Plantations

Caicos Islands Plantations

The dominant plantations in the Caicos Islands were those growing Sea Island Cotton. Cotton needed one slave for every 5 acres compared to one slave per acre on sugar plantations (Saunders p143). Large-scale sugar plantations appear not to have existed within the Bahamas archipelago. However, in 1812 Dowson does record that Colonel Brown had “a fine sugar plantation” on North Caicos (Pegg p44). We can assume that there must have been some limited sugar production as there is circumstantial evidence. For example at Wade’s Green there are several “sugar kettles” in which sugar cane could have been boiled up. Further “kettles” are found on Grand Turk (now held in the Turks and Caicos National Museum) and one on Salt Key (probably moved here to be used in the whaling industry).

There is little contemporary evidence for life on a cotton plantation in the Bahamian Archipelago. It is clear that most if not all the loyalists were resident on their land and due to the relatively small numbers of slaves it would have been more likely that the property owner and/or members of their family, supervised the slaves either directly or through a “driver”, a trusted slave. The slaves would have carried out all of the tasks from constructing and maintaining the buildings and field boundaries, clearing the land for planting, planting, harvesting, separating the cotton from the seed, packing it and carrying to the dock for transportation to the market. On top of this they would be expected to grow food for themselves and the slave owners, raise the livestock and carry out any other duties that were required. Unlike on sugar plantations where gangs were used, the “Task” system seemed to have been employed on the cotton plantations (Saunders, 1985, p 157). This allotted certain tasks or an area of land to individual slaves: once they had finished their tasks the rest of the day was generally theirs. It is likely though that at harvest time gangs were employed, as this would have been more efficient.

The Bahamas Assembly passed laws to limit the area of land to be worked by one slave to be no more than 7 acres for a “taskable hand” (aged 16-60) or 3  acres for “half taskable hand” (aged under 16 or older than 60) (Kozy p 168). Also, slave owners had to make sure that there was sufficient provision of food, clothing and accommodation for the slaves. In most cases it was likely that the slaves would have been given their own plot of land on the plantation on which they could raise crops. For the old and infirm the slave owner would probably have provided the food.

Cotton harvests were initially good but the thin soil was soon depleted of its nutrients. The hurricane of 1813 and pest infestations saw many plantation owners depart from the Islands, leaving many slaves behind. By 1820 most plantations had been abandoned (de Booy) but we do know that Wade’s Green was still in use, and it is likely that Wade Stubb’s other interests at Cheshire Hall and Haulover were still in operation. Remaining owners continued to work the plantations with slaves until emancipation in 1834.