Black slaveowners remains a quarrelsome subject. A number of free blacks and free coloureds, in the Bahamas, owned slaves. And some sold slaves as well. Negroes from Africa, labelled as chattel, were an important component in the definition of Western and indeed African wealth, from 1441 to 1865, and for some time beyond.
For the most part, it has been proffered that free blacks and free persons of colour, who were able to buy their freedom or who were manumitted by their slave masters, tried to buy the freedom of their close family members – mother, wives, husbands and children. This is entirely true… to a point. They also bought and sold slaves, which was part and parcel of the culture, status and money strategies of the time.
There are some interesting observations to note, for the Bahamas, from the slave returns or slave registration, which began in 1822.
First, there were an overwhelming number of Creoles to Africans. Creoles would have been those slaves born in the islands. They would have been second, third, fourth etc. generation slaves.
Second, there were a not so insubstantial number of Africans. These would have been first generation slaves with direct, unbroken, ties to Africa. It leads one to wonder about the true state of liberty of those rescued from slaves ships and liberated, by the British, once they were landed on Bahamian shores.
After the TransAtlantic trade was outlawed, by the British, every effort was made to encourage other slave trading European countries to follow suit. That is, slavery as an institution was not outlawed, only the removal of negroes, from the African continent was. Undeterred, the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch slavers continued buying slaves from the African Coast. Britain began policing the high seas. When illegal slave ships were discovered, Africans onboard were delivered to the nearest friendly British port, to be liberated. But were they all liberated?
Third, if free blacks and free persons of colour bought the freedom of their near relatives, why not free them. Why not give them free status immediately? Slaves of free blacks and free coloureds were still slaves by every legal definition.
If, on the slave returns of those free blacks and free coloureds, those listed as slaves were indeed wives, husbands, children, parents, etc. why were they not freed outright? Why continue to list them as slaves? Without papers declaring their free status, as chattel property, they could be still be sold, hired out or put into any manner of enforced servitude.
The answer can only include the firm idea that slaves were property. Property was a measure of wealth. Property could be exchanged for currency. Property was a measure of status and prosperity. Property could be hired out, capitalised upon and sold.
1822 – NEW PROVIDENCE, BAHAMAS – Richard Owens, Free Black Man Had 8 Slaves Registered To Him
In 1822, free black man, Richard Owens had 8 slaves registered to him.
Five females and three males. Four were Creoles and four were African. The Creoles were employed or living in New Providence. The Africans, two women and two men, were employed or living in Andros. There was one mulatto female, Diana, age 14, employed on New Providence.
1822 SLAVE REGISTRATION
1825 – Richard Owens, free black man has died. His daughter, free black woman, Mary Owens is now the executor of his estate and slaves.
By January 1825, free black man Richard Owens had died. His daughter, a free woman of colour named Mary Owens was his next of kin and executor of her father’s estate.
Laura, female slave, listed as black, creole and 32 years of age, was manumitted in 1824. She may or may not had to pay for her freedom from the Owens estate.
Rolla and Diana, the two older African slaves, of 60 and 64 years, died in 1823 and 1824 respectively.
What is interesting about the slave returns for 1825 also, was the sale of two male slaves, Harry and Adam in 1822.
Harry, an African, sent to work in Andros was listed as 38 years old in 1822. Harry was sold to a soldier.
Adam, an African sent to work in Andros was listed as 54 years old in 1822. Adam was sold to a Michael Roberts in 1822.
Mary Owens of the Island of New Providence, free Coloured woman the daughter of the above named Richard Owens, being duly sworn saith that she the deponents as they present time in the possession of the above named four slaves, Diana, Juliana, Jim and Richard, and that the above return and schedule contain a full perfect and faithful account to the best of this deponents knowledge and belief of all the slaves belonging to the Estate of the said Richard Owens deceased, being in number four, within or appertaining to these islands on the first day of January 1825 and of the increase and diminution of the slaves belonging to the Estate within the same during the three preceding years.
Sworn to at Nassau, New Providence
the fourteenth day of August 1826
Before James Armbrister J.P.
I grant the prayer of the annexed petition and direct that this return be received and recorded.
W. Vesey Munnings
12th September 1826