2. A History of Land Use at Mount Plantation

Mount Plantation, in the parish of St George (Figure 1), was selected for its combination of spatial integrity, long-term occupation, and association with ownership as a Lascelles family holding from the late 18th century. Mount was one of a group of estates that were involved in the initial transition to large-scale industrial sugar economy and plantation slavery in Barbados. The property was initially owned by James and William Drax, who revolutionised sugar production and labour systems in Barbados, bringing sugar canes, technology and organisational structures from Dutch sugar-producing estates in Brazil, so that by 1643 Barbados could be described as 'grown the most flourishing island in all those American parts...[and] in all the world for the producing of sugar' (Puckrein 1984, 56-57; Parker 2011, 12-14; see also Campbell 1993 and Dunn 1972). James Drax was reported to have been among the initial group of settlers backed by William Courteen and a group of London- and Dutch-based financiers, which also included Henry and John Powell who have been credited with bringing sugar to the island as one of the initial crops (Harlow 1925; 1926). Father Beit, a visitor to the island in 1654, suggests that Drax and others lived in modest housing, which included a cave, near Holetown upon their initial arrival in 1627 (Handler 1967, 69). Formal records of estate ownership begin in 1637 with additional details provided in wills and deeds that confirmed ownership for sale or transfers through inheritance.

Figure 1: (a) Map of Barbados with approximate location of Mount marked. (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1980. © Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Figure 1

Figure 1b: The Mount Plantation, St George's, Barbados. © Government of Barbados 1988. Overseas Surveys Directorate 218/1. Barbados Sheet 9. 2nd edition. [View static image]

By 1643 the Drax brothers had successfully experimented with sugar at Mount Plantation, and on the neighbouring plantations of Drax and Drax Hope. Sugar grew well and commanded a high price, so based on these initial successes he and others expanded sugar operations rapidly by taking on a series of investors and business partners (Kupperman 2011; Dunn 1972; Gragg 2007; Parker 2011; Smith 2006).

The Drax brothers sold the estate in 1647 to Thomas Middleton, who had been a business partner in some of their operations and who, along with his partner Constant Sylvester, had investments in cargo vessels trading with New England (Ligon 1657, BDA RB6/8: 470). In the same year, Richard Ligon arrived in Barbados and took up residence with Sir Thomas Modeford at the nearby Kendal Plantation, and over the next three years Ligon made detailed observations of the island which he later published as A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (Ligon 1657; Kupperman 2011). Ligon's account comments on housing and plantation layouts and contains detailed plans for industrial works, as well as an early map showing the location of plantations in Barbados, redrawn for the book from an earlier map that dates to c. 1638 (Campbell 1993, 143-5). Ligon witnessed the transition of the Barbadian economy and landscape to one based on sugar and slavery from his home in St George Parish, the core area of change, and was critical of local planter housing, leading him to try and sell plans for new houses across the island. In his account he describes housing and estate layouts, berating planter houses as being low-lying wood-frame structures (Connell 1957). Ligon was able to sell plans for two houses to his preferred design, which were completed before he departed in 1650, with one built at Mount for Thomas Middleton.

Sugar production had already begun in earnest at Mount and the new house probably related to a shift in overall plantation design in order to maximise efficient sugar production. The combination of deeds and Ligon's account reveals that the buildings at Mount were rebuilt between 1647 and 1650, and it is probable that the basic layout of the estate was cast with this pre-1650 phase of construction since the basic economies did not change thereafter. The current main house, therefore, may be a modified version of the early house designed by Ligon. This and other structures on the plantation are likely to have been damaged during the slave revolt of 1816 (sometimes referred to as Bussa's Rebellion), which caused a reported £5,150 worth of damage on the plantation (Handler 2000; Beckles 2007) but, like neighbouring Drax Hall, the core of the house may date to the initial era of the sugar revolution (Campbell 1993). Unfortunately there is not a detailed plan for Mount, but the basic layout of the main house and works is represented on the large-scale map of the island drawn by Gibbs in 1825 (Figure 2) now hung at St Nicholas Abbey, Barbados.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Mount shown on Gibbs map of Barbados, c. 1825. Photo taken by Terry Suthers. Used with permission.

By the late 1670s the estate was known as Middleton's Mount, and in 1680 it was owned by Benjamin Middleton and consisted of 379 acres on which there were 130 enslaved labourers (Dunn 1972, 114). By 1699, however, the estate had been acquired by William Rawlin, with a £5,000 mortgage, and over succeeding generations the estate, now known simply as The Mount or Mount Plantation, passed through several owners until its lands, works, slaves, and debts were acquired by Jonathan Blenman, Barbados' Attorney General, in 1735 (Hughes and Queree 1998; BDA RB37/362; BDA 85/155/158). As outlined by Simon Smith, the post-1750s era was marked by dramatic expansion in agricultural production in the region and a change in loan and mortgage structuring. By 1768 Blenman was heavily indebted to Daniel Lascelles, and his sons William and Timothy Blenman finally lost the estate in 1784 when Lascelles called in their loans (BDA Wills 31/169; Smith 2006, 210). Succeeding generations of the Lascelles family held the estate in absentia from their seat at Harewood House in Yorkshire, England.

Reconstruction of the plantation layout would enable the identification of sites where people lived on the estate over its three hundred years of operation. Once identified, it will be possible to examine the material residue of the lives of enslaved and indentured labourers along with owners and managers in greater detail. As already suggested, it is likely that the position of the main house and industrial works in the mid-1600s may have been essentially the same as those defined by standing structures today. The examination of a mid-17th-century map of Trents Plantation, near Holetown, St James, shows that during the early phases of the plantation system the relatively small numbers of labourers were housed in close proximity to the main house (Armstrong et al. 2012; Handler 1991; Hapcott 1646). However, with the expansion of labour needed for intensified sugar production, larger and distinct slave villages were constructed, and at Drax Hall, for example, the village was located further from the main house and nearer to the works, to maximise production in the fields and at the sugar processing works (Ligon 1657; Thompson 2009).

With emancipation in 1834, former enslaved labourers were often relocated away from the works to marginal tenantry sites, usually on the edge of the plantation. The decision to move labourers may have been a result of new social relationships forged in the aftermath of the the 1816 slave revolt, coupled with the availability of lands previously set aside to house the island's militia (paid soldiers drawn from Scotland and Ireland). The militia was disbanded on emancipation and marginal land that they had occupied could accommodate tenantry housing for the free black labourers. This pattern is clearly seen on a map of neighbouring Drax Hall, which shows militia housing in what became Drax Hall tenantry, a feature that remains in the modern landscape. Historical accounts show Mount plantation continued to be a relatively large estate throughout the post-emancipation period, with 292 acres in 1842, 287 in 1892 and 1937, but it had decreased to 182 acres by the time the estate was sold by the Fifth Earl of Harewood in 1970 (Hughes and Queree 1998; JBMHS XXX: 111; XIV: 161).


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