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‘Not that of mere accident, but of humane treatment’: natural increase and ‘amelioration’ on Grand Sable Estate, St Vincent

  • S. D. SMITH (a1)


This article investigates the demographic history of the Grand Sable sugar estate on nineteenth-century St Vincent. Exceptionally for a Caribbean plantation, Grand Sable's enslaved population achieved natural increase (a surplus of births over deaths). Pro-slavery campaigners seized on this achievement to support the cause of gradualist amelioration and to oppose metropolitan regulation of slavery, especially emancipation. Explanations of demographic success advanced by opponents of abolition are found wanting and alternatives proposed that are more consistent with the surviving evidence. The role played by anomalies in shaping discourse on both sides of the slavery debate is highlighted.



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1 Kuhn, Thomas, The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 52–3; Sturrock, Peter A., ‘The role of anomalies in scientific research’, Journal of Scientific Exploration 21 (2007), 241–60.

2 The speech of William Wilberforce, representative for the county of York, on Wednesday the 13th of May, 1789, on the question of the abolition of the slave trade (London, n.d. [c. 1789]), 32.

3 Lascelles, Edwin et al. , Instructions for the management of a plantation in Barbadoes and for the treatment of negroes (London, 1786), 2; [Sir Gibbes, Philip], Instructions for the treatment of negroes (London, 1786); Ramsay, James, Objections to the abolition of the slave trade with answers (London, 1788), 67; Paugh, Katherine, ‘The politics of childbearing in the British Caribbean and the Atlantic World during the age of abolition, 1776–1838’, Past and Present 221 (2013), 119–60, here 128.

4 Debate on a motion for the abolition of the slave trade in the House of Commons, 2nd edn, 2 vols. bound as one (London, 1792), vol. I, 27; [Cobbett, William], The parliamentary history of England, from the earliest period to the year 1803 (London, 1817), vol. XXII, column 268. Paugh is the source for Ramsey's briefing of Wilberforce, who cites ‘Ramsey, James’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by J. Watt, Wilberforce's 1791 speech referenced Sir Philip Gibbes's observation ‘That he should consider it as the fault of the Manager if he did not keep up the number’ (Debate on a motion, vol. I, 41).

5 Speech of William Wilberforce, 20. For the influence of Adam Smith on Wilberforce, see Stott, Anne, Wilberforce: family and friends (Oxford, 2012), 36.

6 B. W. Higman, Slave populations of the British Caribbean, 1807–1834, 2nd edn (Barbados, 1995 [orig. pub. 1984]), 307, 311; Speech of William Wilberforce, 29–30, 60–3; Lowenthal, David, ‘The population of Barbados’, Social and Economic Studies 6 (1957), 445501; Eltis, David and Lachance, Paul, ‘The demographic decline of Caribbean slave populations: new evidence from the transatlantic and intra-American slave trades’, in Eltis, David and Richardson, David eds., Extending the frontiers: essays on the new transatlantic slave trade database (New Haven, CT, 2008), 335–63.

7 Debate on a motion, vol. I, 18–21, 31–2, 40–1; Wilberforce, Robert Isaac and Wilberforce, Samuel, The life of William Wilberforce, 5 vols. (London, 1838), vol. ii, 440; Paugh, ‘Politics of childbearing’, 122, 136, 140–2, 145.

8 Debate on a motion, vol. I, 13.

9 Dierksheide, Christa, Amelioration and empire: progress and slavery in the plantation Americas (Charlottesville and London, 2014), 159–62.

10 Forster, Martin and Smith, S. D., ‘Surviving slavery: mortality at Mesopotamia, a Jamaican sugar estate, 1762–1832’, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society A, 174 (2011), 924–5; Morgan, Kenneth, ‘Slave women and reproduction in Jamaica, c. 1774–1834’, History 91 (2006), 231–53.

11 Stephen, James, The slavery of the British West India colonies delineated as it exists both in law and practice, and compared with the slavery of other countries, antient and modern, Volume II: being a delineation of the state in point of practice (London, 1830), 76–7; Engerman, S. L., ‘Some economic and demographic comparisons of slavery in the United States and the British West Indies’, Economic History Review 29 (1976), 267–74; Tadman, Michael, ‘The demographic cost of sugar: debates on slave societies and natural increase in the Americas’, American Historical Review 105 (2000), 1,534–75; Higman, Slave populations, 307–11, 375–77; Higman, B. W., Slavery and the development of demographic theory in the age of the ‘Industrial Revolution’ in slavery and British society, 1776–1846, ed. Walvin, James (London: Macmillan, 1982), 164–94.

