THE DEPENDENCY QUESTION


CHAPTER FOUR


THE DIVERGENT PATHS TO FREEDOM

In Chapter 2 reference was made to a proclamation that was made at the Caymanas by the Governor, Lord Sligo, on the 2nd May, 1835, manumitting completely all the former slaves there. From that date, their period of "apprenticeship" was concluded, after only nine months. This is to be compared with the period of apprenticeship of the former slaves of Jamaica, which was concluded on the 1st August, 1838, after four years of it. In Jamaica some of the grossest abuses took place after the Emancipation proclamation of 1834 during the apprenticeship period. It is therefore of considerable historical interest and importance to enquire why the Governor so blessed the Caymanas but did not perform a similar service for Jamaica. This circumstance is offered here as further compelling evidence of the Caymanas' status at this period as submissive to the Governor but not answerable to the laws of Jamaica, a state of affairs that lasted, as we have seen, from the first steps taken towards British acquisition of the territory until the Cayman Islands Act of the Westminster Parliament in 1863.

Many years before Emancipation, the British Parliament took decisive action to end the acquisition and transportation of slaves from Africa to British possessions in the New World. The Abolition Bill was passed in Parliament in 1807 and provided that all trading in African slaves was from the 1st January 1808 "utterly abolished, prohibited and declared to be unlawful".4.1 From that time the purchase of slaves from "slavers", i.e. vessels carrying the human cargo across the seas, was illegal in all British territories. But without the slave population in all the territories being registered it would be impossible to ensure compliance to this law, since other nations, and notably the Spanish, did not recognize it; so the abolitionists in Britain argued for the introduction into Parliament of a bill for general registration. To forestall this the older colonies, Jamaica among them, objecting to parliamentary interference in their internal affairs, accepted responsibility for passing slave registration acts of their own. Jamaica's Registration Act was passed there on the 11 Dec. 1816 and the first census return consequent to the Act was made on the 28 June 1817.4.2 Registration returns were made through the parish offices subsequently every three years in order to monitor movements. The failure to account for any slave by this means could be taken as evidence of illegal importation. For several years before Emancipation in 1834, the registration of the slaves in Jamaica had been virtually complete, apart from the notable exception of the slave holdings of the Maroon people.

The Maroons were a population of free Blacks descended from slaves of the Spanish before the British conquest and settlement in 1655, whom the authorities had never succeeded in re-enslaving, and who now governed themselves under broad mandates of superintendence by local civil authorities within two sizeable sections of the mountainous interior. The relationship between them and the Governor had been from 1738 governed by the Maroon Treaties. The provisions of the 1816 Registration Act did not extend to them, presumably because by post-Treaty law their ownership of slaves was prohibited.4.3 Such laws were in practice made virtually ineffective. For instance some of the slaves that had escaped from the estates to Maroon country (and therefore registered as having escaped) were taken by the Maroons and retained as slaves. The free Black Maroons like any other free people of the time became owners of slaves, but not unlike the Caymanians, as we shall see, their ownership of slaves was not included by the authorized registration procedure (which the other slave-owners of Jamaica complied with) in the years preceding the Emancipation of slaves in 1834. Remarkably however, as the Governor (the Marquess of Sligo) reports in 1834,

The Maroons are holders of many slaves, and have never registered them; but regular returns of their numbers, names, age and sex, have been sent in, as a matter of course, each session to the Assembly.4.4

Lord Sligo referred to the Maroons in their holding slaves as in a similar position, though not identical, to the Caymanians. Neither group had been included in the authorized registration procedure and this circumstance was now placing their slaves and their former owners differently from all others because of the provisions of the Emancipation Act.

