Barbados

Great News from the Island of Barbados

(1676)

The pamphlet, or short book, published anonymously in London in 1676, describes an enslaved conspiracy on Barbados. In 1675, an enslaved woman, variously named Fortuna or Anna, reported to Gyles Hall (a planter) that the enslaved people laboring in Barbados were planning to rise up against their enslavers. Hall alerted the Governor, Sir Jonathan Atkins, who acted swiftly. Trials were organized and those deemed to have been involved were rounded up. In the ensuing racial violence, at least thirty five people were executed and others were imprisoned. .

Introduction

The pamphlet, or short book, published anonymously in London in 1676, describes an enslaved conspiracy on Barbados. In 1675, an enslaved woman, variously named Fortuna or Anna, reported to Gyles Hall (a planter) that the enslaved people laboring in Barbados were planning to rise up against their enslavers. Hall alerted the Governor, Sir Jonathan Atkins, who acted swiftly. Trials were organized and those deemed to have been involved were rounded up. In the ensuing racial violence, at least thirty five people were executed and others were imprisoned. Fears of rebellion, whether by white indentured servants or enslaved persons, were not new to Barbados. But the reaction of colonial officials upon discovery of the 1675 plot reveals the seriousness of the potential disruption to the labor and social stability of the island. It also reveals enslaved individuals’ willingness to reject their subjugation.

This pamphlet spread word of the conspiracy across the Anglo-Atlantic World. It crafted a narrative, which would be repeated through the eighteenth century, that positions Fortuna/Anna as a submissive and deferential enslaved woman. Any trace of the complex thought processes behind her decision are lost to us. It is also an early piece of evidence that reveals the important role of enslaved people originating from the region referred to by Europeans as the Gold Coast (now, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo). The pamphlet’s reference to “Cormantee” or “Gold-Cost” Africans simultaneously reflects the likelihood that many individuals from the region had military training and creates a racialised trope deployed by enslavers to blame resistance on a specific group rather than the violent system itself. 

What does this document tell you about how slavery was maintained in Barbados? What had the enslaved Africans tried to do? Why, do you think?  Did they succeed at all? What products and benefits did Barbados provide to England, according to the author? Barbados, in the Caribbean, was one of England’s most profitable colonies. What evidence of military power do you see? What punishments? Who punished the rebels (the master? The government? Does the author think these punishments were justified? Why?  About 60% of the population at this point was enslaved Africans—that proportion would go up to 80% within the next two decades.  Is there a difference in the treatment of black rebels in Barbados versus White and Black Rebels together in Virginia, would you guess? 

Holly Brewer
Jamie Gemmell
Lauren Michalak

Further Reading
  • Jason T. Sharples, “Discovering Slave Conspiracies: New Fears of Rebellion and Old Paradigms of Plotting in Seventeenth-Century Barbados,” The American Historical Review, Volume 120, Issue 3, June 2015, Pages 811–843, https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/120.3.811
  • Katharine Gerbner, “The Ultimate Sin: Christianising Slaves in Barbados in the Seventeenth Century,” Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies Volume 31, Issue 1, 2010, Pages 57-73, https://doi.org/10.1080/01440390903481654 
  • Hilary Beckles, “Rebels without Heroes: Slave Politics in Seventeenth Century Barbados,” The Journal of Caribbean History Volume 18, no. 2, Jun 01, 1983, Pages 1-22.
  • Jerome S. Handler, “Slave Revolts and Conspiracies in Seventeenth-Century Barbados,” Nieuwe West-Indische Gids/New West Indian Guide, Volume 56, no. 1/2, 1982, Pages 5-42. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41849060 
  • Craton, Michael. Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009, c. 1982 [Chapter Nine].

For More General Analyses of Slave Rebellions/Revolts/Wars See:

  • Brown, Vincent. Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020.
  • Finch, Aisha K. Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.
  • Holden, Vanessa M. Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2021.
  • Kars, Marjoleine. “Dodging Rebellion: Politics and Gender in the Berbice Slave Uprising of 1763.” The American Historical Review 121, no. 1 (2016): 36-69.
Sources

GREAT NEWES FROM THE Barbados. OR, A True and Faithful ACCOUNT OF THE Grand Conspiracy OF The Negroes against the ENGLISH. AND The Happy Discovery of the same. WITH The number of those that were burned alive, Beheaded, and otherwise Executed for their Horrid Crimes. With a short Discription of that PLANTATION. London, Printed for L. Curtis in Goat-Court upon Ludgate-Hill,1676.

