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Saturday, June 12th, 2004, 03:21 PM
By EDWARD T. PRICE

Poor white people do not belong in a colonial world of white masters and coloured labourers. They not only stand out as anomalies, but are likely to be hard-pressed for survival in a society that has no niche for them, that assumes they will not exist. The poor whites on the other islands of the Lesser Antilles, described by Grenfell Price,1 are mostly living in distinct settlements with some degree of economic self-sufficiency -- but Barbados offers no such opportunities. It is not surprising, then that the once numerous Redlegs have virtually disappeared as a group on Barbados.

The term "Redleg" on Barbados probably refers to the sunburn picked up by light-skinned people in sunny latitudes. The name originally drew my attention to the group because of the fact that it is used in South Carolina occasionally to refer to a mixed-blood group (and there probably implies Indian blood). Since South Carolina was settled by Barbadians, I had thought of the possibility that the two Redleg groups, each an anomalous proletariat in a biracial society, might be
related. I found no concrete evidence for this, but think it possible that the name in the two places had a common origin. It is said to have been used in Scotland to describe the kilted highlanders, but I have obtained no knowledge of when it was first used in either Barbados or South Carolina.

The Barbados Redlegs have also been termed Redshanks and Scotland Johnnies (some of them reside in the island's hilly Scotland District). The Redlegs are survivors of the heavy white immigration into Barbados during the seventeenth
century. Sugar was introduced commercially by the early 1640's and proved so profitable that it quickly surpassed all other crops. Population grew rapidly with the recruiting of labour in Britain and Ireland, and the importing of African slaves.

Excerpts from a journal of 1654 illustrate the prevalent themes of the day: "this Iland is the Dunghill whereon England doth cast forth its rubidg . . . manured the best of any Iland in the Inges . . . . But it maintains more souls than any piese of land of the bigness in the wordell". 2 Indentured servants came in number; if they survived the merciless treatment. they might receive a few acres for their own at the expiration of the contract. Sometimes the recruiting was forceful: men were shanghaied or, in the language specific to the day and place, "barbadoed." Political prisoners were sent to Barbados, especially during the Civil War and after the Bloody Assizes of 1685. 3 Prison... [poor photocopy last line on page missing].

During the seventeenth century many of the farm units were small, and the Europeans outnumbered the slaves, but the heyday of the small proprietor died with the flush of sugar crops on the virgin soils. Before 1700 the whites became so alarmed at the increasing preponderance of negro slaves in the face of white emigration that legal measures were taken to maintain a yeomanry on the island. Every sugar estate was required to maintain a footman for every 20 acres and
a horseman for every 40 acres (the ratio seems to have varied from time to time).4

The militiamen thus prescribed were each assigned a house and a small plot of land on the estate. The forces saw little activity in maintaining order on Barbados, but were several times called on to aid in attacks on the other colonies. As military activity waned, so did the responsibility of the militia. Assured of a minimum living from their two acres and with little opportunity to better their positions, the militiamen and their families developed into an ambitionless group. So they were almost universally described by travellers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who also reveal some of the feelings that kept the Redlegs a people apart.

George Washington, who visited the island in 1751 wrote: "Every Gentn. is obliged to keep a white person for ten Acres capable of acting in the Militia and consequently those persons so kept cant but (be) very poor." 5 George Pinekard in 1806 referred to a numerous class of inhabitants between the great planters and the people of colour, people who had lived on the island so long they regarded it as their native abode, not looking to England, he noted with surprise, as another and better home. They "obtain a scanty livelihood by cultivating a small patch of earth, and breeding up poultry, or what they term stock for the market." 6

H. N. Coleridge in 1834 reported on this special class of people who existed " ... in consequence of the large white population" and who had "an indefeasible interest for their lives in a house and garden... They owe no fealty to the landlord, make him no acknowledgement, and entertain no kind of gratitude towards him . . . . They will walk half over the island to demand alms, or depend for their subsistance on the charity of slaves . . . . Yet they are as proud as Lucifer himself, and in virtue of their freckled ditchwater faces consider themselves on a level with every gentleman in the island."'

Sir Andrew Halliday noted in 1834 that a remnant of the "descendants of the first white labourers" still existed and "were reputed to be the most indolent, ignorant, and impudent race of beggars that were ever tolerated in any community."8
Emancipation of slaves in 1834 brought a quick termination to the status of the militia people, which had lasted for a century... [poor photocopy - last line on page missing]… maintain law and order. The sugar estates employed
the freedmen, who on Barbados had no alternative; in other colonies the freedmen often took to the bush or struck out on their own land but all the useable land in Barbados was already owned and in cultivation.

