1 May 1839.
70. e.O., 137/316, no. 40, Grey to Newcastle, 16 May 1853; e.O., 137/324, no. 107, Barkly to Sir
George Grey, 19 Oct. 1854; Barkly to Newcastle, 10 Dec., 1853, Newcastle Papers, 9,553.
71. The three most prominent colored Jamaicans -- Edward Jordan. Robert Osborn, and Richard
Hall - repeatedly declared their belief that a community of subsistence cultivators would be
damaging to the moral and material development of the colony, and that the only means of
maintaining civilized life was to preserve the export trade in plantation staples. See. for example,
remarks of Jordan and Osborn uttered at a public meeting in Kingston, June 1849, quoted in
David Turnbull, The Jamaica Movement for Promoting the Enforcement of the Slave Trade
Treaties, (London, 1850). pp. 236,254-255.
72. Green, British Slave Emancipation, pp. 307-316.
73. e.O .. 137/336, no. 47, Darling to Labouchere, 12 Mar. 1858.
74. e.O., 137/338, no. 106, Darling to Bulwer Lytton, 6 Aug. 1858. e.O., 137/343. no. 3, Memorial of
Baptist Congregation. enclosed in Darling to Bulwer Lytton, 4 Jan. 1859.
75. By this measure, contracts to a single employer were permitted for three years, to be followed by
two twelve-month contracts with an employer of the immigrant's choice. After five years an
immigrant could return home at his own expem;e; after ten years he was entitled to repatriation
with assistance of the colonial government. e.O., 137/336, no. 14, draft, Stanley to Darling, 16
Apr. 1858.
76. e.O., 137/355, no. 100, Darling to Newcastle, 24 June 1861.
77. P.P., 1866, LXVI, (193).
78. P.P., 1866, XVII, (359), Report of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, Appendix
79. These figures are not absolute; in fact, there is no consistency in published immigration figures,
though differences tend to be minor. See, G.W. Roberts, 'Immigration of Africans into the

British Caribbean', Population Studies, VII, (1954), p. 259; G.W. Roberts and J. Byrne, 'Sum-
mary Statistics on Indenture and Associated Migration Affecting the West Indies, 1834--1918',
Population Studies. XX, (1966), pp. 125-134; G. W. Roberts and M.A. Johnson, 'Factors Involved
in Immigration and Movement in the Working Force of British Guiana in the 19th Century',
Social and Economic Studies. XXIII, (1974), pp. 69-83; G.W. Roberts, The Population of
Jamaica, (Cambridge, 1957), pp. 334--335; P.P., 1866, XVII, (3679), Report of Colonial Land and
Emigration Commissioners.
80. Noel Deerr, History of Sugar, (London, 1950), I, pp. 193--203; II, p. 337.
81. C.O., 137/287, Tabular Return of Exports; C.O., 142, Jamaica Blue Books, 1846-49; Gisela
Eisner, Jamaica 1830-1930: A Study in Economic Growth. (Manchester, 1961), p. 241.
82. Green, British Slave Emancipation. p. 253.
83. Throughout this period, magistrates reports from Jamaica lament the growth of petty crime and
anti-social behaviour. When the Governor toured the colony in 1864, independent black farmers,
perpetually victimized by malicious vandalism and theft, appealed vehemently for greater
government protection. C.O., 137/384, no. 256, Eyre to Newcastle, 10 Sept. 1864.
84. See, for example, Anthony Trollope, The West Indies and the Spanish Main. (New York, 1860),
pp. 69-70, for a most complimentary assessment of immigration in Trinidad. If anything, the
American observer, William G. Sewell, was more enthusiastic than Trollope, commending the
vigor and buoyancy of life in the colony. Generally a cautious observer, Sewell believed that a
restoration of prosperity in Jamaica would require an extension of sugar cultivation. See, The
Ordeal of Free Labour in the British West Indies. (New York, 1862), pp. 120-122, 258. An
abolitionist who returned to Jamaica in 1866 after nearly thirty years' absence, deplored as an
'impediment to progress' the abandonment of estates and the withdrawal of Europeans. See
Thomas Harvey and William Brewin, Jamaica in 1866, (London, 1867), p. 8.
85. Sewell, Ordeal of Free Labour. pp. 118-119.
86. Ratoons are new growths which sprout naturally from the roots of harvested cane plants. The
greater the fertility of the soil, the longer the land can produce ratoons profitably without
requiring replanting. In the main, Jamaican estates were less able to ratoon for long periods than
estates in Trinidad and British Guiana.
87. Continuous labour was a misnomer employed by planters. Because plantation work was seasonal
and because the better estates had acquired labour-saving machinery, planters could not give
year-round work to all the labourers they required in high seasons. Continuous labour meant,
therefore, continuous work when the planters needed it. A Creole who depended exclusively on
estate labour might be subject to periods of unemployment. This condition further encouraged
Creoles to acquire a degree of independence through ownership of their own lands.
88. George William Gordon, the coloured assemblyman executed for his alleged role in the Morant
Bay rebellion, serves as a case in point. Having accumulated some savings, Gordon purchased
numerous properties in Jamaica. None of them prospered, and he was deeply in debt when he
89. This was clearly the case with Herman Merivale, the permanent undersecretary in the 1850s.
C.O., 28/187, Merivale to Labouchere, enclosed in no. 42.
90. Roberts, Population of Jamaica, pp. 334--335.
9. The meek Hindu; the recruitment of Indian indentured
labourers for service overseas, 1870-1916


Slavery and indentured labour are usually closely associated. The letters of the
British consular officers on the treatment of indentured labourers from British
India in the French and Dutch colonies were classified under the old heading
'Slave Trade'. In one of these letters the British consul in Paramaribo expressed
what many observers had always thought about indentured labour: '... the
Surinam planters ... found in the meek Hindu a ready substitution for the negro
slave he had 10st'l.
It is the intention of this paper to show that at least one aspect of indenturec
migration was quite different from the slave trade: the process of recruitment. III
describing the different phases of this process it will be argued that little evidence
exists indicating that fraud, deception and even kidnapping were widely used in
order to meet the yearly demand for indentured labourers overseas. On the
contrary, many precautions were taken, both by the Indian authorities as well a5
by the recruiting agencies, in order to prevent irregular recruiting practices.
In spite of all these regulations, however, the recruitment system remained
imperfect. It was simply impossible for the intending emigrant to imagine what
his future employment overseas would be like. After the indentured emigrant
had fulfilled his contract, a similar problem arose upon his return home: it wa5
impossible for her or him to imagine how the reception would be back in India.
The group of 'return coolies', who indentured themselves again to leave India
after their return, were the real victims of the system. They had failed to settle
overseas and, at the same time, they had become outcasts in India.
The shortcomings of the indenture system, however, do not make it compar-
able to the slave trade. The relatively low percentage of runaways between the
moment of first registration and embarkation indicate that indentured emigration
was usually the result of a choice made by the intending emigrant himself, albeit
not always based on rational grounds. In this respect, indentured emigration had
more in common with the 'free' emigration out of Europe during the 19th century

Emmer P.C. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers,
ISBN 902473253 O.

than with the slave trade during the preceding centuries c.

The effects of colonial emigration on India were relatively small. Demograph-
ically it meant a loss of mainly young. unmarried males. but - unlike the impact of
the slave trade on West Africa - the consequences of this loss did not substantially
affect either the contemporary or the future population of India. since the
emigration was very small in relation to India's population.
A discussion of the economic and social consequences also yields an unclear
result. Colonial emigration must have improved living standards for some emi-
grants. However, India was saddled with the returnees, some of whom came back
as paupers. Again, the socio-economic effects of overseas emigration on India
seemed more comparable to the effects of emigration on 19th century Europe
than to those on 18th century Africa.
At first sight, the protests against the emigration of Indian indentureds seemed
to have had the same humanitarian basis as the movement against the slave trade.
By taking a closer look. however, the situation turns out to be quite different. The
slave trade was stopped against the wishes of most of the plantation owners. but
probably with the full consent of the slaves. while the decision to end Indian
indentured emigration not only injured the planters overseas, but also the mi-
grant workers themselves, since they continued to migrate in spite of the abolition
and never staged any concerted action against emigration overseas. The abolition
of overseas indentured emigration was advocated by the Indian middle class. who
had nothing to do with emigration themselves. Their feelings of national pride
were hurt, however, because the colonies of white settlement had closed their
border to Indian indentured emigrants in order to stop competition between low-
wage Indians and high-wage Europeans. In order to justify their actions. Canada.
Australia and South Africa resorted to blatantly racial arguments, and these
aroused widespread indignation among the educated Indians.
In the conclusion, it is pointed out that the humanitarian movement among the
Indian nationalists might have been aided by the economic motives. The Indian
landowners had always been opposed to emigration, and, around 1914. the rising
interests of the Indian capitalists also clashed with the system of overseas inden-
tured emigration, since it reduced the competition on the supplyside of the Indian
labour market both in agriculture and in the newly developed industrial sector.


The system of indentured emigration to overseas colonies was based on a push.

There existed a tradition of labour migration within India and the regulated
emigration via Madras and Calcutta to overseas colonies only constituted a

relatively small part of all Indian migratory labourmovements. Inland migration

was unregulated and mainly directed towards the Assam teagardens and towards
the jute industry in Bengal. The migration overseas was mainly not regulated an:!
directed towards the Straits Settlements, Burma and above all Ceylon 3 •
When starting their operations around 1860, the colonial recruiting agencies
only tapped the stream of migratory workers which already existed. For this
reason, the recruiters for the colonial agencies were usually able to fill the 'orden;'
from the colonies, which differed sharply from year to year. Between the years
1880 and 1916 the number of indentured emigrants sent to the colonies covered
91% of the demand and for Surinam 91% (see table I). Not all the overseas
colonies ordered indentureds every year and, consequently, the agency con-
cerned usually just suspended its recruiting activities.
The main thesis of this paper, regarding the difference between the slave tradl~
and indentured emigration in that the intending indentured emigrant made a
deliberate choice to go overseas, is best illustrated by a description of the proces,
of recruitment. In discussing the separate phases it will become clear that it i,
impossible to draw a distinct line between dream and reality, honest information
and fraudulous deception. However, there is no doubt that the colonial recruiting
agencies, as well as the British Indian government, were attempting to minimize
The intending emigrant was usually first approached by a local recruiter or one
of his helpers. The recruit was housed in the recruiter's sub-depot, after he or she
had showed a willingness to sign a contract ofindenture4 • During their stay in tht:
sub-depot the emigrants were medically examined as well as interviewed by tht:
local magistrate and asked whether he or she volunteered to emigrate and wa~;
aware of the consequences. Next, the emigrants were brought by train to Calcutta
usually in the company of the recruiter or by one of his helpers.
Once the recruits had been admitted into one of the Calcutta depots, they were
asked again, this time by the Protector .of Emigrants, whether they wanted to
emigrate. Also, new medical checks were made by a resident depot-doctor, by
the medical inspector of the Protector of Emigrants and finally by the surgeon of
the ship on which they were to embark.
During this whole process, between the first contact with the recruiter and the
last step on Indian soil before embarkation, many intending emigrants werE
rejected, changed their mind, or simply disappeared. The number of drop-out~
made up about 15% of the recruits between their first registration and their entr)
into a Calcutta depot, while the number of intending emigrants was reduced b)
about the same percentage during their stay in Calcutta.
According to table II rejections by the emigration authorities constituted the
main cause for the decline in numbers :in both phases of the period between

Tahle I. Numher of indentured emigrants ordered and dispatched (in 'statute adults') via Calcutta.

All Colonies Surinam

Demand Supply Demand Supply

1884 18,639 13,867' 1350 1535'

1885 6,430 5,331
1886 7,010 5,975 5 320 329
1887 4,625 4,565 5
1888 7,180 6,541' 1000 470
1889 9,945 10,041' 1200 1134'
1R90 13,826 12,154 1256 1162
1891 13,867 14,4015 698 653 5
1892 10,558 10,4165 1370 13405
1893 10,510 10,068 700 750
1894 14,638 14,865 1219 1152'
1895 9,487 9,976 5 1340 1341'
1896 8,776 9,611 1166 112R5
1897 7,024 7,379 5 1300 12875
1898 6,35R 6,035' 600 590
1899 9,733 9,018 no 918
1900 11,171 11.225
1901 11,2905 11.460 1250 6--13 5
1902 10,455 10,494 625 12545
1903 9,893 5 8,794
1904 7,501 6,901 239 238 5
1905 8,157' 8,933' 165 165
1906 13,2765 13,362 1200 1188'
1907 8,414' 6,889 1800 10025
1908 9,276 10,1605 1800 1801
1909 9,347 5 8,420 1833 1833-'
1910 12,153 8,340
1911 9,706 8,R61
1912 10,447 8,227 1600 1154
1913 5,167 6,175 1638 1675
1914 5,132 5 2,5R8 800 70S
1915 5,846 2,314
1916 9,071 3,6665 1050 280

Total 314,911.5 287,05R.5 = 91 % 28.439 25,R44 = 91%

Source: Yearly reports on Emigration from the port of CalClitla to British and Foreign Colonies.

Table II. Causes of non-embarkation of intending emigrants

a) Between first registration and entry into Calcutta depot (expressed in percentages of the total
number of first registrations).

All Colonies Surinam

Deaths 0.03% 0.03%

Desertions 1.14% 1.04%
Rejections 7.19% 5.65'10
Unwilling 0.46% 0.85'X,
Claimed by relatives 0.29% 0.11%
Detained 0.77% 0.45%
Unaccounted for 5.62% 3.80°!"

Total 15.50% 11.93%

b) Between entry in Calcutta depot and embarkation (expressed in percentages of the total number 0 .

first registrations).

