Red Legs in Barbados

Sir Charles Williams

Sir Charles Williams

On the eve of the celebration of Martin Luther King Day in the USA to be followed by the inauguration in the USA of the first African American President, we were reminded in an email today that there is another group which has had to suffer the scourge of oppression and discrimination in our history.

In recent weeks all mankind, especially Blacks have been given renewed hope with the election of Barack Obama – hope springs eternal. If the Red Legs of Barbados have felt ignored over the years, we anticipate that they may have to feel comfortable in that position for a little while longer.

We hope not!

There is not a lot recorded to support good research of the life and times of the Red Legs in Barbados, another question we could pose to Sir Hilary Beckles by citing the relevance of the University of the West Indies. The most insight Barbadians get about the history of this group of people is from the eccentric and maligned Julian Charles Hunte. We have no doubt that Julian means well but his public image probably does little to further the cause of promoting the history of the Red Legs.

We hope the BU family finds the following article, reproduced from the Irish Times  interesting.

Reproduced from the Irish Times (17 January 2009)

I WAS DELIGHTED that Caroline Walsh focused on the plight of Ireland’s lost tribe, the Red Legs, in her article a couple of weeks ago on Barbados. This group, made up of the descendants of 50,000 Irish men and women who were sold into the white slave trade between 1652 and 1659, have been largely ignored, apart from in Seán O’Callaghan’s wonderful To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland , published almost 20 years ago.

They were innocent Irish people who were rounded up from across the country by teams of Oliver Cromwell’s “man-catchers”, bound in chains and shipped to Barbados to work on sugar plantations.

Their descendants are still there today – some of them in absolute poverty – isolated, unassimilated and uneducated. It is about time we acknowledge them, our beleaguered kinsmen, innocent victims first of British injustice, then of landlord cruelty and now of our lack of interest.

I’ve wanted to go out and visit them for a long time, and perhaps make a documentary about them, but I was warned off by O’Callaghan’s stories of outsiders being driven away with hoes and pitchforks from the isolated, rundown settlements in which they live.

Thankfully, a braver group, Moondance Films, has made a documentary, which will be aired on TG4 soon. I’ll be intrigued to find out what it learned. So little known is about the Red Legs. Like any oppressed people, they were too focused on survival to have had the luxury of documenting their history. Their connection with Ireland was cut off many centuries ago; their surnames were taken from them and they were forbidden to practise their faith. Perhaps all that remains is their red hair, freckles and blue eyes.

Most accounts refer to their arrogance and alcoholism. One describes them as “lazy, worthless drunks of unworthy Irish/Scots origin, who have neither ambition nor intelligence, yet are white and proud. They believe they are a cursed people.”

Of course, some Red Leg families thrived when they were eventually emancipated, in 1834, when slavery was abolished. Illustrious island families such as the Mayers

and Goddards proudly trace their lineage back to slave ancestry, but most tend to be poorer than the black population. They farm smallholdings of sugar cane on the arid eastern coast of the island or live in Bridgetown, the capital, drinking in local grog shops or running white brothels for middle-class blacks.

I must stress that all of this is based mostly on rumour and on research done 20 years ago. We will know the truth only when TG4’s documentary is aired.

In the meantime what we know is that Cromwell decreed that troublemakers – the poor, the hungry, clergy and Catholic landlords who refused to move to Connacht – be sent to Barbados. They were herded south into holding pens in Cork and Waterford, then crammed into African slave ships in chains. One in five died en route; those who survived were scrubbed in readiness for the slave mart. The women – nuns, soldiers’ wives, Catholic gentry and teenagers – were stripped and checked for virginity. Good breeders were sold to studs, to make future slaves and brothel girls. The men were checked for muscle tone and strength of teeth, then branded with their owners’ initials.

Ironically, the Irish are now returning to Barbados, the elite of Ireland’s post-boom aristocracy – Desmond, Magnier, Smurfit, O’Reilly – converting old plantations into luxury resorts. Who knows how many of our ancestors were whipped to death right on the sites of these new pleasure palaces?

100 thoughts on “Red Legs in Barbados

  1. Over the years living in Europe, I found a closer link between us West Indians and the Irish,probably due to our similar history. I had the pleasure of a few sojourns in Ireland ,North and was treated like a prince by these people, in a situation where I should have been rebuffed.

  2. Ireland is a great country with wonderful people. Have spent many pleasant days around Dublin and its environs.

    I have been told that the Bajan accent has much of County Cork in it.

  3. Dave, I’m normally, the last person on earth who’d be interested in pleading the cause of whites and I have n’t read the newspaper article above, however, I should like to request that we stop using the term ‘red-legs’ to describe people! I could n’t care less about the reason and origin for the term, it just sounds to me, so insulting, akin with our term of *igger!

    We can lead the way voluntarily, without needing to be asked by say, the UNO or similar body! The people themsleves, concerned may not feel able to ask but may, nonetheless, object strongly to its use!

    Let us set the example and abolish its use both on BU and BFP!!

  4. With the last comment I do agree – also red-man or “reds” too! In fact, in the early days of the USA, Irish were known as GREEN N***ERS – check “Irish Jam” with Eddie Griffin and “Gangs Of NY” with Day-Lewis and DiCaprio… Both made same historical reference. Google the term and see what pops up

  5. Let’s follow the Obama idea of unity among the races. However, though small, we in Barbados have a long way to go. Let’s stop calling each other by strange names, “red legs”, “coolies”, “nigger” etc. Time to move on, time to turn a new leaf. In doing so the whites MUST respect the blacks as the dominant race in this country and MUST be rewarded for their good work instead of promoting some white person who then has to learn from the same blacks how to do a job. Blacks MUST respect themselves and stop getting jealous and envious of each other and “bad talking” each other. The Indians and others of that race, MUST realise that they are in an adopted country and while we have in general open our doors to you, don’t try to take advantage of a situation as the same people who welcome you will forcefully get you out. In other words, you MUST merge with us bajans and accept us and eventually we would accept you. Don’t try forcing your culture down bajans’ throats. Oh My God, I’m talking about an Utopian Barbados; is this possible? Maybe I should stop dreaming, shut off my comp and return to bed and wake up afresh.