About 2,000 whites from the militia class are estimated to have been put off the estates. 9 These people did not take to the only evident type of employment - working with negroes in labor gangs. Many took up residence in the villages of the poorer and more remote windward side of the island, eked out livings from various sorts of odd jobs, and acquired reputations as professional paupers. 10 Between 1859 and 1879 the government took an interest in the plight of the Redlegs and a number of reports were prepared concerning them.

A report of the Poor Relief Commission stated: "The white paupers as a rule have larger pensions than the black and colored-there being greater destitution-and they sometimes though able to work are pensioned, because they say they cannot find employment . . . they consider themselves above work and almost equal to their employer."11 An independent observer of the same period said, "The very poorest and most miserable people in the whole island are whites." 12

The physical condition of the Redlegs was as pathetic as their economic condition. John Davy commented that the poor whites resembled more albinos, than Englishmen when exposed to the tropical sun.13 He described them as sickly white or light red in color, and noted marks of feebleness. During the First World War the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored a hookworm survey of Barbados, which revealed a very high rate of infection in the poor windward parishes; the disease was reported especially noticeable among the poor whites who showed its effects in profound anemic emaciation, and faulty growth. 14

A detailed record survives of one private attempt to help the Redlegs.15 A resident of St. Philip, the southeastern parish, died in 1857, leaving his residence and estate for the purpose of providing a school for the children of poor whites people living in that parish Up to 36 children were to be provided with instruction, books, and two suits of clothing per year. The school operated off and on over the years, but finally was closed in 1949 because there were virtual no poor whites left in St. Philip. The funds available for the school have been used to provide scholarships for worthy children of both races.

Now the Redlegs have all but disappeared. Opportunities In the city of Bridgetown (population 80,000) have undoubtedly j t been the biggest cause drawing them away from the rural areas …[poor photocopy - last line of page missing] … financial success and recognition. Bridgetown has many poor whites today, and it is most likely that they derive from the old Redlegs class. Only a hundred or two Redlegs survive in the negro villages of the windward parishes. They may be seen walking along the roads or working on highway crews, living in much the same fashion as the colored villagers. Some have intermarried, but most of the survivors maintain a racial pride and a degree of aloofness from the
negroes with whom they live in such close proximity and association.

The account of the Redlegs would end with their virtual disappearance on Barbados had not the nineteenth century efforts to resettle them borne some fruit. After investigation of their condition the Governor in 1859 made arrangements for moving several hundred of them to another island, but the plan failed when the House of Assembly refused to appropriate the money to transport them. A few years later, however, one of the Parish Rectors arranged with an estate
proprietor on St. Vincent to transport a number of the Redlegs to that island. Other families followed the good reports of the first, apparently on their own, so that, by the late 1870s three or four hundred were settled in the Dorsetshire Hill district of St. Vincent.16

At that time they were reported as leasing lots of an acre, clearing the forest, burning charcoal, cultivating the land until the fertility was exhausted, then moving to new pots. Apparently the impermanent nature of this farming did not persist,
for Dorsetshire Hill is now a compact, densely populated, and in intensively farmed settlement of probably 300 whites of Barbadian origin. Just beyond the outskirts of Kingstown on the southern end of the
island, the Dorsetshire Hill community occupies a tract of steep ridges covered with a deep, friable soil.

The land is as neatly farmed in food crops and pastures as any land anywhere. Houses are small, but far above West Indian standards in both size and neatness. The community has maintained its separateness with very little intermarriage. Most of its residents have one of half a dozen common surnames-Davis, Gibson, Hinkson, Marshall, Medford, Bradshaw. The community has its own school and an Anglican Church (Catholicism is predominant on St. Vincent). For many years there seems to have been no room for growth; emigration has taken colonists in some number to the United States and Canada.

Two other colonies of Redlegs in the Windward Islands have also survived more distinctly than the parent group on Barbados, but the Grenada and Bequia settlements have not maintained their distinctness so clearly as the Dorsetshire Hill community. None of these three colonies shows the degraded, depressed, and... [poor photocopy - last line of page missing]… had to form discrete settlements of their own on the less densely settled islands.

