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Things that Matter: The Barbados Carolina connection

9/11/2011

By Henry S. Fraser

“It was a planter of Barbados, Sir John Colleton, who first suggested to Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper that they, with associates, obtain a grant to this “rich and fertile Province of Carolina” from Charles II.” (J.P. Thomas, Jr., The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, 1930, Vol XXXI, No.2., 1-18)

Last week witnessed a major initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, co-ordinated by our Consul General in Miami, Mr. Colin Mayers, and Deputy Consul General, Mr. Philip St. Hill, in collaboration with Rhoda Green (our Honorary Consul in Charleston) and a wider team – “Barbados Comes back to Charleston, South Carolina.”

Bajans and Charlestonians were invited to share, celebrate, discuss and plan together a rebuilding of the historic partnership between Barbados and South Carolina, described by one historian as “the colony of a colony”. The programme included Ministers Maxine McClean and Denis Kellman, with a Reception and Keynote lecture by Sir Hilary Beckles at Charles Towne Landing, as well as a “Bridgetown Market” at Charlestown Landing, a Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony, a Town Hall Meeting, an academic forum and other discussions on potential business, cultural, academic, heritage and tourism collaborations.

So what’s so special about Charleston? Sadly, few Bajans and even fewer Charlestonians perhaps know of the strong ties that bind ... the dramatic history of the Anglo-Barbadian settlement of Charleston and the Carolinas, and the close connections of family, culture, economics and trade, language and even architecture that existed between our two countries for 100 years.... from the first attempt at settlement in 1663 and the actual settlement in 1670 to the American War of Independence more than 100 years later. During all this period, we were not only in a very real sense the “foster-mother colony” of the Carolinas but, as historian, George Rogers, described it, “the Post Office” for the Carolinas.

was Sir John Colleton of Colleton in St. Peter, in 1663, who was the visionary who proposed settling the Carolinas, as a potentially rich expansion of the colony of Barbados. The entrepreneurial spirit of Sir John and his contemporaries was consistent with the expansionist vision of Governor Willoughby of that era. Barbadians had established settlements in Surinam and Tobago (taking the latter twice), and played a major part in the settlement of Jamaica after the capture by Penn and Venables in 1655. But Charleston was arguably the most significant of these “colonial” ventures, with several of the early governors being Barbadian, and the powerful leaders of the project in the first ten years, known as the “Goose Creek Men”, reputedly trying to run the country, much to the distress of some others.

The saga of the Barbados Adventurers led by Sir John Yeamans of Nicholas, the failed attempts and the eventual successful settlement in 1670, described in “The Barbados Carolina Connection” by Alleyne and Fraser as The Odyssey, involving five ships, hurricanes and several wrecks, is as exciting an epic as any of the legendary Greek heroes. While Sir John Colleton was the visionary and Sir Ashley Cooper the powerful politician in London, Sir John Yeamans of Nicholas was the anti-hero; he was clearly an intrepid explorer, a respected leader (appointed Governor of the colony) and a ruthless ladies’ man. He killed his partner Benjamin Berringer and married his wife. And he claimed the governorship in 1671, and oversaw the laying out of the new town, but became unpopular and died in 1674.

Barbadians played a huge part in the establishment of Charleston, carrying the model of the sugar and slave society, the language (which partly survives in the accent, dialect and rhythms of Gullah, the dialect of the somewhat isolated islanders off Charleston) and an entrepreneurial spirit that, as pointed out by Sir Hilary Beckles in his splendid lecture, inspired the Charlestonians to “think big” in their ambitions to expand and develop a hugely rich and successful enterprise. One can detect a similar sense of high esteem and importance of person and place in Charleston and Barbados, both throughout history and today!

My own associations with Charleston are bizarre coincidences. I discovered that the notorious Gentleman pirate of Barbados, Stede Bonnett, captured and hung in Charleston, was born in the house I now live in, while my telephone number contains the date 1670, the settlement of Charleston – just two of several connections! And while there is continuing debate about the accuracy of the claims that half of the settlers in the first 20 years were from Barbados (some were just passing through) the enormous influence of Bajans on the Carolinas is undisputed. Indeed the prolixity of Bajan names in the Charleston phone book is mind-boggling!

And so, in the words of Sir Hilary, considering these ties that bind, including the common cruelty of the similar slave society, Barbados and Charleston should join hands in a higher philosophical purpose, in ushering in a new and mutually productive phase of the Barbados Carolina Connection. The excitement and interest of so many over last week was infectious, and I thank everyone for their hard work and hospitality to those of us who took part – “Southern hospitality” is a reality! And the pride they have in their beautiful, historic city, should inspire us to take pride in and care of our newly inscribed World Heritage site.

(Professor Fraser is Past President of the Barbados National Trust, and past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI.)

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