History of Barbados


The two most considerable events in the history of Barbadoes, and those to which Bryan Edwards had directed his chief attention, are the imposition of the 4½ per cent. tax granted by the colonial legislature as a permanent revenue to the crown, and the two navigation acts establishing the monopoly of the mother country. On the first of these subjects Mr. Poyer has added nothing to the statement of his predecessor, and on the second very little; yet this little deserves notice. Our readers will remember that the navigation laws, so much extolled by all the advocates of the mercantile system of political economy, originated in an act passed by the long parliament in 1650, for the double purpose of punishing the colonists of Barbadoes for their stubborn attachment to the cause of royalty, and of injuring the Dutch, whose trade with the island was no less profitable to themselves than advantageous to the refractory settlement.

Mr. Poyer has given us, on this occasion, a summary of the manifesto which was set forth by the legislature of the island, and which is interesting from its near resemblance, both in point of argument and of expression, to the declaration afterwards issued by the Americans on their final rupture with Great Britain.

But the fruitless resistance which followed this manifesto having been too short to excite much indignation, or even attention, in the mother country, was soon forgotten; the obnoxious act was openly recognised and secretly evaded, till after the restoration of Charles II.; when it was revised and amplified, and enforced with a rigour which effectually precluded the colonies from all intercourse with foreign nations.

The establishment of a colony in Barbadoes was begun, in 1625, by thirty adventurers, sent out at the expense of Sir William Courteen, a private merchant; and though near three years elapsed before they received any addition to their numbers, their success was complete. Fortunately the woods, which it was [261] necessary to clear for the purpose of erecting habitations and planting provision-grounds, supplied two valuable articles of commerce, lignum vitæ and fustic, and the report of this discovery and of the fertility of the soil, soon excited the avidity of new speculators, and secured a rapid and regular supply of colonists. Notwithstanding the disputes between the Earls of Carlisle and Marlborough, each of whom claimed the property of the soil under grants from the crown, and the consequent insecurity of all tenures held under either, it was found that in 1636, eleven years after the commencement of the settlement, the number of landholders occupying ten or more acres each was 766. This year forms an important era in our colonial history, being marked by a law ‘authorising the sale of Negroes and Indians for life.’

A second event which had a very considerable influence on the population and agriculture of this colony was the commencement of the culture of the sugar-cane, which was introduced, probably by some Dutch emigrants from Brazil, about the year 1648. This therefore gives another period of about twelve years, during which three great causes contributed to promote the growing prosperity of Barbadoes. 1st. The Dutch, on whose trade the island relied for the supply of various necessary articles, attained, during this period, the highest point of their commercial opulence. 2d. The civil wars in England drove to the colony a number of emigrant-royalists, who carried with them a considerable capital. 3d. The same cause effectually prevented any interference on the part of the mother country in the commercial or agricultural concerns of these industrious islanders. Accordingly their numbers increased so rapidly that their militia amounted to ten thousand infantry and one thousand cavalry; a force which supposes a population of at least 20,000 white persons. The amount of the negroes is not known, but they probably were, at this time, rather less numerous than the whites.

From this period, till the time when the navigation laws and 4½ per cent. tax began to operate, the prosperity of the island appears to have been progressive, but the number of its inhabitants is very differently represented. ‘We are assured’ says Bryan Edwards ‘that about the year 1670, Barbadoes could boast of 50,000 white, and upwards of 100,000 black inhabitants, whose labours, it is said, gave employment to 60,000 tons of shipping. I suspect that this account is much exaggerated.’ Of this there can be no doubt. Hughes, who is likely to be correct, reduces these numbers to 30,000 whites and 70,000 negroes. This may perhaps appear inconsiderable, till it is recollected that such an estimate assigns to Barbadoes a white population [262] which, in proportion to its extent of territory, exceeds that of the mother country.

The monopoly established by the mother country, whether politic or unwise, manifestly altered all the commercial relations of the colony, and introduced a new order of things, which has now subsisted during near a century and a half. In the course of this time Barbadoes has lost about one half of its white inhabitants, and has, by means of an unceasing annual importation, barely kept up its original stock of negroes. Antigua and Nevis, the only British sugar islands whose colonization was at all advanced before the introduction of the new system, have experienced a similar decline. Our subsequent settlements, the genuine children and nurslings of our mercantile policy, resemble garrisons rather than colonies; their white inhabitants forming scarcely a tenth of their total population.

