Domestic Servant and White Militiaman, Barbados, 1836

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This record was last updated on 08 Jul 2016

Image Reference

John Bowen Colthurst, "Journal as a Special Magistrate in the Islands of Barbados and St. Vincent," 1835-38, Boston Public Library, Ms. u.1.2. (Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library/Rare Books)

Watercolor sketch captioned, "West Indies_Barbados_Militia_Serjeant Redshanks moving to muster." A satirical perspective of a working class or "poor white" on his way to militia duty accompanied by his female servant, a former slave. Poor whites were the backbone of the Barbados militia, and "redshanks" (or "redlegs") was a pejorative commonly used by other Barbadian whites and visitors from abroad. Colthurst lived in Barbados from November 1835 to January 1838 and echoes the ethnocentric and class-biased views of many visitors to Barbados, characterizing the poor whites as “a most idle and good for nothing set—proud, lazy, and consequently miserably poor.” From his house, he regularly witnessed the scene in the drawing, as the sergeant would prod “his half starved beast with his black girl hanging on his horse’s tail as is usual up hill.” The militiaman is shown partially dressed in his uniform, shoes hanging from the saddle, and prodding his horse with a bayonet. The servant wears his dress hat, while his accoutrement bag is slung over one shoulder, his rifle on the other with his red-striped uniform trousers draped on it. When more affluent whites took their horses out for a ride, they were sometimes accompanied by an slaved servant who kept up with the rider while holding onto the horse’s tail; upon arrival at the destination, the enslaved person was then expected to help the rider dismount. Although this scene was witnessed during the Apprenticeship period, customs of the slave period (which ended in 1834) were still very much alive; poor whites occasionally owned a slave or two. For details on Colthurst and his journal, see the authoritatively edited volume by Woodville Marshall, The Colthurst Journal (Millwood, NY: KTO press, 1977); see also Jill Sheppard, The “Redlegs” of Barbados: their origins and history (Millwood, NY: KTO press, 1977). Sean Casey of the Rare Books and Manuscript Department of the BPL made this image available to us.