Sugar and Ham

There is history and there is family history, and in this household tales of the latter, either through Who Do You Think You Are, or others such as Heir Hunters, are compulsive viewing.  For The Genealogist says so.

Now I quite enjoy WDYTYA, especially when it delves into the unsavoury.  There have been memorable programmes that end up in the desolate ruins of a synagogue, or the end of rail line in Eastern Europe.  And they have done the other genocides well too.  I remember in particular Ainsley Harriot and Moira Stuart going back to the West Indies, and the look on Seb Coe’s face on learning of his true blue lines and sources of wealth.

So picking Andrea Stuart’s Sugar in the Blood from the bookshelf was not a difficult decision.  It’s been an enthralling read.  It is a work that covers close on 400 years, and as well as family lines it gives us a hugely researched trail through social history, and man’s inhumanity to man.  It is extensively researched and referenced, and had me dipping into other works from time to time.

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Andrea’s past goes all the way back to England in the early 1600s, and to those days in the Age of Discovery that saw young men giving it all up and boarding a ship.  It is a struggle, a plot of land and some hard graft.

And then the world demands sugar cane; and sugar cane needs labour.  And we watch as Barbados develops on the sweating and whip-lashed backs under the gaze of the sun and in the name of God.

It is a male-dominated society.  Through marriage and the right colour of skin the Ashby family increase their holdings and their importance, and the nineteenth century dawns.

So the plantation owner has made a good marriage and his wife bears him a son.  His wife’s maid bears him a further 10 children, another slave wench chips in with 4 more, and Andrea Stuart’s ancestral line comes from one of at least two more of Ashby’s concubines.  So the melting pot and the skin colour changes, and mulattos find their difficult way in an emerging society.

“Britons never will be slaves” – and those lyrics to Rule Britannia were written in the 1740s.  But it said nothing about Britons never being slavers.  For their role was laid down in the Bible, so they said.  The Story of Ham.  Caucasians were the first created, or so they believed.  Even the Quakers were in on it, indulging in slave ownership, justified as the best place to keep the blacks so that they could be shown the light and set on the righteous path.  Aye, great example that.

God ordained them for the use and benefit of us, the words of one anti-slaver inveigled into the way of it.  But abolition evenutally came, though space prohibits me from giving you the full detail of Andrea Stuart’s research into the rebellions and retributions on her family’s plantations.  It is truly vile.

Eventually, via Harlem and back to Barbados and back to plantations, her family came to England, just as the whites were railing against immigration from the colonies.  The islands were gaining Independence – now there’s a word I like – and even yet Stuart is conscious of her colour walking into the room before her.

It’s a huge read.  I did read the Story of Ham and had a look at various interpretations.  It just makes you embarrassed to be one of those same caucasians, more so if you follow the same good book I’d hazard a guess.  If only they knew then what we know now.  Perhaps, just perhaps……..

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