Freedom and Slavery in Barbados – Part Two: It’s Not All Black and White

By Abi King | Barbados

Feb 11
Slavery in Barbados - mill

The last mill in Barbados?

Find the first part of Freedom and Slavery in Barbados over here…then come back to read what happened next.

Empty on arrival - Bridgetown, Barbados

When the British arrived in Barbados in 1625, there was no native population there. There was no anyone there.

Powell and co found a few tracks in the earth that suggested some kind of Amerindian presence within the last few years. But that was it.

The Brits moved in – and in many ways never really left. Unlike the squabbles and showdowns that troubled the other Caribbean islands, easterly Barbados remained under British control until independence in 1966. And even then, Barbados kept the Queen as a constitutional monarch and shrugged off the notion of a republic.

They dubbed themselves “Little England,” sending a telegram during the world war to say “Go on England; Little England is behind you.”

Place names like Hastings, Worthing, Brighton and Cheltenham dot the map and there’s even a statue of Nelson on what used to be Trafalgar’s Square.

Today it goes by the name of National Heroes Square, which is perhaps the first sign that life with Mother England wasn’t all cupcakes and scones with High Tea.

Sadly, while the colonial wars never took place, the oppression and slavery did.

Without an indigenous population to deal with, the Brits moved people in. Amerindians from Guiana  to begin with and then “indentured servants,” a kind of slavery in itself, from England and Northern Ireland.

The next twist in the undeniably twisted tale just goes to show how intertwined we all are – and how far-reaching political decisions that exile people can be.
Bridgetown 001

Centuries before the “discovery” of Barbados, religious wars across the Iberian Peninsula led to the defeat of the Islamic Moors by the Catholic Christians and the expulsion of many Jewish communities. Fleeing persecution throughout Spain, Jews brought their skills to Holland and thence to Brazil as more persecution followed. When anti-Semitism drove them from Brazil, they travelled east and further east along the Caribbean islets to settle in Barbados. They brought with them not only European milling expertise but also the technical and financial know-how for harvesting sugar cane.

The sugar revolution arrived – and with it an overpowering economic need for manpower.

The answer, from an economic point of view, was the explosion of the slave trade.

Bridgetown 007

Between 1627 and 1807 some 387 000 slaves were removed from today’s Nigeria and Ghana and deposited on the shores of Barbados. Thousands perished en route, thousands were traded on to Jamaica and the Carolinas and plenty more remained on Bajan land.

Their life expectancy, if they ever made it this far, was an exhaustingly brief eight years.

From an economic point of view, this was a staggering success. The island of Barbados had become one of Britain’s most valuable and profitable resources: an empty land completely repurposed into a moneymaking machine. Ethics, it would seem, simply interfered with good business.

Until you take a closer look.

Amid palm trees and exuberant Caribbean sunshine, Bridgetown’s UNESCO recognised Garrison does just that. It details the natural history of the island, life as a British soldier here, the branding of slaves, the lost Amerindian history, and the discovery of rum.

A little of everything, really. Including the abolition of slavery.

Where once again, Barabados surprised me. Once again, Barbados was different.

Bridgetown church

To be continued…

Disclosure: I was able to bring this series to you thanks to my wonderful sponsors who let me explore Barbados and write about whatever interested me. They are Tropical Sky who arrange holidays in luxury resorts, The Club Barbados Resort And Spa right next to Sandy Lane (part of Elite Island Resorts) and the Barbados Tourist Board. Three cheers for supporting artistic endeavours!

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