Slavery and Revolution


This section of the site contains historical background on Jamaica and slavery. Click on the hyperlinks below or use the menu to explore further.


Jamaica was the largest island in the British Caribbean. It was also Britain’s most valuable sugar colony, with an economy organised around sugar production and the institution of slavery.

At the top of the social and economic hierarchy were the great planter oligarchs, men like Simon Taylor, who owned the sprawling sugar plantations that hemmed the island around its fertile coastal plains and encroached up the rich river valleys.

At the bottom were the enslaved men women and children, trafficked from Africa on slave ships via the notorious Middle Passage or born into slavery on the island, whose back-breaking work shortened their lives whilst making men like Taylor wealthy.

Jamaica in the eighteenth century was one of the most unequal societies in human history. Its slave-run sugar industry was a mainstay of the British imperial economy.


In the British Caribbean during the eighteenth century, slavery was a system of institutionalised manslaughter.

British merchants purchased enslaved people from slave markets in West Africa before traficking them across the Atlantic to be purchased by slaveholders and put to work in the Americas, most of them destined for a life of labour on a plantation, with sugar as the primary crop.

It was a deadly system at every stage. Enslaved people died in Africa, many before they even saw the coast; they died on the Middle Passage; and they died during the notorious ‘seasoning period’ during their first months in the Americas. This trade in slaves was carried on at such human cost because slavery on the plantations was also deadly. The harsh labour-regime on Caribbean sugar plantations ensured that deaths outnumbered births, which meant that managers relied on the slave trade to maintain or to expand their captive workforce.

That reliance of the Caribbean slave system on the slave trade from Africa was one of the reasons that wealthy planter politicians like Simon Taylor hated abolitionists like William Wilberforce who proposed putting a stop to it.