Deaths 0.49% 0.62%

Desertions' 2.48% 3.13%
Rejections 13.5 % 16.6 %
Unwilling I <X, 1.3 (Yo
Claimed by relatives 0.4 % (J.6 <X,

Total 17.87'10 22.25%

Days in depot 27 43

Source: Yearly Reports on Emigration . .. (Calcutt.l, 1880-1916)

* 188()-1890: 4.2°;', 1880-1890: 4.9%

1906-1916: 0.9'10 1906-1916: 1.4%

recruitment and embarkation. In the Surinam depot the percentages for the
causes for non-emigration are somewhat higher than average. The main reasoll
for this must be the fact that the emigrant-; destined for Surinam had to wait much
longer to get a ship than in the depots of other colonies. The relatively small
demand for indentured labour in Surinam made it impossible to charter more
than two ships per season; in some years only one ship was used 5 .
Another feature which seems important to mention is the increasing efficienq
of the system over time. By 1892 all agencies had decided that the recruited
emigrants would be medically examined 10 the sub-depots before they signed the
contract. This was done in order to avoid expenses later on for returning the
rejected emigrants to their homes.
Another sign of the increasing efficiency of the recruitment was the selection of

the intending emigrants according to their profession. During the recruitment

season 1877/1878 the emigration agent for Surinam wrote about the recruits in his
Calcutta-depot: 'Their number was considerably augmented by a batch of danc-
ing-girls and women of similar description with their male attendants. These
people laughed at the idea of labouring as agriculturalists'. Later, however, 93%
of all Indian immigrants into Surinam had been agriculturalists in India". All this
indicates that both fraudulent behaviour on the part of the recruiter, as well as
misconceptions on the part of the recruited emigrants, diminished during the
operation of the system. See the drastic fall in the number of desertions in
Calcutta (table lIB). Also, this number included the families of the emigrants
who had died in the Calcutta depots. These women and children didn't really
desert, but usually had to be driven away7.
However, the system always retained a number of shortcomings, in particular
for those emigrants who had not made a firm decision to leave. It was true that
some Indians had so well acquainted themselves with the intricacies of the
recruiting system that they used it in order to get a free journey to Calcuttak . But
far more frequent were the occasions on which recruiters could use the system
against those emigrants who were unable to make up their minds. Time and again
the licenses of recruiters had to be withdrawn, because they had forcibly kept a
recruit in their house against his or - more often - her will 9 • The colonial
emigration agents as well as the British Indian government, however, cooperated
in weeding out the bad recruitersllJ.
Frequently the intending emigrants, who had not really made up their mind,
decided to abscond during the train journey to Calcutta. In the Calcutta depots
the frequent visits by the police, looking for missing persons, seemed to have had
a negative effect on the willingness of some to proceed. Also, alternative job
possibilities in Calcutta or in the Assam tea gardens had some attraction to those
emigrants who had ventured away from their native village as far as Calcutta but
who feared to go overseas ll .
No wonder several changes were suggested to improve the system of recruit-
ment. The emigration-agent for Guiana on one occasion proposed to move his
main depot away from Calcutta up into the hills in that typical mixed spirit of
charitable self-interest: 'Intending emigrants, instead of stewing for weeks in the
malarious atmosphere of the Calcutta suburbs, would enjoy fresh air and a fairly
temperate climate. Indeed in the rains it is quite cool, especially at nights and
mosquitoes rarely disturb slumber.' In Calcutta the chances of the emigrants
being talked out of their plans to emigrate were rather high. 'whereas were the
emigrant railed direct to the docks from up-country. there would be no chance of
outside crimps tampering with them.' As the last point of his proposal he
mentioned: 'What I cannot understand is why the idea never occurred to me
before'12. This suggestion, however, never became reality and both the provincial
sub-depots as well as the depots in Calcutta remained where they were, giving the
intending emigrants ample opportunity to desertl3.
Another change was suggested towards the end of the system and a notice was
sent to the provincial governments in India proposing to alter the commission of
the recruiters to a fixed wage. However, none of the governments considered the
change to be necessary, in spite of the fact that the British colonial authorities in
India were very sceptical about Indian indentured emigration to the colonies. The
government of Bihar and Orissa wrote: 'People will not emigrate unless the
advantages of doing so are brought to their notice by agents interested in
enlightening them ... '. According to the government of Madras only 'more
effective control by Europeans' would improve the recruitment l4 •
In fact, the recruiting agencies were nol opposed to changes in the system. All
the colonial emigration agents met from time to time in order to discuss common
problems. They exchanged complaints, in particular about the Indian magistrates
and police who were certainly not as cooperative as the recruiters expected them
to be. However, the recruiting agencies were in full accordance with the British
Indian government in that fraud and deception should be stamped out. The
improvement of the 'class of recruiters' was always recommended. All agreed
that a returned emigrant would make an ideal recruiter, since he was able to give
first hand information about conditions overseas. Ex-indentured women, par-
ticularly, should be induced to become recruiters in order to recruit more female
labourers l5 • Towards the end of the system all agencies recruiting for the British
colonies were amalgamated in order to cut back competition. It was even sug-
gested that the Salvation Army should take over recruiting. General Booth had
already been informedl6 •
There is not a single indication that any of the colonial recruiting agencies were
interested in the kidnapping of emigrants or in using fraud and deception as a
regular practice. In fact, the recruiter and (sub-)agent all faced a financial loss
when a fraudulently recruited emigrant changed his mind l7 •
However, the recruiting system was bound to remain imperfect as long as some
of the emigrants were pushed into emigration literally in order to physically
survive and as long as a large percentage of the Indian women used emigration as
an escape hatch for their restricted personal freedom within the Indian society.
In 1894 the Protector of Emigrants explained the excessive death rates in the
Calcutta depot by writing: 'Although the scarcity in the North-Western Provinces
and Oudh had not reached the more acute stage of famine, it was still sufficiently
severe to urge crowds of half-starved adults and emanciated children to the
different recruiting centres, with the result that the Calcutta depots eventually
became asylums for a large number of people in a more or less anaemic and

unhealthy condition'18. And, in 1880, the same Protector wrote about the re-
cruited women: ' ... that the class of women willing to emigrate consists prin-
cipally of young widows and married or single women who have already gone
astray and are therefore not only most anxious to avoid their homes and to
conceal their antecedents, but are also at the same time unlikely to be received
back into their families'19.
All the measures to improve the system of recruitment did not succeed in
bridging the gap between 19th century European optimism about the emigrant's
rationality in making decisions about his future and the deeply embedded emo-
tional aversion towards overseas emigration within India, which was only over-
come by hunger and family problems20.


In describing the recruiter's practices, major Wiersma, an observer of the Dutch

East Indies' colonial government reported: 'they (the recruiters) try to convince
the people by stressing above all the wages, which they shall earn overthere and
which stand in sharp contrast to the wage levels in British India. In addition, the
recruiters mention the guaranteed rations handed out during the first months of
their stay in the new country and the free housing and medical care as well as the
free return passage after the expiration of their contracts. The name of the
colony, to which they shall be transported, is mentioned, but nothing is said of the
long journey overseas. This lack of information sometimes resulted in the intend-
ing emigrant's unwillingness, desertion or other means to escape his obligations,
after he had learned the truth in the depot at Calcutta'21.
In fact, the Surinam emigration agent in Calcutta confirms the importance of
the time spent in the Calcutta depot: 'As long as he (i.e. the intending emigrant) is
in my depot up to the moment of embarkation, a period ranging from seven days
to two months, he has only to say that he does not wish to emigrate, to be released
at once. For though the agreement provided with his thumb-impression and the
Protector of Emigrant's countersignature has become a perfectly legal document,
entitling me to prosecute an unwilling emigrant for breach of contract, no such
prosecution has ever taken place during the time I have been in charge of this
agency, i.e. since 1901. During the time an intending emigrant is in my depot he
mixes daily with a large number, sometimes as many as 800, of his colleagues.
They freely discuss among themselves the situation they are in, they have the
benefit of the advice rendered them by a few returned emigrants who are embark-
ing on a second term of indenture, and of whom there are invariably a small
number present. So it may be taken for granted that at the time of embarkation 99

percent of the adult emigrants are fully aware of the kind of life that awaits them
on the other side and also, that any emigrant, who may originally have been
recruited against his will, has become fully reconciled to his fate, after discussin~,
the matter in all its bearings with others in the depot'22.
How much of this should one believe? As has been mentioned before, there:
seems to have been a gap between thl~ optimism of the European colonia.
administrator about the possibilities to enlighten his colonial subjects and the
imaginative powers of the Indian rural population. Eventually, the Indian~;
seemed to get acquainted with colonial emigration and the recruiting countries all
acquired an Indian nickname such as 'Damra' or 'Damraila' for Demerara o'
British Guiana and 'Sranan' for Surinam, 'Mirick' for Mauritius and 'Chinitaf fo~
Trinidad23. However, as late as 1910, the Sanderson committee collecting evi·
dence on colonial indentured emigration. heard that the emigrants did not really
know anything at all about their destination 24 • In 1889 the Protector of EmigranB
blamed the emigrants who were not interested: 'It must, however, be remarked
that emigrants are almost invariably entirely indifferent as to what colony they
are recruited for, and can with difficulty be taught to distinguish between them.
They are all included by them in the generic term 'tapo' or an island as dis-
tinguished from Assam, Cachar and Sylhet'25.
The step to cut off all ties with home - albeit not indefinitely - was sometimes
made during a pilgrimage or a religious festivaL It was only after indentured
emigration had already been halted in 1916. that suggestions were made to stO)
recruiting at festivals and holy places 26 • Sometimes, the sudden decision of the
emigrants to leave their villages made it look as if they had been kidnapped. 111
order to avoid enquiries by their family. some intending emigrants travelled tJ
other districts before they went to a recruiter and provided false informatiol1
about their real place of origin. As a result, it was only possible to trace 73% of the
families and relatives of those emigrants who had died abroad. And this percen-
tage did not increase over time n . Another sign of misinformation or lack (If
information were emigrants who complaimed that they had been sent to the wrong
colony. One of the reasons not to include the Surinam depot in the amalgamated
depots of the British colonies was the possible confusion this might cause among
the recruited emigrants about their destination 2R •
If we accept the fact that Indian emigration was mainly set up and controlled
according to European ideas, then it becomes understandable why the emigrants
were susceptible to horror stories until the moment they set foot in the colon:?
They had probably only been told about the material advantages of emigration
and nothing had been said about the immaterial disadvantages. Dr. Dutt, a
'native surgeon' on board of the Surinam bound Kate Kellock was dismissed
because he had incited the emigrants by saying: ' ... that on their arrival in

Surinam the coolies would have their heads cut off, and would be thrown
In his address on the abolition of the system of indentured labour the Honor-
able Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya specifically mentioned which information
had not been provided to the intending emigrant: 'He was never informed that
the moment he would set foot on board the steamer all his cherished ideas and
beliefs about caste and religion would have to be abandoned under sheer compul-
sion; that he would have to sit and dine in conditions under which he would never
have consented to dine if he was a free man'30. In 1914, Sital Persad, the chief
interpreter of the Department of Immigration in Surinam, was sent back to India
in order to find out how the recruitment for Surinam could be improved. After
visiting his native village, Sital Persad reported that there existed a giant misun-
derstanding. The villagers' main questions on the subject of emigration were: are
emigrants treated as animals overseas and what happened to single women 3!?
In conclusion it seems obvious that as long as the emigration system lasted,
fraud, deception as well as misunderstandings could not possibly be stamped out.
They were inherent to the system. Eventually, the Indian population seemed to
become aware of some of the material advantages of emigration. The emigration
agencies drew up elaborate schemes to improve the communication between the
emigrants and their friends and relatives in India. Every plantation should have at
least one indentured emigrant who could write letters. The postage between the
colonies and India should be reduced by using the facilities of the immigration
department in collecting the mail and sending it all together to India. It was also
suggested that every newly-landed immigrant should immediately send a pre-
written postcard to his relatives at home saying that he was alive and welp2.
Money-orders were received and some of the emigrants who returned to India
had been able to save substantial amounts. On the other hand, many ex-coolies
returned destitute, in particular when they had become invalids33 •
The most important information gap, however, had nothing to do with the
material pros and cons, but rather with the cultural and religious changes inherent
in moving out of India. This was to be the main theme of the Indian abolition
campaign rather than possible deception based on economic grounds.


According to the recruiting agencies, the best advocates for the indentured
emigration system in India were these 'term expired' contract-labourers who had
returned to India and subsequently wanted to re-indenture.
First, the colonial authorities in Surinam used the arrival of such 'return

coolies' as an argument to show to the British and the Indian governments thar
Dutch Guiana was a place to come back to, Particular mention was made of thost:
ex-indentured workers who paid their own fares,
Later, the re-indentured 'return-coolies' were used to show how superfluou:;
the free return-passage had become. The indentured labourer supposedly onl~1
took the free passage home, because it had been part of the contract. In reality he
only made the trip in order to see some friends and relatives and then wanted to
return, Surinam expressed an interest in the extension of the period of residence
in the colony from five to ten years before offering a free passage home, while
British Guiana would have liked to do away completely with the free return
passage 34 .
In 1897 the emigration agent for Guiana reported that some ex-indentured
workers 'have come to me, crying and praying to be sent back to the colony or to
Natal as they were starving', only two weeks after they had landed in Calcutta.
The agent was afraid that a returned emigrant, who had been away for 15-20 years
'has no idea of what he is returning to'. He has only left his second home becaus,~
he was entitled to use the free passage. Some came back to Calcutta, after havins
been weakened by a diet of 'pulse and rice, washed down by water' while th~
returned emigrant had to pretend - back m his native village - that he had been 01
a pilgrimage. 'In the colony he ate meat, plaintains, yams and other substantiLi
food, followed by a liberal allowance of grog.' Some of the ex-indentureds had t,)
pay their own way when they wanted to leave India again, because they wer~
physically too weak to qualify for a new indenture 35 •
However, it seems possible to turn the evidence of the emigration authorities
around. Rather than carefree holiday makers, the ex-indentureds, who were
looking to leave India again, probably constituted a sad group of people-in-be-
tween, who had lost any feeling of hom~.
All in all only 4.6% of all emigrants leaving via Calcutta had been indentured
overseas before. For Surinam the percentage was 3.1 %. A breakdown of all the
916 'return-coolies' who went to Surinam shows that there existed no specific
preference for migration to the colony of the first indenture: only 22 % came from
Surinam, while 21 % had been indentured before in British Guiana, 17% in Natal,
16% in Trinidad, 8% in Jamaica, 8% in Fiji, 5% in Mauritius, 2% in Guadeloupe
and 1'Yo in St. Vincent and St. Lucia. Out of the total of 11,623 ex-indentured
emigrants who left Surinam, only 210 (or 1.8%) returned 36 •
Rather than a positive development, the figures indicate that these labourers in
making a second indenture only wanted to get out of India again. They were not
particularly interested in returning to their old colony. In fact, some ofthem only
wanted to live more or less permanently in a Calcutta depot37. In the colonies
themselves these returned labourers were looked upon with disfavour. Tte

emigration-agent for Mauritius described them as 'mischief making ringleaders',

who had made a lot of trouble in his depot 3x •
After the emigration system had been abolished in 1916, a group of 96 returned
emigrants appealed to the British Indian government for help. 'Many of them are
colonial-born and find themselves utter strangers in this country. The India-born
have found that their long residence in the colonies had rendered them unfit for
the old social conditions'39. These unfortunates were temporarily housed in the
abandoned Surinam-depot and provided for out of charity. The government of
India even considered the creation of special villages for the returned emigrants
from overseas 411 •
The 'return coolies' as a special category of indentured labourers could hardly
be used as an argument in favour or against the colonial emigration system. They
were certainly not the victims of fraudulent recruitment nor were they the happy
profiteurs of a system with too many fringe benefits. The re-indenturing 'return
coolies' were the typical victims of all movements of overseas emigration: they
were always longing for the other side.


