It always seems to me an extraordinary irony that … my grandfather would decide — or rather his father would decide — that it was a good idea to go back into sugar, after the history — the torrid history — that our family had had with that particular crop, but I think, you know, even at the turn of the [20th] century … it must have felt like sugar was still the biggest game in town, still the historic crop of the island. To be a planter was to be at the absolute top of the social tree and so, in some ways, you can see that for successful businessman — even those who came from a slave line — that becoming a planter must have felt like real success, and I think that is why my great-grandfather decided to buy and also start to farm a plantation again.
From my blog:
And yet, I want to argue that there is something about bodies. Something about this news being such a big deal because it was not Richard III’s castle they uncovered but rather his bones. And that his is a body to be worshipped and fawned over. His bones are worthy of this level of response.
When people went to see King Tut’s collection, where they going to view the gold treasures buried next to him or to see his sarcophagus in which his embalmed body was carefully wrapped, stored, and beautifully covered?
It is hard for me to say why people went to see Tut. Certainly there were people more interested in the treasures than the body. The image of the traveling Tut show, though, was the face from the sarcophagus, hinting that going to the collection would allow you to look at the face of a fabeled ruler.
But this is something I do know. When I visited the British Museum, I had to fight larger crowds to look at the mummified bodies of Egyptian kings I’d never heard of than I did to see the sculpture from the Parthenon or the Rosetta Stone. I know that in the Victorian era, people paid good money to consume the powdered remains of mummified Egyptians because they thought it would give them some kind of spiritual boost. I know that we still spend considerable sums on the burial places of our loved ones and on the state funerals of major political figures.
As well as establishing an elaborate framework of punishment to control slave behavior, the Barbados slave laws clarified some important ideological issues. One was that slaves would serve for life and in perpetuity, passing their status down to their children and their children’s children; an idea that gained currency across the region. This profoundly differentiated the black slaves’ experience not just from the indentured white servants on the island but also from that of most enslaved peoples in history; for the Africans in Barbados, once a slave meant always a slave, and for their children too. The colonists also redefined how slave status would be inherited. In contrast to the patrilineal tradition of their English homeland, the Barbadian planters decided that slave status should be passed down the maternal line. This mean that white men could continue to impregnate black slaves without having to free their offspring — indeed, with the bonus that they could then own their progeny and profit from their unpaid labor.
Stuart will also be on Fresh Air today, talking to Terry Gross about her new book, Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire.
1625. The first time Englishmen landed on Barbados.
From Memoirs of the first settlement of the island of Barbados, and other the Carribbee islands, with the Succession of the Governors and Commanders in Chief of Barbados to the Year 1742. Extracted from Ancient Records, Papers and Accounts taken from Mr. William Arnold, Mr. Samuel Bulkly, and Mr. John Summers, some of the First Settlers, the last of whom was alive in 1688, aged 82. Also some Remarks on the Laws and Constitution of Barbados, printed in 1743.
They really knew how to title things back in the eighteenth century.
From a 1676 account by an Englishman of a conspiracy among the enslaved on Barbados to “murther all the White People there, as well Men as Women.”
Tony, the enslaved man mentioned in the picture above, had just stopped another enslaved man from “confessing” to his role in the so-called conspiracy. These two men, Tony and the would-be confessor, were standing “chained at the stake” moments before they were to be burned alive. Tony stopped the other man from saying any more: “Thou fool, are there not enough of our Country-men killed already? Art thou minded to kill them all?”
In response, the crowd who was there to witness the execution, “cryed out to Tony, ‘Sirrah, we shall see you fry bravely by and by.’ Who answered undauntedly, ‘If you Roast me to day, you cannot Roast me tomorrow.’”
While is hard to know what is Truth in these documents written by white men about supposed slave uprisings, I am choosing to believe that Tony really did say that in the moments before he was executed.
Only 166 square miles in total, Barbados is an eighth of the size of the smallest state in the US, Rhode Island. For comparison, Jamaica is 4320 square miles and Puerto Rico is 3435.
I’m constantly struck by just how incredibly small a space Barbados is.