Saturday, 18 June 2022

The Barrett Plantations


Some pencil sketches of the Moulton Barrett estate at Cinnamon Hill on Jamaica are for sale at Karen Taylor Fine Art.  They were drawn by Mary Clementina,  young wife of the Barrett son sent to manage the canefields in 1830 (who did not long survive her Caribbean transplantation)

Those illustrated include this distant [from the big house] view of the enslaved workers' homes

 Mary Clementina Barrett [1803-1831]     Slave [sic] houses on the Barrett Plantation

 together with an essay defending the Barrett slaveowners as devoted to the welfare of their workers - of which is adduced the proof that Cinnamon Hill was not torched during the revolt of 1831, which pushed forward the emancipation.   This account summarises information from an Abolitionist visit in 1837:

Two Quakers, Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey, went to the West Indies to inspect the condition of the newly emancipated Black population. Visiting Jamaica in February 1837, they were invited to visit Samuel Barrett’s estates. They wrote of the Retreat estate that: 
‘[it was] an estate of great extent beauty, being several miles in length and depth, and comprising both pasture and mountain woodland—It is managed by a black overseer named Samuels, who was born a slave on one of the estates of his present Master. He is now free, and though he can neither read nor write, the property under his charge is in the finest order, and the people in the best discipline. With perhaps the single exception of the apprentices on Hopeton and Lenox estates, the Retreat negroes possess, we believe, greater advantages than those on any property in the island. 
'We walked with the overseer through the negro village. The houses are comfortable, and many of them of considerable size, and situation in the midst of neat gardens. They had shingled roofs and cement or boarded floors. Most of the people were at their provision grounds, but Samuels introduced us to such as we found in the houses….they all appeared to be in prosperous condition’ .
'The whip had been abolished ever since the proprietor came to reside in the country’ and after abolition ‘the free children thrive ‘because Mr Barrett takes notice of them’ i.e. gives them the same allowances of clothing and causes the same attention to be paid to them as during slavery’ ‘[W]e afterwards saw the estate school…the classes read and spell correctly, and a few of them wrote to dictation. The school does great credit to the teacher…
'We were afterwards shown over the hospital, which is a good and airy building. We met there the medical attendant, who is a coloured man and an irregular practitioner, in considerable practice. He was formerly a slave on this property, but purchased himself because his wife was free.’ .
Sturge and Harvey continued the narrative of the humane slave owner moved to improving the condition of their slaves upon first-hand experience of their plight. This humanitarian self-presentation was shown in the parish chronicle upon the death of Mary Clementina death in 1831 when, it recorded, she was ‘beloved and bewailed not by her intimate friends only, but by all her negroes’.

Her widower, who was uncle to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, died in 1837.  Under the Compensation Act, the family received over  £12,000 compensation for the 'loss' of their enslaved workforce.

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