The effects of the indentured emigration on the socio-economic structure of India

seem to have been even more diffuse than the effects of the Atlantic slave trade on
Western Africa. In any case, this topic has not really been worked out in the
existing literature.
Demographically, the emigration seems to have had no important impact on
India. All inland and overseas migratory movements taken together never in-
volved more than three percent of the Indian population at one time, while the
regulated emigration overseas covered about 0.01 percent in any given year-ll. It
should be remembered. however, that the emigrants shared many of the demo-
graphic features of the African slaves. About 60-70'Yo of the emigrants were
young males between the ages of 20 and 30. In the African case the institution of
polygamy might have offset the negative demographic effects of the exodus of
young males. In the Indian case the emigration of young males hardly affected the
population growth.
The possible negative demographic effects were counterbalanced by two fac-
tors. Firstly, single girls who emigrated usually had a higher chance of getting
married and having children overseas than at home. If they returned with their
family, their foreign born children constituted an increase in the Indian popula-
tion. Secondly, 40.59% of the women who emigrated, were married (destined for
Suriname 55.31 %) and the relatively rapid growth of the Indian communities

overseas (in spite of the sex imbalance) suggests that Indian women overseas
might have had more children than at home or - what seems more likely - that
more of their children survived. Unfortunately, there are - as yet - no companl-
tive data on these demographic features. If these women returned, their children
were added again to the Indian population42.
All in all, however, the emigration of indentured labourers meant a net loss to
the Indian population and many contemporary observers considered this to be a
beneficiary effect of emigration. India was considered to be overpopulated and
emigration seemed the only way to prevent people from sheer starvation43 • Time
and again, the colonial emigration agems mentioned that epidemic diseases and
crop failure were important stimuli to emigrate. In 1884/1885 the Protector of
Emigrants complained that many coolies were admitted into the Calcutta depots
in spite of their bad physical state. However, if they had been rejected and
returned to their native villages, they would have been sent back to a certain
On the other hand the Indian government seemed disinclined to connect tbe
prevailing level of subsistence in India with emigration. In 1897 the Lieutenant-
Governor wrote that 'he himself was very favourably impressed at a recent visit to
the Demerara depot so shortly after a period of famine in the regions of Upper
India, from which the majority of th,~ emigrants come; he expected to see
brokendown peasants, who had despaired of bettering their fortunes in their own
country. He was surprised to find that the emigrants were the pick of the
agricultural population, stout sturdy men and women, robust in health and bright
in spirit. The famine, indeed ... had no effect in increasing emigration to the
colonies ... '45.
These differences in opinion never affected the colonial policies towards
emigration. Both the imperial and Indian governments felt that the small numb.~r
of colonial emigrants, even when multiplied tenfold, would constitute 'only a
trifling percentage upon the vast population of the North-Western Provinces,
Oudh and Bihar'46.
The demographic consequences of the colonial emigration are uncertain as is
the economic impact. Was colonial emigration detrimental to India? Gail Orn-
vedt writing about migration within India typifies emigration as 'part of a system
of imperialist-imposed exploitation ... '. In her view migration enabled the
employer of contract labour to pay 'single' wages, not family wages; 'the very fact
that the rural sectors had to carry the cost of reproduction of labour power, of
maintaining the worker's families and the workers themselves in old age, would
indicate that the effect was one of impoverishment'47.
The financial outcome of colonial emigration was probably somewhat better
than that of inland migration. On average, returned emigrants from Surinam

brought home about £ 16.- in cash, not taking savings in jewelry into account.
This money was the equivalent of two years' wages in India48 • However, the
distribution of these savings among the returning emigrants was very uneven and
emigrants who had become permanently ill or disabled returned as paupers.
In the colonial migration it was usually the unsuccessful emigrant who came
back to India. The majority stayed on permanently. Many emigrants transferred
part of their savings to India, but the magnitude of these amounts is unknown.
The social and cultural implications of colonial emigration are as diverse as the
other aspects. The sad plight of many of the returned emigrants has already been
mentioned. No wonder the secretary of state for India felt relieved about the fact
that so many emigrants never returned; back in India they would have constituted
an 'ill adapted' e1ement 49 •
Taking all this into account it seems odd that the Indian government allowed
the indentured emigration system to the colonies to continue. Of course, there
were always pressures from the imperial government in London, representing the
interests of the colonies importing indentured labour. However, the most impor-
tant reason for the 'benevolent neutrality' of the colonial government in India was
the absence of an Indian lobby of landowners and industrialists protesting against
the loss of so many valuable workers. The Indian government did not want to
stand in the way of possible individual gains for the Indian by emigrating over-
seas. 'All that the Administration can rightly do is to see that no obstruction is
unnecessarily placed in the way of emigration to encourage the dissemination
among the masses of accurate information regarding the colonies and the pros-
pects of colonial emigrants, and to facilitate the interchange of communications
between the emigrants and their relatives and friends in India ... The real and
only serious obstacle to the recruitment for the colonies had, doubtless, been and
must continue to be, the objection of the people themselves to emigrate, due to
caste prejudices, attachment to their homes, general ignorance of the conditions
of life and prospects in the colonies, and unwillingness to leave their villages in
seasons of prosperity and cheap food'511.
This laissez faire attitude enabled the Indian government to allow as much
competition as possible on the demand-side of the Indian labourmarket. The
army, the Assam tea gardens, the jute industry and a growing number of colonies
all competed on the market for migrant labour. Within the whole system of
Indian labour migration the negative aspects specifically connected with emigra-
tion overseas never constituted a sufficient reason to stop the system, either for
the emigrants, or for the British colonial authorities.


The end of the system of indentured emigration came suddenly. The abolition
was the outcome of the change of political pressures within the British Empire
caused by the First World War. Becaust: of the war, the colonial government in
British India could rely less on (military) support from London and had to agree
more readily to pressures from the colonial population, voiced by the Indian
nationalistssl . As a result, regulated indt:ntured emigration was stopped in 1916.
The attitude of the colonial authorities in British India towards emigration had
always been one of reserved neutrality. The government of India had to balance
itself between the growing Indian sentiments against the system of indentured
emigration and the pressures from the Colonial Office in London on behalf of the
plantation colonies. In order to avoid a complete halt to indentured emigration,
the three British West-Indian colonies, Guiana, Trinidad and Jamaica proposed
drastic changes in the system. Labour contracts would be abolished as the basis
for emigration, in spite of their advantages. As in the Indian emigration to Ceylon
the headmen (kangani) and their gangs would become the organisational pattern.
However, this alternative kangani-syst'~m could not possibly be used for the
emigration to the West-Indies. It was OU1t of the question that on the plantations a
substantial number of sirdars or drivers could be spared in order to recruit new
labourers in India. Instead, emigration should be continued on the basis of a free
passage to the chosen colony52.
A year later, in 1917, representatives of the British West Indian colonies and
Fiji met again and put forward new proposals. The new projected system would
be completely different from the old one: 'it will be one of aided colonisation'.
The Indian emigrant would be offered at free passage to the colony of his choice
without the obligation to sign a contract beforehand. Once he had arrived in tbe
colony, he would be allotted to 'a selected employer' during the first six months of
his stay 'for his own protection' . Free plots of land could be handed out after three
years' employment in agriculture in ordt:r to direct Indian immigrants towards c.n
agricultural occupation. The system of recruitment in India itself was to be
retained; the recruiters, however, would work for a fixed salary. Minor changes
were proposed in that no specific percentage of female emigrants would be
required (such as the 40% rule in the old system) and single women would not be
offered a free passage. Also, the non-working dependents of an emigrant family
would no longer be cause for rejection s3 •
All these proposals were of no avail. The Indian government did not want w
continue regulated emigration in any way as long as regulated overseas emign-
tion was opposed to the sentiments of the Indian population. The India Office in
London thought that the Vice-Roy in India had yielded too quickly to the

arguments against free emigration, and seemed to have lost interest in 'imperial
solidarity'54. In spite of the fact that no indentured emigrants had been recruited
for the French colonies for a long time, the French government was not to be told
about the complete abolition of the system since - in 1916 - this country was a
valuable ally against Germany. However, the neutral Dutch government was
informed and the Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1872 was annulled 5".
The colonial emigration-agents could not have been surprised about the aboli-
tion. In July 1914, the agent for British Guiana had already reported home that his
recruiters were greatly alarmed by the Indian society which was making propa-
ganda against emigration, like - at one time - the Anti-Slavery Society in Britain.
The numbers of intending emigrants had been halved because members of this
anti-emigration society had instructed some relatives to have themselves re-
cruited only in order to be 'claimed' as missing persons once they had been
brought to Calcutta. This practice had caused considerable unrest among other
emigrants in the depot. In addition, the Indian society against emigration had
issued several pamphlets warning people against emigration 56 .
In order to rectify the anti-propaganda as well as to get free immigration from
India underway, the colony of British Guiana issued in India an idyllic 'Memor-
andum by the Immigration Department, British Guiana, better known as De-
merara' in which it was pointed out that 'in British Guiana, at this time, there are
over 130,000 East Indians; some of them have sugar estates; some arc doctors,
lawyers and merchants; some have cattle farms and so on'. There would be
excellent opportunities to keep one's own religion. Reassuringly, the pamphlet
mentioned: 'there are no tigers or such dangerous animals such as in India. The
biggest animals of this sort are the jaguar and the puma, but they do not attack
men. People can go all through the jungles of British Guiana at any time without a
weapon and without fear; but, as in India, there arc venomous snakes in the
jungles, yet few people get bitten and death from this cause is rare.' All newly
arrived immigrants could settle as independent colonists, 'but any East Indian
who does not know the country should go to the sugar estates first, where he will
find numbers of his own countrymen, get regular work, regular pay, and help ifhe
gets ilp7.
The Indian members of the Legislative Council of India, however, told the
colonial government that a new system of assisted emigration would be out of the
question. As under the old system it would remain impossible to explain to
'simple village people' what kind of (labour) situation to expect in the colonies.
Secondly, the feelings of racial superiority among Europeans had not changed
since the abolition of the indentured labour system. An Indian member of the
Council mentioned: 'It is a known fact that the general body of Europeans in the
colonies consider Asiatics as racially and fundamentally inferior to them. When

therefore such men obtain privileged control over Asiatics, the position of the
latter is reduced to mere cattle and even the most humane planter does not
succeed in lifting his Asiatic employee in the social and moral scale. So long as
such a view continues to be entertained by the European planters, no Indian who
has any regard for the moral well-being of his fellowmen can possibly COIl-
template with equanimity a continuation of such a system of service, however
modified and whatever may be the safeguards devised for the protection of tbe
servant'58. The Indian government should see to it that 'free' emigration did not
succeed indentured emigration, which in turn had become the successor to the
slave trade 59 •
Indentured emigration never was succeeded by any other official system, in
spite of the protests from the West Indian colonies. These colonies felt that they
were unjustly punished for the growing racial aversion towards Indians in the
colonies of white settlement such as Canada, Australia and South Africa which
intended to protect the wage level of their European labourers against compe-
tition by Indians 60 • In 1914 the refusal of the Canadian government to admit a ship
with 350 Indians, who wanted to be united with their relatives in Canada, aroused
a lot of indignation among the Indian nationalists. At the time, the colonial
authorities in India refused to take into account the hurt pride of the Indian
nationalists. The governor of the Punjab actually supported the Canadians. His
secretary wrote to the Central government: 'His Honour, I am to say, considers
that the desire of the British colonies to protect their population from admixture
with Asiatic races and to preserve their territory as a 'white man's country' is both
reasonable and intelligible.' Racial equality is a dangerous 'common denomin a-
tor' for the Indian nationalists 61 •
As has been pointed out, the volte-face of the colonial authorities in India in
1916 was mainly caused by the new weight which the Indian nationalists carried
during the First World War. These nationalists were, to a great extend, middle
class and they themselves had no personal experience with emigration overseas.
There is only one reference to the indentureds themselves being opposed to the
continuation of the system. In 1915 a report about a peculiar 'Oraon Cult' among
the coolies in the Assam tea gardens reached the colonial government; it was
explicitly mentioned in this report that the indentured labourers hoped for a
German victory62. However, there are no reports about protests of the indentured
labourers going overseas.
On the contrary, in 1921 the British Indian community in Surinam collected
enough money to enable a delegation to visit India in order to see whether
emigration could be started again in one way or another63 . As the Secretary of
State for India wrote at the time, it looked as if the abolition of the system of
indentured labour had been agreed to in order to satisfy the nationalist feeling~, of

the Indian bourgeoisie. As a result the zamindars gained more weight again,
while the poor Indian's freedom of movement had been restricted6~.


The recruitment of indentured labourers always had a dubious character. Both

recruiters and recruited shared a common interest in doctoring the truth. How-
ever, all colonial authorities involved had a common goal too: to improve the
recruiting-process. This applied to the British Indian government. which felt
responsible for its colonial subjects, as well as to the colonial representatives,
recruiting indentured labour at great expense.
This contradictory situation prohibited the creation of a system in which all
participants could feel satisfied. Some recruiters used fraud and deception to
increase their pay as it was based on the number of emigrants recruited. On the
other hand, emigrants who refused to leave India could cost the recruiter dearly.
The recruited usually considered indentured emigration an escape hatch for his
economic and social problems. Many of the recruits did not want to know about
the exact labour conditions ahead of them, since they intended to leave their
homesteads anyway. The number of desertions between registration and embar-
kation was low. Most of the recruits who did not succeed in leaving India were
rejected on physical grounds.
The British Indian authorities were not really interested in the system of
indentured emigration for service overseas since, in their opinion, it did not
change anything in India itself: it only affected 0.01 per cent of the population. It
was the leverage of the imperial government which grudgingly pushed the Indian
government into intervention by regulating and controlling the indentured labour
The labour importing colonies were very keen to obtain indentured labour
from India, but they were also very much aware of the costs involved and the
possibilities of misinvestments. The 'importation' of every single contract-labour-
er cost a small fortune, and this money would be lost if the recruited immigrant
proved unable, or unwilling, to labour.
In spite of some of the internal contradictions within the indentured labour
system its abolition was caused by outside forces, not by the recruiters and the
recruited themselves, nor by the British Indian government or the receiving
colonies. It was the increased political pressure from Indian nationalists which
put a sudden stop to indentured emigration. A precondition for this was the
weakened position of the imperial government during the First World War. In
that war the colonial government saw itself forced to yield more to the demands of

the Indian nationalists and less to the interests of 'imperial solidarity'.

The abolition of the system was against the interests of most of the parties
concerned. At the receiving end, the colonial governments, the employers c,f
indentured labour, as well as the majority of the Indian communities oversea~"
were in favour of continuation of overseas emigration from India. On the Indian
side, the colonial government held on to a neutral attitude, but at the same time
realized that overseas emigration gave an opportunity to a small percentage of the
Indian population to improve their living standards. And - most importantly,
after 1916, the Indians themselves continued to use emigration as an attempt to
increase their incomes65 .
The abolition of indentured emigration bears some resemblance to the aboli-
tion of the African slave trade in that in both cases the humanitarian motives of
'third parties' played a key role in the debate. The African slaves were unable to
express themselves in the abolition debate, while the Indian indentured emi-
grants, whether in India or in the colonies also remained silent.
Recent research has indicated that humanitarian feelings within late 18th
century England and Scotland probably constituted the most important stimulus
for the abolition of the slave trade. The Williams' thesis, suggesting a link
between the rising interest of British capitalists and abolition, has been refuted.
In the case of the abolition of the indent llred labour system a similar thesis could
be developed. Some of the Indian opponents of the indentured labour system
indicated that the prevailing wage levels in the Bengal jute industry, in the Assam
tea plantations and in the industry in and around Calcutta and Bombay mace
emigration overseas superfluous. Tinker writes: 'At a time when Indian industry,
increasingly under Indian ownership, was having difficulties in obtaining ade-
quate supplies of labour, people were: being syphoned off by the indenture
system. To the protests of humanitarians and politicians was added a powerful
reinforcement: that of Indian capitalism'66. Further research will have to show
whether colonial emigration really was detrimental to the development of Indic.n
industry. If, in addition, it would be possible to link the formation of Indic.n
capital with the savings of returned labourers Eric Williams would finally have his
way, albeit in an other part of the colonial world. 67


1. India Office Records, (hereafter lOR), Emigration Proceedings, (hereafter EP), 2278, (1884),
p. 31.
2. Gail Omvedt, 'Migration in Colonial India: the Articulation of Feudalism and Capitalism by tile
Colonial State', Journal of Peasant Studies, VII, 2, (Jan., 1980), p. 189-tries to show that Indian

indentured emigration is not comparable to the African slave trade or to the European migration.
Her arguments, however, do not take into account that all these migratory movements changed
over time.
3. Omvedt, 'Migration in Colonial India', pp. 188.189; Hugh Tinker, A New System oISlavery: the
Export oI Indian Labour Overseas, 1830-1890, (Oxford. 1974), pp. 39-60 and Arnaud A. Yang.
'Peasants on the Move, A Study of Internal Migration in India', Journal of Interdisciplinary
History, X. 1, (Summer, 1979), pp. 37-58.
4. George A. Grierson. Report on Colonial Emigration from the Bengal Presidency, (Calcutta.
1883) and L.F.S. Lutchman, (ed.), Verslag eeller zending lIaar Britsch-lndie, ter bestudering vall
het emigratie-wezen aldaar, voor zover betreft de werving, het in depots onder dak brellgen en het
afschepen van Britsch-Indische emigranten naar Suriname, opgemaakt door P. Wiersma, gepen-
sioneerd majoor der infan/rie van het Nederlandsch-Illdisch Leger, (Paramaribo. 1973).
5. lOR, EP, 1662, (1881), pp. 51-58 and C.J.M. de Klerk, De immigratie der Hindostanen in
Suriname, (Amsterdam, 1953), p. 70.
6. Report on Emigration from the Port of Calcutta to British and Foreign Colonies, by the Protector
of Emigrants, 1871 to 1917 and Koloniaal Verslag, (Suriname), 1873-191617.
7. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1877/1878. Comment by British Indian Government.
8. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 187811879.
9. See various Yearly Reports on Emigration each with a special paragraph on the granting and
withdrawal of licenses.
10. Lutchman. Verslag, p. 10.
11. Yearly Reports all Emigration, 1903. JOR, EP, 1862, (1882). pp. 1241-1268.
12. EP, 7682, (1907). pp. 121. 122.
13. EP, 7968, (1908). p. 551 and Lutchman. Verslag, p. 36.
14. lOR. EP, 9270, (1912), pp. 329-341.
15. lOR. EP, 1862. (1882), pp. 1241-1268.
16. [Sanderson]. Report of the Committee on Emigration from India to the Crown Colonies and
Protectorates, (London, 1910), question 2923; Tinker, New System, p. 319.
17. Lutchman, Verslag. p. 85.
18. Yearly Reports on Emigration. 1894.
19. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1880.
20. [Sanderson]. Report of the Committee on Emigration, question 704; Yearly Reports all Emigra-
tion, 188411885; Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague. (hereafter ARA), Buiza, (Foreign Office),
A 135, box 278. Incoming letter by Count van Hogendorp. 17-VI-1876. lOR. P+J/6/15/371 and
373 (files 673 and 878).
21. Lutchman. Verslag, p. 59.
22. lOR. EP, 9270. (1912). p. 339.
23. Grierson, Report on Colonial Emigration, pp. 2, 3.
24. [Sanderson], Reporl of the Committee all Emigration, questions 4740--4741.
25. Yearly Reports on Emigratioll, 1889.
26. lOR, EP, 10219. (19\7). pp. 489-494.
27. Yearly Reports on Emigration, section: Comments by British Indian government.
28. lOR. EP, 19526, (1914, Jan.-July), pp. 75-83 and ARA. Buiza. A 135, box 282. 16-VII-1912.
29. lOR, EP. 694. (1875), pp. 15. 16.
30. lOR, EP, 10001, (1916), p. 333.
31. ARA, Buiza. A 135, box 282. 21-11-1914.
32. Grierson and [Sanderson] Report of the Committee on Emigration, questions 5387-5389, 5340.
5371 and 4764-4775.