The abolitionists at first had been willing to test for a number of years whether the institution of slavery would become acceptable with the notorious African slave trade abolished. They reasoned that the owners without a ready source of replacement might treat their valuable property more carefully. It was hoped also that they would try to settle their slaves in families in order for more children to be produced, since the external source of the supply of slaves had been cut off. But disturbing reports continued to be received in England about the treatment of the slaves, the general condition of West Indian society and the persecution of the missionaries on account of the work they had done among the slaves; and the view that the institution of slavery itself must be altogether abolished gained ground. Economic forces were also a consideration. The estates, the backbone of the institution of slavery, could no longer produce sugar at a reasonable price. The economic argument for the retention of slavery was thereby undermined. In 1833 just before he died William Wilberforce was told that his long labours to change the mind of Parliament on the issue had not been in vain. The Emancipation Bill was passed by Parliament on the 29th August 1833, and provided that as from the 1st August 1834, slaves that had been registered under the Island Acts were to become apprenticed to their former masters for a number of years, after which they would be fully free. Slave children under six years old on the date of Emancipation (1st August 1834) were to be free immediately. The apprenticeship period to prepare for full freedom by "promoting the industry of the manumitted slaves"4.5 was considered to be necessary to avoid social disorder such as the formation of a "jungle" society in the island interior which would be a major threat to the country concerned, and also to provide a degree of compensation to the former owners for the valuable asset which was being forcibly removed from them. However, after 17 years of registration, Parliament could never countenance any apprenticing of unregistered slaves, who if any were found on or after the 1st August 1834 were to go fully free.4.6

In addition to the apprenticeship, compensation for the removal of their assets would be supplemented by dividing a sum of £20 million among all the slave owners of the Empire. The administration of this fund was placed under the control of a body called the Commissioners of Compensation.

In December 1833 the Governor, the Earl of Mulgrave, first drew to the attention of the Colonial Secretary, the Rt. Hon. E.G. Stanley, the pressing need to decide how a registration of the slaves of Caymanas could be provided for, in order for the owners not to be left entirely without compensation. The issue was connected to the dependency question.

The Island of Grand Cayman has always been so far considered a Dependency of Jamaica that the Magistrates and Officers of Militia are appointed by the Governor, but it forms no part of any parish of Jamaica, nor are the Inhabitants entitled to vote at any Election for Members of the Assembly. ...

... The point however which more immediately presses for a decision is the manner in which the Registration of their Slaves is to be provided for, in order to entitle the Masters to the benefit of Compensation. No Office for that purpose has ever been established on the Island, and as the Laws of this Government are not binding upon it, their Slaves have of course never been registered in any Parish of Jamaica; in this respect therefore they seem to be in the same situation as His Majesty's Subjects in Honduras, whose case has been specially provided for in the Act of Parliament for the Abolition of Slavery ...4.7

It is worth our while to pause to take note of the several significant points made in December 1833 regarding the dependency question in Lord Mulgrave's letter. These are as follows:-

(1) The extent of the dependency of the Island of Grand Cayman upon Jamaica is the appointing of the Magistrates and the Officers of the Militia by the Governor.

(2) The inhabitants of Grand Cayman are not entitled to vote in any election for members of the Assembly (of Jamaica).

(3) The laws of this Government (of Jamaica) are not binding upon the Island of Grand Cayman.

Point (3) above provides the explanation of why the fact that the Caymanas slaves had never been registered could not be regarded as a straightforward case of delinquency on the part of the Caymanas slave-owners. The Registration Act of Jamaica would apply to that Island only and its reach would not include the Caymanas.

As Mr. Lefevre was in the course of succeeding Mr. Stanley in the post of Colonial Secretary it seems that during the six weeks or so following receipt of the despatch they both took counsel from the well-known Mr. James Stephen and from Mr. James Lewis representing the Commissioners of Compensation about the course that should be taken. Mr. Stephen (in a note dated the 3 Febr. 1834) referred to the adoption some years before of Anguilla by the St. Christopher's Legislature. He considered that by some means - either by the Jamaica Legislature adopting Cayman in a similar way or by an Act of Parliament - Law must be made for them by competent authority by the 1st August 1834. Otherwise, he opined, Cayman could have no share in the Compensation Fund. Mr. Lewis of the Commissioners of Compensation, however, in a letter dated the 14th March 1834 offered a practicable course for Compensation.

... So far as regards the proceeding under our Commission in respect to the Compensation; you will recollect that to our letter of the 4 Nov. 1833 to the Governor of Jamaica, there was added a postscript relating to the Caymanas, and directing that an Agent should proceed from Jamaica under the authority of the Assistant Commissioners, to procure a Return of the Number of Slaves belonging to, or settled in those Islands, and to ascertain the value or price of Slaves therein within the 8 years ending on the 31 Decr 1830. - This was done under the impression, that as by the last clause of the Abolition Act, Islands dependent upon Colonies were to be deemed part thereof for the purposes of the Act, such a Return might be perhaps considered as supplementary to the Registration of the Slaves in Jamaica under the Island Acts, and let in the Caymanas to a share of the Compensation, altho' not named in their Acts.4.8

Mr. Lefevre, consulting with Mr. Stanley, noted that since there did not appear to have been any precedent of the Governor in Council and Assembly of Jamaica legislating for the Caymanas, the existence of such power of legislation was not free from doubt, besides which the date of the termination of slavery was approaching too soon for such legislation to be effected in time for this. He proposed therefore that

for avoiding all doubt upon the subject an Act of Parlt be passed enabling H.M. to unite the Caymanas to Jamaica for the purposes of legisln & until that union shall have been made ... to legislate for the d(ependent) Islands by Order in Council - ...

