"To wed or not to wed?": The struggle to define Afro-Jamaican relationships, 1834-1838

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This article examines the extent to which Afro-Jamaicans could live up to the metropolitan, middle-class ideal of marriage during the Apprenticeship System, that is the period 1834-1838 during which slaves in the British Caribbean were prepared for free-wage labour. It shows that the Abolition of Slavery Act issued by the Imperial Government in 1833, the various local Acts that had to give effect to this Act, and legal and extra-legal practices adopted by the planters, made it far more difficult for Afro-Jamaicans to mirror their relationship to the metropolitan ideal during the Apprenticeship System than during slavery. It explains this phenomenon by examining the planters' concerns about the change in their social and economic status and several factors that impinged upon the Imperial Government's ability to bring the metropolitan ideal within close range of the apprentices. This explanation confirms the thesis that the Apprenticeship System was worse than slavery and provides also an insight into the ways in which planters tried to retain the social hierarchy that had been established during slavery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-+
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of social history
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004



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