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Archaeologies of Slavery and Freedom in the CaribbeanExploring the Spaces in Between$

Lynsey Bates, John M. Chenoweth, and James A. Delle

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781683400035

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9781683400035.001.0001

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The Role of Caves and Gullies in Escape, Mobility, and the Creation of Community Networks among Enslaved Peoples of Barbados

The Role of Caves and Gullies in Escape, Mobility, and the Creation of Community Networks among Enslaved Peoples of Barbados

(p.31) 2 The Role of Caves and Gullies in Escape, Mobility, and the Creation of Community Networks among Enslaved Peoples of Barbados
Archaeologies of Slavery and Freedom in the Caribbean

Frederick H. Smith

Hayden F. Bassett

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

While the layout of plantation slave villages demonstrate a great deal of planter control, the private landscapes of enslaved peoples offer insights into the activities and experiences where the reach of the planter was more limited. Archaeological investigations of the caves and gullies surrounding St. Nicholas Abbey sugar plantation in St. Peter, Barbados offer insights into the activities that some enslaved plantation workers pursued. The gullies winding between St. Nicholas Abbey, the tenantry of Moore Hill, Pleasant Hall plantation and other estates in St. Peter contain a series of caves, many of which possess material culture, including ceramics, clay tobacco pipes, and black bottle glass. These caves, as liminal spaces on the landscape between adjoining plantations, appear to have served as meeting areas for enslaved peoples and later free workers. The privacy these spaces afforded spurred physical mobility and social interaction between enslaved peoples from surrounding villages, and may have fostered activities that were not permitted in the public sphere, such as gaming and leisure. Gullies are thus viewed as conduits and corridors that connected communities in the plantation-dominated landscape of Barbados and offered a temporary respite from the challenges of plantation life.

Keywords:   material culture, plantation life, Barbados

Historical archaeologists in the Caribbean have investigated the lives of enslaved peoples largely through the study of their domestic spaces and burial grounds in plantation contexts, which has helped shed light on many of the day-to-day activities, material conditions, and mortuary practices of enslaved peoples. Yet enslaved peoples also carved out lives in the more liminal spaces of plantation societies. These spaces are what Dell Upton (1984:70) might call the “private landscapes” of enslaved peoples. While the layouts of plantation villages demonstrate a great deal of planter control, the private landscapes of enslaved peoples offer insights into the activities and experiences where the reach of the planter was more limited.

Archaeological investigations of the caves and gullies surrounding St. Nicholas Abbey sugar plantation in St. Peter Parish, Barbados, shed light on the activities that some enslaved plantation workers pursued. The gullies winding between St. Nicholas Abbey, the tenantry of Moore Hill, Portland Plantation, and other estates in St. Peter contain a series of caves, many of which possess historic-period material culture, including ceramics, clay tobacco pipes, and black bottle glass. These caves, as liminal spaces on the landscape between adjoining plantations, appear to have served as meeting places for enslaved peoples and, later, free workers from St. Nicholas Abbey and other estates. The privacy these spaces afforded seems to have spurred physical mobility and social interaction between enslaved peoples from surrounding villages and may have fostered activities that were not permitted in the public sphere, such as gaming, alcohol drinking, and more generalized types of leisure. We thus interpret gullies as conduits and corridors that connected communities in the plantation-dominated landscape (p.32) of Barbados, places that offered a temporary respite from the challenges of plantation life.

Caves in Barbados

Caves are common on limestone islands like Barbados. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, colonists and visitors to Barbados were fascinated by the many caves that dotted the island’s landscape, and they described the extensive cave systems. In the late 1640s, Richard Ligon (1673:93), an English Royalist who fled to Barbados during the English Civil War, noted, “Caves are very frequent in the Island, and of several dimensions, some small, others extremely large and Capacious.” A century later, Griffith Hughes, a naturalist and the rector of St. Lucy Parish church, visited numerous caves during his time in Barbados and noted their beauty and complex calcareous formations. According to Hughes (1750: 294), some of these caves were “spacious enough to contain 500 People.” Ligon, Hughes, and other writers also noted evidence for prehistoric human occupation of these caves.

