STUDIES IN AMERICAN HISTORY
BARBAD O S
A STUDY OF
DAVID H. MAKINSON
MOUTON & CO.
LONDON THE HAGUE-PARIS
@ 1964 Mouton & Co., Publishers, The Hague, The Netherlands
No part of this book may be translated or reproduced in any form,
by print, photoprint, microfilm, or any other means, without written permission
from the publishers
Printed in The Netherlands by Mouton & Co., Printers, The Hague
I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Professor Charles Gibson
for his generous assistance and discerning counsel during the prepara-
tion of this work, and to Professor John Haefner for his concept of the
program of which this paper is an integral part. I am also indebted to
the officials of the Public Record Office, British Museum, West India
Committee, and Society for the Propagation of the Gospel of the
Church of England for their many kindnesses during several months
Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to my wife for her encour-
agement and support.
Acknowledgements . 5
List of Illustrations . 8
Introduction .................. 9
I. The Setting for Conflict .... ... 11
II. The French Menace ..... ........ 29
III. The Seven Years' War. . .49
IV. Realignment ........... .... 69
V. The American Years . 83
VI. A New Era ............... 119
Epilogue . . 133
Bibliography ................. 137
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Map of Barbados ... ............. 16
Pinfold Letter on The Stamp Act . .. 72
Franklin Letter . . 112
Proclamation of 1783 ...... ...... .120
Prior to the eighteenth century an essential commerce had developed
between the British colonies in North America and those in the West
Indies based upon the desire and need of each for the products of the
other. While this trade between the northern and tropical portions of
the New World British Empire was but part of the vast and complex
system of commercial activity emanating from Great Britain, and of
less consequence to the mother country than her own commerce with
either area, it formed the basis of much of the economic strength of
the mainland colonies, and was considered so vital by the West Indian
planters that its continuance was equated with their very survival.
However, by the fifth decade of the eighteenth century this
economic relationship had become entangled in political and military
questions relating to the international contest for supremacy then
being waged between Great Britain and France, and would thereafter
be increasingly affected by the course of political events ending in
the American schism of 1783. While the events of the Seven Years'
War and the American Revolution have often been narrated with
regard to their obvious effect upon the American scene, much remains
to be documented regarding the impact of these events in other parts
of the British North American empire, particularly the West Indies.
Barbados in the eighteenth century was in many ways typical of
the several British sugar colonies in the Caribbean, and a study of the
island colony affords an insight into the effect of world events upon
the British West Indies as a whole. The colony founded in the third
decade of the seventeenth century, contemporary in age with the
New England settlements of North America, had become, by virtue
of its age and early development of the sugar industry, the acknowl-
edged leader in economic and political affairs among the British
islands of the Antilles. It is for this reason that a survey of Barbados
among all of the British West India colonies is so rewarding.
Faced with a steadily declining economic and political position
within the British Empire and an inability, caused in part by a lack
of effective leadership, to correct the conditions responsible, most of
the West Indians were obliged to remain bystanders to events which
would lead to their own eventual economic disintegration.
American independence would finally rend apart the delicately
balanced trade pattern within the empire which the British planters
had strove so long to maintain and improve to their advantage. This
decisive act would do much to accelerate the end of mercantilism
and usher in the new trade policies inaugerated by Great Britain
early in the nineteenth century. For mainland America was both a
source of essential supply and the chief market for all of the Carib-
bean islands. In the years before mercantilism surrendered its primacy
to the more modern economic policies of the nineteenth century, the
success or failure of British arms in North America carried with it
economic repercussions sufficient to annihilate dependent parts of
the British Empire; so it was with Barbados and the other British
Caribbean islands during the greater portion of the eighteenth century.
This book attempts to place in perspective those events of the
period which affected the destiny of this prominent British West
Indian colony, and by so doing trace the general course of affairs
throughout the British Caribbean. Where appropriate, reference has
been made to other colonies in an effort to enlarge the view and
corroborate evidence. The narrative is one of a society physically
isolated from its essential resources as well as the markets for its
produce; a society which was seventy percent slave, and in which the
greatest wealth and power was often absent from the island while the
operation of vast holdings was left to salaried overseers. It is a history
of a one-crop economy beset by the inefficiences of supervisory
control, a poor and overworked soil, sudden and violent price fluc-
tuations, foreign completion in world markets and even within the
protected market of the empire itself, natural disasters both instanta-
neous and prolonged, and of risk in every facet of daily life.
Finally, it is the story of planter determination to protect the existing
order against those forces which would undermine and destroy it, be
they French, American rebels, wilful governors, harsh laws, political
opponents in the colony and in London, or the unremitting passage of
time. Their failure, indeed the impossibility of their task, must not
be overlooked when recounting the full story of the British-French
conflict in the New World and the events of the American Revolution.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
The close of the seventeenth century was marked by the growing
rivalry for world political and economic supremacy between the
thrones of Great Britain and France. In the politics of Europe, in the
commercial struggle of the Indian provinces, and in expansionist
policies of both nations on the North American continent the battle
was grimly waged. The expulsion of James II in 1688 and the accession
of William and Mary to the English throne severed the last link in a
centuries-old sorely-tried alliance between the two royal houses. The
outbreak of hostilities the following year marked the beginning of a
hundred and twenty-five years of sporadic warfare waged in every
quarter of the globe, and not successfully concluded until the second
decade of the nineteenth century. The eighteenth century witnessed
a realignment of the two major kingdoms throughout the world, but
submission of either one to the power of the other was to wait until
Perhaps nowhere in the wcrld was the battle for supremacy more
consistently waged, or the change of national fortune more readily
apparent than in the Caribbean during the last six decades of the
eighteenth century. The Antilles, originally under Spanish domination,
had become by 1740 the arena for an economic and military struggle
between France and Great Britain centered on a dozen small islands
in the Leeward and Windward chains, and based upon the successful
marketing of their chief export crops.
The uneasy peace following the Treaty of Utrecht had given both
nations an opportunity to wage economic war upon one another for a
quarter of a century. In the Indies the goal was the maintenance of
one's own export market, coupled with its steady improvement at the
expense of foreign competitors. From their two principal island bas-
tions of Guadeloupe and Martinique the French carried out a relent-
less campaign of trade warfare aimed at undercutting the economic
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
vitality of the British West Indian empire. They successfully breached
the protective mercantile wall placed around the British colonies by
the Acts of Trade and Navigation and were able to impede the growth
of the British empire in the New World far more effectively through
commercial competition than by military means.1
British West Indian settlement had begun in the third decade of the
seventeenth century with the colonization of Barbados. In one hundred
years over 5,000 square miles of island territory had come under
British control. Barbados remained the "mother colony", having been
continuously inhabited and cultivated since 1625.2 All of the British
islands had been acquired through settlement excepting Jamaica,
captured from Spain in 1655, and several small islands in the Virgin
group taken from the Netherlands during the second Dutch War.3
The agricultural age of the British islands was a distinct disadvantage
in the commercial rivalry with France, for the overworked soil of
Barbados, Antigua, Nevis, and Montserrat had to vie with the fertility
of the fresh soil on the large French islands.
Sugar with its related products, rum and molasses, was the principal
crop of the Indies and the chief vehicle of the British-French economic
and political struggle during the eighteenth century. A good crop
coupled with a strong price in the export market assured the well-
being of the planters, and a thriving local economy for another year.
Any deviation from this pattern, regardless of cause, meant the dis-
ruption of the precarious equilibrium that was the insular sugar
Profitable sugar production rested upon a double foundation of
large tracts of cultivated acreage under one management, and sufficient
cheap labor to perform the many tasks necessary for its proper
cultivation. Long before the close of the seventeenth century the
advantages of large scale sugar production had become apparent to
French and British alike. The large producer could operate his refining
plant more often and thus take fuller advantage of that fixed charge,
he could purchase plantation supplies more cheaply because of the
The colonization of Guadeloupe had taken place in 1635, and Martinique the
same year. Their combined area is 1, 114 square miles.
2 V. T. Harlow, A History of Barbados, 1625-1685 (Oxford, 1926), p. 3. This
date is disputed by several early writers who use 1605 as the year of first dis-
covery, and by the Barbados government itself which celebrated the tercentary of
the settlement of the island in 1927.
s Anegada and Virgin Gorda. Neither island figures prominently in Caribbean
THE SETrING FOR CONFLICT
larger quantities involved, and he could make more efficient use of
his labor by rotating his planting schedule.4
On these small islands with a restricted amount of arable soil the
acquisition of land by one planter meant a commensurate decrease in
the amount of land available to other individuals; thus by 1700 prac-
tically all suitable land in the islands was under cultivation and the
white population static or decreasing in numbers., The system was
characterized by large plantations, often managed by agents of an
absentee owner, a one crop economy employing masses of slave labor,
and the rigid adherence to proven agricultural methods, often well
past the point of diminishing return.
The process of land acquisition continued throughout the seven-
teenth and eighteenth centuries, more slowly in times of large crops,
favorable costs and selling prices, and at an accelerated pace in the
poor market years and during wartime when increased expenses and
high fixed costs often drove the small planter to the wall. By 1740
most of the British islands had taken on the characteristics of a two-
level society. A decreasing group of planters, each owning more and
more land as the years passed, was at the top of the social scale, while
the majority of the remaining white residents were to be found in a
broad lower class consisting of a few hired laborers, tradesmen, pro-
fessional men, and the lesser grades of public servants." A constant
drain of men of talent and leadership from the older British islands
was the inevitable result of a quiescent economy; a drain which left
a void in the affairs of government that was never filled. The rigid
application of inheritance by primogeniture throughout the islands
offered little hope for the eventual breakup of the large estates
through death, and actually served to intensify the tendency toward
accumulation of land on the part of large planters.
The home government was aware of the faults of such a land
system, but was unable to reverse the trend until the middle of the
eighteenth century, and then with only limited success.7 In an effort
4 See D. H. Makinson, "A Survey of the Barbados Sugar Industry, 1642-1764",
unpublished ms. (Iowa City, 1959), I, II, for a more detailed analysis of the
operation of a sugar estate in the British West Indies.
5 Jamaica affords us the exception. The island did not reach the zenith of its
white population until early in the eighteenth century or achieve its greatest
production until shortly before the American Revolution. The size and topography
of the island explain in part, the slowness of its development.
6 D. H. Makinson, op. cit., p. 28.
7 Lowell J. Ragatz, The Fall of the Planter Class in the British Caribbean,
1763-1833 (London, 1928), pp. 88, 113, and D. H. Makinson, op. cit., p. 88.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
to retain the white population of the island the Barbados Assembly
passed three acts prior to 1730 aimed at preventing white persons
from leaving either involuntarily or on their own accord without just
cause.8 Acts of this sort were of little avail in attempting to halt the
trend of island settlement, however.
Slave labor formed the basic unit of production on all the islands,
regardless of ownership. There were Negroes working in the cane
fields for British, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Danish masters, and
the ratio of Negroes to whites on all of the islands soon became
exceedingly high. This was another result of an agricultural system
dependent upon one crop. In 1768 the official population figures for
Barbados reveal 16,139 whites, 448 freed slaves and mulattoes, and
66,377 slaves.9 These figures show a ratio that may be considered
typical for the West Indies as a whole.
The danger of a slave revolt was always a real one, and the fear of
an insurrection led to the passing of most of the laws aimed at main-
taining the white population. Slave rebellions continued to be a major
threat in the islands, for as long as the disparity in population existed
armed Negroes could slaughter their masters and other whites within
a few days time and with relative ease. Most planters felt that force,
or the threat of it, must be met by force, thus any slave convicted of
instigating or participating in a rebellion was sure to suffer death. The
killing of a slave "with provocation" on Barbados was punishable only
by a fine as late as the nineteenth century.10
The British slave trade had received its greatest impetus from the
dealings of the Royal African Company which held a monopoly in the
slaving trade from 1672 to 1697. While the company was beset by
difficulties from the beginning and was continually on the edge of
bankruptcy, it laid the foundation for a successful private British slave
trade in the eighteenth century."
The slave trade has been the subject of much writing by students
of history, and every child of twelve has been familiarized with the
famous "three-cornered trade" between the West Indies, New Eng-
land, and the west coast of Africa. Actually this was just one of several
routes in existence during the-period. Several of the British islands,
8 Calendar of State Papers, (hereafter cited as C.S.P.), 1701, No. 1183; Ibid.,
1724-25, No. 751; Ibid., 1726-27, No. 189.
See Table I.
** Harlow, op. cit., p. 427n.
Makinson, op. cit., III, esp. pp. 40-45.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
Population of Barbados for selected Years: 1748-1786
Year White Negro Free Negro Authority
1748 15,252 47,132 C.O. 318:2, no. 116.
1748 15,252 47,025 C.O. 29:28, Cc. 10.
1757 16,772 63,645 C.O. 28:31, Ee. 8; C.O. 318:2,
1762 18,419 C.O. 28:55, nos. 78-94.
1762 18,419 70,000 C.O. 28:32, Ff. 25.
1768 16,189 66,827 C.O. 318:2, no. 116.
1768 76,275 C.O. 31:34.
1768 16,139 66,377 488 C.O. 28:33, Gg. 27.
1772 74,485 C.O. 31:34.
1773 18,532 68,548 534 C.O. 318:2, no. 116.
1773 18,532 68,908 C.O. 318:2, no. 19.
1783 16,167 58,275 C.O. 318:2, no. 116.
1783 16,167 57,434 838 C.O. 318:2, no. 21; C.O. 28:42.
1786 16,167 52,115 838 Edwards, op. cit., p. 346.
notably Barbados, became intermediate distribution points for new
Negroes brought over from Africa.
In the second decade of the eighteenth century Barbados began to
serve as a center of operations for persons selling slaves to the French,
as the French on Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, and Martinique were working
diligently to bring these island into full production, and their need for
new labor was pressing. The re-exportation of slaves from Barbados
continued throughout the century, uninterrupted by changes in the
economic or political climate. Many of the Negroes consigned to
Barbados by the Royal Africa Company for local use were re-exported
to the French islands at a handsome profit. Another source of supply
was the debt-ridden planters who often sold their slaves to a Barbados
broker before fleeing the island and their creditors.12
The slave trade with the Dutch and the French was only part of a
much larger trade in sugar, provisions and manufactured articles
which was carried on throughout most of the eighteenth century, and
which became the active concern of the British government at home
and its representatives in the islands. In spite of laws and other
"1 C.S.P. Col., 1719-20, Nos. 356 II, 388; Ibid. 1734-35, No. 376II.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
measures designed to control this trade, the slave phase was limited
only by the number of Negroes available at any one time and the
demands of the island planters.13
During the war years between 1739 and 1763 the movement of
slaves between the islands continued strong. Governor Robinson of
Barbados reported to the Board of Trade in 1742 that the trade
between Barbados and the French islands was greater than ever
before, in spite of the outbreak of the Spanish war three years
previously. He stated that buyers from Martinique were openly
coming to Barbados and dealing directly with the local planters.
Terms of sale were cash, or hard-to-obtain merchandise such as "soap,
wax-candles, wine, gold and silver, brocades, and laces". Robinson
noted that his share of customs seizures had not exceeded the ridicu-
lously low figure of seven pounds sterling per year for seven years,
and pleaded to know, "what are the Officers of the Customs doing to
tolerate these things?"14 Trade was vital to the survival of the islands
at any time, but particularly so in time of war when the normal trade
channels were apt to be disrupted. Political differences became un-
important when economic survival was at stake.
Much has been written about the treatment of slaves by the
planters and on the practice of slavery itself. But philosophical argu-
ments aside it should not be too difficult to prove that the imported
Negro in the West Indies enjoyed a better material existence than he
had had in Africa. It is even possible that the plantation laborers'
standard of living might well have aroused the envy of most of the
eighteenth century European peasantry including the British.15
The economic survival of each of the islands depended upon
success in the profitable marketing of locally produced sugar, and
individuals and governments always strove toward this goal. Though
often working at cross-purposes, their aims were identical: the promo-
tion of their own and their island's welfare; only secondly was the
well-being of the mother country encouraged. When we consider the
insular positions of these possessions, their monocultural system of
agriculture, their homogeneous planter populations, and the great
distance in miles and time between the Caribbean and the capitals of
Europe it is easy to understand this lack of regard for the problems
Is Makinson, op. cit., p. 47.
14 Original manuscript, Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London, W.C.2.
Colonial Office Papers (hereafter indicated as C.O.), 28:26, Bb. 1.
Is Ragatz, op. cit., p. 27.
Atopograpica Description 4n1 .
u ,, <^^^^,^ |A asurenent ofth YLANDo of
P '" | BARBADOS hi theWe INDYAES|
;" J -i i ,, With thcnnmog.n o. oftk h SeucraU planta o
". W ", *^^ e^. ,,.l-)
h A'(" Sl^'^y *Q; ^,*' Bf^ -" *M"3> /-
g .. t 1 ,.
--. ,. ."
r' i~rrs~~$ e~e p~i rT ir
i I~~,, tip b3~
*jj A 'n
%'s*'44 "Y Po '
All ~ i apF
: c ~~, MA
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
of imperial administration. The motivation behind various schemes,
restrictions, and commercial devices used to promote island welfare
may also be more readily grasped in view of the unusual circum-
stances surrounding their inception.
As the eighteenth century progressed and economic competition
became more intense, the British planters likewise increased their
efforts to achieve some type of economic advantage for their exports.
These efforts took two distinct forms: one was a series of petitions
to the Council of Trade and Plantations and the monarch for relief
within the framework of the Navigation Acts; the other was the
development and promotion of a clandestine trade in sugar, slaves,
provisions, and other commodities carried on outside the legal limits
of the acts.16 Both methods were to some degree effective in granting
relief and could be defended on the grounds of expediency alone
during much of the century.
Probably the most striking phenomena of the relationship between
Britain and her colonies were the strength of the West Indian sugar
lobby in Parliament and the lengths to which Britain was willing to
go to preserve the economic health of her sugar colonies. It can be
said that the West Indian planters were never satisfied with their
economic situation as long as they could devise a new way to improve
their position, even at the expense of others. That sometimes the
devices which they sought and used placed additional burdens on
other Englishmen was of little concern to the planters and their
SNonetheless, the British planters were forced to offer their products
for sale handicapped by regulations, restrictions, and taxes much
more confining and severe than any imposed upon their foreign
competitors. Within the empire the Leeward Island sugar producers,
notably the Barbados planters, were forced to carry an additional tax
burden of 42- percent levied on the value of "all dead commodities of
the growth or produce of (the) island, that shall be shipped off the
same".18 This duty dating back to 1663 and arising from the recogni-
tion by Charles II of the Barbadian planters' land titles, many of
which were of a doubtful nature owing to the muddled estate of the
original proprietor, remained a financial millstone around the necks
16 Makinson, op. cit., p. 59.
18 An act for settling the Import on the Commodities of the Growth of this
Island. Passed 12 September 1663, Barbados Assembly, No. 36. From Sir Alan
Burns, History of the British West Indies (London, 1954), p. 132.
THE SETrING FOR CONFLICT
of the Barbadians for 175 years.19 It was not removed until 1838.
Using the first course of action in an effort to improve their relative
position, the planters resorted to numerous petitions to the home
government, each drawn up and presented by a legislature of the
islands and usually presented to the recipient by an agent of the
colony residing in London. The West Indians used every possible
approach in attempting to display their economic plight. Like hurt
children seeking succor from an understanding parent they poured
forth their grievances to their monarch and Parliament in one petition
after another, each one more plaintive and garrulous the the last.
To illustrate the growing weakness of their competitive position in
the production of sugar, even within the commonwealth, planters on
the older islands (Antigua and Barbados) complained of the increasing
sterility of their soil. Here was a legitimate handicap, but one scarcely
amenable to relief from Whitehall. The productiveness of the recently
planted soils in the French islands and in the newer British colonies
- more notably Jamaica could not be disputed, nor could it be
denied that the soil of the older islands was giving out for lack of
proper management. Among the planters thus handicapped it was felt
that the answer lay in some sort of tariff protection or tax relief for
their products in order to create an artificial equalization among all
sugars in the home market.
Another approach used in seeking relief was to cite the importance
of the sugar islands to Britain and the rest of the empire by reminders
of the large number of individuals and businesses that were dependent
upon a healthy sugar economy. If the desired results were not always
obtained from the king or Parliament the occasional publication of
petitions or other tracts favorable to the West Indies by island agents
or retired planters in England served to sharpen the awareness of
many merchants, shipowners, and investors of their vested interest
in a robust sugar economy.20 Neither did the businessmen engaged
1t The tax arose out the settlement of the claims of the heirs and creditors of
the second Earl of Carlisle by the king. The agreement provided for the recogni-
tion by the crown of the titles to lands owned by the Barbadians, and the
abolition of the dues and rents formerly paid to the proprietor, in return for the
tax on exports.
Perhaps the best example of partisan writing in the guise of historical
research is Bryan Edwards', The History, Civil and Commercial of the British
Colonies in the West Indies (London, 1793). This two volume history which ran
through five editions by 1819 was written by Edwards, long a resident of Jamaica,
in an attempt to present the West Indian case in the controversy then raging over
trade with the United States and the treatment of the Negro slave.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
in the sugar trade need to be reminded often of the source of their
profits, nor were they, as a group, reticent about expressing their
great admiration for the planters and their desire to be of service to
them in group efforts for economic gain.21
It was not, however, through any drastic changes in the Acts of
Trade that the West Indian planters were to achieve their greatest
successes in their economic war. The greatest gains were made by a
constant struggle to stifle any trade by other members of the Common-
wealth that would benefit, even indirectly, their foreign competitors,
and to retard or stop further economic expansion by French and
Dutch interests. In this direction the planters continued to be success-
ful to the degree that their influence in Parliament was sufficiently
strong to overcome the opposition.
Their first success came in 1699 when the Lords of Trade refused
to authorize the colonizing of the island of Tobago on the grounds
that such a settlement would be prejudicial to the trade of Barbados
and the other sugar islands in the Leewards.22 This action by the
Lords marked the beginning of a series of favorable decisions affecting
the sugar industry, and it signaled the start of the future sugar lobby
But the threat of competition remained acute to the planters of the
older islands, particularly Barbados. By 1710 traders from the British
North American colonies had become the foremost suppliers of provi-
sions to the British West Indies and had also begun to wax prosperous
from the trade; perhaps a little too prosperous in the eyes of the
Barbadians. The North Americans offered flour, lumber, grain, horses,
casks, and a host of other items sorely needed by the planters, and took
in exchange sugar, indigo, rum, and molasses. Since it was no secret
that many of the newer islands were able to produce more sugar per
acre, and at a lower cost, than could Barbados it was natural to expect
the northern traders to do much of their exchanging with these islands.