The attainment of a predominant share, or if possible of a monopoly, of the slave-trade was, during the whole of the 17th, and part of the 18th century, a favourite object of British policy; rather from the hope that this might facilitate some access to the wealthy provinces of Spanish America, than from any anxiety to secure the supply of our own settlements, whose wants [263] were then very inconsiderable. It happened, indeed, that a taste for chartered companies was no less prevalent than the desire of sharing the treasures of Spain, and though four African companies were successively created, they successively failed, without much affecting, in any way, the prosperity of our West Indian possessions. The full influence of the slave-trade monopoly could only be felt when the commerce began to be carried on with the skill and enterprise and profusion which always characterise the exertions of English merchants; but thus carried on, it excited a boundless spirit of speculation amongst the colonists, by offering them an inexhaustible stock of power immediately applicable to the extension of their culture; and it became the presiding genius of colonial agriculture, instead of being an humble minister to its wants, and dependant on its progress. The island of Jamaica, which owed its first English population to a disbanded army, and its wealth to the exploits of the buccaneers, had scarcely made any advance in cultivation when it was selected in 1689 by the contractors who had engaged to supply the Spanish settlements, as a place of deposit for their negroes; and it continued ever after to distribute, either by means of an authorized or of a contraband trade, no inconsiderable portion of the wretches imported from Africa.

From the reports presented in 1787 to the privy council, it appears that, of the slaves imported into all our islands during the preceding four years, not quite two-thirds were retained. Now, what became of the remaining third? They were reshipped at a considerable expence; they were exposed to an increased mortality; they were exported to a foreign market, where they must have come in competition with the rival cargoes of other foreign traders; and they were sent merely at a venture, because, had they been collected in Africa for the purpose of supplying some certain or even probable demand, they would have gone directly to the place of their destination. Such a trade, it is evident, could not have subsisted for a moment had it not been supported on the basis of a monopoly in our own colonial markets. In every island therefore which became the scene of this monstrous transit-trade, there was always an annual superfluity of imported slaves; in each of them the number of the negroes retained must have represented, not only the amount of its natural demand for the support of its cultivation, but that of all the sales which could be negociated between adventurers eager to attempt the settlement of a new plantation, and merchants who preferred a distant payment to the trouble and risk of seeking a new market.

in 1774, the Assembly of Jamaica took the alarm, and endeavoured by the imposition of a heavy duty, to check the inundation of imported savages. But though they proved, by authentic documents transmitted to the Privy Council, that the annual importation had so rapidly increased as to exceed the whole existing white population of the island, the Governor was directed to refuse the royal assent to the bill, as infringing on the commercial supremacy of this country.

Barbadoes, that in his time the proportion of white servants on the plantations was as high as one to four negroes. We suspect that at the time of the Navigation Act it was as one to six or perhaps eight. In a century after this it seems, by an estimate in Campbell’s ‘Political Survey,’ to have been nearly as one to twenty.

In Jamaica, we are told that a law was formerly past, enjoining the planters, under a heavy penalty, to maintain one white servant for every thirty negroes; but that the penalty has been so generally incurred, that this penal law is at length become a lucrative branch of revenue.

evident that, wherever a society consists solely of free men vested with authority, and of mere slaves, a great numerical disparity between these two classes is the worst evil that can befal the community. It has an obvious tendency to produce insurrection on one side, and harshness on the other

There are many persons who appear to expect, from the mere Abolition of the Slave-trade, a remedy for all the grievances which our colonists endure or have endured, and we should be happy to indulge the same sanguine hopes. The abolition is, we believe, the only measure dictated by honourable motives, which has ever emanated from the imperial right of monopoly, the right of determining whether, and where, our colonists shall sell what they raise, and buy what they want. It proscribes, throughout the extent of the British empire, many flagrant abuses, under the same authority which first introduced and then justified them: it is, with respect to Africa, an act of self-denial and of benevolence; but towards our colonists it is merely restrictive, and, whilst it enjoins improvement, it supplies no means of effecting it. These, we are persuaded, would be found in a relaxation of the monopoly-system; a system which seems to have originated, not in justice or policy, but in metaphor.

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