Indeed, caves in Barbados were used extensively in prehistoric times, and archaeologists have investigated several cave sites on the island. As early as 1902 the famed ethnologist and archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes surveyed caves in Barbados where large collections of Amerindian conch shell tools, pottery, “idols” (clay figures, or adornos), and other materials were found. The evidence convinced Fewkes that the prehistoric peoples of Barbados made extensive use of caves and led him to boldly claim that the prehistoric peoples of Barbados, unlike Amerindians in the other islands, were “practically cave dwellers” and that “they were probably the only Antilleans who made artificial caverns for habitation and other purposes” (Fewkes 1915: 50). Cave studies have become a prominent theme in the scholarship of the prehistoric Caribbean. Alice Samson and others have recently used the term “cavescapes” for the systematic study of subterranean human activity in caves (Samson et al. 2013). The term has thus far been applied to cave sites associated with pre-Columbian peoples in the Caribbean where the primary focus has been on funerary practices and ritual activities as well as the study of rock art. But what about the human occupation and use of caves in historic times? The study of historical-period cave occupations in Barbados adds a new dimension to cavescape studies because caves served an important escapist function in these tightly controlled social environments driven by coercive systems of labor.

(p.33) Historical archaeological interest in caves in Barbados began in the early 1970s when Frederick W. Lange and Jerome S. Handler, along with field supervisor Robert Riordan, conducted archaeological investigations at Mapps Cave in St. Philip. The study was part of a broader research project that included the collection of oral histories, archaeological excavations, and archival research aimed at gathering information on slavery and plantation life in Barbados. The massive program they initiated was one of the pioneering projects in the development of African diaspora studies in historical archaeology. After testing a number of sites, including Mapps Cave, the researchers settled in for a substantial excavation of the now famous seventeenth- through nineteenth-century enslaved persons’ cemetery at Newton Plantation in the parish of Christ Church. The findings from the Newton excavations were published in a landmark volume Plantation Slavery in Barbados: An Archaeological and Historical Investigation (Handler and Lange 1978). While discoveries at Newton diverted their attention and precluded further study at Mapps Cave, Lange and Handler (1980) managed to publish a short article on the Amerindian materials recovered from Mapps Cave. Moreover, in that article, the authors noted the presence of historical-period “china, glass, crockery, roof tiles, conch shell fragments, and some white clay pipe fragments” on the ground surface in the cave and a surrounding sinkhole.

Archaeological interest in Mapps Cave was renewed in the late 1990s when L. Daniel Mouer and Frederick H. Smith joined Handler for a further study at Mapps Cave, which sought to revisit the use of the site during the early historical period. A study of the assemblage of white clay tobacco pipe stems from the site led Mouer and Smith (2001) to conclude that the historic occupation of Mapps Cave covered a long period and that stratified occupational deposits at the site were probably intact. Mouer and Smith also reviewed original field and laboratory records from the 1972 excavation, notes pertaining to subsequent artifact analyses, and Handler’s, Lange’s, and Riordan’s correspondence about the site (Handler 1998). This review was sufficient to convince Mouer and Smith that the site warranted further study, and in 1998 they conducted additional archaeological tests at Mapps Cave. Five years later, in 2003, Smith (2008) once again returned to Mapps Cave to carry out further analysis of archaeological and architectural remains at the site.

Mapps Cave is a relatively large cave by Barbadian standards. The cave entrance and two rock shelters sit in a limestone sink roughly 15 m2 and between 3 and 5 m below the ground surface. Upon entering the limestone (p.34) sink and cavern, it quickly becomes clear that human activity at the site has been extensive. The ground surface is littered with sherds of historical-period course and refined ceramics, white clay tobacco pipes, and black bottle glass.

As Lange and Handler (1980) showed, Amerindian peoples used the cave and sinkhole long before the arrival of the English in Barbados in 1627. But who was using it during the early historical era? In the early years of settlement, some British colonists were known to dwell in caves. For example, James Drax, an Englishman who arrived with the first party of English colonists in 1627, was reported to have “sheltered in a cave in the rocks” with a half dozen or so other Englishmen during the early years of settlement (Father Antoine Biet in 1654, cited in Handler 1967: 69). Drax later became one of the wealthiest sugar planters in Barbados and built a magnificent great house, but in the early days of settlement, caves offered Drax and some of his comrades an alternative to the timber and stone houses being erected in the island at that time. Yet, while some colonists may have exploited the caves of Barbados for shelter, instances of cave-dwelling English colonists were no doubt rare and probably occurred only during the first few years of colonization near primary settlements along the southern and western coasts. In contrast, Mapps Cave, located in what was the isolated eastern fringe of the island in the early to mid-seventeenth century, probably served as a temporary hideout for individuals and small groups of runaway slaves seeking a short-term flight from bondage, otherwise known as petite marronage.

