John Pinney

Life as a plantation owner

The Southwell Frigate (detail) by Nicholas Pocock.

Pinney found the plantation owners and managers in the Caribbean to be a lazy, money-grabbing bunch. They talked of nothing but sugar, thought of nothing but money and wasted their time quarrelling. Their main enjoyments were drinking rum and cock-fighting.

Pinney understood how the sugar plantations worked. The labour of African slaves was vital. In 1764 he wrote, ‘You yourself must be convinced that Negroes [Africans] are the sinews of a Plantation and it is as impossible for a Man to make sugar without the assistance of Negroes as to make bricks without straw’.
Pinney did not intend to stay on Nevis. He planned to return to England as soon as possible, once he had the plantation working well. He rebuilt the house on his plantation, installed a new sugar mill, had extra land cultivated and bought new slaves.

In 1765 he wrote, ‘ Since my arrival I have purchased 9 Negroe slaves at St Kitts and can assure you I was shocked at the first appearance of human flesh exposed for sale. But surely God ordained them for the use and benefit of us: otherwise his Divine Will would surely have been made manifest by some particular Sign or Token’.

He had land set aside for the slaves to grow fresh produce in their own time. This meant that he needed to spend less money buying food. It also meant that the slaves could sell their surplus and perhaps earn a little cash for buying necessities or Sunday clothes.

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