Comparative Study of Female Ownership versus Male Ownership in St. Lucia [Slavery]

St. Lucia

Source; Yelhispressing


This chapter will explore the ownership of the enslaved population in St.Lucia. From the literature, we know that men were the core owners of the enslaved people, who they considered as property.[1] The aim of this investigation is show that white women were participants of rural slavery, as much as they were in urban slavery.

Nature of the Plantocracy

According to Stanley Engerman and B.W. Higman in 1815, most of the slave owners in St. Lucia were French accounting for 92% of the plantocracy.[2] This claim supported by the Compensation Claim List shows that most of the claimants were French, with names such as Devaux, Lacour and Laroche.[3]

The plantation system on the island was not as other British colonies to include great houses of the plantation owners. Joyce Auguste explains, “The frequent change of ownership prevented an entrenched form of slave society and denied it of real estate houses.”[4] According to Charles Jesse and Easter, in 1769, there were a hundred colonists at Vieux-Fort, 126 at Carenage and 151 at Soufriere with most British families choosing to live in Vieux-Fort.[5] It is important to note that the wars between France and Britain in the 18th and 19th prevented the prospect of new arrivals to St.Lucia. Even under the stewardship of the ambitious Governor Baron de Laborie, most settlers were not attractive to the island.

In addition to wars, natural disasters [explained in the first chapter] destroyed the property of the plantocracy, driving many off the island never to return. From the literature, we see St.Lucia during the colonial period suffered from disastrous hurricanes and fires. For example, according to Bryan Edwards, in April 1813, Castries burnt to the ground.[6] Additionally, Guy Ellis reveals that a year before this, the city was also damaged by a fire. The disastrous hurricane of 21st of October 1817, destroyed houses, barracks, crops, vessels and the Governor’s house.[7] However, in spite of the lost suffered from war and natural disasters, St.Lucia’s plantocracy created a home for their families. One can agree that they keep up some semblance of order and organization.  There was a post office in Castries from 22nd June 1803, which delivered correspondences outside of the island. By 1810, both local and overseas correspondences came through the city’s post office.[8]

Resident versus Absentee Planters

Many writers such as Richard Hart describe the plantation system of the colonists as capitalist. Slavery was a form of labour used to generate finances for a plantocracy that controlled both the economic and social affairs of the British West Indies. In St.Lucia and other islands, there were absentee and residential planters. Nick Draper explains that, resident planters usually living in West Indies, whilst absentee planters settled in Europe. Draper further classifies the planters into the categories of ‘mercantile and rentier’. An example of an absentee merchant is John Billingham Inglis. Inglis was a partner in Inglis Ellice – a London merchant firm – at the time of emancipation. He received as “mortgage compensation” 165 slaves in St.Lucia.[9] When he died in 1870, in London he was “a person of sedentary and literary pursuits,” owning bonds not only in Britain but also in Turkey.[10]

Draper argues that St. Lucia as a new British colony had a lower British absenteeism rate because British rule rested on a “pre-existing planter community.”[11] From the 862 Awards that St. Lucia received, 131 from the Compensation Claims were over £500; of this amount, 12% were absentee planters. [See Table 2:1] Statistics show that most of St. Lucia’s slaveholders were resident; therefore, the resultant effects of absenteeism is minimal compared to other colonies. Absenteeism influenced the political, economic and social life of the West Indies. There are accounts where estates, owned and managed by proprietors and managements, resulted in despair. Absenteeism usually resulted in mismanagement of  plantations, cruel treatment of the enslaved and the membership of men in the Assembly not concerned with the social conditions on the plantation. For example, in St. Lucia, a manager sued a proprietor for wages but the proprietor explained to the court that his manager killed two of his enslaved. One named John Cooper, the proprietor said was worth $400 to him , beaten so bad that he died and was later buried in the cane fields. Similarly, a Negress Mary Clare suffered the same fate and her owner lamented that she was worth $700 to him.[12]

It is important to note that Draper’s figures applied on the eve of emancipation. The rate of absenteeism appears higher during slavery, reducing during the last years of slavery.




