Mount was one of the first estates to undergo the transition to sugar on Barbados, and as such it stands at the forefront of the colonial transformation of the island's landscape, and as an important cog in the Atlantic Trade that had transformed the Western economy by the mid-18th century. Yet we still know precious little about the material lives of those within that system. This study has demonstrated that fieldwork over such inhabited spaces has the potential to yield information about the conditions of daily life for those who lived and worked on the estate including enslaved labourers, persons bound to the estate through indenture, property owners, and an array of mid-level managers, over three centuries.
One of the main aims of fieldwork was to evaluate techniques for the systematic and rapid survey of plantation landscapes. The predominant archaeological methodology across the Caribbean is one favoured in North America, which tends to privilege shovel test pits over non-intrusive methods such as the fieldwalking and geophysical survey piloted here (more common on European projects). Shovel test pits are usually arranged over a grid across the site or field to be sampled, or can be targeted around features or structures, and are dug down as far as undisturbed sub-soil. However, in a Caribbean context it could be argued that such strategies might struggle to identify the insubstantial features associated with the remains of slave villages, for example, and risk damaging the archaeological remains in a manner that would frustrate any future open-area excavation. The distribution of artefacts in the ploughsoil can be measured by fieldwalking where the land is under cultivation, while the non-intrusive survey techniques used here can be applied over extensive uncultivated land without risk to the archaeology.
The results have demonstrated the efficacy of the different survey methods for the first time in a Caribbean plantation context. It has proved possible to survey large areas of the ploughed cane fields systematically, and recover a representative sample of ceramics from the site, as well as to reveal slight archaeological traces in the small areas under grass. One of the key results has been to quantify and characterise the high level of manuring on the cane fields throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and to demonstrate that there is intra-site variation between the distribution of industrial and domestic waste.
The high density of material to the south of Upper Tenantry, with a high proportion of late 19th-century imported ceramics, was suggestive of occupation during the period after emancipation, and oral evidence confirmed that a number of chattel houses remained around the southern edge of the field in the mid-20th century (J. Hutson pers. comm.). The nature of the assemblage recovered from the site will help build a better understanding of how the tenantry used different forms of material culture, particularly the cheap transfer-printed wares and sponge-wares imported from Britain, to express their new status within the plantation and the wider community. Only a small proportion (less than one-tenth) of the total acreage was subject to geophysical survey and it demonstrated that gradiometry has the potential to reveal features such as slave houses or grave cuts. The anomalies and features discerned in the paddocks towards the road are perhaps the most promising features revealed and would certainly fit with accounts of the layout of 18th-century plantations, in which the slave village was often between the big house and the main road or possibly reveal the earliest slave settlement which was typically close to the main house and integrated within the main focus of the plantation buildings.
With increasing sugar production, land values increased dramatically and the island was rapidly developed, and this new wealth dramatically changed concepts of land and labour relations in ways that affected not only Barbados, but the broader Atlantic world. Mount Plantation, at over three hundred acres around the end of the seventeenth century, would have ranked as one of the largest holdings on the Lascelles' Yorkshire estate. Indeed, by 1758 the agricultural landscape at Harewood could boast only one farm over three hundred acres, with the next two largest holdings being half that size (WYAS WYL/25/3/16. see also Tatlioglu 2010). Furthermore the plantations on Barbados, like Mount, were laid out as consolidated holdings, whereas in Yorkshire the medieval legacy meant that parcels of land belonging to the same tenant were often spread across the local landscape, even after piecemeal enclosure. When these hindrances are considered alongside the greater profitability of the sugar plantations over much of the eighteenth century, despite the efforts of 'improving' landlords in the UK, it is clear that the cultural landscapes were managed in very different ways. The greatest difference was obviously the use of enslaved labour in the Caribbean, but that labour was deployed on industrialised plantations that dwarfed the farmed holdings back in Britain in terms of acreage, workforce and turnover. When they are compared directly, it becomes clear that the radical transformation of the Yorkshire landscape, including the lavish building and furnishing of the Lascelles' new seat at Harewood over the third quarter of the eighteenth century, relied heavily on the profits coming from their Caribbean assets.
Archaeological studies of the cultural landscape allow us to see the changes spatially and materially. They clearly show how lives were dramatically altered by the rapid capitalisation of sugar and the creation of new models of colonialism, changes in land ownership and proprietorship as well as the dramatic and devastating changes in labour relations including both harsh terms of indenture and horrific forms of slavery involving unlimited chattel bondage.
While Gragg (2007) suggests that Barbadian planters created a world modelled after the Old World they left behind, this study provides data that can counter a static normative planter-centric historical perspective. Britain changed Barbados and Barbados changed Britain, and the social consequences of those changes had a dramatic impact on those bound to the new systems of plantation slavery in both countries. Mount was linked to Britain through its ownership, management, and material culture, and it was linked to Africa through those who worked and lived in its fields. It is therefore a place to study the transformation of cultural landscapes. Archaeology is uniquely placed to recover those ties and demonstrate that they bind and entangle cultural landscapes across the globe.
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File last updated: Mon Sep 16 2013