33. lOR, EP, 8772, (1911), pp. 557-570. of the government of Bengal about the Dut:h
emigration-agent, who provides the invalid and poor ex-indentureds with only 'a rupee or two to
find their own way home after repatriation to Calcutta'.
34. De Klerk, De Immigratie, pp. 150-154.
35. lOR, EP, 5442, (1898), 9-XII-1897.
36. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1878-1916.
37. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1879/80 and 1880/81.
38. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1880/81.
39. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1879/80 and [Sanderson J Report of the Committee on Emigratic'n,
question 586 and 4948.
40. Tinker, New Sytem, pp 365,366.
41. IOR/Z/P/1986, pp. 619,620 and P 11051, pp. 134, 135.
42. Tinker, New System, pp. 39-60.
43. Yearly Reports on Emigration; the birthrate in Surinam was 32%0, see Pieter Emmer. 'The
Importation of British Indians into Surinam (Dutch Guiana). 1873-1916', in Shula Marks and
Peter Richardson, (eds.), International Labour Migration; Historical Perspectives, (London,
1974), p. 91. The birthrate in India was 40%0 in: K. Davis, The Population of India and Pakistan,
(Princeton. 1951), p. 68. However, these two figures can not be compared, because the Ind an
immigrant population in Surinam was a select group, heavily dominated by malcs between 1he
ages of 16 and 30. Koloniaal Verslag (Surinam). 1876, p. 45 mentions the healthy state of newly
born infants in the colony.
44. [Sanderson J Report of the Committee on Emigration, question 2923; Tinker, New System, p. 119.
45. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1884/1885.
46. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1897 (commfnt by British Indian Government).
47. lOR, EP, 1502. (1880), pp. 65-188, 24-III-l:m.
48. Omvedt, 'Migration in Colonial India'. pp. 207,208-209.
49. J. McNeil and Chimman La!. Report on the Condition of Indian Immigrants in the Four Bri/ish
Colonies: Trinidad, Guiana or Demerara, Jamaica and Fiji, and in the Dutch Colony of Surin~m
or Dutch Guiana, (Simla. 1914). p. 180 (app'~ndix 21).
50. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1882-11;83.
51. Yearly Reports on Emigration, 1884-1885, Ul89, 1903; lOR, EP, 9270, (1912), pp. 329-341.
52. Tinker. New System, pp. 236-366 and A.T. Yarwood. 'The Overseas Indians as a Problerr, in
Indian and Imperial Politics at the End of World War Onc·. Australian Journal of Poli/ics lind
History, XIV, (1968). pp. 204-241;.
53. lOR, EP, 10219, (1917), pp. 53-63.
54. lOR. EP, 10219, (1917). pp. 489-494.
55. lOR, EP. 10422, (1917). pp. 191-207.
56. lOR, LlP+J/611037113 and 3892/17.
57. lOR. P 9771;, (1914). pp. 741-744.
51;. lOR. EP, 10219. (1917), pp. 53-63.
59. lOR, Confercnce Proceedings 29. p. 281.
60. lOR, EP. lOOOI. (1916). pp. 331-346.
61. lOR, EP, 10219, (1917), pp. 53-63.
62. lOR, EP, 9527, (1914), pp. 1129.
63. lOR. LlP+J/611448, file 2933116.
64. IOR/LlP+J/611683.
65. IOR/P 491 pp. 1;9-lO2.
6ft. Tinker, New System, pp. 367-383.
07. Tinker, New System, p. 301.
10. Engagees and coolies on Reunion Island
slavery's masks and freedom's constraints*




This contribution can only contribute a small stone to the edifice of indentured
labour migration. In the present case, the stone is indeed minuscule, a volcanic
agglomerate of 2,512 square km (approximately 950 square miles); on the 2:"st
parallel, 800 km East of Madagascar. The island - La Reunion since 1848,
Bourbon in the time of royalty - has lived through certain experiences which are
perhaps worth mentioning. With an extremely varied population, this French
Overseas 'departement' numbered more than 500,000 inhabitants in 1982; wh,;:n
their ancestors settled there, in 1663, it was a desert island l .
The cohabitation of Europeans and coloureds began with a period of more than
twenty years, during which the two communities seem to have enjoyed mutual
understanding and freedom. Although the scarcity of women sometimes gave rise
to conflicts, it contributed, on the other hand, to the tempering of prejudices:
Frenchmen did not hesitate to take a lawful wife from those ethnic groups whose
skin colour, elsewhere, already ordained them to slavery. Moreover, the 'Stat-
utes' of 1664, intended for Madagascar and 'adjacent' islands, forbad 'the selling
of any original inhabitants of the country as slaves'. This interdiction was soon
forgotten, but if, at the beginning of the 18th century, there were some Bourbon
Malagasies and Indians who were slaves, the way of life did not seem to require a
massive slave trade any more than a recourse to indentured labourers: people
hunted, fished, gathered and animal husbandry and agriculture were just begin-
ning. In 1714, the white community was still the most numerous, with a populati:m
of, in all, 1,1572 • But the exigencies of the economy soon required more labour
and in 1735, the island numbered 6,573 slaves out of a total of 8,289 inhabitants. In
1808, there were about 54,000 slaves, 2,800 free coloureds and 13,500 whites. The
Robinson Crusoe ways of the early days had been replaced by the growing of
vegetables, coffee and spices. A perhaps more fundamental change, entailed in
the adoption of sugar in the 19th century, was the entry of Bourbon into the
• Translated from French by Bernard Delfendahl

Emmer P.e. (ed) Colonialism and Migration; Indentured Labour before and after Slavery.
© 1986 Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, DordrechtiBostonlLancaster.
ISBN 90247 3253 O.

plantation type of economy and society, of which the West Indies already
provided an example 3 .
As regards the general scheme proposed for our reflection: 'indentured labour
before and after slavery', a certain specific character of this island begins to
emerge: its late awakening to relational life made it jump the stage of 'before'; the
daring of its economic choices led it into a supplementary stage: 'indentured
labour during slavery'. Going from a production of 21 tons of sugar in 1815 to
30,000 tons in 1846 and 73,000 in 1860 could not be accomplished without some
damage to labour, especially as it was not simply a matter of replacing one crop
with another, but of conquering, in part, new land, and of mastering as yet
unknown techniques of production in scorching mills'. The Reunionese were to
feel the boldness of the venture, when they underwent the same fate as other
French colonies by being submitted to the prohibition of the slave trade in lR17,
and to that of slavery itself in 1848. The island's multitude of poor Whites had
continued to increase since the 18th century; it was estimated that between the
years 1830-1840 two thirds of the white population were indigent'. But the hope
of bringing them to tasks which the entire population considered as servile
provided to be utopian. And did a local lawyer not point out that 'Europeans
can't do agricultural work in the torrid zone without danger to their lives, and
Blacks alone can be employed there'6? While slave trade trips continued secretly
for as long and as far as possible, at the same time plans and projects were
developed for recruiting free workers, whose incoming numbers became con-
siderable only after 1848 7 • One of the essential questions regarding these recruits
can be formulated like the one J. Benoist poses with regard to Asian immigrants
to the West Indies and the Guyanas: 'Are we in the presence of a substitute for
slavery which allows the maintaining, almost unchanged, of a society shaken by
the end of the slave trade and the abolition of slavery? Or are we in the presence
of a new labour force, which coincides with a great technological mutation, and
which makes the plantations enter the industrial era?'x. Without wishing to
int1uence the answer to the question, I would like, in this paper, to contribute a
few elements in favour of the first hypothesis. Some will suggest that this is more
applicable to an earlier period than to the last decades of the 19th century and the
20th. However, one should keep in mind an analysis made by a geographer in the
years 1955-60, examining the obstacles which stood in the way of the develop-
ment of Reunion. This geographer, J. Defos du Rau wrote several pages under
the title The nostalgia of slavery' and he remarks for example that many inhabi-
tants 'are not yet accustomed to its abolition'. As for myself, at the end of
enquiries carried out over the course of twelve years, I have the impression that
the ramifications of slavery still survived, long after 1848, in mind and myth - and,
perhaps above alL in the subconscious - and that slavery has left a heritage of

which traces still persist in the practices of daily life and perhaps above all in the
The coolies of Reunion were, at least on first analysis, without doubt 'a
substitute for slavery' to the extent that they did not only succeed the slaves, but
even lived alongside them. During this first period, which ended in 1848, the
experience of living together led to confusions and assimilations which, when the
influx of indentured labourers and coolies increased, developed much easier as
legislation proved to be little trouble. The Franco-English conventions of 1860-61
and later regulations in principle protected the labour more strictly. This labour
was sought with constant passion by the Reunionese and introduced in successi ve
waves until 1933. The recourse to these workers under contract is then a phe-
nomenon which runs over a relatively long period. Should one then put forward
the hypothesis that, even more so than the descendants of the slaves, these
indentured labourers have helped to transmit to the society of the 20th century,
the rythms, images, and brakes and constraints whose origins were rooted in the
slave system, and of which, in spite of themselves, they were the vehicle and the
alibi after having been its victims?


We have already mentioned the role of India in the first contributions to the
coloured population of Bourbon. In 1686, Father Bernardin, in drawing up the
state of the population, counted '12 Indo-Portuguese Negresses' and '12 Indian
Blacks' on the island; it seems, too, that India furnished the first 'slave', the 'sale'
of whom is mentioned in a document of 168710. Indians continued to arrive during
the 18th century either freely, or by way of the slave trade. In 1729, Dumas
brought back 150 slaves and 95 free workers from Pondichery, amongst whom
were many builders and carpenters. Some years later, 'lascars', recruited on lhe
initiative of La Bourdonnais, were taking part in the maritime trade between lhe
islands. In 1733 and 1734,13 Indian 'engages' are mentioned on the property of Le
Bernica, which Dumas had just sold to Lagourgue; and the census lists them
under a heading distinct from that of slaves. It is no exaggeration to recognize at
least part of these agricultural labourers and workers as the ancestors of the 19th
century coolies. A return passage to India was guaranteed at the end of a
stipulated time in addition to food and wages. Although the documents may shJW
few traces of complaints about the conditions of employment, other grievances,
however, prefigured those of later periods: Indians deplored the fact that they
were not allowed to practice their religion; their families, who remained at home,
were worried at not seeing the workers returning at the end of their contract and

feared that they may have been retained as slaves in the far countryll. lie de
France (Mauritius), for its part, became more and more committed to port
activities and had ample recourse to lascars, however, for certain tasks, it also
appreciated Indian labour, both servile and free. At the beginning of the 19th
century free labour from India seemed to overtake servile Indian labour. In 1830,
Indian slaves numbered about 3,500 individuals, 5 to 6% of the total slave
population; on Bourbon their percentage decreased more rapidly and in the first
three decades of the 19th century it was less than 3 'Yo of all slaves, or about 1,500 to
1,800 persons12. From this time onwards, there was already a revival of interest in
India on the part of the colonists. However, the first project of importance for the
recruitment of voluntary workers in the 19th century did not concern India, but
Madagascar. In the early days Bourbon had received even more immigrants from
here than from India.
It was Bedier, a creole administrator, who feared the effects of the abolition of
the slave trade and suggested to Governor Milius to have recourse to free
Malagasies. The Governor, whose zeal in tracking down slave-traders was, be it
said, remarkable, transmitted the proposal to the Minister of the Navy and
Colonies. Before taking a decision, the Minister asked the chief landowners of
the Island to be consulted and emphasized himself as one of the dangers of such
immigration the introduction of 'Blacks living in a state of freedom into the midst
of a black slave population'13. The notables were consulted by circular letter in
December 1819 and their reservations caused the project to be abandoned. This
project, with possibilities for future spinn-offs, provided an ambiguous status for
the Malagasies, according to which their theoretical freedom seemed to be
considerably shackled by practices borrowed from slavery. 'Furnished' by the
chiefs of Madagascar, against payment, they 'would be mentioned in the census
as engagees and would pay the tax of slaves', receiving clothes estimated at 25
francs a year and food estimated at 100 francs (two pounds of rice or maize a day
and a quarter of a pound of salted meat or fish). They 'would be treated as black
slaves and be submitted to the same discipline, but under equal protection of the
law in cases of acts of humanity'. Without insisting on a slip - which should not be
qualified as revealing - it is remarkable that the regime of these engagees differs
little from that organized by the Black Code for the slave; the legislator did not
seem to dream of intervening with exception of cases of 'inhumanity' on the part
of the master. Without doubt, these 'engagements' were intended for a duration
of 6 to 10 years and the subjection could come to an end. However, economic
preoccupations narrowed the field of application: slaves, in the condition of
domestic servants, could experience a more clement daily life and even, through
knowing how to gain the confidence of their master, or his amourous attentions,
obtain social promotion and even freedom. The engagees, on the other hand,

'could be employed only in cultivating the land or in the mechanical arts'14.

