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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.

Here is information about native peoples of the Caribbean.

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.

Here is an article about the brutal process of making sugar in the 17th century.

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 fevermalaria...leprosy … elephantiasis.

The most thoughtful planters expressed dismay at what they had created….

Here are some facts about present-day Barbados from the BBC

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.

Here is some history of Barbados from the BBC. 

Here is the blog Barbados Free Press.

Here is a link to Nation News of Barbados.

The picture below is of a man riding a bike in Barbados.

December 14, 2007 - Posted by | Art, Books, Colonial America, History, Poetry | , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Thank you for reproducing the poem about Colonial Barbados – I was not aware of this one, although the reputation of Barbados as a place where slaves were literally worked to death is well established. There is a good display on the brutality of Barbadian slavery, and the impact of this on the young George Washington on his only visit outside continental America, at George Washington House, on the Garrison Savannah one kilometer outside Bridgetown. Washington’s visit to Barbados is said to have influenced him to free his slaves in his will. Diagonally opposite George Washington House across the Garrison Savannah is the Barbados Museum, which also has good displays on slavery and the African heritage of most Barbadians. The Parliament Buildings in Bridgetown also house a display on the history of Barbados’s Parliament – one of the oldest in the world, established in 1639, on slavery and emancipation, and on the ten National Heroes of Barbados. One of these was Bussa, the leader of a large-scale slave revolt in 1816.

    I have made eight visits to Barbados over the last two years, and plan another later this year – just one question of the author of this entry – where is the street with all these colourful buildings? Is it in Bridgetown? I have never seen this one, although I have seen quite a bit of the island.

    Comment by Roslyn Russell | December 31, 2007

  2. Ms. Russell—

    Thanks for this nice comment and for all the information. It adds a lot to the post.

    I’m afraid I don’t know what city the photo is from. It’s a photo I lifted from somewhere else—A copyright free photo of course.

    I see you’ve read the blog all the way from Australia. What a thing internet is.

    Good luck to you in the New Year and please visit the blog again.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | January 1, 2008

  3. Thanks Neil – and best of luck to you in the New Year too from Canberra, Australia – and I will certainly visit the blog again. There may be more news from Barbados some time.

    Comment by Roslyn Russell | January 1, 2008


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