Trail of slavery
Last Saturday the legacy of slavery in Barbados was explored by scores of tourists, locals and returning nationals as they visited various sites around the island.
The tour was part of the inaugural Freedom Footprints: The Barbados Story, which is being organized by the Barbados Museum & Historical Society under the direction of the Ministry of Tourism.
Bright sunshine provided the ideal setting for not only a learning experience but also a trip back in time to discover the significance of places in Barbados usually bypassed without any knowledge of their original purpose or use.
The story unravelled as the four-hour tour left the Barbados Museum. Tour guides Celia Alleyne and Victor Cooke, armed with facts and dates, shared tales that illuminated the history of many places, buildings, and monuments in the vicinity of the Garrison and Bridgetown.
First on the agenda was the Garrison historic area, where the British had placed emphasis on fortifying the island to guard against attacks, specifically through the building of St Ann’s Fort, one of many forts erected to protect Bridgetown, thereby contributing to Britain’s unbroken occupation and rule.
Then it was on to Bridgetown, where a drive through highlighted some of the historic buildings and points of interest in the island’s main town, including the Parliament Buildings and the bridges that give The City its name.
The tour’s first point of interest was The Cage – located at the building which currently houses Chefette at the top of Broad Street – which was an area of detention for individuals who misbehaved or for runaway slaves. A plaque on the eastern side of the building tells of the original significance of the area.
As we headed out of Bridgetown on the way to the Newton Slave Burial Ground we passed the Emancipation Statue at Haggatt Hall, St Michael. At Newton, guide Cooke encouraged the tour group to make some footprints of their own during the trek through the muddy track to the burial ground.
The Newton Slave Burial Ground, an area of about 4 500 square metres, was used as a cemetery for slaves on Newton Plantation. An estimated 570 slaves were buried there, some in low earthen rounds, others in non-mound graves. In the 1970s, excavations at this burial ground revealed valuable archaeological information and some artefacts found there including jewellery
and eating utensils which are on display at the Barbados Museum.
The burial ground is now protected land belonging to the Barbados Museum & Historical Society and there are plans to beautify and enhance the area.
Next stop was Bourne’s Land, Christ Church, one of the first free villages in the island. In 1831, 36 acres at Bourne’s Land was bequeathed by plantation owner John Thomas Bentham to his enslaved mistress and the nine mulatto children he had had with her. The area was then established as a free village.
Just after midday before the tour made its way back to the museum, via Gun Hill Signal Station, a stop was made at Sweet Bottom, St George, at the Sweet Lime bar, where a real Bajan treat was available, including the Saturday staple of pudding and souse.
Sweet Bottom, one of the stops on the itinerary, is the oldest non-white village on the island, developed long before Emancipation. It was created by a bequest in the will of Francis Butcher, owner of Golden Ridge plantation.
Gifts of five four-acre plots of land, stone houses, livestock, and money were bequeathed to the one black slave and Butcher’s four mulatto children.
Located at the bottom of a ridge, the property was among the best agricultural land in the island and was particularly sweet for the free slaves hence the name Sweet Bottom.
The importance of the Signal Station at Gun Hill was revealed during the drive through. Constructed in 1818 primarily for the relaying of information about any impending slave revolts, it was also used to provide information about approaching ships and hurricanes to several other signal stations across the island.
The station at Gun Hill commands an excellent view of the south and West Coast and was erected after 1816 slave rebellion.
“Educational” and “relevant” were some of the many positive words used to describe the tour. Debra Tunis, a visitor to the island, said: “I read about the tour in the newspaper and I thought it would be an interesting thing to learn about the history of Barbados.”
Another visitor added: “It is a great tour – more than just a freedom tour but giving us a whole tour of the island.”
Simone Rudder, a born and bred Bajan who took the trip to get an insight into her past and heritage, said: “It is an excellent product, and I hope the museum and the affiliated entities further develop it, and add a little more value at some stops like at Bourne’s Land.”
Barbadian-born Grace Small, who has visited regularly since leaving the island 30 years ago, said: “The tour is informative. I took the tour because I wanted to touch base with some of my culture. I return every other year but felt I needed to get in touch with some of my history.”
This new tourist attraction will be held first Saturday and third Thursday of each month up until June. Twelve tours are planned. The sites visited represent the first five sites to be identified in Barbados as places of memory related to the transatlantic slave trade and slavery experience and represent Barbados’ contribution to the UNESCO/WTO Cultural Slave Route Project.