barbados

Governor Atkins – Letter on Barbados Slave Revolt

(1675)

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Introduction

This letter, from Jonathan Atkins (Governor of Barbados) to Joseph Williamson (Secretary of State for the Northern Department), provided Williamson with key updates about Barbados and the wider Caribbean. Part of the letter is concerned with the revolt of 1675, which Atkins claims had “spread itself over most of the Plantations” and involved “Cormantin Negros”. These revolts posed a threat to the stability of plantation economies and, as Atkins describes, were met with extreme levels of state-led violence – in this case, the execution of, at least, thirty-five enslaved people.

Jamie Gemmell

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Sources
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Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire (October 5, 2022) Governor Atkins – Letter on Barbados Slave Revolt (1675). Retrieved from https://slaverylawpower.org/governor-atkins-letter-on-barbados-slave-revolt-1675/.
"Governor Atkins – Letter on Barbados Slave Revolt (1675)." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - October 5, 2022, https://slaverylawpower.org/governor-atkins-letter-on-barbados-slave-revolt-1675/
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire August 21, 2022 Governor Atkins – Letter on Barbados Slave Revolt (1675)., viewed October 5, 2022,<https://slaverylawpower.org/governor-atkins-letter-on-barbados-slave-revolt-1675/>
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - Governor Atkins – Letter on Barbados Slave Revolt (1675). [Internet]. [Accessed October 5, 2022]. Available from: https://slaverylawpower.org/governor-atkins-letter-on-barbados-slave-revolt-1675/
"Governor Atkins – Letter on Barbados Slave Revolt (1675)." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - Accessed October 5, 2022. https://slaverylawpower.org/governor-atkins-letter-on-barbados-slave-revolt-1675/
"Governor Atkins – Letter on Barbados Slave Revolt (1675)." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire [Online]. Available: https://slaverylawpower.org/governor-atkins-letter-on-barbados-slave-revolt-1675/. [Accessed: October 5, 2022]
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Extract

In my last I gave you advice of a Damnable Designe I had discovered of the Negros to destroy us all and having Enquired more strongly Into it wee find it farre more dangerous than first wee thought for it had spread itselfe over most of the Plantations in the Island but most amongst the Cormantin Negros who are much the greater part of Negros of any one Countrey and are a warlike a Robust and a [missing word] sort of People, wee have beene fored to Execute 35 of them for Example to the rest, which I believe [missing word(s)] the furie of them and hath set a Perioud to that trouble.

Full Transcription

Received [IW] of the 8th June and the 29th July, [IW] at the same time for ships that come to the place are often three monthes on their voyage; and most[?] are sometimes three monthes here without any ships coming from England as [IW] have been of late and never so few [2IW] to this Port as [2IW] which late[?] advanced freight to such a height as considering the low price of their comoditie in England tis impossible for them long to continue to make their Sugars this I did intimate to you Not long since in one of mine for I am sure I never miss’d one conveniencie of corresponding to you since I came for so sensible, I am of your favours which have [IW] to mee into[?] our[?] Intermission[?] that I were the most [IW] man in [IW] if I could not [IW] my [IW] of their having nooeing[?] for[?] [IW] laid[?] but [IW] an Expiation that[?] depends solely uppon your acceptation But I am sure I am in good hands and I report myselfe uppon your friendship which never fayl’d mee yet and I assure you my [IW] shall never bee wanting to expresse [IW].

In my last I gave you advice of a Damnable Designe I had discovered of the Negros to destroy us all and having Enquired more strongly Into it wee find it farre more dangerous than first wee thought for it had spread itselfe over most of the Plantations in the Island but most amongst the Cormantin Negros who are much the greater part of Negros of any one Countrey and are a warlike a Robust and a [missing word] sort of People, wee have beene fored to Execute 35 of them for Example to the rest, which I believe [missing word(s)] the furie of them and hath set a Perioud to that trouble.