Oral traditions and historical accounts suggest that enslaved runaways hid out in Mapps Cave. In the late 1640s, for example, Ligon wrote that fugitive slaves on the island “harbour themselves in Woods and Caves, living upon pillage for many months together” (1673:98). According to Ligon, “The runaway Negres, often shelter themselves in these Coverts, for a long time, and in the night range abroad the Countrey, and steale Pigs, Plantins, Potatoes, and Pullin, and bring it there; and feast all day, upon what they stole the night before” (1673:98).

Some caves were large enough to hold hundreds of people, and in many cases a thick natural curtain of vines obscured cave entrances from the view of would-be slave catchers. As a result, whites employed trained lyam-hounds to flush out fugitive slaves who were holed up in caves in the out-of-the-way hills, gullies, and dense forests of Barbados. Ligon’s map of the Barbados, for example, illustrates two fugitives being chased and fired upon by a man on horseback in these rugged and unsettled parts of the island (p.35)

The Role of Caves and Gullies in Escape, Mobility, and the Creation of Community Networks among Enslaved Peoples of Barbados

Figure 2.1. Section of “A Topographicall Description … of Barbados” illustrating two runaway slaves. Frontispiece of Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes, 2nd ed. (London, 1673).

(Image Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)

(Figure 2.1). Nearly a decade later, in 1657, the Barbados Council and Assembly continued to receive complaints from frustrated planters about rebellious runaways “lurkeing in woods and secrett places” (cited in Gragg 2003:159 and Handler 1997:188).

Concerns about the use of caves by enslaved runaways continued into the eighteenth century. John Oldmixon (1741:105), for example, noted that some of the caves in Barbados are “so large … that they will hold above three hundred Men,” further noting, “To these Caves the Negroes often fly from the Fury of their Masters, when they are conscious to themselves, that their Guilt deserves a sever Punishment. They hide themselves there sometimes for Weeks together, and never stir out but at Night.” Two decades later an eighteenth-century historian similarly described the island’s caves as “the lurking-holes of run-away negroes” (Sale et al. 1764:211). The use of (p.36) caves by runaways continued into the nineteenth century. Theodore Easel (1840:24–29) visited Barbados during the late 1830s and recorded the story of Paul, a young enslaved man who had encountered a group of four male runaways living in a cave in the side of a gully in St. Thomas Parish. According to Paul’s account, the cave was well stocked with food and drink, and the men may have launched robberies from their hideout. Although the small size and high population density of Barbados made it impossible for runaway slaves in the island to establish permanent maroon communities like those in Jamaica, Brazil, and Suriname, there is compelling documentary evidence for various forms of marronage in Barbados, including the use of caves as temporary hiding places for runaways (Handler 1997). Moreover, archaeologists in other parts of the Caribbean, especially in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, have identified caves that they believe were once used by enslaved runaways, and there is some evidence to suggest that Mapps may have served that purpose from time to time. The most compelling archaeological evidence for marronage at Mapps Cave is the presence of a few seventeenth-century ceramic types and white clay pipe stems with large bore diameters mixed with Amerindian pottery and shell tools. The Amerindian materials may have been recycled and reused by enslaved runaways to help them survive during their flight, as has been argued for other sites of marronage in North America and the Caribbean (Agorsah 1993; Funari 1995; García Arévelo 1986; La Rosa Corzo 2003; Nichols 1988; Orser 1993, 1994, 1996:41–55; Orser and Funari 2001; Sayers 2014; Sayers et al. 2007; Smith 2008).

