Lindsey and I are hoping to visit the West Indies early next year, with The Tall Thin One and Cathy. Hopefully we’ll take in a T20 and/or a One Day International match.
I thought I’d do some background reading, and Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire, by Andrea Stuart, was the result. She traces ten generations of her family, back to George Ashby, an early settler to Barbados in the 1630s. Another of her forebears was Robert Cooper Ashby, who had one son through his marriage, and 17 other children by three of his slaves. One of these offspring was John Stephen Ashby, Andrea Stuart’s first identifiable slave forebear.
At times, it is a sobering tale. The planters in Barbados were particularly harsh on their slaves, in the early days often reasoning that it was more economic to work their slaves to death and buy replacements from Africa rather than sustain them from generation to generation.
Having studied Pan-Africanism a long time ago at Edinburgh University, I was interested in her explanation as to why West Indians were often more politically active in the years after emancipation and during the early Twentieth Century than blacks in America. Firstly, by the time slavery was abolished, the black population formed a large majority in the Caribbean, rather than a minority as in the United States. West Indians rapidly became used to seeing blacks in a wide range of occupations, and this gave them ambition and confidence, especially so when many of them moved to Harlem in the 1920s and 30s. There was also a different attitude to the mixed-race population, with more acceptance of miscegenation in the West Indies because the white planters saw their brown descendants as a buffer between them and the large number of black ex-slaves.
On page 360 Stuart mentions cricket, and how for a while it became a symbolic battleground between the mother country and the colonies. Stuart’s aunt married Clyde Walcott, one of the legendary ‘three Ws’ (along with Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes). The West Indies won the 1950 series 3-1 and this was a turning point in the islands’ self esteem. They had beaten the English literally ‘at their own game’.