William Hardin Burnley, the biggest slave owner in Trinidad, did everything in his power to prevent the emancipation of Africans in the colony. When slavery ended, he was convinced that only Africans who had tyrannical masters would benefit from emancipation. The rest, he opined, ‘Were too ignorant to understand the real position in which they were placed.’ This lecture examines Burnley’s participation in slavery, his attempts to prevent Africans from being emancipated, his subterfuge to keep them enslaved under another guise called apprenticeship and his energetic efforts to recruit workers from outside of Trinidad to undercut the gains that former slaves had made in the post-apprenticeship period.
Selwyn R Cudjoe is Professor of Africana Studies, Margaret E. Deffenbaugh and LeRoy T Carlson Professor in Comparative Literature at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA. He has researched the life of William Burnley at The National Archives.