Mary Prince and Slavery

This plaque was erected in honor of Mary Prince in London.

This plaque was erected in honor of Mary Prince in London.

 

In 1831 Mary Prince’s story was published. Prince was born on a slave farm in Bermuda. Bermuda at this time was a British colony where half the population was slave. The major industries were shipbuilding and salting. As Mary Prince grew older she was sold to slave owners that treated her with such disrespect and abuse.  She was later sold to an even worse situation in the Turks Island. These harsh conditions left her in very rough shape and she was left with boils all over her legs as well as becoming crippled with rheumatism. With the help of some abolitionists, she was able to escape from her owners and she was taken to London. A man named Thomas Pringle, the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, employed her as a domestic servant. He helped edit her writings so they would be able to be published for the world to see. .

In The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave we are able to hear a first account tale of this woman’s life in slavery. By looking more into slavery in this location during this time it can tell us more background information about Mary Prince and her story. Barbados was England’s first experimental tropical agricultural export colony. In a short space of twenty years, the Barbados encountered the Sugar Revolution that transformed the island forever. This increase in sugar production also produced a demand for more labor. People poured into the island and this made the island the most densely populated place in the world and the most populated of the England overseas colonies. The first people that were brought in to work were the whites; they were either indentured servants or prisoners. As the cost of white labor went up, they turned to West Africa for the source of their manpower. Black slaves were imported in large numbers from different locations around the world. Over time these slaves were re-exported to other colonies in the West Indies.  Many slaves would die doing their work, so they would bring more slaves over to fill those spots.

There were laws to regulate the slaves that were being strictly enforced. Some of these laws including prohibiting slaves from leaving the plantations they worked on without permission and laws that stopped them from beating drums that salves used to communicate with each other. Laws were put into place that required the return of runaway slaves and that provided leniency for the people who killed slaves.

In Mary Prince’s history, we see some evidence of the strict laws placed upon slaves if they ran away. “Sir, I am sorry that my child should be forced to run away from her owner; but the treatment she has received is enough to break her heart. I entreat you, for the love of God, to forgive her for running away, and that you will be a kind master to her in the future” (Prince 243).  This line is when Mary Prince has ran away to visit her father at a separate plantation and the father is begging of his owner to take her in. In the passage he does ask forgiveness for his daughter for running away.

The British were among the first to attempt to abolish slavery in this area during the early 1800’s. Total freedom did not come all at once, but it took lots of time and effort. As the Enlightenment swept across the nation, people in England began to view slavery as unjust and cruel. There were global economic changes taking place during this time that decreased the need for slavery. The slave trade was officially abolished in 1808. The other European countries did not have the same views of slavery as Britain, so they still illegally imported slaves. Twenty-five years after the slave trade was abolished, the slaves in the Caribbean were given their freedom.

Even though the slaves on the island were free, the living conditions were still not the best. Since there was no longer a cheap source of labor, the production of sugar cane decrease and the economies of the islands were crumbling. The population was growing, the export trade was decreased. As a result, poverty was hitting everyone hard. Many had to turn to illegal sources for income such as drugs.

Mary Prince’s autobiography was published when slavery was still legal and at its height, so her book took an active role in informing people of the horrors of slavery. Her work specifically appealed to the female anti-slavery campaigners because it highlighted the effect of slavery upon the domestic life, families, sexual oppressions, and the humiliation that female slaves had to endure. Mary Prince’s supporters included many middle class women. Even though they did support her, they did not consider her an equal.

By having a background of slavery on the island during this time, it can give the reader a better understand of Mary Prince’s story. Even though her story is factual, by having knowledge of when slavery was started in the area, why, and when it was abolished can provide you with a timeline that relates to Mary Prince’s life. Reading the facts only makes you connect with her story as well because even though she included many graphic images and details, you can learn even more of the sufferings she faced.

 

References:

“Mary Prince.” British Library . N.p.. Web. 21 Mar 2014. <http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/campaignforabolition/sources/witnesses/princeeyewitness/maryprince.html&gt;.

Mary Prince. N.d. Photograph. Bernews, Bermuda . Web. 21 Mar 2014. <http://bernews.com/bermuda-profiles/mary-prince/&gt;.

More, Hannah and Smith, Eaglesfield, ed. Mary Prince. From “The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. Vol. 2A. Boston, Mass. Pearson, 2012. 240-244. Print.

“The History of Slavery in Barbados.” Fun Barbados . N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar 2014. <http://www.funbarbados.com/ourisland/history/slavery.cfm&gt;.

Watson, Karl. “Slavery and Economy in Barbados.” BBC. N.p., 17 02 2011. Web. 21 Mar 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/barbados_01.shtml&gt;.

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