Jamaica Plantation Management 1750-1850
Since I am writing a blog, that may someday become a book on great houses, I decided to discuss the management of large land holdings on the island of Jamaica during the early colonial era. The large land holdings were divided into three major types. First and foremost were the estates which principally produced sugar for export. Second there were the plantations which produced coffee and pimento mainly for export. And third were the pens which supplied draft animals such as oxen and horses and a minor amount of meat. The owners may own one or many of these land holdings. The largest land owners, of which there were four, possessed at least ten properties.
There were two types of landowners, the resident landowner and the absentee landowner. The resident landowner lived on the plantation and was unable to live off the island because the property size would not support that type of life style. The absentee landowner, on the other hand, usually owned sizable sugar acreage and was able to live in Britain. Some of the successful absentee landowners had emigrated from Britain, developed their estates and then returned to Britain as soon as possible. Others invested in sugar estates and never set foot on Jamaica. Most British colonists dreamed of the day they could return to Britain. The three main reasons for this desire was the unhealthiness of the country (malaria and yellow fever), the lack of culture and the lack of social advancement. Once the immigrant had made his fortune and established a method for the preservation of that steady flow of funds from the colony, he turned his eyes back to his home country where he could display his wealth and status in a different arena.
The absentee estate owner needed to develop a whole new management plan which would allow the owner to live off the island. Prior to the industrial revolution, the Jamaican absentees were already developing management systems that would need to be instituted in the factories that were springing up in Britain. The institution of slavery in Jamaica was extremely profitable to the land holders. One doesn’t need to prove that slavery was a failed economic system to condemn slavery as an institution. The system prospered until the emancipation of the slaves. The absentees developed the new system and a new manager emerged known as an attorney. This next manager will be discussed in a future blog.