A Seventeenth Century Commentary on Labor and Military Problems in Barbados

1973 (J. S. Handler and L. Shelby) “A Seventeenth Century Commentary on Labor and Military Problems in Barbados.” JBMHS 34: 117-121.

The anonymously authored manuscript reproduced below * was written in late 1667 (or early 1668) towards the end of, or shortly after, England’s war with the French and Dutch. Barbados was approaching the peak of its economic prosperity and its preservation as an English possession was of great concern; it was especially important that the island be able to defend itself militarily. Aside from the condition of Barbadian fortifications, the militia was, to many observers, considerably weakened by the decline in the European population, especially the poorer elements upon whose services the militia depended for its effectiveness.

The very forces that had been responsible for Bardadian economic prosperity now militated against retention of the island’s European population. The expansion of sugar plantations debilitated the small land-holding system, thus depriving many poor Europeans of what had primarily motivated their coming to Barbados in the first place; or, in the case of indentured servants, of what had encouraged them to stay when their period of service was over. With the loss of Europeans and the concomitant rise in dependency upon African slaves, it became increasingly difficult to fill the host of artisan and other specialized roles needed for the maintenance of sugar plantations. Plantation owners began to fill these positions with their slaves, thereby further lessening opportunities in the island for poor Europeans.


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