Barbados’ role in the 200-year-long transatlantic slave trade, recorded here in the world’s second-largest cache of documents on the cataclysmic era is to be preserved digitally, the Prime Minister announced Sunday.
While speaking at a meeting of the governing Barbados Labour Party’s St. Philip West branch, Mottley told party supporters that the time was right to safeguard the records for future discussion and research, as the island’s past formed part of an important foundation to the current democratic society.
The Department of Archives at Black Rock is considered a treasure trove for historians documenting the unique value of Barbados to the British Empire as an early jewel in sugar and slaves.
Among its artefacts is the landmark 1661 Barbados Slave Code. The first comprehensive law in support of slavery, it established that Black slaves would be treated as chattel property in law. The document was highly influential in the development of slavery legislation through the West Indies, Virginia and other English colonies that later became the United States.
Mottley said: “There is a major project that we are undertaking with respect to the archives – Barbados has the second-largest transatlantic slave records in the entire world… the only country that has larger records of transatlantic slavery than us are the British. In terms of those of us who were the subject of exploitation, we have the [second] largest in the world.
“Earlier this year, the ones in South Africa, quite a few of them burned and it sent chills through my body. I called John [King, minister of culture and St Philip West MP] and said this project has to move now because this goes beyond our generation. This goes now to the legacy of this country, this goes now to the foundation this country must have.”
The transatlantic slave trade was the largest long-distance forced movement of people in history. From the sixteenth to the late nineteenth centuries, the enslavement of African people by five European nations to grow cash crops, in particular sugar, cotton and tobacco, fuelled the development of Europe into economic powerhouses.
Historians consider the Atlantic economy in which human beings, processed products and food were exchanged between North and South as the spark for the biggest change in modern economic history.
The slave trade was outlawed by Britain in 1807 and slavery in Barbados and all other British colonies was abolished in 1834 but slavery continued in the Americas throughout the 19th century, ending in the United States in 1865 and as late as 1888 in Brazil.
Mottley announced to the audience that King, who will not stand for re-election, will be part of a team tasked with safeguarding these records among other heritage-focused projects to be announced in the future.
“There are a series of projects that are interrelated that I have asked John to work with me on, to make sure that day by day, along with the other ones that I have others working on,” she said. (SB)