The project of 1819 was executed in 1828 in a slightly modified way with the
arrival of 'fifteen Talinga Indians', engaged for 3 years, owing to the good officf:s
of the Administrator General of the French Establishments in India. Allotted to
'three notable inhabitants', these men had been 'successively applied to eveIY
kind of work, have shown extreme docility, have themselves often expressed
their satisfaction with the way they are treated'. The expense they occasion 'does
not equal the price of hire of a black labourer'. The official who is quoted here
believed that this first experience with indentured labour should turn the inhabi-
tants of Reunion away from the illicit slave trade. The illegal slave trade did caWie
the officials of Reunion many worries in particular with regard to the public
health and the security of the island. These problems stimulated the officials of
Reunion in trying to prove the virtues of the new system based on Indians who,
'born under skies more scorching than ours, extremely sobre, without needs,
(are) very suited for employment in household tasks'. The plan envisioned much
more than the simple employment of a periodically renewed labour force. It abo
aimed at getting the Indians to come to the island, with their families, to give birth
to a 'new population destined, like our peasants and artisans of France, to do
freely and for a wage, all the tasks allotted to the Blacks'. This new population
would remain 'in the tutelage of the inhabitants' and would constitute 'a sure
guarantee of tranquillity and wealth' for the cOlony 15.
A report drawn up in 1833 gives an idea, from the points of view of both
recruitment and of disillusions and hesitations, of the achievement in the time-
span of a few years. On 1st of January 1832, Indian engagees numbered 2,646 on
Bourbon; on the 9th of August 1833 there were 2,021. The enthusiasm had waned
and the recruitment stagnated; the decline in numbers is not due to deaths (27 in
1832), but to those returning to India. The number of indentured servarts
returning to India slowed down considerably because these time-expired engag-
ees had difficulty in obtaining their wage:s in arrears, sometimes for a whole year's
labour, as well as in obtaining their return fare. The Director of the Interior, who
had made these observations, immediately identified the guilty party: certain
Indians had ill respected their agreements. 'The fickle and mistrustful character
of this class of men as well as the fact that these indentured labourers were far
away from home, had caused protests to arise. However, certain inhabitants
could also be blamed, for complaining about their indentured workers in spite of
the fact that so many labourers 'faithfully fulfilled the agreements'. The prote:;ts
however went on increasing, and neither the 'syndic of Indians', appointed since
1831, nor the courts, were able to settk them. Moreover, the insolvency of th.e
colonists could render certain decisions ineffective. After fleeing the relief work-
shop provided for them, the plaintiffs sometimes found 'temporary employment';

most of them led 'a vagrant life exposed to every need' and could then be arrested
for this kind of evasion l6 • The mental restriction which, at the level of terminol-
ogy, seems still to distinguish the runaway slave from the Indian in flight,
disappeared in prison practice: both were allotted the same convict work without
distinction. 'Indian prisoners and slaves', notes the chief of police of Saint-Paul,
'are occupied in works of public utility [ ... J during the year 1832 and up till now,
they have been occupied in breaking pebbles which are used for metalling the
streets' 17.
A few months before emancipation a letter signed by 33 Indians, if not perhaps
written by them, seems to express their basic grievances. The letter was published
in Le Cri public, an underground paper of liberal inspiration, and it begins with an
appeal to the editors to the effect that 'a whole class of unfortunates will not be
reduced to the silence of despair'. Above all the engagees seemed hurt by the
contempt shown them. For dignity's sake they had long preferred to suffer in
silence but now they could make their complaints heard in Paris:

The Indians, of gentle and peaceful habits, who have been introduced into the Colony and who
have come here only in the faith of the treaties and of the completely reassuring promises of a
nation marching in the forefront of civilization [... J have been inhumanly thrown into the hands of
the police [ ... J placed under the deplorable patronage of a subordinate officer who, following
habits acquircd in dealing with maroons, sees all Indians living in the Colony as nothing but thieves
or brigands [ ... J. They prefer to suffer in silence rather than to undergo the ignoble treatment of a
so-called syndic as well, a real slave-driver, who, before they have opened their mouths to
complain and demand his intervention, showers - without shame - punches, kicks and blows from
big rulers on them in order, says hc, to get rid of their importunities, or else, he reduces, arbitrarily
and according to his whim, wages which have been irrevocably fixed between the parties. No!
Citizens, such a state of affairs can last no longer [... J! May the cause of our motive for bringing it
to the notice of the National Assembly be removed ... IX.

Habits inherited from slavery, officials going overnight from the policing of slaves
to the 'defence' of Indians, abundantly distributed corporal punishments, im-
balance of the sexes; the list of abuses and confusions - voluntary and involuntary
- seems unlimited. More than that, as was noted by A. Scherer, it must 'often
have happened that the Indian took a place lower than that of the slave in the
social scale'. In theory the Indian was absolutely distinct from the slave, by his
freedom, his wage and the fact that it was forbidden to punish him. However, in
practice, the Indian was identified with a slave. Everything which made the
Indian differ from a slave, more often than not seemed to have been violated,
ignored or, at best, hardly visible. On the other hand, similarities between slaves
and indentureds were not lacking and these attracted the attention of contempo-
raries. The Indians shared in all ways the daily plight of the slaves, because, for
example, they worked in 'bandes' (gangs) under the orders of 'commandeurs',

from sunrise to sunset and were fed rice, dry vegetables and salted fish. As new
arrivals on the Island, they were initiated into its customs and tasks by slaves,
many of whom had been born there and were familiars of the master, who often
gave them the responsibility of directing the gangs of Indian workers on th,~
plantation l9 . Humiliation of free men commanded by slaves became a common
phenomenon. Indian indentured servants were strangers and no part of th,~
master's 'familia', so it was less advantageous for the master to treat his inden-
tured labourers as well as his slaves, whose life he owned. The contemporary
terminology could actually mislead present-day researchers, if they are not
careful, by mistaking for a group of slaves what was really a group of coolies
presented as particularly restive or obtuse. I just missed being the victim of such a
mishap when reading a letter of Father LI~vavasseur, a white creole missionary of
Bourbon, specializing in missionary activities for the slaves. Describing a visit to a
plantation (,habitation') in 1842, this priest mentioned the 'Blacks' he met - the
term 'Blacks' was always employed on Reunion as a synonyme of slaves. In fact, it
is indeed the slaves who are his main concern, Levavasseur, the priest, exposed
the merits of the 'Creole Blacks', who he found to be intelligent and some of
whom 'give themselves with fervour to piety'. He contrasted them with the other
Blacks, 'coming from Madagascar, Africa, India, the Malay Coasts [... ] almost
all of narrow intelligence, and, as it were, all flesh [ ... ]. Of all these Blacks the
most difficult to convert are the Indians [... ]. They almost never manage to speak
French intelligibly [... ]. They are very attached to their false religion'lo.
The preference of the priest for the slaves born, like himself, on Bourbon, is
not surprising: it testifies perhaps to a certain insular solidarity beyond the
barriers of servitude and colour. It was, above all, in direct agreement with a
rather widespread axioma in the colonies that the best means of civilizing certain
races was to subject them for a long time to slavery. But the judgement on the
Indians is surprising by its severity and it stood in sharp contrast with the praises
allotted to them by most of those who, in the Mascarenes, raised the question, in
the 18th and early 19th centuries, of the merits and defects of the different groups
of slaves. Besides, in the 1840's, the Indian slaves of Bourbon were no more than a
handful of old men, long since 'Frenchified', so that one cannot understand how
Levavasseur could have met so many Indians on a 'habitation', and especially
Indians so 'new'21. The only plausible hypothesis is to imagine that these Indians
were coolies as they were called 'Blacks' and were identified, in the analysis, with
the slaves. Two years later, this hypothesis was confirmed by another 'missionar:{
of Blacks', Father Blanpin. He also treated Indians together with the Blacks and
accused them of being lazy, drunkards, grovelling and attached to their supersti-
tions, but, at the end, he specified that they were 'free engagees and not slaves'22.
There, without doubt, lay the chief defect of these workers; Blacks who were no

longer truly 'Blacks' - and so this term, which had already caused so many
misunderstandings experienced yet another enlargement of its field of con-
notations. One may think that in 1844, the Indian coolies, whose numbers had
just increased, began to be perceived as a group distinct from that of the slaves-
indeed at that time they numbered 2,500 and remained at that level until 1848.
Does the incidental remark of Blanpin express the emergence in certain con-
sciences of a phenomenon more easily ignored two years earlier? There were only
a thousand coolies on Bourbon when Levavasseur made the amalgam, which he
could not ignore to be juridically false, but its reality seemed perhaps sufficiently
obvious to him as to communicate it to his home correspondent without any
restriction or explanation. The fact that two years had passed does not explain the
nuance added by Blanpin as well as the circumstance that this author was born on
Reunion. Instinctively, like his Creole colleague - and like the whole of colonial
society - Blanpin considered all plantation workers 'Blacks', because until then
such work had been thought of as necessarily servile. The final precision given to
the status of the coolies is formulated without insistence, more as an accessory
juridical curiosity than as a major fact.
However, the Indians themselves did not forget their freedom. In 1831, they
had already revolted on Villele's estate, they had refused to work, threatened not
only the slave who commanded them with their tools but also the manager, and,
once arrested, they insisted on being taken back to India. Villele decided to profit
from their three-year contract to the very end and put them back to work in the
fields. A renewed revolt made him give in: he asked the Governor to pay for the
repatriation. A short time later, the police had to disarm 45 Indians, who were
marching on Saint-Denis brandishing sticks. More and more coolies returned to
the town, which was also their port of landing. The police reviled these 'maroons'
who infested everything. Some camped on a nearby hill and found employment
for a handful of rice with inhabitants of few scruples; others, covered with scabies
took on begging in the streets23 •
The inhabitants sought to diversify their sources of labour, because they
envisaged emancipation by the July Monarchy. As had been the case with slaves,
an interminable debate now arose on the advantages and disadvantages of the
various ethnic groups. In 1843, the Governor authorized the introduction of 1,000
Chinese on a trial basis; the authorities forbad further recruitments in 1846, since
the quota had almost been reached. 69 Chinese from Singapore, who landed in
July 1844 were the first to arrive and on the 26th of that month, an order laid down
their obligations: two hour's corvee on Sundays and six days of work a week,
'they'll take up their tasks at half past five in the morning and they will stop
working at half past six in the evening'. The day was to be broken by two meals,
for which pauses of three hours in all were provided. The various items of the

contract - food, clothing, wages, discipline, repatriation - were to provoke, as

had been the case with the Indian indentureds, varied reactions and comments.
Among the specific characteristics attributed to the Chinese is their passion for
opium (they had brought a stock with them and, when this ran out, they bought
more from the chemists of Saint-Denis illicitly); they especially feared the punish-
ment of having their pigtails cut off and arduously practiced the retail trade in
preference to their agricultural tasks. Like the Indians, the Chinese protested
against their lot by taking to the road and by wandering about Saint-Denis. The
Town Council condemned their attitude, but the Mayor congratulated himself on
the prompt reactions of the police; he had noted that 'each time a Chinese is
found wandering in the streets, he is immediately arrested and taken to the gaol
[... ] where some are deposited every day'24. Such reactions could, perhaps, be
explained by the fact that the group of Chinese indentureds was less numerous,
more recognizable and easier to delimit than the Indian indentureds. The Chi-
nese indentureds were, no doubt, more feared than the slaves or the Indian
indentureds. A study by the public prosecutor, Barbaroux, quoted by the Gover-
nor in 1848, shows that, on the Island, for crimes and offences, one Chinese coolie
out of every 13 had been handed over to the law, whereas such was the case for
only one slave out of 30025 • Instead of indicating an inclination to crime, such
statistics suggest a refusal by the Chinese to accept the status of quasi-slavery as
well as the difficulty of applying domestic sanctions to them, which usually kept
most of the offences of other plantation-workers from the notice of the law. Th,;:
Chinese community was finicky about the observance of its rights and thereforl;:
knew how to complain noisily. Little wonder that the complaints of eleven coolies
of an inhabitant of Saint-Andre reached the Director of the Interior: they had
been beaten by the steward, badly cared for when ill, had been forced to work
even on Sundays, had been deprived of meat and had received only two thirds of
their quota of rice 26 . When well treated, and especially if given tasks other than
agricultural, the Chinese could, on the other hand, entertain excellent relations
with their employers. They are 'an intelligent race', asserts Elie Pajot, who, whil,;:
praising their skill and 'their habit of work' , protested against the plan to replac

them by African engagees. The latter he considered to be 'brutish men, without

morals, without any idea of civilization who would demoralize this country'27.
It is striking to note that in 1845 no objections were voiced against the prospect
of the recruitment of Africans, that is of free workers belonging to the sam;:
ethnic group which symbolized slavery. In 1819, however, these objections had
caused the failure of the Malagasy recruitment project. Should we then conclud;:
that the inhabitants of Bourbon had realized, from experience, that the freedom
of the engagees could be sufficiently fenced so that it could not be contagious to
the slaves? No doubt, it should be acknowledged that in a quarter of a century th;:

experience of the colonists had matured in other fields. The restrictions put on the
slave trade had become more efficient since the years 1832-33; the deathrate of
the slaves now clearly exceeded the birthrate and the end of the servile livestock
was only a matter of a few generations, supposing - as few optimists still dared to
do - that the government did not in any way rush emancipation 28 • It is easier to
understand the obsessive fear for a labour shortage if we recall the extent of the
agricultural transformations; sugar cane, which, as we noted, was established
only partly at the expense of older crops, needed more hands and required
learning, assiduity and also, in part, the clearing of land. The recourse to fifteen
coolies in 1828, and the overriding enthusiasm elicited amongst the inhabitants by
the continuing of immigration, become clearer if we note that indentured immi-
grants were, first of all, conceived of by many engagists as a supplement. The slave
workshops and the illicit slave trade appeared indispensable. I.M. Cumpston has
insisted on the innovatory character of this immigration. It attracted the attention
of the neighbouring island when the order of 3rd July 1829 organizing it was
published. In the same year the Mauritians also imported their first indentured
labourers since this island experienced a boom in sugar production. The move-
ment soon spread to other colonies 29 . Numerous examples show that the slavery
experiences of the past was weighing on the plight of the Indian worker a little bit
everywhere. Like Bourbon in the French world, Mauritius was the first colony
importing Indian indentured labour within the English world 30 • If this colony was
at times held back in its demand for indentureds more so than Bourbon, because
of the British regulations and the eloquence of the London philanthropists, it
benefitted, nevertheless, from the fact that it belonged to the same political entity
as India did, which developed more and more as the reservoir par excellence of
migrant labour.
Bourbon did not scorn the steam engine, and its sugar works were modernized.
As in the case of the French West Indies, it sought, in the 1840's, to remedy the
threatening shortage of slaves by employing animal power; in this way the trade in
Muscat donkeys and Argentine mules was stimulated 3!. However, a more numer-
ous labour force was needed, in the first place, for the extension of the colony's
cane fields, as well as for many of the jobs required by the colony itself. Some
English correspondents raised hopes of the recruitment among the famine-
stricken Irish. Islands and continents, near and far, were scrutinized with a
particular frenzy when, on the eve of the emancipation of 1848, it became certain
that immigrant workers would not only have to reinforce the ranks of local
workers but, to a great extend would have to replace them 32 .