  6. All I can say is, BU upsetting de apple cart. Though all my days we were led to believe that only us blacks were brought here as slaves. Now we being shown another page in our history.

    The buffoons at Cave Hill ain’t gonna be pleased…….

  7. Just pasting something that came to my desk…

    “I dont know how many ‘pure’ red legs there are now. ? but there has been much misinformation re the populating of Barbados. I am NOT well versed in this history.

    It’s clear I THINK there would have been the well-to-do whites who came and established the plantations and I dont know who (living here in these days) are their offsping.

    But the little I’ve heard is…. there were also whites …like the Irish mentioned … and others … who were shipped here, in the circumstances described in the article.

    As the population of Barbados expanded, there were obviously those who bred with their own kind, and those who ‘stepped across’ and bred with “the others.” Hence the ‘muletoes’ in the first instances … half black / half white – like Obama) and then a thinning out of these as these mulotoes in turn bred with the blacks (producing a ‘high brown’ shade of black) … and with the whites, producing whites (like me) who have “a lick of the tar brush” …. etc. etc… These latter often called ‘Bajan white’ ‘Red’ … and so on….”

  8. I remember as a youth growing up when you drove down Newcastle Hill you were sure to see at least one or two (obviously) poor whites walking on the road or sitting on the steps of a roadside chattle house. I can’t recall the last time I have seen someone (in Newcastle or anywhere else in Barbados) you could identify right off the bat as a “poor white” in Barbados like you could in the past. That’s just my personal observation.

  9. dats because some of the prominent poor whites rich now lol

    e.g seale williams goddards lol

    many poor whites migrated to NZ and Australia in the 60’s too

  10. “Barbados or the Gallows”

    First of all, the red-legs were never slaves! They were convicts and ne’er-do-wells who were sent to the colonies in lieu of doing jail time or facing the gallows. They served for a definite time commensurate with their crimes, and their distaste for honest hard work led to the mass importation of African slaves.

  11. @The Scout: “Oh My God, I’m talking about an Utopian Barbados; is this possible? Maybe I should stop dreaming, shut off my comp and return to bed and wake up afresh.

    My friend, *NEVER* stop dreaming!

    And then, every day, take whatever actions *you* can to get us all a little bit closer.

  12. @degap: “First of all, the red-legs were never slaves!

    You are technically correct. They were, instead, “Indentured Servants”.

    They still, from what I understand, went through hell.

  13. To the learned Christ Halsall … not all ‘whites’ were ‘indentured servants.

    A short excerpt from

    “Although it was not a crime to kill any Irish, and soldiers were
    encouraged to do so, the slave trade proved too profitable to kill off
    the source of the product. Privateers and chartered shippers sent gangs
    out with quotas to fill, and in their zest as they scoured the
    countryside, they inadvertently kidnapped a number of English too. On
    March 25, 1659, a petition of 72 Englishmen was received in London,
    claiming they were illegally “now in slavery in the Barbados”’ . The
    petition also claimed that ‘7,000-8,000 Scots taken prisoner at the
    battle of Worcester in 1651 were sold to the British plantations in the
    New World,” and that “200 Frenchmen had been kidnapped, concealed and
    sold in Barbados for 900 pounds of cotton each.’

    Subsequently some 52,000 Irish, mostly women and sturdy boys and
    girls, were sold to Barbados and Virginia alone. Another 30,000 Irish
    men and women were taken prisoners and ordered transported and sold as
    slaves. In 1656, Cromwell’s Council of State ordered that 1000 Irish
    girls and 1000 Irish boys be rounded up and taken to Jamaica to be sold
    as slaves to English planters. As horrendous as these numbers sound, it
    only reflects a small part of the evil program, as most of the slaving
    activity was not recorded. There were no tears shed amongst the Irish
    when Cromwell died in 1660.”


    I am *always* prepared (and, frankly, happy) to be proven wrong.

    I would be interested in debate on the formal, legal status of the “reds”.

    I would argue, however, that the “status” of *any* individual does not take away from the hardships experienced by *many* in *our* history.

    And, if I may, I continue to be intriqued by the constant presense of money / wealth / profit in all these stories of inhuman (but, empirically, very human) behaviour.

    Even (and especially) today.

  15. It has been recorded that in many of the West Indian islands the Irish slave population outnumbered that of the Africans. This too came about as , the slave traders had to pay a sum for ever African abducted and delivered to them for the onward journey to the West Indies. In Ireland the Irish were hunted down like rabbits and taken aboard, free of any purchase price. , a sort of FOB.

  16. @Galli Cantu: “It has been recorded that in many of the West Indian islands the Irish slave population outnumbered that of the Africans.

    Please present the evidence you claim you have of this.

    Not to say that I don’t believe you. But, not to say that I do, either.

    Please, kind sir. Present the *evidence* you might have.

    It might be worthy of consideration and discussion.

  17. Irish Eyes etc…

    There was never any such thing as an Irish slave in the WI. Irish catholic slave owners were the majority on Montserrat (St. Patty’s day is still a national holiday), prominent on St. Kitts, and Irish protestants on Antigua.

    • Repeat:our great sadness is that we have a proud university which has dropped the ball on the development of solar energy after the death of Professor Headley and now we learn that the documentation of a nugget of our history featuring the red legs may not yet have reach project outline within academic Barbados.

      It is ironic that Sir Hillary Beckles, a historian heads the UWI Cave Hill, we also have Dr. Karl Watson. Please tell us that we are being too harsh!

  18. @ru4real: “Its well documented that there were. 60,000 Irishmen and women were babadosed by Oliver Cromwell.

    What was their *status*? Were they Slaves? Were they Servants? If it was both, what were the numbers? Or at least the ratios?