Here was a grave threat to Barbados, far more serious than high
taxes or trade restrictions, for Barbados had long since lost her leading
position in the field of sugar production, and she was now losing it
in the sales field, even within the empire. If it seemed unfair for
Englishmen to profit at the expense of other Englishmen, it seemed
n A good example of concerted action between planter and merchant occurred
in 1731 when the Liverpool merchants trading with Barbados supported a petition
from the planters asking for free trade. C.S.P., Col., 1781, No. 39 II.
22 Ibid., 1699, No. 420. After a hundred years of disputed status Tobago was
formally ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1764.
THE SEATING FOR CONFLICT
doubly unfair when the transactions aided foreigners in their economic
struggles against fellow countrymen.23 Protests were lodged as early
as 1710 against the "New England" trade with the foreign sugar
islands, and ending this, plus renewed efforts for free trade in sugar
unrestricted by the Navigation Acts, became the foremost objectives
of the Barbados planters for the next one hundred years.24
The period from the end of the War of Spanish Succession to 1730
saw a remarkable expansion in sugar consumption in Britain and with
it a rise in the selling price. The increased demand for sugar in both
Britain and continental Europe caused by the widespread use of
coffee for the first time created a market in the 1720's for even the
relatively high-priced Barbados sugars. The prosperity of the twenties
temporarily halted the flow of petitions concerning sugar. Only British
rum and molasses continued to suffer from French competition.
The French planters lacked a home market for rum in wine-drinking
France, and by selling to the mainland colonists through the years at
consistently low prices had been able to dispose of most of their
molasses at a profit. Jamaican rum was assured of a steady market
among the middle and upper classes in Britain and North America
owing to its reputation for superior quality. This left Barbadian rum
in direct competition with that produced in New England from
French and Dutch molasses.
Governor Worsley of Barbados complained in 1724 that New
England trade with the French islands and rum manufacture in North
America had cut the price of Barbados rum in half.25 A Philadelphia
merchant probably best expressed the sentiments of most of the
mainland colonists regarding the use of foreign molasses when he
the Surinam trade will live when our islanders may starve for the Dutch
neither use their molasses nor their rum, save what they give to their
negroes but we are their only customers for molasses & of late rum,
considerable quantities come from thence, they take to grinding their
3 Makinson, op. cit., pp. 93-94.
24 Idem. The Barbadians did not fight the battle alone. By 1730 the legislatures
of most of the islands had petitioned the home government for action against the
increased volume of American-French trade. By 1765 several colonies had been
successful in securing free ports for themselves.
C.S.P. Col., 1724-25, No. 832 V. Richard Pares, Yankees and Creoles (Cam-
bridge, 1956), pp. 29-36, states that the New England distilling industry was well
developed around Boston by the start of the eighteenth century, and that by 1720
New York, Philadelphia, and several small towns in Massachusetts contained
distilleries for the production of rum from West Indian molasses.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
damaged canes & work it up & sell it for about 6d. per gallon. .... We
purchase a whole load there up here at 40/- and 50/- per head and half
a score such may load a sloop as big as my sloop Mary...26
So much foreign rum was carried to North America by the mainland
traders that the price remained depressed until the renewal of warfare
in the Caribbean in 1739.27
The high price of sugar began to fall by 1728 when the British
market became temporarily oversupplied because of increased pro-
duction and a succession of bumper harvests in the West Indies. Once
again the volume of complaints rose inversely with the drop in prices.
Some official concern was expressed at this time, and inquiry into
the question of prices by the Council of Trade served to highlight
the inroads then being made by French and Dutch sugars on the
After a comprehensive study of the state of the sugar trade had
been made, the Council's report reflected a serious concern for the
future of the British sugar islands if positive steps were not taken to
restore British sugars to worldwide competition. In a lucid argument
for continued trade with the foreign sugar islands rather than the
enactment of new trade restrictions, the Council asked
whether it may not be advisable to connive at this trade and carry the
French sugars for them to foreign markets, rather than let them be carriers
themselves; and so much the better, because by this trade the Northern
Colonies upon the continent are probably enabled to pay the balance
which they yearly owe to Great Britain, not having commodities of their
own produce to exchange against these they receive from us.29
For the first time the Council had not taken a negative stand on the
question of free trade.3
As trade conditions grew steadily worse and the price of sugar
remained depressed on the London market the West Indians petitioned
the king to: (1) require all foreign produce intended for sale within
26 Jonathan Dickinson to Issac Gale, May 1721. The Letter Book of Jonathan
Dickinson, p. 370, Library Company of Philadelphia. Cited in Ibid., p. 51.
7 Ibid., p. 127.
28 Specific figures may be noted in Makinson, op. cit., p. 102.
Ibid., pp. 102-103 from C.S.P. Col., 1724-25, No. 291.
30 Previous Council of Trade decisions affecting the sale and transportation of
sugar had always supported the mercantile theories inherent in the restrictive
features of the Acts of Trade. This statement reflects the growing feeling among
responsible officials that some modifications in the Acts might be necessary for
the full development of many parts of the expanding British empire.
THE SETrING FOR CONFLICT
the empire to go through England and pay duties upon import and
re-export; (2) forbid direct importation of foreign products by Ireland;
(3) allow free trade between the English planters and all foreign
ports, "as foreigners now have with England paying only one percent
The commercial rivalry with France was never more keen, and the
constant stream of provisions sent to the French and Dutch islands by
the northern colonists compounded the already grave injury done to
the British planting interests by those nations. Many planters who
operated on a narrow profit margin and were barely solvent during
the good years of the previous decade were ruined by the price
decline. Often the bankrupt planters fled their estates and island with
their slaves and other moveable property a jump ahead of their
creditors creating further financial havoc in the colonies.32
American reaction to the West Indian proposals was immediate
and vehement. The London agents of many of the North American
colonies protested that the proposals, if placed in effect, would ruin
the economy of their respective areas.33 The Board of Trade was
aware of the divergent interests of its American colonies and that any
action taken by the home government would be apt to cause injury
to one or more special interest group. The Board adopted the policy
of hearing evidence both supporting and opposing changes in the
existing Acts, and upon the close of the hearings referred the matter
After prolonged debate in Commons and in the House of Lords,
several of the planter suggestions were embodied in the Molasses Act
of 1733. The act did not prohibit trade between the northern colonies
and foreign plantations, but rather levied prohibitive import duties
on the French sugar, molasses, and rum.34 This partial victory of the
sugar interests, led by the Barbadians, while not complete, was
significant, and reflected the growing power of the West Indians in
S3 C.S.P. Col., 1730, No. 549 I.
3 F. W. Pitman, The Development of the British West Indies, 1700-1763
(New Haven, 1917), p. 134. It was during the 1730's that several schemes for
aiding bankrupts were put forth by the island residents. Most notable of these
was that of the Barbados planter, John Ashley, who promoted a plan in 1737 for
operating the estates of insolvent planters under receiverships. See C.O. 28:25.
3 C.S.P. Col., 1730, No. 549 III, IV, V.
34 9d. on each gallon of rum, 6d. per gallon of molasses, and 5s. per hundred-
weight of sugar, collected upon unloading at the port of entry.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
The effect on prices was instantaneous. Muscovado rose to 25 s. in
1734, a rise of 8 s. from the previous year.35 However, the increase
in price was short-lived; by 1735 the average price had fallen to
within two shillings of its previous low, and the news that the northern
colonists were evading the act with impunity left little hope that the
situation might soon improve. Even if the act had been obeyed, there
were many who felt that more stringent measures were necessary
before British sugar could become competitive on the world market.
Underlying all of the official efforts to promote the economies of
the various British islands was the clandestine trade of the island
merchants and planters that had been flourishing as an integral part
of the Caribbean economic life since European settlement first began
in the sixteenth century. During the troubled eighteenth century this
trade had reached new heights in volume, especially during the war
years when normal trade channels were liable to be disrupted. Indeed
the Acts of Trade had been evaded from their inception to a degree
dependent directly upon their restrictiveness on the West Indian
planters and their merchant allies in North America and the mother
This iniquitous trade ranged from the bribing of customs officials
to overlook cargoes, through falsification of papers, to trading with
the enemy in wartime. Records of smuggling activities and other
illegal trading are difficult to obtain, primarily because few were kept.
Still, from the volume of complaints that was issued, and the expense
and time devoted to controlling these activities we can glean the
impression that they must have been considerable over a long period
The bribing of customs officials constituted perhaps the chief form
of violation practised by most of the West Indian merchants. The
underpaid and underprivileged public servants were usually most
tractable when properly recompensed for their lack of diligence on
the docks, and illegal cargo usually flowed freely through most West
Indian ports. The occasional honest customs collector was apt to find
himself extremely unpopular with the local populace. One Barbadian
5 Muscovado was the golden colored (brown) sugar that formed the bulk of
the world's sugar supply. A more highly refined type called clayed (white) sugar,
was also produced and commanded a much higher price during the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. Although improved refining methods continued to
lower its cost throughout the 1700's, clayed sugar never captured more than
fifteen percent of the British market.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
collector stated that numerous threats had been made against him for
doing his duty too diligently
It is interesting to note that use of bribes enabled the planters to
carry on a limited trade with Europe thus evading the prohibition
against it found in the Acts. The method employed was to conceal a
variety of merchandise underneath a cargo of staple items on which
the various duties would be paid. By loading and unloading in one
of the smaller English ports, thus following the requirement that all
goods must first stop in England, such as Falmouth or Dover and
bribing the customs officials, vast quantities of goods were freely
exchanged between Europe and the West Indies.
If it was not possible to control the customs inspectors in a port in
the West Indies, contraband merchandise could be landed in the
outlying bays and creeks of most islands in order to avoid the payment
of duties. Many captains simply unloaded outside the harbor when a
suitable anchorage could not be found elsewhere. By using small boats
to convey the cargo to the shore, usually at night, merchandise could
be landed at several places along the beach and carried directly to
one or more estates by wagon before morning.
The frequent wars of the period, that disrupted the normal channels
of commerce, served to increase the dependence of the island residents
on these interlopers, and even gave them an aura of respectability
granted only to those individuals who had the power to save an
island from isolation and starvation.7
One of the most profitable forms of outside trade was carried on
with Spanish merchants from the South American mainland, Cuba,
Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico. Although this trade was prohibited
to varying degrees by the Acts and in its entirety by the Spanish
government, it had reached sizeable proportions by the early eigh-
teenth century. On Barbados excess slaves were traded for gold coin,
machinery, and provisions from the Spanish settlements on the South
American coast during the War of Spanish Succession even though
Britain and Spain were enemies.
It was Spanish gold that enabled the Barbadians to continue their
purchases of badly needed. provisions from the North American
traders." For it was the northern colonists who played the role of
chief purveyors in this unofficial traffic between the West Indians
# C.S.P. Col., 1699, No. 476.
Makinson, op. cit., p. 82.
3 C.S.P. Col., 1706-08, No. 1591; Ibid., 1708-09, No. 134.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
and those with whom they traded. And by the eighteenth century
many American merchants preferred to purchase the lower-priced
French and Dutch sugars with cash earned in the British islands
than to make less profit carrying British sugar home to Boston or
Philadelphia. The newer islands were able to produce sugar so cheaply
that it became common practice for merchants on Barbados to import
sugar from these islands and then market it through the regular trade
channels as Barbados grown. This was often done with Dutch sugar
from Surinam. So much foreign sugar consistently entered Barbados
in the eighteenth century that its importation was a constant threat to
the solvency of those planters who relied on marketing only the locally
In the matter of economic survival nationalities ceased to be of
importance; while British soldiers from the homeland and the northern
colonies fought the French across the snow-covered forests of Nova
Scotia, their fellow countrymen might be simultaneously concluding
negotiations in the Caribbean for any of scores of products freely
traded between the two enemies.
International rivalries and tensions were freely subordinated to
parochial economic interests by British and French planters alike -
even in the midst of open warfare between the two nations. Trading
was made somewhat more difficult by being in the proximity of the
fighting, and made easier in direct proportion to the distance between
the islands and the battle area. Thus heavy fighting on the North
American continent did little to impede the flow of supplies through-
out the Caribbean.
Much of the indifference with which the British planters viewed
their role in the imperial design could be directly traced to their view
of themselves as residents of the islands. It was not unusual for the
British planter to look upon himself as a transplanted Englishman,
as indeed he often was. For it was common to consider residence in
the Caribbean as only a temporary thing. Children of wealthy planters
were invariably sent to England for their formal schooling, and it was
not uncommon for planters and merchants to maintain residences both
in the islands and in Britain.
Here we note an important contrast with the northern colonies.
No matter how pleasurable and profitable tropical island living might
have been, it did not become a substitute for the temperate climate
of the mother country in the eyes of most British settlers. That is,
it was difficult to become completely acclimatized in such a radically
THE SEATING FOR CONFLICT
different environment. In North America the English and Scotch
settlers could, and did, find areas in the vast expanse of new land that
were not unlike their former homes. It was easy for many to establish
a new allegiance to a land so similar to the mother country and yet
so full of promise.
The Indies too, were a place of opportunity but nothing more.
The islands had originally been a quick way to a fortune, if you were
industrious and had several good years without drought or a hurri-
cane. But by the eighteenth century that opportunity had gradually
faded away as the once-new lands lost their productiveness to repeat-
ed plantings of a single crop, and slave labor gradually replaced free
labor in the trades and crafts.
This was an alien society based upon profit and forced to rely on
masses of slave labor for its proper functioning. Competing in world
markets hampered, hindered, aided, and assisted by a series of com-
plicated and ever-changing laws enacted by country squires, bishops,
and businessmen, five thousand miles and two months away, the
planters evolved their own little society apart from both their fellow
countrymen to the north and those at home. Nonetheless, the West
Indian did not identify himself so completely with his culture that he
lost his former identity; indeed, he never did; he could not.
We can perhaps consider the British West Indies as a sub-society
within the framework of the British tradition. It contained a homo-
geneous class of landed whites directing an exotic economy and which
never established the affinity with the land that had been the hall-
mark of the British gentry for centuries.39 These islands were the
outposts of an empire whose function, in addition to their own better-
ment, was the promotion of the mother country and its institutions
in all times.
The planter, be he second or third generation island born, was
more British than West Indian in his views of empire, for his remote-
ness was the very thing that caused him to seek the protection of the
British state. Troubled as he might have been by the inequities of the
Acts of Trade, and though he might circumvent the law when it was
to his benefit, he was made painfully aware of his total dependence
upon the parent state by the frequent wars of the period. For without
assistance from home there would be no trade, without trade only the
prospect of starvation and ruin.
A parallel case in point might be that of the British role in India during
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
With the possible exception of Jamaica, the West Indies were not
self-sufficient. Most of the smaller islands had been planted to sugar
for generations, and while some diversity in planting was to be found
in the former "neutral islands" after 1763, it had always been easier
and cheaper to import the necessary foodstuffs from North America
and Britain than to use precious acreage for food production. This
condition made the West Indian utterly dependent upon outside
support for the proper functioning of his economy; it was basic to all
other considerations involving his well-being.
Throughout the century an inconsistency of motive is apparent in
the actions of the planters as they chaffed at restraints imposed by the
home government, while simultaneously urging that a greater interest
be taken in other aspects of their affairs by that same institution. The
planter was a victim of his environment in a literal sense: tied to one,
or a few cash crops, dependent upon distant markets that he could
not control and agents whose ability and honesty he could not ascer-
tain, physically isolated from the source of his law, provisions, and
material, at the mercy of the capricious tropical elements, and pressed
down by the knowledge that the time of opportunity had indeed
departed, he continued to follow the course of existence established
by his predecessors, hoping with a gambler's hope that somehow he
might be able to extricate himself from debt, responsibility, and fear.
It has been argued that the planters were "the conspicuously rich
men of Great Britain in the middle of the seventeen hundreds" and
that with this wealth were able to exercise inordinate power over the
course of events.40 While we can document the existence of a strong
sugar lobby and its effectiveness on numerous occasions in promoting
the sugar interests, its existence was not necessarily the manifestation
of a healthy sugar economy in the British West Indies. Political power
is very often hard to obtain and usually obtainable only through years
of effort. Once entrenched, such power is equally difficult to dissipate
and is often held by interests mortally weakened from within. Such
was the status of the West Indian planters by 1740.
Wealth created from sugar lacked a rational foundation. It was
artificial, resting upon a paper monopoly secured by the much-abused
Acts of Trade, and doomed to destruction at the hands of nature,
competitors, and the inherent inefficiency of a wasteful system of
production and distribution.
40 Ragatz, op. cit., p. vii.
28 THE SETTING FOR CONFLICT
Conditions of economic and political life had changed in the West
Indies from the settlement years of the seventeenth century. By the
fifth decade of the eighteenth century the old order of things had
been badly strained by new economic pressures unknown only a
generation earlier. Revisions and alterations were needed to shore up
the faltering West Indian economy, and when, instead, the old
doctrines continued to be used, the eventual loss of the Caribbean
colonies as an effective source of British influence in America was to
be expected. This same lack of insight in colonial affairs brought
about an eventual rupture between Great Britain and her northern
colonies, and in the Caribbean the neutralization in fact, if not in
spirit, of the British islands during the War for American Inde-
THE FRENCH MENACE
The artificial attempt to control the empire sugar market by the
Molasses Act of 1733 soon failed amid incessant North American trade
with the French and Dutch sugar islands. While the British islands
continued to receive provisions and supplies from their fellow colonists
to the North, trade was usually conducted on a cash basis, thus con-
tinuing the drain of hard currency from the already impoverished
A memorialist of the period offered an accurate description of
the abuse the Molasses Act was receiving at the hands of the North
I am sorry to observe that the duties imposed thereby on foreign rum and
molasses are evaded, and the design of that well intended law totally
eluded. ... Tis notorious that most of the Northern Traders who come
hither to the LI., do now sell their cargoes, or such part thereof, as is
most in demand, for ready money. This they carry off and rendezvous
sometimes 40 sail at a time at St. Eustatia, where great quantities of the
commodities I'm speaking of, are constantly lodged for sale.1
The islands languished amid depressed prices on the London sugar
market and the intense foreign competition fraudulent carried on
within the empire. In 1737 Governor William Mathew of Antigua
wrote of the plight of that colony and stated, "Indeed I never saw the
condition of the sugar planters reduced so low, even to indigence,
tho for thirty years I have been concerned here."2 James Dottin,
President of the Barbados Council wrote of the difficulty of collecting
the 4- percent tax owing to the depressed state of trade.8 Even
Jamaica with its relatively fresh soil had been hardpressed by the
1 T. Osborne, Caribbeana, Letters and Dissertations (London, 1741), II, pp.
2 Governor William Mathew to the Duke of Newcastle, 17 January 1737.
C.O. 152:44, fos. 87-88d.
s Dottin to the Board of Trade, 14 May 1737. C.O. 28:25; AA. 64.
THE FRENCH MENACE
"excessive fall' in the price of sugar in Great Britain, "the sole mart
allowed" for its marketing.4
Adding to the economic burden borne by the planters were several
serious slave revolts in the thirties, the most dangerous occurring in
Jamaica in 1736, and lasting several years. By fleeing into the moun-
tainous interior several bands of armed slaves were able to menace
wide areas of the island with relative impunity, and keep at bay forces
far superior in strength for a number of years.5
Overriding these domestic issues in importance was the growing
menace of French power in the Antilles. For over twenty years the
French had been working to improve their military position in anti-
cipation of an eventual renewal of warfare in the Caribbean. Their
key to power was the possession of islands from which to launch
attacks upon the enemy and from which defenses could be erected
to thwart possible counter-attacks on Martinique and Guadeloupe.
The Treaty of Utrecht had specified the neutralization of several of
the West Indian islands whose ownership was in doubt owing to
conflicting claims by both France and Great Britain, and it was in
these islands that France soon began surreptitiously to spread her
The chief targets of this movement were the remaining large islands
in the chain comprising the Lesser Antilles. This group of loosely
arranged islands stretching over six hundred miles from Anquilla in
the North to Trinidad at the mouth of the Orinoco River had always
been the center of French West Indian activity since the colonization
of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the previous century. The northern-
most islands of the chain had been settled by the British and Dutch
and with Barbados, these British colonies had become the nucleus of
that country's early sugar empire.
The area that was to feel the pressure of French expansionist
movement lay down the center spine of the Lesser Antilles from
Guadeloupe to Grenada, which included the six largest islands of the
chain. Martinique and Guadeloupe had been French for one hundred
years, and Grenada a colony since 1650. It was into the vacuum
4 President Gregory to the Duke of Newcastle, 23 November 1736. C.O.
137:22, fos. 101-102.
5 There is some question whether this revolt and several later ones were ever
put down. Since so many slaves continually fled to the interior of the island
large parts of Jamaica, nominally controlled by the whites, were, in fact, the
undisputed domain of bands of escaped and armed Negroes quite able to repulse
any attack on their territory. See, Idem.
-THE FRENCH MENACE
created by the conflicting claims to Dominica, St. Lucia, and St.Vincent
that the French moved. These islands were largely uninhabited by
Europeans, in part due to the question of ownership, and in part due
to the fierce resistance of the native Caribs who were consistently
hostile in their contacts with interlopers. Carib hostility was partic-
ularly strong on Dominica and St. Vincent where several seventeenth-
century settlement attempts by both English and French planters
ended in failure.
By the 1730's however the French had had some success in establish-
ing a few scattered settlements on all three islands. By using the same
tactics that had worked so well in Canada they had managed to get
several small plantations into production and to garrison portions of the
island with troops. The French made no overt effort to subvert Carib
authority, preferring instead to move in amongst the natives offering
rum, hardware, and technical skill in return for their safety. Dominica
and St. Vincent also harbored large groups of Negro slaves who had
escaped from the adjacent islands, and who were continually at war
with the Caribs, or, at best, existed in a state of armed neutrality.
The French were often successful in playing one group against the
other to their own advantage, and on Dominica succeeded in deci-
mating both groups by fostering Negro-Carib antagonisms while
remaining ostensively uninvolved.
The British planters viewed the French movements with alarm; not
only were the French settlements evidence of a deliberate violation
of the treaty provisions insuring the islands' continued neutrality and
evacuation, but successful French occupation meant further sugar
competition in peace and a threat to British sovereignty in wartime.
