A Family Tree That Includes Slaves — And Slave Owners

Posted in Articles, Audio, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2013-08-19 21:42Z by Steven

A Family Tree That Includes Slaves — And Slave Owners

Tell Me More
National Public Radio

Celeste Headlee, Host

Part of our summer reading series Island Reads, highlighting authors from the Caribbean

Andrea Stuart was curious about her family’s history in Barbados. And through years of careful research, she found that her bloodline includes both slave owners and slaves. She has written about her own family, as well as a detailed history of slavery in the Caribbean, in her book Sugar in the Blood. Guest host Celeste Headlee talks with Stuart about her family history, the moral complexity of slavery and finding roots in the past.

Interview Highlights

On the founder of a mixed-race dynasty:

“When I read about George Ashby, or rather, wrote about him, I remember thinking, ‘My goodness. What bravery it must have taken to take this huge step to leave England, in his case, to go to the New World.’ I mean, in those days the journey itself was so traumatic and long, the chances of being killed by raiders or pirates — everything was so difficult about this journey, and then to kind of confront this untrampled land, where at least half of the early settlers died just because things were so difficult. It seemed to me that he was extraordinarily brave. But then his generation and the subsequent generations make this terrible mistake. They become slave owners, and therefore become part of the whole institution of slavery. So I am deeply ambivalent about him. I admire him on one hand, and I lament him on the other.”…

Listen to the story here. Download the audio here. Read the transcript here.

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Masters and Slaves: ‘Sugar in the Blood,’ by Andrea Stuart

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2013-04-03 02:33Z by Steven

Masters and Slaves: ‘Sugar in the Blood,’ by Andrea Stuart

The New York Times

Amy Wilentz

Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire By Andrea Stuart, Illustrated. 353 pp. Alfred A. Knopf.

On a trip to Paris, I recently had the same shocked realization that Andrea Stuart describes in her astounding new book, “Sugar in the Blood.”

Slaves built this, I thought as I wandered from one grand 18th-century monument to the next. How rarely we acknowledge that Europe’s great cities were built on profits from the labor and blood of slaves cutting sugarcane half a world away.

Stuart, a London-based author of Barbadian ancestry, writes of contemporary England: “Sugar surrounds me here.” The majestic Harewood House in Leeds was built with money from Caribbean sugar plantations, she points out, as was the Codrington Library of All Souls College in Oxford and Bristol’s mansions. The slaves of the West Indies built this wealth while unaware of its existence, or of their own connection to it. Without them, the vast empire that gave the world Victoria and Dickens might never have existed.

In this multigenerational, minutely researched history, Stuart teases out these connections. She sets out to understand her family’s genealogy, hoping to explain the mysteries that often surround Caribbean family histories and to elucidate more important cultural and historic themes and events: the psychological after­effects of slavery and the long relationship between sugar — “white gold” — and forced labor…

…There is not a single boring page in this book, which — as a longtime reader of nonfiction and skipper of boring pages — I can attest is an achievement in itself. In every chapter of “Sugar in the Blood,” history, fact, analysis and personal reflection combine to move the narrative forward, both the grand story of slavery and sugar and the more mundane but always fascinating story of family and business. And beneath every banal moment of cooking or cleaning, of selling or buying, of dressing or undressing, the threat of uprising and rebellion beats loudly, as it must have done on the plantation…

Read the entire review here.

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The Original Slave Colony: Barbados and Andrea Stuart’s ‘Sugar in the Blood’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2013-01-25 03:55Z by Steven

The Original Slave Colony: Barbados and Andrea Stuart’s ‘Sugar in the Blood’

The Daily Beast

Eric Herschthal
Columbia University

Barbados provided the blueprint for all future British slave settlements in the American South. Andrea Stuart talks to Eric Herschthal about how her family was entwined in the island’s tormented history.

On the face of it, what happened in the tiny island of Barbados 400 years ago seems irrelevant to Americans today. Even now, the island matters to Americans for perhaps one reason: the weather—it’s a popular tourist getaway. But in her exceptional new book, Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire, Andrea Stuart insists Barbados, with its long history of slavery, matters more than we know.

