Barbuda’s social and political history is fascinating and complex, from the first people who used canoes to travel to the island, through the Codrington family years and their trade in slaves, to the more recent troubled relationship with the government in Antigua. On this page we tell some of the story so far…
the first people
200 – 300 BC
The archaeological investigations of David L Watters (1978-9) unearthed evidence of Archaic Age peoples being present in the River area of Barbuda. The sites suggested human habitation around 3685 bc, and it was around this time that the sand dunes began to form in the Palmetto area. More recent excavations have been undertaken at Seaview and other areas of the island. There are many Ceramic Age sites found throughout the eastern parts of the island – the most significant settlements occurred in the latter part of the first millennium. Amerindian sites have been found in Suffra in the Spanish Point area of the island, and Indian Town, near Two Foot Bay. See the article ‘Amerindian Presence’ for details of this and other research on Barbuda.
1200 – 1600
Caribs originating from Dominica and St Vincent made regular incursions to Barbuda and during this period Barbuda was given the name ‘Wa’omoni’ by the Caribs. In 1493 Columbus passed through the Eastern Caribbean south of Antigua but it’s not clear whether he had any contact with Barbuda. In the early days attempts to settle the Caribbean islands were continually being made by seafarers from Europe – including the Dutch, the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese and the English. There were regular incidents between them and lawlessness in an area they described as ‘beyond the line’. The risk of pirates and privateers, the hot climate, dangerous hurricanes, extreme poverty and unfamiliar surroundings all took their toll on the settlers, making their early attempts mostly unsuccessful. Many of the first to go to the Americas were travelling as indentured servants, often the rural poor escaping extreme poverty in England. Later, prisoners were sent abroad and others left to escape the British Civil war. Over the next one hundred and fifty years a third of all who came here are said to have died within three years of arriving.
On Barbuda Captain Smith and John Littleton attempted to colonise Barbuda from St Kitts, under a Letters Patent issued to the Earl of Carlisle in 1625. In these Letters Patent, Barbuda was named Barbado. This attempt at colonisation failed as a result of fierce Carib resistance but further early settlers called Barbuda Dulcina and by 1666 the village of Codrington had been established as the main residential centre.
1685 – 1705 The Codrington family and the trade in slaves
This period sees the advent of successful European settlement of the Caribbean as a whole, and eventually on Barbuda. The first Christopher Codrington was an English aristocrat who went to Barbados in the 1630’s and there married Frances Drax, the daughter of another planter family with considerable estates in the West Indies. The first member of the Drax family had gone to Barbados from Coventry in Warwickshire in the UK as an 18 year old – buying land and becoming one of the first families to move from tobacco and cotton growing to sugar produced by African slaves. After Barbados the Codrington family expanded their interests to Antigua and established Betty’s Hope plantation there, eventually at over 850 acres it had almost three hundred slaves and was one of the largest in the Caribbean. Over more than four generations the Codrington family established themselves as plantation owners and slave traders, becoming a wealthy and powerful political family both in the Caribbean and in England, as a result of their profits from sugar.
Christopher and John Codrington were both born in the West Indies, and inherited land in Barbados from their father. They were granted the first 50 year lease for Barbuda by King Charles II on 9 January 1685. The rent ascribed to the lease was ‘one fat sheep yearly if demanded’. During this period Barbuda was established as a provisioning station, growing crops and providing most of the supplies for the Codrington estates in Antigua and Barbados. The Africans who were brought to Barbuda are known to have come from the Ibo, Yoruba, and Ejo tribes of Nigeria, from Ghana, Gambia, and from Sierra Leone.
John Codrington died at 46 years old and Christopher became Governor of the Leeward Islands, a reward for establishing English supremacy in an area still constantly threatened by invasion, especially from France, and he took up more land in St Kitts. Queen Anne renewed and extended the lease of Barbuda for 99 years to Christopher Codrington the third, Christopher’s son, on 5 June 1705. Although he was born in Barbados he was sent to school in England, and then studied at Oxford before going back to the Caribbean as an army officer.
Christopher was constantly ill on his return and died in 1710. In the book by Mathew Parker ‘The Sugar Barons – Family, Corruption, Empire and War’ (Windmill Books 2011) he writes, ‘The will, dated 22nd February 1703, revealed how immensely rich he was; it is no surprise he was considered the wealthiest man in the West Indies.’ Christopher Codrington bequeathed certain areas of Barbuda to the ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel’, a Church of England society that owned slaves. The produce and the profit from these areas were to be used for the maintenance and upkeep of Codrington College in Barbados. Thereafter the family line decended through John Codrington, who became Treasurer of Barbados and Colonel of the island’s Life Guards. John’s eldest son William was created 1st Baronet of Dodington in 1721 and inherited two further Antiguan estates, ‘The Cables’ and ‘Cotton Estate’. (William also bequeathed to his third son, Christopher Bethell, the Antiguan estate known as ‘Rooms’ and to his fourth son, Edward the ‘Folly’ estate. Edward later purchased the estates of Bolans and Jennings).