    *WHERE* is it well documented? simple URLs are fine.

    An interesting (local) historical fact has been raised, and we can’t even come to convergence on the numbers and status….

  19. I think it’s a shame really that historical records are few and far between in Barbados. Those “red legs” of Irish and Scots decent seem not to have kept any written records of their lives over the past 400 years. Isn’t there a King family that lives in the back of beyond somewhere in Barbados?

  20. Did not the brother of the Chief Justice present a documentary on the red legs of Barbados on CBC years ago?

  21. “A mere collector of supposed facts is as useful as a collector of matchboxes.” – Lucien Febvre.

    I think the answer to the ‘white slave question’ may be found in the origin of the word ‘kidnap’… which reminds me of yet another Febvre quote: “It is never a waste of time to study the history of a word”.

  22. We Irish were slaves to the English long before our countrymen were sent to Barbados so why the big surprise?? Up to the 1950’s the Irish were know as the “blacks” of Europe. Ireland was a colony just like any of the islands. Or is it just too difficult to accept that there was such a thing as a white slave??

  23. @David, Chris Halsall, MMMand others:

    The classic text on the subject is To Hell or Barbados: the Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland by Sean O’Callaghan (2001)

    See also an interesting recent (2007) paper by Nini Rodgers (‘Irish Slaves in the Caribbean: an Overview’) – available online:

    There’s also a very interesting Yale University research project (called Tangled Roots) about the shared slave histories of African-Americans/Irish-Americans

    Finally, an Irish film company has made a documentary (still currently in post-production) about this very topic:

    So there is plenty of stuff available – though not necessarily at UWI (not familiar with how History is taught there).

    Worth pointing out however that current Cave Hill Principal Hilary Beckles published some 20 years ago a very interesting paper on Irish Indentured Servants in the Anglophone Caribbean.

    Hope this is useful.

  24. As far as my West Indian history goes, the Irish who came to Barbados were indentured servants. They didn’t work on the plantation like the blacks but in the “massa’s” house. They saw themselves as above the african slave in status and were treated that way. In the ’50’s and “60’s, this class of persons mainly from around New Castle and Martins Bay/Zoares area, were very racist. their children couldn’t be friendly with a black bajan. This has somewhat lessened as time go by, today i see a large amount of young people mixing and this is good for the country.There were a couple of the Irish decendence who did merge into and married blacks many years ago but that was a very small number. My grandfather was one of them.Yes, my grandfather was a “bajan white’ who married a black bajan. Funny they are some “bajan whites” still alive today who had a black grandmother but is too ashame to recognise it.

  25. Like you Scout, my grandmother was ‘bajan white’. Her mother-grandmother-father-sister-uncle-aunt had children with the ‘white supremacy’ on de plantation. So Bonny is a mix-up breed. Sorta fair complexion with ‘doogla’ hair. I could easily be mistaken for GTbanna too, not to mention my offspring. One of my cousins represented us at Ms.World a few moons ago. Bonny ain’t dat cute like she, but I sexyyyyyyyy. (tee-hee)

  26. ” The Scout // January 20, 2009 at 6:40 am

    As far as my West Indian history goes, the Irish who came to Barbados were indentured servants. They didn’t work on the plantation like the blacks but in the “massa’s” house.”

    Check your history Scout. Where do you think the name “redlegs” came from? from when the poor Irish and Scots indentured servants were forced to labour in the fields wearing the same kilts in which they arrived on Cromwell’s slave ships.

    No, you can’t revise history to your liking. Read “To Hell or Barbados,” or any of Prof. Hilary Beckles’ books or Prof. Karl Watson’s boks and articles.

    The Irish were field workers, not house servants. And Barbados was hell to them, just as it was for the African slaves.

  27. Red legs are truly lost. They ain’t nothing like the Irish or Scots.

    We used to get similar stories about Africans, living in mud huts.

    It was so funny how in my youth, I used to be attracted to Irish and Scottish accents. It was also a funny at-home feeling when I first visited Scotland. Did not feel that with England.

    Later, I found out that the story in my family is about an Irish lady who came to Barbados and had three daughters. The sisters all married black men.

    While not much could be ascertained about their husbands, there are many stories about these three sisters who interfaced with black for a moment in time. Some would say corrupting the African lineage.

    The only thing we can say about their husbands is that they were strong men who stood by their wives. I was fortunate enough to have met all of them. One was my grandmother but never knew her as she died before I knew myself. Her two sisters I knew. White women with blue eyes, speckled about the face and flowing silver-blue hair. One lived between T&T and Barbados.

  28. ROK,
    ‘white women with blue eyes’.
    You are describing my grand mother to a T. She was about 5′ tall or shorter but a real ‘devil’ when she ready.
    We like we related yah. Watch ya self.

