An African Work Song, Barbados, ca. 1770s-1780s

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This record was last updated on 18 Jul 2016

Image Reference

Gloucester Archives (Clarence Row, Gloucester, England), D3549/13/3/2758.

This one-page manuscript, also shown on the Gloucester Archives website, is described as: "An African Song or Chant,--taken down in notes by G.S. from the information of Dr. Wm. Dickson, who lived several years in the West Indies, & was secretary to a Governor of Barbadoes. A Single Negro (while at work with the rest of the gang) leads the song, and the others join in chorus at the end of every verse." This work song incorporates the widespread African musical feature of call-and-response. William Dickson lived in Barbados for about 13 years from 1772, was well acquainted with slavery and slave life in Barbados and authored two well-known books on the island. He later joined the British abolitionist movement and became a leading member of that movement in Scotland. The G.S. in the manuscript is Granville Sharp, a prominent British abolitionist. The wider context of this song in the musical lives of the enslaved is discussed in J.S. Handler and C.J.Frisbie, Aspects of Slave Life in Barbados: Music and its Cultural Context, Caribbean Studies 11 (1972): 5-46. The linguistic features of the text are discussed in J. R. Rickford and J. S. Handler, Textual Evidence on the Nature of Early Barbadian Speech, 1676-1835. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 9 (1994): 221-255.