There were largely five factions of negroes in the Bahamas on 31st., July, 1834. There were slaves, there were free former slaves (black and coloured), there were free coloureds, there were free negroes, and then there were liberated Africans.
In 1834, according to the slave census for the compensation returns, there were 10,085 slaves on July 31, 1834. Emancipation came on August 1, 1834. This number did not include the growing population of captured Africans, brought over illegally through the Middle Passage, who were rescued by the British from slaver ships (mostly Portuguese slaver ships). Once these captured Africans were brought to New Providence, even before the end of British slavery in 1834, the vast majority of them were given liberated status. They were automatically made free. This must have undoubtedly angered those negroes and coloureds who were life long, generation slaves in the islands. How dare the British free African newcomers, but not them. It was indeed a befuddling state of affairs for which no answers were forthcoming. All that was sure was slave was slave, and free was free.
Some of the Liberated Africans became slaves (before 1834), and some apprentices, but the vast majority were freed automatically upon landing. They were known as the Liberated Africans of the Bahamas.
Liberated Africans were first settled in Grant’s Town and Carmichael (settlement created by Governor Carmichael-Smyth). The problem soon became, what to do with the now thousands of Africans, men, women and children, living in the bush, in squatter conditions, on New Providence.
Remember that the former slaves, after 1834, were now apprentices. Liberated Africans however had no work to occupy themselves. They were new to the islands. They didn’t speak English. They were sickly, and carried diseases and infirmities from their time in the hold of the slave ships. Many took to living in the bushes and begging on the city streets of Nassau. This quickly became a problem for the Assembly. Animosities began to grow between the former slave population and the liberated African population. They were all crammed together in squalid conditions, left to fend for themselves. Petty crime, like theft, and burglary and assault began to slowly increase.
In the General Court of February 1837, we see Joseph Saunders sentenced to three months’ imprisonment in the workhouse for stealing 2 boxes of raisins. Alexander Patton gets 2 years with hard labour in the workhouse for biting off the finger of Frederick Storr. Abel Dorsett gets 3 months’ imprisonment for stealing flour on Rum Cay. Louise Johnson and Rose Musgrove each get 3 months with hard labour for stealing shoes.
As more and more Africans (in the hundreds) were being found on slaver ships, and landed on New Providence, the Assembly soon realised that they had a dearth, an oversupply of labour. They also realised that the landing of more and more Africans was causing the population ratio of negro to white to widen dramatically. By 1840, it was estimated that there were 2,992 white males to 9,374 negro and coloured; and 3,070 white females to 9,275 negro and coloured females. This was a 3:1 ratio of negro to white.
“We learn from the Baltimore American that the British brig of war Wanderer arrived at Nassau (N.P), on the 7th of April, captured on her passage from Jamaica, near the Grand Bahama, a large schooner, a Portuguese Guineaman man, with upwards of 400 Africans on board.”
(The Alton Observer, Thursday, 25 May 1837)
The solution to the oversupply of labour, as the Bahamas government saw it, was to put the Liberated African population on New Providence to work. Find them something for them to do. New Providence needed new roads, and vast areas of bush and jungle needed to be cut down. Houses needed building and agricultural plots needed tending.
The African Board, a special labour board for the Liberated African population, was born.
At a meeting of the African Board this day, it was ordered, that ALL the African labourers in the district of New Providence should appear before a committee of the said Board at the Special Justices Office, for inspection, commencing on Tuesday next the 28th February, and ending on Saturday, the 4th of March, from 10 AM to 1 PM each day.
The employers, or some person on their behalf, will be pleased to attend. The clothes and necessaries of the said African labourers to be shown at the time of their appearance.
By order of the Board
February 23rd. 1837.