The role of slave resistance in bringing slavery to an end is often overlooked. However, slave revolts were very important as they put pressure on the colonial system and made politicians realise that ultimately slavery had to be abolished.
A slave revolt was what all those involved in the slave trade feared most. On many Caribbean islands the slave population vastly out-numbered the population of Europeans. Therefore it was always a possibility that slaves could rise up and free themselves.
The first major slave revolt, and most successful, was in the wealthy French colony of St Domingue between 1791 and 1804. Here, slaves had been influenced by principles of freedom and equality spread by the French Revolution. Under their talented leader Toussaint Louverture , pictured above, they beat off both French and British armies and seized control of the islands and its assets. These events caused a huge amount of alarm amongst planters on the British islands of the West Indies.
In the early 19th century there were many more revolts of increasing size and sophistication. Although the transatlantic slave trade was banned in 1807, 600,000 slaves remained on the British islands. There was ever increasing discontent leading to revolts in Barbados in 1816, Demerara in 1823 and Jamaica in 1831-2. These helped create an atmosphere where change and reform was inevitable.