“Our Barbadian Connection” By Phoebe Willis

For many years the Barbadian Consulate General has organized an event in US cities that are significant to Barbadian heritage. This year they came back to Charleston, South Carolina for the Barbados Comes (Back) to Charleston  festival, a four-day event that was held September 1st through the 4th.

Left to Right: Joe McGill (Southern Regional Office NTHP), Sarah Stroud (Archaeologist), Mrs. Stroud (volunteer), Phoebe Willis (interpreter).

On September 3rd, Drayton Hall participated in the Bridgetown Market that was held at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site.  Organizers of the event picked the site because Bridgetown is the capital of Barbados and Charles Towne Landing is located on the site of the first settlement of the Carolina colony in 1670.  Vendors representing Barbadian event sponsors, American cultural and historical organizations, and West Indian food and drink all enjoyed the day listening to calypso music from several bands.

Sarah Stroud, our Drayton Hall Archeologist, and I staffed the Drayton Hall exhibits in the booth housing the Ashley River historic sites with Barbadian connections. Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and Middleton Place all participated. Each site had different displays which complemented one another and gave the visitors a well-rounded plantation experience.

Drayton Hall displayed artifacts including probable Barbadian Red Ware, Native American pottery, and Colonoware (pottery made by enslaved people using African, Caribbean, and Native American methods).  Our largest artifact was a cow’s head which lead to discussions about early enslaved Africans being cow hunters, the first real “American cowboys.”  We also had hands-on activities: one was grinding spices using a mortar and pestle to determine what foods common in our country today came from Africa.  Originally designed for children, the

Caleb Davenport grinding herbs and looking at the display board

activities were enjoyed by adults as well.  Almost all the Bajan visitors smiled and remarked that they had ground spices when they were children.  Some even gave grinding another try just to prove they still knew how!

Magnolia Garden’s display focused on the Drayton family, cow hunters, and the Lowcountry Africana project whose goal is to collect and make available African-American history in the Lowcountry.  Middleton Place had two costumed interpreters explaining rice and sugar cane processing and pottery making.  The show stealers, however, were two Guinea piglets bred at Middleton.  Their little squeals garnered tons of attention!

The turnout was large and we had a steady flow of visitors who had many questions and insights into our display.  We learned a great deal from them and from our colleagues in the booth.  Visitors to the booth enjoyed every aspect of our displays and we had wonderful interaction with them.  Sarah and I learned that cutters are sandwiches; that Flying Fish really are edible; that modern Barbadians have a pottery tradition of making “monkey” jars which resemble the Colonoware artifacts we brought; and that Barbadians say “ya’ll.”

If you would like to attend next year’s festival, it will actually be in Barbados- check out this link for more information: www.barbadostocharleston.com.  For those of “ya’ll” who would like to learn more about the Barbadian-Charleston connection, here are some options:

Walter Edgar’s South Carolina: A History., Chapter 3, “The Colony of a Colony”.


South Carolina National Heritage Corridor web site:  http://www.sc-heritagecorridor.org/the_barbados_connection/

Phoebe Willis, Drayton Hall Interpreter and Educator

One thought on ““Our Barbadian Connection” By Phoebe Willis

  1. I recently went to Barbados in May,2014. I have spent over 30 years trying to connect New England with the South over slavery. I believe I have found it. Massachusetts had two Barbadian governors and South Carolina had seven plus governors from this island. John Winthrop , governor of Massachusetts in 1641 was first governor of a colony to legalize slavery. His reasoning was that slavery was in the old testament. The first slave trading ship left Boston in 1644 in route to Barbados. The famous triangular trade ensued with slaves being delivered to Barbados for rum. The slave trade became New England’s chief maritime industry. One of the Barbadian governor’s of Massachusetts was a slave trader. When Barbados settled South Carolina , the New England slave traders would deliver slaves to SC because they had already been in business with these planters. The first families of Boston profited from this trade. There is an excellent book by Joanne Pope Melish entitled Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England,1780-1860. This book is a must read. South Carolina became a caribbean island because of Barbados. The history Of SC is very unorthodox. The founders of the colony tried to combine the beginning principles of the enlightment such as a charter on religious freedom and tolerance with chattel slavery and the plantation system from Barbados. This will prove to be catastrophic in the end.

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