Sites and interesting facts that are linked to the African background, slavery experience and journey towards self-realisation of the people of Antigua and Barbuda.


Slave Dungeons      Stony Hill Gulley       Tamarind Tree      Newgate St.   

Wattle Houses     Barbuda Lagoon     Garrets    Slave Route





SLAVE  DUNGEONS, (1740's - 1834).  

In the days of slavery, each estate was equipped with a lockup for 'miscreant' enslaved Africans. There are only two left in Antigua, one at Parson Maule's, once known as the 'Torturer', and the other at Orange Valley, known as the 'Rock Dungeon'. A planter of the 20th century once said they gave more production and suicide amongst the slaves. MORE





It was in this gulley or ravine that the slaves, Court, Tomboy and Hercules plotted the uprising of 1736. It may be found to the north-east of the Midway Gas Station in the Sherwood's area about three-quarters of a mile off the Freeman's road not too far from a very old Baobab tree, "a place of wickedness", and the old slave market.

In the ravine grew tangled bushes and "clothed in verdure green" and disrupted rocks were thickly scattered about. When a ball was to be held in honour of George II's coronation at Christopher Dunbar's house in St. John's, three parties of 350 slaves were to enter the town and kill the plantocracy there gathered. However, the ball was postponed until later to commemorate the King's birthday, and during this delay a slave named Johnny, became an informer.

The Legend of the Ravine relates that in meeting, the slaves uttered "Death to our foes!" and a very old Obeah Woman, Morah, attended to give her advice from Obeah's Sign. The slaves also worshipped their king and drunk and danced and inhaled smoke from roasted cashews.

The amazing thing is that this heritage site was formerly far more recognised than it is today. In 1904, Governor Strickland recognised the spot as a historic site by making a visit there. However, Samuel Smith of "Shoot Hard Labour" fame, says "no nega should forget that place and so we should not!  





In 1951, when the Antigua Trades & Labour Union was in its infancy, Union field officers went to the estates and stated that no crop would start until the workers were told their rates of pay.

Sugar cane cutters had already been on strike for three months and both the workers and the Antigua Sugar Estates were losing money. Subsequently the employer, Mr. Alexander Moody-Stuart, had said he would starve the workers into submission. Meetings were arranged between the workers and Moody-Stuart, One of these was under the old Tamarind Tree in the cane fields near Bethesda and the other was at Betty's Hope estate. The employer, sitting on his horse and dressed in his usual white suit, insisted on speaking first, "I know you are losing a lot of money, you are losing wages and may I admit that I am losing much myself. I think you should stop this thing and you should go back to work". The answer from the workers was unanimous. "You said you were going to starve us into submission. Nobody shall ever use that remark again. We are not going to work for the balance of the year". Strikes continued for the rest of that year and less cane was reaped.

The people went into the fields, picked natural resources such as Widdy-Widdy bush (Corchorus siliquosus) and went down to the sea to collect cockles and wilks (Livona pica). Without pay they managed to survive, though it was hard. On Jan 2 1952, after a long strike, the workers received the 25% increase they had asked for. The strength, determination, solidarity and sacrifice of the workers fighting against tyranny and injustice had brought the sugar barons to their knees...and much of it had happened in the meeting place of this old tree. The workers had won their rights by their own enormous efforts. It was one of the greatest accomplishments of Antigua people.

This historical landmark may be found about one and a half miles from Bethesda on the road towards the northeast. It grows on the north side of the road on a slight curve. Underneath the tree a large boulder has been placed to mark the spot for future generations.



On the corner of Newgate and Popeshead Street there is a stone marker inscribed: - “9 March, 1918”. This commemorates the infamous riot of that year. A severe drought , had brought great poverty amongst sugar workers, a factor that caused unrest. A dispute soon arose over the method of payment of cane cutters.  Estate owners wanted to change the rate of payment from “by the row” to “by the ton”, but the workers would have nothing of it. Cutters at Delaps refused to cut cane.  During the month, Charlie Martin at All Saints held a worker’s meeting.  This was the first meeting, other than religious ones, ever held in Antigua. Antiguans were standing up for themselves. 

Cutters refused to cut cane unless fields were burnt first.  Cane fires were set at Villa, Gambles and Palmer Jelly.  Soon Sanderson’s and North Sound cane cutters struck and on March 1, martial law was proclaimed. On Saturday March 9, George Weston and Willie Collins were accused of setting fires.  When a Ranger named Stoll questioned George Weston, he was lifted up and tossed to the ground. Crowds prevented the police from arresting the accused, but later they were persuaded to give themselves up. Following this there was very unruly behavior of the furious crowds.

