St. Lucia’s Plantation Economy


Balenbouche Estate, St. Lucia

The history of St. Lucia shares a similar peculiarity to that of most other Caribbean economies based on the plantation system. When the Caribbean shifted its focus to sugar cultivation, the social, political and economic spheres of society drastically changed. Sugar production determined the class order on the social pyramid that stymied mobility of certain ethnic groups from the bottom of the social ladder up. Additionally, the social structure of society had an impact on who governed in the colonies. This governing class was usually the plantocracy, composed of whites, who enjoyed their status at the pinnacle of the social pyramid. According to Richard Hart, sugar plantations were capitalist enterprises thus, it might be proper to consider that the sugar economy undoubtedly influenced the social and political life within the colonies.[1] Due to the mono-crop economy of the Caribbean colonies, land usage became restricted mainly for sugar cultivation. Therefore, the aim of this chapter is to prove that majority of the land in St. Lucia was plantation based, thus leading to an inevitable of rural slavery encouraged on a greater scale than urban slavery. Hence, the statistics and analysis will show that planters owned most of the enslaved and not urban slaveholders.[2]


                                                                       Land Use

The Caribbean’s economy became mainly sugar oriented that plantation work became majority of the business conducted. As Dunn suggested, “Sugar and slavery developed hand in hand in the English islands, two faces of a single phenomenon.”[3] In St. Lucia, the phenomenon meant that majority of land was either cultivated or left in its natural beauty. Sturge and Harvey’s highlighted this when they visited the island in December 1836 and commented on their journey through “lofty ridges, and through the estates which occupied the intervening valleys.”[4] The pair also visited two estates owned by Mr. W. Muter on the outskirts of Castries. According to an illustration by Jolie Harmsen, William Muter was a proprietor of Canelles Estate in Vieux-Fort, which had 105 acres of sugar-cultivated land.[5] Additionally, Sturge explains that the estates were in superb condition and fully cultivated, with a population of 450 enslaved people, 11 of who purchased their freedom by 1836.[6] Mr. W. Muter’s enslaved population is a testament of the labour population for the other estates in St. Lucia during the same period.

According to Jolie Harmsen, the plantations in St. Lucia were not as large and formidable as in Jamaica or Barbados due to topography of the land and because of the planters’ choice to support their self-sufficiency.[7]  According to Sir Alan Burns, St. Lucia was a newly acquired colony in the British Empire, similar to Trinidad and British Guiana, however. Eager proprietors trampled over for Trinidad and British Guiana but not St. Lucia.

Table 1:1. The total population of St. Lucia, showing the operating estates from 1730-1789

Year Total Pop. African slaves # of operating sugar estates Area under cultivation (In hectares)
cane coffee cotton
1730 463 175
1745 3,455 2,573 84 478
1747 3,025 2,083 172 539
1756 5,039 4,020 801 400
1760 5,031 4,014 946 414
1764 6,336 5,069 18 717 621
1765 8,937 6,469 53 772 453
1767 10,973 8,816 5 166 875 98
1769 12,794 10,278 16 590 1,642 885
1771 14,199 11,497 33 1,040 2,574 1,235
1773 16,941 13,782 39 1,456 4,401 525
1775 18,598 13,347 41 1,759 4,528 587
1777 19,350 16,000 53 2,003 3,366 776
1779 19,230 16,003 44 2,214
1780 18,779 15,990 28 2,297 2,761
1784 18,301 15,163 73 3,271 1,226
1785 19,932 16,390 83 3,871 840 1,691
1786 19,872 16,344 73 2,936 886 1,982
1787 20,935 17,163 62 2,870 1,327 6,337
1788 20,868 17,221 46 2,019 1,214 6,973
1789 22,245 18,445 42 1,902 1,262 7,510

Source: Jolie Harmsen 1999, p.29[8]

Furthermore, according to evidence provided by Jolie Harmsen for Vieux-Fort – the southernmost district – in 1847 there were 19 sugar estates under cultivation.[9] [Table 1:2] These estates were in cultivation during slavery and the Apprenticeship System. The apprentices from Vieux-Fort inevitably relied on the plantations for their main source of work as Vieux-Fort was an entirely sugar based district. According to Jolie Harmsen, out of the 19 sugar estates in the district, the smallest estate under cultivation was Mont Lezard. This estate had 37 acres of the land under cultivation and under the proprietorship of Auxleins Augier who was also proprietor of Parc Estate and Resource Estate, the latter situated on 42 acres of land devoted to sugar cultivation.[10]

