The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 42, Issue 1

Article 7
Women and the Abolition Campaign in the African Atlantic

Verene A. Shepherd


The passing of the British Abolition Act in 1807 owed much to the activism of women, enslaved and free, who employed diverse strategies to agitate for the ending of what was arguably the greatest crime against humanity. Indeed, the partial ending of the trade, starting in 1805, acted as a catalyst for women’s continued activism up to 1834. The contribution of popular pressure to change a pro-slavery to an anti-slavery environment cannot be simply dismissed but must factor into the discourse on abolition. Exploring the topic of women’s role in the abolition and emancipation campaigns will provide an opportunity for us to engage in a reflective process on women’s role in Caribbean development and the struggles they faced in the process. Such reflections will help us to take comfort in the answer that Mathurin Mair provided to the question, “Where on earth did such women, the alleged ‘subordinate sex’, get the nerve [to confront systems of domination]”? Her answer? “It came from their very subordination – the moral force of the powerless confronting the powerful – and from their ability to draw strength from that inheritance of ancestral spirits from that other side of the ocean.” Activism and agency are, of course, particularly relevant when speaking about ex-colonial societies where issues of freedom, human rights, restorative justice, citizenship and self-determination had to be settled by rebel men and women before the issues of feminism and women’s rights could form a part of the national anti-colonial discourse.