Our analysis of freedom as it related to the enslaved workers must be tempered by a degree of caution. One would not want to reach the unreal conclusion that the enslaved people dominated plantation management, or that the sugar plantation was a closed system within which only the planters and enslaved interacted. Nor would one wish to conclude that slavery in West Africa was totally free of all of the abuses of the Atlantic Trade. These extreme points were never intended.

     Instead, this paper was intended to establish the point that the enslaved enjoyed certain freedoms beyond what was intended for them under the terms of chattel slavery in the Caribbean. This was due to their own understanding of their rights under a West African ‘slave’ background and the opportunities offered to them by the failure of the plantation management to adequately provide the basics for their survival.

     Indeed, an important point of negotiation over and above any material gain that emerged lies in the fact that the act of negotiation itself recognizes the personhood, and right to personhood, of the factors involved in the negotiation process. Land or cattle as mere objects of property on the plantation could not negotiate. The planters had to negotiate with the elite enslaved. This act, of itself, was a victory for the enslaved person’s belief in the right to his ‘personhood.’ The significance of the right to personhood cannot be overstressed, for from it comes all notions of the concept of enslaved and "free."

*** Conclusion ***

     "Freedom," as used in this study, was not defined by the absence of the ‘slave’ title, nor was it constrained by the idea of only physical removal from the plantation itself. Freedom also meant the ability of the enslaved person to have an independent creative capacity on the plantation. This latter point, of enslaved freedoms within the plantation, has often been downplayed within the historiography, as there is a preference for viewing non-flight and non-destructive actions on the plantation in general terms of "accommodation."35 The notion of "Always free," therefore operated within the context of the plantation complex, and it forced changes in the tone and nature of Caribbean chattel slavery that were stimulated from within, i.e., from the enslaved, rather than initiated by white management.

     The phrase "Always free" includes a number of supporting issues not specifically dealt with in this study. It referenced the slaves who never subjected themselves to the plantation, but ran off and enjoyed a precarious freedom in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica as early as the end of the seventeenth century.36 It referenced also slaves who committed suicide because of African cosmology that taught that death freed the African spirit and allowed it to return to the land of its birth. Ultimately, "Always free" referenced the millions who never accepted "chattel" status as intended by the Caribbean plantocracy and, in our day, challenges contemporary historians to also recognize their voices.


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August 2000