The following excerpt comes from Matthew Parker’s book The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies and describes the emergence of White racial consciousness and the evolution of the culture of the Greater Caribbean in 17th century Barbados:
“The aim was to persuade the poor whites to ally themselves with the planter class, in effect to choose race over class as their defining characteristic. In the ‘Act for the Better Ordering and Governing of Negroes’, the Africans were described as a ‘heathenish, brutish and uncertaine, dangerous kinde of people’. The white servants, though still heavily policed in their behaviour, were carefully given better rights than the blacks – to food, clothing, general treatment and legal protection. Slaves who assaulted a white person of whatever status were to be whipped, then, on a second offence whipped some more and have their nose slit and forehead branded. While on paper the Act aimed to protect the slaves from ‘the Arbitrary, cruell and outrageous will of every evill disposed person’, masters could punish slaves in any way they liked, even to death, the only penalty being a fine, and this was easily evaded. Whites’ rights to trial by jury (a fundamental right of English law) were confirmed, while blacks faced a kangaroo court of the master’s local cronies. For whites, differences between men and women were legally recognised, but not for blacks. Black men were to be severely punished if they had sex with a white woman, even if it was consensual, although white men could rape black women with impunity.
This racism was a new departure, as planters, who had recently lumped together African slaves and ‘dissolute English, Scotch and [particularly] Irish’, came to realise the usefulness to their security of ‘whiteness’. A pamphleteer writing at the time felt it necessary to explain to his readers in England that ‘white’ was ‘the general name for Europeans’. And just as the 1661 Acts were copied throughout the English West Indies and in South Carolina, so this new ideology of whiteness was spread from Barbados and carried around the empire.”
Parker elaborates on this development in a footnote:
“Emigrants to South Carolina were not just poor whites, many of whom still held on in Barbados. A number were younger sons of the island’s big planter families, such as the Sandifords and Halls. With no more room to expand there, lesser offspring were sent off with whatever members of the household could be spared. From the Caribbean they brought with them slaves, the plantation system and ‘mentality’, a slave code, speech patterns and architectural styles. In all, Barbadians had a decisive role in shaping the new colony, creating a slave-based plantation society more similar to the islands than to the rest of North America.
Lowland Carolina would soon have a population ratio of four blacks to every white, similar to the ratio in Barbados. Parts of Charleston’s ‘brittle, gay and showy society’ of the eighteenth century would echo the Barbados atmosphere of a century before, and between 1669 and 1737, nearly half of the governors of South Carolina had lived in the West Indies or were sons of islanders. Seven of the early Carolina governors had Barbados backgrounds.”
Significantly, the plantation complex generated the wealth that made this group of settlers who valued ‘”whiteness” culturally dominant in early colonial South Carolina and the cotton gin later facilitated the spread of the plantation system and its racialist, authoritarian, socially conservative culture across the rim of the Gulf of Mexico to east Texas. In the antebellum era, visionaries such as Robert Barnwell Rhett and Nathaniel Beverly Tucker would advocate the dissolution of the Union and the creation of a Lower South nation-state to give institutional form to this organic culture.