The first comprehensive written record of these early inhabitants of Barbuda comes from information contained in the Letter and Memorandum Book of Sir William Codrington 1715 – 1790. William was the main beneficiary of Christopher’s will, inheriting Dodington House in the UK, Betty’s Hope and the land in St Kitts. One entry begins with the statement ‘a list of what white servants, negroes, cattle, and horses that I have now at Barbuda – July 27th 1719’. The book provides an extensive record of the African slaves who are the ancestors of present-day Barbudans, including names, gender, and age group. The white servants originated mainly from the United Kingdom and arrived via other Caribbean islands. The stock included cattle, horses, hogs, goats, and sheep. Details of the population were as follows:
|Boys||15||Men from Antigua||5||Cattle||228||Young turkeys||10|
|Women||34||Women||0||Tame Hogs||20||Small fowls||20|
Barbudans were skilled in all manner of trades including shipwrights, hunters, house carpenters, wheelwrights, collar makers and saddlers, shoemakers, sail and pipemakers, and tanners, and the list of 1756 identifies Cubba, a woman, as ‘doctress’. A 1761 list valued 13 Barbudan slaves at prices ranging from £5 to £165. Here we have the first appearance of current surnames including Jack Punter, Joe Mapps, Jeff Frank, Will Beazer, Bess Beazer, Tom Teague, Sam Rose, and Will Bayley.
1741 Resistance and rebellion
The first record of a slave resistance and rebellion in Barbuda – Beach’s Rebellion – arose as a consequence of manager Thomas Beach’s ‘cruel and tyrannical’ behaviour. Several head of cattle were slaughtered, damage was done to the Codrington’s property and equipment and ‘negroes runaway and absent themselves’ from work.
Later Governor Macknight was assassinated during a slave uprising, and as a result two slaves were hanged and one committed suicide. Bethell Codrington was reported to have been involved in agitating against Governor Macknight as Codrington was said to have had ‘liaisons’ with a ‘mulatto woman’ and Barbudans assert that these ‘liaisons’ have led to descendants of the Codrington family being present in the population to this day.
1750 – 1800
A map from this period indicates
- substantial buildings in the Highland area
- a castle in Codrington
- a fort at River, now known as the Martello Tower
- houses at Palmetto, Cocoa Point, and Castle Hill
- eight catching pens
- several defensive cannon gun battery units in the south, north, west, and east
- two large plantations in the Meadow and Guava area and in the Highlands area
Many ruins still exist and all the animal catching pens and enclosures are in use today at Low Pond, Bezor, Sam Spring, Hog Hole and Owen Well. In the 1780’s Barbuda supported 8,000 sheep, 2,000 goats, 600 horses, 500 deer, 20 mules, 7 jackasses and 300 to 400 cattle. Three hundred acres were in pasture and eighty acres were planted in corn, with ten acres each of cotton and yams. A stock assessment on 14th July 1792 valued the total stock of negroes and other stock at £50,000, a large amount at that time. The origin of the Barbudan ‘slave breeding’ controversy stems from this period as Codrington, in correspondence with his manager, suggested that the island should become a nursery for negroes to make Barbuda more profitable – the intention being that Barbuda could become the supplier of slaves for re-sale to other Caribbean islands. Lowenthal and Clark (1977) calculated that 172 slaves were exported from 1779 to 1834 and most were destined for estates in Antigua, but 37 went to the Leeward and Windward islands and others to the southern colonies in the United States. Evidence of exported batches of 12, 18, 24, 15, 19, and 41 slaves would suggest that Codrington made sure his policy was implemented.
1753 – 1834 More uprising
Records reveal several further Barbudan slave rebellions during the employment of managers Dennis Reynolds, John James, John Osbourne, Dickson, Jarritt, and Winter as it became more popular for Caribbean planter families to leave their estates to be managed by overseers. The most serious was the insurrection in 1834-5 when an attempt was made to forcibly ship all Barbudans to Codrington’s plantations in Antigua. There was a general revolt and troops had to be sent from Antigua to quell the uprising. An additional factor that induced the insurrection may been the failure by the British Parliament to name Barbudans in the Slavery Emancipation Act of 1834 and so Barbudans freed themselves from slavery – at abolition Barbudans on the island numbered 500.