Table 2:1. The Total Absentee Rates by Colony

1st phase sugar colonies Awards over £500 % awards over£500 identified as absentee by no. % of awards over £500 identified as absentee per value
Antigua 159 77             84
Barbados 578 24             39
Montserrat 45 71             86
Nevis 65 49             60
St. Kitts 115 73             87
Virgin Islands 22 50             78
Jamaica 2,266 44             65
2nd phase sugar colonies
Dominica 143 27             38
Grenada 170 59             82
St. Vincent 146 58             77
Tobago 84 88             98
3rd phase colonies
British Guiana 649 38             64
St.Lucia 131 12             18
Trinidad 399 33             42
1st phase marginal colonies
Anguilla 15 0              0
Honduras 42 7             17
Overall 5,029 42             62

Source: Nick Draper 1997, p.87[13]

Slaveholders and Compensation

The Slave Compensation Claim List for St.Lucia shows that 884 persons received awards; difference of 21 persons [Draper 861, Claim List 884] could be claims made several times by ‘mercantile’ or planters. In addition, according to the Claims List there were 165 litigated claims and about, three ‘no claims’ receiving any part of the award for St.Lucia. Draper explains that identification rates were lower in colonies with a large Hispanic or Francophone population such as Honduras and St.Lucia. [See Table 2:2]




Table 2:2. Total Awards and Identification Rate by Colonies

Countries Total Awards Awards of £500 %of awards over£500 identified by number % of award over £500 identified by value
Anguilla     213       20      15    20
Antigua   1,026      159      86    88


     578      94    94
British Guiana   2,679      649      81    88
Dominica    871      143      83    87
Grenada     92      170      81    85
Honduras    290       42      29   53
Jamaica  13, 240    2,266      88   89
Montserrat    299      45      89   93
Nevis    304      65


St. Kitts    769     115       84   85
St.Lucia     862     131       59   67
St. Vincent     757    146       85   86
Tobago     388     84       83   82
Trinidad    2,031   399       76   86
Virgin Islands     258    22       73   86
Total 30,203 5,029       85   88

Source: Nick Draper, 1997, p.86[14]

The Slave Compensation Claims for St.Lucia gives a detail account naming the claim receiver, the number of slaves they received the compensation for, the date of the award and the value of the award. It is interesting to note, that some of the names of the awardees are still associated today with the land owning bourgeois’ on the island such as the Devaux. According to the List about 402 were male individual receivers, 255 were female individual receivers and 64 were group receivers.[See Figure 2:1] This writer, decided to include a ‘group’ class to describe the awards received by more than one person for one particular claim. In the group category, the receivers of the compensation were either female getting the award with other women, men receiving compensation with other men or a mixture of women with males collecting the money.


Figure 2:1. Pie Chart Showing in Percentage Who Received Compensation

Men And Women Who Received Slave Compensation In St.Lucia

Source: Yelhispressing

Admittedly, The Slave Compensation Claim sometimes is a problematic document due to a number of factors.  Nick Draper sums it up when he says, “The beneficiary of the compensation may not in fact have been the same as the recipient.”[15] Draper suggests that the individual’s name on the Claims list did not represent oneself but was a trustee for some “unrelated beneficiaries.”[16] Usually there were many claims contesting the award for enslaved property. In addition, there was the general suspicion that the mercantile appropriated the awards, which originally belonged to the owner of the property. The Commission recorded the signature of those who collected the awards for enslaved property. Draper states that the office suggests that merchants did claim some of the awards.

Rural Male Planters

According to the Slave Compensation Claims, majority of the recipients were male. [See Figure 2:1] Remember the Victorian belief that men were head of the private and public sphere, thus the same conditions existed in colonial S. Lucia. From the outset of slavery, the man left the metropolis.  Sometimes, the men took their wives, settling in the islands and creating a family with their ‘mini empire.’[17] Janet Momsen suggests, “Elite white women who came as wives and daughters of planters often found the freedom experience on other colonial settlements frontier.”[18] They could inherit property from their spouses (including land and farms) in the West Indies, an experience unattainable in the metropolis. The Compensation List for St. Lucia gives a few examples. Widow Magdelaine Agathe Alexander received £1,282 s9 2d for 52 enslaved people.[19]  It is interesting to note, however, that majority of  the female awardees from the Compensation List received awards for not more than ten enslaved persons. The exceptions were the minority – widows who inherited property from husbands or person female entrepreneurs. For example, Mary Cotter received £2,808 1d for 116 enslaved persons.[20] According to the Return of Personal Slaves for 1834, Mary Cotter was a sugar plantation owner with 116 enslaved persons in Belle Vue, Vieux-Fort.[21]           