While the archaeological evidence for marronage at Mapps is limited, enslaved peoples appear to have used the cave and sinkhole extensively in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Sherds of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century ceramics and bottle glass are liberally scattered about the ground surface. Moreover, the cave and sinkhole were heavily modified. In the sinkhole, there is a cut-coral retaining wall and a collapsed set of cut-coral stairs that were constructed to facilitate the descent from the ground surface to the sinkhole and cave below. A low wall was built across the mouth of the cave entrance, and a retaining wall was built inside of the cave. A hole was also chiseled into the roof, probably to let light into the dark recesses of the cave or to allow smoke to exit from an interior fire. The cave’s stratigraphy shows clear periods of deposition stretching from the pre-Columbian times to the present. The disproportionate amount of drinking-related materials, such as black glass bottles, found (p.37) archaeologically in the cave indicate that alcohol drinking, and perhaps alcohol production, took place in Mapps Cave.

Caves by Way of Gullies

The findings at Mapps sparked further investigation of caves in the gullies around St. Nicholas Abbey sugar plantation when Smith began archaeological work there in 2007. Workers on the estate, coming from the nearby villages of Castle tenantry and Moore Hill, noted the presence of caves in the gullies around St. Nicholas Abbey. They were intimately familiar with them. Some workers noted that as children they played in the caves and had seen the same types of ceramic and glass materials there that we were finding in our archaeological excavations around the estate. Some areas of gullies wherein the caves lie are currently used to graze sheep and cattle.

In 2007 we began surveying, mapping, photographing, and surface collecting these caves. The gullies are somewhat difficult to traverse, and while it is not known whether they were more open in the past, historical references suggest that they were rugged areas rarely traversed by Europeans. Although English descriptions of the island’s caves begin in the seventeenth century, Europeans appear to have only frequented a few of the more remarkable caverns and gullies for the leisurely naturalism of the nineteenth century. To the planters and the English travelers to Barbados, the uncleared gullies were dense thickets that represented holdouts from cultivation, “affording harbourage for trees, bushes, trailers, and creeping plants, which have been exterminated from the cultivated lands” (Chester 1869:39). The gullies around St. Nicholas Abbey are steep and rugged, which is why they were left wooded and not used for sugarcane cultivation. However, they probably served as sources for wood for fuel in the factory and in domestic contexts on the estate.

Among the more sizable caves in the gullies near St. Nicholas Abbey is the one pictured in Figure 2.2. It consists of two tiers. The lower tier poses a cave roughly 25 m wide, 15 m deep, and 3–4 m high. A large, uncovered, relatively flat platform or landing juts out about 10 m in front of the mouth of the cave. It is not clear if this is an entirely natural platform or whether a retaining wall was constructed to shore up a platform area at the cave entrance. The second tier consists of a series of smaller caves roughly 5 m in width, diameter, and height. One can easily stand up in all of these caves, and the floor surfaces are relatively flat. The caves themselves are situated (p.38)

The Role of Caves and Gullies in Escape, Mobility, and the Creation of Community Networks among Enslaved Peoples of Barbados

Figure 2.2. Cave in the gully of St. Nicholas Abbey plantation, St. Peter, Barbados.

(Photograph by Hayden Bassett)

high in the gully wall, looking down upon the gully floor. As such, the presence and quantity of artifacts within the caves indicates their historical use, as colluvial deposits containing artifacts are largely confined to outer slopes and bottom of the gully. Pearlware and whiteware ceramics were found on the ground surface near the cave entrance. Surface finds in and around the caves also included fragments of stoneware and black glass bottles, suggesting that alcohol drinking may have been a common activity at the site, as at Mapps Cave.

James A. Delle’s (1998) study of coffee estates in Jamaica highlights the way plantation landscapes reinforced planter controls and surveillance. As Delle shows, plantation landscapes were designed to limit the mobility and privacy of enslaved workers. Unlike Jamaica, with its vast undeveloped areas, Barbados was densely populated and extensively cultivated, leaving few areas beyond the sight of whites. As discussed in the introduction to this volume, however, such surveillance could be thwarted. At St. Nicholas Abbey, the caves and rock shelters along the walls of the gully drainage are all but invisible from the roads and sugarcane fields above and the gully floor below. A curtain of dense vegetation conceals many of the openings. Pockets of material culture extend far back into the caves’ recesses.