Caught in the contradictions of a social system in which they had lived, the white
population of Reunion tried with determination, but obviously without success,
to rehabilitate what they had irremediably devalued by reserving manual, and
especially plantation, factory, and domestic work exclusively for slaves. The
work book (employment record) with which the freed slaves of 1848 were
provided - and which some dreamed of imposing on the 'Poor Whites' ('petits
blancs') - and the exhortations of Sarda-Garriga, of the clergy, the journalists and
of respectable society as a whole, were to no effect. As Jacob de Cordemoy was to
write in an island newspaper in 1870: 'work had made a pact with slavery: it was
marked with the seal of infamy'33. Besides, it was clear that in the code of the
Creole language the word 'work' ('travail') had taken on a very restricted
meaning which limited it, all in all, to what had been the lot of the most
underprivileged slaves, the mass of the 'pick and shovel Blacks' among the
labourers. Any other task, even if it was back-breaking, was considered as
idleness, laziness, vice, if it was accomplished by Coloureds or Poor Whites; it
took on value only in the hands of people who were both white and respectable 34 •
In their confusion, the colonists reached the point of forgetting the climatk
imperatives which had provided the slave trade with one of its excuses. Not only
did the colonists envisage making the lower echelons amongst them work, whom,
it is true, they generally considered as no longer really white. The colonists also
planned to import poor Europeans. The Irish project was succeeded by the
Bordeaux project. This latter was to achieve a token of realization with the arrival
of a hundred men and women found, for the most part, 'on the pavement and in
the mud of Bordeaux' (Patu de Rosemont). The experiment, hardly conclusive
had no future. However, the printed contract of engagement showed that the
landowners had envisaged something more substantial. The document men-
tioned that one of them, Eugene Bonnier, a resident of Reunion but living in
Bordeaux at the time for the circumstanc(:, was mandated to get engagees to leaw
from this port and come to the Island 'for five full years of twelve months of
twenty six work days'. Sunday morning corvee was obligatory and the rest of the
time they would work, according to the 'customs of the country, from the
beginning to the end of the day, except for a rest period of two and a half hours'.
The duration of actual work could not 'exceed nine and a half hours' , but it would
be increased by two hours and the meals would be taken obligatorily at the place
of work 'during the sugar-making period'. As in the time of the slave trade, men
especially were sought after: the indication, 'Ie Sieur' (M), printed on the contract
testifies to that, but the same form could be used, occasionally, for women.
According to the printed contract the clause that the indentured labourer ac-

cepted in advance jobs on the farm and in the sugar-works in Reunion also
applied to women. It was possible to list other tasks in handwriting on the form.
Thus, in the case of the woman called Lapeyre, who was engaged in Bordeaux on
9th of November 1850, with the permission of her husband, the employer could
require, besides her presence in the fields and the factory, 'housework' ('travail
de maison') and the exercise 'of the craft of dressmaker'. Although the priority of
sugar remained, the master did not deny himself the privilege of drawing on his
new livestock, as he was used to doing with his slaves, in order to have himself
waited upon or to extract extra profits by exploiting 'talents'. A concession was
made to the geographical origin of the immigrants: they could choose between a
Reunionese and a French diet. Though the accompaniment of side-dishes with
salted food - meat or fish - remained the same, the daily pound and a half of rice
could be replaced by 'brown or maize bread, with some kind of soup or broth'35.
The search for new sources of immigration did not entail the exclusion of those
which had already shown their usefulness. It was Africa, the relays of Madagascar
and the Comoro Islands which, as in the time of the slave trade, seemed to offer
the best opportunities for reinforcing the workshops.
Already in 1849 Henri Galos, ex-Director of Colonies at the Ministry, ex-
plained to the Colonial Commission in a report on immigration that canegrowing
was exacting and that tropical skies exercised 'a baneful influence' on certain
constitutions. The French and English colonists were of the same opinion: 'the
Black of the African coast is, of all individuals, the most suited for the hard labour
of colonial agriculture'36. Permission to recruit African workers was given to the
Reunionese in 1850 and that same year 571 arrived on the Island. In 1851, 746
entries were recorded, 732 in 1852 and only 169 in 1853. Between the years 1854
and 1857 a period of intense recruitment started with a yearly average of 4,150
arrivals, in 185810,008 arrivals and in 1859 5,027 arrivals. In 1860, however, the
entries dropped to 403 37 • At the heart of the conflicts, dealings, prosecutions,
scandals, diplomatic pressures and interdictions which allow us to account for
these fluctuations, there loomed an overriding theme which aroused the passion
of some and the indignation of others. It was the theme of the slave trade, only
barely disguised in the reassuring rags of the recruitment and transportation of
free engagees. It was suggested that the preliminary redemption of slaves,
brought with a fork on their necks to the ships which were transporting them to
Reunion, was not actually a benificial act. Africa was 'a slaughter field' where the
conquered were 'sold or massacred'. Could the recruiters of indentured African
labour not be viewed as 'Liberators, we who come to save niggers from sacrifice
and death, we, who bring them to our plantations after having freed them?' Did
Mr. Hume not exclaim before the House of Commons, on the 27th of July 1846,:
'I say that we must buy African slaves, enfranchise them and land them in our

colonies; by doing so we will be accomplishing an act of generosity ... '. Actually

England argued in favour of the redemption of the Africans prior to the signing of
a contract of indenture. In France this procedure was well noted: if England
officially combatted the recruitment of Africans it was only to deny indentured
African labour to the French, while England itself benefitted from 'the pure and
simple transfer to her colonies of slaves captured on the slave ships'38.
The purchase of slaves intended to make them into free engagees may lead to
the opposite effect in Africa to that intended by 'the philanthropy' of the planteni.
Galos called attention to this danger:

'To go and seek emigrants on the African coast, in the very theatre of all the crimes to which tte
infamous commerce of the slave trade gives birth, is [ ... J to propagate amongst the chiefs of
African tribes the pitiless waves and horrible acts of violence by means of which they procure their

The author added that the morality of the procedure can in no way excuse such
effects and that it must be decided then not to recruit in Africa persons other than
those already free, even if the realization of such an aim proved utopian. The
paralyzing force of this utopian aim seemed intolerable to recruiters and colo-
nists, so the authorities resigned themselves to authorizing, on the East and We:;t
coasts of Africa, the redemption of slaves followed by their engagement39 .
The recruitment often took place in an atmosphere of terror and violence
reminding us of the slave trade. It was still widely believed on the East as well as
on the West coasts of Africa that Europeans were cannibals40 •
Several revolts, whether or not provoked by the fear of being eaten, recalled,
point by point, those uprisings which affected several slave ships some decades
earlier: the localization and course of !the operations, the intervention by the
coastal populations, the ships thrown on the shore, pillaged, burnt or resold, the
crews decimated or taken prisoner. In some cases the crew managed to gain th e
upper hand and the incident ended in a blood bath. Informed by a Reunione~e
correspondent on how the recruitment of engagees took place, Schoelcher re-
plied, on the 20th October 1855:

I foresaw a long time ago that, since it has been left to the colonists, immigration is and cannot be
anything other than the slave trade, but I should have thought they would put perhaps a little less
cruelty into it. I am horrified by the affair you relate to me. Dh how ferocious slavery makes the
masters! Tell me whether the colonial judges will still have enough shamelessness as to absobe
such crimes? Unfortunately, I have very little doubt about it41.

The incident referred to is probably that of the Happy, which in March 1855 had
sparked off a debate on Reunion: 160 of the 285 engagees who had embarked on

this ship in the bay of Baly had died by drowning or were killed by the crew who
had fired on them fearing a revolt42 .
Traders and local potentates - Arabs, Africans and Indians - stimulated by the
demand, did not let themselves be held back by scruples. On Nossi Be, O'Neill
described the unceasing noria-like movement of the dhows arriving from Africa
with their human cargoes. The suffering of the 'emigrants' can be imagined by
reading certain missionaries' accounts. In one such account a dhow bound for
Nossi Be put into Mayotte as it was out of water and food while carrying 200
African slaves, children, women and men, 'as naked as worms'. Many of these
slaves suffered from contagious diseases and were veritable 'living skeletons'.
They had been at sea for forty days, 'prey to hunger, thirst and all kinds of bad
weather'43. At the end of the 19th century, dhows were still calling at Madagascar
with their cargoes of slaves. According to an account reported in 1895, the old and
the sick were abandoned on an islet situated near Maintirano, 'in order that they
die of hunger and misery amidst the whitened bones and the rotting corpses of
other slaves deported before them'44.
The destruction of dhows suspected of slave trade and the arresting of Arab
crews by the English raised many protests but did not interrupt the trade 45 • On the
other hand, the pressure by the British Government on the Imam of Muscat and
the Portuguese government periodically reinforced their determination to con-
trol or even to prohibit an emigration which was depriving them of a part of their
slaves. As early as 1843, France tried to obtain from the Imam the right to recruit
workers, but the agreement, signed on 20th April, was never to be applied, as
Seyyid Said feared that the redemption system 'may do harm to workshop
discipline and be considered as slave trade in disguise'46. In 1849, Reunionese
hopes were raised by a small recruitment of 31 engagees from Muscat and 27 from
Zanzibar. But only true volunteers were allowed to emigrate and their number
remained infinitesimal47 . The colonists wanted to acquire, either legally, de facto
or surreptitiously, the possibility of making use of previous redemption. All three
methods were employed. In 1854, while redemption remained forbidden, the
Panthere, thanks to the tolerance of the Zanzibar authorities, transported 170
men to Reunion. For the first time the Island had a Creole governor, H. Hubert-
Delisle, who, sharing the feelings of many white families, wrote to the Minister:
'If (this part of) the African coast becomes open to our recruiters, I don't know
where the prosperity of the Colony will stop'48.
The local authorities also knew that Africa could supply Reunion through the
islands as well as directly, and that their indulgence seemed indispensable for the
survival of the economy. So, Mequet, Commander of the Naval Station, did not
hesitate to admit: 'I know very well that these workers are neither free, nor are
those from the Comoros: I am even certain that they have been brought by Arab
dhows and that they come from the East Coast of Africa'49. The Governor of
Reunion is said to have gone so far as to advise European traders to make discrete
trips to the said coast even when forbidden by the Portuguese authorities: 'GJ
anywhere you like: provided nothing happens. I will receive you'so. However,
from time to time a serious incident cropped up - as is illustrated when the Charhs
et Georges was arrested in 1857. The 110 free workers who had just been enrolled
for Reunion were questioned. They declared themselves slaves and they said th~,t
they had been stolen from their masters. Moreover, the captain was convicted
and his protests made the situation more grave in the chancelleries. Some even
expected to hear the clash of arms for a moment, in spite of the fact that Portugal
capitulated and 'the recruitment continues'sl. This incident, the continuing diplo-
matic pressures and the epidemic of cholera brought to Reunion by the 'Kaffir:;'
just imported from Kilwa by the Mascarenes, led 1to the prohibition of African
immigration. However, Fleuriot de Langle observed that the colonies of Mayotte
and Nossi Be continued to 'have recourse to free workers coming from the
Comoros' and that the 'Minister has authorized the Missionaries of Madagasc<lr
to take under their patronage free men who may come from Madagascar in ordt:r
to look for work on Reunion's2.
At the same time, the representative of the firms Regis and Vidal in Zanzibar
was buying slaves whom he sent to Reunion via Lamu, thanks to the complicity of
Moslem middlemen. The traffic was discovered in 1860 fOllowing the appoint-
ment of a new French consul in Zanzibar53 • About fifteen years later, Perry, h lS
English counterpart in Saint-Denis, obtained certain pieces of information about
the African traffic, systematically classed under the heading 'Slave Trade' ty
paying gratuities to inhabitants of the town 54 . For example, Perry denounced th e
collusion of various personalities with the dealers and even the organization of a
veritable commerce in slaves under the cover of consular activities. Thus, E.
Morin, honorary Portuguese consul in Saint-Denis, was believed to have received
two little 'Kaffirs' as a gift from a Portuguese correspondent in Quelimane. In the
same way Rozier, the Italian consular agent in Tulear, was supposed to be
'gravely implicated in the Slave Trade'55. At the end of the 19th century, dhows of
Muscat and Zanzibar were still taking advantage of the protection of the French
flag in order to indulge in a traffic of slaves taken in Madagascar or on the African
coast. The trial of the crews - conducted in Saint-Denis - shows that some of the
slaves were going to be delivered in Muscat, others in Mayotte s6 .
By means of diplomatic interventions and her cruisers England fought the
'African recruitments', whether from Moslem or Portuguese Africa, the Com-
oros or Madagascar. For her own colonial labour supply England depended
heavily on Indian immigration, of which she essentially held the key. On the 31st of
December 1848, there were 3,440 Indians on Reunion; the Reunionese brought

in 8,078 in 1849,6,598 in 1850, 4,407 in 1851, 3,383 in 1852 and 3,181 in 1853. While
there was a surge in numbers in 1854, with 9,135 entries, they were limited to 3,097
the following year and averaged 1,750 a year from 1856 to 186057 • Essentially this
decrease can be explained by the discouragements of the British as well as by the
increasing amount of obstacles put in the way of the recruitment of coolies for
Reunion. These developments caused the planters and manufacturers to panic
and their emissaries went out as far as the Pacific Isles hunting for hands 58 •
False promises, kidnapping, drugs, alcohol, theft and acts of violence formed
the usual accompaniment of the 'engagements' in India. The coolies were penned
up in veritable prisons while awaiting embarkation. The conditions of crowding
and hygiene were such in Karikal depot that regularly epidemics of cholera broke
out there 59 •
The traffic of Indian coolies often took place on overcrowded ships. An order
in December 1849 had stipulated that one emigrant per ton could be embarked,
but until 1854 a tolerated supplement of 25% was accorded. This implied that a
vessel of 200 tons could load 250 coolies, a clause which provoked the indignation
of the English, whose regulations imposed two tons per Indian emigrant trans-
ported. Various scandals like that oftheAuguste were to contribute to changes in
legislation in 1860-1861. This ship set out from Pondicherry with 339 coolies -
instead of 309 which it should have transported at the very maximum - and was
struck by an epidemic of cholera. The inquest revealed that some of the sick had
been thrown into the sea while they still had been alive and that the passengers
had been deprived of water and food and had been whipped by the officers. Some
of the women had been raped and several had died as a result6(). Already abuses
had been reported with the first shipments of coolies, thus in 1830 the Striana
Pourana of78 tons, transported 98 coolies from Yanaon to Bourbon in 105 days,
as well as a cargo of goods. At arrival these coolies were suffering from a 'frightful
scabious disease'61. The abuses were to last and spread to the return journeys: a
three-master of 374 tons loaded 550 emigrants at Reunion to repatriate them to
India. The physician who accompanied them made a report in which he assessed
the various diseases and the number of deaths remarking that what may suffice
for an inanimate cargo did not suit a 'live cargo, whose first need is to breathe'62.
Following the Franco-British agreement of 1861, many shiploads of coolies
originated in Calcutta, Madras and Pondicherry and largely concerned the
English hinterland; but the latter had already furnished an important clandestine
tribute at the time when only the French trading posts could, in theory, be called
upon. It is, however, likely that many of these furtive departures were officialized
on Reunion 63 . In all, the recognition given to certain exceptions, the constant ties
which Reunion maintained with Mayotte and Nossi Be, the existence of 'Frenchi-
fied dhows' and the presence of a clandestine traffic with India as well as with

Africa offered many ways for an illegal trade of free workers, a belated replica
perhaps of the illegal slave trade, which had been so massive on Bourbon.
The Reunionese did not give up the official recruitments of engagees after th,~
Indian immigration had been stopped in 1885. Negotiations with Lisbon resulted
in the arrival of 3,000 'Kaffirs' from Mozambique between 1888 and 1900. In 1901,
it was the turn of 808 Chinese to be recmited in Fou-Chou; the same year therl~
arrived 173 Tonkinese. If one neglects the contribution of Malagasy prisoners of
war and of a few 'Somalis', 'Comorians' and 'Arabs of Yemen', it can be said that
the last notable experiments in recruitment were those of more than 3,501)
Antandroy of Madagascar, introduced from 1922 to 1927 and that of 735 Rodri-
guese, who arrived in 193364 • In the last two cases the contract was for the duration
of three years, and after a moment of euphoria employers and engagees voiced
their disappointment. Should one see in this the effects of the decree of 27th
August 1887? It had reformed the legislation concerning immigration. Legras sees
in it a 'masterpiece, clear, precise, complete' and is indignqnt that some dared to
claim that it 'was disguised slavery'.
In 1937, when the Immigration Service was affiliated to the Inspection of
labour, many engagees were already governed by common law since they had
reached the end of their obligations and only 19 immigrants subject to this decrel~
remained in the colony65. The end of this system of production did not mean,
anymore than the emancipation of 1848, the end of contempt for manual work,
nor perhaps the emergence amongst landowners of new capacities for masterin,~
economic and social problems.