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GREAT 
NEWES 
FROM THE 
Barbadoes. 
OR, 
A True and Faithful ACCOUNT 
OF THE 
Grand Conspiracy 
OF 
The Negroes against the English
AND 
The Happy Discovery of the same. 
WITH The number of those that were burned 
alive, Beheaded, and otherwise Executed for 
their Horrid Crimes. 
With a short Discription of that PLANTATION. 
With Allowance.
London, Printed for L. Curtis in Goat-Court upon Ludgate-Hill, 1676

[PAGE BREAK]

 

[BLANK PAGE] 

 


DISCRIPTION 
OF 
Barbadoes.

 

[Page 3] 

BEfore we proceed to the Particulars of that Conspiracy, which had like in one Moment to have defaced the most Flou­rishing Colony the English have in the World, it will not be amiss a little to consider the Nature, Situation, and Commodities of the Place; not that we shall trouble the Reader with a History of the Island, that being needless, Especially to such as have ever read Ingenious Mr. Ligon on that subject; whose flourishes in Rhetorick, though in some things Poetical, yet in the main do keep such a Chain of truth, that the Romantick part rather guilds then dislincks the History. My

 

[Page 4]

own Experience of Barbadoes, in a time when it had Received the most Improvement it was Capable of, (which was not long before the discovery of this Almost Fatal Plot; will not however suffer me to go further in my Praises of it than he did (as I may almost say by Prophecy): for Mr. Ligon happened to be there in a time when all or most upon the Island did not more sweat by occasion of the heat, than they did for the bare necessities of life; few of those many great Estates, that are now there, being then in any other Essence then in Prospect: Nor was there then any Houses which could boast a Grandeur much more considerable than those, most of our Villages are composed of: So that indeed he saw little more to praise then that much Celebrated perpetual Ver­dure that Adorns the several Native Trees of that warm World.

Nor can indeed too much Commendation be given to that Pleasant Prospect, which salutes a Stranger’s Eye as he sayles along the Shoar to Carlisle Bay, the Chief Road for Ships in the Island, secu­red from Forraign Invasion by a Fort-Royal strong­ly built of Stone, and situated in the Eastermost Point of Land that Compasses that Bay, in which there is constantly mounted 40 Guns, whose warm Mouths spoke Terrour to De Ruyter in his Attempt on that Island in the Year 1664. At the Bottom of this Bay stands the Bridge-Town, which hath twice since its first building been reduced almost to no­thing by Fire; yet thereby hath not so warned the

 

[Page 5]

Inhabitants, but that for hast and want of Consideration it hath again been rebuilt without that Exact Order in the Houses and Streets that might secure it from having that dangerous Element so totally pre­vail the third time. And should it do so, (which God forbid) it would level many Costly and Stately Houses which Compose amongst many other little ones, that Popular though something Confused Town; which was it but contriv’d for proper Receits of the Breese through its Streets for letting in through Venteducts the Wind into their houses, would be much more pleasant to live in the heat; As it is now built, being to Strangers at their first coming there scarce tolerable. For this Island which lyes betwixt 13 and 14 degrees of North Latitude, must needs have the Sun twice a year in its Zenith, the Inhabitants seeing him against their will make his Progress over their heads as he goes and returns in his Visit to the Tropick of Cancer; so that for some Moneths being on the North side of them; And when fur­thest off, not so far as to vary the length of their days and Nights one hour, the Country must of necessity be exceeding hot: Nor would it be more habitable then the Ancients believe the Torrid Zone to be (within in which Circle this Island stands) were it not for the Refreshing Gales that for ever from some Quarter of the East Fans Cool, and consequently refresh the Inhabitants of this Flourishing Island. Nor is the Conveniency from the Wind only this, but perhaps the Inhabitants owe to it All or the grea-

 

[Page 6]

 

test Part of the Success they have found in their Sugar Trade, the grinding of their Cane being never to have been done by any other Engine then Horse-Mills, to have been supply’d alwayes with that Creature at an Excessive Rate from Europe, had not the Benefit of this Continual Gale encouraged them in the Erecting of Wind-Mills, being about 400, the number of whole flying Sailes, besides the Profit they bring the Owner, being Remarkably pleasant in the first Prospect from the Sea upon this Island. For it cannot be expected that so narrow a Country being not above Thirty miles long, and Twelve broad, should have Streams continued to such a length as might by the Conjunction of many male them big enough to work Mills, the Fountains of great Rivers in moisture Countries being rarely Considerable; so that in the whole Island though it sufficiently abounds in Water for Drink, and that of the pleasantest and refreshingest quality that Element is capable of, yet is there not above three Currents whole small Streams have obtained the Names of Rivers, and those rather by Hyberbole or Comparison within it self, then by any large Source that can justly Challenge that Name.

