For the most part, slaves in the British colonies, after emancipation, were not made completely free. Only slaves below the age of six were freed outright in the colonies. Former slaves, those over the age of six, were categorised as “apprentices”, and their period of servitude was abolished in two stages.

The first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838.

The final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840.

Bahamas Apprentices Buy Freedom

What many have not considered was that the buying and selling of the negro’s human effort, and labour, continued well after emancipation. Apprenticeship contracts were bought, sold and traded by former slave owners, who simple carried on the trade in a repackaged format. Profits were made and labour consumed, while the former slaves, now re-categorised as “apprentices” had no choice, or say, in whom they had to labour for.

During slavery, if the slave wanted to be free, he had to buy his freedom, if he could. The same held true for the “apprentice.”

Between August 1, 1834 to 30 September 1835, something extraordinary was happening throughout the islands. Bahama “apprentices” the lucky ones, were beginning to buy their up the unexpired terms of their apprenticeship. The price varied because it was set by their former masters.

Consider too that slave owners were being doubly enriched by the gratuitous terms entrenched in the Abolition Act. Britain bent over backwards to ensure that its slave owner colonists were not disadvantaged by the freeing of their property. Slave owners were compensated out of a £20,000,000 fund. They would receive years of free labour. And, if the “apprentice” chose to buy his freedom, the slave owner was paid, benefitting, once again.

Former slaves like Nan who paid £11 pounds 18 shillings and 4 pence (over £1,500 in 2018 money), Adam who paid £41 pounds 3 shillings and 4 pence (over £5,000 in 2018 money), Hester Hull who paid £6 pounds and 10 shillings (over £700 in 2018 money), and Sukey, a female, from Turks Island paid an incredible £60, 13 shillings and 4 pence (almost £8,000 in 2018 money).

Consider how long these former slaves had to work, and how long they had to save to accumulate these sums of money, in order to be completely free.

(from The National Archives, Kew, England)

(from The National Archives, Kew, England)

During the same period, between August 1, 1834 and 30 September 1835, some 688 Apprentices (293 male and 395 females) were released by their former owners, now called ’employers’ without penalty or pecuniary obligations.

Some of the released apprentices may have been slaves of absentee slave owners, or settlers who decided to leave the islands, wishing to cut ties, and obligations completely with the Bahamas.


The only thing that can be said was that the practice of flogging women had ceased. After former Governor James Carmichael Smyth wrote to England regarding the flogging of the female Exuma Rolle slaves, the practice was phased out. This did not apply to hard labour, and putting women in the stocks.

Between 1 August 1834 and 30 September 1835, there were 890 offences committed by apprentices. For this, 877 were punished.

Offences ranged from combining together in groups of three or more, to larceny, making malicious complaints against your employers, violation of the apprentice contract, insolence, bad language, absence, assault, insubordination, disobedience an order, drunkenness and breach of the peace.

Two of the major offence categories were, absence from or neglect of duty, 231 males and 150 females, and disobedience of lawful orders, 120 males and 73 females.

For these offences, the punishments were severe. 35 men and 99 women were put in the stocks.

Extra labour was given to 90 men and 68 women. 160 men were whipped. Imprisonment was handed down to 55 men and 43 women. Hard labour was set for 95 men and 54 women. Solitary confinement was given to 80 men and 98 women.

(from The National Archives, Kew, England)