  29. Some interesting comments/questions mixed with inaccuracies/mythology. But it’s good that the question of the Barbadian poor whites is in the public domain. Many years ago, in another island, I set a final exam question on poor whites and was made to take it out, on the grounds that West Indian poor whites were irrelevant. In the context of the eternal syndrome of rich white/poor black, there is/was no place for poor whites. That is why, from their perspective, upper class whites tended to privilege blacks over poor whites, no kith and kin scenario operated there as is often assumed.
    Now to hopefully clear up/answer some points raised in the many submissions. Red Legs is a pejorative term, albeit widely used in days gone by…less so today. The Irish contributed to the make up of the present poor white population of Barbados, but so did English and Scots. Large numbers of Irish prisioners came to Barbados in the seventeenth century. Their numbers were closer to 8,000, not the exaggerated numbers cited. Yet, there were more Irish here than in the archetypically “Irish” island, Monserrat. They were despised before they came here and the conditions under which they lived and worked led to excessive mortality. Were the Irish or any other West European ethnicity, enslaved people? The answer is NO, so long as we apply the definition of a chattel slave, especially continued slave status by descent. Yes, there are a few documented cases of whites being sold into chattel slavery, but these are few. Indentureship had a time limitation on it..if you could survive the horrendous treatment that these servants endured, then you had a chance through hard work to make it up the ladder. Now here is another mythological statement that has survived. Poor whites were either unwilling or unable to work hard. They were lazy and drunk and only black people could do sustained labour in a tropical environment. Medical research in the early twentieth century confirmed that chronic anemia caused by bad diet and massive hook worm infestation (poor whites walked bare foot) created the symptom which was erroneously diagnosed as laziness. An Irish soldier was given 500 lashes with a cat o’nine on the Garrison savannah for laziness. After hospitalization and recovery, he was again sentenced to another 500 lashes for laziness, this despite the protests of the doctors. He died before the 100th lash and an autopsy revealed that the man had a massive malignant tumor. Humans have always been and continue to be today, distinguished by their ability to inflict unspeakable torture and suffering on each other. We are a complex, sometimes irrational species, capable of great good and terrible evil.
    It is true that the written records leave much to be desired..most poor whites were semi or illiterate. But Jill Sheppard, Peter Simmonds, Hilary Beckles and myself among others, have attempted to tell their story. These works are available in libraries. For those interested, consult the Journal of Caribbean HistoryVol. 34 (2000) where I published an article “Walk and Nyam Buckra.” This tells the story of the approximately 2000 poor whites and their families who were thrown off the plantations at emancipation and left to fend for themselves. Alarmed at the numbers of elderly whites and children who had starved to death, the then governor sponsored an emigration scheme of whites to St Vincent, Bequia and Grenada. Their descendants still live on these islands today. Jamaica refused to accept Barbadian “walk and nyam buckra.”
    A few last comments. A majority of white Barbadians (some 65 to 75 per cent) were poor. It is only within the last sixty years that many families achieved middle clas status, but there are still several very poor white families on this island. Many whites owned no slaves and were treated like slaves by the slave owners and disdained/scorned by the slaves themselves.
    It would have been better to have put a picture of Rhianna Fenty as an example of a succesful poor white descendant as opposed to Sir Charles Williams, whose ancestry puts him higher up in the Barbadian social ladder.
    Finally, this issue is quite complex and I have just scratched the surface. Hopefully, a book I am now preparing, on the history of Barbadian whites will answer some of these questions. Here is the opening line. “This book is about white Barbadians whose story has never been adequately told. They deserve a work of this type. However, it is also the story of Barbadian blacks, who over the centuries and generations helped to shape and mould the lives, characters, world view and culture of their fellow islanders.”

  30. Dr.Watson

    Thanks for your contribution, the BU family welcomes it!

    A BU concern still remains and we are cognisant of your contribution.

    Why the lack of a solid body of works to represent the contribution of Poor Whites? We read your explanation about the lack of record keeping by Poor Whites and the other players but we are not convinced yet that our historians have done enough.

  31. Karl Watson: Thanks for the information contained in your post. I will be looking for The Journal of Caribbean History vol. 4 at my library. Hopefully I will have better luck with this book as they do not have O’Callaghan’s “Hell or Barbados”.

  32. Having now studied the evidence and heard the arguments perhaps, David will now address the central question of whether to ban the use of the term, ‘red-legs’!! However, I’m not seriously, hopeful of an answer!!

  33. Hi from ireland . What amazes me is how it looks like nobody was immune from slaving ..the book The Stolen Village by Des Ekin relates the tale of a whole sea fishing villages population from Cork Ireland (village is baltimore)being captured by Barbary slavers and brought to Algiers & sold as slaves in the 1600s. It gets better though..those captured were not irish but were recent english protestant settlers in ireland , and a theory has it that a local catholic irishman engineered the thing to get clear legal possession of the town.

  34. Ian, I’ve heard of this episode before. However, my people were taken-in i.e. duped, by your (white) people, far more than anybody else!!

    What cretins!!

  35. I am all for looking at this question of poor whites, but surely the question should be dealt with by David Thompson, in whose seat most of them reside. If the PM can’t do something about it, what hope is there other than for Cow and Bizzy to do something. The two of them got enough money to do the right thing.

  36. Hi also from Ireland,

    Very interesting information. I have read O’Callaghan “To Hell or Barbados” and it’s a great read.
    No question some English from back then considered the Irish as sub-human and treated them accordingly. But don’t forget that St Patrick – the most revered Irishman of them all – was himself probably British and originally captured as a slave by the Irish. It’s a tangled web of DNA all over the world. Hopefully we are moving on to new horizans with Obama.

  37. David, I think that most accepted historical narratives have St. Patrick as an Irishman, who was taken captive to France, and then returned to Ireland and evangelized the Irish with his distinctive Celtic form of Catholicism, which is far different from Roman Catholicism.

    As for Obama – or is that O’Bama, the Irishman? – God Bless him, but he’s already been laden with unrealistic, messianic expectations, like all incoming American presidents. Hopefully he’ll be different…

  38. 199 // January 20, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Having now studied the evidence and heard the arguments perhaps, David will now address the central question of whether to ban the use of the term, ‘red-legs’!! However, I’m not seriously, hopeful of an answer!!


    Obviously, David, already has and doubtless, BFP also, will pretend not to have seen the above request, or it they have, will be incapable of taking a decision about it and making that decision known to all of us and then they criticise others for indeciseveness and slowness of action!! As usual with Bajans, let’s just pretend we did n’t see it, but then, please don’t criticise the DLP, BLP or anybody else for their own comotose-reactions!!

  39. 199

    Even if you are not a red leg, people must be calling you that by your appearance. Maybe you should put up an argument for banning the term?

  40. Deaspora-ite
    Historians differ on their writings. I’m telling you what I was taught in West Indian history back in the ’60’s when I was at secondary school.I don’t know about Karl Watson but Prof Hilary Beckles would have been in junior school then. As read then, the only “red legs” that were in the fields are the ones sent there for punishment by the “massa.”

  41. All I can say wrote

    “All I can say is, BU upsetting de apple cart. Though all my days we were led to believe that only us blacks were brought here as slaves…The buffoons at Cave Hill ain’t gonna be pleased”

    The history teachers at cave Hill are not buffoons. I don’t know where you went to school, but in my history classes way back int he 1960’s I certainly learned about the “poor whites” and how they came to be in Barbados.

    But maybe all you can say did not think history was important and skipped history classes.

    The term red legs has always been impolite. The tern poor white is more of a neutral descriptor

  42. Even today the poor whites in Bequai are know as Bajans even tough they have been living in St. Vincent since the 1840’s

    I agree with Karl Watson that the poor whites are not lazy. I knew (know) Rihanna’s great aunt, a poor white Bajan from St. John. She is a decent hard working, working class Bajan woman. If Rihanna is reaping success because of her talent and hard work it may be partly because she came from a family which valued and practised hard work.

  43. @David

    Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines pejorative as “to make or become worse….having negative connotations; tending to disparage or belittle”.

    When I was growing up both the labels “redlegs” and “ecky becky” were interchangeable to disparage or belittle poor whites – I agree with Bimbro aka 199.

  44. Thank you, ‘Duppy Lizard’! I don’t know what further convincing David could possibly, require!! To me, it’s what we term in the UK, ‘a no-brainer’!! i.e. you don’t need a brain to see that a thing is wrong or right and in this case, it’s OBVIOUSLY, insulting!

    The light-skinned men here had made their case, so have I and others and David, still “has n’t seen the evidence to be fully convinced”!

    Well, all I can say is, you must need a very, great deal of convincing, David or is it a lack of sheer MORAL-GUTS to acknowledge that something is wrong, even when it’s so blatantly, so!!

    I feel less, proud of being a Bajan, today!!

  45. David, you are blessed with both the opportunity and the privilege (which I so wish that I had) of, at a stroke, by declaring your opposition to the use of the term, ‘red-legs’ and your promise to ban it’s use on your site, to, in effect, become a minor-Primeminister of Barbados, and make Bim a better place in which to live, just like you and BFP are always, calling on the government to do!! Will you have the moral courage and strength to do it!!

    You never know, if you set the example, BFP might also, find the courage to do the same and the Barbados, media houses might also, follow suit!

    Would n’t that be a major achievement both for me and you, and raise the reputation of Barbados in the eyes of the international community!!

  46. My paternal great grandmother was a bajan white with long straight hair and blue eyes. Her given birth surname was Small, which had its origins in Ireland. From St. Lucy to St. Philip on the eastern coast of Barbados these Irish and Scottish descendants have existed mostly isolated and unnoticed for centuries.

    I made a trip in January 2006 to Ireland and visited Dublin, Meath, Tipperary and Limerick and was amazed at the striking similarities in infrastructure etc. between the Emerald Isle and Barbados. Not to mention the friendly, welcoming attitude of the people who warmed to me even though I am black. I’ll tell you too that when I first flew over the wetlands en route to Shannon airport at about sunrise I had a wierd feeling of “coming home”, just as I feel as I fly into Grantley Adams Airport.

    It would be a great thing if the government would establish relations with the Republic of Ireland, allow Aer Lingus to fly direct into Barbados, which would not only attract common Irish folk to our island in preference to spending their Euros with the Arabs in Dubai but would also expose Bajans to their kinfolk in Ireland. Incidentally the only other place in the world I’ve heard our classic cuss word “SHITE”, was in a pub in Dublin and on more than one occasion.

    • “Incidentally the only other place in the world I’ve heard our classic cuss word “SHITE”, was in a pub in Dublin and on more than one occasion.” –
      You never been to Scotland , then SM ? 😉
      On a more serious note there were also English transported to Barbados – convicted at Bloody Assizes after 17c. rebellion in SW England.( see link )
      Is there not a bit of a south-west English “twang” to Bajan accent ?????

  47. The clock is ‘running down’, David!! Who will be the first to save Barbados’ soul!! You or BFP!! The clock, David!! The clock!!

  48. Sir Hilary Beckles was once a firebrand, challenging often the powers that be on sundry social issues, but the gave him a knighthood, sanctioned by the British monarchy, various perks, de facto control of the real estate at Cave Hill….

    Talk about trading your birthright for a “mess of pottage”. Where was his voice when the ROCK HALL-BLACK BESS-SPRING HEAD properties, where he saw his formative years, were sold off to foreign interests? He too suffers from the “OWEN ARTHUR SYNDROME”. To quote a Cave Hill Campus employee “all Hilary care ’bout is cricket”.

  49. “Oh to be white and poor; an exercise in contradictions”

    Red-leg is a perfectly respectable word that is a permanent part of the Bajan historical narrative. There is no need to start revising history. Red-legs were not a noble race. They were a source of embarrassment to the general white population, and a financial drain on the colony. These welfare queens refused to work, and spent most of their time begging from their betters and lording their whiteness over the slaves.

  50. de gap – on second thought moron is too polite – but it’s way too crude to spell out here, however, I’ll give you a hint – it starts with c and ends with e, there are 8 letters.

  51. So, David, both you and BFP have failed us, again!! Do you now, still have the gaul to criticise the government for slowness of action??

    In future, whenever either of you do, we shall remember this!! Cowardice breeds cowardice – and I’m not even a ‘r*d l*g’!!

  52. @Bimbro

    So far no cogent arguments against the use of the word redlegs, only emotionalisms. Should we stop using mulatto or creole as well? Some dispassionate and empirical positions please!

  53. David, u make me laugh, Sir. How can u even begin to contemplate placing the term ‘r*d l*gs’ in the same category as creole and mulatto!! Anyhow, I’m giving up on this one. It’s for the r*d l*gs to argue their own case! If they’re not bothered I don’t see why I should be!!

  54. David, I suppose it’s like any word really. It depends who is using it and why. Fat*o, Cripp*e, the n word etc. People use derogatory words about themselves and that seems to be accepted but other people using them can be very insulting. Why not be consistent here with the tern RedL*g?

  55. “The most wretched species”

    Duppy lizard,

    Weekend historians would be well advised to leave serious scholarship to those who are most able, and save your no-class, red-leg, vulgarity for your bastards.

  56. Scout, I’ve just noticed your post on BFP re: Rihanna and so agree with you!!

    They have n’t published my response but here it is reproduced as faithfully, as I can, word for word!!

    “Rumboy, if you don’t care then either (a) you’re not a Barbadian, or (b) you’re a huge, c*nt”!!

    Rihanna forever!!

    Now, back to r*d l*gs!! 🙂

  57. Re: R*d L*gs: At this rate it’ll take Barbadians 100 years to begin to DISCUSS ITAL legislation, nevermind pass it into law!! ‘Barbadian time’, I guess, or the sun, perhaps!!

  58. 199, your comment “Barbadian time” reminds me of this exchange I heard somewhere.
    “Spanish singer Julio Iglesias was on television with British TV host Anne Diamond when he used the Spanish word “mañana”).

    Diamond asked him to explain what it meant. He said that the term means, “Maybe the job will be done tomorrow, maybe the next day, maybe the day after that. Perhaps next week, next month, next year, who cares?”

    The host turned to Irishman Shay Brennan who was also on the show and asked him if there was an equivalent term in Irish.

    “No. In Ireland we don’t have a word to describe that degree of urgency.”

    Soon come, man!

  59. @Dissident: “”No. In Ireland we don’t have a word to describe that degree of urgency.”

    Now, my question is, was that not possibly the most brilliant bit of humour you’ve ever heard?

    (For the record, to the best of my understanding, I have absolutely no connection with the Irish.

  60. Thanks for that ‘Dissident’!! And, Chris, you’re right – brilliant!! I’m not Irish but, VAL DOONICAN FOREVER!!

  61. Great discussion, bar a couple of useless comments.I think like with most of the atrocities through time can be dicussed and some people will always defend the crimes that was done and the people that done them by simply making the victims out to be a sub human race. This is how it was always done and is still done today(Palistine). However I think the Irish government has a responsibility to investigate and acknowledge their existence with the co-operation of the barbados government and all other races that were involved in the horrible time that yet again was another mess left over by the british empire. The irish that did end up in barbados were treated worse than most because they were papist! but I’m not saying that to out-do any other race, its a fact by the little records that were kept. I think ye should you tube irish singer damien dempsey for his haunting tune on the issue called ” to hell or barbados”. Dissident love that peice, classic irish wit!!

  62. Have been reading this right thru..nn am lol…am aware of a few names yah wunna is bajan..but nutin wron wid de word REDLEG…bajans ain’t got all dem hang ups …I inbred n got np wid fadda from St.John he family is one of dem gran was a hardd ass workin woman who provided for her children , her husband died n OLD MAN Gill tek she in n she had my hard workin man from the time he was 13..n @ 70 still wukkin hard..they were poorrr but luvin..he has EARNED his STATUS here in BIM..he married a poor black woman from town n had us 4…we were brought up up to be proud of WHO were R….I AM ME..A PROUD HUMAN BEING…MIXED …I don’t see black or white..blacks see me as too white lookin n whites see me as too black , when I was growing up…all my relatives were mixed and there was no name calling..I remembered when my daughter was in FLA studying ( her dad is Indian) , she was asked on a form she was filling out RACE: what the hell!!! what difference will it make ?? Black or white..there was no other..what is an OTHER??? someone not important?? stupse…I told her put HUMAN..datz my race…Y all the analizing??? will it change anything Present or past??? The slaves were dragged here , de indentured irish were also..they were impregnated by will or not..n we BAJANS PROUD WERE BORN!!!! wud u survive all the hardships in Africa..what if ur ancestor was left in the jungle what then??what if ur Irish ancestor roamed de hills…is that what u wanted?? am GLAD I had this opportunity for whatever the worth was..they made it


    Persons who were humble, spiritual and loving! We knew about the stars and respected our women! I am sorry that we could not continue schools like Timbuktu! I am sorry that I couldn’t love my own enough that I could have seen what a great nation we were wern’t so friendly!

    Then we could not have been raped metaphorically, spiritually and worst of all literally!

    The sky would have been our limit! I guest it was not our destiny! What a shame!

  64. Somebodyelse also reckons there is a English West Country “lilt” to Bajan
    “Bajan uses a mixture of British English and West African syntax, with much of the pronunciation of words sharing similarities with the lilt of the West Country dialects of England”
    If anybody on here knows Ronald’s Rum Shop in Reed Street – say “howdie” from David & Stephen in London.

  65. Talking about Ireland & Caribbean – here’s some extracts from introduction to The Marcus Garvey & UNIA Papers edited by Robert A. Hill –
    Far more than any other nationalist struggle, the Irish revolutionary struggle assisted in focusing Garvey’s political perspective. Dramatically symbolized in the “blood sacrifice” of the Easter Week Rising of 1916. the Irish cause provided the major ideological mainspring for Garvey’s radical political transformation. Even the slogan made famous by Garvey, “Africa for the Africans at home and abroad,” echoed the oft-repeated Irish slogan “the Irish race at home and abroad.”

    Garvey’s subsequent stay in England during 1912 to 1914 coincided with the period of uninterrupted crisis in both England and Ireland over Irish home rule, which climaxed in the Irish independence struggle, the Easter Rising of 1916. After World War I, Garvey repeatedly acknowledged his identification with the heroic epic of the Irish struggle. Speaking at the formal dedication of Liberty Hall, the UNIA’s general meeting place, in July 1919, Garvey announced that “the time [had] come for the Negro race to offer up its martyrs upon the altar of liberty even as the Irish [had] given a long list from Robert Emmet to Roger Casement.” The name chosen for the UNIA meeting place reflected an appreciation for Liberty Hall, Dublin, the symbolic seat of the Irish revolution and the site where the Irish Citizen Army had launched the Easter Rising on 23 April 1916.

    When the long-awaited UNIA convention opened on Sunday night, 1 August 1920, amid great pomp in Madison Square Garden, Garvey began his speech by announcing dramatically:
    “I have in my hand . . . a telegram to be sent to the Hon. Edmund De Valera, [sic] President of the Irish Republic: –
    25,000 Negro delegates assembled in Madison Square Garden in mass convention, representing 400,000,000 Negroes of the world, send you greetings as President of the Irish Republic. Please accept sympathy of Negroes of the world for your cause. We believe Ireland should be free even as Africa shall be free for the Negroes of the world. (loud applause) Keep up the fight for a free Ireland. Marcus Garvey, President-General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.” (applause)

    Shortly after the close of the first UNIA convention, Liberty Hall was the scene of a meeting attended by about fourteen Irish sympathizers. Speeches were delivered by Dudley Field Malone and other leaders of the boycott of English ships, which had been called by Irish longshoremen in order to try to force the British government’s release of Terence MacSwiney, the lord mayor of Cork. MacSwiney’s hunger strike, according to Robert Kee, “uniquely concentrated attention from all over the world on the spirit and determination of Irish militants” (The Green Flag, p. 696). Indeed, at the closing session of the first UNIA convention, Garvey announced that he had dispatched a telegram “to Father Dominick, confessor of the Lord Mayor of Cork, and it read ‘Convey to McSwiney [sic] sympathy of 400,000,000 Negroes'” (NW, Saturday, 11 September 1920).
    Following the convention, the Bureau of Investigation reported that Garvey sent Rev. J. W. Selkridge “down to the docks to urge all the Negro longshoremen not to load British ships, which pleased the Irish strikers, who learned that Garvey had sent him down to aid them” (DNA, RG 65, file OG 329359). A measure of Garvey’s immense reverence for MacSwiney, who finally died on the seventy-third day of his hunger fast, can be gained from his declaration: “Hundreds and thousands of Irishmen have died as martyrs to the cause of Irish freedom. . . . They compelled the attention of the world and I believe the death of McSweeney [sic] did more for the freedom of Ireland today than probably anything they did for 500 years prior to his death” (NW, 17 December 1921).

    The Irish have succeeded, first among the trio of Egypt, India and Ireland, in winning a place of mastery among the nations of the worlWhile the future of Ireland hung precariously in the balance, Garvey did not delay in declaring his stand on the treaty. On 11 December 1921, before the critical debate in the Irish parliament, Garvey summoned a special mass meeting at Liberty Hall. He spoke on “Ireland and Africa,” stating that “we have a cause similar to the cause of Ireland.” Garvey made plain his support for the negotiated settlement with England: “I am glad that Ireland has won some modicum of self-government. I am not thoroughly pleased with the sort of freedom that is given to them, but nevertheless I believe that they have received enough upon which they can improve. . . .” Garvey then read a cable, to be sent to the leading Irish treaty negotiator Arthur Griffith, signed “Marcus Garvey, Provisional President of Africa.” The cable informed Griffith: “Six thousand of us assembled in Liberty Hall, New York, representing the four hundred million Negroes of the world, send you congratulations on your masterly achievement of partial independence for Ireland. The stage is set for a greater day for Ireland. Long live the new Irish Free State.”

    Immediately after the treaty was ratified by the Irish Republican parliament, Garvey issued the following announcement:
    d. Some time last night the Irish Parliament, with a majority of seven, voted for the ratification of the agreement . . . thus elevating Ireland and the Irish people from the position of serfs, peons, to that of masters.

    The evolution of Garvey’s ideology of political nationalism closely mirrored the rise and fall of the two historic phases of the Irish nationalist movement, namely, the constitutional nationalism of home rule and the revolutionary nationalism of Sinn Fein.

    The harsh and violent transition between the two paved the way for Garvey’s own transitional development. From being dependent on his alliance with the “liberal-minded” wing of the colonial and imperial establishments, Garvey found that his admiration of the revolutionary nationalism of Sinn Fein, under conditions of violent racial upheaval in America, refocused his articulation of the race question: “Africa must be for the Africans, and them exclusively.” This ideological transition, moreover, was enhanced and deepened by Garvey’s identification with the awe-inspiring blood sacrifice of Irish patriotic martyrdom, which symbolized in very dramatic ways both the recovery of Irish political independence and racial redemption. Thus, if Garvey’s rapid entry into the swirling currents of postwar nationalist agitation did contribute to the turbulent quality of the epoch, he was guided to a remarkable degree by the example of the Irish struggle waged both in Ireland and from America.

    The figure most symbolic of the Irish movement was Eamon de Valera. As Garvey admitted in July 1932, “we have watched his career for several years both in Ireland and the U.S.A., where he carried on a relentless propaganda in the interest of Irish Republicanism.” He stated further, “we understand him (de Valera) and the spirit of the people he represents.” In the long shadow cast by the totemic figure of Eamon de Valera, Garvey’s perception of politics experienced a radical new life, while the black republicanism of the UNIA’s political program of African self-determination was emblematic of revolutionary Irish republicanism between 1919 and 1921.

  66. Does anybody know if Karl Watson’s article “Walk & Nyam Buckra” is available online ?
    ( Is the rough english translation “poor homeless white folk” ? )

  67. I read O’Callaghan’s book about 7 years ago. As an Irish American, I found it fascinating so when I visited Barbados I went over to that area to see what I could see. Despite O’Callaghan’s warnings in his book that they (RL’s) weren’t friendly, I had a couple wave to me as I drove through up a hill in my rental car. I stopped at a bar down the hill and spoke to the very kind owner. Then I actually met a Poor white in person. He was at the bar and had no shoes on which sort of surprised me. He was a nice fellow. We chatted a bit, he and I and my wife. Just one Irish descendant to another. I haven’t been to Barbados in a few years but I look forward to getting back. The people are as nice as anyplace I’ve been and I drove all over the island exploring from one end to the other.

