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A New World of Labor

The Development of Plantation Slavery in the British Atlantic

By Simon P. Newman

Publication Year: 2013

The small and remote island of Barbados seems an unlikely location for the epochal change in labor that overwhelmed it and much of British America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, by 1650 it had become the greatest wealth-producing area in the English-speaking world, the center of an exchange of people and goods between the British Isles, the Gold Coast of West Africa, and the New World. By the early seventeenth century, more than half a million enslaved men, women, and children had been transported to the island. In A New World of Labor, Simon P. Newman argues that this exchange stimulated an entirely new system of bound labor.

Free and bound labor were defined and experienced by Britons and Africans across the British Atlantic world in quite different ways. Connecting social developments in seventeenth-century Britain with the British experience of slavery on the West African coast, Newman demonstrates that the brutal white servant regime, rather than the West African institution of slavery, provided the most significant foundation for the violent system of racialized black slavery that developed in Barbados. Class as much as race informed the creation of plantation slavery in Barbados and throughout British America. Enslaved Africans in Barbados were deployed in radically new ways in order to cultivate, process, and manufacture sugar on single, integrated plantations. This Barbadian system informed the development of racial slavery on Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, as well as in South Carolina and then the Deep South of mainland British North America. Drawing on British and West African precedents, and then radically reshaping them, Barbados planters invented a new world of labor.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The Early Modern Americas


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pp. C-ii


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pp. iii-iii


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pp. iv-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-14

The small and remote island of Barbados appears an unlikely location for the epochal changes in labor that overwhelmed it and then much of British America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lying some sixty miles farther out into the Atlantic than any other Caribbean island, and 166 square miles in size, Barbados is only twenty-four square miles larger than...

Part I: Settings

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Chapter 1 England

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pp. 17-35

In August 1562 a minor riot broke out in Upwell, a small fenland village on Norfolk’s boundary with Cambridgeshire. Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Emneth was one of five young men who had failed to appear at the petty sessions, a court of summary jurisdiction at which justices of the peace enforced labor legislation. Servants and laborers were required to appear at...

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Chapter 2 The Gold Coast

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pp. 36-53

Britons who sought to trade on the Gold Coast during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were required to treat the West Africans they encountered with respect, and to engage with, understand, and utilize local free and bound labor in ways that differed quite dramatically from both the early modern British Isles and the developing plantation society...

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Chapter 3 Barbados

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pp. 54-68

The island of Barbados appeared an unlikely location for the transformation of British and West African labor systems, and for the creation of new forms and organization of work to support the agriculture and manufacturing that took place on integrated plantations. When the first Englishmen set foot on the island in 1625 it was all but completely covered by a forbiddingly...

Part II: British Bound Labor

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Chapter 4 '' White Slaves'': British Labor in Early Barbados

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pp. 71-107

The social, economic, and political situation of the British Isles aligned neatly with the needs of the developing Barbadian sugar economy, for conditions in the British Isles encouraged the migration of laborers to Barbados. Enclosure and engrossment, rising population and prices, and declining wages combined to leave many young Britons with limited or no...

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Chapter 5 ''A Company of White Negroes'': The Lives and Labor of British Workers on the Gold Coast

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pp. 108-136

Labor in British trading operations on the West African coast differed dramatically from the organization of work in mid-seventeenth-century Barbados. While bound British laborers dominated the workforce that cleared the Caribbean island and established the plantation system, Britain’s Guinea Coast operations throughout the later seventeenth and the eighteenth...

Part III: African Bound Labor

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Chapter 6 ''A Spirit of Liberty'': Slave Labor in Gold Coast Castles and Forts

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pp. 139-165

The ill health and high mortality rates endured by Britons on the Gold Coast often meant that ‘‘no other than Blackworkmen [sic] of any signification’’ were available to RAC officials. As a consequence, British forts and their trading operations necessarily depended more heavily upon the labor of Africans and mulattoes than on the work of British craftsmen,...

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Chapter 7 '' We Have No Power over Them'': People and Work on the Gold Coast

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pp. 166-186

The transatlantic trade that flowed into and out from the Gold Coast depended upon numerous West African workers, a great many of whom were drawn from the burgeoning communities adjacent to forts and trading posts along the Gold Coast. Many of these people continued to work much as they had in the past, as both free and bound laborers in traditional...

Part IV: Plantation Slavery

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Chapter 8 ''The Harsh Tyranny of Our Masters'': The Development of Racial Slavery and the Integrated Plantations of Barbados

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pp. 189-215

Throughout the era of the transatlantic slave trade, free and enslaved African laborers on the Gold Coast lived and worked in the context of local customs and expectations, and even British-owned castle slaves enjoyed a significant degree of independence. However, despite the fact that Britons on the Gold Coast became accustomed to West African patterns of labor...

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Chapter 9 ''Forced to Labour Beyond Their Natural Strength'': Labor, Discipline, and Community on Eighteenth-Century Barbadian Plantations

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pp. 216-242

Sugar was the gold of the British Caribbean islands, and the precision of the seventeenth-century accounts of sugar cultivation and production by Richard Ligon and Henry Drax reflect the significant value of a commodity produced in a highly skilled and yet remarkably arduous manufacturing process. Barbadian plantation records reveal that by the early eighteenth...

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pp. 243-258

Overseers were labor enforcers of the circum-Atlantic world of work described in this book, men empowered by their employers to exercise power over the laboring poor, using legal power and violence to enforce labor discipline. In England the word ‘‘overseer’’ had long been applied to those with authority and governing power over others, and in the early...


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pp. 259-308


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pp. 309-320


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pp. 321-324


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pp. 325-327

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208313
E-ISBN-10: 0812208315
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245196
Print-ISBN-10: 0812245199

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 15 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Early Modern Americas
Series Editor Byline: Peter C. Mancall, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 859161692
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A New World of Labor

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slave labor -- Barbados -- History.
  • Contract labor -- Barbados -- History.
  • Plantations -- Barbados -- History.
  • Slave labor -- Ghana -- History.
  • Contract labor -- Ghana -- History.
  • Contract labor -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Slave trade -- Ghana -- History.
  • Slave trade -- Great Britain -- History.
  • British -- Barbados -- History.
  • British -- Ghana -- History.
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