Mr. Stanley, agreeing with this, noted that he should wish such a Bill prepared without loss of time.4.9 But Mr. Stanley's wish was not carried out. In a few months Mr. Stanley, Mr. Lefevre, Mr. Thomas Spring Rice, Lord Aberdeen and Lord Glenelg passed through the Colonial Office successively as the Colonial Secretary, and as we have seen4.10, Lord Aberdeen and Lord Glenelg do not appear to taken Mr. Lefevre's conclusion that the existence of the power in the Jamaican legislature for legislating for the Caymanas was doubtful, until Lord Glenelg was forced to accept that conclusion by the August 1835 foreclosure by the Assembly of any such possibility.

In regard to the Caymanas, the Commissioners' point of view that a "supplementary" Return of the number of the slaves under the Commissioners' authority would permit the owners to receive compensation prevailed. This supplementary Return was provided for and dated the 2nd April 1834. It used the same methods and, no doubt, similar forms to the standards of the regular Jamaican registrations under that Island's Registration Act, but it is important to understand that the authority behind it was not the Jamaican Registration Act but the order of the Commissioners on the authority of the Abolition of Slavery Act itself, "An Act for the abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies for promoting the Industry of the Manumitted Slaves and for compensating the persons hitherto entitled to the services of such Slaves"4.11

In their Petition to the House of Commons that was forwarded to England in 1838 the Custos, Magistrates and other inhabitants of the Island of Grand Caymanas recite what was received and what was withheld and why:-

That this Island not being connected with Jamaica by legal enactments was never influenced or regulated by their laws but the inhabitants being unnoticed and left entirely to their own resources became a law unto themselves and adopted such rules for the maintenance of good order and the punishment of vice as were consistent with their knowledge of the Christian Religion; and for the purpose of carrying on such with some degree of authority applications were wont to be made for Magistrates' commissions to the different Governors of Jamaica. This is the only recognition that has ever taken place.4.12

That your Petitioners by their own industry built themselves vessels which affording them the means of occasional intercourse with Jamaica they became possessed of slaves the number of which at the time of the abolition of slavery amounted to about one thousand

That the slaves of your Petitioners were liberated on the first of August one thousand eight hundred and thirty four and your Petitioners participated in the grant of Twenty Millions voted by Parliament as compensation for the loss sustained but were in the month of May one thousand eight hundred and thirty five deprived of their services for the term of apprenticeship by His Excellency the Marquis of Sligo then Governor of Jamaica on the ground of their not having been registered in 1817 and subsequently agreeably to law

That your Petitioners are thus punished for not obeying a law of which they were ignorant and which had they known they would have deemed from the situation of the island already described ... inapplicable to themselves not having any office of Registry4.13

The new Governor, the Marquess of Sligo, in his letter to the Rt. Hon. Thomas Spring Rice on the 3 Nov 1834 first responds to that Colonial Secretary's doubts about the status of the Caymanas apprentices, and also raises the case of the Maroons and their slaves, as follows.

I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Despatch, relative to the apprentices of the Caymanas, wherein you express considerable doubts whether they are not free subjects, and in consequence of their non-registration, absolutely relieved from the apprenticeship. In reply, I have to say, that I trust the law may not be so interpreted eventually. In the first place, there having been no law in force in that Island to render registration necessary, it appears hard that a decree of the British Parliament should, without any fault of their own, deprive them of that very valuable property, the apprenticeship. Their valuation,4.14 though not registered, appears to me to place them in precisely the same situation as if they had been registered ...