Additionally, there were smaller plantations of coffee and cotton grown on a small-scale. In the 1780’s the main crop cultivated in St. Lucia was cotton. According to Margot Thomas, 46% of the total estates on the island grew cotton, which were 459 cotton estates out of a thousand cultivated estates.[11] In that same year, coffee and cocoa production was also higher than sugar production. Coffee grown on 313 estates represented 31% out of the total estates, whilst cocoa represented 15%, grown on 150 estates. Sugar, on the other hand had the lowest production with only 8% of the total estates and grown on 78 estates.[12][Table 1:3]Furthermore, it is important to point out that Anse La Raye was the prime cotton, coffee and cocoa producing district in 1789, thus it was the most economical district. However, by 1815, Anse La Raye was no longer that important; Soufriere, Vieux-Fort and Laborie dominated the district crop producers.[13] [Table 1:4]

Table 1:2. Operating estates in Vieux-Fort in 1847

Estate Proprietors # of acres under cultivation Mills run on:
Riviere Doree Dames Alexander 52 Water
Desgatieres ibid. 50 Water
Mont Lezard Auxliens Augier 37 Water
Parc ibid. 67 Water
Beau Sejour Numa Chauton 45 Water
Balambouche Gaillard de Laubenque 120 Water
Saphir Dames Rouvier 82 Water
Black Bay John Goodman 75 Water
Anse Noir E.Cotter 65 cattle #
Tourny St.Romain Laporte 85 wind #
Resource Auxliens Augier 42 wind #
Retraite Goodman and Marncheau 70 Water
Beau Sejour the heirs of Moreau 40 Water
Beau Sejour Dame Guery 38 Water
Mon Repos Amable Dreuil 52 wind
Pointe Sable D. Minvielle 75 wind #
Belle Vue Veuve Cotter 55 wind/animal
Savanne M.Beausoliel 47 Water
Canelles William Muter 105 Water

Source: Jolie Harmsen 1999, p.48[14]

As sugar replaced cotton and coffee as the dominant crop, the dominant district changed. Soufriere became the dominant district producer of sugar; it was also the main producer of coffee. Choiseul in 1819 was the main producer of cotton, which was no longer a dominant crop for the island. In addition to sugar, cotton, coffee and cocoa, St. Lucia grew cassava and provisions estates throughout the island but Laborie and Micoud were the chief producers. St. Lucia also exported rum, molasses and logwood but the period 1826-1834 there was a decline in quantity of the products exported.[15]

The extensive land use for the sugar, coffee and cocoa created a predominantly agrarian economy for St. Lucia. This meant that the planters and other slaveholders depended on cultivation of sugar, coffee and cocoa for their economic livelihood. It is important to note that other sources of revenue existed such as fishing and shop keeping. An agrarian economy influenced the political and social life of the colony. Thus, the owners of the land held most of the political influence – the Assembly – and they enjoyed the social privileges of life because of their political and economic status.

General Overview of the Enslaved Population

To illustrate the importance of enslaved labour to sugar cultivation, it is vital to look at the population census of the St. Lucia at the eve of the sugar revolution. In 1730, from a population of 463, 175 were enslaved African. It is important to reiterate that there were no operating sugar estates. However, by 1789 there were 18, 445 African slaves from a population of 22, 245, with 42 operating sugar estates.[16][Table One] According to Henry H. Breen, in 1810, blacks accounted for 14, 397, of a population of 17, 485.  It is interesting to note that the black population, which was marginally higher in 1789, saw an exponential growth by 1810. It would be careless not to point out that the coloured population stood at 1,878 with some of that population serving as labour for plantation fields and great houses.[17]

According to Eric Williams, the number of enslaved labour and livestock needed on sugar plantations exceeds three times that needed on another crop plantation. Williams explains that “for sugar cultivation one slave was required for every two acres, as compared with one slave to  five or ten acres of cotton, and one slaved to thirty or forty acres of corn.”[18] Therefore, the majority of labour entering the island went to the production of sugar as oppose to coffee and cotton.

