Monday 11 May 2020

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Anna Belfrage, as she explores the horrors of becoming an indentured slave #History #CivilWar @abelfrageauthor

A not-so-pleasant Caribbean cruise
By Anna Belfrage

Say the West Indies, and most of us think of sun and sea, of palm trees and the soft swaying rhythm of calypso music. We don’t automatically think big business – well, beyond the fact that most of us know there are a couple of attractive tax havens in the Caribbean – but once upon a time the West Indies were a fundamental part of the global economy, part of that lucrative triangular trade in which slaves, sugar and rum were the major components.
The cultivation of sugar was a jealously guarded secret. The Spanish – and Portuguese – colonists wanted to retain some sort of monopoly on this cash crop (Pernambuco in Brazil was the world’s largest sugar producer), but the commercial forces were having none of it, and as industrial espionage is was around already in historical times, the sugarcane arrived to Barbados in the 1650’s, where it went on to become the dominant crop.
Those industrial spies who carried the precious sugar cane to Barbados were Sephardic Jews, since several years established in Brazil but increasingly dissatisfied with their lot in life. The Jews had been expulsed from England by Edward I in 1290 but in 1655 a representative of the Jews approached Cromwell and asked that they be allowed to settle in London. Cromwell  agreed – the man had a grudge the size of an elephant when it came to Catholics, but was substantially more tolerant towards the Jews, probably because a strong Jewish community would benefit England’s trading ambitions. In Barbados, the Jews and their extensive knowledge of sugar cultivation were received with enthusiasm.
Sugar is a labour intensive crop. In Pernambuco, sugar had been grown by a multitude of small free-holders, resulting in low yields and too much administration. On Barbados, a slave-based approach was implemented. The economic results were fantastic. The resulting human suffering was inexcusable.
Not all slaves were black – at least not initially. Cromwell, that model of toleration vis-à-vis the Jews, had over 30 000 Irish men carried over the seas to work themselves to death under the Caribbean sun. Why? Because they were papists. Some years later, the officials of the restored monarch, Charles II, sent off boatloads of vociferous Scottish Presbyterians, condemned to servitude on the Barbadian plantations.

Sending people off to servitude was an excellent way of getting rid of unwanted peeps—even when the sugar production was primarily handled by black slaves brought over en masse from Africa. In 1686, several boatloads of prisoners of the Crown arrived in the West Indies. Their economic value was non-existent—they were too weak, too pale, to cope with the life of a slave. They were there to be punished for having participated in the Monmouth Rebellion, the idea being that they would expire on the sugar fields, worked to their limits and beyond.
So who were these Monmouth rebels? In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth decided to claim the English crown, this based on the fact that he was the eldest son of the recently departed Charles II. Problem was, the Duke of Monmouth (James Scott in more informal circles) was illegitimate, even if he maintained that his parents had been secretly married. The flamboyant duke launched an invasion with the aim of overthrowing James II, the new king (and brother of Charles II). The duke hoped that his countrymen would rise in spontaneous rebellion when he landed, this due to James II being Catholic while the duke was a staunch Protestant. Didn’t happen. The rebellion failed, with several thousands of young men either executed or transported to the West Indies. Monmouth himself was executed in London—a horribly botched affair where the poor man had to suffer seven strokes of the blade before his head was finally severed from his body.