  68. well done john, I commend you for seeking out what these people are really like and am glad you discovered what you did because it gives me great heart to believe your story as opposed to the usual stereotyping that follows with people in similars social circumstances world wide for example the same would be said of native americans, aboriginies and of course what was said by the brits about the irish themselves back in the day, which was they are or were dangerous drunks,lazy, inbreed and cannot be helped so should be left to rot. In all these situations with these different races are choked and welded into this sub-human life by devastating after effects of been raped of their culture and rightful place on this earth. nobody can change the past but through testimonies like yours john and the acceptance of responibility by thei Irish and the brits, maybe just maybe things could change for these irish decendents robbed from their land and sent to hell, but you know what john your word and people like yourself can cause in effect more positive good than any government effort so more power to ya john. Some day i will make the visit myself. Slan!

  69. I find this discussion quite fascinating. I’d been aware of poor whites in the West Indies for some time, and took the opportunity of being in Barbados to poke around Scotland district, where I did indeed see some ‘red*egs’. I also had the opportunity to meet some white Bajans, who I found a bit strange if I am frank. To be honest, I doubt that many of them have a great deal of Irish or Scottish blood. It is merely fashionable to claim to have some, as many Americans do. I do think that the Bajan accent has more than a passing resemblance to the Irish/Scottish, but I noticed the white Bajan accent is quite different – I thought it was more like the Trinidad accent, having a vaguely South Wales Valleys quality to it. Looking at the history of Barbados I noticed that the original colony ships set sail from places like Bristol, Southampton and Liverpool, and the surnames of white Bajans seem to be surnames that are common in these parts of Britain – e.g. Gooding, Greaves,Marshall, Cole, Beale, Davis, King, Gibson – all common around South West England and South Wales – Medford – common in Cheshire and Liverpool. Fenty is one of the few classic white Bajan surnames that is certainly Scottish in origin, being a very rare surname in Fife. If you are a white Bajan there is a strong chance you will find your ancestors not in lists of Irish ‘slaves’ but in the lists of Bristol servants e.g.

    Not of course to denigrate the poor treatment of many indentured servants!

  70. my name is rhea bown i go to school at queens college my fiiends are davina shona and somalia i am in 1delta shona is really ugly my friend is also terryann

  71. Pingback: Government to help Irish in Barbados? | – about Irish emigration and the diaspora

  72. The Scots Gaelic for ‘God” is ‘Dia’ pronounced ‘Ja’. I’ve been told the word for ‘God’ also sounds the same in the Barbados. Is this just a coincidence?

  73. Does anyone know of any charitable organisations working with these poor white groups in Barbados?
    Web searches have yielded nothing so far.


  74. My father was black, my mother white & from the then British Guiana, now Guyana. As a boy growing up in Port of Spain Trinidad I was called ‘redman’ even by adults & children who knew me well. My christian name David was rarely used. This was my recollection from about the age of 9 or so, onwards. When I became a teenager, redman started to change to David.
    When I emigrated to America as a young man in the mid fifties. In the southern states, I was called ‘boy’!
    Laugh? I nearly cried.
    Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados….I love you so.

  75. I am from Ireland just returned from a trip to Barbados having read Sean O’Callaghan’s To Hell or Barbados. Although we toured the island I only spotted 2 people who looked vaguely Irish to me! We Irish always recognise each other abroad even though the Irish “look” can vary considerably. Although finally at the airport we were met by a young white man who told us he was of Irish descent – finally. Sadly the National Museum at Garrison Savannah does not give one mention to this strata of Bajan society, it is like they have been airbrushed out

  76. John MacLean from Scotland & Neil Johnston from Barbados:

    As it happens, 30th November marks the anniversary of the death of that great Scottish internationalist and workers’ republican, John Maclean , who was imprisoned for his beliefs. Now, it is not usual to celebrate deaths, but when Maclean died, on November 30th, 1923, a massive demonstration accompanied his funeral. Workers commemorated his life of resistance and struggle.

    Furthermore, it is thought that Maclean died of pneumonia, partly because he generously loaned his only overcoat to a visiting black socialist, Neil Johnston, from Barbados. Maclean put his internationalism into practice, whether over support for struggles in Ireland and India, or for overseas comrades visiting Scotland.
    Allan Armstrong , SSP , Edinburgh

  77. Pingback:

  78. I’m Canadian of Irish descent, and I’m going to Barbados soon, I hope I run into one of my long-lost cousins down there! I loved reading about the links between Irish independence and the struggle of blacks for justice and freedom.

    Freedom for all oppressed people, everywhere!

    Eire go bragh!

    • You may not get a warm reception. The redlegs live in abject poverty from what i’ve heard and suffer from a variety o diseases especially diabetes. Hundreds of years after Cromwell and his brother are gone their legacy lives on.

  79. I as a Barbadian and a history buff I would appreciate a copy of this rich and historical documentary. My address, “ Thank you.

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  81. why have the irish government done zilch to try anf contact and help REDLEGS.ridiculous.i am interested in going there to record and document their history,language style,and interesting as the black irish of montserrat-the only place outside IRELAND that celebrates ST PATRICKS DAY,and has an IRISH coat of arms.

  82. Re: video link above on Barbados’ed – Scotland’s Sugar Slaves , broadcast on BBC Scotland 2009 – has been removed from YouTube – Here’s link to first 13mins

  83. This article provides a detailed examination of the socio-legal distinctions between servitude and slavery, and argues that it is misleading, if not erroneous, to apply the term “slave” to Irish and other indentured servants in early Barbados.
    While not denying the hardships suffered by indentured servants, referring to white servants as slaves deflects the experiences of millions of persons of African birth or descent.
    We systematically discuss what we believe are the major socio-legal differences and the implications of these difference between indentured servitude and the chattel slavery that uniquely applied to Africans and their descendants.

The blogmaster dares you to join the discussion.