“I wanted to take slavery out of its niche,” she said. “It’s not a black story, it’s not a white story. I want to remind people that this story belongs to us all.” Slavery and its legacy—race—still shape our world. But more specifically, the creation of Barbados, the British empire’s earliest, most profitable settlement in the New World, provided the blueprint for all its future slave colonies: South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, you name it.

The island’s first settlers, like Stuart’s white ancestor George Ashby, arrived in the early-1600s. Spain was raking in huge profits with their New World colonies, mainly by extracting gold and silver. The British wanted to catch up, but when they arrived in the Caribbean, no precious metals were found. Within a few decades, however, they discovered they could make money by cultivating another precious commodity: sugar, or as it was called by many at the time, “white gold.”

That demanded workers, and the British quickly found a cheap labor source: African slaves. By century’s end, 80 percent of Barbados’s 85,000 inhabitants were Africans, giving rise to a rigid racial hierarchy: a small elite of whites on top; the masses of black workers on bottom; and, somewhere in between, a small caste of illegitimate mixed-race children, born to masters and their preyed-upon female slaves.

Given how small the island was, many of the whites who couldn’t establish a large plantation moved on to other British colonies. Many went to places that would become part of the United States. They replicated the Barbadian plantation model, growing mainly rice and tobacco, and had an outsized impact on early America. In colonies like South Carolina, six of the governors were Barbadians between 1670 and 1730. Other Barbadian émigrés, like George Ashby’s Quaker brother, helped settle Pennsylvania. Barbados was so important to the British colonial system that even George Washington, who only left North America once in his life, made that stop on the island, to help his sick brother recover from an illness…

…The “small people” she chose to focus on are her own descendants: George Ashby; his descendants like the wealthy plantation owner Robert Cooper; and several of Cooper’s slave concubines and their black children. Stuart’s mixed racial heritage helped her paint such a ruthlessly honest portrait of slavery, where she can both admire and revile slave-owners like Cooper—even wonder whether some of the slaves he slept with may have loved him.

“The reality is that most blacks have mixed blood,” she said. “When I was doing research on George Ashby, I felt some empathy. There’s something brave about leaving the world you know. If you can make that empathetic journey, you can show a more complicated picture.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2013-01-25 03:07Z by Steven

Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire

384 pages
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-307-27283-6
eBook ISBN: 978-0-307-96115-0

Andrea Stuart

In the late 1630s, lured by the promise of the New World, Andrea Stuart’s earliest known maternal ancestor, George Ashby, set sail from England to settle in Barbados. He fell into the life of a sugar plantation owner by mere chance, but by the time he harvested his first crop, a revolution was fully under way: the farming of sugar cane, and the swiftly increasing demands for sugar worldwide, would not only lift George Ashby from abject poverty and shape the lives of his descendants, but it would also bind together ambitious white entrepreneurs and enslaved black workers in a strangling embrace. Stuart uses her own family story—from the seventeenth century through the present—as the pivot for this epic tale of migration, settlement, survival, slavery and the making of the Americas.

 As it grew, the sugar trade enriched Europe as never before, financing the Industrial Revolution and fuelling the Enlightenment. And, as well, it became the basis of many economies in South America, played an important part in the evolution of the United States as a world power and transformed the Caribbean into an archipelago of riches. But this sweet and hugely profitable trade—“white gold,” as it was known—had profoundly less palatable consequences in its precipitation of the enslavement of Africans to work the fields on the islands and, ultimately, throughout the American continents. Interspersing the tectonic shifts of colonial history with her family’s experience, Stuart explores the interconnected themes of settlement, sugar and slavery with extraordinary subtlety and sensitivity. In examining how these forces shaped her own family—its genealogy, intimate relationships, circumstances of birth, varying hues of skin—she illuminates how her family, among millions of others like it, in turn transformed the society in which they lived, and how that interchange continues to this day. Shifting between personal and global history, Stuart gives us a deepened understanding of the connections between continents, between black and white, between men and women, between the free and the enslaved. It is a story brought to life with riveting and unparalleled immediacy, a story of fundamental importance to the making of our world.

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