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth 

Charlie Graham, the Monmouth rebel depicted in Whither Thou Goest, was a young man with more passion than sense – which is how he ended up as a rebel to begin with. He had no understanding of the complex trading triangle he indirectly became a part of, all he could think about was surviving.
He had no idea that his endless days on the cane fields resulted in barrels packed with raw sugar, nor did he know that these barrels ended up on Rhode Island or in England where some of them were converted to rum. Good rum, far more sophisticated than the cane liquor produced by the various  stills on Barbados. That rum would travel the world, was traded for beads and for textiles that were carried to Africa by the slave traders. In Africa, the slavers loaded their holds with men and women who were born free but ended up enslaved – casualties of local wars and local greed.
By the time the slavers returned to the Caribbean with their human cargo, almost a year had passed since the sugar left the island. By then, many of the slaves brought over the previous year were dead, and the off-loaded cargo was easily disposed of, angry, bewildered and frightened people subjected to being sold like animals before they were dragged off to a life that quickly became a vicious circle of too much work, too little food.
No, Charlie knew nothing about the triangular trade, but he knew everything about that vicious circle. He stole, he bullied, he crawled – all to ensure he survived. There were days when he didn’t want to, when he no longer knew why he struggled so hard to stay alive.
Occasionally, there were things that reminded Charlie of what it was like to be a man. Like when Mr Brown stepped from his house with a book in his hands, and Charlie recalled that he had once read for pleasure, or when the overseer sat smoking a pipe and drinking beer, and Charlie was transported back to evenings in a Dutch inn, with his friends and his hero, the now dead Duke of Monmouth. And then a sharp word would be thrown at him, and he would remember: he was a slave, a branded man, and his life was no longer his own nor would it ever be again. In such moments, he vehemently wished he could die, that the sky would open and fling a bolt of lightning to obliterate his sorry existence. But every morning he woke to yet another day of drudgery, and his heart was far too strong, his body far too young, to allow him to give up on living.

Fortunately for Charlie, he had an uncle named Matthew Graham, a man with his own bitter memories from his time as an indentured servant. Together with his wife, Alex, Matthew set off on an expedition to find Charlie – if nothing else to accord him a decent burial. That made Charlie an exception. Most of the Monmouth rebels had no one who came looking. Most of them would have died before the ten year sentence expired – except, of course, that James II was ousted and replaced by a Protestant king. The surviving rebels were pardoned and by 1691, more than half of the rebels had been freed, but with no money they remained stuck very far away from home. Maybe they consoled themselves with cane liquor.

These days, there is no triangular trade in which sugar becomes rum becomes slaves becomes sugar and so on. These days, Barbados is an island of golden sands and blue seas, a little slice of paradise. But if you leave the beaches and go exploring, if you take the time to visit the interior where the cane fields rustle like carpets of giant grass, chances are you may hear them, the whispered voices of the unfortunates who were yanked away from homes and loved ones to end their days as slaves.

Whither Thou Goest
(The Graham Saga Book 7)
By Anna Belfrage

In their rural home in the Colony of Maryland, Matthew and Alex Graham are still recovering from the awful events of the previous years when Luke Graham, Matthew’s estranged brother, asks them for a favour.

Alex has no problems whatsoever ignoring Luke’s sad plea for help. In her opinion Matthew’s brother is an evil excuse of a man who deserves whatever nasty stuff fate throws at him. Except, as Matthew points out, Luke is begging them to save his son – his misled Charlie, one of the Monmouth rebels – and can Charlie Graham be held responsible for his father’s ill deeds?

So off they go on yet another adventure, this time to the West Indies to find a young man neither of them knows but who faces imminent death on a sugar plantation, condemned to slavery for treason. The journey is hazardous and along the way Alex comes face to face with a most disturbing ghost from her previous life, a man she would much have preferred never to have met.

Time is running out for Charlie Graham, Matthew is haunted by reawakened memories of his days as an indentured servant, and then there’s the eerie Mr Brown, Charlie’s new owner, who will do anything to keep his secrets safe, anything at all.

Will Matthew deliver his nephew from imminent death? And will they ever make it back home?

Whither Thou Goest is available on Amazon and in most Audio formats.

Anna Belfrage

Anna Belfrage combines an exciting day-job as a board of director in various listed companies with her writing endeavours. When she isn’t writing a novel, she is probably working on a post or catching up on her reading. Other than work and writing, Anna finds time to bake and drink copious amounts of tea, preferably with a chocolaty nibble on the side. And yes, now and then she is known to visit a gym as a consequence…
Find out more about Anna by visiting her website, or her Amazon page.
You can also find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx