The foreign slaves in Gustavia during the Swedish period

As per the census of 1815, there were a total of  4049 inhabitants living in Gustavia. The website memoirestbarth ( I have used information from this site to help me with this article) http://www.memoirestbarth.com/ indicates that about ¼ of them were white, another ¼ « free coloured » and the rest, slaves. About 2000 slaves were living in Gustavia in 1815, working as domestics in private houses, on the docks as porters, or any other occupation of those days such as sailors, bakers, carpenters, cooks, gardeners, etc…

Something much less known is that not all of them were owned by a local inhabitant. As we will see, many of those slaves working here were sent from abroad by owners residing on one of the nearby islands.

The documents I have been working with for this article is dated the 17th of January 1812 and it tallies all the foreign slaves that were working in Gustavia, showing where they were sent from, the name of the actual owner, and the name of the consignee in charge for them in Gustavia, for the year of 1811.

342 slaves are belonging to a foreign owner working in Gustavia that year. This is close to 20% of all the slaves in Gustavia, and the number one islands sending slaves to work in Saint-Barth are Saint-Martin and Anguilla.

Here below the numbers of foreign slaves from each of the islands made using the above document.

Here below a transcription of the 342 slaves arranged by their place of origine

Those slaves were probably sent here for lack of work at their place of origin, but it also might have been a better revenue opportunity for the owner. One would think that those slaves sent to Saint-Barth were probably good workers and trustworthy. The details on how it worked exactly are not known for now.

The slave had a consignee here. Some of those consignees would handle more than one slave. Very often, the consignee originated from the same place the owner was living.

Upon arrival in Gustavia, those slaves had to register at the Court Office and their documents were checked. It is not known if the consignee was responsible for the housing and the food of the slaves. In any case, some of the slaves worked on their own for various clients they could find. Slaves with a specialty in a specific trade were probably on high demand and could rent themselves out easily.

Of the money they were making, they probably had to pay something like a fee to their consignee, and either a percentage or a lumpsum had to be sent to their owner. They would keep the rest for themselves.

That must be about some of them, that I saw references to money paid to various owners in Statia, Saint-Martin or Anguilla to free a relative (child, a mother) or themselves.

Foreign slaves also had to pay a monthly tax , and the document of January 1812 is verifying the payment of this tax to the government. The money was collected by the Vice-Fiscal, and registered. It appears each slave had an index card in the files, with his name, the name of the owner and of the consignee and with the twelves months of the year pre-printed. For each month, the receiver would write the date the payment was made.

Index card for the mulatto woman Rebecka from Anguilla – Owner is Paul RUAN – Consignee is Abel BLYDEN

The tax, in 1811, was at 1 Spanish dollar for 4 months. By extrapolation, the tax could have raised a little more than one thousand dollars for that year.

It appears that some slaves were behind with their payments, but there were some tools in place to make sure they paid their dues.

The first regulation mentioning foreign slaves is dated 1797. Finding them ineffectual, a new ordinance dated the 6th of July 1804 is proclaimed :

1-Foreign slaves shall be placed under the guard of persons well known and living in this colony, either by an act or a letter at least

2-All persons who are consignees for a foreign slave shall give notice in the Court Office, where the act or the letter of the proprietor shall be vised and they will be bound to the same responsability for the slaves to them entrusted as if real owners

3-All slaves whose masters shall have not complied or cause to be complied with the formality now hereabove prescribed, in three months of the proclamation hereof, shall on prosecution be confiscated. One half for the benefit of the King, and the remnant half to him or them who shall have prosecuted.

A new ordinance laying a tax on alien Negroes is published on the 29th of november 1805. The new rules are applicable at the start of the year 1806 :

1-The tax shall be paid into the hands of the Vice-Fiscal and, against a receipt, a quarter Dollar per month for every slave living and residing in this country and capable of work

2-All receipts for such payments shall be exhibited to the receiver of the funds of the Town Treasury who shall sign and keep a list of them

Index card for the slave Susannah from Anguilla – Paul RUAN is the owner and consignee is William HARVEY

3-The funds proceeding from this taxation shall be employed for rewarding the persons attached to the maintenance of the Police

4-Foreign slaves for which in month after the beginning of next year, this tax shall not have been paid, are liable to be taken up at the instance of the Vice-Fiscal and ransomed only at the rate of twenty Dollars per head in favour of the Vice-Fiscal, and the Town Treasury, share and share alike, all costs besides

On the 27th of August 1814, the Governor and the Royal Council have the local newspaper « The Report of Saint Bartholomew » print a copy of some of the rules in place regarding slaves. It appears that « considering circumstances, a revival of several ordinances formerly issued respecting the Police of Slaves ».

Two of the articles of the said Police of Slaves are dealing with foreign slaves :

« All slaves here living but belonging to foreigners shall be placed by the owner under the care of any person well known and here residing, either by an act or a letter at lest, specifying the name and age of the slave, as well as the person to whom he is entrusted as if real owner.  A slave for whom this formality is not observed, is, on prosecution, to be confiscated, the half for the King, and the other half, for the informer, necessary expenses deducted ».

 « For every Negro capable of work, residing in this colony and belonging to a foreign owner, shall, into the hands of Mr. L’ORANGE, and against receipt, be paid for the month of September next, and to be divided between the Council Chest, and the Poor Chest, under risk, in case of omission, that the slave will be taken up by the Police, and ransomed only at the rate of twenty dollars per head, in favor of the informer and the Town Chest, half each, all costs besides ».

Unfortunately, it seems only the 1811’s document that has reached us.

It helps, however, to educate us on this barely known aspect of slavery in Saint-Barthelemy during the Swedish period.

They were sent away by their owners in order to send money back. A tool rented away to procure revenues in return.

At the very least, we know they existed, and we know their names,



Catégories :SLAVERY, SWEDISH PERIOD, Uncategorized

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