Natural Rebels: A Social History of Enslaved Women in Barbados (Paperback)
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Although we are learning a lot from historians about the lives of slaves in the United States, we still know little about slavery in the Caribbean. Hilary Beckles's book on the social, economic, and labor history of slave women in Barbados, from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, is a major addition to this literature. Drawing on contemporary documents and records, newspapers, and personal correspondence, Beckles reveals how slave women were central to the plantation economy of Barbados. They had two kinds of value for sugar planters: they could work just as hard as men, and they could literally reproduce the slave class.
Beckles details the daily lives of slave women in conditions of extreme exploitation. They suffered from harsh conditions, cruel punishments, malnutrition, disease, high mortality, and fear of abandonment when they were too old to work. He described the various categories and responsibilities of slaves, and the roles of children in the slave economy. Beckles looks at family structures and the complexities of interracial unions. He also shows how female slaves regularly resisted slavery, using both violent and nonviolent means. They never accommodated themselves to the system; as natural rebels, they fought in any way they could for survival.