But to leave off speaking too much of this subject, which hath occasioned the Reflection of a Negro much quoted by the Inhabitants, for saying, The Devel was in the English-man, that he makes every thing work; he makes the Negro work, the Horse work, the Ass work, the Wood work, the Water work,

 

[Page 7]

and the Winde work. And no doubt, let others guess what they please to be the Occasion of the Conspiracy I am treating of, It could have its hopes of Success in the general from nothing but their desire of being Eased from that Continual Work, which by being Slaves, they and their Posterity are lyable to: for let some say what they please, I am of the Opinion, That no man labours but by necessity; Or hopes at last to gain that to live on which may give him rest. Or whether it be my own Lazy Temper that preju­dices me in the Point or no, I cannot tell: But I am sure in my Conversing with them, or Inquiring into the Natures and Desires of that People, I could ne­ver find they desired any thing so much as to have time for Play.

But not to trouble our selves to guess, what should Occasion that, which no doubt besides the former hath many Complicated Causes working in the dif­ferent Persons Engaged in it, we will without losing more time in Commendation either of the Hospita­lity, or Number of the splendid Planters, who for Sumptuous Houses, Cloaths and Liberal Entertain­ment cannot be Exceeded by this their Mother King­dome it self. Or in Reciting the Excellency of their Fruits, especially the Pine so much Celebrated by more learned Pens: Or of the Prodigious Success they have found in the Improvement of several new­ly introduced Fruits, especially of that called China Oranges, the goodness of which exceeds any we have ever had from Portugal. But to leave those, the Musk-

 

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Melons, Grapes, Figs, Prickle Pears, Guavers, Pome­granets, Citrons, Sour Sops, and sweet Lemmons of a vast bigness, and delicate pleasant taste. And all Kitching Garden-Herbs, and Fruits (are much better and more fragrant then in England) that are there at almost all times of the year to be had in their Excellency. Besides, there are Medicinal Plants, as Galingal, Colliquintida, Balsom naturale, Balsom with Balsamick, Tar, Gumastick, Gumallemna, Alloes, Guiacum, and several other Medicinal Herbs, and all other things of this kind.

I will now proceed to the Particular of my Story, wherein, if I have not so much Art as another might have done it with, yet shall you have no un­truth mixt with the short story of it.

 

[Page 9]

THE 
RELATION of a CONSPIRACY in the 
BARBADOES.

 

THis Conspiracy first broke out and was hatch­ed by the Cormantee or Gold-Cost Negro’s about Three years since, and afterwards Cuningly and Clandestinely carried, and kept secret, even from the knowledge of their own Wifes.

Their grand design was to choose them a King, one Coffee an Ancient Gold-Cost Negro, who should have been Crowned the 12th of June last past in a Chair of State exquisitely wrought and Carved after their Mode; with Bowes and Arrowes to be likewise carried in State before his Majesty their in-

 

[Page 10]

tended King: Trumpets to be made of Elephants Teeth and Gourdes to be sounded on several Hills, to give Notice of their general Rising, with a full intention to fire the Sugar-Canes, and so run in and Cut their Masters the Planters Throats in their re­spective Plantations whereunto they did belong.

Some affirm, they intended to spare the lives of the Fairest and Handsomest Women (their Mistresses and their Daughters) to be Converted to their own use. But some others affirm the contrary; and I am induced to believe they intended to Murther all the White People there, as well Men as Women: for Anna a house Negro Woman belonging to Justice Hall, over-hearing a Young Cormantee Negro about 18 years of age, and also belonging to Justice Hall, as he was working near the Garden, and discoursing with another Cormantee Negro working with him, told him boldly and plainly, He would have no hand in killing the Baccararoes or White Folks; And that he would tell his Master. All which the aforesaid Ne­gro Woman (being then accidentally in the Garden) over-heard, and called to him the aforesaid Young Negro Man over the Pales, and enquired and asked of him What it was they so earnestly were talking about? He answered and told her freely; That it was a general Design amongst them the Cormantee Negro’s, to kill all the Baccararoes or White People in the Island within a fortnight. Which she no sooner understood, but went immediately to her Master and Mistris, and 

 

[Page 11]

discovered the whole truth of what she heard, say­ing withal, That it was great Pity so good people as her Master and Mistriss were, should be destroyed. Which was the first discovery that I can learn came to the knowledge of the worthy Inhabitants of that Noble and most flourishing Island.