The Bequia colony was considered a failure, 17 but, actually a number of families, perhaps a hundred people altogether, are still living on Pleasant Hill above Port Elizabeth. This hill land on Bequia is both dry and steep for the best farming, but a variety of food crops is being grown on terraced fields. The shipping business is probably of more importance to the colony. Some of the men operate inter-island schooners, and most of the families share in 4 the ownership of the vessels through family syndicates.

Family names are Gooding, Davis, and King. Considerable emigration to North America has occurred here also. The Mt. Moritz settlement in Grenada, in the hills overlooking the coast two or three miles north of St. George's, has another group of white Barbadians: Though they have begun to intermarry with the negroes, the community probably has most of the unmixed whites to be found on the island. The leading names in the community are Edwards, Dowding, Harris, Graves, and Medford.

These families have probably been on Grenada since the -1870's though no present member of the colony seems able to offer a specific account of its origin. They have also been culturally distinct from the Grenadians. The negroes used to recognize them as a peculiar group to be viewed with curiosity or fear. The speech of the Mt. Moritz people is easy for an American to understand (true of most Barbadians, also), whereas the speech of the negro Grenadians is often not intelligible. The Barbadians have acquired a reputation as industrious growers of vegetables, whereas the rest of the island produces tree crops (cacao, nutmeg-curiously considered as a lazy type of farming) or sugar. The Mt. Moritz whites are particularly proud of their method of hillside cultivation wherein their gardens are hoed up into rows of small basins to prevent soil erosion; these plots have the aspect of a fine-textured version of the Barbados sugar cane hole pattern, which is most probably their prototype.

Many. Mt. Moritz people now have jobs in St. George's. The community probably includes 200 unmixed whites. Its school in 1956 had an enrollment of 154, of whom about a third appeared to be white. The people are still recognized on Grenada as Barbadians and even negroes who live in the community are likely to be called "Bajans".

Among the three colonies described and the original group on Barbados, a large number of surnames are considered characteristic of Redleg families. Each of the windward parishes on 'Barbados seems to have its own names. A few of the names have… [poor photocopy - last line of page missing]

The Redlegs are sometimes said to have sprung entirely from the deportations following the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685,but actually the Redleg names do not show up on Hotten's lists of deportees. (See footnote 3.) It is evident t h a t the - Redlegs have sprung more broadly from the entire British immigration into Barbados during the seventeenth century, and that they developed as a distinct group because of the narrow (and here legally provided) opportunities in a stratified society. Their disappearance on Barbados has been made possible through; an increase in the possibilities of social mobility not well provided by the smaller cities of Grenada, St. Vincent, and Bequia.


Footnotes

This article first appeared in The Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, Vol. 10, 1957, pp. 35-39 is reprinted by kind permission of the Editor.
1 White Settlers in the Tropics, American Geographical Society (New York,1939) Pp. 83-100.
2 Henry Whistler's Journal of the West India Expedition, 1654, Sloane Ms.3926 British Museum. (Quoted in series of articles on people of Barbados in the Barbados Advocate, April 11,1952.)
3 John Camden Hotten, in The Original List of Persons of Quality and 0thers… (London, 1874) names several hundred of the latter.
4 The Groans of the Plantations (London,1689), p. 14, "We cannot now be at the Charge to procure and keep White Servants, or to entertain Freemen as we used to do .....So that our Militia must fall."
5 The Diaries of George Washington, 1784-1799, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick, Boston, 1925), v. 1, p. 29.
6 Notes on the West Indies (London, 1806), pp.78, 132.
7 Six Months in the West Indies, second edition (London, 1836), p. 99.
8 The West Indies (London, 1837), pp. 56-7.
9 Governor Rawson's Report on population, 1851-1871, Appendix E, Minutes of Assembly Council, 1872.
10 Report of Commission on Poor Relief, Appendix B, Minutes of Assembly, 1877-1878 p. 92.
11 Appendices to the Report of the Poor Relief Commission, 1875-1879, Bridgetown, p. 3.
12 Greville Chester, Transatlantic Sketches In the West Indies, South America, Canada and the United States, (London, 1869).
13 West Indies Before and Since Slave Emancipation (London, 1854)" p. 114.
14 G. P. Paul, "Report on Ankylostomiasis Inspection Survey of Barbados, Sept. 4, 1916-Nov. 16, 1918," International Health Board, Rockefeller Foundation, pp. 31-52.
15 Minutes of meetings of Emanuel John Cock Hutchinson School Trustees in hands of Rector H. V. Armstrong of St. Philip Parish, Barbados.
16 Same as 11, p. 18.
17 Ibid., p. 20.
18 On file in Registration Office, Bridgetown.