Sociology and Anthropology Vol. 6(4), pp. 424 - 432
DOI: 10.13189/sa.2018.060407
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Once a Slave..., Not Always a Slave: Acquiring Freedom on São Tomé Island

Robert Garfield *
Department of History, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, USA


The island of São Tomé, located off the west-central coast of Africa, became a template for slave-based sugar islands elsewhere in Africa and in the West Indies. The common assumption is that slaves, taken to the island from the nearby African mainland, remained so forever, as did their descendants. In fact, many slaves won their freedom, through manumission, purchase, royal proclamation and, especially, rebellion. By the mid-16th Century, ex-slaves and their descendants actually ruled the island, both economically and politically, even though slavery still remained the basis of the island's economy and social structure. This paper looks at the origins and evolution of São Toméan society, noting the ways in which enslavement could be overcome or ended, and what the practical effects of this were for the island's social, economic, and political future. It reviews the many violent rebellions produced by the slave system and how these altered the lives of those who still remained enslaved.

São Tomé, Slavery, Rebellion, Social Structure, Sugar

Cite this paper
Robert Garfield . "Once a Slave..., Not Always a Slave: Acquiring Freedom on São Tomé Island." Sociology and Anthropology 6.4 (2018) 424 - 432. doi: 10.13189/sa.2018.060407.