Table 1:3. District plantations in St. Lucia in 1787

District Crops
sugar cane coffee cocoa cotton Total # of cult. Estates abandoned
Anse La Raye 5 49 25 53 132 26
Castries 10 29 19 41 99 23
Choiseul 5 52 13 37 107 6
Dauphin 4 32 61 97
Dennery 5 12 22 36 75 17
Gros Islet 7 13 4 45 69
Laborie 6 34 15 40 95 11
Micoud 5 21 1 53 80 26
Praslin 6 7 39 52 4
Soufriere 17 37 39 28 121 19
Vieux-Fort 8 27 12 26 73 8
TOTALS 78 313 150 459 1,000 140

Source: Margot Thomas 2006, pg. 32[19]





Table 1:4. Returns of Plantation Slaves in 1815

District Cocoa Coffee Sugar Cane Cotton provisions/


Plantations Slaves
Anse La Raye 9 4 6 0 0 26 865
Castries 4 9 16 0 0 49 1,795
Choiseul 1 16 7 7 0 40 1,116
Dauphin 1 8 2 1 20 758
Dennery 7 1 8 0 3 20 656
Gros Islet 11 14 11 2 5 41 1,363
Laborie 0 8 10 2 5 46 1,571
Micoud 0 2 11 1 7 22 844
Praslin 0 0 5 0 0 12 515
Soufriere 16 37 22 2 2 91 2,819
Vieux-Fort 0 11 14 2 2 37 1,100
Totals 49 110 112 19 20 404 13,402

[Source: Margot Thomas] Table depicting the plantations and enslaved labour, the above table excluded the miscellaneous and unaccounted plantations

                                    Rural Enslaved Labour

Plantation labour usually divided into domestic and enslaved field with the latter separated into three gangs. It is noteworthy to mention that the larger percentage of the enslaved population was usually in the districts, which dominated  cultivation of the main crop at the time. For example, according to Margot Thomas, in 1789, Anse La Raye was the main district with the most estates cultivating cotton, the main crop. The district had the highest enslaved population, however by 1815, the population reduced. According to the Return of Plantation Slaves 1819 Records, Anse La Raye’s enslaved population was 788 but by the Return of Plantation Slaves in 1834 Records, the population declined to 729.[20][Table 1:5 and Table 1:6] Furthermore, from a total slave population of 11, 639, Soufriere had the largest enslaved population because of the district’s dominant production of not only sugar cane but also coffee.[21] In addition, according to the Return of Plantation Slaves 1819 Records, the smallest enslaved population was in Praslin district with 405 with the smallest number of plantations standing at nine.[22]

Agrarian societies influenced the population density, as the plantations required an extensive labour force. Therefore, the island’s population was unable to escape a high level of concentration in the rural areas of St. Lucia. The restrictive land use for mainly agriculture influenced the “growth of commercial capitalism in the development of the New World.”[23] It required an extensive enslaved labour force and land. Many historians agree that without the enslaved Africans, the Europeans would not successfully exploit the resources that the ‘New World’ offered.

Table 1:5. Return of Plantation Slaves in 1819

District Cocoa Coffee Sugar Cane Cotton Provisions/Cassava Plantation Slaves
Anse La Raye 5 3 9 0 1 22 788
Castries 1 6 12 0 3 32 1,374
Choiseul 0 16 7 8 1 38 988
Dauphin 0 7 2 0 2 16 625
Dennery 5 0 8 0 2 22 666
Gros Islet 1 10 12 1 5 38 1,204
Laborie 1 11 10 1 6 50 1,381
Micoud 0 2 9 1 5 17 520
Praslin 0 0 4 0 0 9 405
Soufriere 7 34 24 1 2 86 2,563
Vieux-Fort 7 0 13 2 3 33 1,125
Totals 27 89 110 14 30 363 11,639

[Source: Margot Thomas] Table depicting the plantations and enslaved labour, the above table excluded the miscellaneous and unaccounted plantations

Table 1:6. Returns of Plantation Slaves in 1834

Cocoa Coffee Sugar Cane Cotton Provisions/Cassava Plantation Slaves
Anse La Raye 3 3 8 0 5 25 729
Castries 2 2 10 0 12 41 1,186
Choiseul 1 18 8 1 16 53 948
Dauphin 0 8 2 0 3 13 486
Dennery 3 0 5 0 2 11 544
Gros Islet 0 8 11 0 9 35 1,059
Laborie 2 13 10 0 14 47 1,303
Micoud 0 1 5 0 6 13 409
Praslin 0 0 3 0 5 8 362
Soufriere 2 36 21 0 2 72 2,664
Vieux-Fort 0 5 12 1 16 30 1,343
Totals 13 94 95 2 90 363 11,639

[Source: Margot Thomas] Table depicting the plantations and enslaved labour, the above table excluded the miscellaneous and unaccounted plantations

Population Change of the Rural Enslaved

St. Lucia’s economic and social sectors changed due to natural disasters, enslaved disturbances and a new monarchical rule. According to Charles Jesse in 1814 as Great Britain ceased control of St. Lucia, the population was 17,000, with 14,000 blacks, 1,800 coloured and 1,200 whites. Although the population had grown to 18, 595 by 1825, the black and white population decreased.[24] The population increased because of the growth of coloureds. [Figure 1:1] According to Sir Alan Burns from the 668,000 enslaved people in the Caribbean in 1834, 13, 291 lived in St. Lucia.[25] The statistics by Burn shows a decrease in the enslaved population on the island.