Antigua, lying only fifty miles from Guadeloupe, was particularly
vulnerable to strong attack, and in 1737 its London agent was directed
to ask for more soldiers to be sent out to reinforce its tiny garrison.
He reported that the planters were fearful of a renewal of hostilities
with the French and were afraid of a slave uprising on the islands in
case of a French attack. With 24,000 Negroes and only 3,000 whites
on Antigua this fear might not have been without foundation.6
Among the Barbadians fear also ran high that the French activity
on St. Lucia and St. Vincent meant an eventual armed attack on
Barbados using the two "neutral islands" as spring-boards. Upon the
6 Petition of John Yeomans, agent for Antigua, before 21 February 1737.
C.O. 152:40, fos. 288b. 288c.
THE FRENCH MENACE
death of Governor Howe in 1736, the affairs of government passed to
James Dottin, President of the Council, who, as a large landowner,
was immediately concerned for the safety of the island. Always alert
for signs of increased French activity, he found ample proof of a
French build-up during the three years of his de facto rule and so
informed his superiors at home.
As the threat of a new rupture between Britain and France in-
creased, Dottin's alarm grew commensurately. In 1788 he informed
the Board of Trade of a continual increase in the number of French
settlers on St. Lucia in violation of the treaty for evacuating the island,
and somewhat ruefully stated that "it was a mistaken policy" to have
allowed the French to have seized the island in the first place.7 He
lamented the state of the fortifications protecting Barbados which
were always in a state of disrepair owing to the habitual reluctance
of the Assembly to allocate funds for their maintenance and restora-
tion.8 He further commented on the sorry economic plight of the
island's inhabitants by stating that the island was becoming depopu-
lated as "estates broke up and destroyed and (a) a number of the
Planters continue in debt, and have little of their own to lose; I believe
the resistance the Enemy would meet with would not be so warm and
vigorous as I could wish.. .."
Dottin continued to express his alarm over the French activities in
an effort to incite some sort of action from the home government.
Although Barbados had never been attacked during the two previous
wars with France, its residents were keenly aware of the island's
isolated position with respect to the rest of the Antilles, and were
sensitive to the weakness of their defenses. A two-sided approach to
the menance of France was used in official correspondence with the
7 James Dottin, President of Council, to the Board of Trade, 4 November 1738.
C.O. 28:25, Aa. 72.
8 This was a constant complaint of Barbadian governors since the passage of
the 41 percent duty in 1663. While the proceeds from this tax were usually used
for various purposes from enhancing the king's personal wealth to pensions
for favored persons, the Assemblies always contended (not without foundation)
that most of the funds were designated by the terms of the original agreement for
the island's defense. They were thus always extremely reluctant to vote for the
spending of local tax moneys on what was, to them, the responsibility of the
Board of Trade. Fortunately for both sides in the argument the island's fortifica-
tions were never put to the test, since Barbados remained the only British island
in the Antilles never attacked by an enemy fleet throughout the long era of
British and French conflict from 1689 to 1815.
Dottin to Board of Trade, 4 November 1738. C.O. 28:25, Aa. 72.
THE FRENCH MENACE
Board: the military threat posed to British security by French expan-
sion, and the economic threat to the British sugar market occasioned
by increased French sugar production from the neutral islands.
Pleas for warships to defend Barbados from possible attack,10
and reminders of the commercial value of the neutral islands fill the
correspondence of the period. In 1739 Dottin again complained of the
presence of the French on St. Lucia, and reminded the Board that
they "reap great profit and Advantages to themselves thereby"."
The appointment of Robert Byng as governor of Barbados that
same year with instructions to do all in his power to secure the
"peaceable explosion" of the French from the islands in question,
served to heighten the tension already surrounding the issue.12 It was
soon evident that the French had no intention of honoring the terms
of the twenty-five year old treaty, and that no steps short of military
force could expel them from their footholds on the several islands.
In one of Byng's first communications to the Board he acknowledged
the "great Prejudice which arises to Our Sugar Colonies by the secret
Introduction of French Sugars into them and the particular injury it
is to this island.. ."."1 In a postscript to the same letter Byng stated
that he was trying to remove the French from St. Lucia and St. Vin-
cent, but was pessimistic about the success of his efforts.14
The sad plight of the Barbados planters bears adequate testimony
to the inroads made by the French in their successful usurpation of
the colonial sugar market. The extent of the French penetration into
the British sugar market was all the more remarkable since it con-
tinued to increase in spite of legislation designed to halt its spread.
In June 1739, after years of effort, Parliament gave its approval, with
restrictions, to a plan to allow the direct exportation of British sugar
to the European market.
The Sugar Act, as it was called, permitted the British planters to
ship sugar directly to any European port, and removed all the import
and re-export duties formerly collected in Britain. The only restrictions
placed upon this trade were that ships sailing to ports north of Cape
Finisterre touch at some British port,15 and that only ships built and
11 Dottin to Board of Trade, 28 May 1739. C.O. 28:25, Aa. 76.
12 Byng was appointed, 31 May 1739. C.O. 28:25, Aa. 74, 75.
13 Byng to Board of Trade, 7 January 1740. C.O. 28:25, Aa. 80.
15 Cape Finistere in Spain.
THE FRENCH MENACE
Average Price per Hundredweight of Barbados Muscovado Sugar
Sold at the London Custom House, 1750-1787
S Bottom Average Top
a I. _______________
Edwards, op. cit., II, p. 267; Add. M. 8133c ff. 224-226.
THE FRENCH MENACE
owned in Britain engage in the trade.16 The act gave notice to France
and the mainland colonists that Parliament had become concerned
for the welfare of the sugar islands, even at the expense of other parts
of the British empire.
Sugar prices on the London market reacted swiftly to the passage
of the act by staging an immediate rise,17 but to credit the Sugar Act
alone for this sudden prosperity would be erroneous indeed. Mus-
covado rose from an average of 21s. 7td. per hundredweight in 1738,
to 25s. 81d. in 1739, and to 32s. -d. in 1740,18 partially because the
planters no longer needed to ship the bulk of their produce to England
to be sold at whatever price was offered, but primarily because of the
renewal of formal sea warfare between Britain and Spain in the
Caribbean in 1739.
War, or the threat of it, always caused a general price rise in sugar
and other West Indian products in Britain, as the general cost of
shipping and insurance increased tremendously during wartime,
especially when the sea lanes between Europe and the Caribbean
were endangered. Thus the difficulty in attributing the immediate
rise in the price of sugar to the Act of 1739 lies in the fact that the
1740's were years of war in which, ultimately, the French colonies
became involved. Still, the average price of muscovado during the
six years of peace between 1749 and 1755 was 31s. 1-d., and the
lowest only 27s. 9 d.19
This certainly suggests that the greatest advantage of the act lay
in the better bargaining position that it gave to the planters in their
dealings with the London sugar dealers for very little trade with
Europe actually resulted from its passage. The restrictions imposed
by the act were such that only forty-eight licenses were granted to
ship sugar from the West Indies directly to points in Europe south
of Cape Finisterre between 1739 and 1753, and of these only five were
ever used.20 It was the possibility of sending sugar directly to the
continent, rather than the deed, and the increasing effectiveness of
16 In 1742 the privilege was extended to colonial ships at the request of the
Barbadians who claimed they were suffering for lack of British shipping due to
the war. It is a tribute to the increased political strength of the planters that this
change could be accomplished in the face of strong opposition from British
17 See Table II.
18 See Table II.
19 See Table II.
20 Pitman, op. cit., p. 184.
THE FRENCH MENACE
the West Indian planter groups in London, that raised its price on the
British sugar market and circumvented any possible price collusion
by a refiners association.21
The outbreak of fighting with Spain in 1739 and the improvement
in the price of sugar did not get at the basic difficulty facing the
Barbadians and indeed all the British planters. This was the distortion
of trade caused by the efficient French and abetted by the price
conscious British colonists from North America. The war with Spain
barely caused a ripple of excitement on the mainland outside of
Georgia and South Carolina. Actually, prospects of an easier and
more open trade with the French islands appeared enhanced with
the British navy now sailing in search of the Spaniard rather than
Until the renewal of fighting against France in 1742, the three
years of improved sugar prices occasioned by the Spanish War meant
little material gain for the Barbadians. Increases in shipping and in-
surance charges on homeward cargoes accounted for most of the rise
in price, and a similar jump in the cost of provisions destined for the
British islands leaves some doubt as to whether or not the planters
were able to share in the blessings of the price rise.
The advantages of a Spanish war were not altogether lost on the
Barbadians however, and those planters who had been active in
urging a British penetration of the "neutral islands" now encouraged
the taking of Trinidad for the purpose of increasing British sugar
production, and for its settlement opportunities. Governor Byng was
a strong advocate of the scheme, and viewed the proposal as a means
of relieving most of the planter distress caused by the poor soil of
Barbados. He was quick to urge the capture of Trinidad and felt that
it could be done with ease as it was reported to have a garrison of
only three hundred Spanish troops.22 Unfortunately from their point
of view the outbreak of war with France spelled an end to the hope
of a Barbadian migration to the fresh soil of Trinidad.23
n Makinson, op. cit., p. 132.
2 Byng to Board of Trade, 23 June 1740. C.O. 28:25, Aa. 89.
2 The War with Spain beginning in 1739 grew out of commercial rivalry
between the two powers and was but a prelude to the larger war of the Austrian
Succession three years later. The Spanish-British conflict is usually referred to as
the War of Jenkins Ear, taking its name from an incident in 1731 when Robert
Jenkins, captain of an English merchant vessel, claimed to have had his ear cut
off by an officer of a Spanish guard costa in retaliation for smuggling with Cuba.
Continued British smuggling activity and resentment at exclusion from the
THE FRENCH MENACE
That same year Byng's attempt to strike more effectively at the
constant violations of the Acts of Trade by colonial ships was dealt
a heavy blow by the Board of Trade. Following the start of hostilities
in 1739, Byng gave his assent to the seizing of colonial and neutral
shipping in the harbors of Barbados that was found to be carrying
cargo prohibited by the Navigation Acts. The owners of several ships
thus seized appealed to the Board for redress of this "arbitrary" action
by Byng and his naval commanders, on the grounds that unless such
goods were actually confiscated by customs while being smuggled
ashore, they were not in violation of the law. The mere possession of
such goods on board ship, they felt, should not be considered prima-
facie evidence of smuggling.
The Governor also wrote to the Board stating his views on the
seizures, and attempted to justify his action by citing the harmful
effects of such underhanded trade on the Barbados economy. The
Board sought a ruling on the legality of the in-port seizures from the
Solicitor-General, and upon his recommendation ruled the seizures
This was a serious setback for the zealous Governor Byng, and a
blow to those who had profited from the sale of seized merchandise.
It was however, a fortunate decision for the vast majority of Bar-
badians, for news of Byng's action had swept the length of the Carib-
bean and many ships carrying needed provisions from the northern
colonies had ceased to call at Barbados for fear of forcible confiscation
of all or part of their cargoes. With the threat of a new French conflict
daily growing stronger, the Barbadians sought to stockpile sufficient
food and material for their use in case of isolation or attack, but the
decrease in the number of supply ships arriving in their harbors made
this an impossible undertaking. It was not until news of the Board's
decision reached the Indies in late 1740 that North American shipping
once again arrived in adequate numbers to allow the storage of sup-
plies on the island.
In 1741 word was received on Barbados of a bill then in Parliament
that would prohibit the export of corn (wheat) and other provisions
from Great Britain, Ireland, and His Majesty's possessions in North
Spanish colonial trade caused the war, but Jenkins' story in the House of
Commons, complete with the holding aloft of his severed ear, made a tremendous
impact on British national pride and eventually forced the reluctant Sir Robert
Walpole to declare war.
24 Frances Fane to Board of Trade, 15 August 1740. C.O. 28:25, Aa. 93.
TIE FRENCH MENACE
America for the duration of the war then about to begin in Europe.
The news created an immediate wave of hysteria throughout the
island and food prices rose drastically on the assumption that the bill,
if passed, would create a further shortage of provisions than that
normally experienced and expected during wartime.25 The Assembly
immediately sent a protest to the Board against any action that would
create further hardship for the island and her sister colonies in the
While promotion of such an act was clearly designed to hamper the
internal economies of Britain's continental enemies and, if effective in
its sanctions, would be likely to create a surplus of export grain and
thus tend to lower prices and benefit the West Indian buyer, this
knowledge seems to have escaped the planters. Gripped by their fear
of abandonment by the mother country because their isolated position
might be difficult to defend in wartime, the planters continued to be
irrational and shortsighted in much of their outlook toward empire
affairs. Laws prohibiting the export of provisions of any kind from
Barbados had been passed fifty years before and still remained in
force as testimony to the always-present fear of shortage. Merchants
desiring to export livestock or provisions needed permission from the
Governor and his Council even in times of peace.27
Throughout 1740 and 1741 the West Indies reflected the steadily
worsening situation in Europe. Shortly before his sudden death in
October 1740, Byng reported failure in his efforts to secure the peace-
able removal of the French garrisons from St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.
In reply to his letter to the French urging them to honor their treaty
obligations, the Governor of Martinique announced French claim to
St. Lucia by right of first settlement, and stated that St. Vincent and
Dominica belonged to the Caribs.28 Since the Caribs were unwilling
hosts to large groups of French settlers on all three islands, this was
tantamount to proclaiming de jure as well as de facto settlement by
The loyal President of Council, James Dottin, was required to
assume executive leadership of Barbados once again upon the death
25 11 June 1741. C.O. 31:21. Many of the volumes in this series are neither
lettered nor numbered by folio or page; thus the seemingly inadequate designation
by volume only must be used.
7 Permission to export was often granted in peacetime after the payment of a
25 fee to have a permission petition read before the Governor-in-Council.
2 Byng to Board of Trade, 13 August 1740. C.O. 28:25, Aa. 94.
THE FRENCH MENACE
of Byng, and he immediately began efforts to strengthen the island's
defenses and waken the Assembly members to a sense of their respon-
sibility toward the safety of the colony. Dottin championed the
Assembly's view on changing the 42 percent, however, and used the
threat of war and possible French attack to urge the use of the export
tax funds for defense purposes.29 In a petition to the king in 1741 the
Assembly stressed the inability of the planters to assume any ad-
ditional burdens of taxation, and enclosed an accounting of the
expenditures from the 4-1 percent through February 1741, as proof of
Barbados had in fact become so impoverished that the Assembly
was forced to pass new legislation aimed at preventing the flight of
debtors from the island.31 Action of this nature in addition to a
renewal of petitioning for economic and tax relief bear adequate
testimony to the ineffectiveness of the Molasses and Sugar Acts of
the previous decade. These acts designed to mitigate the financial
stress of the British colonies, and the older island in particular, had
failed to achieve their purpose because of widespread evasion and
improper enforcement. But even if the acts had been effective in
archieving their stated purposes, they were not a remedy for the chief
economic ills of the older islands loss of productivity and high
duties on export commodities.
The threat of an enlarged war added to the uneasiness already
gripping the West Indies. Reports of renewed French activity on the
neutral islands and a strenghtening of their military establishment on
Martinique were forwarded to Whitehall from Dottin and the other
British colonial executives.82 The planters while encouraged by the
upward trend of London sugar prices, were vexed by higher prices for
their own needs, and the uncertainty of their future in the face of a
prolonged French war.
Planter pessimism was heightened by the steady flow of French
products going northword in the holds of colonial ships, much of it
paid for with hard money taken in exchange for needed provisions
29 C.O. 28:25, Aa. 105. The request was not granted. See 8 October 1741.
30 C.O. 28:25, Aa. 104. The date 5 February 1740, on the document would
correspond with the year 1741 by present day Gregorian calculations. It was not
until 1752 that the British Julian calendar was modified to conform with the
continental and presently accepted calendar.
31 C.O. 28:25, Aa. 106.
S3 Dottin to Board of Trade, 22 October 1740, 16 July 1741. C.O. 28:25,
Aa. 100; C.O. 28:25, Aa. 107.
THE FRENCH MENACE
from the Barbadians themselves. Many of the northern captains, who
formerly stopped at Barbados, were now making St. Lucia a port of
call instead, and as the size and productivity of the French colony
increased the volume of mainland shipping rose accordingly. The
planter dominated Assembly constantly harassed Governor Byng and
President Dottin to take a more positive type of action against the
French than the mere sending of notes to rid Barbados of that "great
discouragement of trade" one hundred miles to the Northwest.s3 The
Assembly noted that French sugar, rum, and molasses continued to
pour into the northern colonies at lower cost than British produce
in spite of the Molasses Act, thus creating a need for more stringent
measures to control foreign competition.34
The wheels of government turn slowly; government circles were
aware of the failure of the Acts of 1733 and 1739 to correct a difficult
situation, but relief in the form of proper enforcement of the existing
laws or new legislation was not forthcoming for another two decades.
We may offer the outbreak of war in 1739 as an excuse for the govern-
ment's failure to take concerted action in an area so vital to the
welfare of an important segment of its empire, but we may also ask
whether the renewal of the bitter struggle with France would not
make such action almost imperative for the safety of those British
islands in the West Indies upon which so much depended. The islands
were at once an area of production of important tropical commodities
bartered by British merchants throughout the world, a market for
British manufactures second only to the thirteen northern colonies
within the empire, a source of Anglo influence in the Hispanic Amer-
ican empire, and strategic centers of British military and naval forces
in the New World.
The British West Indies deserved a better fate than to languish for
fifty years while fellow colonists were able to reap fat profits from an
identical trade carried on with others. While much of the planters'
misery was of their own making through wastefulness and greed, a
more knowledgeable course of colonial administration on the part of
Whitehall could have overcome much the distress engendered in the
Caribbean by this lack of direction from above. The sugar islands had
been placed in a position of restraint not unlike that which gradually
enveloped the northern colonies after 1764. For the colonists on the
mainland there were avenues of evasion and the means at hand to
3 Minutes of the Assembly, 10 January 1740. C.O. 31:22.
THE FRENCH MENACE
exert counterpressures on the mother country, plus a land richly
endowed in raw materials for a good start in the direction of self-
sufficiency; for the West Indians there was little recourse but to
submit. The Acts were often evaded, and many times evasion of the
trade laws meant.the difference between profit and loss, survival or
not surviving, but evasion was only a prevention of harm, not a cure
for the disease that slowly ate away the vitality of the sugar colonies.
Outposts surrounded by hostile neighbors and dependent upon a
tenuous line of supply for their very existence could not exhibit the
daring of their continental brethren in voting retaliatory measures
against the crown.
The islands entered the middle stage of the Anglo-French conflict
without hope that either victory or defeat would alter their situation
in the least.
By 1741 the Caribbean swarmed with privateers, and shipping costs
rose to cover the increased danger of capture or destruction. On
Barbados the presence of these ships was acutely felt in the higher
prices of most commodities and services. Despairing of receiving help
in the form of a warship from the Admiralty, the merchants and
planters determined to secure the necessary funds for the equipping
of a ship of their own to keep the island's coastal waters free from
danger. The movement commenced soon after the start of the Spanish
War; one year later the project had still not met with success.35 In
December 1741, the Council petitioned the king for a naval squadron
to protect Barbados from the French in case of war and from the
current depredations of privateers on the island's shipping,36 and as
late as June 1743, the merchants petitioned the Board of Trade for
protection from Spanish privateers.37 It is not known whether or not
the Barbadians succeeded in their effort at self-defense, for early in
1744 full-scale naval warfare erupted between Britain and France in
the West Indies.
During wartime the possibility of invasion always loomed large in
35 On 8 July 1740 the Assembly reported to Governor Byng that they were
still trying to get a ship equipped for action against the privateers. C.O. 31:22.
36 Petition to George II from the Barbados Council, 11 December 1741.
37 The merchants of Barbados to Board of Trade, 25 June 1743. C.O. 28:46,
no. 37. Another memorial was sent to the Governor by the merchants on 16 March
1743, complaining of losses occasioned by Spanish and French privateers. It is
interesting to note that this was a year before notification of war between Britain
and France was received from London marking the official start of hostilities.
C.O. 31:21; C.O. 28:46, no. 76.
THE FRENCH MENACE
the thoughts of the island residents, and defense policy was directed
solely toward repelling invasion attempts. Offensive action against the
enemy could never be considered by island militia groups, and the
active prosecution of a war had to be left in the hands of the Royal
Navy and the regular military establishment. Militia units often
partook in joint efforts with the regulars (often to the consternation
of both groups), but operations which involved the transportation of
large numbers of men and supplies across many miles of rough sea
had to be, of necessity, the prerogative of a professional military
With little possibility for offensive action at hand, the war years
became primarily a time of semi-isolation and suspense. Trade was
apt to slow down compared with peacetime, but it did not, and could
not, cease altogether. In matters of trade the British islands were
always better off than their French neighbors thanks to the protection
of the usually superior and more numerous British fleet, and beginning
in 1744 two large convoys sailed each year between England and
Barbados bringing provisions and carrying away sugar products.38
The war years appear to have brought only subtle changes to the
colony. In spite of the war, privateering, and the presence of large
portions of the British, French, and Spanish navies in adjacent waters,
a sizeable trade continued to take place in the Antilles and with the
British colonists in North America.39 The unique and interesting facet
of the wartime trade was that carried on between the combatants,
often in an open fashion at the height of the fighting.
Although illicit trade had assumed considerable proportions in the
commerce of the Caribbean for at least three decades, the casual
observer might expect the passions of war to stifle it quickly enough.
Such was not the case in the ten years of conflict after 1789. The new
Governor of Barbados, Thomas Robinson, was beset by a continuous
traffic in provisions and sugar between that island and the French
islands, particularly the bastion of Martinique one hundred twenty
miles to the Northwest.
The French planters on Martinique hard pressed to market all of
their huge crop with the eager. North Americans, turned increasingly
to the device of disposing part of their surplus in the British islands.
On Barbados, local merchants able to buy high-quality French sugars
at moderate prices from the French captains who called at the island,
3 C.O. 31:25.
See the Barbados shipping returns for 1747 in Table III. C.O. 33:16.
THE FRENCH MENACE
Barbados Shipping Returns, 1747
Number of Ships Entering and Leaving
Cape Verde Island
Isle of Man
Turks and Cocos Is.