12 Higman, Slave populations, 303–04.

13 Dierksheide, Amelioration and empire, 184–9, 209.

14 Browne family pedigree, Thomas Alexander Browne Collection, Georgia State Archives (hereafter GSA), MS #73–133, microfilm collection, Drawer 180, box 80.

15 Cashin, Edward J., The king's ranger: Thomas Browne and the American Revolution on the southern frontier (Athens, GA, 1989), 12, 18–19, 28–33, 174, 179, 188, 190; Leggett, Joan, ‘Thomas Browne of Whitby – loyalist, American Revolution and gentleman planter, West Indies’, Practical Family History 67 (2003), [n.p.]; Kozy, Charlene, ‘Tories transplanted: the Caribbean exile and plantation settlement of southern loyalists’, Georgia Historical Quarterly 75 (1991), 1842.

16 Thomas Alexander Browne Collection, GSA, [Thomas Browne] to [Jonas Browne Jr], 21 March 1802; W. Hayes Bourne to Thomas Browne, 10 November 1804 [misdated 1803 in the microfilmed transcription]; Despatch, Earl Camden to Governor George Beckwith, 8 June 1805 (copy in the possession of Joan Legatt); Cashin, King's ranger, 191–2, 196–7, 199.

17 Thomas Alexander Browne Collection, GSA, Thomas Browne to Jonas Browne, 10 February 1821. The rivers are marked on contemporary surveys of the former Carib lands as the Byera, Grand Sable South, Grand Sable North, Warawarra, Rabacca, and Waribishi; see The National Archives, Kew (hereafter TNA) MPD 1/97.

18 TNA TS 11/1,078, ‘Statement of the distribution of Thomas Browne's original grant of 6,000 acres and names of the occupants’.

19 TNA TS 11/1,078/5371, ‘Queries contained in Mr Litchfield's letter to Sir Charles Brisbane’, n.d [c. 1810–1812]; Thomas Alexander Browne Collection, GSA, Memorial of the Family of the late Colonel Browne of the Island of St Vincent, n.d. [post-1825]; Cashin, King's ranger, 191–2,196–7,199–200.

20 Information provided by Charles Armstrong, private communication, 3 August 2012.

21 Martin, Robert M., Statistics of the colonies of the British Empire (London, 1839), 52.

22 TNA TS 36/2, ‘Examination of William Hill, treasury clerk’; Colonial Office (hereafter CO) 441/10/3, ‘Abstract of certain deeds & documents recorded in the office of the registrar of deeds Saint Vincent relating to The Grand Sable Estate’.

23 Cashin, King's ranger, 204–11; Knapp, Andrew and Baldwin, William, The Newgate Calendar; comprising interesting memoirs of the most notorious characters who have been convicted of outrages on the laws of England since the commencement of the eighteenth century; with anecdotes and last exclamations of sufferers, 4 vols. (London, 1824–1826), part III; Smith, S. D., ‘Volcanic hazard in a slave society: the 1812 eruption of Mount Soufrière in St Vincent’, Journal of Historical Geography 37 (2010), 5567, here 10. For details of another Brisbane controversy (Rucker vs Brisbane), see Virginia Historical Society, Keane Family Papers, Diary of Hugh Perry Keane, MSS 1 K197 a 52, Charges against Sir Charles Brisbane sent to Earl Bathurst’, n.d. [c. 1818]. Notes of the trial and the prosecution's brief are preserved in TNA TS 36/2 and TS 11/1,078.

24 Hull Daily Packet, 22 September 1812; Cambridge University Library, Add MS 8/369, Lucas Family Papers, Box 2, ‘A list of debts due Philip Monoux Lucas Esq in Saint Vincent, 24 June 1813’; Cashin, King's ranger, 214–15.

25 Price data from Gayer, Arthur D., Rostow, W. W. and Schwartz, Anna J., The growth and fluctuation of the British Economy, 1790–1850 [microform]: an historical, statistical, and theoretical study of Britain's economic development (Oxford, 1953), Microfilmed supplement to volumes 1 and 2, pp. 674–9.

