Thursday, April 18, 2024

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: The history of Barbadosing

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SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY REPORTS of the suffering of European indentured servants and the fact that many were transported to Barbados against their wishes has led to a growing body of transatlantic popular literature, particularly dealing with the Irish (Handler Reilly, 2016).

This literature asserts the practice of shipping white convicts to Barbados of yesteryear, the existence of “white slavery” and the notion that these indentured servants were subjected to conditions as bad as, or even worse than that of black slaves. A new term entered the English language – to be transported to the Island was to be “Barbadosed” (Jordan Walsh, 2007).

On March 14, 1996, Lord Gifford QC initiated a debate in the House of Lords of the British Parliament concerning the African Reparations. Within this debate The Viscount of Falkland was quoted in the official records saying: “We press-ganged – if that is the right word; I believe that it was called “Barbadosing” – vagrants and others who seemed superfluous in our society and bundled them off in ships to the islands where they were to all intents and purposes slaves.

These people were probably treated worse than the slaves themselves because they were there for a limited time and not until perpetuity. The flogging and the misery were suffered as much by those of the European origin as by slaves later.”

The above is one of the few mentions of the term “Barbadosing” as it is a term that is becoming less popular day by day, and represents a starting point for this paper that seeks to explore the practise that was prevalent in the early years of Barbados’ development. Before (and after) the introduction of sugar in Barbados the island produced tobacco and cotton.

At the time when these crops were being produced there was a heavy reliance on servants who would agree to work for a contracted period of time. They were also known as indentured servants.

Due to the dependence on labour, provisions were made to acquire the much-needed resources “White civilians who wanted to emigrate overseas could do so by signing an agreement to serve a planter in Barbados for a period of five or seven years.” In England, in the first market, a prospective servant signed a contract, or “indenture”, with a merchant, promising to serve the latter or his assignees in a particular colony for a given period under stated conditions (Galenson, 1981).

As the demand for labour increased with the introduction of sugar cane, the ethical standards for acquiring labourers decreased; indentured servants were sourced from convicted criminals who were the resulted prisoners of a civil war between political factions.

The first cargo of English convicts arrived in 1642 to work on the new sugar crop (Jordan Walsh, 2008). All classes of Catholic Irish feared being “barbadosed either through capture in arms, transplantation or judicial process (Rushton, 2016).

However, it did not stop there as some indentured servants were simply victims of kidnapping. Merchants also began shipping convicts to the island in the 1640s, and they took so many young workers from “spirits” that the colony’s name became synonymous with kidnapping, as Barbadosed acquired the meaning attached to Shanghaied in the early twentieth century (Menard, 2006).

The victims of the kidnappings were usually people who were not able to defend themselves or had a low social standing. Thousands of children and teenagers from Ireland and Britain were kidnapped and shipped to the Americas, mainly to the sugar colonies (Blake 1943:267-81, 277; Harlow 1926:292-300; Donoghue 2010:201-22), and prostitutes from the streets of London were also rounded up and sent to Barbados (Paulucci, 1655).

At times, reasons to “Barbadose” a person could be subject to a person’s political or religious point of views on government or god. Due to the political turmoil of the seventeenth century, many Irish and Scots were banished to Barbados for political or religious reasons (Jordan Walsh, 2007).

The popular or layman belief is that African slaves were brought to the Caribbean to tend to the sugar cane crops, and that they were the sole persons responsible for the production of sugar cane. However it is unrealistic to think that the existing indentured slaves would have been retired or dismissed when the demand for labour was high.

Contrary to the traditional view, the British West Indian planters did not switch suddenly their labour preference from white servants to black slaves with the rise of sugar production; it was a gradual and prolonged process, which was not completed until the 1680s (Beckles, 1982).

It is observed that people tend to “learn” our history and proceed to develop a negative view of all whites in Barbados or perceive them as our ancestral persecutors. However, the reality is that some of us have the same history. Whether we are black or white, our ancestors shared a similar fate. If we acknowledge that we were all persecuted, we should not label the all Europeans by race, but by moral ethics: not as the “white man” but the “greedy man”.

A larger number of Africans were exposed to slavery and that became the primary source and method of profit, but it should not cause us to dismiss the suffering of other minority groups, but rather to sympathise.

We should then be able to agree that the first phase of sugar production in Barbados, and to a lesser extent in the Leewards Islands (1643-55), can therefore be justly labelled sugar and servitude (Beckles, 1981).

1 COMMENT

  1. This dated article provides depth, insight, and greater understanding into Barbados/Caribbean history beyond the former British Caribbean boarders to the Carolinas and America’s former Atlantic coastal colonies. Interestingly and tellingly, the history of the indentured servants got a lot of focus within the Barbados/Barbadoes understanding. In the US and its Southern States, the history of indentureship during the colonial period has not been delved into and explained as much. Recently, however, the indenture servant story has been cited disparagingly for ulterior intent. This article provides Barbados with standing and authenticity to expound on the topic where others haven’t. Thanks for publishing this article.

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