Things that Matter: The epic story of Barbados and the Carolinas
What’s the connection between the Barbados Telephone Company, Upton in St. Michael, Stede Bonnet – the Gentleman Pirate of Barbados, Henry Fraser and North and South Carolina in the USA? You will know by the end of this column!
In 1986 the Barbados Board of Tourism, then chaired by Sir Jack Dear with Mrs. Pat Nehaul as Director and Mrs. Margaret Hope, Public Relations Manager, invited my historian friend Warren Alleyne and me to make a visit to Charleston, led by Markley Wilson, manager of the Board in New York, and Cheryl Carter, Public Relations Officer. The mission, conceptualised by Markley Wilson, was to explore the close connections between Barbados and the Carolinas, which had somehow been forgotten over the years. Warren was chosen for his passionate interest in our early history and his popular writings, including his book Caribbean Pirates, featuring Stede Bonnet of Barbados. I was chosen for my work in architectural history and the traditionally held links between Barbadian and Charlestonian architecture.
The ten exciting days of discovery in Charleston and the surrounding countryside were a revelation to us all, and resulted in the popular book The Barbados-Carolina Connection, by Warren Alleyne and Henry Fraser, published by Macmillan in 1988, which went through three reprints, but has been out of print for more than a decade. So I can now announce, for the many people asking for it, that a splendid new, Second Edition is now in print, and available in ALL leading Barbadian bookstores and in Charleston.
The pride of a midwife or an obstetrician in the successful delivery of a bonnie, healthy new-born baby is second only to that of the mother. In spite of the dozens of books I’ve written or edited and the hundreds of papers, articles and columns, there’s still little that beats the pure pleasure of holding in your hands at last a beautiful new born book that you’ve laboured mightily over, conceived, researched, written and re-written, proof read and edited, photographed for and debated over, in the role of both parent and obstetrician!
This was the case when Keith Miller of Miller Publishing handed me the first copy of the splendid new edition of The Barbados Carolina Connection. A big part of the thrill was the fact that I had bought a new camera on my last, seventh trip to speak in Charleston, to make sure I had a wide range of quality photos for the new book. And our brilliant graphic artist, Neil Barnard, approved the quality of the photos – what a relief!
The fascination of the Barbados-Carolina epic starts from the very concept – a Barbadian immigrant Sir John Colleton, conceiving the plan in 1663 of settling that huge chunk of the North American continent then known as Carolina (unexplored by Europeans) from little Barbados; an early example of Barbados “punching above its weight”! The Odyssey of the ships, hurricanes and shipwrecks involved in the settlement of 1670 is like an ancient Greek legend. The story of the ruthless, aggressive, probable murderer, womanising, power hungry Sir John Yeamans of St. Nicholas Abbey is worthy of a modern day soap opera or political drama.
The dramatic story of the Gentleman Pirate of Barbados, who scuppered more than 20 ships, was briefly a partner of Blackbeard, and was hung in Charleston, was first chronicled for us by Warren Alleyne in Pirates of the Caribbean; it’s a mysterious and “romantic” saga, still little known, and surprisingly not exploited by either our novelists or our Tourism specialists. It astonished me when I discovered that my home, Upton House, was once Bonnet’s. where Stede Bonnet was born. The name Bonnet’s was changed to Upton by one George Upton later in the 18th century. And it astonished me even more when I discovered that the telephone number I was given by the Barbados Telephone Company on moving into Upton – 1670 – was the date of the Bajan settlement of Charleston, where I’ve now been for research and lecturing some seven times! Life is full of remarkable coincidences, or as the brilliant Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges said, it’s all connected circles!
The famous single house of Charleston, which originated in Barbados, is another interesting story, while the similarities of their Gullah dialect and our Bajan dialect are astonishing. We transported the sugar culture, sugar and slave economy to the Carolinas, the people (including early governors), the house styles and the dialect our early Bajan emigrants spoke; it survives in the Gullah dialect of coastal Charleston and the islands off the coast. And the close relationships of their first hundred years are worth remembering – when we each sent the other financial aid in times of disastrous fires.
All of this and more is detailed in the new edition of the book, with some fabulous photos supplied by the famous Drayton Hall and Middleton Place in Charleston. These splendid examples of gardens and classical architecture are part of the famous beauty, romance and attraction of Charleston, while Magnolia Gardens, another property of Draytons from Barbados, has been a top tier tourist attraction for more than a hundred years. And Magnolia’s attractions include a well preserved and well interpreted collection of slave dwellings, which comprise one of the highlights of a tour that attracts more than 700 000 visitors every year – more than all of our own land based visitors! What a lot we can learn from Charleston, and benefit from the partnership.
One of the goals of this new edition is to share with both Bajans and Carolinians the rich and important historical and on-going connections between the Carolinas and Barbados. Speightstown has been twinned with Charleston, because “The Odyssey” departed from Speightstown, led by Sir John Yeamans of Nicholas, while Wilmington In North Carolina is the sister city of Bridgetown. The Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation, led by our energetic Honorary Consul in Charleston – Rhoda Green – has been established to nurtures these ties that bind, with exchange visits and other partnerships.
So Warren Alleyne and I are hugely grateful, not only to the team at Miller Publishing and Neil Barnard, but to our Honorary Consul in Charleston – Rhoda Green, to Robert Green, to Professor of Anthropology John Rashford, to Ian Sanchez, and all of our other Charleston friends, at Middleton Place, Drayton Hall, Magnolia Gardens and the historic city of Charleston itself.
Postscript: The month of December is the manifestation of crazy driving. For your / our safety from the road hogs and mad drivers, let us all drive defensively and hope not to be victims or to be forced into accidents by the crazy, inconsiderate, reckless, selfish and dangerous driving and motor cycle riding that is becoming the norm, but seems to be worse at this time of the year. Where is GIS and where are the traffic cops of the past?
(Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website: profhenryfraser.com)