(p.39) Finding and traveling to and through these spaces would have required intimate knowledge of the local network of gullies, a subtle form of “way-finding” attainable only through recurrent use. “Wayfinding,” according to archaeologist Tim Ingold (2000:237), differs from map using in that “knowing where you are lies not in the establishment of a point-to-point correspondence between the world and its representation, but in the remembering of journeys previously made, and that brought you to the place along the same or different paths.” Moving through familiar terrain, the wayfinder narrates past movements, retracing the perceptual experience of journeying to, through, and along itineraries of places. These places are known not only through the experiences within them but also in the comings and goings of getting there and, if need be, getting back. In this sense, finding one’s way through the web of overgrown gullies to caves and other meeting points in St. Peter Parish involved a localized knowledge embodied in reoccurring movements to place.

These hidden trails served what sociologist Erving Goffman might call paths for circumventing information control. From the caves, inhabitants could see without being seen and could safely commune with those who likewise knew the way through and to the gullies to chosen enclaves. Even today some estate workers will note that they prefer to travel through the gullies rather than open roads to limit others’ knowledge of their movements. Moreover, the presence of modern beer and liquor bottle fragments around the caves indicates that these caves have served as drinking spaces in relatively recent times.

Other similar caves were located further down the gully in an area known as “Adventure” by people from the villages in the surrounding area. These caves, equally as spacious, possessed the largest represented span of material culture, though none had sizable platforms at their entrances. As with the caves further east in the same gully, surface survey suggested extensive use of these spaces in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Yet unlike the caves to the east, the material culture underneath the countless rock shelters of “Adventure” suggested perhaps both a more prolonged residential occupation as well as temporary use, from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries and possibly into the twenty-first century.

The gully wherein these caves lie runs from the back of St. Nicholas Abbey great house to the nearby Portland Plantation. Since 2007 two plantation village sites have been identified at St. Nicholas Abbey, and both are located along the edge of this gully with households likely wrapping around (p.40) a small protruding branch of the gully. An early village that dates from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century sits across the gully from a later village, which dates from the late eighteenth through mid-nineteenth century (Bergman and Smith 2014). Recent archaeological testing in 2014 revealed that the later village continued to be occupied long after emancipation and perhaps well into the twentieth century.

From the site of the later village at St. Nicholas Abbey one can see directly to Portland estate. If the slave village at Portland was located near the factory, as it is at St. Nicholas Abbey and at other estates in Barbados, then the two villages would have been in sight of each other. Moreover, the gully connects with two other branches that run to the adjacent Welchtown Plantation in the south and Castle and Mt. Gay estates in the north. It is likely that these gullies served as conduits for people traveling between plantations and meeting spaces for people from surrounding estates from the earliest days of plantation slavery in the area.

It is probably no coincidence that today the rum shops at Diamond Corners sit at the confluence of these gullies near the caves that once served as clandestine meeting and drinking spaces for enslaved laborers. The connections between the enslaved and free communities of St. Nicholas Abbey and neighboring plantations therefore point to the need to understand gully throughways as liminal places integral to the experience of plantation workers, whether enslaved or free, in Barbados.

Connecting enslaved communities, the island’s networks of gullies appear to have provided navigability and common ground to seemingly insular plantation villages. Caves, as discrete places connected in these gully systems, were made meaningful by enslaved people through movement, as they were used as paths. Locating and connecting caves in this way builds upon Ingold’s (2000:219) conception of places as “bound together by the itineraries of their inhabitants, … exist[ing] not in space but as nodes in a matrix of movement.” Defining place by movement follows a growing body of literature on mobility studies in the social sciences and humanities that recognizes the ontological primacy and investigative potential of information, objects, and the human body in motion (Clifford 1997; Marcus 1995; Sheller and Urry 2006). Moreover, recent contributions have demonstrated the need for archaeologists to consider the tenets of this “motilities paradigm” by theorizing and addressing past movement and motion (Beaudry and Parno 2013; Fowles 2011; Snead 2011, 2012). As explored here, a focus (p.41) on the movement of enslaved people allows us to understand the enslaved condition on both a regional and localized scale and, perhaps more significantly, the connective relationship between the two scales.