But our misfortunes find no date determen’d, for our sufferings are infinitelie augmented by the many[?] losse brought uppon us by a Hurican which happened the last day of August past the vastation and ruine it brought with It unexpressable the Damage they have [IW] in their houses, works Mills sugars and utensillls incredible their Canes for the next yeares crop to make their Sugar [IW] twisted and broken of whereby they are become instructible[?], their corne and ground Provisions layd flat on[?] the grounds or rooted up which should have kept their ffamilies for 6 monthes In briefe[?] never was seene such a Prodigious Ruine as is heere made in so short a time (for twas not three hours that the extremity of it lasted) there is three Churches about a thousand houses most of the Mills to the Leeward throwne downe 200 People kild some whole Families buried under the ruines of their houses, It comes with such a torrent of Raine with it as washte[?] away and beates downe all afore it unroofing where[?] tis most modest all their worke houses and Storehouses and so letting in the wett to their Sugars to the insupportable losse of the owners, I must confesse I never mett a more amazing sight then in one nights differente today all the trees cover’d with leaves and fruit and next morning to find them stript of all their Beutie and to Looke like perfect winter all their housing layd flat with the ground their goods all spoyled the People in such a consternation and distraction as in your[?] humour [IW] resolv’d never to build againe but to leave the Island, But uppon second thoughts many have chang’d their minds, and are repayring againe as fast as they can But a great many can never bee able to do it and thus I have given you an Epitome of our Calamitie to give you the full of it in [IW].

with all the Prodigious effects of the Hurican hath wrought [IW] in the matter thereof would [IW] into a volumed[?] and [IW] Beliefe amongst the rest of the misfortunes of this Hurrican. 12 ships that were in the Port[?] were driven ashore and broke to pieces some of them laden with Sugars the kings frigate the foresight was heere coming from the Havana and order’d to call heere to borrow some Powder of mee they being in so great want thereof at Jamaica that they were fored to take Powder out of the kings ships to supply their forts they Not having 10 Barrells in their stores. I lent them forty Barrells out of our stores of the Countrey for the king hath no stores heere, shee saved herselfe by landing out to Sea perceiving[?] the storme coming had shee continued at [IW] all the [IW] the king hath would not [IW] saved her.

From the Maderas I have advice that 15 Frigats of the French full of Land men water’d there as they pass’d with many land men in them were coming above 5 weeks since were set[?] some of them of this Island what is become of them I cannot yet [IW] But I expect a sloop dayly from Jamaica by [IW] I expect to [IW] some news of them for I believe they art gone that way as soone as I have notice I shall transmit[?] it to you 

From new England I [IW] by the ships that come heere they are [2IW] infested by the Indians [IW] have many of the English and of their outward Plantations made great Destruction forcing the People to leave [IW] and come[?] standing flying to great townes for their saftie in their[?] [IW] expeditions against[?] the English [missing word(s)] unfortunate this [IW] the great Provisions exhausted from there to Virginia wee have beene in a starving[?] [missing word(s)] hath[?] caus’d them to make an Embargo of all Provisions to our great Prejudice[?] in their [IW]

I must[?] conclude with my humble thanks for the Instructions I received[?] by your order and the diligence of Mr. Yard of Publique Affayres [IW] at home and abroad [IW] necessary to bee known by one of my Employment[?] I own[?] the great favour to you as I shall also bee thankfull to him After so long a [2IW] is no rooms for [IW] I hope you doe not expect it from.  

Sir Jon[athan] Atkins

A Continuation of the State of New-England

Introduction by Jamie Gemmell

This letter was published as part of a pamphlet largely concerned with King’s Philip’s War. Although the letter does refer to the war, its primary focus is Barbados and the revolt of 1675. This letter takes a distinct tone compared to the Great Newes pamphlet and Atkins’s letter, framing the revolt as an act of God: divine retribution designed to chastise the White residents of Barbados. Inclusion of this letter within a pamphlet largely focused on New England, reveals the extent to which the Anglo-Atlantic World was interconnected, with residents across distinct regions of the early British Empire eager to learn about events in other places. Indeed, the letter itself makes references to New England and Virginia.  

Extract (pp. 19-20)

BARBADOES,

Spickes-Bay, November the 30th. 1675.