Afterwards the Discreet and Prudent Justice sent presently for the young Negro Man, who discovered and impeached several, as well his own Master’s Negro’s as others belonging to the adjacent Plantations who hand a hand in this Plot.

Of all which the said Justice sending the true In­formation to that Noble Person (now Governour there) Sir Jonathan Atkins, he with his Life-Guard presently came to the house of the aforesaid Justice Hall, and granted him and others Commissions to apprehend the guilty and impeached Negroes, with the Ring-leaders of this fatal Conspiracy; which in pursuance was put in Execution with much Celerity and Secrecy, that the Heads and Chief of these un­grateful wretches (who I have often heard confess to live better in Servitude there, then at Libertty in their own Native Country) were apprehended and brought to Tryal at a Court of Oyer and Terminer granted by the aforesaid Governour to a Dozen or more of the Colonels and Field-Officers as Judges of that Island; Who after strict and due Examination of the matter of Fact of their Conspiracy, at first Se-

 

[Page 12]

venteen were found guilty and Executed, (viz.) Six burnt alive, and Eleven beheaded, their dead bodies being dragged through the Streets, at Spikes a pleasant Port-Town in that Island, and were afterwards burnt with those that were burned alive.

One of those that were burned alive being chained at the stake, was perswaded by that honest Gentle­man Mr. George Hannow, the Deputy Provost-Mar­shall, That since he was going to suffer death, Ingeniously to Confess the depth of their design. The Negro calling for water to drink (which is a Custome they use before they tell or discover any thing) he just then going to speak and confess the truth of what he knew in this Matter; The next Negro Man chained to him (one Tony, a sturdy Rogue, a Jew’s Negro) jogged him, and was heard to Chide him in these words, Thou Fool, are there not enough of our Country-men killed already? Art thou minded to kill them all? Then the aforesaid Negro that was a going to make Confession, would not speak one word more.

Which the spectators observing, cryed out to Tony, Sirrah, we shall see you fry bravely by and by. Who answered undauntedly, If you Roast me to day, you cannot Roast me to morrow: (all those Negro’s having an opi­nion that after their death they go into their own Countrey) Five and Twenty more have been since Executed. The particulars of whose due Punishment are not yet come to my hands.

Five impeached Hanged themselves, because they would not stand Tryal.

 

[Page 13]

Threescore and odd more are in Custody at the Hole, a fine Haven and small Town in the said Island, and are not as yet brought to Tryal.

Thus escaped from Eminent dangers, this flourish­ing and Fertile Island, or to say more properly Spa­tious and profitable Garden, one of the chiefest of his Majesties Nurseries for Sea-men.

This little Spot imploying every year above 100 good Merchants Ships, to carry off its product; viz. Sugar, Ginger, Cotton, and Indigo; of which I have heard it affirmed, That that Earth and Rich soyl be­ing so thinly placed on most part of the said Island, as not exceeding above half a foot in depth, the said pro­duct since its first manuring carried off in several years, much exceeds in bulk and weight the surface of the Island, it being only a Rock. So leaving to others the giving an account of the great plenty of fresh Fish there, though of different shapes and names from ours, which it exceeds in pleasantness and nourish­ment, especially the Turtles there caught; their ad­mirable Pork, Poultry &c. Their Wood Pidgeons, Turtle-Doves of several kinds, wild Fowls, Plovers, Thrushes, Crabs, Lobsters, Prawns, and all other ne­cessary and pleasant Provisions in abundance, both Fish and Flesh. But above all, admirable (considering it is so small an Island) is the Populousness thereof; for I have seen at a General Rendezvous in Hethersals Pasture 12000 well Armed fighting men, Horse and Foot, of the Train-Bands, besides Negro’s that waited

 

[Page 14]

on their Masters: And I have lately seen a list taken by Authority that amounts to above 80000 Souls. ‘Tis fortified (besides the stone Wall all a long the places of most danger for Landing, near the Sea-side) with several strong uniform Forts Alla-Modern, well mounted with store of great Guns; so as considering the strength, Riches, Pleasant scituation, Populous­ness and good Hospitality of those Noble Gentlemen there now inhabiting, I conclude it to be the finest and worthiest Island in the World.

 

FINIS.

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