Rural Female Planters

According to the Returns of Plantations Slaves 1815, 1819 and 1834, women owned fewer plantations and field enslaved than men in St.Lucia. Out of the 404 plantations on the island in 1815, only 103 owned by women.[22] [See Table 1:4 and Figure 2:2] In 1819 out of the 13, 402 field enslaved on the island, 1, 964 owned by women.[23]  Furthermore, in 1819, out of  363 plantations on the island, only 63 owned by women. In that year, there were 11, 639 field enslaved population on the island and women owned 1, 255 of that total. Furthermore, in 1834 of the 348 plantations on the island, women owned 89. Out of  a field enslaved population of 11,033, women owned 2, 532.[24] [See Figure 2:4] In 1815, 1819 and 1834, women were also part of group owners for plantations and enslaved people.

The women who owned plantations were the exception especially the individual entrepeneurs. They worked hard just as the men did to prove themselves, unlike the widows who inherited their plantations. The female each entrepeneurs showed that being female does not mean one is ‘commercially handicapped.’ It also demonstrates that plantation management was not solely for men.

Slavery In St. Lucia

Source: Yelhispressing

Table 2:3. Table Showing the Different Female Ownership of the Field Enslaved Population

Female Ownership
Year Widow Owners Other Individual Females Group Owners
1815 1423 541             842
1819 974 281 1012
1834 1726 806             539
Total 4123 1628 2393
Slavery In St.Lucia

Source: Yelhispressing

Slavery In St. Lucia

Source: Yelhispressing

In 1834, there was a decline in plantations in Laborie but an increase in female ownership of plantations. [See tables 1:4, 1:5 and 1:6] One must be cognisant of the fact that this increase in female ownership in Laborie was not through widow ownership (as the case was in Soufriere), but through the phenomenon of a slight surge in individual female entrepreneurship. None of the literature provides further an insight into the increase in individual female entrepreneurs at this period when the plantation ownership was declining on the island. It is a subject for future research.

Widows were a significant group of owners because they owned many of the enslaved population. [See Table 2:3]  The role of the widow as plantation owner elucidate to the reader that they were part of the capitalist market regardless of how they attained the enslaved. Widows impressively were able to serve as proprietors of large plantations in a period when colonial culture dictated she could not.

Momsen states that the authority that female owners exonerated on the plantations is   a mechanism of undermining the patriarchal system in the Caribbean.[25] Although according to the Slave Plantation Records for 1815, 1819 and 1834, men owned most of the plantation and rural enslaved population, however a few women skilfully defied the norm of the day. In this instance, one can reason that plantation management business was more than sex based but also on the survival of the fittest. The ownership of plantations by women was the beginning of the active involvement of women in commerce on the island. They were able to use what was available to earn an income.





Table 2:4. Total Field Enslaved Populations and the Owners

Year Total Plantations Plantations Owned by Men Plantations Owned by Women Group Owned Plantations Total Field Enslaved Population Field Enslaved Owned by Males Fields Enslaved Owned by Women Group Owned Field Enslaved
1815 404 290 103     11 13, 402 10, 595 1, 964 842
1819 363 287 63     13 11, 639 9, 372 1, 255 1012
1834 348 252 89      7 11, 033 7, 962 2, 532 539
Total 1115 829 255      31 36, 074 27, 929 5, 751       2,393

Female Urban Slaveholders

Unlike their rural counterparts, urban women dominated urban slavery. Slavery literature shows that coloureds and white women owned majority of  the urban enslaved. According to John Jeremie, by 1832 the coloured class owned 2,350 enslaved people, which was 1/6 of the population. Furthermore, out of the 2,350 enslaved people owned by the coloured class 1, 202 were plantation slaves with the remaining 1,148 as personal slaves. Jeremie shares a very interesting view that since there were 2,680 personal enslaved people in St.Lucia at that time, the coloured class therefore “possessed nearly half” of them.[26]

According to Hilary Beckles, although white women owned smaller properties than white men did, they owned a higher density of the urban enslaved population. For example, Beckles states that in “1815 they owned about 24% of the enslaved in St.Lucia; 12% of the enslaved on properties of more than 50 enslaved, and 48% of the properties with less than ten slaves.”[27]   In 1815 whilst the urban holdings had 5.8 of the enslaved, the rural areas had 20.4 of the enslaved.[28]The white women owned more women enslaved in St.Lucia, which gives an insight into the nature of urban slavery.

