“…Barbados…would become the cultural hearth, the model for the rest of the English West Indies–and South Carolina.
“On Barbados between 1640 and 1670 there evolved a powerful local culture whose institutions, with some slight alteration, would be re-created throughout the English-speaking Caribbean and along the South Carolina coast. ‘South Carolina and the Lower South culture that developed out of those small beginnings,’ writes a modern historian, ‘was as much the offspring of Barbados as was Jamaica or the other English Caribbean colonies.’ South Carolina, then, arose from a different cultural tradition than the colonies of New England and the Chesapeake. Because South Carolina’s cultural heritage differs from that of other English colonies, we need to take a brief look at seventeenth-century Barbados.
“Barbados and the other Caribbean islands were ‘beyond the line’ as far as the nations of Europe were concerned. That is, events that occurred south of the Tropic of Cancer or west of the prime meridian would not have any effect on European relations. In essence, the Caribbean became a no-man’s-land in which possession was not just nine-tenths of the law, it was the law. Restraints of any sort, whether governmental or social, seemed to disappear. The pursuit of wealth and the pleasures it could purchase was the order of the day.
“During the first fifteen years of colonization, most settlers in Barbados struggled to survive. While the island might be a tropical paradise, clearing the heavy growth was tough, back-breaking work: the sort of work with which the settlers were not familiar. Once the land was cleared, the colonists planted a variety of subsistence crops. Tobacco and cotton were planted for export; however, neither brought much return. Barbadian tobacco, in particular, had a poor reputation back home. From the beginning Barbadian planters employed chattel labor, mostly indentured servants, in their fields. Few questioned the legality of indentures, and it became a common practice for unscrupulous labor suppliers to kidnap young men and ship them off to the island….Despite cheap labor, there was not much profit made in what some colonists called ‘Little England.’
“During the 1640s sugar cane from Brazil was introduced into Barbados. Within twenty years the entire nature of the colony was dramatically altered. There seemed to be an insatiable worldwide demand for sugar as well as its by-products, rum and molasses. The price of land skyrocketed. Smaller planters were bought out and tenant farmers pushed off the land. White indentured servants were replaced by African slaves. A small, fantastically wealthy elite emerged that dominated the colony. The success of the sugar magnates in Barbados stirred the imaginations of adventurous souls at home and in other colonies. The glitter of the riches amassed by a few blinded all to the dark underside of life on the island. If ever there were a troubled paradise, it was Barbados.
“The society that emerged in the latter half of the seventeenth century was ‘individualistic, competitive, and highly materialistic.’ To that list should be added hedonistic. Material success, not character or honor, was the measure of an individual’s worth. And how a person acquired wealth was not important….
“Supplying the labor that produced this wealth were thousands of Africans. Initially the labor on the island was performed primarily by young white males. However, as white labor costs remained high and white laborers were difficult to manage, Barbadians soon turned to the Brazilian model of African slavery–especially after they took a good look at the bottom line. It was cheaper to purchase on African for life than it was to contract for a white indentured servant for four or five years. In addition, white servants were more expensive to feed, clothe, and house than blacks. The decision, then, to switch to African labor was based on economics, not race. (Endnote: However, as Dunn points out, race would later be used to defend the institution.)
“In 1638, before the introduction of sugar cane, two hundred enslaved Africans were only about 3 percent of the population; fourteen years later there were twenty thousand and they outnumbered whites. The rapid introduction of large numbers of Africans made the maintenance of order a primary concern of the white minority….
“…the black majority contributed to the general sense of unease that permeated Barbadian society. Successful planters had money, lots of it, but their lives were in constant jeopardy. In addition to the threat of servile insurrection, there were the ever-present dangers from European enemies, pirates, and disease. Given this situation, it is no wonder that carpe diem (seize the day) could have been the unofficial motto of the island.
“By 1670 the Barbadian socio-economic model that would be replicated in the English West Indies and South Carolina had evolved. It was exploitative and materialistic….Sugar, the major cash crop, was produced on plantations by slave labor. The demand for slave labor created a society in which blacks were 60 percent of the population there was a highly stratified social structure, with a tremendous gap between the island’s haves and have-nots. Not much attention was paid to family life or the creation of community institutions. The composition of the island’s elite was ever-changing. Newcomers replaced those who chose to return home with their new wealth or died in paradise.” (p. 36-38)
–Project for Community Transformation