Sin To The Height Thy Fate Is Hell—Colonial Barbados
Colonial Barbados was said by some to be a kind of hell.
(Above—The Barbadoes Mulatto Gorl. A 1764 engraving by an Agostino Brunias. The Barbados Museum and Historical Society is a great place to learn about the history of Barbados.)
Here is a poem about the place written in 1710—
And for one honest man ten thousand knavesBarbadoes Isle inhabited by slaves
Religion to thee’s a Romantick storey
Barbarity and ill-got wealth thy glory
All Sodom’s Sins are centered in thy heart
Death is thy look —Death in every part
Oh! Glorious isle in Vilany Excell
Sin to the height–thy fate is Hell.
In 1650 30,000 British colonists lived in Barbados. This was a large population for a colony of the time.
The attraction of Barbados that it was relatively easy to cultivate and that the natives had already been exterminated.
In the 1620’s through the 1640’s Barbados was populated in the main by indentured servants from England, Scotland and Ireland who hoped to work their way to freedom. Most plantations on the island were small. The main crop was tobacco. However, the quality of the tobacco grown on Barbados was not first-rate.
As the economy of Barbados stagnated and hopes were not met, Barbadian planters , in response to a plot of rebellion by indentured servants, executed 18 of the men.
It was in the 1640’s that planters on the island moved to the labor intensive crop of sugar. Sugar grew well on Barbados.
From Alan Taylor’s American Colonies: The Settling Of North America —
The sugar boom revolutionized the economy, landscape, demography and social structure of Barbados….Despite its small scale, by 1660 Barbados had 53,000 inhabitants–a density of 250 persons per square mile, which rose to 400 by the end of the century….The planters also filled the island with cane plants, obliterating the native forest. In 1676 the island’s governor observed, “There is not a foot of land in Barbados that is not employed to the very seaside.”…Much wildlife..vanished.
Growing sugar was terrible work—
The sugar planters needed a large and captive body of laborers…During planting season, the master expected every laborer daily to dig at least 60 large holes by hand with a hoe. Each hole contained one cane plant and required the shifting of 12 cubic feet of earth…free people did not volunteer for such…work. The sugar book demanded more workers at a time when the supply of indentured English-men was declining….at the same time, the intense exploitation of labor associated with sugar gave Barbados a more frightful reputation…Desperate for servants, the planters accepted growing numbers of ..criminals and political prisoners…Because white men could more easily escape…planters saw an advantage in employing only permanent slaves of a distinctive color.
By 1660, Barbados had become the first English colony with a black and enslaved majority…The growing slave population depended on increased slave imports, for the Barbadian slaves died faster than they could reproduce….The slaves succumbed to a deadly combination of tropical diseases, a brutal work regimen and the inadequate diet, housing and clothing provided by their masters. Rather than improve these conditions, the Barbadian planters found it more profitable t0 import more slaves.
However, rarely in life as it often seems, the oppressors suffered as as well for their misdeeds
…the Barbados planters paid some heavy psychological and physiological prices for their wealth and power. An especially ethnocentric people, the English found it …distasteful to dwell among Africans deemed so utterly different in complexion, speech and culture. With good cause, the planters also suffered..nightmares of slaves rising up to kill in the night. Adopting a siege mentality, the planters walled themselves within fortified houses that kept their blacks out. After 1680, the most successful grandees sought to escape from the profitable but troubling world they had made…
Most planters though, died before they could get away. During the 1640’s they had increased their exposure to deadly diseases by importing slaves bearing new pathogens from Africa…yellow fever …malaria...leprosy … elephantiasis.
The most thoughtful planters expressed dismay at what they had created….
Barbados is one of the more populous and prosperous Caribbean islands. Political, economic and social stability have given it one of the highest standards of living in the developing world.
It is a centre for financial services and has offshore reserves of oil and natural gas.
In recent years a construction boom has taken hold, with new hotels and housing complexes springing up. The trend accelerated as the island prepared to host some of the key Cricket World Cup matches in 2007.
However, a shortage of jobs has prompted many Barbadians – more often known as Bajans – to find work abroad. The money that they send home is an important source of income.
Most Barbadians are the descendants of African slaves who were brought to the island from the 17th century to work the sugar cane plantations.
Limestone caverns, coral reefs and a warm climate tempered by trade winds are among the island’s natural assets. Barbados is relatively flat, with highlands in the interior.
The picture below is of a man riding a bike in Barbados.