"Sir Thomas's means will be rather straitened, if the Antigua estate is to make such poor returns"
Antigua
Creative Commons AttributionAntigua - Credit: Josh Dobson

The island of Antigua (now part of a two-island nation known as Antigua and Barbuda) is situated between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It was settled by the English in 1632 and remained under British rule almost continuously until 1981. From about 1674 onwards, sugar cane became the island's main crop, and African slaves became the main work force of the plantations.

 

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Britain made slave trading illegal in 1807 with the passing of the Slave Trade Act, and slavery itself was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833 following the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act. Clearly, then, the issue of slave trading and the employment of slaves on plantations would have been one of great contemporary significance in the period of Mansfield Park. Later in the novel, Fanny Price (talking about a conversation she has had with Sir Thomas Bertram) says, 'Did not you hear me ask him about the slave trade?' However, it is not made clear in what spirit the question is asked, or what exactly are Sir Thomas Bertram's views on the brutal exploitation which would have been at the heart of his business interests in Antigua.