C.O. 33:16, part 2.
introduced their purchases into the regular channels as locally pro-
duced, and marketed most of it at premium prices on the London
market. This particular trade was especially hard on the planters
already beset by numerous difficulties in the marketing of their
sugars, and Governor Robinson was diligent in his efforts to put an
end to it. He became increasingly irritated at his own customs officials
as he became aware of their complicity in these smuggling activities,
THE FRENCH MENACE
and waged a ceaseless war of words against them and their deeds for
the remainder of his term of office. But the Governor was powerless
to act in the face of determined opposition from most of the merchants
and many of the planters. For the French trade, harmful as it might
be, was still a source of profit to many men of influence on the island,
and without their active support the Governor could do little.
In addition to their sugar sales on Barbados the French soon became
important buyers of slaves. During most of the 1740's they made
steady purchases of excess Negroes from planters who, owing to the
war, found themselves oversupplied and from slave merchants whose
route to Africa was protected by the Royal Navy and could always
guarantee an ample supply.40 The fact that many of the slaves were
shipped to St. Lucia to aid in the French settlement of that island
was all the more painful to Governor Robinson."4 The slave purchases
from the British were but a fraction of the total, and the expansion
of the production potential of the French colonies in the years to
come was to create a more serious threat to British welfare than any
military prowess possessed by the French.42
The documents of the period are filled with references to this illegal
trade, and Governor Robinson's futile efforts to correct the situation.
There was so little need for secrecy and so little danger of official
action against them, that the French traders felt free to move about
the harbor and town of Bridgetown at will. One such pair of French
merchants was accosted by the Governor as they strolled openly
through the marketplace of the capital, and to the astonishment of
both parties they were not arrested on the spot. The Governor could
only threaten them with imprisonment unless they left the island
within twenty four hours! 4S
Governor Robinson, badly shaken by his lack of effectiveness in
dealing with this wholesale violation of the law on the part of his
citizens, could only offer excuses to his superiors and promises of
more effort on his part. He was not wholly to blame, for illicit trade
between Barbados and Martinique had been "carried on for some
4 Robinson to Board of Trade, 27 November 1742. C.O. 28:26, Bb. 1. For
direct quote see Chapter I, page 16.
4 In 1742 a British captain who had brought 123 Negroes to Barbados from
the Gold Coast reported that he had seen forty French ships there engaged in
purchasing slaves for delivery to the French West Indies. C.O. 28:46, no. 2.
It is safe to assume that the unpopular Robinson was powerless to make an
arrest and could only shout abuses and threats at the surprised Frenchmen.
Robinson to Council, 2 November 1742. C.O. 31:21.
THE FRENCH MENACE
years past...",4" and the Governor was "powerless" to act alone.
Robinson was also aware of the precarious position of Barbados
during wartime and the inability of her soil to support her large
population. With the rumor of a French invasion at hand, Robinson
was forced to admit that the island was suffering for lack of supplies
and could not expect to withstand a prolonged seige.45 We can only
surmise to what extent French provisions illegally procured may have
saved Barbados from mass starvation and the complete ruin of her
To combat the threat to his island's shipping the Governor began
to license privateers on his own authority soon after his arrival on the
island. For the payment of a 25 fee the master of any ship trading
to Barbados could secure authorization to engage in the ancient art
of privateering. We are led to believe that the Governor's motive was
less that of granting protection and revenge for the sea captains and
shipowners, than that of an interest in obtaining the 25 per docu-
ment, for the privilege was soon abused by most of those holding
licenses. Word quickly reached the Admiralty and the Board of Trade
of numerous captures of Dutch and Danish vessels on the pretext of
their carrying Spanish goods.
Since the Governor had no authorization to license privateers in
his instructions, and little, if any, precedent for such action existed
without previous approval from the home government, Robinson was
finally ordered to cease the practice on the grounds that his actions
were endangering the good relations between Great Britain and the
The already strained financial condition of Barbados was made
considerably worse by the additional burden of war. The expense of
maintaining an enlarged garrison of regular troops, combined with a
drop in tax revenues owing to a decrease in the volume of regular
trade increased the Assembly's already strong opposition toward the
needless allocation of funds.
Because of the Barbadians' unwillingness to do more on their own
behalf the protection of the island remained the prerogative of the
military and naval commanders in the area, and their superiors in
London. The crown was also hard pressed financially to fight a war
Robinson to Duke of Newcastle, 22 April 1743. C.O. 28:46, no. 21.
5 Robinson to Duke of Newcastle, 23 April 1745. C.O. 28:46, no. 129.
46 The Court of St. James, 13 April 1743. Warrant issued to Governor Robinson
to observe the Treaty of 1674 between Great Britain and Holland. C.O. 28:41.
THE FRENCH MENACE
on many fronts throughout the world and soon determined to take
matters in hand by raising additional tax monies wherever possible.
In the spring of 1744 Parliament debated levying a 2s. 4d. tax increase
on all imported sugar as a means of securing additional funds. News
of the bill set off a flurry of protest from the planting interest through-
out the islands. Instances of the declining state of the various colonies
were recounted in great detail, outlining once again the value of
the islands to the crown and the various commercial interests of the
Since the Barbadians had already protested the old tax rates on
sugar in previous memorials, the new rates coming on top of the
4- percent duty were looked upon with considerable abhorrence.47
Robinson was quick to call the attention of the Board to the plight
of his island already "weighted down" by the burden of heavy taxation
and poor soil.48 He also noted that many planters were moving to
Dutch settlements where taxes were lower and the soil newer and
more fertile." The Dutch colony at the mouth of the Esequebo River
on the South American mainland had attracted numerous British
planters for over a decade, as had the other Dutch settlements along
the Orinoco and Demerara Rivers nearby. Through the years of low
sugar prices in the 1720's a steady trickle of British island planters
flowed southward to escape their financial fate and commence anew
their pattern of life amid more favorable circumstances in the Dutch
Robinson and his associates on the other islands were acutely
aware of this steady drain on their dominions and its probable con-
sequences for the safety of the empire in the West Indies if allowed
to go unchallenged. The Barbadians favored an increase in the tax
on rum in lieu of a general raise on all sugars. Since very little rum
was exported in proportion to sugar and molasses, this would be less
of a hardship than any other type of an increase levied on exports.
Quoting the results of a 42d. increase in rates effected on Jamaican
rum a few years before, Robinson boosted a rum tax as the most
equitable method for raising additional funds.50
47 Petition of the Barbados Council and Assembly, 23 November 1743. C.O.
48 Robinson to Board of Trade, 10 May 1744. C.O. 28:26, Bb. 11.
0 Ibid., 29 April 1746. C.O. 31:23. Jamaica supposedly raised 43,565 via
the new tax in five years.
THE FRENCH MENACE
The tax threat evaporated when the wretched condition of the
British colonies precluded any immediate action by Parliament hard
pressed by more urgent matters of war.51 As the struggle progressed
to a conclusion in Europe and North America, Barbados suffered no
worse fate than one invasion scare in 1745 and the hardship of a
disruption of her normal trade channels for six years.52 These events
were disturbing enough however in light of other French successes in
the Antilles. Early in the war St. Lucia was occupied by a strong
force of six hundred regular French troops, thus shattering the flimsy
pretense of neutrality for that island,53 and in 1748 a strong force of
French regulars and militia from Martinique occupied Tobago with-
out a struggle.54 It was quite obvious that the trade war was not being
won by force of arms, and that recent French successes in occupying
fertile islands, if not undone at the peace conference, promised con-
tinued French competition from a position of strength unequaled in
the one hundred year old commercial rivalry.
The taking of Tobago was especially bothersome to the Barbadians,
because of its closeness to Barbados and its proximity to Trinidad still
weakly held by a small number of Spanish settlers. The Treaty of
Aix-la-Chapelle ordered the return of Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Vincent,
and Dominica to the Caribs and the immediate evacuation of all
European settlements on the islands. This was, in fact, a return to
status quo ante bellum and the re-establishment of the neutral
In principle, the neutralization of islands having conflicting owner-
ship claims against them was sound; in practice the policy resulted in
a further deterioration of British-French relations and the eventual
51 C.O. 31:23, page 107.
52 Robinson to Board of Trade, 23 April 1745. He reported that the invasion
fleet contained 482 guns and 4,870 troops. C.O. 28:26, Bb. 27. In 1746 Barbados
merchants raised 500 to pay far an armed ship to cruise around the island for
a week to keep French privateers away. C.O. 31:24, no. 36.
53 Board of Trade to the Duke of Newcastle, 10 October 1744. C.O. 28:41,
no. 39; Robinson to the Board of Trade, 15 July 1744. C.O. 28:26, Bb. 13.
54 Board of Trade to the Duke of Bedford, 7 December 1748. C.O. 28:41,
no. 23; Lord Grenville to the Board of Trade, 4 April 1749. C.O. 28:41, no. 38:
Ibid., 17 October 1748. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 15; Committee of Correspondence of
Barbados to Agent John Sharp in London, 25 January 1748. Manuscript Room
of the British Museum, Additional Manuscript (hereafter cited as Add. M.)
23718, f. 43.
55 The French claim to Grenada was honored officially, and that island ceased
to be neutral after 1748. The British did not press their claim to any of the
former neutral islands or Tobago. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 17.
48 THE FRENCH MENACE
founding of French settlements on most. Nine years of intermittent
war in the Caribbean had failed to solve the basic antagonisms be-
tween the two great powers, and just as in Europe, India, and North
America the problems of expansion would again lead to a renewal of
the military conflict, so they would also in the West Indies.
THE SEVEN YEARS' WAR
The years of peace between 1749 and 1755 were probably the best
the Barbados planters had seen for a century. Although sugar prices
weakened with the conclusion of the war, this was offset by a drop
in freightage and insurance charges on Atlantic shipping. Even during
the good years, however, the profits of sugar growing were not extrav-
agant, considering the risks involved. The net profit from a well-
managed plantation seldom was more than seven to ten percent even
in the best years with ideal growing and marketing conditions, and
there were many years when all or part of the sugar crop was lost
to the extremities of weather alone.1 What is remarkable is that the
Barbadians were able to maintain such a rate of profit in view of the
great production increase which occurred on all of the islands during
the first half of the eighteenth century. Both British sugar production
and the export of sugar to Great Britain trebled between 1700 and
1760.2 British importation of empire sugar rose from less than 500,000
hundredweights at the beginning of the century to three times that
amount sixty years later.3 It must be noted that the chief beneficiary
of better prices was Jamaica with its vast areas of newly cultivated
land; the economy of Barbados and the older sugar islands was merely
supported rather than rehabilitated by the continuance of a favorable
In answer to a query sent by the Board of Trade, Governor Robinson
1 W. L. Burn, The British West Indies (London, 1951), p. 71.
2 J. H. Parry and P. M. Sherlock, A Short History of the West Indies (London,
1957), p. 117.
s Burn, op. cit., p. 71. In using these figures it must be kept in mind that an
unknown quantity of French, Dutch, Danish, and Spanish sugar was continually
imported into the mother country in the guise of British grown sugar, especially
after 1740. For a fuller discussion of this problem and British efforts to combat it
see Makinson, op. cit., Chapter Six.
4 Idem., Ibid., p. 133. Also see Table II, p. 34.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
noted the precariousness of Barbados trade even in good times when
he acknowledged that the French on St. Lucia were underselling the
Barbadians at St. Eustatius, thus hindering "the consumption of our
Sugar and Rum in the Northern Colonys..., (notably) New England
and Rhode Island where the Act of Parliament origin'd for the benefit
of the Sugar Colonies has had no effect..."5
Of more potential danger was the continued French occupation of
Tobago in violation of the peace treaty provision for its immediate
evacuation. While most of the island was thinly occupied and the
main French settlement consisted of little more than "miserable sheds
without sides" which functioned as houses, it served to remind the
British, and the neighboring Barbadians in particular, of the agressive-
ness of the French king.6 Tobago fully planted to sugar could easily
outproduce Barbados perhaps even Antigua and Monteserrat, and
in the event of war it would serve to outflank Barbados from still
It is easy to see why concern ran deep among responsible officials
in Britain and in the islands. As early as 1749 conditions were already
brewing that would ultimately lead to a renewal of the conflict on a
worldwide basis, and it was easy to see that the loss of one island,
one fort, or the goodwill of a possible future ally might spell the
difference between victory or disaster at some uncertain time in the
not too distant future.
Governor Grenville of Barbados faced with the responsibility of
forcing the French evacuation of the neutral islands in the Leewards,
promoted the idea of an attack on Tobago before the French could
fortify the island.7 He reasoned that a successful attack on one island
would give weight to British demands for the evacuation of all. His
proposal bears testimony to the seriousness with which the Barbadians
viewed the French seizures and their desire for a speedy remedy at
s Robinson to Board of Trade, 20 February 1747. C.O. 28:27, Bb. 57. The
small Dutch island of St. Eustatius, lying only ten miles from the larger British
owned St. Kitts, had long been a free-trade entrepot for merchants of all nations.
The Barbadians often disposed of large quantities of sugar in this fashion, par-
ticularly if the London price was sluggish, or wartime conditions endangered or
limited homeward voyages.
Report of Captain Thomas Sayer to Governor Thomas Grenville of Barbados,
20 November 1748. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 21. Captain Sayer had scouted Tobago on
instructions from Governor Grenville, who hoped to evict the French forcibly if
they were not too strongly garrisoned.
7 Grenville to Board of Trade, 12 December 1748. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 18.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
The home government preferred to bring about the evacuation of
Tobago and the other neutral islands by negotiation rather than force
of arms, and entrusted Governor Grenville with the responsibility of
carrying out those aims. Late in 1749 Grenville reached agreement
with the Marquis de Caylus, Governor of Martinique for a common
evacuation of Tobago, and on the strength of it published the procla-
mation on Barbados.8 In February 1750, Grenville proclaimed the
evacuation of all four islands. He assured the cooperation of the
Caylus, or perhaps by this time wished to prod him into action, for
the French remained noticeably sluggish in their efforts to comply
with the agreement a position which was to characterize their actions
during the seven years of peace prior to 1756.9
Only a month later Grenville was forced to report to the Board of
Trade that de Caylus had refused to act until he was officially in-
structed to do so by his king. When the Martinique governor was
reminded that the French king had signed the articles of peace
providing for the evacuations, he remained adamant.10 Still Grenville
was optimistic of eventual success with the French and wrote en-
couragingly of his efforts in his reports home during the early months
The Barbados governor resolved to be patient in the face of an
increasing number of reports of French vacillation. Commodore Hol-
born, the senior naval officer, reported the he personally doubted that
the French intended to evacuate St. Lucia and Dominica, those islands
"being well settled, and looked upon as their own" by those in
authority.12 Negotiations were further complicated by British gunners
on Nevis who had mistakenly fired on a French ship, thus giving the
French a legitimate talking point in the face of British demands for
Governor de Caylus died unexpectedly in May 1750, thus causing
an additional delay in the negotiations until a successor could be
8 The agreement was signed on Martinique, 27 November 1749. C.O. 28:29,
Cc. 44; C.O. 28:29, Cc. 46.
9 20 February 1740. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 55.
10 Grenville to Board of Trade, 13 March 1750. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 52.
12 Commodore Holborn to Governor Grenville, 11 March 1750. C.O. 28:29,
13 Grenville to Board of Trade, 20 April 1750. Because of the incident Com-
modore Holborn was poorly received by French officials on Martinique when he
went there with messages from Governor Grenville. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 74.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
appointed."4 The new Governor resolved to play the game of frustra-
tion with greater skill than his predecessor, and in this respect was
remarkably successful. In his first official act Governor Bompar
announced that the French could evacuate only St. Lucia.15 Then he
abruptly proclaimed the evacuation of all the islands in question early
in 1751.16 By May the British had begun to realize the cunning of
their opponent when it became clear that in spite of the proclamations
the French were still firmly entrenched on the four islands and
actually increasing their strength and the size of their settlements! 7
By 1752 it had become obvious that nothing short of an armed
attack would dislodge the French from their positions on the four
islands. Repeated reminders and warnings from the British were
usually acknowledged and ignored by French officials; 18 by 1755 the
reminders had become protests and the warnings more severe in their
tone."1 With the approach of a new war the flow of communications
While government officials busied themselves with diplomatic
messages on the "neutral islands" affair, the planters of Barbados
began to feel and react increasing sugar competition from the four
French acquisitions. The detrimental effect of a flood of additional
high quality produce on free-market sugar prices can be detected
before the close of the War of Austrian Succession. Governor Robinson
acknowledged that the French from St. Lucia were underselling the
Barbadians as early as 1747,20 and memorials and petitions on the
French danger began to appear with the cessation of hostilities a
14 Grenville to Board of Trade, 25 May 1750. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 83; Ibid.,
20 October 1750. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 98.
15 Grenville to Board of Trade, 11 November 1750. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 99.
15 January 1751. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 111.
7 Grenville to Board of Trade, 25 May 1751. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 121.
18 Grenville to Board of Trade, 4 August 1752. C.O. 28:30, Dd. 4.;Ibid.,
14 December 1752. C.O. 28:30, Dd. 20.
1 President Ralph Weeks to Board of Trade, 24 September 1755. C.O. 28:30,
Dd. 83, 85, 86.
20 See footnote 5 above.
21 Memorial of Dominic Lynch to Board of Trade, 2 May 1748. C.O. 28:29,
Cc. 2. Lynch claimed that "the French have settled in force during the present
war [and] this will obstruct navigation and injure the sugar trade".; Grenville to
Board of Trade, 3 April 1749. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 28. He stated that the French
were strong, "and are very numerous". Petition of Council and Assembly of
Barbados to George II, 15 December 1749. C.O. 31:25. Petitioners stated that
the French settlement on Tobago endangered the price of Barbados sugar and
the safety of the island.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
The seriousness of the situation was complicated by the acknowl-
edged failure of the Sugar Act and the reluctance of Parliament to
take positive remedial measures since its passage in 1739. Grenville
stated that under the auspices of the Act "not above three or four
vessels were overloaded for the straights and none at all for any
foreign port to the Northward of Cape Finisterre".22 American traders
were heavy buyers of French sugars at all times, not having been
slowed at all in their accustomed dealings with the French by Par-
liamentary legislation or their own kinship to fellow countrymen in
the West Indies. The Barbados governor remarked on this, stating
that the French islands produce sugar in "much greater abundance
and much less expense, and they pay lower duties, whereby they can
afford to undersell us in every Foreign Market in Europe; they permit
and encourage an extensive clandestine trade with all the British
Colonies in North America".23
Much of the difficulty could be traced directly to planter depend-
ence on sugar as the sole crop throughout most of the West Indies.
Old cultivation habits ran deep among the planters and occasional
efforts to get some of them to switch to other types of agriculture
usually proved futile. In commenting upon an act of Parliament passed
in 1748, to encourage the raising of indigo, Grenville remarked that,
"of this I can foresee but little Prospect, all the Planters of this Island
[are] devoting their whole thoughts entirely to the cultivation of
Sugar Canes, even to an exclusion of almost all other commodities".4
It was quite obvious that the Barbadians were in the unenviable
position of having to rely upon the services of those chiefly responsible
for their deteriorating local market position. The Americans continued
to be the prime suppliers of provisions, livestock, and building
materials for most of the West Indies, while selectively purchasing
varying quantities of sugar products from whoever offered the lowest
price consistent with quality. The freedom with which the Americans
operated in their West Indian trading ventures was, of course, brought
about by their constant violation of the Navigation Acts, and the
inability or unwillingness of the home government to take some sort
of positive action against them.
This lack of constructive remedies or positive leadership from
22 Grenville to Board of Trade, 3 April 1749. C.O. 28:29, Co. 28.
24 Ibid., 17 October 1748. C.O. 28:29, Cc. 15.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
London can easily be traced to the presence of opposing pressure
groups and vested interests in the Commons none capable of
directing policy, but several possessed of sufficient strength to con-
stitute an effective barrier to the passage of needed legislation. This
impasse did not deter the West Indians from making their feelings
known however, and with the prospect of a further increase in the
power of the sugar lobby in the years to come, the planters wasted
no time in lambasting their mainland brethern for their commer-
When it became obvious by 1751 that French occupation of the
neutral islands would not soon be ended, an increasing barrage of
complaints was leveled at the Americans for their trade transactions
with foreigners. The success of the French venture depended to a
great extent upon their ability to market the additional sugars pro-
duced on the new land at a profit. The American traders guaranteed
them this market in their eagerness to purchase at the lowest possible
price unencumbered by restrictions and regulations; every shipment
of French sugar into the northern colonies meant one more lost sale
for the British planters.
As they had done for generations the Barbadians, hampered by
their additional tax burden of the 41 percent, assumed the leadership
in attacking "the destructive trade carried on between the northern
colonies and the foreign sugar settlements".25 The extent of French
inroads on British commerce and the weakness of the Molasses Act
in bringing about some equity to the trade picture can be seen from
the following address of the Barbados Assembly in 1751: "The French
sugars, rum, and molasses imported into Your Majesty's Northern
Colonies... are most fraudulently concealed under the legal authen-
tication of British registers."28 Payment was made in specie usually
earned by the Americans in the British West Indies, thus creating an
acute shortage of hard currency among the British planters and
merchants already hard pressed for coinage by the nature of their
economic relationship with Great Britain. The address went on to
state: "The commodities of their growth [France] are not importable
into the French sugar islands, except in the instance of such few
commodities as they can supply themselves with from their own
Northern Settlements. This trade gluts our own markets, (and our
2s Barbados Assembly and Council to George II, 14 May 1751. C.O. 31:26.
Ibid., 29 October 1751. C.O. 31:26.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
price is fallen) in proportion as the quantity at market increases with-
out an additional demand."27
The Barbados legislators argued for a remedy based on the time-
honored method of strict enforcement of the Navigation Acts, but
added an alternative proposal which was to mark the beginning of an
expansion of the free trade principle established with the Act of 1739.
They proposed to remedy the worsening situation by
either ... absolutely prohibiting all foreign imports of sugar, rum, molasses,
and parcels into Your Majesty's Northern Colonies in America, and sub-
jecting the vessels laden with such commodities to seizure upon the high
seas and confiscation, or if an illicit trade cannot be entirely prevented,
or should it be thought that there is a necessity for supplying Your Majesty's
Northern Colonies with a larger quantity of sugar, rum, and molasses than
)our British sugar colonies can furnish them with at reasonable prices; that
then a free and open trade be allowed to be carried on in all Your Majesty's
colonies with all foreign states under proper regulations and restrictions.28
An example of the seriousness with which the Barbadians viewed the
illegal usurpation of their sugar trade was the willingness of the
Assembly voluntarily to share in the expense of prosecuting offenders
before the courts. The otherwise parsimonious legislature was quick
to react to a report from the Antigua Assembly complaining of the
importation of Danish sugar by Great Britain, and the fraudulent
importation of French sugar and rum labeled as British produce.29
Suspecting dishonest customs officials, both Assemblies agreed to
underwrite the cost of bringing them to justice, and halting any trade
that "is in any way hurtful to the British Sugar Colonies".30
Efforts to redress the economic balance came to a sudden end in
1756 with the renewal of warfare for the fourth time in sixty-five
years between the crowns of Great Britain and France. The conflict
which was to follow in the next seven years would set the stage for
the final drama of partition within the old British empire, while
simultaneously achieving for Britain her greatest moment of colonial
Despite the magnitude of the Seven Years' War and the ineptitude
with which it was waged by the British until 1758, Barbados suffered
little at the hands of the enemy in comparison with several previous
9 15 May 1755. C.O. 31:28.
30 27 May 1755. C.O. 31:29.
THE SEVEN YEARS" WAR
wars. Trade involving Barbados, North America, and Europe was
barely disrupted by the resumption of hostilities, and indeed the
difficulties associated with the war were caused more by British
success of arms than any failure to prosecute the conflict to a speedy
and successful conclusion.
The French had been carefully watched for years by British naval
personnel in the Indies, and after the outbreak of fighting in North
America the surveillance became even more intense in order to observe
any major buildup of a French striking force in the area.31 In spite
of any noticeable increase in French seapower the usual fear of isola-
tion and privation was widespread among the Barbadians when the
war commenced early in 1756, and for more than a year this dread
was heightened by the presence of French privateers in and around
The outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756 did not bring Bar-
bados to the point of economic collapse as did the prolonged Queen
Anne's War fifty years before. The new war, which crippled the
commerce of the highly productive French sugar islands, was basically
to the advantage of the British planters. It also renewed the anti-
French feeling among the British people to the point where the use
of French sugar became almost non-existent.32
Sugar prices reacted sharply to the war. By 1757 muscovado was
averaging 37s. Id. in London, and it rose to 42s. 51d. the following
year.s3 The Barbadians were forced to pay higher transportation costs
which detracted from the high selling price of sugar, but not sufficient-
ly to make the war years unprofitable. In addition, the vast British
fleets in the Caribbean made it a practice to provision themselves at
Barbados, thus insuring the planters a ready market for their rum,
which until the outbreak of hostilities had been a difficult item to sell.
The merchants, again unwilling to rely on the miserly Assembly for
assistance against French depredations, supported several guard ships
with their own funds, but were obliged to seek help within a few
months of the start of the war. Late in 1756 the merchants were
forced to petition the newly appointed Governor Charles Pinfold for
additional protection against the privateers who had managed in
several months time to capture or sink many supply ships and even
3' President Ralph Weeks to Board of Trade, 24 September 1755. C.O. 152:46.
Burn, op. cit., pp. 71-72.
3 See Table II, p. 34.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
one Barbados privateer sent out to protect shipping.34 Taking the
stand that had been and was to be the touchstone of their position
throughout the century, they reiterated their island's precarious trade
position owing to its small size, large population, and its "great
dependence upon the North American colonies as well for supplies
of all sorts of provisions, as for taking off its produce".35
As British seapower grew in the Caribbean, the safety and well-
being of the British islands was commensurately increased. By mid
1757 Governor Pinfold could report that ".. the Trade of this island
has suffered little from the French Privateers, partly owing to our
situation, but more to the Spirit and Resolution of the merchants...,"
who had outfitted their own ships to help keep the French away.36
We must conclude from this statement that the merchants' petition
for aid of the previous November had not been acted upon, but that
a normal course of events had brought about an improvement in
A year later Pinfold reported that "the private brig" continued to
do well, that supplies from North America were arriving in such
quantity that they had to be re-exported to avoid spoilage, and that
Barbados was well supplied with provisions for the coming harvest.37
Regardless of the usual reassuring tone of most communications sent
to Whitehall from colonial governors, the precise quality of this
statement leads us to give it credence. Support for Pinfold's reports
and for the relatively good condition of the island is to be found in
the remarks of the Barbados Grand Jury late in 1758. In a letter to
the governor they stated: "While our neighbours and fellow subjects
of North America labor under all the calamities necessarily attending
a vigorous war, we of this island ... are happy under the blessings of
the most profound peace."38
The apparent calmness surrounding Barbados undoubtedly led to
a more extensive trade in contraband merchandise during the war
years than might otherwise have been possible. While several schemes
were proposed to monopolize or hamper the French trade, the only
restrictions were against trade in military stores with the enemy, and
34 Petition of the Barbados merchants to Governor Charles Pinfold, 15 Novem-
ber 1756. C.O. 31:28.
s3 Pinfold to Board of Trade, 4 June 1757. C.O. 28:31, Ee. 6.
37 Pinfold to Board of Trade, 7 January 1758. C.O. 28:31, Ee, 16.
38 Remarks of the Barbados Grand Jury, 15 December 1758. C.O. 31:30.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
a one-year embargo on all trade between the British and Dutch West
Indies and South American possessions commencing in October 1756.39
The Dutch, particularly on St. Eustatius, had become the middlemen
in many of the transactions between British and French merchants
during wartime, and most of the Dutch islands supported a colony
of British traders who reaped large profits acting as brokers and
wholesalers of a wide range of merchandise. Since it was not then by
law treasonable for British subjects in neutral territory to trade with
the enemy during wartime, except in military stores, the only effective
way of preventing this indirect trade was by means of an embargo.40
Despite the British control of most of the Caribbean waters through-
out the war and the imposition of embargoes and other restrictions
upon trade, the movement of goods does not appear to have been
unduly hampered. We need only recall that the basic loyalty of all
Europeans in the Indies was to themselves and their own safety, and
if this self-interest necessitated trade with the enemy the traitorous
aspects of such transactions could be easily rationalized away on the
grounds of self-preservation.
Trade was not even curtailed by a Barbados act in 1757 making it
treason to correspond with the enemy an act designed to harass
traders dealing directly with the French.41 Nor were the French
supplied only by British and American traders during the war years.
Exchanged prisoners reported that tons of Irish beef were landed on
Martinique and that the French were receiving supplies from St.
Eustatius and in Dutch ships from Cork.2
The illegal trade became so great and Barbados officials regarded
it with such concern, that in 1759 a 100 reward was offered to
informers on persons convicted of trading with the French on St. Vin-
cent, and a month later the same offer was extended to accomplices
In March 1756 the Duke of Newcastle suggested suspending the Navigation
Acts for those neutrals who refrained front carrying French goods. It was hoped
in this way to monopolize the trade of th8 French West Indies and to deal the
French a serious financial blow by withdrawing most of the ships that normally
carried off the sugar crop. The plan was never used. Add. M. 32864, f. 68. The
embargo was instituted 9 October 1756. C.O. 31:28.
0 See Ragatz, op. cit., p. 161n.
41 Pinfold to Board of Trade, 24 March 1757. C.O. 28:31, Ee. 5.
42 Pinfold to Board of Trade, 7 January 1758. C.O. 28:31, Ee. 16. Pares notes
in his Colonial Blockade and Neutral Rights 1739-1763 (Oxford, 1938), that the
Dutch ships came out from Holland or Cork with their cargoes chiefly on Dutch
or Irish account. The provisions were sold to St. Eustatius factors and then
transshipped, often without landing, to French buyers, p. 208.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
who informed on their associates, plus the promise of a full pardon
for their part in the operation.43
The preoccupation with St. Vincent had come about through in-
sistent rumors of such a trade carried on by several local merchants
and, in October of that year, the capture by a Royal Navy warship of
a Barbados vessel headed for the island.44 The trading ship had papers
saying that it was destined for Guadeloupe (then in British hands),
but it was in reality headed for St. Vincent to trade with the French.
The owner and captain were prosecuted and imprisoned, as were all
others caught engaging in the same activity.45
As in the wars of the previous eighty years the West Indies became
a center of heavy fighting. Great fleets were sent to the area by both
sides and their commanders carried orders to annex the enemy's sugar
colonies, not merely to pillage them.46 This new policy received the
full support of the West Indian interests in London, although not
necessarily the Barbadian.47 Yet the planters of Barbados began to
realize that their safety would be greater if Martinique and Guade-
loupe were in British hands at least for the duration of the war. In the
spring of 1759 Guadeloupe fell to a British fleet, but the economic
effect of this seizure proved not to be what the Barbadians had
The French planters were allowed to surrender on very favorable
terms. They were to be neutral between France and Britain; their
goods were to be admitted to British markets; their slaves were to be
exempted from requisitioned work; and they were to be fully protected
from seizure of their property. British planters were forbidden to
settle on the island, and nothing was done to alter the French
character of the colony. In addition, the French planters found a safe
European and North American market for their sugars. The planters
of Guadeloupe were envied alike by their associates on Martinique
and by their British rivals. This was probably the kind of conquest
43 Proclamations of Governor Pinfold, 27 November 1759, 31 December 1759.
C.O. 31:30; C.O. 152:46.
44 1 October 1759. C.O. 81:30.
45 Idem.; Pinfold to Board of Trade, 29 May 1760, gave evidence of the
successful prosecution of six individuals for the same activities. C.O. 28:32. Ff. 1.
46 Parry and Sherlock, op. cit., p. 118.
47 The views of the Barbados planters on annexing new sugar islands appear to
have continually been in a state of flux, e.g., the Tobago and St. Lucia affairs
earlier in the century. Within the empire, Barbados had the most to lose by the
acquisition of new sugar islands, since her soil would be less productive and she
was handicapped by the 4j percent duty.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
most disliked by the Barbadians; it struck directly at their profits
without giving them any permanent promise of security.48 Guadeloupe
sugar began to flood the London market within six months, and the
price of muscovado dropped to an average of 39s. by 1760. While this
was not a low price for sugar, it did mark the first big drop in prices
after a steady six year rise. Thit British planters were incensed at the
terms of capitulation granted the French on Guadeloupe, but they
were powerless, for the present, to do more than complain bitterly to
the Board of Trade and to Parliament.
The injury was compounded in 1762 when Martinique surrendered
to a fleet under Admiral Rodney. In the latter attack, "a number of"
Barbados whites and 583 Negroes participated with distinction and
with "inconsiderable loss" to themselves.49
To the annoyance of the British planters, the residents of Martinique
were granted terms similar to those of Guadeloupe. Now French sugar
was arriving in London from both of the captured islands. Prices slid
again in the face of mounting sugar imports, muscovado touched a
low of 28s. per hundredweight in 1762, fell to 25s. in 1763, and
averaged only 34s. in 1764 after the French islands had been restored
by the Treaty of Paris.o5
It might seem, at first, that the decision to restore Martinique and
Guadeloupe to France was made primarily at the insistence of the
British planters who were naturally afraid of seeing these islands
become permanent competitors for the home sugar market, for slaves,
and for their excess white population.51 Yet, even the most mercan-
tilistic of the planters were partly converted to a policy of annexation,
for they had learned, often at personal cost, what dangerous neighbors
these islands could be, particularly as privateering bases.52
The Barbadian interest in the capture of the two chief French
islands stemmed from strong feelings about their retention as British
8 Ibid., p. 120.
Earl of Egremont to Pinfold, 24 January 1762. C.O. 28:50.; Pinfold to
Egremont, 2 April 1762. C.O. 28:50.; Ibid., 16 February 1762. The Barbados
Treasury paid 3372 to the slave owners for the government's use of their
services. C.O. 31:31.
See Table II, p. 34.
5s Burn, op. cit., p. 81.
52 Parry and Sherlock, op. cit., p. 124. In 1707 the governor of St. Croix
suggested capturing Martinique with ten thousand "Scots" imported for that
purpose, in order to protect the sugar trade from French privateering. C.S.P. Col.,
1706-1708, Nos. 717, 723.
THE SEVEN YEARS' WAR
colonies at the conclusion of the war. In an address to the king on
the success of his arms, it was stated in reference to Martinique that
this "acquisition [should] be effectively secured by a colony truly
British. The inhabitants of this island participate in many and signal
advantages arising from such a situation. It also exposes us to peculiar
misfortunes. The good; we acknowledge with becoming thankfulness.
The evil: we humbly trust, will at least be mitigated to old and
faithful subjects by Your Majesty's humanity and wisdom."53
Several months later Governor Pinfold in a letter to Egremont
transmitted a paper on the value of keeping Martinique, "by a planter
of Barbados". Pinfold stated that he differed from the author in his
call to keep the island, labeling it as "premature".54 The anonymous
author called for the retention of all the islands taken from the
French by conquest as "all are profitable to Great Britain". Martinique
was especially desirable because of its fertility and location, and it
would require "upwards of 5,000 seamen" to carry off its sugar. In
French hands it would always be a menace to the British, he further
The writer called for the forceable evacuation of all French settlers
and their replacement by an English colony. Perhaps as a hedge
against additional flooding of the London sugar market as was already
occurring, he suggested the raising of coffee, cocoa, and timber as the
mainstays of Martinique commerce, citing the fact that even Barbados
was then raising mangoes.56 He also called for the prohibition of
foreign sugar and rum in the northern colonies, and for "an unen-
cumbered" free export of sugar to Europe, noting "perhaps the strict-
ness of the Acts of Navigation may be partly accused for the loss of
our sugar trade"..7 Finally, asking for a "diminution" of the 42 percent,
and noting that the Barbados soil was "impoverished by long use", the
writer acknowledged that there were many "English among the Dutch
and Danes who [would] return if Martinique were kept".58
53 Address of the Governor, Council, and Assembly of Barbados to H.M. George
III, 23 March 1762. C.O. 31:31.
54 Pinfold to Egremont, 20 May 1762. C.O. 28:50, Nos. 24-34.
56 See Table II for the effect of dumping large quantities of Guadeloupe and
Martinique sugars on the London market after 1759.
57 C.O. 28:50, No. 29.
58 Ibid:, No. 34. The Barbados Assembly passed an act to keep creditors from
attaching the assets of those men who enlisted to fight the French. A creditor
would risk triple damages in any attempt at seizure. C.O. 30:10.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
Despite a scarcity of shipping in the late war years,59 which
threatened seriously to hamper the resumption of normal trade, some
support for the permanent acquisition of Guadeloupe and Martinique
was forthcoming in Great Britain as well as the West Indies. One writer
in commenting on the North American-West Indian trade stated:
"It clearly appears the convenience of this correspondence, and the
benefits resulting from it are equal on both sides, and exactly suited
to the temper and situation of the people by whom it is thus carried
on. We cannot but plainly discern that by these new acquisitions
[Martinique and Guadeloupe] in the West Indies new markets are
opened."60 He noted that the eventual profit of the sugar trade
"ultimately centers with the inhabitants of Great Britain".61
Attempting to demolish the chief argument against acquisition used
by opponents of the plan, the author remarked that "the settlement
of the new islands will be no detriment to our old colonies. It seems
to have been the old point in which contending writers agree, that
there was a real want of more sugar land in the West Indies, and this
being admitted, it would be a glaring absurdity to say that Britain is
not a great gainer by these acquisitions which put so large a quantity
of land fit for the cultivation of sugar into our possession."62
With the signing of the preliminary peace late in 1762,"6 the
question placed before Parliament was essentially whether to retain
all of the French West Indies, except Santo Domingo, or all of the
French lands in North America, east of the Mississippi. In common
terms the choice was described as retaining either Canada or the
sugar islands. There were advantages to Britain regardless of the
For several years a considerable body of British merchants had felt
that they, and Great Britain generally, were suffering a great and
s Letter from the Attorneys for Codrington College, Barbados, to the Reverend
Dr. Daniel Burton, Secretary to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel,
London, 25 August 1763. Letter found in the Society's archives at 15 Tufton St.,
W.2. Hereafter cited as S.P.G. The attorneys mentioned "the present scarcity of
shipping" in explaining why some of the sugar crop had not reached England.
Dr. John Campbell, Candid and Impartial Considerations on the Nature of
the Sugar Trade (London, 1763), pp. 220-222.
62 Ibid., p. 226.
3 The preliminary peace with France and Spain was signed 3 November 1762.
Probably if the Pitt ministry had not fallen, the choice would not have had
to be made, as Pitt would have endeavored to strip the Bourbons of all their
overseas possessions. See Parry and Sherlock, op. cit., p. 123.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
unnecessary annual loss because of the inability of the British planters
to expand production to a point sufficient to meet the growing
demand for sugar in the United Kingdom. The most obvious remedy
lay in a substantial expansion of British power and control in the
West Indies."5 From their standpoint there could be only one course
of action. Guadeloupe alone, was able to produce at least one hundred
thousand hogsheads of sugar annually, or nearly as much as the total
production of all the British islands! 6 There were those who correctly
reasoned that the withdrawal of the French from North America
would "ruin Britain" by lessening the northern colonists' dependence
on the mother country and "promote the independence of America".g7
In contrast to Canada, the French West Indies would bring an
immediate revenue to the government and merchants alike, and the
islands probably could be settled more easily with Englishmen than
the vast expanse of Canada.68 Then too, the permanent acquisition of
Guadeloupe and Martinique would relieve Britain of one of her
heaviest economic burdens, the high cost of sugar. The truth of this
statement was aptly demonstrated by the impact made by the Guade-
loupe sugars on London selling prices during the period from 1759 to
1762. Finally, by keeping the French islands and occupying the neutral
islands of the West Indies, Britain would have gained a virtual
monopoly of sugar production. This, combined with her large fleet of
merchant ships, would insure complete dominance for Britain in the
distribution and sale of a large majority of the world's sugar.
The West Indies, on the other hand, would always be weak, and
dependent upon outside help for provisions, access to markets, and
defense from attack. Canada would, in time, probably become a much
larger market for British manufactures than any of the West Indian
islands. In this respect the northern colonies were already far more
important than the West Indies.69 Mainland colonies whose people,
however poor, were nearly all free and white, naturally had more
need for consumer products than islands full of slaves.70 While it was
true that the northern colonies might one day establish industries of
65 Pitman, op. cit., p. 345.
67 "A Letter From A Gentleman in Guadeloupe to His Friend in London,
August 1760", Pitman op. cit., p. 846.
68 Parry and Sherlock, op. cit., p. 124.
69 Richard Pares, War and Trade in the West Indies 1739-1763 (Oxford, 1936),
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
their own, most economic writers of the period were convinced that
this would not occur for many years.7 Economically, the weight of
the argument was probably on the side of keeping the French islands,
but economic considerations did not decide the issue at the peace
table. Furthermore, the popular viewpoint, which the British states-
men had to acknowledge, was that the prime reason for Britain's entry
into the war was to drive the French out of Canada in order to prevent
all future wars on the North American continent.72
The peace treaty was carried by an overwhelming majority in the
House of Commons. The vote of the planters in Commons was most
certainly split on the question. Perhaps there was a division between
"saturated" planters and unsaturated." The difference between a
"saturated" and an unsaturated planter lay in the greater investment
of capital, and the willingness or need of the latter to expand. Since
Barbados had been fully planted for almost one hundred years, the
acquisition of other islands suitable for sugar planting remained the
only way to accomplish needed expansion. The saturated planters
probably were older men who had long since given up any thought
of enlarging their interests, and had retired to England leaving the
operation of their estates to agents and overseers.
Nobody advised the ministers to keep Canada more strongly than
Rose Fuller and William Bockford, the two most important and vocal
planters in British politics.74 Both men would be classed as "saturated"
planters. The lesson they had learned when Guadeloupe and, later,
Martinique sugars broke the London market was undoubtedly still
too vivid in their memory to allow them to support any move for the
retention of the French sugar islands, the military consequences not-
withstanding. The dilemma of the Barbadians is very clearly stated in
a letter from Admiral Rodney to Lord Lyttleton written in 1762.
The planters are divided between avarice and fear, they think if Martinique
is retained, they will be obliged to lower the price of their sugars. On the
other hand, if it is given up, they fear the loss of their own plantations in
case of another war, and that the French will overrun them before they can
receive succours from Europe, which as I said before, they may easily do,
and the example of this war has taught them a lesson, which I fancy they
will never forget.75
72 Ibid., p. 219.
7S L. B. Namier, England in the Age of the American Revolution (London,
1930), p. 322.
74 Pares, War and Trade in the West Indies, p. 219.
15 Rodney to Lyttleton, 29 June 1762, cited in Ibid., p. 223.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
Canada and the neutral islands proved to be fertile fields for British
capital and enterprise in the years to come, and in North America the
French threat against the British colonies was finally ended. The only
drawback was that these acquisitions were not likely to help repay the
huge British war debt by bringing in immediate revenue as the
retention of Martinique and Guadeloupe would have done.
When news of the final settlement reached Barbados it was greeted
with a profound sense of relief by all of the inhabitants who had
labored under the handicaps of war for seven years.76 Yet there were
many who viewed the peace terms as portentous. Governor Pinfold
and his Council immediately sent congratulations to George III on
the successful conclusion of the fighting, but the document was not
signed by any members of the Barbados Assembly who had composed
their own message to their sovereign.
Pinfold remarked that, "Great care was taken to pen this address in
general terms, to induce those who disliked some articles of the treaty
to write in thanks to a general peace always beneficial to an island
dependent on commerce. But notwithstanding this caution the House
of Assembly could not be persuaded to join the Governor and Council
in that part relative to the peace."" In fact, the Assembly refused to
extend congratulations in irritation over the terms of peace. Using the
third person in reference to itself, the Assembly document stated:
"But the Assembly cannot consent to [offer] their congratulations on
the peace, as they would be to contradict the truth of their sincerest
sentiments upon the subject."78
The reaction of the king and his ministers is not recorded, if indeed
they were concerned at all with the mouthings of a distant Assembly.
We cannot, however, doubt the sincerity of the Assembly's action
under the circumstances surrounding the restitution of the captured
French islands. By way of explanation for its action the Assembly
wrote Governor Pinfold expressing its pleasure at the successful con-
quest of the French islands and Martinique especially, but remarking
How then can we behold the restitution of this important conquest with
that of so many others near it as must add considerably to its weight and
influence in the scale of power against us and all of them restored in a
condition that must make them the most formidable rivals during a peace,
as well as the most destructive foes in any future war! How can we turn
76 Peace was proclaimed 24 June 1763. C.O. 28:50, Nos. 51.
77 Pinfold to Egremont, 16 July 1763. C.O. 28:50, Nos. 53-54.; Governor
and Barbados Council to H.M. George III, 12 July 1763. C.O. 31:31.
