Sunday, February 27, 2011

Carolina Winds Blowing In From The Caribbean: Part 2 The Birth of An Island Town

Today I will finish my series on the Charleston:Barbados Connection. There is a wealth of information available online regarding the topic and if you are interested in more details I would encourage you to visit a couple of internet sites such as the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor site or this link to the connection on the Discover South Carolina page. You may also want to take a visit to Charlestowne Landing sometime when you have the opportunity. And of course, I highly recommend Charleston! Charleston! The History of A Southern City, my favorite collection of Charleston History.

Back in the mid-1600's Englands King Charles II established the Carolina Charter after learning from explorers who had come down from the Jamestown Settlement into the areas now occupied by North and South Carolina about an area blessed with abundant natural resources and beauty. King Charles II awarded eight aristocrats who had been very loyal to the Crown with the Carolina Charter. The eight, known as The Lord's Proprietors, included among others a noble gentleman by the name of Sir John Colleton who was a wealthy planter from Barbados. During this time, Barbados was a wildly successful English Colony whose economy was based almost entirely upon the sugar trade. The Lord's Proprietors looked to their newly acquired interest in The Carolina's as a potentially very profitable venture, and chose to base their initial plans for their new holdings on the Colony of Barbados with it's system of plantations supported by slave labor driving an economy based upon a single cash crop.
Consequently in 1670 the boat carrying the original Charlestonians sailed into the body of water now known as Charleston Harbor and continued up the river that we refer to as The Ashley eventually choosing a bluff overlooking the river, Albermarle Point, as their landing spot. This is the area that we know as Historic Charlestowne Landing. This initial European Settlement was comprised almost entirely of free men from Barbados accompanied by Barbadian Slaves from West Africa and indentured slaves from England and Barbados. This is the reason why history has mingled Barbados and Charleston to the degree that many historians characterize Barbados as the mother land of South Carolina and certainly Charleston.

It is tempting, but nearly impossible to identify the single most obvious connection of Charleston to Barbados. One could argue that it is the "single house" which is designed after the single room width gabled homes in Barbados that were oriented to catch the sea breezes in order to cool the home. Yet another would point to the "rainbow" of "Charleston Colors" adorning homes and businesses today in and around the Holy City of Charleston.
Still yet others would say that the most stark reminder are the names of some of those original wealthy Barbadians, the Draytons and the Middletons to name a few still today are prominent family names throughout the Lowcountry.

For me though, it is the Gullah Culture, the arts and dialect that captured my interest when I moved to Charleston four years ago. The Gullah dialect is a direct descendant to the Bajan dialect of Barbados. I still remember hearing this Charleston version of spoken language shortly after moving to Charleston back in 2007. I distinctly recall trying to characterize the language style, it was sort of Jamaican sounding, but different still. I was conscious of having to listen very closely in order to follow conversations and interactions. Understanding the historical significance of the connections between Barbados and Charleston helps me to fully appreciate the rather odd sounding words and expressions which still to this day fascinate me. You can hear the influence all over the Lowcountry but it seems to be most prominent directly around Charleston. I think what intrigues me most is to know that the dialect has been passed down through 4 or 5 generations and that the person I am talking to is a direct descendant of one of those early settlers.

Once again, I am reminded of my purpose for writing this blog, to share with others who may have a pioneer spirit within them like me just what life is like here in the Lowcountry. It is often hard to put to words the culture, the history and the nuances of life in the land of palm trees, but I will continue to try and hit the mark. In the meantime have a great Sunday and enjoy todays history post.


  1. I find this Barbados connection to the Gullah culture interesting because I had read that the Africans from Sierra Leone were transported here because of the rice growing culture there. These slaves came here when Carolina Gold was the king crop and their knowledge attributed to its success. The Sierra Leone dialect is supposedly the predecessor to the Gullah dialect. But, I find all the history about Gullah a little fuzzy. I have read that Geechee and Gullah are the same. That the culture is called Gulluh in the Carolinas and Geechee in Georgia. And I have also read that they are different groups from West Africa. But the Barbados connection really makes sense as the early settlement and then when rice came in later the Sierra Leonans had an impact on the language. Thanks for the info.

  2. You do yourself proud my friend.


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