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Historical Archaeology

, Volume 53, Issue 3–4, pp 468–491 | Cite as

Capitalism and the Shift to Sugar and Slavery in Mid-Seventeenth-Century Barbados

  • Douglas V. ArmstrongEmail author
Original Article
  • 19 Downloads

Abstract

The origins of capitalism in the British West Indies began as part of the revolutionary shift to sugar and slavery in Barbados in the second quarter of the 17th-century. This study examines the origins of capitalism in Barbados through the exploration of the historical record and archaeological findings from Trents Plantation and other early colonial estates in Barbados. The expansion of agro-industrial sugar production into the English colony of Barbados set in motion a dramatic shift in social and economic structures. Social and economic change resulted from the intersection of access to investor capital, dramatic profits rapidly amassed through the production of a commoditized cash crop, sugar, and a related shift in the labor force to a reliance on large numbers of enslaved laborers from Africa. The change took place rapidly during a period of political turmoil in England that resulted in laissez-faire governance and a void in administrative oversight in the West Indies. The social and economic changes seen in the archaeological record at Trents, and actuated across Barbados, had a dramatic impact on the broader Atlantic World, inclusive of the Americas, Europe, Africa, and their trading partners across the globe.

Keywords

capitalism indenture enslavement plantation sugar 

Extracto

Los orígenes del capitalismo en las Indias Occidentales Británicas comenzaron como parte del cambio revolucionario hacia el azúcar y la esclavitud en Barbados en el segundo cuarto del siglo XVII. Este estudio examina los orígenes del capitalismo en Barbados a través de la exploración del registro histórico y los hallazgos arqueológicos en Trents Plantation y otros estados coloniales tempranos en Barbados. La expansión de la producción de azúcar agroindustrial a la colonia inglesa de Barbados puso en marcha un cambio dramático en las estructuras sociales y económicas. Los cambios sociales y económicos resultaron de la interacción del acceso al capital de inversión, las ganancias dramáticas que se acumularon rápidamente a través de la producción de un cultivo comercial mercantilizado, el azúcar, y un cambio relacionado en la fuerza laboral a la dependencia de un gran número de trabajadores esclavos de África. El cambio se produjo rápidamente durante un período de agitación política en Inglaterra que resultó en un gobierno laissez-faire y un vacío de supervisión administrativa en las Indias Occidentales. Los cambios sociales y económicos que se observaron en el registro arqueológico de Trents y que se activaron en todo Barbados, tuvieron un impacto dramático en el mundo atlántico más amplio, incluidas las Américas, Europa, África y sus socios comerciales en todo el mundo.

Résumé

Les origines du capitalisme dans les Antilles Britanniques ont leur source dans l’évolution révolutionnaire en faveur du sucre et de l'esclavage à la Barbade au cours de la seconde moitié du 17ème siècle. Cette étude examine les origines du capitalisme à la Barbade par l'exploration des archives historiques et des découvertes archéologiques issues de la Plantation Trents et d'autres domaines coloniaux anciens à la Barbade. L'expansion de la production de sucre agro-industrielle dans la colonie anglaise de la Barbade a provoqué une rupture dramatique des structures sociales et économiques. Un changement social et économique a résulté du croisement entre l'accès au capital d'investissement, les profits dramatiques rapidement amassés par le biais de la production d'une culture de rente banalisée, le sucre et une modification connexe quant à la main d'œuvre par un recours à un grand nombre de travailleurs esclaves originaires d'Afrique. Le changement a eu lieu rapidement pendant une période de troubles politiques en Angleterre ayant résulté en une gouvernance du laissez-faire et une carence quant au contrôle administratif des Antilles. Les modifications sociales et économiques observées dans les archives archéologiques à Trents et mises en œuvre à travers la Barbade, ont eu un impact dramatique sur le monde atlantique plus vaste, y compris les Amériques, l'Europe, l'Afrique et leurs partenaires commerciaux à travers le monde.

Notes

Acknowledgments:

This research has been carried out in partnership with the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and has benefitted significantly from the assistance of Kevin Farmer (deputy director of the Barbados Museum) and Allisandra Cummins (director, Barbados Museum). Throughout the project Karl Watson has been of continual support and assistance. Annie Price has not only put up with archaeologists digging holes on her property, but has been a gracious host and friend to the archaeological field team, hosting parties and encouraging engagement with the community. The project has been assisted by the Barbados National Trust and faculty and students from University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. This project has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation (two grants), the National Geographic Society (two grants), a NSF sponsored subsidy for INAA testing from MURR—University of Missouri, and grants from Syracuse University. Material and in-kind support have been contributed by Tate Jones and staff from LandAir Surveying Co., Roswell, Georgia, and R. Christopher Goodwin of Goodwin & Associates. The project itself could not have been carried out without the support of dozens of students from Syracuse University.

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© Society for Historical Archaeology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public AffairsSyracuse UniversitySyracuseU.S.A.

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