Whip Used on Slaves, Barbados


Jerome S. Handler, personal collection (copyright, Jerome Handler); see comments.


The whip shown in this photograph is a modern replica of an object that historical evidence indicates was used to discipline enslaved laborers in the eighteenth century. The whip was acquired by Handler in Chalky Mount, a village in Barbados, during 1961-62 while he was doing anthropological fieldwork. The villagers called this plaited leather whip a hunter and used it while herding cows or small livestock. The villagers were unaware of the history of this object. The following 18th century description perfectly fits the hunter shown here. William Dickson, who had lived in Barbados during the 1770s and 1780s as secretary to the colonial governor, wrote in his well-known work on British West Indian slavery: The instrument of correction commonly used in Barbadoes, is called a cow-skin, without which a negro driver would [not] . . . . think of going into the field . . . . It is composed of leathern thongs, platted in the common way, and tapers from the end of the handle (within which is a short bit of wood) to the point, which is furnished with a lash of silk-grass, hard platted and knotted, like that of a horse-whip but thicker. Its form gives it some degree of elasticity towards the handle; and when used with severity . . .it tears the flesh, and brings blood at every stroke (Letters on Slavery [London, 1789], pp. 14-15).

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