78 Barbados Assembly to H.M. George III, 16 July 1763. C.O. 28:50, No. 56.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
our eyes to this unfortunate prospect for Barbados and not find the joy
which has been carried to the throne by so many other bodies of our
fellow subjects on the peace unhappily checked within the bosom of our
Whatever may have been the proper business and felicity of most other
countries on a reestablishment of peace, it is the part of wisdom and good
policy in the people of this island, we acknowledge, to provide for their
defense and guard in the best manner they are able against another war,
which more than possible, we cannot but consider as the most probable
event, and which too, if we measure by the few years only that may be
necessary to restore the ancient enemies of our kingdom to their wanted
strength (the eternal spring of their ambition), we can hardly flatter our-
selves is so far distant as your excellency in your generous concern for our
security is desposed to place it."7
The British Caribbean conquests were not all bargained away at the
peace table. Grenada, Tobago, Dominica, St. Vincent, and the Grena-
dines were retained as spoils of war, or perhaps to avoid repeating the
neutrality mistake of Aix-la-Chapelle. Cuba was returned to Spain in
exchange for control of Florida, and Britain remained content in
limiting her major gains to India and Canada.
The motivation behind the government's move to retain only part
of the French empire, won at high cost by force of arms, has long
been the subject of academic debate. Comparison of the relative
merits of Canada and the French sugar islands as colonies leads one
to the quick (and correct) assumption that if the choice had been
made on the immediate value of the two, the sugar islands would
have been retained. History has proven the correctness of the other
choice, but the necessity of Britain's making a choice at all was not
due to West Indian pressure. Nor do the facts support the accepted
theory that it was the West India interest's opposition to a dilution of
their monopoly rights that forced the Burke government to accede to
the return of Martinique and Guadeloupe to France.80
Recent research has shown that it was a desire for peace at any
price and an unwillingness to weaken France too severely as a con-
tinental power that led to the British compromise at the Treaty of
Paris. Furthermore, the forceful and headstrong role played by George
III in the peace settlement precluded the emergence of any other
pressure group to a position of dominance in the negotiations, and
while these groups did exist representing all shades of interest, their
7* Barbados Assembly to Governor Pinfold, 20 September 1763. C.O. 31:31.
8 See Ragatz, op. cit., pp. 111-112, for a statement of this position.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
efforts were foredoomed to be of little avail by the intrangency of
To be sure there is adequate evidence of strong pressure on Par-
liament and on the ministers of George III by the West Indian
Committee and other groups of "saturated" planters residing in
London to return the captured French islands, but we can not accept
these men as typical planters nor their arguments as representative of
current West Indian opinion.81 These men concerned only with profits
wrung with difficulty out of a trade monopoly within the empire
could not be expected to share the feelings of their fellow planters in
the islands, and perhaps may be excused for their shortsighted stand.
It is hard to conceive that it was this pressure alone that brought
about the return of the French islands, especially in view of the
determined opposition from men of position and authority living in
There is considerable evidence of strong support within the empire
for the retention of Martinique and Guadeloupe as early as 1760. An
anonymous pamphleteer in either 1760 or 1761 wrote: "I am for
retaining all our American conquests, and even for insisting upon
Martinico, that sepulchre of our merchant men, twelve hundred of
which have been carried into that island since the beginning of the
war."82 In his pamphlet "Considerations on the Present German War",
Israel Mauduit wrote that a further continuance of the war in Europe
was a waste, and that France could be harmed easier by capturing
her colonies, "not useless ones on the Mississippi, but by seizing the
French islands and holding their whole West India trade in deposit
Mauduit also accused William Pitt of being unduly influenced by a
Mr. Beckford, a Jamaica planter residing in London and a Member
of Parliament. As early as 1759 Beckford spoke earnestly of the
necessity to return Guadeloupe to the French out of fear, according
to Mauduit, that its retention would be detrimental to his sugar lands
in Jamaica.84 There is some evidence that Pitt, for one reason or
81 For a summation of the saturated planter position, i.e., that espoused by the
London planter groups, see G. L. Beer, British Colonial Policy, 1754-65 (New
York, 1933), Chapter XIII, and F. W. Pitman, op. cit., ChapterXIV.
82 William L. Grant, "Canada Versus Guadeloupe, An Episode of the Seven
Years' War", American Historical Review, July 1912, pp. 785-743.
83 Israel Mauduit, Considerations on the Present German War (London, 1761),
4th ed., p. 137.
THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
another, had become less sure in his aggressiveness toward the French,
for in 1760 he remarked, "a nation may overconquer itself, and by
being fed with more conquests than it can digest, may have the over-
plus turn to surfeit and disease instead of nourishment".85
Some critics of the peace correctly divined the effect that the
expulsion of the French from Canada would have on the thirteen
colonies in terms of removing colonial dependence on British arms,
and correctly predicted an increase in the northern colonists disregard
for the Acts of Trade in their dealings with the French West Indies.
Many argued for a proportioned empire, half temperate and half
tropical, with both parts in balance.86 The final result could not be
cheered by discerning men.
The expression of satisfaction over the retention of the lesser French
islands composed by the Barbados Council in 1764 affords us a further
example of the consensus which prevailed in the Indies on the subject.
The document stated:
The ceded islands acquired by the vigor of H.M. arms, preserved by the
wisdom of his councils; while they enlarge H.M. extensive Dominions, must
necessarily increase the commerce of our mother country, and open new
veins of wealth to our fellow subjects, from hence the necessary burdens
of the late expensive, but successful war will be alleviated, from hence too,
shall we, the better be enabled to repel the encroachments of a future
The resident planters, mostly men with hopes of expanding their
operations, tended to view the retention of the French islands as a
logical and necessary step for the expansion of British Caribbean
interests the least of which might be the enlargement of their own
holdings, and as a vital precaution against further French economic
and military encroachments upon themselves in the future. A realistic
survey of West Indian thought on the eve of 1764 reveals a widespread
dissatisfaction with the terms of peace so recently concluded at Paris.
Once again the British West Indies would be forced to pay the price
exacted by the machinations of politics in the mother country over
which they exerted but slight control.
8 Grant, op. cit., pp. 742-743.
Ibid., p. 741.
8 Barbados Council to Governor Pinfold, 30 October 1764. C.O. 31:31. Two
years earlier Pinfold had written to the Board of Trade that the capture of
Martinique gave the citizens of Barbados a feeling of securtiy. 30 May 1762.
C.O. 28:32, Ff. 24.
The national debt of Great Britain which had been approximately
60,000,000 at the start of the Seven Years' War in 1756 had more
than doubled to 180,000,000 at its conclusion. Added to this increase
in indebtedness was the burden of maintaining extensive acquisitions
won by the force of British arms in two hemispheres. The annual cost
of supporting the civil and military establishments in America alone
had risen from some 70,000 in 1748 to well over 350,000 by 1764.1
Offsetting this staggering financial burden was the singularly robust
economic condition of the empire at the close of the war. Canada,
India, and the former neutral islands proved to be fertile fields for
British capital and enterprise. The only drawback was that these
acquisitions were not likely to help repay the huge war debt by
bringing in immediate revenue as the retention of Martinique and
Guadeloupe would have done. All of the areas particularly Canada
- would need a number of years and considerable investment of
capital before they could approach the net worth of the two large
French islands. Thus wisdom dictated that taxation of trade alone
would not suffice in the task of supporting the empire.
Nonetheless a pressing need for additional funds resulted in the
passage of the Revenue Act of 1764. The act sprang from dual motives:
to provide revenue, and to insure the continued flow of tax moneys
by strengthening the Acts of Trade. When peace arrived the West
Indian planters again petitioned that trade between the mainland
colonists and the French sugar islands be prohibited or curtailed by
increasing the molasses duties. Parliament acceded neither to this
argument nor to the northern plea for the abolition of all duties on
foreign sugars. More concerned with financial and administrative
affairs than with orthodox mercantilism in what was basically an
1 Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, The Growth of the Amer-
ican Republic, I (New York, 1942), p. 146; George L. Beer, op. cit., pp. 267-268.
extension of the Molasses Act, it lowered the duty from 6d. to 3d. per
gallon and took steps to insure that the act would be properly enforced.
Action of some sort was long overdue for the Act of 1733 had long
ceased to serve as a useful tool of either taxation or regulation. In
1763 the Commissioner of Customs reported that
With respect to the duties laid by the 6 of George II the Molasses Act
upon sugar, rum, and molasses imported from foreign colonies into the
British American colonies, it appears to us from the smallness of the sum
collected from these duties and from other evidence, that they have been
for the most part either wholly evaded, or fraudulently compounded.. .
Calling for an improvement in the collection procedures, the Com-
missioner noted that the northern colonists would probably continue
to import most of their sugar from the French West Indies, "where
they will be likely to obtain the cheapest rate..."
The absence of any protest against the Act of 1764 on the part of
the West Indian planters gives credence to the accepted thesis that
the planter interests in Parliament generally supported the measure
in lieu of an all-out prohibition of trade in foreign sugar. Sugar prices
had dropped twenty-five percent from their 1762 high of 40s., and
any attempt to remedy what might become a prolonged price break
would be looked upon with favor by the West Indians.4
The sword of taxation however carried a double edge not only
were the customs procedures tightened-up, but additional duties were
laid upon the importation of luxuries such as wines, silks, and linens,
while drawbacks (rebates) on most European goods re-exported from
Britain to the colonies were abolished. The net result of a well-
functioning act would be wholly favorable only to the Exchequer.
The results were unsatisfactory on both sides of the Atlantic. Rather
than submit to the new act, most of the colonial merchants improved
upon their former methods of evasion. The British government found
that the taxes brought in very little money, and that the costs of
enforcement were not commensurate with the slight increase in
revenue brought about by the measure. Added pressure was brought
upon the government by many British merchants to find a substitute
2 Commissioner of Customs to Board of Trade, 16 September 1763. Add. M.
8133C ff. 85-87.
4 See Table II, p. 34. The opposite feelings were held by the refiner's associa-
tion in England. Low prices meant an end to the unnaturally high prices paid by
the refiners for sugar during the war years, and a chance to increase their profits
at long last.
I- "z .
.e AiY.4 / 4 .1>
4.. r ,i -, <. .. / .. -
-- 0. ,/ .- /
CA !- iP -,c,, /,/A.- / ., A ..
U: .. .1 / _
,... C .;,: A wt4' ( rA ',~
A', -- 4,, .A .t 4 '
2Pi" rA. ^ .;.- <,*fs 2
-J/ru, .,Zr-o / F.-1,,,., ,,l_, ,,
/C ^ ^. ^A A. e4?-.. .
1-vWp ,i i/.. /, ,'. ." e -A e--e'
..>,<,t .^. (,
,:_.. / .. ., ale ./ '" / ._, _1Y"et e
e ". .. o CA. ,Il t? gra .
"" f .JK^ # .,,'" "4 -'I A "/. -...-
.. '.- ^ 0. c ,..- ; .,"e. e r^
**A/ Co <^&** / o:.0..*^<^ ^ f 4r^ y f w^
A---.... -_; o l .#V A
rf~rl~r ~ 4A2 tee.,- ?00'J~cc~
.'" -. ,A i ... -, ..
.3 tied. *? e C e
.w. .3- *
4 Cy f Vdj 4. A4 -4IZ
,u ':- -, ,+ -
C '.e 0 < o,/,^ f,' y. ,, .. .// .; ,,.<.. ....
At/, lP 'A r%,,Vv A5'A
./.r ,. r .. A '- s /& .^, ,, _. ~,
,_ a .f .a/<, .'7- -%,:- e : ,. ,4,,
.'d ^ / ,' ^ >, M .f e*. K,<. ,t
* r ,r .- A,,, ^ /-,f *.j Ae /, e..a.
.7.. C'' :,>.*. ", /. e .. A .
r /r ^ e .
d r e -4 '
.S. : L L /.:* d AV
PP.?^ ^ ^ I2jP. j^ I >
,J- A>A ^Mr^^- ;A^^
f ^r ,
< /, ^
method of taxation. Already concerned with the plight of their Amer-
ican debtors and fearful lest the entire structure of colonial finance
collapse, thus rendering their debts uncollectable, the merchants urged
caution upon the Grenville ministry.
Indirect taxation of trade having failed as a means of raising the
needed revenue, a direct method of taxation was decided upon and
embodied in the famous Stamp Act of 1765. The idea of a stamp tax
was not novel. Such a tax had long been in use in Britain and its
application in the American colonies had often been proposed.5
The Act provided for revenue stamps costing from Id. to 20 s.
sterling to be affixed to all newspapers, broadsides (leaflets), pam-
phlets, licenses, commercial bills, notes and bonds, almanacs, legal
documents, and a number of other similar papers. All of the revenue
collected was to be spent solely in the colonies for their defense, and
offenses against the Act were to be tried in the Admiralty Courts.6
The British stamp duty brought in approximately 300,000 yearly.
Its extension to America was calculated to raise an additional
10,000-50,000 from the British West Indies alone.7
News of the passage of the Act in March of 1765 and the beginning
of stamp sales in November was greeted with less hostility on Bar-
bados than in the thirteen northern colonies, even though the Act
worked no less of a hardship upon the Barbadians than upon their
northern brethern. The tendency was to regard the Stamp Act as
merely one more of a series of impostss and burdens" laid upon the
planters, and the Barbadians took no particular comfort in the knowl-
edge that the tax had been applied indiscriminately throughout British
In Barbados as in the northern colonies the imposition of the
Stamp Act raised a constitutional issue, centered on the question of
virtual representation in the British Parliament representation of
classes and interests rather than by locality. The Barbados Assembly
had as early as 1740 reaffirmed its right to be the sole agency for
5 All legal documents and most commercial paper (checks, invoices, receipts,
etc.) must still carry revenue stamps from two pence upwards to twenty pounds
in the United Kingdom.
6 Morison and Commager, op. cit., p. 149.
7 George L. Beer, op. cit., p. 285-286, states that the measure was designed to
raise 60,000 to 100,000 in North America and the West Indies. Sir Winston
Churchill in his History of the English Speaking Peoples, III (London, 1957),
states that the Act's extension to America was only expected to raise another
50,000 thus the figure of 10,000 for the British West Indies.
levying taxes, stating that taxes could not be "laid upon the inhabitants
of this island without the consent of their representatives", nor would
it permit any alterations to be made in a bill concerning money
passed by it.8
Expressing practically the same view as that taken by the American
Stamp Act Congress that no taxes ever have been, or can be, con-
stitutionally imposed on the various colonies, except by their respective
legislatures the Barbados Assembly addressed Governor Pinfold:
[The people] feel the burden of this impost heavy on their properties.
You are far more sensible of the oppressive doctrine that supports it and
bears down their dearest liberties. To be subject to no internal taxation of
government, but what is authorized by the representative body of each
society in concert with the representative of the crown presiding over it,
is a privilege which we imagined the subjects of Great Britain had been
particularly entitled to in every settlement, however distant, of the British
Empire as a birthright and blessing indeed capable of making every
settlement, even the most distant of that Empire grateful to a British spirit.
It was under the shade of this privilege at least that our ancestors first
ventured forth to toil and establish themselves as a colony in this sultry
clime. And must their posterity yet guiltless and unoffending be now left
exposed by the loss of it to reap in bitterness the fruits of their success?
Long have we paid in customs on our commodities at home and in the
duties collected on them here a large and grateful tribute to the Crown.
Hard then is our lot in these days of peace and national prosperity to be
charged with an additional load of taxes, and these too aggravated by the
manner of imposing them, equally unmerited as unnecessary.9
At this point the Assembly's attack upon the Act failed to measure
up to the outspoken declaration of the New York congress as the
Barbadians disavowed those who would resort to forceful measures
in opposition to a legal ordinance" of Parliament. The address
But we forbear! We know it is your Excellencys duty to see this act
observed and we do not forget that it is ours to show the due submission.
To submit without contention to every legal ordinance of our mother
country is indeed a duty which the loyal inhabitants of this country never
can renounce, but to submit to such an ordinance as this without complaint
would be, if possible, to deserve the evil we deplore.10
Here was the basic difference between the northern colonies and
8 26 November 1740. C.O. 31:22.
Barbados Assembly to Governor Pinfold, 26 November 1765. C.O. 31:32;
those in the West Indies. While the logic of the Constitutional
arguments against the home government's program of imperial re-
organization might well strike a responsive cord among thinking
colonists throughout British America, their forthcoming views as to
what, if anything, should be done by way of opposing the plan were
widely varied. The violence of Massachusetts and the other northern
colonies expressed in the fury of countless mobs acting to nullify the
Act was not found in Barbados, nor did West Indian opposition to
the stamps ever reach the intensity of that shown on the North Amer-
On Barbados the Act was obeyed from its inception in November
1765. On several occasions the supply of stamps even became danger-
ously low when their use exceeded expectations.11 The Barbadians
were not free from pressure to take a more positive stand against the
Act however. In February Governor Pinfold reported that though the
Act had been in force for three months and though he and his staff
had experienced no difficulty in the distribution of stamps "the North
Americans have in their letters spared neither threats or entreaties to
persuade us to imitate their outrageous and Rebellious Conduct".12
The Assembly still seethed at the insult to its prerogatives and
many members of the lower house in active correspondence with
mainland agitators in the natural course of their business dealings
were only with great difficulty able to endure the urging of those
who proposed that they follow the action of the Americans. In
January 1766, the Assembly suggested that the Council join them in
presenting a remonstrance to the king against the Stamp Act, but
when the Council refused to take a strong stand the matter was
News of the repeal of the Stamp Act was received with considerable
joy and a joint message of approval was sent to the king by the
Assembly and the now bold Council.14 Repeal had been forced by
the American boycott of British goods during the last half of 1765,
and in turn by British merchants faced with grave losses because
of their shrinking markets. For the second time in as many years the
Americans had successfully defied the authority of Parliament with
11 Pinfold to the Earl of Halifax, 17 December 1765. C.O. 28:50, no. 68.
12 Pinfold to Board of Trade, 21 February 1766. C.O. 28:32, Ff. 68; C.O.
28:50, no. 118.
13 2 January 1766. C.O. 31:33.
14 10-12 June 1766. C.O. 31:33. The message was not found
but little or no assistance from their fellow subjects in the Indies.
A clear pattern of abject neutrality in the face of the mounting
power struggle then taking place on the North American continent
was beginning to emerge in the responses of the West Indians to the
shifting currents of controversy. It was, perhaps, a neutrality born
out of a realization of planter dependence upon others for their sur-
vival as a society; perhaps it was a facet of inherent planter con-
servatism not wishing to destroy the existing order of things. Perhaps
too, it was the mark of the impotency of political thought subtly
nourished through generations of single-minded devotion to the cause
of sugar. Whatever the reason, the stream of political leadership ran
shallow throughout the Indies in the decade of turbulence preceding
the American Revolution. West Indian society afforded little room for
unorthodoxy in any form. There could be no broad base of public
support for a man with the message of Samuel Adams, James Otis,
or Christopher Gadsden in colonies eighty to ninety percent slave.
There could be no non-importation agreements backed by a powerful
merchants association on islands that had to import to live.
West Indian Assemblies, where a Patrick Henry or an Otis might
have been found had circumstances been different, were the most
politically astute groups in the Caribbean. But they were for the most
part composed of realistic men who knew only too well the limitations
imposed upon them and their islands by economics and geography.
Regardless of their personal sympathies these men were powerless to
act in a positive manner in support of the American radical point of
view, and by not acting, they gave indirect support to the established
order. The ambivalence of many government officials toward imperial
reorganization and the events of 1764 and 1765 can be seen in an
address of the Barbados Council written six months after the repeal
of the Stamp Act.
We exult that the conduct pursued by us during the force of the Stamp Act
received the royal sanction; while our loyalty dictated obedience, our hopes
extended themselves to the repeal of a measure we trusted His Majesty's
parental care would insure to us when found oppressive.'5
By way of explanation for their beliefs the Council noted that
The part of submission which was taken by this colony in that memorial
trial of their obedience by the late Stamp Act was indeed agreeable to the
n Barbados Council to President Rous, 7 January 1767. C.O. 31:33.
soundest policy in our state, as well as the result of a principle, not easily
to be shaken by the first, though too well founded cause of general dis-
content. Happy are we then to find the confidence we reposed on that
occasion in the wisdom of a righteous Parliament and the goodness of a
gracious sovereign, so justly recompensed by a total release from the
The issue of internal taxation without representation is not mentioned
in the address, the Council members preferring instead to base their
opposition to the measure upon the vague charge of its having caused
"general discontent" in the colony.
Save for one message to the king after the repeal of the Stamp Act,
there was not a single challenge or protest filed during the course
of its enactment or application by the legislative leadership of Bar-
bados. The planter dominated Assembly and Council could ill-afford
the antagonize Parliament, for to do so would compromise their
precarious position as the beneficiaries of legislation favorable to sugar.
Thanks largely to American aggressiveness the stamp ordeal ended
less than six months after it started. A contemporary writer noted that
"During the few months it was in force, the sum of 2,500 was
collected at Barbados, and remitted to England" a remarkable sum
for such a brief period.17
Throughout the period Parliament was continually pressed by
British planters living in England who had formed an organization
together with West Indian merchants for the promotion of their
interests. Taking the name of the West India Committee the group
met informally as the need dictated and sought to influence legislation,
regulate conditions of the sale and handling of sugar, and in general
advance the interests of their product.18
17 George Frere, A Short History of Barbados (London, 1768), p. 76. The figure
is suspect owing to Frere's well known bias toward Barbados, and on the grounds
of the more accurate estimate of 10,000 in tax revenues to be collected from
all the British West Indies made by the Exchequer. If Barbados with only twenty
percent of the white population of Jamaica were able to remit 5,000 yearly to
the government, then it would seem possible for the two islands alone to raise
nearly 30,000 per year in Stamp Act revenues. This seems highly unlikely.
18 Evidence is lacking as to the exact date of the Committee's formation, but it
is known that as early as the 1730's a number of London planters had formed an
organization known as the Planters' Club for the promotion of common interests.