Acting Governor Best and the Anglican Bishop pleaded with the crowd to be quiet and return to their homes.  Stones and empty bottles greeted the authorities. The Riot Act was read and the Police Chief Colonel Edward Bell threatened that shots would be fired in an hour if the crowd did not disperse.  When they did not, the Militia without any further warning fired on the crowd.  Three people were killed and fifteen injured.

Because of connections, George Weston was never charged.  Collins was sentenced to imprisonment and several others escaped by island schooner. There were no more strikes for some time and there were no raises in pay until after 1921 during Governor Fiennes tour of duty in Antigua.

A commemorative marker was placed at the corner of Popeshead and Newgate Streets in 1984, for the 250th Anniversary of Emancipation





Even in the 1940's conditions of extreme poverty existed in Antigua. The people's rural cottages were made of wattle and daub: woven sticks plastered with mud and roofed with cane trash. It was not unusual for a family of six to eight to inhabit these cramped one-roomed dwellings. Often the floors were bare earth, which sometimes hosted biting insects called jiggers. Clothes were supplemented with articles made with burlap sacks, known locally as crocus bags. Later, old flour bags were used. House wares were of folk pottery and the hollowed out shell of the calabash gourd. A smoky light was obtained from a rag stuffed in a bottle of kerosene oil, called a flambeau.


Working hours were long, from 6 am to 5 pm. Devoid of sanitary facilities, it does not take too much imagination to appreciate the unhealthy and socially impoverished situation which prevailed under such living conditions.

It was when two hurricanes ravished Antigua and Barbuda in 1951, that most of the wattle and daub cottages were blown down, never to be rebuilt. The 1950's did indeed begin to show a new awakening for Antiguans and Barbudans in their work and living conditions.

Old time Antiguan names for these cottages were: 'Trash Houses' and 'Stand back 'n Fire'.







  FRIGATE BIRD COLONY  See also: The shallow lagoon west of Codrington holds several aspects of Barbuda's heritage. The oldest is the large frigate bird colony and there are no more than 25 colonies in the Caribbean today. 1971 there were said to be about 2,500 pairs. Each bird has a wing span of about 8 ft. and each weighs 3 lbs and they fly at about 22 mph. The colony is the most valued asset to Barbuda, second only to the white and pink sand beaches and the hotels.

END OF AN ERA - Antigua and Barbuda's last sailing work boat, the "Lindy", with its raked mast, long boom and a patched flour sack sail was still being used by Mr. George Webber in 1990. She was used for moving about the Lagoon for charcoal making and fishing.

SETTING BUSH - In some parts of the Lagoon the water is only waist deep. Chicken lobsters were caught in a very novel way. Cut bush was set in a pile and left for several weeks. After a while, small fish and lobsters took refuge in the branches. Then Barbuda fishermen encircled the pile with a net, stood up in the net waist deep, and threw out the branches.  By pursing the net, the previously hidden fish within the branches were scooped out.




Sometimes, especially in the Virgin Islands, Antiguans are called 'Garrets'. This word is derived from the word 'Garrotte', which means 'to kill by strangling'. This is because many years ago we killed one of our rulers. Here is the story.


 Once upon a time, or nearly 300 years ago to be more exact, a Governor from the American colony of Virginia, was appointed to Antigua. (In those days it was actually a promotion to be assigned to the West Indies, because of the importance of sugar).  He was popular and was well received at first for an Act of Parliament was passed to raise 100,000 lbs of sugar to pay for a Governor’s residence.


Anyway, this Governor, Daniel Parke, soon became extremely unpopular because of his corruption. He was also defiant of social customs and disdainfully respected his superiors. For one thing, he had appointed an ordinary army corporal, without any political upbringing, as a sidekick to help him carry out his unpopular demands. Many violent dissentions shortly arose between the Governor and his people. His tyrannical and arbitrary conduct made him deeply detested throughout the island. Sometimes at night Parke roamed the streets of St. John's disguised so that he could hear what the common person had to say about him! Before long, the English Government recalled him, but he failed to obey anyone else’s command.


Shortly, Parke became so unpopular the people began to mob him, and one day he asked the Attorney General to post a Proclamation ordering the crowd to disperse, but the Attorney General told him to wipe his arse [or bottom, anus?] with it! [or get stuffed?] On that same day, 7 December 1710, his people murdered Governor Daniel Parke with a shot in the thigh. The present day Cathedral is supposed to be built over that same spot, next to Newgate Street.