It seems that women dominated the urban market because it’s low-income earner for propertied men. Beckles shows that women in urban slavery generally ventured into huckstering, petty shop keeping, taverns, slave rentals and sex- houses.[29] Some of the areas were illegal by many male officials such as the sex-houses yet it was a booming business in the urban areas of the West Indies. The coloured and white women made money from female enslaved who not only worked in the sex trade but also served as nannies, washerwomen, cooks and seamstresses.[30] Single white and coloured women ventured into slavery to support themselves. Many of the women opted out of marriages sometimes because of the nature of these unions. In marriage, the husband owned the property of the wives and the opinions of women were not included in the official records because of their exclusion from political office.[31]  Furthermore, married women were in the business of urban slavery.

Some historians posit the view that the role of women in the growth of urban slavery encouraged the ill-treatment of the female enslaved population. According to Hilary Beckles, treatment of  the female enslaved by white or coloured women, was just as inhumane as the torture experienced by the rural enslaved. The sexual exploitation of the women enslaved. Beckles explains that the prostitution trade which some women operated in the urban areas, contributed to the sexual ideology of the white men. Many historians agree that white men viewed blacks as the adventurous sexually and the coloureds/browns as stirring sexual companions. Thus, the many coloureds reproduced by the black women with the white men, created a group of women in the island for which the white men had a special preference. Beckles argues that the white women were jealous of the black and coloured female enslaved because of the special interest that the white men had to them. Thus, many of the urban white slaveholders inflicted cruel treatment and punishment on these enslaved women.[32]


[1] The Law stated that the enslaved were not men and women but viewed as ‘pieces of property.’ The Slave Owner became the ‘father’ because he provided food, clothing, shelter, and the authority on the plantation.

[2] Stanley Engerman and Barry Higman, “The Demographic Structure of the Caribbean Slave Societies in the 18th and 19th Centuries,” General History of the Caribbean Vol. 3: The Slave Societies of the Caribbean, ed. Franklin W. Knight (London: UNESCO Publishing, 1997), 75

[3] Office of Commissioner of Compensation, Accounts of Slave Compensation Claims (London: Office of Commissioners of Compensation, 1838), 110-116

[4] Joyce Auguste, Cultural Heritage series No.1: Oral and Folk Traditions of Saint Lucia (Saint Lucia: Lithographic Press, 1986), 26

[5] Charles Jesse and B.R. Easter, A Short History of the Town and District of Vieux-Fort (St.Lucia) (Saint Lucia: Saint Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society, 1971), 6 and 9

[6] Bryan Edward, History of the British West Indies Vol.5 (London: Cheapside, 1966), 90

[7] Ibid., 79

[8] G.G Ritchie, Caribbean Philatelic Handbook No.3 St.Lucia: A Philatelic History (North Yorks: The Roses Caribbean Philatelic Society, 1978), 9

[9] Ibid., 87

[10] Nick Draper, “‘Possessing Slaves’: Ownership,Compensation and Metropolitan Society in Britain at the time of Emancipation 1834–40.” History Workshop Journal, Volume 64, Number 1 (1997):77

[11] Ibid., 87

[12] London Society for the Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominion, The Anti-Slavery Reporter Vol.4 (London: Samuel Bagster, 1831), 495

[13] Ibid., 87

[14] Draper, 86

[15] Draper, 84

[16] Ibid., 84

[17] Not all white women were married but it was the norm of the day that most of the white females who came to the West Indies were either wives or daughters. Single white female existed but they were in the minority.

[18] Janet Momsen, “The Double Paradox,” Gendered Realities “Essays in Caribbean Feminist Thought,” ed. Patricia Mohammed (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2002), 45

[19] Office of Commissioner of Compensation, Accounts of Slave Compensation Claims: St.Lucia (London: Office of Commissioners of Compensation, 1838), 115

[20] Office of Commissioner of Compensation, 116

[21] Margot Thomas, From Slavery To Freedom: Some Aspects of the impact of Slavery on Saint Lucia ( Castries: Saint Lucia National Commission for UNESCO, 2006), 86

[22] Thomas, 56-66

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid

[25] Momsen, 45

[26] John Jeremie, Four Essays on Colonial Slavery (London: J. Hatchard and Son, 1831), 52

[27] Hilary Beckles, “White Women and Slavery in the Caribbean,” Caribbean Slavery in the Atlantic World, eds. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2000), 661

[28] Engerman and Higman, 74

[29] Beckles, 663

[30] Ibid.

[31] Beckles, 668

[32] Beckles, 660-663


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