Movement through these concealed and unassuming throughways geographically articulated the itineraries of what Upton (1984) describes as “black landscapes,” a plantation experience distinct from the movement characterizing “white landscapes.” To define the white and black experiences of plantation society in this way, Upton shifts the understanding of social divisions from distinct spaces to dynamic routes of race and class. In this way such divisions were not necessarily spatially segregated but occurred along conduits—both black and white—that intersected and overlapped one another within and beyond the plantation boundaries. In the routes traveled by the island’s gentry and common planters, the proprietor was at the center of a constructed world experienced by social peers as a “processional” hierarchy (Upton 1984:66). They traveled the roadways in public view, to and through places of civic, ecclesiastical, and domestic visibility and interaction. In contrast, black landscapes centered on the home quarter, with routes radiating out near and far upon prescribed and clandestine paths, both seen and unseen by the planter class. Through these landscapes, as Upton (1984:70) suggests, “separation from white control allowed slaves to form communities that were held together by their mastery of the slave landscape of woods, fields, and waterways.” In St. Peter, Barbados, the gullies were a central part of those clandestine paths.

Movement through the gullies afforded a degree of unseen mobility for those bound to the plantation landscape. Such routes paralleled, intersected, and in some cases deviated far from the roads upon which planters and overseers traveled and surveilled by carriage and horseback. Through the nineteenth century, Europeans viewed the gullies as an obstacle to their mode of movement and travel. As one Englishman described the gullies of Barbados, “They are often of great length. And their depth and steepness will frequently compel a horseman to make a long detour” (Chester 1869:29). These “detours” from the white landscape allowed the gully routes of enslaved laborers to largely go unwitnessed and the caves within to remain unknown to the planter class.

Arawak Temple: Caves beyond Prehistory

A short distance from the caves and gullies that intersect at Diamond Corners is a large cave that sits along a modern road in the village of Mile and (p.42) a Quarter. Here a set of modern concrete stairs leads into a hollow shelter intricately carved from the bedrock. The people in the village refer to the cave as the “Arawak Temple,” and it was saved by the Barbadian government during a road construction project and preserved as a tourist attraction in the 1950s. The cave is clearly the product of human modification, although it is difficult to determine exactly when it was carved. There is no soil to speak of inside the cave, although late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century ceramic and glass materials can be found scattered around the surface areas surrounding the site. A cherub-like feature was carved into the wall above the entrance to the cave, and slots were carved into some of the walls, possibly to hold floor joists. High above the cave’s floor, a cryptic set of initials and what is perhaps a date of 1686 are carved into the wall in old script.

The Arawak Temple was described in great detail by Hughes in his Natural History of Barbados published in 1750. Hughes noted that during the time he was writing, the people from the surrounding areas called it “Indian Castle” because of the large amount of Amerindian material found at the site and the unique character of those artifacts. Hughes believed that Amerindians inhabited the cave, especially during storms and during the wet season months, and that they also dug a pond near the cave to hold rainwater. According to Hughes, “With part of the Clay, which they dug out, they made their Earthen-ware, such as Pots and Pans; and, like the Idolaters of old, out of the same Materials they made to themselves Gods, and worshiped them. Among several broken Fragments of Idols, said to be dug up in this place, I saw a Head of one, which alone weighed above sixty Pounds Weight. This, before it was broken off, stood upon an oval Pedestal above three Feet in Height” (1750:7). Fewkes (1915:49) embraced Hughes’ interpretation of Indian Castle and used it to bolster his argument that prehistoric Barbadians were “cave dwellers” and that “Barbados is the only West Indian island where artificial cave dwellings were made.” However, Fewkes ignored evidence that the cave may have been modified during the historic era. Clearly, there were modifications to the cave during the early historic period. Fewkes, believing this to be an Amerindian cave dwelling, described the cherub-like figure above the cave entrance as simply a “rude figure in relief” (see Figure 2.3). We, however, believe the figure to be a representation of a cherub in the Christian tradition and believe the cave may have served as a small church or some other specialized meeting area for Christians, perhaps poor whites, enslaved people, or freedmen, sometime during the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. Burn marks and drains (p.43)

The Role of Caves and Gullies in Escape, Mobility, and the Creation of Community Networks among Enslaved Peoples of Barbados

Figure 2.3. Carving of a cherub-like image at the entrance to the Arawak Temple, St. Peter, Barbados.