Despite its restricted nature, the expression, 'tentative conclusion', is still quitl~
excessive, given the disagreeable feeling at the end of this sketch, which would
hardly fulfil the contract with the editor of this volume nor get at the heart of th,~
matter. At the risk of heresy, I would like to write here rather, 'New introduc-
tion'. Even if we limit ourselves to the subject fixed at the outset, the gaps in this
paper are still considerable. In describing the period after 1848 I have no longer
given attention to the workers under contract within the island but only to th,~
tribulations of a journey which embarassingly recalled the Slave Trade. In th,~
near future, I intend to return to two aspects which should have figured in this
study: the daily life of the engagees and the problem of the unbalance of th,~
sexes66 . The workers often lived in 'camps' which had served to house slaves, little
grouped huts, of wood or cob, sheds of rectangular shape divided into narrow
cells. In many cases furniture was almost non-existant: a pot in which rice was

cooked and eaten, a jute bag or a mat to sleep on 67 . The regulations made it
obligatory to install 'hospitals' on the estate and often the only equipment they
had were sacks and mats. The plantations rarely used the obligatory system of
'medical subscription', which would have ensured regular visits of a doctor.
Health was poor: the bad medical circumstances at home as well as the journey
could explain the ill health of the indentured labourers on Reunion, but so could
malnutrition, alcoholism and parasitoses, which made the ground favourable to
epidemics and endemic diseases. Cholera, which caused more than 2,200 deaths
in 1859, chiefly struck the slaves which had been freed in 1848 as well as the
immigrants. Malaria became widespread in 1865 and constituted the principle
cause of death at the beginning of the 20th century. Despite the numerous
additions to the labour force, the population diminished: from about 200,000
inhabitants in 1860, it dwindled to 160,000 in 1891. In the first third of the 20th
century, the recovery was to be very slow: 175,000 people in 1912; 198,000 in 1931.
Little wonder that the workers under contract gave the impression of being a
depressed group in a society which, on the whole, was barely flourishing itself.
Most worked in cane fields and factories, often situated in the most unhealthy
parts of the island. It was during the hot, wet season, at the time of 'manipula-
tion', that the most intense effort was required: certain engagists would labour as
much as 17 hours of work a day during that period. It seems that they were
frequently exposed to bad treatment. Were they treated worse than the workers
and servants living in Europe in the 19th century? Documents may be misleading,
in that they give more importance to complaints than to praises. However, at the
other extreme silence might have been imposed on the plaintiffs. This was the
more easily achieved the more the estates were isolated. It is, in any case, hard to
decide when one is trying to explain the population deficit just how much is due to
living conditions and how much to the unbalance between the sexes. After 1860
the latter was to become less extreme because of the new legislation; neverthe-
less, in 1885, when the last convoys of Indians arrived, women still represented
only 30% of their numbers. As is shown in the table given in the appendix, the
initial situation had been much worse and, despite a slight increase in the number
of women during the decade 1850....1860, at the end there were ten men counted for
every woman in the case of the Indians, and a little more than one woman for four
men in the case of the Africans. As for the fossil group of the Chinese, it was
exclusively masculine. Reunionese slave society had never known such a balance
The 'Kaffir' engagees resembled the former slaves: Reunion assimilated them
without difficulty. Such was not the case for the 117,813 Indian coolies which were
successively registered by the Immigration Service. Despite deaths and depar-
tures creole society seemed to consider those it had so wholeheartedly solicited

as too numerous. Though less impressive than on Mauritius, the influx of Indian
indentured labourers sufficed nevertheless to feed old fantasies and unlimitd
immodesty, thefts and rapes, prostitution and homosexuality were attributed t3
this foreign invasion, this strange gathering of men. Doomed to do the heaviest d
field-work, the Indian indentured servants could be compared to the mm.t
wretched of slaves and they were abh: to experience the abyss which ofte n
separates fact from law. Lord John Russell had described it as 'a new system of
slavery', an inspired expression to which H. Tinker was to give echo ... The
confusion between the two systems had become an integral part of a political
struggle which took place during these past decades of the 20th century. 'In the
dark nights of slavery, Indian emigration to Reunion took place through three
ports [ ... ] these slaves [... ]'68. If the Rf:unionese Communist Party makes such
frequent use of the theme of slavery as applied to the period well beyond 1848 in
its meetings and publications, it is probably because this theme is rooted in the
depths of popular minds 69 • Now it is trw:: that many descendants on Reunion are
familiar with all the ramifications of poverty, others, however, succeeded in
climbing the social ladder. And it is not Ithe least of the paradoxes of the colonial
past of Reunion to see the sons of immigrant workers among the wealthiest and
the most highly respected professional inhabitants, whereas quite a few descen-
dants of the French colonists of the 17th and 18th century are to be found among
the poorest inhabitants of the island.


AAML Archives de I'Arrondissement Maritime de Lorient.

ADR Archives Departementales de la R(~union. Le Chaudron.
AER Archives Privees de I'Eveche de la Reunion, Saint-Denis.
AMAE Archives du Ministere des Affain~s Etrangeres - at present 'des Relations Extf'-
rieures', Paris. (MD: Memoires et Documents).
AMSDR Archives Municipales de Saint-Denis, Reunion.
AN Archives Nationales, Paris.
ANOM Archieves Nationales, section Outre-Mer, rue Oudinot, Paris.
ANOMAix Archives Nationales, annexe d'Aix-en-Provence.
ASE Archives privees de la Congregation du Saint-Esprit (Chevilly).
CERSOI Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur les Societes de l'Ocean Indien.
CNRS Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
D. de N. Delabarre de Nanteuil, Legislation de l'lle Bourbon, (Paris, 1844),3 vols., 1st ed. By
the same author, Legislation de File de la Reunion, (Paris, 1861-1863),6 vols., 2nd ed.
IHPOM Institut d'Histoire des Pays d'Outrf'-Mer.
P.P. British Parliamentary Papers.
PRO,FO Public Record Office, Foreign Office Records, London.
RD Recueil de documents et travaux inf'dits pour sen'ir a l'histoire de la Reunion, ADI<.,
n° 1-4, Nerac, G. Couderc, 1954-1960.


1. General description of La Reunion in: A. Scherer, Histoire de la Reunion, (Paris, 1st ed. 1965, 3rd
ed.1974); or same author La Reunion, (Paris, 1980); A. Toussaint, Histoire des fles Mascareignes,
(Paris, 1972); G. Lasserre, J. Defos du Rau, J.F. Dupon, and others, Atlas des Departements
Fram;ais d'Outre-Mer, I. La Reunion, (Paris, 1975); chronicles of l'Annuaire des Pays de ['Ocean
Indien, (Paris and Aix-Marseille, since 1974); periodical publications of l'Institut National de la
Statistique et des Etudes Economiques, Service departemental de la Reunion, Saint-Denis.
2. F. Charpentier, Relation de l'Establissement de la Compagnie Franr,;oise pour Ie Commerce des
Indes Orientales, (Paris, 1966), p. 81. For the beginnings of the history of Bourbon, cf.: J.
Barassin, Naissance d'une chretiente. Bourbon des origines jusqu'en 1714, (Saint-Denis, 1953); by
the same author, Memoire pour servir ii la connoissance ... L'f/e Bourbon et Antoine Boucher
(1679-1725) au debut du XVllIe siecle, (Aix-en-Provence, 1978).
3. J.-M. Filliot , La traite des esclaves vers les Mascareignes au XVIlle sciecle, (Paris, 1974); C.
Wanquet, Histoire d'une Revolution: la Reunion 1789-1803, these d'Etat, (Aix-Marseille, 1978/
Marseille, 1980-1984); H. Gerbeau, 'Le role de l'agriculture dans Ie peuplement de la Reunion',
l' Histoire generale de l'Afrique, Relations historiques ii travers l'Ocean Indien, vol. 3 d' 'Etudes et
Documents', (Paris, 1980), pp. 133-142. During the early decades, the slaves camefrom Madagas-
car, India and the faraway trading posts of West Africa (Goree, Ouidah). From the time of
Governor La Bourdonnais (1735-1746), East Africa was required to contribute: the Portuguese
trading posts were the first to be sollicited (Sofala, Mozambique and above all Ibo); with the end
of the monopoly of the Compagie des Indes, the Zenguebar Coast was added to these sources,
from Cape Delgado to the Gulf of Aden, the zone subject to the Moslems (Mascarene traders got
their slaves mostly from Kilwa and Zanzibar). Between 1769 and 1810 the Archipelago must have
imported about 115,000 slaves, of whom some 50,000 for Bourbon. Censuses of approximate
reliability ascribe to the latter, 21,047 slaves in 1767, 33,377 in 1788 and 53,726 in 1808, of whom,
for the last figure, 23,013 were 'Creoles', i.e. born on the Island, 17,476 were 'Mozambiques' i.e.
from East Africa, 11,547 Malagasies and 1,690 Indians or Malays. The increase in slave population
went together with the exigences of the Government which wanted Bourbon to supply both
passing ships and the Archipelago with victuals (maize, wheat, rice, fresh and dry vegetables,
fruit, meat, animals ),but it also accompanied the colonists' passion for cash crops (they produced
1,250 t. of coffee in 1744, 1,500 t. in 1788, and made successful tries with cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg,
ravensara, and especially cloves, of which they produced, for example, 100 tons in 1802). The
conjunction of destructive cyclones in 1806-1807 and international changes, both economic and
political, then pushed the island into its sugar option.
4. On the resistance and revival of coffee on La Reunion: J.L. Miege, 'Le cafe de l'Ocean Indien au
XIXe siecle et la Mediterranee', in Le Cafe en Mediterranee, (Aix-en-Provence, 1981), pp. 115-
172; on food-crops and sugar: H. Gerbeau, map and note on 'La Reunion de 1815 a 1925', in
Atlas., CNRS and IGN, 1975; S. Fuma, 'L'Homme et Ie sucre a la Reunion: 1827-1862', these du
3ieme cycle, (Aix-en-Provence, 1983).
5. Notices statistiques sur les colonies franr,;aises, imprimees par ordre de Rosamel, seconde partie,
Bourbon, Guyane Fran'Saise, (Paris, 1838), p. 31; Y. Perotin, 'Le proletariat blanc a Bourbon
avant l'emancipation des esclaves', RD, n° 3, (1959), pp. 195-224.
6. D. de N., 1st ed., vol. 2, pp. 89-90.
7. H. Gerbeau, , Quelques aspects de la traite ilIegale des esclaves a Bourbon au XIXe siecle', in
Mouvements de populations dans l'Ocean Indien, (Paris, 1980), pp. 273-308 (especially, pp. 282-
7); by the same author, 'Des minorites mal connues: esclaves indiens et malais des Mascareignes

au XIXe siecle', in Etudes et documents, IHPOM, Aix-en-Provence, no 11, (1979), pp. 160-242
(pp. 179 and 196-2(0).
8. J. Benoist, 'Immigrants asiatiques dans I' Amc:rique des plantations', Presentation, in Actes du
XLIIe Congres International des Americanistes, (Paris, Septembre 1976), vol. 1, p. 58.
9. J. Defos du Rau, L'ile de la Reunion, etude de geographie humaine, (Bordeaux, 1960), pp. 507-
512. I intend coming back, in another paper . to the theme of survivals of slavery which oral
traditions and documents seem to reveal. I tOu<:hed on this subject - with examples from the We~;t
Indies especially - in my polemical publication in A. Balland, (ed.), 'Les esc/aves noirs. Pour un e
histoire du silence', (Paris, 1970).
10. J. Barassin, 'L'esclavage a Bourbon avant I'application du Code Noir de 1723', RD, n° 2, (1956\
11. A. Martineau, Correspondance du Conseil Superieur de Pondichery et de la Compagnie des Inde..,
(Pondichery, 1920), vol 1, p. 238; vol. 2, n.d., p. 41; vol. 4, 1931, p. 338. A. Lougnon, Correspon-
dance du Conseil Superieur de Bourbon et de la Compagnie des Indes, (Saint-Denis, 1934), vol. I,
p. 168. R. Legras, 'Note sur I'immigration a La Reunion', RD, n° 1, (1954), pp. 53-54.
12. M.-C.A., Marrier, baron d'Unienville, Statistique de l'Ile Maurice et ses dependances, suivie d'une
notice historique sur cette colonie et d'un essai sur l'Ile de Madagascar, (Paris, 1838); 2nd ed.,
(Maurice, 1885-1886), 3 Vols. (Vol. I, p. 256); L. Maillard, Notes sur /'lIe de la Reunion, (Pari:;,
1862), p.183; A. Scherer, Histoirede la Reunion, p. 27; 1.M. Filliot La Traite des Esc/aves, pp. 69,
179 and 181; A. Toussaint La route des iles, (Paris S.E.V.P.E.N., 1967), p. 449; D. Napal, Les
Indiens a l'lle de France, (Maurice, 1965), pp. 36-39, 45 and 52.
13. ADR, 56 M 3, Correspondence concerning Madagascar, Letter of Baron Portal, Minister of Navy
and Colonies, to Milius, 11th August, 1819.
14. ADR, 56 M 3, Correspondence concerning Madagascar, circular letter of Milius, December 1819.
It is to be noted that, in this project, the anJnUal expense of a 'locataire' ('hirer'), that is, an
engagist, is estimated at 165 francs: 5 francs for [he engagee, 30 for 'the Chief of Madagascar' and 5
for the 'slave tax', (or the poll tax) are to be added to 125 francs for food and clothing.
15. ADR, 57 M I, 'Rapport sur les differents services de la colonie', p. 65-66. Unsigned and dated
1828, this report is in very bad condition; it seems attributable to Governor de Cheffontaines, but
it must have been largely inspired by one of his chief collaborators, Betting de Lancastel. I have
suggested that the illicit slave trade which developed from 1817 onwards gave rise to the entry into
Bourbon of at least 45,000 slaves (H. Gerbeau, 'Quelques aspects ue la traite iIIegale'.).
After 1831, this trade was more severely repressed and has left only infinitesimal documentary
traces, which is a sign of greater secrecy, but also, no doubt, of gradual disparition. It can be
estimated that amongst the servile population, between 1817 and 1830, deaths exceeded births by
about 1500 per year and yet this population remained on the increase (the official figures are
53,726 slaves for 1808, and 70,927 for 1830). The decrease of illicit entries was no doubt the cause
of the decline which then sets in: 70,458 slave:; in 1832; 69,983 in 1834; 69,029 in 1836; 66,100 in
1840 and less than 60,000 in 1848. At the end of this same year, the population of newly freed
slaves was estimated by the Government to be 58,308. This decline set in slave population, the
rigours of abolitionist campaigns, the example of English affranchisement and doubts about the
overall profitability of slave labour were some of the reasons pushing a few enlightened minds to
experiment with free workers under contract. The difficulties of recruitment, certain setbacks on
the plantations and the lack of money may eXlPlain that the experiment remained so limited fc r
twenty years. Was it also that some masters proved incapable to conceive work as anything else
but as a servile activity, paralyzed as they were by isolation, force of habit and lack of informa-

16. ADR, 57 M I, 'Expose de la situation interieure de la colonie, 1832', by the Director of the
Interior, 5 folios concern the 'Indian engagees' - it's to be noted, on this point, that the useful
suggestion of M. Miege to reserve, in the Indian Ocean, the word 'coolies' for Asians and the
word 'engagees' for other immigrants workers is difficult to apply to the case of Reunion, as the
documents concerning it generally ignore this distinction. A. Scherer, 'L'immigration indienne a
Bourbon avant I'abolition de l'esclavage, 1828-1848', Proceedings o/the Fourth Pan Indian Ocean
Science Congress, section E, (Karachi, November 1960), pp. 135-144; J. Weber, 'L'emigration
indienne des comptoirs, 1828-1861' in Etudes et Documents, IHPOM, Aix-en-Provence, no II,
(1979). pp. 133-159 (133-4).
17. ADR, 57 M I, 'Expose de la situation ... , 1832',3 tables and 4 folios concerning 'The Administra-
tion of Prisons', signed Superintendant Lambert (folio 3). In Saint-Paul, a number of whites and
slaves were serving sentences for crimes or offences; there were no Indians under these headings.
On the other hand, they were, proportionally, much more numerous than the other two groups in
the category 'Detained by the law and Awaiting Judgement', but they remained less long (12
coolies on 1st january 1832; during the next 12 months, 7 arrivals but 18 departures, that is, only
one coolie in prison on 1st january 1833). This example, which indicates an absence of grievous
offences, also reveals that corresponding to the perplexity of the Indian delinquents there was a
perplexity on the part of the Administration, which did not quite know how to act with regard to
them. 'The most efficient means is, without doubt, to send them back to their country', concludes
the Director of the Interior pitiably (ADR, 57 M I, 'Expose de la situation ... ,1832', folio 4 of the
chapter on the 'Indian engagees').
18. Le Cri public (lie de la Reunion), 17th July 1848. Although they were rare, the interventions of the
inhabitants of the Mascarenes in favour of the coolies were sometimes spectacular. The most
famous was that of Plevitz, a small planter of German origin who, in defence of the coolies of
Mauritius, presented to Governor Gordon, in 1871. a petition adorned with 9,401 signatures (A.
Toussaint, Histoire des iles Mascareignes, pp. 251-2). The practices inherited from slavery
weighed without doubt as heavily on both islands; I will come back on this subject.
19. ANOM, Reunion, C85, d558, Memoir of Governor Duval d'Ailly, 8th November 1832. 'In some
quarters, the discontent of the Indians has become so exacerbated by the lack of pay and even of
food that these men, of such peaceful and timid disposition in their own country. have reached the
point of committing acts of assault'; ADR, 79 M 3, General Police Reports, n° 4, 3rd January
1830: various coolies were beaten; ADR, 79 M 4, letter n° 748, 17th April 1836, Chief of Police of
the Leeward District to the Director of the Interior: an Indian who 'did not behave to the
satisfaction of his commander', died from blows. A. Scherer, 'L'immigration indienne', p. 143.
20. ASE, Bte. 232, A L letter of Father Levavasseur to his Superior, Father Lihermann, Bourbon,
13th December 1842.
21. H. Gerheau. 'Des minorites mal connues', pp. 171-3, 179-186.
22. ASE, Bte. 232. A III, letter of Father Blanpin to his grand-mother. (Bourbon), 6th November
23. A. Scherer, 'L'immigration indienne', pp. 141-2.
24. AMSDR, I D 7, Proceedings of the Town Council, session of 8th April 1845, pp. 31-32. H.Ly-Tio-
Fane Pineo, La diaspora chinoise dans ['Ocean Indien Occidental. (Aix-en-Provcncc, 1981). pp.
131-3. U. Lartin, 'Les Chinois de la Reunion', unpublished study.
25. ADR. 57 M 2, Memoir of Governor Graeb on the situation on the Island, 14th October 1848.
26. ADR, 168 M 2. letter of the Police Superintendant of Saint-Denis to the Director of thc Interior.
28th October 1844.
27. AMSDR. I D 7. Proceedings of the Town Council, session of 8th April 1845, pp. 31-32.

