Berbice (Guyana) Slave Census of 1819
Number of slaves 23,881
Creole (i.e. born in the Americas) 10,954 (46% of total)
African 12,867 (54% of total)
African specified ethnically/regionally 1,198 (5% of total)
BREAKDOWN OF AFRICAN BORN SLAVES
Kongo (Congo) 212 – 18% of African specified
Coromantee (Ghana) 139 – 12% of African specified
Popo (Benin/Togo) 113 – 9% of African specified
It’s interesting to compare the slave census held in Trinidad to the one held in Berbice, (formerly a separately administered colony within Guyana). Trinidad and Guyana being similar in some ways because of their high share of African born slaves in the early 1800’s, approx. 54% for both countries (see this chart i posted earlier). Both countries were incorporated into the British Empire relatively late (1797 for Trinidad and 1803 for Guyana) and also their plantation economies were still in full expansion in the 1800’s. Which caused both countries to import a great deal of contract labourers after the abolition of slavery, not only from Africa (the socalled Recaptives), but also from South Asia resulting in highly multiracial societies for both countries.
One thing that stands out immediately is that the number of African born slaves with ethnic or regional background specified in the census is very low for Berbice, making it potentially less representative than the census for Trinidad. This can be verified from the table below (taken from Higman 1984) where it is mentioned that the share of African born slaves with “region unknown” was only 4,3% for Trinidad while it’s 91,4% for Berbice! Or to put it differently while in the Trinidad census 13,391 African born slaves were ethnically/regionally specified and 587 were left unidentified (beyond merely “African”) in the Berbice census it was only 1,198 slaves who were specified while 11,669 slaves were just classified as “Africans”.
I don’t know how randomly picked the sample of 1,198 African born slaves in Berbice with specified ethnic/regional backgrounds might have been. But all the same it seems to me that at least the top 2 most frequently mentioned groups, the Kongo and Coromantee, might still be quite representative to some degree for Berbice and Guyana as a whole, although of course not perfectly so. Let’s first take a look at the census in full detail (taken from Higman 1984) :
- For the Senegambia region the Mandingo are again shown as undifferentiated and dominant, just like in the Trinidad census. Interestingly another umbrella term for more interior located people, the Bambara, is shown in addition.
- For the socalled Sierra Leone region (also incl. Guinea Conakry!) it’s again the Temne, Susu and Fulbe/Fula who are mentioned most frequently (the Fula were assigned to Senegambia in the Trinidad census as an arbitrary decision on part of the author).
- The “Canga” from Liberia are not shown in very high numbers, but actually the Windward Coast might be much more prominent for Guyana (and also Surinam) than it is for Trinidad or most other New World destinations. More details in future blog posts.
- The relative share of Gold Coast and “Coromantee” is shown as higher for Berbice than it was for Trinidad. It should be kept in mind that for this particular time period (1790’s-1810’s) the slave exports from Ghana were already decreasing. But still this outcome is in line with the known slave trade patterns for Guyana/Berbice also in earlier periods when arrivals from Ghana were even more significant and on par with what’s known for Jamaica and Surinam. Also worthy of notice the “Wankyi” and “Dagari”, not mentioned in the Trinidad census and most likely referring to northern Ghanaian ethnic groups.
- The Popo from the Bight of Benin are generally thought to refer to the Fon/Gbe speaking people of Benin/Togo. But like the “Allada“, mentioned in the Trinidad census, Popo or Papa is basically an umbrella term derived from the name of a slave port. Aside from them also the Hausa, Chamba (Gur speakers) and a small (!) number of Yoruba are being mentioned.
- The Bight of Biafra is again split up mostly between “Igbo” and “Moco”. Otherwise it’s less specified than on the Trinidad census but that’s perhaps because the total number is also much more reduced. Still interesting the mention of “Duala” , an ethnic group from Cameroon as well as a slave port. It’s known though that most slave traders who visited the Bight of Biafra went to eastern Nigerian slave ports instead (Bonny, Calabar etc.)
- Again the census of Berbice is limited in the sense that it leaves almost all of the African born slaves unidentified. Still from the subset of those who were specified the socalled “Congo” were undeniably most numerous. And in fact the importance of Central Africans in Guyana has been historically testified for several timeperiods both before and after the 1790’s-1810’s.
“Berbice is a region along the Berbice River in Guyana, which was between 1627 and 1815 a colony of the Netherlands. “
“After having been ceded to the United Kingdom in the latter year, it was merged with Essequibo and Demerara to form the colony of British Guiana in 1831.”
Perhaps not generally well known but essential for tracing their African roots is the fact that Berbice and Guyana were ruled by the Dutch for more than half of its colonial history! To judge how “representative” this slave census from Berbice might be for the African ethnic origins of presentday Guyanese i will therefore present some additional data. I will return to this topic in more detail in future posts but for now i will note the following:
- 46% of the total slave population in 1819 was Creole, i.e. born in Guyana (10,071 out of 10,954) or other parts of the Americas. Slaves being the overwhelming majority of the total Guyanese population at that time (around 95% in 1810 according to Higman 1984). Despite elevated rates of slave mortality this would imply that Dutch slave trade patterns might be relevant for at least 45% of the Berbice/Guyanese population in 1819. And quite possibly also for some of the older African born slaves.
- Actually given their demographic profile (balanced gender ratio and a higher share of potentially reproductive people compared with African born slaves) these “Dutch Period Creoles” might have left a disproportionate genetical legacy beyond their numbers. Their fertility rates have been calculated and were found to be markedly higher than those for African born women (see last chart below). Also culturally speaking it’s known that one of the very first African ethnic groups to arrive in Guyana in the late 1600’s, the Ijaw from eastern Nigeria, had an exceptional “founding” effect on the Berbice Creole Dutch language. Unfortunately gone extinct in recent times.
- The Gold Coast area (Ghana) was one of the top 3 main embarkation regions during Dutch slave trade, along with Central Africa (Congo/Loango) and the Windward Coast. Two of Guyana’s major slave rebellion leaders having been said to be Akan/Coromantee (Cuffy and Quamina), a testimony of their highly significant role in Guyana’s history. The relatively high share of Coromantee in the census therefore seems to be justified even if only based on a limited number of Africans with specified origins.
- After the abolition of slavery in 1834 Guyana/Berbice received many contract labourers from Africa, the socalled Liberated Africans. Even more so than Trinidad. These recaptives were proportionally mostly from Central Africa/Congo, corresponding with their prominent position already in the 1819 census.
The first three charts below are drawn from the slave voyages database, illustrating the Dutch slave trade patterns to Berbice/Guyana . “Other Africa” is referring to slave voyages from several regions, it’s assumed most of them from Windward Coast/Gold Coast. Despite their shorter rule the English might have imported a bigger number of African slaves to Guyana than the Dutch (excluding any possible overland trade with Suriname), but mostly via Demarara and not Berbice. The fourth chart (Lean, 2002) is showing the age distribution and gender ratio among Creole and African born slaves, important for establishing the likelyhood of having offspring. It can be verified that the Creole population was younger on average while the female African born slaves were much outnumbered by their male counterparts. This is also confirmed by the higher fertility rates for Creole slave women that have been calculated based on the data from the slave census by Higman 1984. In the last chart we can see that this was also the case for Saint Lucia and Trinidad, but in Berbice the highest fertility rate was recorded for Creole slave women.
– Higman, B. W. (1984). Slave populations of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834.
– Lean, J.H. (2002). The Secret Lives of Slaves: Berbice, 1819 to 1827, thesis. (available online)
– Schuler, M. (2000). Liberated Central Africans in Nineteenth-Century Guyana