In comparing the Returns of Plantations Slaves 1819 Records to the Return of Plantation Slaves 1834 Records one realizes that the enslaved population decreased from 11,639 in 1819 to 11, 033 in 1834 and the number of plantations decreased from 363 in 1819 to 348 in 1834.[26]  The Returns of Plantation Slaves in 1815 Records shows the enslaved population at 13,402 with a total of 404 plantations.[27]  This highlights the decline-enslaved population on the island, a condition that began post 1815.




Figure 1:1.Population figures of St. Lucia from 1799-1843


Population figures of St. Lucia from 1799-1843

Source: Yelhispressing

Source: Jolie Harmsen’s population figures for St.Lucia according to colour 1771-1843

According to Jolie Harmsen [who cited Sturge and Harvey] before reaching the age of twenty, half of the male enslaved died, whilst a third of the female died. Since both male and female enslaved worked under severe conditions, the female enslaved lived longer because she matured earlier. Slavery affected the female labour less destructive than the male. According to John Jeremie, repeated punishments also played a role in the number of death. Jeremie described the severe beating to a boy named Bastien who succumbed to this horrific assault. Before the boy’s death, the manager asked his mother to care for Bastien. As it was her free day, she remarked that her day was to earn her bread. Subsequently she received a flogging; she later gave birth to stillborn and later died.[28]

In addition to the severe conditions on the plantation, St.Lucia’s population and plantations also suffered from natural disasters. According to Charles Jesse between the periods 1816 to 1819, two hurricanes, a severe earthquake and destructive floods struck St. Lucia. The effects of these natural disasters were destruction to plantations and loss of life. For example, the hurricane of 1817 killed Governor Seymour and others.[29] ‘Others’ were not specified though it could refer to the remainder of the white population, the enslaved black population or the coloureds. The 1817 hurricane also destroyed the Governor’s House. One can posit the view that since the 1817 hurricane destroyed such a formidable physical structure, damage to plantations would be inevitably.

According to David Barry Gaspar, the British governor Robert Brereton in 1803 explained that due to the Brigands War of 1794-1797, many planters lost  majority of their male enslaved labour and their stock.[30] For this reason, many of the planters ceased cultivation in St. Lucia, resulting in further damage to the island’s economical competence as compared to the rest of the Caribbean. St.Lucia’s economy was so contracted and miniscule that according to A Correspondence to St.Lucia, the island was an “impoverished and unprosperous colony” during slavery. It was compensation from emancipation, which kept the country afloat after slavery.[31]

Furthermore, although, the Brigand War claimed lives and stopped cultivation, figure 1:1 shows a population increased by 1803. One can posit a view that more enslaved labour arrived from West Africa. In 1799 the population of Blacks was 13, 391, however in 1803 it increased to 14,000 and further increased in 1810 to 14, 387.[32][See figure 1:1] On the other hand, from 1815 to emancipation, there was a decrease in the enslaved black population. [See table 1:4] Immediately, this writer takes into account the Slave Registers. According to Sir Alan Burns, from 1814, registers on the life of the enslaved became mandatory.  It was an order from the Colonial Office to the local office in St.Lucia. Thus, one can reason that another reason for a population increase was the timely first official record of the enslaved. However, Burns explains that the Governor complained of the register was repetitious. Therefore, it is not clear which hypothesis dictates the reasons for the increase in the blacks’ enslaved population.