28. H. Gerbeau, 'Quelques aspects de la traite illegale', pp. 287-293.

29. I.M. Cumpston, Indians Overseas in British Territories, 1834-1854, (London, 19692 ), p. 11; 'In thus
following the example set earlier by the French island of Bourbon, Mauritius became the first
British colony to import free labour on a large scale from another part of the British Empire.' It is
to be noted that Cumpston reproduces an error made by Nicolay when he wrote to Glenelg on 9th
September 1837 [P.P. 1837-8 Iii (180)], dating the arrival of the first coolies in Bourbon in 18:;9.
The confusion comes without doubt, from the fact that it was in 1829 that Governor de Cheffon-
taines issued the first order 'relative to Indian and Chinese working people or other individuals of
the free population of Asia'. But it has been confirmed that the 15 coolies arrived in the schooner,
Turquoise, already in 1828. See also Y. Perotin, RD n° 2, (1957), pp. 251-260, review of the books
of I.M. Cumpston and of C. Kondapi, Indians Overseas 1838-1949, (New-Delhi, London, 1951).
30. The cohabitation of slaves and Indians on Bourbon is presented as an aggravating circumstance by
various authors, who consider that the emancipation decided by the British was, in retUJn,
beneficiary to their colonies. Thus, C.A. de Challaye, comparing, in 1844, the organization of
work on Mauritius and Bourbon, is of the opinion that on this latter island there is 'a strong
influence', a 'reaction of the slave system on free work', the 'couli' is submitted to 'numerous
restrictions, whose sum is equivalent to a mitigated slavery' (Memoire sur /'emigration des Indiens
et sur Ie travaillibre dans les colonies de Mauriceet de Bourbon, (Paris, 1844), pp. 16-17). In India,
Governor Ducamper was prepared to revoke a measure of prohibition of coolie recruitmt nt
taken in 1839, but he was unable to obtain from the Bourbon administration guarantees which
would consecrate 'a different disciplinary regime for the Indians' as distinct from that of the slayes
(ANOM, Inde, C 353 d 249, Memoire de Ducamper, 'Liberte individuelle et immigration
laboureurs indiens' and J. Weber, 'L'emigration indienne', p. 135). But a change in legislatiJn
may be of negligeable effect on the real condit ions: the daily life of coolies seems as much marked
by the memories of slavery on Mauritius as it was by the presence of slaves on Bourbon. Cf. I.M.
Cumpston, Indians Overseas, p. 13: 'The planters of Mauritius, long accustomed to a mentality of
coercive control over slaves, tended to overlook the fundamental difference between these n,:w
recruits and their former labourers. Nicolay found that he had to inform prospective importers
that Sunday work, unlimited hours, and corporal punishment were illegal' (P.P. Nicolay to
Glenelg, 25th July 1836); cf. also K. Hazareesingh, Histoire des Indiens a /'lIe Maurice, (Palis,
1976.1), pp. 49-54, 69-73, 131-2 and H. Tinkn, A New System of Slavery. The Export of Indian
Labour Overseas 1830-1920, (London, 1974), pp. 90-91, 181, 227.
31. C.A. de Challaye, Memoire sur /'emigration, p. 18; J .-L. Miege, Indentured labour in the Indwn
Ocean (to be published with the Leiden Centre for the History of the European Expansion in its
series Intercontinenta, forthcoming).
32. Many examples are to be found in the printed minutes of the Colonial Council, in the local press
(in particular in the Feuille Hebdomadaire de /' lie Bourbon, /' Indicateur Colonial, the Journal du
Commerce) and in the proceedings ofthe Privy Council (ADR, 16 K 30 and 16 K 31, for the period
27th August 1847 to 20th January 1849).
33. Le Travail, Saint-Pierre de la Reunion, a fortnightly paper, 3rd September 1870, p. 4. The
expression 'petit creole' or 'Petit Blanc' is used to designate poor white Creoles (RD, n" 3. (195 ~),
pp. 195 and 206).
34. RD, n" 2, (1956), p. 259: The memorialists have confused the abandoning of workshop work with
the abandoning of work as such' (Y. Perotin); the same kind of thing happened on Mauritius: the
freed slaves abandoned the plantations but became tradesmen, jobbers, dockers, fishermen,
market gardeners, animal farmers, and so on. (P.P., quoted by I.M. Cumpston, Indians Over-
seas, p. 25; Vidal (ed.), Bourbon et l'esclavage, (Paris, 1847), p. 48). We have also the testimon} of

Passot: of the 80 or 90,000 freed Blacks on Mauritius, he writes, 'there are still about ten thousand
on the estates, but not one working the land. They are all occupied as builders, carpenters. cart
drivers or labourers' (AMAE, MD, Afrique n" 69, IIes de I'Ocean Indien, I, 1840-66, fol. 105 v.,
letter dated Saint Denis, 15th February 1843, given in annex to the letter of the Ministre de la
Marine et des Colonies, 4th July 1843).
35. Private archives, Contract of engagement of Blaize Lapeyre, housewife, born in 1824, resident in
Bordeaux. The Governor of Reunion informed the Minister that the 'French immigrants' caused
more serious difficulties than other workers; the lower price at which these families were engaged
led the greater part of them to break their contracts: 'the engagers', concludes the Governor,
'rather than put up with their claims, which are often quite insolent, prefer to dismiss them and so
lose the engagement price paid to Mr. Bonnier' (ADR, 45 M 24, Saint-Denis, 17th August 1851).
36. Quoted by D. de N., 2nd ed., vol. 5, pp. 304 and 313. The Commission coloniale adopted the
expressions of Galos himself about hard labour ('rude labeur'), already mentioned, and those
concerning thc slave trade and the 'horrible acts of violence' (,horribles violences') quoted below
(Proces verbaL/X de la Commission coloniale, vol. 2, (Paris, 1851), pp. 1~17).
37. Table of the General Syndicate furnished by Geslin, D. de N., 2nd ed., vol. 5, plate following p.
388. F. Renault, Liberation d'esclaves et nouvelle servitude, (Abidjan, 1976), pp. 18-20,71-72 and
189. Table of African Immigration to Reunion from 1848 to 1869, according to ANOM, Reunion,
C 454, d 5042 to 5074 (some figures differ slightly from those given by D. de N.).
38. ReVile Coloniale, vol. XIX, 2nd series, (1858), p. 5; L. Wickers, L'immigration reglemelllee if {'fie
de la Reunioll, (Paris, 1911), pp. 42-43; D. de N .. 2nd ed., vol. 5, pp. 316--7.
39. The system was to function for several years in spite of many hesitations, protests - and more or
less partial prohibitions. The excellent analyses, given by F. Renault and M. Schuler, of the
phases of this traffic and of alternate shifts of legislation and practice, allow me not to insist on this
point (Liberation d'esclaves. and, in the present volume, The Recruitment of African Contract
Laborers'). For this publication I have merely summarized, then, the 12 pages on African
immigration which formed part of the paper I read in Leiden. M. Schuler and F. Renault.
however, deal with the Atlantic region rather than with that of the Indian Ocean, and so I have
mantained some precisions and references here, as a complement to their work; I intend dealing
further with the subject on the occasion of the International Symposium on the slave trade to be
held in Nantes in 1985. With regard to Mauritius, H. Ly-Tio-Fane has done a very interesting
study which shows how planters, not content to send agents to prospect in India and the British
Malacca Straits Establishments, tempted, after 1839, to 'recruit Free Labourers from Madagascar
and the East Coast of Africa'. The island also benefitted from slaves captured on slave ships and
'freed' by means of a work contract. Employers' obligations differed only slightly from those
'which formerly bound a master to his slave'. There was a revival of activity in the illegal slave
trade in Zanzibar in 1844 due to the embarking of pseudo freed Africans for Mauritius, who were,
in reality, slaves sold directly by their owners ('Apen;u d'une immigration forcee: !'importation
d'Africains liberes aux Mascareignes et aux Seychelles, 1840-1880', paper read at Senanque 1979,
Etudes et Documents, IHPOM, Aix-en-Provence, nu 12, (1980), pp. 73--84).
40. AER, 'Account of a journey to the West Coast of Africa in 1847 and 1848 by Captain Merel [ ... J
dedicated to Mgr. Maupoint, Bishop of Saint-Denis (Reunion Island), manuscript of 17 pages,
dated in Saint-Denis, 24th July 1859, (pp. 2 and 10-11). Letter to Henri Polo, 2nd September 11156.
Quoted by J. Fierain, 'Nantes et la Reunion au temps du Second Empire. Les origines de la
maison d'armement Henri Polo et Cie (185~1861)' in Enquetes et Documellls, I, Universite de
Nantes, Centre de Recherches sur I'Histoire de la France Atlantique, (1971), p. 302. Le P. de La
Vaissiere, Histoirede Madagascar, (Paris, 1884), vol. 1. p. 308. In 1876, during the Africa trial, one
of the witnesses explained that he had fled 'because he thought the whites eat the blacks, and that
he had come to this conclusion due to the fact that of all the people taken from his country not olle
had ever returned' (Pro, FO 84/1445, fol217 r-v, Confidention, Slave Trade n" 7, Consul Perry,
Reunion, May 28th 1876).
41. Unpublished letter addressed to Auguste Brunet and in the possession of his descendants. I
express my thanks to M.L.l. Camille Ricquebourg for having ohligingly given me a copy.
42. ADR, 16 K 39, minutes of the Privy Council of 29th March and 10th May 1855 (Happy). Other
examples of massacre: ANOM Reunion C 136 d 1045 (Jules Edouard, 1857: revolt of 75 men tak,!n
on board the Bay of Baly resulting in 61 killed); AN OM Aix, 4 Z I. report made to the local
Commander of Nossi Be, 28th October 1857 (215 workers from Mozambique were crammed into
the Princesse Mathilde bound for Reunion; they attempted to take the ship hack to Africa. Tle
rebellion was put down by the crew after ten days of fighting).
43. ADR. 16 K 39, minutes of the Privy Council. 29th March 1855, n° 5. AAML, 4 Ch 2 ClI, letters
from Nossi Be: O'Neill, 8th March 1859, Father Finaz, 7th August 1860. Cf. also the letters of
Father Matthieu to Father Jouen, 9th August 1859 and of Finaz to the director of the Oeuvre de la
Sainte Enfance, 28th October 1859 (in Vaissiere, Histoire de Madagascar, vol. l. pp. 305-8 and in
A. Boudou, Les jesuites a Madagascar au XIXe sciecle, (Paris, 1940), vol. 1, p. 324).
44. P. Verin, Les echelles anciennes du commerce sur les cotes Nord de Madagascar, these d'Etat.
(Paris I. 1972). published in 2 vols., (Lille III, 1975), vol. I. p. 196. quoting E. Colin and P. Suau.
The author recalls that in 1869 Grandidier observed that a very big slave market was held in
Maintirano (pp. 195-196).
45. Cf. for example AAML, 4C' 26/A, letters of the Commander of the Narcissus. division leader, ,)n
the subject of the visiting of Frenchified dhows by British cruisers. 27th November 1861 - 2f'th
May 1862; 4 Ch 2/E, case of the dhow Fitima. burnt by the English in 1858.
46. AMAE, MD. Africa 149, foI101-103, letter of the Governor of Bourbon to the Navy Minister,
Saint-Denis. 4th August 1843. For this negoti;Jtion, conducted hy Lieutenant Lemauff de Kerc u-
dal, cf. also fol. 40--47,59--63,68--100.
47. ANOM, Reunion, C18 d112, correspondence of the Navy Minister. of the Governor of Reuni In
and of the Commander of the Naval Division, 1849-1850.
48. ANOM, Reunion, C 135 d 1035, letter of 27th February 1854.
49. AN, Marine. BB 4/665, Reunion Island and Madagascar Division, 9th Novemher 1857. Details In
this traffic by G. Shepherd, 'The Comorians and the East African Slave Trade' in J.L. Watson,
(ed.), Asian and African Systems of Slavery, (Oxford, 1980), pp. 73--99 (especially 76---80).
50. Letter from Rozier to Henri Polo, Saint-Derris, 29th Octoher 1857, in J. Fierain, 'Nantes et la
Reunion'. p. 323. This author, as also J. Duffy (A question of Slavery. Labour Policies ill
Portuguese Africa and the British Protest, 1850--1920, (Oxford, 1967)) is of the opinion that. even
when Lisbon was hostile to it, the traffic was facilitated by the complicity of the Portuguese
governors, desirious of increasing their modest salaries.
51. Numerous documents for instance wI P.P .. Slave Trade . vol. 90. 'Correspondence respecting
the 'Charles el Georges [... j', pp. 595-680. Irish University Press; AMAE. Correspondance
Politique. Portugal, vol. 193 and 194.
52. AAML, 4 C'28/I, 'Lettres et renseignements adresses par les chefs de la Division navale a leurs
successeurs, remises de documents secrets el confidentieb', rapport n.d. (1861). fol. 5 r-v.
53. AAML, 4 C '3 C; AMAE, Correspondanc~ politique, Zanzibar, vol 2. lettres du Consul de
France au Ministre, 14th August, 31st October and 20th Nobember 1860.
54. PRO, FO 8411410, fol. 142 (Confidential);Receipt for 650 francs signed by Descombes. 10 rue de
Montreuil, Saint-Denis, 3rd Novermher 1875, 'for services rendered to the Consulate'; FO

R41l445. 1'01. 235 r-v. Consul Perry (secret). 'in connection with suppression of the Slave Trade. I
am directed by the Earl of Derby to authorize you to draw a bill for the sum of sixty seven Pounds'
(February un7).
55. PRO. FO R4/1445. fol. IR7 r-191 v. Confidential. Slave Trade