Add. M. 12431, ff. 116-117, 120-1. By 1760 the group had expanded its activities
and membership to include not only planters but those merchants trading in
West Indian produce. The records of the Committee are complete only froi 1769,
Seizing the opportunity afforded by the repeal of the Stamp Act,
the Committee proposed: (1) removal of all duties upon British sugar
imported into North America, (2) continuance of the 5s. duty per
hundredweight on all foreign sugars imported into North America,
(3) removal of the 7s. duty per hundredweight on British-grown coffee,
(4) classifying all sugars imported by Great Britain from North
America as foreign, (5) establishment of a free port in Jamaica for
Proposals of this nature were common enough during the latter half
of the eighteenth century and serve only to give us an insight into the
thinking of the planter interests. Parliament burdened with matters of
more vital concern to the commonwealth was not as receptive to these
memorials as it had once been, giving fresh evidence of the relative
decline of planter influence and importance within the empire.
Faced with an unwillingness or an inability to give voice to their
views on the political and taxation policies of the home government,
and by a loss of influence within the councils of government, the
West Indians withdrew into the role of spectators in the developing
struggle between their fellow colonists in North America and the
mother country.20 The role could not have been to their liking for it
was easy to see that regardless of the course of events fractricidal
conflict would undoubtedly send adverse repercussions throughout
the empire to the detriment of all. Yet during the whole progress of
the dispute, the legislature of Barbados maintained a respectful
silence, unwilling to add to the "perplexities of the ministry..., or
conscious that no application of theirs would be regarded when in-
terests of far greater national importance depended upon the issue of
and we must rely on indirect evidence for knowledge of the organization's earlier
activities, For a brief history of the various planter and merchant groups establish-
ed prior to the Committee see: Dame Lillian Penson, The Colonial Agents of the
British West Indies (London, 1924), Chaps. IX, X. A more detailed history of the
West India Committee is Douglas Hall, The West India Committee, A Historical
Outline (unpublished MS London, 1956), available at the West India Society
offices, 1 Norfolk Street, London, W.C. 2.
1 10 March, 8 May 1766. Add. M. 33030 f. 206, f. 245.
0 The Barbados Assembly occasionally tugged at the bonds of restraint placed
upon it by executive fiat. In 1767 the assembly demanded "that we and our
servants may be free in our persons and estates from arrests and other disturbances;
that in our debates liberty and freedom of speech be allowed us" [as is the
custom in Parliament]. 3 June 1767. C.O. 31:34. The request was granted. Ibid.,
4 August 1767.
n John Poyer, The History of Barbados, 1605-1801 (London, 1808), pp. 574-576.
Although participation in the developing North American crisis had
been denied them, the Barbadians became enmeshed in a new power
struggle with French interests within a year of the Treaty of Paris.
Denied their former positions in the neutral islands by the peace
settlement, the French began to colonize along the South American
coast to the East of the Dutch settlement at Paramaribo.22
Any hostile base to windward of Barbados would always be viewed
with some apprehension for, as the Barbadians correctly surmised,
their safety in previous wars was in large measure due to the inability
of an enemy to mount an attack upon the island against the prevailing
current and winds. The French settlement at Cayenne was especially
alarming, for the relative scarcity of British shipping along the South
American coast would make it easy for the French to assemble a large
striking force without detection.23
In the near future however the Cayenne settlement gave promise
of being more of a trade nuisance than a source of potential military
danger. In September 1765 a British naval captain reported the colony
hard hit by disease and suffering for want of provisions. "I think we
need not be under any apprehensions at any of our islands of a vessel
from the French from the province of Guianna for many years if
ever", he optimistically wrote to Governor Pinfold.24 It was also
reported :hat the Cayenne Governor admitted the loss of 10,000 of the
original 14,000 settlers to disease in the steamy wilderness.25
In spite of their losses the French had come to stay and were
already engaged in an extensive reciprocal trade with North American
merchants from Philadelphia and other northern ports. Proof of illicit
trade was furnished with the capture by a British warship early in
1765 of the brigantine "Chance", a Philadelphia ship out of North
Carolina with a cargo of provisions destined for Cayenne.26
The ship carried two sets of papers: false ones stating her destina-
tion to be Barbados, and correct ones listing Cayenne as her goal.
A bill of lading found on board revealed the existence of a contract
22 The area now known as French Guiana.
23 Pinfold to Board of Trade, 23 February 1765. C.O. 28:32, Ff. 53. Navy men
estimated that the voyage from Cayenne to Barbados would take only 8 to 10 days
and would pose a serious threat to Barbados in a future war. Idem.; C.O. 28:50,
24 Captain Knowles to Pinfold, 19 September 1765. C.O. 28:50, nos. 113-114.
25 2 October 1765. C.O. 31:33.
26 12 March 1765. C.O. 31:31; Pinfold to the Earl of Halifax, 23 March 1765.
C.O. 28:50, no. 89; 12 March 1765. C.O. 28:50, no. 94.
between the ship's owners and the French to supply their South
American settlement with provisions. The "Chance" carried beef,
wheat, livestock, pitch, tar, and turpentine making her seizure one of
considerable value for her captors.27
Brought to Barbados and condemned by the courts for violating
the Navigation Acts, the ship focused the attention of the Barbadians
upon the renewed danger of French aggression and the independent
course of action in economic and political affairs still pursued by the
American colonists. Governor Pinfold wrote to the Board of Trade that
these transactions of the Northern Colonies to aid and assist a French
settlement which may here after be prejudicial to these islands, and thd
clandestine manner of carrying on this trade by fictitious papers seemed to
me a matter worthy of your Lords help and consideration.28
The facts were well known to British officials, but since they were
already in possession of the French government's promise not to
engage in any trading activity other than that authorized by the Acts,
there was little that could easily be done to remedy the situation short
of a complete change in French policy or American economic cir-
cumstances. Only with the latter could the home government play a
positive role by enacting or repealing measures so as to moderate the
imbalance of colonial trade from North America.
Such action, even willingly undertaken, would be slow in redressing
years of accumulated restrictions, bounties, drawbacks, and prohibi-
tions that had channeled colonial trade into its existing pattern. It was
obvious that the British West Indies would continue to suffer a loss
of trade and revenue until these inequities could be resolved. It was
equally obvious that relief could not be expected from a monarch
whose chief concern was the enhancement of the royal prerogatives,
or from a Parliament embroiled in the increasing complexities of
administering the largest colonial empire in the world.
French officials refused to become implicated in the matter, prefer-
ring instead to remain decorously neutral. While proclaiming at every
opportunity their adherence to the official policy of discouraging
foreign trade, most French authorities in the Indies overtly encour-
aged such trade, particularly with North America, as a matter of
2 It was customary to reward the officers and crew of navy ships with a
percentage of the condemnation value of any ship seized by them and found to
be in violation of the Acts of Trade.
Pinfold to the Earl of Halifax, 23 March 1765. C.O. 28:50, no. 89.
necessity. Unable to supply themselves with adequate provisions from
within their own commonwealth or to market their full production of
sugars, it became essential for the planters to cultivate the growing
market in British North America. If this had been the case twenty
years earlier, it became vital after 1763.29
In a move designed to strengthen the trade position of the British
islands in general, Parliament in 1766 authorized the establishment of
free ports on Dominica and Jamaica.0s Selected because of their
favored location astride the French and Spanish shipping lanes, these
islands soon showed marked increases in trade while simultaneously
injuring many of their own planters who could no longer compete in
the local market with cheap foreign sugars.
The planters of Dominica were especially hard hit for like most
other British planters they suffered from the twin ills of a single crop
and inefficient methods of production, while Jamaica with its greater
size and diversity of crops continued to prosper and grow at an
accelerated rate. Already secure in its position as the most important
British colony in the West Indies by 1766, the added impetus of free
trade covering a wide spectrum of goods would soon enable Jamaica
to equal and then better the trade totals from the rest of the British
islands combined 3
This partial departure by Parliament from previous colonial policy
must have struck the Barbadians as the beginning of a new phase in
imperial planning, for the impact of the free ports on the economies
of Dominica and Jamaica was closely studied from the first. The
Barbados merchants were, of course, keenly aware of the advantages
accorded to their compatriots on the chosen islands and almost from
the beginning supported a movement to have Bridgetown declared a
free port. The Barbados planters however were just as aware of the
plight of the Dominican planters and after their initial pleasure with
the implications of the new law tended to view the idea of a free port
for Barbados with reservation.
In 1765 Governor Gousand of Martinique reiterated his compliance with
his king's orders not to trade with foreign ships; but he acknowledged that he did
allow them to pass nearby. Letter from Governor Gousand to Pinfold, 2 October
1765. C.O. 31:33.
so Whitehall, 11 July 1766. C.O. 31:32. For a thorough presentation of the
free port bill in Parliament, and its subsequent effect on Jamaica and Dominica
see Lawrence H. Gipson, The British Empire Before The American Revolution,
IX (New York, 1956), pp. 245-254.
31 Trade statistics support these statements as early 1769.
For several years the question was debated in the colony, and in
1773 a resolution was introduced in the Assembly calling for the
establishment of a free port in Barbados. Supported by the merchants
and shipping interests the bill faced determined opposition from a
majority of planters. Secure in the knowledge that the measure en-
joyed the support of Governor Hay, and that French economic
competition continued to increase to the detriment of Barbados, its
proponents were optimistic.32
Planter interests in the Assembly felt that passage of the bill would
deny protection to their products if similar products were freely im-
ported as was the case on Dominica. It was finally amended to
prohibit the importation of rum, sugar, molasses, aloes, tobacco, and
ginger, and the exportation of lumber, pitch, tar, tobacco, and tur-
pentine.33 The planters thus weakened the measure by amendment to
the point of ineffectiveness; the establishment of a free port ceased
to be an important issue in the colony and was soon forgotten amid
the repercussions of the American Revolution. Only Governor Hay
kept the question before the Board of Trade in an occasional com-
It is interesting to note that the Barbadians seriously considered
enacting a law on their own authority in an area clearly reserved for
the sole jurisdiction of Parliament. Only the governor appears to
have been in favor of promoting a free port by Parliamentary action.
Had the proposed legislation been passed, and approved by the
Board of Trade, it would have thrown open the entire realm of
colonial commerce to the individual colonies and dealt a severe blow
to the whole structure of empire.
In their haste to turn Parliamentary legislation to their own
advantage the Barbadians had lost sight of the master plan so recently
fashioned by the mother country for colonial control. Individual
interests were to be subordinated to the empire as a whole; the
selection of Jamaica and Dominica as free ports was not a bestowal
of special favor on the two islands but rather part of a deliberate
32 Governor Hay suggested to his Council on 3 August 1773 that Barbados
ought to be made a free port by Parliament when the bill to renew the status of
Dominica and Jamaica came before that body the following year. C.O. 31:34.
See also 27 August 1773. Idem: Hay to Earl of Dartmouth, 24 August 1773.
C.O. 28:55, no. 20.
3 31 August 1773. C.O. 31:36; 17 February 1774. C.O. 31:36; 14 October
1774. C.O. 31:39; 14 February 1774. C.O. 28:34, Hh. 11-12.
Hay to Board of Trade, 2 June 1774. C.O. 29:21.
move to enhance the welfare of the entire commonwealth by sharing
in the profits of French and Spanish West Indian commerce. As such,
it marked the first step toward the eventual demise of the Acts of
Trade in the nineteenth century, but in 1766, and for many years
after, it could only be regarded as a device to augment their
To argue that free trade throughout the empire would improve
upon the existing system was to ignore the statistics of that trade.
While the Acts were not without flaw, a remarkable structure of
commerce and industry had been fostered and protected under their
aegis, and a small island kingdom was able to gather riches far
out of proportion to its own natural wealth and build upon those
riches an economically integrated empire encompassing lands gird-
ling the globe.
To contend, as did some Barbadians, that the British islands could
successfully copy the Dutch trading pattern after the fashion of
St. Eustatius was to misinterpret the basic strength of the empire
which was grounded in the control of numerous products during all
stages of their production, and not primarily upon the traders' profit
inherent in the transfer of goods.36 The Dutch had become specialists
in the broker's role; for them it was the key to economic success.
For the British to attempt the same would have dissipated the econ-
omic vitality of the empire upon the marketplace.
The free port debate was but another reflection of the desperation
of the Barbadians over their continued loss of sufficiency in trade,
and loss of status within the commonwealth. The localism in ideas
and interests that had so long prevailed as the standard under which
the islanders congregated in their dealings with the mother country
35 It was generally accepted by writers of the period that the Jamaica free port
was established primarily to supply British cotton and woolen manufacturers with
their needed dyes and raw materials as cheaply as possible. Edwards states that
"The quantities of these articles, as well as of woods for the dyer, imported in
foreign bottoms into free-ports, are very considerable." "This subject was thorough-
ly investigated by the ... Commons in 1774 (when the act would have expired);
and it being in evidence that 30,000 people about Manchester were employed in
the velvet manufactory, for which the San Domingo cotton and indigo had been
imported from Jamaica at least thirty percent cheaper than the same could have
been procured at through France the House, disregarding all colonial opposition,
came to a resolution, that the continuance of free-ports in Jamaica would be
highly beneficial to the trade and manufactures of the kingdom. The act was
thereupon renewed, and has since been made perpetual." (Edwards, op. cit.,
36 17 February 1774. C.O. 31:36.
had by the seventh decade of the century ceased to serve as a success-
full vehicle of communication. This was made still more unfortunate
by the inability or unwillingness of Barbadian political leadership to
recognize this fact.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
Lack of effective counter-measures to the Stamp Act by the Bar-
badians and the residents of other British islands had set the tone of
future responses to the increased tempo of events on the North
American mainland. More concerned with a renewed French threat,
both economic and military, than with Parliamentary intrusions upon
the rights of the various Assemblies, West Indian voices were seldom
heard during the years immediately preceding 1775.
If sympathy for the American position existed, as it undoubtedly
did, it was not manifest in the official dispatches of the period -
either directly by government officials or by reports of dissatisfaction
among the populace. This was to be expected however as official
dispatches reflected official views, and every governor was anxious to
maintain himself and his colony in the good graces of Whitehall and
the Board of Trade. It was only when a rupture appeared imminent
between Britain and her northern colonies that overtones of concern
appear in the official correspondence concern for the welfare of
Barbados and not for the disaster which might befall fellow colonists
to the north or the empire as a whole.
The papers of the period reflect a detachment from the affairs of
empire that is often difficult to comprehend in view of the dependence
of the Barbadians upon the smooth functioning of the colonial system.
Perhaps it was anxiety over their own economic troubles that brought
about this remoteness for the years following the Treaty of Paris were
difficult indeed for the planters.
Sugar prices, though not as disastrously low as in 1763 and 1764,
never rose from 38s. 3Sd. per hundredweight tending rather to average
close to 36 s. for the nine year period from 1765 through 1773.1
1 See Table II, pag. 34.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
Barbados exports in hundredweights: 1766-1784
I Sugar Rum
1766 13,944 11,565-15,277
1767 8,512 10,710
1768 10,605 13,516
1769 11,903 10,687-15,435
1770 11,109 11,251-15,458
1771 6,314 9,148
1772 9,639 14,088
Exports from 1773-1784 are unavailable.
C.O. 31:34; C.O. 28:60, nos. 206-207.
Added to the misfortune of low prices was a series of poor harvests
on Barbados first in 1768 and again from 1772 through 1775.2
Early dispatches after the removal of the disliked stamp tax reflect
only calmness over the constitutional question and little uneasiness
over the events in North America. Governor Spry reported to the
Earl of Hillsborough late in 1768 (a poor year for the planters) that
2 See Table IV. A memorial to the Board of Trade from the Barbados
Assembly dated 14 February 1774, noted "The crops ... have failed, from various
causes, for a long series of years." C.O. 28:34. Hh. 11-12; Governor Hay stated
"The state of trade is much the same as it has been for several years past, that is,
rather in a decline owing to a series of bad crops. This year has hitherto been
very dry." Hay to the Earl of Dartmouth, 31 August 1774. C.O. 28:55, nos 76-77.
Southey states, "The crops of sugar in this year  at Barbados were remark-
ably bad: thirty-one estates made only 6,400 pots of sugar of seventy pounds each.
In a plentiful year one estate produces a larger quantity." Captain Thomas
Southey, Chronological History of the West Indies, II (London, 1827), p. 422.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
the island was "content", and that the government was proceeding "in
a regular smooth settled course".3 He took care to place himself and
his government staunchly on the side of the established order by
declaring a hope that any alterations in the
General Instructions, so as to effect a change in the present Constitution
of the colony might not be attended with the same Public Utility in this
island as perhaps it would in some of the North American governments.4
The following year Governor Spry reported that this Council and
concur in the Resolution of maintaining a due execution of the laws and in
supporting the opinion of his majesty's servants that no measure ought to
be taken which can any way derogate from the legislative authority of
Great Britain over her colonies.5
Adding a personal word he further observed
The tenderness at the same time shown towards inhabitants of the colonies
who have been previously misled in North America by the arts of seditious,
ill-denying persons, must prove a conciliating measure and it is to be hoped
will soon bring on that tranquility and restore that affection in the colonies
for the Mother Country on which the welfare and happiness of both so
much depend. I have the satisfaction of commanding in a part of His
Majesty's Dominions where Fraction and Sedition have not reared their
heads. I find all ranks of persons here easy and satisfied with the blessings
of peace which they enjoy.6
Here for the first time is official mention made of the interdependence
of the colonies and the mother country, and an indication given of a
grasp of the essential danger involved in the worsening relations be-
tween Britain and her northern colonies. But it is only mentioned -
no more, for the remaining documents prior to 1775 merely contain
references to items of a parochial nature, and continued declarations
The chief cause of concern over the growing rift on the mainland
was its probable effect upon the Barbados economy. Again we note a
persistence in pleading the issue solely in terms of the welfare of
3 Spry to the Earl of Hillsborough, 24 September 1768. C.O. 28:33, Gg. 20.
5 Spry to the Earl of Hillsborough, 8 July 1769. C.O. 28:33, Gg. 34.
7 Spry to Hillsborough, 1 December 1769. Assures him of the affection of
Barbados for the king. C.O. 28:33, duplicate no. 26; Spry to Hillsborough,
9 March 1770. Notes that Barbados is tranquil in contrast to "some other parts
of His Majesty's dominions." C.O. 28:33, duplicate no. 28.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
Barbados, minus any attempt to assume leadership in a movement
toward a solution of the question which so vitally affected all the
British West Indies. For the colony which had for so many years
claimed dominance in West Indian thought based upon its recognized
position as the "mother-colony" in the Caribbean, this alone accurately
portrays the extent of its decline.
While the hard facts of economic life were to eventually drive all
interested parties within the empire to the same position with regard
to the North American problem, this does not and should not be
allowed to stand as an excuse for political inaction both in thought
and deed. Certainly if there was a valid reason for inaction, the
paralysis of political perception from which the Barbadians suffered
for so many years offered them a sound pardon.
It is easier and more reasonable however to look to Britain for our
answer. The inability of the Barbadians or any of the other planter
groups to play an important healing role can be traced to the same
set of circumstances surrounding the breakdown of communication
in America. Despite the confusion of British politics after 1763, an
unyielding attitude toward the colonies was exhibited: they must be
kept in economic subordination to those powerful interests which
profited from colonial commerce and investments overseas.8 Individual
colonies might still receive affirmative responses from the Board of
Trade on requests for projects of a local nature (e.g. free ports), but
only if such moves would further the cause of mercantilism so as to
benefit the many.
The suggestions put forward by the West Indians usually failed to
penetrate to the basic core of the difficulty, and thus, fell wide of the
mark in attempting to find a solution to the growing dispute in North
America. It is probable though that barring a complete reversal in
British economic policy little could have been done to alter the flow
of events after 1769 regardless of the political astuteness of the
planters. There was no shortage of spokesmen in England, or in
Parliament itself, to remind the ministers of George III of the grave
risks being undertaken in the name of mercantilism; it is hard to
imagine that colonial voices even the most politically discerning,
could hope to be more persuasive.
Concern with events in North America tended to vary directly with
8 Sir Lewis Naimer's The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III
(London, 1929), and England in the Age of the American Revolution (London,
1930), are excellent references on British political thought.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
the assumed threat to the welfare of Barbados. Since the threat was
considered primarily to be of an economic nature, and since the
Barbadians had for years maintained close ties with the merchants of
the leading American cities, any action that would tend to jeopardize
those ties was viewed with alarm. Boycotts of British goods, riots,
destruction of property, and counter-measures in general by the
Americans to the edicts of Parliament and the Board of Trade an-
noyed the planters far more than the original enactments themselves.
Fear of endangering the economic status quo caused many Bar-
badiansto suppress their private sympathies in favor of expressions of
dismay over the effrontery of the Americans. The most commonly
used approach was that of placing the responsibility for events on the
evil intent of a few rabblerousers and the credulousness of the popula-
tion. A memorial to Governor Spry from the Assembly written during
the crisis created by American reaction to the Townsend duties in
Involved as the inhabitants of this, as well as all the other islands necessarily
are in the consequences [of the North American disturbances], we cannot
but lament the cause of those jealousies which have for sometime past
disturbed the minds of our fellow subjects upon the Northern Continent,
nor look with less impatience than themselves for the result of those more
tender and deliberate counsels which shall restore America to its former
general quiet by placing it, as formerly, in the full esteem and kindness of
the Parent Country.9
By the summer of 1774 events in North America threatened to disrupt
the entire pattern of colonial commerce. Incensed by the destruction
of 15,000 worth of East India Company tea by a band of American
radicals disguised as Indians, Parliament had passed the Boston Port
Bill which removed the customhouse from Boston and closed the port
to all shipping until such time as restitution was made to the company
for its tea. This was certain to be disruptive of Barbados business -
long dependent upon Boston as an outlet for much of its sugar, rum,
and molasses, and as the source of many of the commodities necessary
for the maintenance of life on the island.
