Planters sought to increase the enslaved’s dependency by creating a support structure that catered to enslaved needs within the plantation. This support system included the maintenance of a plantation doctor, the purchase of clothes, food and many other miscellaneous items, including those bought to act as incentives for further productivity.25 Ironically, however, the plantation’s move to create enslaved dependence created both ‘official’ as well as ‘unofficial’ areas for the enslaved to be ‘free’.

     The cultivation of gardens by the enslaved was the main official block of "free" time granted to enslaved people.26 Growing their own food meant also more control over their diet27 and the regularity with which they ate. Secondly, the gardens of the enslaved were also important because they provided opportunities for socializing with other enslaved people. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, through slave gardens and the associated tasks of market, the enslaved had time away from the plantation and the ‘cracking’ tempo of its production regime. Thus, gardening and marketing activities offered the enslaved the opportunity to regain self. Through these means they also acquired money which gave them purchasing power and allowed some to purchase their freedom.

     In general though, these opportunities away from managerial supervision were very limited and often the rigours of the plantation, especially during crop time, seriously curtailed this ‘free’ time. Although ‘slave gardens’ and marketing gave the enslaved a certain amount of independence and free time, the master still felt that the enslaved were still utterly dependent on him.28 This paternalism might have theoretically constrained the enslaved people on the plantation, but it also imposed obligations on the planter. It implied that the planters were "obliged to feed and clothe his Negro."29

     However, as was characteristic of cash starved and hurricane ravaged Atlantic World sugar colonies like Jamaica, management often fell far short of the reciprocal conditions inherent in this paternalistic idea of enslaved management. Although provision grounds were established on larger plantations for feeding the enslaved, they were seldom sufficient to provide adequately for the needs of the enslaved people.30 What this meant was that although the planters intended to create a level of dependency by the enslaved on the plantation food structure, they were unable to adequately achieve this. Indeed, the realization of food diversity and occasional surpluses from the provision grounds reflected more the ingenuity of the enslaved people on the plantation than it did managerial acumen. The situation usually developed, therefore, where the enslaved people relied more on their own agrarian skills rather than those of management, creating in this regard their own ‘free’ areas of endeavour.


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August 2000