The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 52, Issue 1

Article 2
Roads, Railways and the Language of Politics

Anne Hardgrove


The post-emancipation period found the Caribbean island of Trinidad embroiled in the issue of how sugar planters would try to maintain strong sugar production in the absence of their former slave work force. Planters hoped to keep constraints on the freedom of workers, specifically by keeping labour located near the estates. Indentured labour from India filled some of the void, but those workers completed contracts, became small tenant farmers, or moved to more urban areas. Agricultural workers demanded improved access to markets, schools, and religious institutions in the form of better roads, contrary to the planters. Crown government also viewed transportation infrastructure positively, but for the purpose of disciplinary surveillance of its subjects. The debates between these various constituencies come to light in the Trinidad Franchise Commission of 1888, when a wide range of Trinidadians gave testimony. Rather than agitate for the franchise, the interviewees provide evidence that infrastructure itself was at the heart of political, economic, and social struggle.