Urban Enslaved Labour

William Green says 13,291 enslaved attained their freedom – personal and plantation in 1834.[33] According to The Returns of Plantation Slaves 1834, there were 11, 033 enslaved people. In 1834, there were two, 258 personal enslaved in St.Lucia. Many of the personal enslaved dwelled in the urban areas of Castries, Soufriere and Vieux-Fort. Jolie Harmsen notes that from as early as 1763, elites wish to keep Carenage (later known as Castries) the most important town on the island. They thought it necessary to prevent Vieux-Fort and Soufriere from developing to prevent competition in commerce for Carenage. Hence, there were less urban areas in St.Lucia during slavery thus less urban enslaved people. According to Engerman and Higman, in 1815 whilst the average sizes of rural holdings were 20.4 enslaved persons, the urban holdings were 5.8.[34] Additionally, Engerman and Higman explain that in the towns 20% of the male enslaved worked as house enslaved, whilst 60% of the women enslaved were domestics.[35] The latter were tailors and washers and formed  majority of the hucksters while the former were in the fishing, skilled trade and transport industry.[36] Engerman and Higman also noted that in urban slavery, colour was less important than gender in determining placement of the enslaved. Males and women were the categories needed; the colour of the skin did little to decide what task the enslaved would do. It is a contrast to rural slavery where colour was important, the enslaved separated to work. The brown or fair-skinned enslaved usually worked as domestics, whilst the darker and stronger enslaved worked in the fields.

Changes in the Urban Enslaved Population

According to comparative data for plantation and personal slaves in 1815 there were two, 903 personal slaves in St.Lucia. The number increased to three, 354 in 1819, however decreased to 2,258 in 1834.[37] According to Charles Jesse, some planters left St.Lucia in search of a better fortune elsewhere and their owners manumitted a few of the enslaved. For example, Miss Marguerite Levacher manumitted her slave Marie Elizabeth Esther and Mr. Danbigman who manumitted his slave Louis Sally. Widow Monie also granted freedom to Marie Joseph and her three children Jean Raymond, Antoine Joseph and an unbaptized younger one.[38]

[1] Richard Hart, From Occupation to Independence: A Short History of the Peoples of the English-Speaking Caribbean Region ( Barbados: Canoe Press, University of the West Indies, 1998), 19

[2] Office of Commissioner of Compensation, Accounts of Slave Compensation Claims (London: Office of Commissioners of Compensation, 1838)

[3] Richard Dunn, Sugar and Slaves (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), 189 (Davis)

[4] Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey, The West Indies in 1837 ( London: Hamilton, Adams and Co., 1838), 119

[5] Jolie Harmsen, Sugar , Slavery and Settlement: A Social History of Vieux-Fort, St. Lucia, from the Amerindians to the Present (Castries: St. Lucia National Trust, 1999), 48

[6] Sturge and Harvey, 119

[7] Harmsen, 28

[8] Ibid., 29

[9] Harmsen, 48

[10] Ibid., 48

[11] Margot Thomas, From Slavery To Freedom: Some Aspects of the impact of Slavery on Saint Lucia ( Castries: Saint Lucia National Commission for UNESCO, 2006), 32

[12] Thomas, 33

[13] Ibid., 34

[14] Harmsen, 48

[15] Thomas, 2

[16]  Harmsen, 29

[17] Henry H Breen, St. Lucia: Historical, Statistical and Descriptive (London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd, 1844), 165

[18] Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean ( New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 122

[19] Ibid, 32

[20] Thomas, 34

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (London: Cornell University Press, 1966), 10

[24] Rev. Charles Jesse, Outlines of St.Lucia’s History (Castries: The St. Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society, 1994), 37

[25] Sir Alan Burns, History of the British West Indies (London: George Allen and UNWIN Ltd, 1965), 629

[26] Thomas, 34

[27] Ibid., 33

[28] John Jeremie, Four Essays on Colonial Slavery (London: J. Hatchard and Son, 1832), 100

[29] Jesse, 37

[30] David Barry Gaspar, “La Guerre des Bois: Revolution, War and Slavery in Saint Lucia, 1793-1838,” eds. David Barry Gaspar and David Patrick Geggus, A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 102

[31] Margot Thomas quoting The Correspondence Respecting the Island of St.Lucia, Colonial Office, 26th February, 1841

[32] Harmsen, 29

[33] William Green, British Slave Emancipation: The Sugar Colonies and the Great Experiment 1830-1865 (New York: Oxford University press Inc., 1976), 193

[34] Stanley Engerman and B.W Higman, “The Demographic Structure of the Caribbean Slave Societies in the 18th and 19th Centuries,” ed. Franklin Knight, General History of the Caribbean Vol. II: The Slave Societies of the Caribbean (London: UNESCO Publishing Press, 1997), 74

[35] Ibid., 77

[36] Ibid.

[37] Thomas, 35

[38] Thomas, 39


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