Parke had one good trait however, which was a part of his unpopularity, he had checked smuggling. Nevertheless, Parke’s murder illustrates the disorder there was in the West Indies at the time, partly because of the unsuitability of colonial Governors. Two years after his demise, the Queen signed a pardon for those concerned in the misdeed, and a day was put aside for a solemn fast of atonement.


So we killed one of our Governors and that’s why we are called ‘Garretts’!





One of UNESCO’s Atlantic Slave Route Project’s aims is to break the silence of slavery and to make known the subject of the transatlantic slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. Since Antigua and Barbuda was within the Slave Route, named here are a few places of memory for which we should break the silence.



The Castle - Just above the pier on the lagoon at the main settlement, and next to the old Ginnery, once stood a building known as Codrington Castle which is the reason the pier is still known as Castle Landing today. The Castle was built by John Codrington in 1680 as a defensive position against the depredations of pirates and later as an administrative centre and residence for Barbuda’s managers. In 1710 the French blew up the Castle and carried off all Barbuda’s inhabitants. There was also a hospital within the Castle’s walls, and it was also used for the storage of salvaged goods from shipwrecks. The Castle finally ended its useful life in 1843 during the great earthquake of that year. The history and fate of the Castle and Barbuda was closely tied to the economy, success and decline of the Codrington sugar estates elsewhere in the West Indies.

Shipwrecks - Various ships wrecked on the numerous reefs around low-lying Barbuda, and slaves were used for salvage operations.

 The sale of wreck cargoes and ship’s equipment in Antigua was a considerable income for the Codringtons of Barbuda throughout the centuries. To retrieve this flotsam and jetsam a special wreck gang of slaves was always on hand to exploit these ruined ships to the fullest extent.

 The Codringtons owned the men, the boats and all the equipment for these salvage operations carried out by the slaves. It was tough and dangerous work, and at times some were lost in the stormy seas. For example, when a Spanish brigantine was wrecked off Coco Point in 1776, seventy slaves and four white men were used in the salvage of materials with boats and carts. A slave was drowned when attending to this wreck and another example was when in 1805, four slaves lost their lives on a brig in distress.

The Reefs - Several of the one hundred and forty five known shipwrecks around Barbuda were slave ships from Guinea importing human cargoes into the West Indies. Many Africans were drowned in their chains after their ships had wrecked on the treacherous reefs of Barbuda. A few examples of slave ship wrecks were:

The ‘Apollon’ a 200 ton slave ship from France, wrecked in 1741. The survivors were taken to Martinique.
An English slave ship, the ‘Pearl’ on her way from Old Calabar, Africa, hit a reef in 1749. Seventy slaves and eleven crew were drowned.
A French slave ship, the ‘Hazard’, sailing from Africa to Hispaniola was wrecked in 1755 and more than eighty slaves were drowned. Another French slaver was reported wrecked at Spanish Point in 1791, and all lives were lost.

As an example to show how valuable the slaves were to the Barbuda salvage efforts, in 1817 Codrington tried to transfer slaves from Barbuda to Antigua, but the Manager warned that able-bodied men were in short supply for shipwreck salvage.



Betty’s Hope – This, the oldest sugar estate, represents the misery experienced on all sugar plantations in Antigua. Throughout its 300 year history, Betty’s Hope played a prominent role in Antigua and Barbuda’s story and influenced the lives of many generations of Antiguans. Enduring the hardship of cultivating and processing the sugar under exhausting conditions, slaves developed great skills as craftsmen, boilers and distillers. Enslaved Africans were objects of ownership to the planters. Their labours were desperately hard and long; there was little or no social life and what families existed were often split up to suit the profits of their owners. Such was life on the sugar plantations. 

Slave Dungeons - On many of the Antiguan plantations Massa kept lockups or ‘dungeons’ in which to punish miscreant enslaved Africans. Two remain in Antigua today, one at Orange Valley, St. Mary’s and the other at Parson Maules, an estate on the south shore of Mercer’s Creek.

The one at Orange Valley Estate, the “Rock Dungeon” has survived; it is strong, fashioned from a small cave in rock. A stone wall with a door forms a façade for this lockup. Once a pregnant slave was locked up there and on giving birth, the baby was eaten by rats. 

