Throughout Caribbean history, mulattos as the majority of the free
coloreds, have constituted a significant amount of the population. In
the specific islands of Barbados, Saint Domingue, and Jamaica, the
status of the mulattos during particular times, differed from one to the
other. The economic, social, and political structures within these islands
affected mulattos in each and every way.
On the island of Barbados in the mid-seventeenth century, Britain
maintained control. The crop of sugar cane was booming throughout
the island. However, much to the disapproval of Britain, her island
began to attract the Danish merchants. The planters on the island of
Barbados began to trade this precious crop of sugar cane with the Dutch
and were making immense profits. Britain attempted to resolve this by
passing several Navigation Acts in 1650-1651. These Acts stated that
Barbados, as well as Britainís other colonies, were to be under the
influence of Englandís trade and no other. Eventually, Britain perceived
London as the major warehouse of the Caribbean. They wanted the
profit of all Caribbean goods to be made within Britain. Amidst all of
this imperial chaos were the mulattos. As a whole these people were
known as free coloreds. They were the sons and daughters of white
planters and black female slaves. The white planters wanted their
illegitimate children to grow up free. However, mulattos were forbidden
to own plantations and were mostly poor. They consisted of artisans,
skilled workers on plantations, clerks, traders and part-time soldiers in
The island of Barbados was completely occupied with plantations.
Barbados was on the verge of becoming the Caribbeanís primary sugar
producer. The role of the mulattos through this time period was trivial.
Although they were a fairly large population, emphasis was placed on
the slaves that were producing Britainís gold, sugar cane. The British
government was concentrating on acquiring more slaves for their new
plantations. Meanwhile, the mulattos as a growing force, were being
overlooked and oppressed by Britainís selfish officials.
The year of 1790 on the island of Saint Domingue instituted much
change. Although, sugar was introduced to the French islands later than
others, by 1790, Saint Domingue was well established as a dominant
sugar producer. This island was achieving greater amounts of capital
than any of the British islands. Saint Domingue was achieving this by
means of lower export duties and a wider range of markets. With this
fact came the presence of large plantations which in turn came the
influx of huge quantities of African slaves. Planters as a result wanted
the power to make their own judgments about laws dealing with their
plantations and slaves.
Consequently, in March of 1790, The French Revolution sparked the
Estates General to transform into The National Assembly. This Assembly
granted the West Indian assemblies of planters to make their own laws.
This decision troubled the mulatto population of Saint Domingue.
These mulattos were receiving better treatment than any other mulatto
population. French laws allowed them to own land and become masters
of plantations. Mulattos were wealthier within Saint Domingue. These
free men and women of partial color were worried that planters would
use their new position to enact racist laws against them.
Driven by fear, the free coloreds and mulattos began to find a means to
protect themselves. Word of these actions caught in France, in Paris,
the group Amis des Noirs (Friends of Black People) formed. A man
named Vincent Oge petitioned the National Assembly of France to grant
blacks and free coloreds liberty and equality. The Assembly refused and
Oge reacted by traveling to Saint Domingue to rally the free coloreds
and mulattos. Unfortunately, the mulattos did not respond and Oge and
his followers were captured and executed. Mulattos wanted to maintain
their status as free coloreds but were shocked and enraged about Ogeís
death. France realized the unsettled notions that The French Revolution
instilled within Saint Domingueís population. Franceís own social
divisions between her wealthy and middle class had carried over into her
colonies. The white planters wanted power as did the black population.
So, here in the year 1790 Saint Domingue sits on the brink of a massive
revolution caused by immense social divisions. In which case, mulattos
were playing a major role within its development.
Jamaica in the late 1860ís was amongst the presence of
uncompromising change. Emancipation had been well established
throughout the Caribbean islands at this time period. Freed blacks and
mulattos were involved in the struggle for land on the island of Jamaica.
They complained that parish vestry committees and magistrates were
using the law to prevent black ownership of land. They claimed that a
great deal of rich land was unused and it should become Crown land, or
public land. The governor of Jamaica at this time, Edward Eyre, was
opposed to this idea and the Queen of Britain proved to be also.
Consequently, the Morant Bay riots which involved a tremendous
amount of free blacks and mulattos led to Eyreís apparent realization of
Jamaicaís problems. Although the events at Morant Bay were not
organized or planned, their impact played an important role in Jamaicaís
change to Crown government. Eyre told the British government that
there was word among the coloreds and mulattos that they planned to
make Jamaica into a second Haiti. Britainís assembly then out of fear,
turned her colonyís government around and elected a council for a
This transition in Jamaica was quite significant for free coloreds and
mulattos. After two hundred years of representative government,
Jamaica had become a Crown colony. This implemented a change in the
life of every colored person throughout the island. Britain sent a new
governor by the name of Grant to Jamaica. He began in the late 1860ís,
to execute a cut in power of those who had been oppressing the free
blacks and mulattos. This was a time of conceivable hope for the
colored population of Jamaica.
There are various contrasting points evident throughout this inquiry into
mulatto presence in specific Caribbean islands. Although the time
periods are obviously a major basis for many strong differences, other
factors come into view. For instance, there is a significant difference
between the treatment and social status of mulattos within British
colonies verses French colonies. In the mid-seventeenth century in
Barbados, a British colony, mulattos were an irrelevant force among the
greed driven white planters. Their social status was poor. While in the
French colony of Saint Domingue in 1790, mulattos as free coloreds
were the strength behind the movement towards becoming the
independent state of Haiti. Their upright status was becoming
threatened by unjust planters and they chose to react by revolting. In
the island of Jamaica, mulattos despite their freedom, were losing an
equality battle against strict island magistrates. These mulattos in the
late 1860ís were soon provided with the opportunity of new
government. A government which looked to be moving in the direction
toward deserved equality for any colored person.
Economically, all three nations were quite stable. Barbados was at the
height of its sugar production as was Saint Domingue. Britainís eyes
were on profit and not the mulatto population of Barbados. The
mulattos on the island of Barbados were insignificant in the eyes of their
mother country. They did not affect the thriving economy of their
island. In Saint Domingue, mulattos on the other hand, were extremely
crucial. Their population of free people held the position of satisfactory
status. They sustained the power to bring Saint Domingue to a
revolution. However, their actions eventually brought Saint Domingueís
economy to a massive halt.
Politically, Saint Domingue and Jamaica were affected by their mulatto
population in a great way. As I have stated earlier, Saint Domingueís
free mulattos instituted the collapse of the Crown existence in the
island. Also, in Jamaica, the mulattos and colored society raised the
dilemma of biased vestry and magistrate committees. This, as well as
their rigid revolts, led to the establishment of Britainís Crown colonies
after two hundred years of representative government.