MY last to you was an information of a bloody Tragedy intended against his Majesties Subjects here in this Island, by the Heathen the Negroes, which was by the Providence of God miraculously discovered eight days before the intended Murder should have been acted: The manner of discovery was thus; A Negroe man belonging to Mr. Hall Senior, being absented from his said Master, among several other Negroes who had a hand in the Plot: In a Councel among them, they did contrive that the Negroes belonging to each several Plantation, should in the dead time of the Night fall on at the sound of the Allarm, which was to be given in one hour, and at several places through the Island, which Negroes so allotted was to kill their Master and Mistress with their Overseers; this foresaid Negroe of Mr. Halls (though one of the chief Plotters) yet having a respect to his Master, would by no means consent to the killing of his Master, and upon refusal was much threatned, and being afraid of his Life, makes his escape and returns home; and one day, which was a little before the prosecution of the murder, was over-heard (telling the Plot to his Country-men) by a Negro Woman, who waited and attended on her Mistress, which the Negro Woman immediately reveals. The Negroe man being taken to examination, confest the whole truth, which was immediately told the Governour, who appointed Captains to raise their Companies for depressing the Rebels, which accordingly was done, and abundance taken & apprehended & since put to death and the rest kept in a more stricter manner; yet Fetheran like, we have kicked against God, and flighted mercy of so great a deliverance. The manner of their proceedings I wrote to you more at large; and as the Lord did deliver us from the Tyranny and barbarous cruelty of Savage Heathens, and Lord hath taken us into his own hand to chastise us, which chastisements lyeth very heavy on the poorer sort, and none of the Rich excepted. Si upon the last day of August last, about six of the Clock in the Afternoon, there did arise a Violent Storm of Wind & Rain out of the North West, and continuing between the North and South so violent, that before the hour of Twelve at Night, there was not avenay Houses standing in our Parish, in which there is above three hundred Families, and those that did stand, much damnified; our Neighbouring Parishes tasting of the same Cup. There is kill’d out-right (by the falling of Houses) in this Parish, thirty seven, and many more is since, with the violence of the wind and cold, dead, and many lying in their beds of sickness; and as to our Ships,

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all drove Ashore to pieces, except one of the Kings Men of War, which went to Sea, and returning next day after the Storm was ceased, did protest to the Governour, that twenty Leagues off there was no Storm, for he carried his Top-Sail half Mast high. Our fellow-Subjects in New-England, have the 28th. of the same month tasted of the same Cup, and was very hard put to it this last Summer by one King Philip and Indian King, who hath Revolted without cause given him by the English, neither will he shew any reason why but being by an Embassador from the Governour of Boston, demanded why he would maintain the War, refused to Treat with the Embassador, telling him, The Governour was but a Subject, and that he would not Treat except his Broth King Charles of England were there: There is abundance of Families destroyed, besides those kill’d in the War; but it is very much hoped this Winter they will be Routed; the reason is, because they have no Woods nor Bushes to shelter in, which is a great help to a Flying-Army, such is they are, for they will not bide any pitch Battel. Our Brethren in Virginia had been hard put to it last Summer, if it had not been for the Relief of New-England and New York, which makes it the harder with us here: pray God mend it. 

By the tempestuous Wind, and the violent raging of the Sea, which hath much over-flowed our Banks, and incroache upon the Land, here are many Houses lost; among which mine was in number, where I saved nothing to cover us from the violence of the Storm but what was on our backs. Pray God that I may make a sanctified use of the Chastisement, because the Lord hath not given over our Life to Death. So having no more at present, but my Service to your self and good Lady, I rest

Your humble Servant,

  1. W.

I forbear to tell or to write to you of the strange Accident, as the removing of whole Frames, great timber Trees many yards from their proper stations, by the violence of the Storm; if I should, it would be counted Ridiculous, but I leave it to the Relation of others.

Wind-mills down in this Parish 16. much damnified 12. indeed none standing but stone mills in the Parish, but what must be pull’d down. Churches down 9. Such another blow will bring Barbadoes near the Horizon.

FINIS.

EARLY ACCESS:  Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
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