Should, however, the law be decisive on the point, and that the apprentices are free subjects, I will of course immediately recall Dr. Hulme from the Caymanas, and employ him in this Island, where he is much required.4.15
There is another case in this Island of a nature not precisely the same, but very similar. The Maroons are holders of many slaves, and have never registered them; but regular returns of their numbers, names, age and sex, have been sent in, as a matter of course, each session to the Assembly. The Board has directed the valuators to make a separate return of these individuals, detailing the peculiar circumstances of the case, in order that the matter may be considered by the Central Board at home. ...4.16

Lord Sligo's hesitation on the Caymanas apprenticeship issue was firmly dealt with in the Colonial Office's reply. In a despatch dated the 16th Feb 1835 Lord Aberdeen confirmed that unregistered slaves "in the Grand Caymanas as well as in Jamaica" could not be lawfully treated as apprenticed labourers from the 1st August 1834. From that day they became absolutely manumitted, and furthermore,

It is a duty incumbent on His Majesty's Government to see the letter of the Abolition Act carried into full effect.

However, Lord Aberdeen went on to explain, the Committee of Compensation did consider the Caymanas as entitled to a share of the Compensation Fund. Also, in regard to the unregistered slaves in Jamaica belonging to the Maroons, the Committee were inclined to hold that the regular annual returns to the Assembly of these Maroons' slaves might be deemed, when properly authenticated, to satisfy the Commissioners' rules of entitlement of the owners to compensation. Lord Aberdeen added what might be a significant caveat however:-

Your Lordship will observe, that the decision of the Commissioners is general, and is capable of reference to all slaves not illegally held in slavery.4.17

It is left for further examination elsewhere whether these instructions resulted in the Maroons receiving compensation for their slaves, or whether it was withheld, for while it was deemed scarcely questionable that the Caymanas slaves were "not illegally held" there would appear to be more room for doubt in the case of the slaves of the Maroons.4.18

Left also is the question of how and when any former slaves of the Maroons were declared to be absolutely and unconditionally free, beyond the known fact that after his Caymanas visit and announcement the Marquess of Sligo wrote to the Colonial Office of his preparations to make an announcement to the unregistered Maroon apprentices similar to the one made to those in the Caymanas. By that time he had already sent letters to the different Superintendents of Maroons, to the Custodes and to the Special Magistrates stationed in the neighbourhood of each Maroon Station.4.19

The Governor after preparing for possible trouble in the Caymanas by sending ahead a detachment of men of the West India Regiment and personally travelling there to read the necessary Proclamation, was to be found on the 2nd May, 1835 in his ship's Cabin with the Custos Mr. Drayton and some of the leading inhabitants thus carrying out the "letter of the Abolition Act":-

Whereas the situation of the inhabitants of the Grand Caymanas having engaged the particular attention of His Majesty's Government, more especially as to the effect the recent changes under the laws of the Imperial Parliament have upon the structure of society in those Islands belonging to Great Britain, w(h)ere slavery formerly existed; and the opinion of the law officers of the Crown having been obtained; I have received His Majesty's commands forthwith to communicate the decision at which they have arrived upon the question.

The Slavery Abolition Act having declared that all persons of the age of six or upwards, who, on or before the first of August 1834, had been duly registered as slaves, should become and be apprenticed labourers, and such registration not having been adopted as respects the Islands of the Caymanas, previous to the passing thereof, such unregistered slaves have in consequence become entitled to the unqualified enjoyment of their personal freedom: And whereas it is incumbent on His Majesty's Government to see the letter of the Slavery Abolition Act carried into full effect, I do hereby, under the directions of His Majesty's Government, declare and make known, that all such unregistered slaves at the Islands of the Caymanas, have become absolutely manumitted, and can no longer be lawfully treated as apprenticed labourers.

... And I have the satisfaction in the mean time to make known that the Commissioners for Compensation in England consider the Caymanas as an appendage to Jamaica, and entitled to share in the compensation fund, according to the interests of the respective owners in those Islands.4.20

Here is a good example of the relationship between the Caymanas and Jamaica being considered in some way as a dependant one, while at the same time the course of history from 1831 up to 1863 shows definitively and inexorably that whatever dependant relation might be considered by observers and participants to exist, Cayman was "not connected with Jamaica by legal enactments".4.21 Indeed the lawmakers of Jamaica considered the Caymanas to be a separate dependency of the Crown.

The end of apprenticeship was effected in the Caymanas not altogether without upsets and misunderstandings.4.22 However, these were miniscule compared with the totally different course of events during the last three years of apprenticeship in Jamaica, where a protesting Assembly was only forced by the general swell of opinion in England about its horrors to give in; and so it was that in Jamaica on the 1st August 1838 full freedom came to all.4.23