The full emancipation of the slaves in 1838 gave rise to a dynamic and energetic peasantry throughout Jamaica. A large portion of the ex-salves who moved away from the plantation settled on land purchased by missionaries and established free communities. Others formed cooperatives where they pooled their funds together and bought bankrupted or abandoned sugar estates.
The imposition of high property taxes, strict legal measures and the high level of capital required to purchase the necessary acreage of Crown colony land prevented many freedmen from owning their own land. Subsequently many resorted to squatting on the periphery of these lands. This would often result in the expulsion of these freedmen off the land and the destruction or confiscation of the provision grounds which they used to for subsistence and their livelihoods.
Those who had bought their own land or who occupied land bought by the missionaries continued the cultivation of agricultural crops such as sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, cacao, citrus limes, and ground provisions which were previously exported by the planters during the days of slavery; as well as coconut, citrus, rice, arrowroot, honey and beeswax. Other sought to venture into other areas of employment trying their hands at skilled, mechanical and artisanal trades.
In these free communities, missionaries additionally established schools and churches which encouraged the freed people to adopt Christian practices and Eurocentric ideologies relating to family life, comportment and dress.
Many of the freed people did not adopt these practices, but instead participated in immoral activities which were wholly detested by the missionaries. In a bid to correct these immoralities and correct the backward cultural practices developed by the slaves during slavery to cope with their depressing situation, missionaries, clergymen and magistrates sought to morally, culturally and spiritually reform the former slaves
Social, Political and religious reform
Following the guidelines of reform, the now freed slaves were encouraged to enter into legal marriages, adopt the nuclear family structure and abide by Victorian gender roles. Thus the daily activities of life were divided according to the gender of the individual, men were the heads of the household and the main breadwinner and disciplinarian, while women were the caregivers who conducted domestic activities. This they believed would result in upward social mobility for the ex-slaves. To some extent slaves tried as best as they possibly could to conform the prescribed gender roles allotted to them under the Victorian model. However, many aspects of the model were incompatible with the harsh economic realities of Jamaican life. The survival of certain practices from slavery resulted in the unacceptance of some aspects of the Victorian model.
Per the model only nuclear family structures should be formed, however in the Jamaican society there was a prevalence for many families to be single parent units and female headed households. Many individuals too lived in common law units and had children out of wedlock.
In addition to the unacceptance of the typical Victorian family model, the freedmen could not wholly abide by the prescribed gender roles under this model. Freedwoman not only reared and cared for their children but additionally it was a necessity for freed women to engage in domestic agriculture, selling their crops in the market places in order to supplement the family income and provide for all their needs.
Gradually land became available to rent, but this had disadvantages as the Land Owners (in most cases, previously the Slave Owners) see Pennant's Stike Click Here
The stain of Poverty: Dire Health Consequences
The post emancipation days were characterized by crippling poverty in the poorer classes, mostly comprised of the now freed ex-slaves. The needs of these classes were often ignored or were deemed unimportant by the imperial and colonial administrators of the island. These individual had to live under deplorable social and political conditions. The wages afforded to them were incredibly low and remained static for nearly a hundred years after Emancipation. Healthcare and education was inaccessible to many and sanitation within these freed community was non-existent. Thus the people lived in squalor inhabiting unsanitary slums.
The result was the prevalence of diseases in these freed communities which turned into full blown epidemics affecting other colonies in the region. One such epidemics that developed from these conditions in the 1850’s was cholera. The effects of cholera on the Jamaican freed communities were far reaching being additionally propagated by the spread of smallpox and influenza, which broke out in the same year. The cholera epidemic ravaged the colonies within the Caribbean resulting in high mortality rates, a severe disruption of the society, serious loss in labour and the suspension of economic activity. Bodies were piled high causing severe shortages of burial spaces in cemeteries as a result the legislation regarding the burial of persons to be at least six feet deep was ignored and many graves were left uncovered. Due to the influx of bodies in morgues many were abandoned on the roads falling prey to vultures, dogs and rodents.
Mass burials became institutionalized in Jamaica to cope with large numbers of dead. The amount that required burial far outnumbered the number of grave diggers and carters available in the island. Listings for these jobs were often ignored due to the panic and fear associated with cholera. The solution instituted by the government was to leave these jobs to prison inmates. This of course resulted in the disease spreading within the prisons, decimating whole prison populations.
The widespread disruptions caused by cholera spurred the British and colonial government into action. These bodies changed their approach to healthcare and welfare on the island with the introduction of new sanitary provisions. To establish a clean environment which would halt the spread of cholera, the government oversaw the cleaning of drains, opening of cesspools and the provision of clean potable water to the population. Legislations and legal framework relating to sanitation were passed. Special field hospitals for cholera were established to contain the disease. Additionally, welfare provisions such as soup kitchens, vaccinations and the distribution of medication were instituted to cater to the needs of the population and prevent another outbreak of the disease.