Submitted by Looking Glass
Barbados was ‘built’ on agriculture. The early settlers grew crops for food, cotton, indigo and tobacco which were exported to England in exchange for items needed. They imported English ‘bondsmen” (indentures) to do the slave labour. By the 1640s the island with its Dutch style red-roof houses set among spacious parks and clean streets with churches at the crossroads was thought to be a delightful place to live. Stores sold products supplied by the Dutch after an English law obligated settlers to trade only with English firms who in turn decided on the prices to be paid. As the Merrymen reminded us Beautiful Barbados was and remains “the Gem of the Caribbean” and a delightful place to live. Please preserve it. In 1645 Thomas Oldmixin introduced a new settler to Bridgetown then asked: “have you ever seen a better island than this….My friend, this is Little England, and some of us believe it is better than the big one.” The pseudonym lingers today.
Early soil depletion and growing inability to compete in quality and quantity with crops grown in Virginia, Carolina and Georgialed to the introduction of sugar by Oldmixin and with it the increased demand of slave labour. By 1700Barbadoswas by far the largest and best sugar producer. In 1732 Samuel Trevelyan (Trevelyan plantation in Jamaica) visited Oldmixin who had the most profitable sugar business to find out the secrets. But Oldmixin would not divulge them. Later Ned Pennyfeather, owner of the Giralda Inn in the city, directed Samuel to Sir Isaac Tatum who provided the information.
By 1800 Blacks far outnumbered whites and continued to increase by black reproduction (those born locally) much more so than by the importation of slaves. Of course slavery and the sins associated with it continued. But contrary to popular opinion not all slave owners/masters treated their slaves badly. Some gave slaves their freedom long before the abolishment, some recognized their black offspring, and a few of their immediate offspring took black (coloured) wives. Some even passed on part of their wealth to their black offspring.
Related Link: Little England: A Brief Socio-Political History (1)
Nor did all the white settlers favour slavery, at least not as we understand it. Unlike America they believed Niggers had souls and strongly advocated its abolishment. Roundhead Richard Osler objected to a 1650 UK law forbidding certain traffic because it “opposed to the freedom and well being of the country….This will be a slavery far exceeding all that the English Nation has yet suffered.” Christopher Codrington left his plantation (now Codrington College) to the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) to teach slaves to read and write and to educate them.
The passing on of white ‘wealth’ to black offspring around the early 1800s gave birth to a second class structure, the black class structure. It was similar in some respects to the white system but differed remarkably. Based largely on skin colour (different shades of black) it was in effect a differentiation tantamount to social inequality among slaves. With the remarkable decline in black wealth, increased black education and ‘white collar’ employment the system became more differentiated and vicious as it developed, the top and middle each split into three levels.
Within black society discrimination based different shades of black was and remains a form of racism in many ways worst than white racism. The tradesman earning more than the white collar worker remained low class. You couldn’t even get beyond the gate of certain homes. How you were treated depended on who you were and associated with. Play or associate with the bare-foot boys on Weymouth or the Gully Hill and some school mates when in the company of certain souls and others passed you straight or look the other way. Sport was no different. Membership in the Spartan club was restricted regardless of ability and the lines in the lower class Empire club were clearly drawn. Members of both clubs mixed but socialisation remained restricted. By the way ask who ‘discovered’ the great Sir Gary. At a high school ‘debate’ in 1950 sponsored by the British Council it was argued that Harrison College boys should marry Queens College girls and Combermere boys St Michael girls. Low class schools like the Modern, Green Lynch and Rudder just did not qualify. There was no room at the inn for peasantry.
Unlike those at the apex the low class slaves and their offspring made a tremendous contribution. Today they occupy the most prominent positions and professions on the island. A few even became successful in the business arena. The Johnsons were slaves at Colleton Plantation. Alice’s grandfather, old Kenny Pile, recognized his black offspring and treated them well but left them no inheritance. Upon release from slavery they went into business. Their five children (3 boys and 2 girls) gave birth to 3 Prime Ministers. Alice’s sister added a fourth PM. In addition the clan produced a bundle of scholars and professionals, some very prominent there, in Canada, and one exceedingly prominent soul in the USA. Today they are four in Parliament. The black class system introduced and delivered blacks to an eternal tyranny of psychological inferiority and the need for acceptance, recognition and appreciation…And we did it to ourselves, not colonialism or the white man.
The first Jews did not arrive as refuges from Dutch Brazil in 1654, nor was the Synagogue established in the 1600s. The first Jewish settlers arrived from England and Ireland around 1804. The first Jewish indentured slaves arrived in 1832, the second group in 1836, the third group in 1842. Like the English indentures they were given five acres of land after servitude. By the mid 1800s most of the indentures had settled in Speightstown along with the blacks, the settlers mainly south of Bridgetown. Four of those who arrived on the same ship in 1842 chose land in St George, St John and St Philip and started businesses in the city. Today, like the English settlers, they figure very prominently in Bridgetown, the manufacturing sector, own the mayor plantations and remain by far the largest source of employment generation. A former captain of the region’s cricket team was the offspring of another indentured Jew.
In 1862 Colonel Drax, himself an English Jew, ‘recruited’ six Jews from Brazil to work on his estate and at that of his Jewish friend Colonel Holdip. They were the only ones ever to come from Brazil. Nisan managed Drax Hall, his brother Locust Hall. Nisan, himself a brilliant manager, married Annu the highly educated daughter of Chief Dosu. Colonel Holland, an English Jew, gave them HollandBay. (Slavery: A Specious Disposition). They had three children, his brother two. Three of their sons married black women.
Thanks to an Oldmixin law Jews had become free people in 1881, by which time they were a large part of the white population, Roundheads, in government, well represented in business, and renown for presenting gifts of pies filled with gold coins to officials whose services were needed and or were willing to turn a blind to those engaged in business. And Swan Street was called Jew Street.
Yes the Jews needed to have their own place to worship. “I wish you to join me in seeing that a worthy synagogue rise from the ashes that were once my little store; a beautiful temple where the scattered of Israel can sing praises to their God for keeping his promises made to our forefathers.” This statement by Papa Burgos to Captain Ham at a meeting at Trinity Hall in St Peter in 1886 led to the creation of the first synagogue around 1887. Later they considered building a second synagogue in Speightstown.
Contrary to some opinion Jews did not vacate the island but multiplied and contributed substantially to the island’s development. Today a large portion of the black population is of Jewish ancestry. Barbadosis not and never was a caste or a multi-ethnic society. Except for a handful of Indians who arrived from Trinidadin the 1900s the population remains bi-racial. The national social structure consists of two distinct and separate structures /systems based exclusively on colour which is a rarity. Given the economic limitation, education and population increase, the social environment and human relations within the black and white sectors becomes more ‘marked’, complicated and conducive to ‘tension’ especially within the black system, more so with a surplus labour force and educated underemployed.