What Were the Risks and Rewards of Being a Plantation Owner in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century Transatlantic Slave Trade?

A200 TMA 04

What were the risks and rewards of being a plantation owner in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century transatlantic slave trade?

The plantation owners of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries generally owned large numbers of slaves who tended the plantations. This ownership of people created risks ranging from lazy or runaway slaves to supplying health care for the unwell slaves or those in childbirth but there were also rewards which ranged from “free” labour, a growing workforce and good crops to sell which would in turn bring in a good income for the plantation owner. I will discuss some of these and show how life could be for a plantation owner.

Many white slave owners felt it was their right to own slaves because of scriptural references to a curse against Canaan, the grandson of Noah, in which he and his descendents were to be servants. Aristotle also felt that barbarians and this seems to refer to anyone who was not Greek, should be ruled by the more superior Greeks. Aristotle wrote “Slaves are a form of property, defined as an aggregate of the instruments conducive to life; animate instruments of action.” (The Politics, book 1) This ancient idea was enough for Europeans and encouraged them to own slaves to do the work.

The slaves generally came from the African nations or the Caribbean region and it seems that the slave owners did not trouble themselves with the previous life of their slaves, nor their family ties etc. There was a triangular trade system in place where British or French Traders would sail to Africa with textiles, guns and other goods which they would then trade for slaves who had had been captured or in some circumstances bought from tribal chiefs. These enslaved people would then be taken to the West Indies or the Americas where they would be traded for coffee or sugar respectively and the cycle would begin over after the coffee and sugar were taken to England or France. A slave, once bought...