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How Cuba burned with the ghosts of British slavery: race, abolition and the Escalera

Citation: Curry-Machado, Jonathan (2004) How Cuba burned with the ghosts of British slavery: race, abolition and the Escalera. Slavery and Abolition, 25 (1). pp. 71-93. ISSN 0144-039X

It is the purpose of this paper to show how the taking of British West Indians into slavery in Cuba and the repression of a supposed uprising were closely connected. The Escalera, while not directly caused by the presence of these black British subjects, was nevertheless partly the result of interrelated events that began with the importation of the latter into Cuba by white British planters escaping the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade in the British colonies. With Cuba still firmly a slave society, they were maintained in bondage, along with other black British West Indians who were kidnapped from their home islands by unscrupulous traders, and sold to Cuban planters hungry for labourers. Despite the presence in Havana of a Mixed Commission for the Suppression of the Slave Trade, charged with ensuring that such breaches of the anti-slave-trade treaties did not go unchallenged, many British representatives in Cuba were themselves implicated in the continuance of slavery, until the appointment in 1840 of the militant abolitionist David Turnbull as British Consul and Superintendent of Liberated Africans. Turnbull forcefully investigated and sought freedom for all those black British subjects who were being held in slavery in the island. While the Spanish accusations made against him of conspiring for revolution were probably false, his actions (combined with the presence in the island of other abolition-minded British migrants, as well as that of the enslaved black British subjects themselves) had a destabilizing effect upon the Cuban slave system, acting as a catalyst for the unsuccessful uprising of 1843/44, and the subsequent brutal repression.

Creators: Curry-Machado, Jonathan and
Official URL:
Subjects: History
Latin American Studies
Keywords: Cuba, slavery, Escalera, West Indies, David Turnbull
Divisions: Institute of Latin American Studies
Collections: ILAS Occasional Paper Series
  • April 2004 (published)


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