26 Thomas Alexander Browne Collection, GSA, Thomas Browne to Jonas Browne, 10 February 1821.

27 TNA CO260/51, Thomas Cayley to Lord Derby, 4 June 1833; TNA CO260/49, ‘Reply, to the queries put by the committee appointed to correspond with Sir William Struth by the Rev Thomas Alexander Browne proprietor of Grand Sable Estate in the island of St Vincent, September 15th 1832’, 212–21; Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine no. 209, August 1833; Edinburgh Magazine no. 101, January 1834, reprinted in Chambers, William and Chambers, Robert eds., Chambers’ Edinburgh journal, 2 vols. (London, 1834), vol. II, 327–8 and The Public Ledger and Newfoundland Gazette, 3 March 1835. For MacQueen, see Lambert, David, ‘The “Glasgow King of Billingsgate”: James MacQueen and the Atlantic proslavery network’, Slavery and Abolition 29 (2008), 389413.

28 Edward Long, The history of Jamaica, 3 vols. (London, 1774), vol. II, 437–8; Ramsay, Objections, 12; Speech of William Wilberforce, 32.

29 Draper, Nicholas, The price of emancipation: slave-ownership, compensation and British society at the end of slavery (Cambridge, 2010), 3646.

30 Dierksheide, Amelioration and empire, 186, 198; TNA T71/493, 495, 497, 498, 499.

31 Unless another source is indicated, all direct quotations from Rev. Thomas Browne are taken from the manuscript account in TNA CO260/49, 212–21.

32 University of Oxford, Bodleian Library, Clarendon Manuscripts, Dep c 428, Letter Book of Joseph Foster Barham II, Barham to Messrs Grant and Blyth, 4 June 1811; Paugh, ‘Politics of childbearing’, 137–8; Speech of William Wilberforce, 24.

33 Speech of William Wilberforce, 26.

34 Thomas Alexander Browne Collection, GSA, Browne to Charles Shephard, n.d. [c. 1832].

35 Kiple, Kenneth, The Caribbean slave: a biological history (Cambridge, 1984), 2641.

36 Estates in the sample: (i) Charlotte's parish: Adelphi Exchequer, Grand Sable, Lot No. 14, Mount Grenan, New Prospect, Peruvian Vale, Rabacca, Spring, Three Rivers; (ii) St George's parish: Dubois, Mousebank, Cane Garden; (iii) St Andrew's parish: Queensbury; (iv) St Patrick's parish: Peter's Hope, Westwood, Mount Wynne, Kearton's.

37 Great Britain, Parliamentary register, 141.

38 Analysis of productivity on 108 St Vincent sugar estates during the period 1817 to 1827 indicated decreasing returns to slaves with respect to output, with elasticities of between 0.15 and 0.25 (details available on request).

39 Haines, Michael R., ‘Population growth in the United States, 1790–1920’, in Engerman, Stanley L. and Gallman, Robert E. eds., The Cambridge economic history of the United States, Volume II: the long nineteenth century (Cambridge, 2000), 158.

40 Preston, Samuel H., Heuveline, Patrick and Guillot, Michel, Demography: measuring and modeling population processes (Malden, MA, 2001), 115.

41 Grant of land to Thomas Brown: [Secretary of state for the Colonies] to Governor Beckwith, 8 June 1805, manuscript copy in the possession of Joan Leggatt (private communication from Charles Armstrong, 14 August 2012); Cashin, King's ranger, 200; Kozy, Charlotte, ‘When cotton was king: loyalist Thomas Browne’, Times of the Island no. 88, autumn 2009, n.p.

42 TNA TS 36/2; Knapp and Baldwin, Newgate Calendar, part III.

43 Higman, Slave populations, 307, 310.

44 Johnson, Howard, ‘The emergence of a peasantry in the Bahamas during slavery’, Slavery and Abolition 10 (1989), 172–86; Craton, Michael, ‘Changing patterns of slave families in the British West Indies’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 10 (1979), 135, here 8.

45 TNA CO260/49, 212–21, cited in Smith, S. D., ‘Storm hazard and slavery: the impact of the 1831 Great Caribbean Hurricane on St Vincent’, Environment and History 18 (2012), 114–15.

46 Tadman, ‘Demographic cost of slavery’, 1,561–3.

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