1790 The voyage of ‘The Duke of Leinster’ – a contribution from one of our readers
“You are to proceed with the Brigantine ‘Duke of Leinster’, to the island of Antigua, and when you have made the island, you are to stand off the island of Barbuda, giving it a wide berth…” Those were the secret orders given to William Christian, Captain of the ‘Duke of Leinster’ on the 4th of November 1789, by the ship’s joint owner – Arthur Bryan of Dublin, Ireland. On January 1, 1790, the ‘Duke of Leinster’ was recorded as being off Barbuda. Captain Christian’s written orders clearly stated he was to dispose of his cargo – seventy-seven men and twelve women – convicts all of them – around Antigua on nearby islands with the proviso, “not a great many at any one place, for fear of a commotion”. Barbuda is where he chose to abandon forty-eight of the men and five women. Naturally the arrival of fifty-three destitute people on this tiny island was both noticeable and alarming. Within days the convicts were rounded up and transported to Antigua, on one of Codrington’s own ships. Now free in St John’s, the convicts told residents that they were indentured servants from Ireland, bound for Philadelphia and at first their story was believed. People were moved by the collective misery of the new arrivals, and made every effort to assist them. However, it was not long before word of their convict origins got out, and they were housed in the local jail. The crisis was somewhat resolved when thirty-six of the convicts sailed with a Captain Burk to an unknown destination in America, but to date no record has been found stating who these thirty-six people were or their final destination. The remaining convicts – having refused to leave – were employed in public works projects.
A request for information about Hugh Griffin.
So why is a voyage that took place over 200 years ago of interest to anybody? It’s because the ‘Duke of Leinster’ carried a relative of mine, recorded as Hugh Griffin (Giffen). Born and bred in Ireland, he was convicted of stealing three sheep and a firkin of butter at the Carrickfergus Assizes on August 21st 1789 and destined for transportation. History records that he was aboard the ‘Duke of Leinster’ on what was to be the last trans-Atlantic shipment of Irish convicts. What happened to him subsequently is shrouded in mystery but as families often have a long oral tradition of recounting stories from the past, it is my hope that within the collective stories of the islands, I may find out what happened to Hugh.
If you have information about Hugh or about the remaining fifty-three convicts in the Leeward Islands that you would be willing to share, I can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]
Thankyou Betsy Sinclair
George III granted permission to the Codringtons to lease the island for a further 50 years.
1835 – 1900
Information exists concerning Christian missionary activity in Barbuda during the slave period although the Codringtons appear to have kept religion and religious activity to a minimum. However, around 1835 John Winter, the manager of the Codringtons’ affairs, reported that, ‘We have a chapel that will contain 180 persons which is converted into a school room during the week’. The Bishop of Antigua requested permission to extend the Anglican chapel on 26 April 1844. This chapel, now the Holy Trinity Church, is still used by the population and remains one of the most substantial structures in Codrington Village.
Codrington in the UK
The pictures above show the village sign in Codrington, Gloucestershire, where the Codrington family orginate from and Doddington House. The Codrington family held this estate in the parish of Wapley and Codrington since at least the 13th century, according to the National Archives where this information has been taken from, and there are many other internet sources regarding the family history – most relating to Barbados. From the mid 18th century, the Codrington family preferred to live here in Gloucestershire, but remained well known as slave owners, even by people outside the county. In 1786, Granville Sharp, an opponent of the slave trade living and working in London, specifically mentioned them in a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The main family archive was withdrawn from the Gloucestershire Record Office by the family in 1980 and the West Indies portion – the Codrington Papers – was sold by auction to Bruce Rappaport in December 1980 and are said to be in the National Archives of Antigua, in Long Street, St Johns, Antigua. The English portion was purchased privately from Sir Simon Codrington in three groups, of which two were later bought by Gloucestershire County Council after a public appeal. Records of the West Indian estates of the family were withdrawn and sold by the family in 1980, and a microfilm of this material is now held by the British Library.
Records of deeds, assignments and leases of small pieces of land in the open fields nearby show a process by which Sir William Codrington was able to achieve the inclosure of part of the common fields after he had acquired the manor in 1730, although the main estate records date from the inheritance of the property by Christopher Bethell Codrington in 1792. Two of the most well known members of the family are seldom mentioned in the collection: there is only one letter addressed to Christopher Codrington, who purchased Dodington from his relative, and a copy of his funeral sermon which are included among the archives of the West Indian estates. Other estate papers include rentals and accounts, supplemented by plans and correspondence, which are particularly comprehensive during the period from 1792 to 1843 when the estate belonged to C.B.Codrington. Later correspondence from 1877 to 1936 shows the working of the estate during years of agricultural depression and separate accounts and letters refer to the Bethell family property in Yorkshire which was inherited by C.B.Codrington in 1797, and sold after his death. The house is now owned by the vacuum millionaire James Dyson in 2003 (although Robbie Williams wanted it too…) To view the full extent of how the Codrington estate benefitted from the trade in slaves look at the birds eye view of the property from the link on this page.