The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 54, Issue 1

Article 1
Re-Contextualizing Mortality Rates and Population Trends of Enslaved Africans in Antigua

Christopher K. Waters


This article uses new archival data to establish population trends for Antigua. These trends show that previous mortality rates in the Caribbean, in general, and the Leeward Islands more specifically, have been significantly underestimated. For most of Antigua’s history, mortality rates for enslaved Africans have, inadvertently, been misrepresented due to generalizations derived from the extant archives of larger islands and of successful plantations. With the new data, three distinct phases emerge. The first phase, to 1775, shows relentless and ruthless growth in the overall population, as planters sought to maximize profits. The data shows that previous mortality estimates need to be more than doubled. The second phase, 1775–1785, displays a sharp decline in the enslaved population due to famine. The third phase, from 1785 until emancipation in 1834 is essentially flat, following estate consolidation. These phases do not overlap with the usual temporal markers of amelioration, abolition, and emancipation, but rather demonstrate deeper structural changes in the social and economic structure of the island.