(Photograph by Hayden Bassett)

carved into the limestone floor and an adjoining cylindrical chamber also suggest that it may have also served as a limekiln at some point. Although Fewkes’ initial reaction to the site was that it looked like a limekiln, he ultimately rejected that interpretation. Thus, this curious space, partially cavernous and partially carved, represents a landscape feature with a multitude of uses and meanings to different groups from the prehistoric Amerindians to Christians, laborers, naturalists, tourism boards, and even archaeologists. The Arawak Temple—like many caves on the island—tells a story of deeply layered meanings.


Amerindians were not the only people to exploit the caves and gullies of Barbados. Recent scholarship on cave use in the region has largely been limited to pre-Columbian inhabitants (e.g., Kambesis and Machel 2013). Yet cave use on the island, as illustrated through the Arawak Temple, Mapps Cave, and the caves that wind through the gullies around St. Nicholas Abbey, has a long history that extends through to the present. As unique fixtures in the landscape, caves and the materials left in them by passing (p.44) generations speak to the changing world around them through their constant appropriation and reappropriation. The Arawak Temple was once likely integral to the routes of movement that defined the changing Amerindian landscape, with connections forged in strategic and meaningful ways. In more recent times, the use of gullies linked the Arawak Temple to a landscape of movement routed through a world unseen by the planters. By the mid-twentieth century, tourism enmeshed and redefined Arawak Temple in a different route, a route defined by curiosity and consumption of exotic place. As caves continue to be used throughout the island as tourist attractions, storage spaces, residences, animal pens, and subjects of archaeological discourse, our scholarship must see them not as discrete isolated spaces but as connected upon historically contingent and socially meaningful routes of movement.

Whites in Barbados believed that enslaved peoples hid out and took refuge in caves. In the Western imagination, caves were dark and dangerous places. They were the entrances to hell and the meeting places of dangerous people. Perhaps the best example of the place of caves in Western imagination comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, wherein witches used a cave to perform their magic and chant spells such as “Double, double, toil, and trouble” (act 4, scene 1, line 10). Seeing the mouth of a cave deep in the gully network of Barbados, one English traveler likened the view to the “robber scenery” of Salvator Rosa’s seventeenth-century painting A Mountainous Landscape with Bandits Robbing Travellers (Easel 1840:193). Perhaps this is why early English colonists in Barbados thought of caves as hideouts for runaways and why so many Barbadians today believe the slave revolt of 1816 was fomented and conjured in the dark recesses of Mapps Cave. However, the caves and gully systems in Barbados appear to have usually served a more mundane yet important function. As rugged and uncultivated areas, the gullies in St. Peter, and perhaps throughout Barbados, provided a private space where enslaved peoples could meet and travel with little restriction, and relationships between members of different villages could be established and maintained. As Upton points out in Virginia, enslaved workers could use these secretive spaces to temporarily quit the plantation without ever actually leaving the estates.

Caves and their connective gullies were actively incorporated into the lived experience of enslaved peoples by their routes of movement. Mobility was central to plantation operations. Whether localized or extending beyond the property, moving resources, commodities, and people in highly orchestrated ways was vital to production. Yet archaeological and historical (p.45) evidence reveals that despite the visual strategies of control by the planter and managerial class, enslaved people appropriated and modified the island’s unique environment to circumvent visibility and extend their physical mobility to spaces beyond the plantation.

Caves and gullies were indeed liminal spaces. While the sugarcane fields, quarters, factories, roads, and great houses were symbols of other people’s power, the uncultivated caves and gullies were fluid sanctuaries from plantation life. While “cavescapes” may be an appropriate term for isolated caves, such as Mapps, “gullyscapes” might be more appropriate for the dynamic network of caves and gullies that run through St. Peter. The gullies surrounding St. Nicholas Abbey may have served as clandestine corridors between surrounding sugar estates. Through these corridors information was spread, regional community ties were reinforced, and a regional identity was forged. As with Mapps Cave, the caves situated in the gullies surrounding St. Nicholas Abbey appear to have provided extensive periods of social interaction and social integration among workers from regional estates. The presence of black glass fragments and pieces of stoneware drinking mugs hint at the likelihood that alcohol drinking was one of the main activities to occur at these sites. As a social performance, alcohol drinking would have helped strengthen community bonds and foster the expression of regional identities. And the presence of modern beer and liquor bottle glass at the cave sites demonstrates the ongoing use of gullies as corridors and meeting spaces for plantation workers today.

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