Compounding the already serious situation was the probability of
additional American action in retaliation against the Port Bill. The
Barbadians were convinced that the Americans would once again
resort to the use of economic weapons, probably an embargo of British
goods, in their attempt to counter this latest Parliamentary move. The
9 Barbados Assembly to Governor Spry, 14 March 1769. C.O. 31:35.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
Assembly expressed the foreboding that must have been widely felt
on Barbados; in a message to Governor Hay it stated
We reflect with a pleasure equal to that expressed by Your Excellency on
the present disposition of the inhabitants of this island; we reflect upon this
temper and good agreement amongst our countrymen as a mark of their
prudence no less than their virtue at so critical a juncture as the present,
when they must be waiting with a fearful expectation of the event of those
troubles in which our brethren upon the northern continent of America are
unhappily involved with our mother country, and in which from that
natural connection and dependence of the distant settlements on each other,
the people of these Southern Colonies must soon find themselves deeply
interested and affected.10
Only a week before the Continental Congress assembled in Phila-
delphia to decide upon a plan of resistance to the authority of
Parliament, Governor Hay reported to the Board of Trade that
Some people have been apprehensive of the North Americans shutting up
their ports, and withholding their provision and lumber; hitherto as many as
usual have come here from North America. For my part I am more appre-
hensive of the effects of a dry year, than of any distress from the North
Acting to offset the general fear of privation which would result from
a break in commercial relations with the northern colonies was the
belief that even if the Continental Congress were to declare an
embargo, enforcement would be difficult because of the number of
Americans vitally interested in the West India trade.1' The question
was soon to be settled, for on 20 October 1774, the Congress declared
that unless its demands for autonomy within the empire were met the
ports of America would be closed to most British Caribbean produce
after 1 December 1774, and a complete trade embargo would take
effect after 10 September 1775.
News of the proclamation arrived in the Antilles with the first ships
out of Philadelphia. The embargo, if successfully instituted, would
strike at the very heart of West Indian sufficiency and pose a grave
threat to British supremacy in the Caribbean. This fact was not lost
upon the Barbados merchants and planters who composed a sizeable
majority in the Assembly, but it remained for the Jamaican Assembly
10 Barbados Assembly to Governor Hay, 19 July 1774. C.O. 31:84.
11 Hay to the Earl of Dartmouth, 31 August 1774. C.O. 28:55, nos. 76-77.
12 Governor Payne of the Leeward Islands to the Earl of Dartmouth, 3 July
1774, as quoted in Ragatz, op. cit., p. 142.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
to champion colonial rights in general and approach the Crown on
behalf of the North Americans.1s
In a strongly worded petition to the king passed in the closing
hours of its session, the Assembly professed its loyalty but declared
that destruction of the sugar trade "must follow the unnatural contest
with the Americans".14 The petitioners asserted further that the colonists
were not subject to the laws of England, apart from those regulating
external commerce, and insisted that all others were the sole prero-
gative of local legislatures. This was a firm denial of the right of
Parliament to legislate beyond selected areas of broad colonial policy
and to interfere in the internal affairs of the colonies. Following the
pattern used by American petitioners of the period the Assembly
appealed to the king to "become a mediator between his European
and American subjects", so "that no laws shall be forced upon them
injurious to their rights as colonists or Englishmen.. 15
The memorial was foredoomed to failure. The Earl of Dartmouth
attacked the "so indecent, not to say criminal conduct of the Assembly"
and threatened the perpetrators of the document with punishment if
they failed to reconsider their ill-timed action.16 The legislature of
Connecticut and the Continental Congress on the other hand extended
votes of thanks to the Jamaicans for their efforts in the cause of
The quickening pace of events in North America was watched with
growing alarm by the membership of the West India Merchants in
England. As any disruption in the colonial trade pattern would
adversely affect the marketing of sugar, the group stood ready to
bring its influence to bear wherever and whenever it seemed most
appropriate. Late in 1773 the Merchants considered a motion to ask
Parliament to permit "all kinds of corn and grain (except wheat) and
also biscuit to be exported to the sugar colonies without limitation..."
to create a reserve supply of provisions in the event of war.18
The decision of the Continental Congress to suspend all commerce
in the thirteen colonies backed by the treat of force against dissenters,
14 "Memorial from the General Assembly of Jamaica Relative to the Present
State of American Affairs to His Majesty George III", 14 December 1774, as
quoted in Southey, op. cit., pp. 422-423.
16 Dartmouth to Governor Keith of Jamaica, 3 March 1775. C.O. 137:70.
17 Ragatz, op. cit., p. 143.
18 Minutes of the West India Merchants, First Series, I, 7 December 1773.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
occasioned the calling of a general meeting open to all persons having
an interest in the West Indies "... to deliberate on the steps necessary
to be taken by us jointly on the present important crisis."19 The meeting
was held 18 January 1775, at the London Tavern, Bishopsgate Street
and a petition prepared for transmission to Parliament.
It was the desire of the group to make its fears known to Parliament
in as strong a manner as possible, and to secure from the lawmakers
some assurance that West Indian interests would receive the full
protection and support of the government for the duration of the
crisis. The document set forth the apprehension felt over the impend-
ing American boycott and suggested that Parliament take concerted
action to placate the northern colonists for the sake of the British
investment in the Caribbean valued at 30,000,000. It suggested also
that without "free" access to North American provisions the islands
would certainly suffer extreme privation which would endanger their
safety and adversely affect national revenues. The petitioners noted
That the profits arising from the present state of the said islands, and that
are likely to arise from their future improvement, in a great measure depend
on a free and reciprocal intercourse between them and the several provinces
of North America.20
In the Commons the matter was referred to a committee to hear
evidence in support of the petition. In the House of Lords the
memorial became submerged for several weeks in a personal feud
between the Marquis of Rockingham and the Earl of Dartmouth over
a point of order unrelated to the question at hand and was soundly
rejected when finally brought to a vote late in March. The opening
of hostilities soon after brought an end to all attempts at settlement
through West Indian intervention.21
In April Governor Hay reported tle "storehouses ... well stocked"
on Barbados, and that trade with North America continued to flourish
in spite of the Congressional edict anil a small sugar crop occasioned
by drought. On the eve of war in North America his letter seems
inept and unrealistic; especially is this true in light of the strenuous
effort on behalf of compromise and reconciliation taken by the West
India Committee. Hay stated
It is the sincere wish of every faithful subject that his Majesty's steady
i Ibid., 3 January 1775.
Ibid., 7 February 1775.
21 Ragatz, op. cit., p. 144.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
Resolution to maintain the authority of the supreme legislature over all
His Majesty's Dominions, thus supported by his Parliament, may have the
desired effect upon the minds of his subjects in America. It is with pleasure
I acquaint your Lordship, that no bad effect has been felt in this island
hitherto from the disturbances in the northern colonies, but that full as
many vessels with provisions and stores have arrived from thence as usual
and the storehouses are well stocked. Therefore as we may justly hope that
those people will return to a proper sense of their duty, so I think there is
little to fear from any ill-consequence to this island henceforward.22
Only four days before the battle of Lexington, Parliament acted to
restrict the commerce of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut,
and Rhode Island by formally closing their trade with the British
West Indies. In a series of acts taking effect on 1 July 1775, elaborate
precautions were instituted to halt the flow of provisions and supplies
southward to the Caribbean.23 The immediate result was to increase
the number of prize ships brought to Barbados and thus the supply
of provisions on the island.
At such a critical juncture the increased flow of food and plantation
stores was of vital importance. Although in no actual danger of in-
vasion by American forces, the islands would soon be faced by the
very real threat of privation resulting from a lack of supplies unless a
substitute source could be artificially established. Governor Hay con-
tinued to report the island in satisfactory condition. The Earl of
Dartmouth noted with pleasure "that the disturbances in the Northern
Colonies have not yet had any effect to prevent the island of Barbados
from being supplied with those articles that have usually been im-
ported from thence".24 However the foremost nineteenth-century
authority on the West Indies, R.H. Schomburgk, states
Instead of providing for such an emergency by legislative means, the time
was allowed to pass until the rupture actually took place, when to their
great consternation the Barbaians found that their stock of provisions was
estimated at scarcely six weeks consumption.25
The precise condition of Barbados and the other British islands is
clouded by numerous conflicting documents on the subject. Governor
Hay had been embroiled in controversy with his Assembly since his
22 Hay to Dartmouth, 6 April 1775. C.O. 28:56, nos. 1-3; C.O. 29:21.
*2 15 George III. c. 10, acts 34-39. The act was extended, in May 1775, to
include New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. 15
George III c. 18.
24 Dartmouth to Hay, 5 July 1775. C.O. 28:56, no. 6.
25 R. H. Schomburgk, The History of Barbados (London, 1848), p. 333.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
arrival in 1773 and was not apt to acknowledge in writing any distress
on the island regardless of the circumstances or causes. An obstinate
and self-centered official with little knowledge of colonial affairs and
still less of the Barbadian viewpoint, he had lost touch with the mood
of his citizens by the outbreak of the American Revolution.26 In the
Assembly several individuals fearful for their own interests in time of
war took every opportunity to voice their concern over the events in
distorted terms, stimulated by the desire to embarrass the governor
before his superiors in London. Statements regarding the condition of
Barbados were often designed as tools for use in the internal power
struggle, and as such are suspect for any purpose beyond that of
showing the intensity of the conflict over prerogatives waged between
Governor Hay and his Assembly.
By late summer the Governor had become alternately optimistic
and pessimistic in his dispatches to the Board of Trade. While
declaring that the "Disturbances in North America have not hitherto
affected this island", and that provisions were in such great supply
"that for many years they had not been known to be so cheap as in
May last", Hay acknowledged that he had forbidden the export of
foodstuffs "as long as the island is threatened to have provisions
withheld".27 He noted further that several cargoes of provisions had
arrived since July, but that he was not expecting "much more unless
from those colonies who have not sent deputies to the Congress",
although he reiterated his belief that regardless of the congressional
edict most North American traders would still do "what is most for
their own interest".28
As a hedge against a food shortage many of the planters began to
cultivate large crops of Indian and Guinea corn on portions of their
sugar lands. The corn and other ground crops would do much to
make many estates self-sufficient during the lean years ahead. Coupled
with adequate provisions in storage and the arrival of numerous
prizes during the first few months of the Revolution, Barbados appears
to have weathered the initial shock of the disruption of her trade.
26 See Ragatz, op. cit., p. 151.
Hay to Dartmouth, 29 August 1775. C.O. 28:56, nos. 10-12.
28 Idem. Another version of this communication reads: "We are not apprehen-
sive of any bad effect from the conduct of North America. Indeed I am inclined
to believe whatever may be the public declaration of their General Congress,
individuals after a certain time will be apt to do what is most for their own
interests." Hay to Dartmouth, 29 August 1775. C.O. 29:21.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
Even nature was kind to the planters by providing an abundant
harvest after a succession of poor years.29
The abundance of provisions proved to be only temporary how-
ever, and within a year the supply had dwindled sufficiently to cause
concern among the planters. A food shortage could easily set off the
most feared of all occurrences a slave rebellion. Only the strictest
of measures had spared the planters such an event in the past, and
only by constant surveillance was the established order maintained
at all. The prospect of sixty thousand starving slaves staging a mass
uprising in an attempt to secure food was almost too frightful to
contemplate. A steady flow of provisions therefore was, and would be,
necessary to preserve the precarious balance of order and tranquility
upon which the welfare of all depended.
In February, 1776, the Assembly made a direct appeal to the king
for relief from the approaching "famine" which they felt would soon
appear barring direct aid from England.30 The motion to petition had
been introduced by the island's Solicitor-General, Henry Duke, an
antagonist of Governor Hay from the beginning of the latter's term,
and a strong advocate of Assembly freedom. Hay seized the oppor-
tunity to remove Duke from his position, and wrote of him in a letter
to the Board as a man "who ought to have had other sentiments than
those of disturbing the king's peace of mind at so critical a jucture".31
The Governor's unfavorable reaction to the petition appears to have
been based more upon his personal dislike of Solicitor-General Duke
and the affronty of his Assembly in daring to address the king directly
than upon a firm conviction that its contents were in error. Only two
days previous to his letter of the fifteenth Hay had written Lord
Germaine that the corn had not done as well as expected and since
trade with North America had been cut off by Parliament "the planters
begin to apprehend a scarcity of many articles necessary for their
The situation was further complicated by the arrival of several
British ships from Boston with orders from General Sir William Howe
Hay to John Pownall, 29 August 1775. C.O. 28:56, no. 22.
30 Barbados Assembly to George III, 11 February 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos. 33-36.
The petitioners claimed that the Barbados population contained 80,000 Negroes
and 20,000 whites. This estimate is probably too high deliberately so, to add
emphasis to the plea. More reliable population estimates give the figure of
approximately 65,000 slaves and 15,000 whites.
31 Hay to Lord George Germaine, 15 February 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos. 29-80.
32 Hay to Germaine, 13 February 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos. 26-28.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
to acquire rum, beef, and pork for his troops surrounded in the city.
The requested food was supplied in spite of "the scarcity of provi-
sions..." on the island and the general temper of the populace.33
The petition was presented to Lord Germaine by George Walker,
the Barbados agent in Londen, who accompanied it with a memorial
of his own describing the depressed state of affairs on the island.
Germaine replied that since the conditions claimed to exist in both
the petition and memorial were contrary to reports received in the
dispatches of Governor Hay nothing would be done for the present.4
When news of the petition's failure reached the Assembly several
resolutions were passed affirming that body's right to address the
throne, and condemning Governor Hay for interfering in the attempt
to secure a measure of relief for the colony. Led again by Mr. Duke a
second petition was voted.3" This declared that the Governor was
deliberately thwarting all efforts to supply the island with much-
needed provisions, and that by so doing he was endangering the
welfare of Barbados merely to satisfy his own vanity. It also stated
that poor whites and Negroes were "suffering" for lack of food,
prices were continuing to rise, and "large quantities" of rum were
"remaining unsold" for lack of a market.36
Although publicly declaring the adequacy of provisions on Barbados
the Governor was privately casting about for an informal method of
ending the drain upon the colony's already scanty reserve of food.
In a letter to Vice Admiral Young, commander of the British fleet
in the Antilles, Hay suggested allowing Barbados ships to trade
directly with the French and Dutch islands, and the sending of all
ships carrying North American produce to Barbados, "where they
will meet with a very good price for all their articles".37 He concluded
the message with the admission that "this island is in great distress
for want of support for their Negroes, and which distress is likely to
increase daily as long as this unhappy contest between the Mother
Country and the North American Colonies subsists".3"
The admiral replied favorably to the suggestion, but expressed fear
that private importation of provisions from the French and Dutch
islands might enrich a few individuals, or "secure from capture the
4 Ragatz, op. cit., p. 151.
U Idem.; Minutes of the Barbados Assembly, 7 July 1776. C.O. 31:89.
Barbados Assembly to George III, 9 July 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos. 70-72.
Hay to Vice Admiral Young, 24 March 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos. 51-52.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
property of the North American rebels and afterwards only become
a monopoly in the hands of their friends (the disaffected people in
the different islands) which is certainly an advantage they are in no
wise entitled to".39 To prevent possible abuse, the admiral proposed
the establishment of a public corporation vested with the sole right
to carry on such a trade; immediate relief could be obtained by
purchasing captured American provisions at Antigua.40 The Barbados
Council approved the project and suggested raising the necessary
capital by sale of stock. Lack of subscriptions, however, caused the
idea to collapse within a few weeks.41
By the spring of 1776 the general uncertainty surrounding the
continued supply of provisions, even in limited quantities, coupled
with a marked increase in insurance and shipping rates, had forced
food prices noticeably upward throughout the Caribbean. On Bar-
bados Governor Hay had become a victim of his own emotions. While
continuing to report an abundance of provisions on the island in his
dispatches to London, the governor felt obliged to criticize the colony's
merchants whom he blamed for raising prices on most items con-
sidered as staples, and therefore necessary to the well-being of the
In April Hay reported a need for "India and Guinea corn for the
Negroes", while noting that livestock was plentiful and that there
was no shortage of provisions originating in England and Ireland.
He complained that "the traders" were keeping prices up, but then
contradicted himself in an attack upon his enemies in the Assem-
talk of Famine, in the most plentiful Island of all the West Indies, and
where I, who have no plantation and must buy all the provisions for my
Table, can assure your Lordship that scarcely One Article of provisions and
live Stock of the Island has varied in price for near these three Years that
I have been here.42
Three months later the Governor again censured the "storekeepers"
for their "high prices", but noted several vessels containing provisions
"that have called here have gone away for want of purchasers".43
S3 Vice Admiral Young to Hay, Antigua, 2 April 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos. 53-54.
40 Idem. The Barbados Council also proposed direct trade with the French,
Dutch, and Spanish islands. C.O. 29:21.
41 Ragatz, op. cit., p. 152; Hay to Germaine, 25 July 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos.
61-63; C.O. 29:21.
e Hay to Germaine, 13 April 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos. 40-41.
4 Hay to Germaine, 25 July 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos. 61-63; C.O. 29:21.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
The situation might have been far worse in the colony if the
Admiralty in February 1776, acting upon the urging of both Parlia-
ment and several influential planters on the West India Committee,
had not agreed to convoy merchant shipping to and from Great
Britain and the Caribbean.44 In an address before his Council and
Assembly at the opening of the new session Hay took notice of the
convoys and of a more recent act of Parliament authorizing the direct
exportation of wheat and other grains from Great Britain to the West
Indies.45 In one of his few conciliatory speeches before the legislators
Hay remarked upon the hardships then being faced by all, and noted
must feel the effects of a suspension of trade with so many of His Majesty's
Northern Colonies in America as are now in rebellion; nor was it possible
that His West India islands could be exempt from a large share of incon-
venience from this interruption.46
However, "the provident care of His Majesty and both houses of
Parliament", he felt, would soon rectify those past hardships, and the
Americans would probably surrender before the end of the year
The Council assumed a mild tone in replying to the Governor's
message, but took note of the basic problem facing the colony that
of the loss of its primary market for sugar.
Not to feel the calamities which surround us, not to deprecate the evils
arising from the unnatural conditions on the continent would argue a defi-
ciency of every sentiment which humanity as well as self-preservation could
suggest. Yet confident of the wisdom of His Majesty's councils and firmly
attached to his person and government, we look with patience and resigna-
tion for a happy period [conclusion] of contests that have been so extensive
and unsparing in their effects, so very prejudicial to us. Your excellency
views with just complacency the successive and unexpected supplies by
which we have been relieved from threatened distress. But [this cannot]
give contentment to the industrious planter beyond the exigencies of the
present hour. The surplus of our produce yields but little advantage, when
the accustomed markets for our staple commodities are shut against us.
With decent aquiescence however we must bear misfortunes which originate
not among ourselves trusting that oppression will cease to guide the hand
44 Minutes of the West India Merchants, First Series, I, 16 February 1776.
45 Hay to Barbados Council and Assembly, 22 August 1776. C.O. 31:34. The
exportation was authorized by 16 George III c. 37, and subsequently renewed
annually for the duration.
4 Idem; C.O. 28:56, no. 84.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
of the importunate creditor and that every measure will be adopted which
can alleviate these surrounding evils.48
The Assembly used the occasion to assail Hay for his ineptitude in
office and his continuing failure to agree with the Assembly members
as to the seriousness of the situation confronting the colony. Parlia-
ment was censured for prohibiting Barbados trade with North America
while failing to open a substitute channel. While the island was to
receive wheat from Britain to ease the food shortage, none had yet
arrived, prices were rising and the poor white people, according to
the Assembly, were "starving".49 Hay was bitterly attacked for allow-
ing food to be sent to General Howe the previous spring in spite of
the serious shortage and the uncertainty of supply.50
Early in the session the Assembly sent still another petition to the
king. It was still too soon to have received a reply from their second
memorial written in July, but the prospect of a mediocre crop of corn
galvanized the planters into action. The petitioners asserted that
Barbados could not hope to become self-sufficient in food and claimed
a shortage of grain "more especially in those parts of the island that
have always depended upon the grain of North America for their
subsistence to keep their slaves from perishing".'5 Large quatities of
rum allegedly remained unsold for lack of a suitable market, since
the former trade with North America had been "cut off" by legislative
In London, Agent Walker had laid the Assembly's second petition
before the king, and had also composed a memorial of his own which
he presented to Lord Germaine. In it he noted the sharp rise in food
prices in the colony since the start of the American Revolution and
the equally distressing fall in sugar prices paid to the planters. Walker
claimed that sugar was selling for twenty-six to forty percent less
than it had only two years earlier, and that "the poor white people
are on the point of perishing in most parts of the island..." for want
of sustenance.53 Negroes were reportedly stealing cattle from the
fields and slaughtering them immediately for food, while private
48 Barbados Council to Governor Hay, 1 October 1776. C.O. 31:34.
49 Barbados Assembly to Governor Hay, 1-2 October 1776. C.O. 28:56, nos.
88-91; C.O. 31:34.
51 Barbados Assembly to George III, 9 September 1776. C.O. 29:21.
53 George Walker to Lord Germaine, Cavandish Square, London, 9 and 11
September 1776. C.O. 28:56; nos. 75-76; C.O. 31:39.
THE AMERICAN YEARS
cornfields were being robbed by desperate bands of starving people.
The memorial also asserted that many of the Barbadians were fleeing
out of desperation and fear to the French held island of St. Lucia, and
that many others might easily be persuaded to transfer their loyalty
if they did not soon receive aidl The distress on Barbados was com-
pared with that of Lisbon after the great earthquake and fire in 1755
when sixty thousand people perished.
Walker included a table of commodity prices for Barbados in his
memorial representing the period 1774-75, and the year 1776. By the
use of this device he was able to show a one hundred fifty percent
rise in basic food prices in less than twenty-four months and a four
hundred percent increase in the price of corn alone
Commodity 1774-1775 1776
Good Flour from 15s. to 25s. per container Bad flour 30s.
to 37s. 6d.
Ship corn (maize) 2s. 6d. to 3s. 9d. per bu. 10s. to 13s.
Salt fish 12s. 6d. to 25s. per quintat 30s. to 40s.
Beef 60s. to 70s. per barrel 90s. to 130s.
Pork 70s. to 100s. per barrel 100s. to 150s.
Herrings 25s. to 32s. 6d. per barrel 45s. to 55s.
Butter 8d. to 10d. per pound Is. 3d. to Is. 102d.
Muscovado 30s. to 35s. per hwt. 18s. 9d. to 25s.
Rum 2s. per gallon Is. 3d.54
The second petition and Agent Walker's memorial became lost in the
machinery of government procedure after the fashion of countless
others. Indeed, it was doubtful whether the mother country could do
more than was already being done on behalf of the British West
Indies: a naval force of considerable strength was on station in the
Caribbean, merchant shipping was convoyed in both directions be-
tween England and the British islands, wheat had been sent out in
large quantity from Britain to relieve a food shortage, and the Bar-
badians were allowed to carry on direct importation of provisions
from the foreign islands.
The basic hardship caused by the war loss of the primary market
for Barbados sugar and rum, could not be remedied by king or Par-