There were two dungeons at Parson Maules as the slave owner was enraged with the Court’s uprising, according to Papa Smith of “To Shoot Hard Labour” fame. They were named the “Bump off” and the “Torturer”. The latter is small and strongly built of stone. It still stands and is shaped like an old fashioned pill box with a rounded roof, while the other no longer exists. The “Torturer”, was so called being very small and dark, with only a small air hole. Massa was able to control the amount of air the slave could breathe according to the gravity of his “crime”.

The “Bump-off” was worse, as there was a hole in the roof through which a hangman’s rope was passed. The slave to be bumped-off had Massa choose which part of his body he wished the victim to be hung until death or near death. The threat of these dungeons gave more production amongst the slaves. 

The Cage -In 1702 an Act was passed to have various apparatus made for the punishment of offenders. There was to be a cage, pillory, stocks, whipping post and a ducking stool in St. John’s. According to a 1788 map of St. John’s a cage was placed in the middle of Market Street near to the Court House. Captured runaway slaves or those roaming from their plantations were locked up in this cage so that they might be recognised and claimed by their owners. 

Stony Hill Gully - King Court (Klaas) planned the slave rebellion of 1736 in this secret place, (and it still seems to be a secret place today!). It is a gully well clothed in greenery on the north side of Stony Hill, which is said to be the centre point of Antigua, a little to the east of Miss-a-Link Corner at Clarke’s Hill. Whenever the slaves met in the Gully, a very old Obeah woman named Morah, usually attended to give her advice from Obeah magic. The attending slaves also worshipped their King, drank, danced and inhaled smoke from roasted cashews and they would utter “Death to our foes!” A traitor to the cause later carried news of this plot so the rebellion was foiled. 

Boggy Peak – The highest point of the south-western Shekerley Mountains, is Boggy Peak. It is here that the runaway slaves congregated while hiding in the forest. In 1687, twenty-seven runaways were known to be encamped in a palisaded ‘maroon’ camp at Boggy Peak. There had been a revolt of slaves, hunted down and taken dead or alive. The Militia stormed the camp and the leaders were burned in the following year.

Today it would be most educational if the site of this camp could be found and an archaeological excavation made for the material items the slaves raided from the surrounding estates. 

Liberta Village - At just about the time of emancipation, a female estate owner became financially embarrassed and sold off a part of her property in small lots.  The ex-slaves in the neighbourhood bought up all the little freeholds with eagerness, as it was their desire to own land in perpetuity.  No time was lost in settling on the spots, which they had purchased.  They soon framed their houses, and cultivated their gardens. Besides working on nearby plantations, income was also earned working as mechanics at the dockyard.  “Liberta” (liberty) sprang up as if by magic from 1835.  In 1842, a painted signboard near its border stated “The Village of Liberta”. 

Dockyard - The “King’s Negroes” of the Antigua Naval Yard, whose labour and valuable skills as shipwrights, blacksmiths, sail makers and caulkers were the underpinnings of British naval successes in the Leeward and Windward Islands of the 18th and 19th centuries. Black masons and workmen had also been responsible for building the facilities and the stone wharfs of the yard.

The blacksmith’s shop at the yard was responsible for forging iron parts of warships. The forge producing heat for rendering iron red hot, was always in operation. According to Papa Smith the Dockyard had the best branding shop in Antigua and never killed a slave. A relation of Sammy Smith, Minty, born into slavery had the numeral “104” branded on her hand and was known by her owner as that number. After the dockyard lost its importance, the blacksmith’s shop was closed down in 1826 and by law all branding of slaves was ended two years later.

Devils’ Bridge -  is a natural bridge carved out of soft and hard limestone of Antigua’s rock on the north-east side of the island. There is no land between Devil’s Bridge and Africa three thousand miles to the east so that the strong trade winds create an extremely rough and dangerous sea. These ocean swells have eroded the rock into a bridge formation under which the waters rage and foam.
It is recorded by Papa Smith in the famous book “To Shoot Hard Labour” by the Smith brothers that many slaves from neighbouring plantations used to go there and throw themselves into the sea rather than submit to slavery. The sea is always rough and anyone that falls over never comes out. It was a place of mass suicide, so it is said the devil got into them.

Greencastle - On Christmas Day in 1701, a Speaker of the House was murdered by his slaves. Samuel Martin was the owner of Greencastle Estate and for some reason or other he refused his slaves their usual Christmas holiday, and compelled them to work throughout the day. This infuriated them, so in the dead of night many slaves went to his bedroom and hacked him to death with their hoes. His wife and children escaped, hiding in a neighbouring cane field until the light of day.