The Sad History of the “Redlegs” of Barbados

The Sad History of the “Redlegs” of Barbados

Until April 23, you have the opportunity to view  the fascinating documentary of Barbados’ so-called Redlegs (click here), “Barbado’ed: Scotland’s Sugar Slaves,” by Chris Dolan. Or go  the Irish TV, click on “documentaries” on the top of the screen, then “anamnocht” on the left side, then click on the arrow at the bottom of the screen until you see the 3-part video.

Also, Sheena Jolley who has done research on the Redlegs and photographed some of them in St. John in 2000 and 2008 has photos of them on her website  She is seen on the documentary.

I thank “BajanBeauty” for making me aware of this and providing these links. You only have until April 23, 2010: please view the documentary as soon as you can.  xx Jane (Below is my original post, which provides a bit of background):

I thought the lush, open ground in St John’s parish known as Little Scotland was so called because of its moist, green beauty.  Last night I discovered the sad truth behind the nickname.

"Little Scotland," Barbados

"Little Scotland," Barbados

The first slaves to work Barbados’ sugar cane plantations were Scottish, not African.  Mostly POWs from the 17th-century civil war in England, they were shipped to Barbados by Cromwell as “indentured servants,” although the terms of their servitude weren’t honored.

The Scots were ill-adapted to the Caribbean climate and treated as poorly as the Africans who came after.  Even after emancipation in 1854, they fared poorly, welcomed neither by White society nor Black.  Today, many of their ancestors, most of whom live in St John’s district, don’t know about their forebears. The poor don’t leave records; their identity is lost to history.

Until now.  Scottish author and broadcaster Chris Dolan is creating awareness through his documentary called “Barbado’ed: Scotland’s Sugar Slaves.”  He interviews direct descendants who live here on the island and discusses why, 350 years after their families first arrived, they still have no role on the island and remain isolated, eking out a subsistence living.

Romping along the posh platinum coastline of our beautiful country, you’d never guess.

65 Responses to “The Sad History of the “Redlegs” of Barbados”

  1. Ashmita says:

    Think he removed the vids Jane. Didn’t get to see them either.

  2. Thank you both. I appreciate the heads-up, Ashmita.

    Mark, I’m afraid the BBC iPlayer is unavailable to those of us outside the UK. Darn! If you have another idea, please let me know. Thanks!

  3. Baje says:

    Wow, so sorry I missed this post. I haven’t had the chance to keep up on the Net recently. As my family is from St. John, this story really interests me (have not had a chance to see the movie.) What is really interesting is how the Redlegs (which is a racial slur actually) have been able to get on in relative obscurity. Most of them have either moved on, or mixed with the Black population, with only a small population of basically in-bred remaining.

    As a youth, it was unclear to me that they were any different from anyone else. Frankly, they are more Bajan than most West Coast and South Coast people. I of course, hope that more Redlegs (like COW Williams, his brother Bizzy, and Rihanna’s father) can escape from the poverty cycle too.

    Might also add that the horror of the RedLegs era is not just that criminals were “Barbados’ed” but also young children– male and female and also women were taken away from Ireland for our shores.

    Oh, I’m just glad there’s a post on St. John 😀

  4. Thank you for your comment, Baje. Yes, this is fascinating Barbadian history. The filmmaker depicts the history and the folks he interviewed with sensitivity and respect. I hope you get to see the film. I was really sorry to see it had been taken off YouTube. The marginalization of these folks – as you say, women and children as well as men – is a shameful part of Barbados’ past. Like slavery in the US, it’s a story that needs to be told.

  5. Sean Gibson says:

    This is a fantastic film! Was a very disappointed that the BBC only showed it in Scotland. I managed to view the film at although you might have to install some free software to view it.
    I remember some time back in the eighties Channel 4 broadcasting a programme called the Red legs of Barbados.

  6. Meridian says:

    I have found a copy of the documentary located at this website

  7. How absolutely wonderful! Good sleuthing! I will go watch it again. The Redlegs are a fascinating part of Barbados’ history; their legacy lives on in this wonderful documentary. Thank you!

  8. nora Hussey says:

    I am embarking on a long range project on the irish who were shipped away. I’m going to barbados for the first time next month and hope to at least get a feel for what people know about this awful history in the present day…

  9. Kerry Murphy says:


    If you have not already found this book;
    “To Hell or Barbados, the Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland”,
    you can find it here :

    It is an interesting read on this very Topic, and surely there is more to tell – hope that helps.


  10. cormac cullen says:

    i watched a documentry TG4 (irish tv station) on 28/12/09 and to my shock/horror i discovered that the ancesters of the men and women who stood against the tyrant oliver cromwell at the seige of drogheada in the mid 17th cenuary (where every 10th man was set aside for deportation and the rest were put to the sword) were to be found living abject poverty…. what in the name humanity has the irish goverment done to offer support to these unfortunite disenfranchised people………cormac cullen westport, mayo.

  11. Thank you for writing, Cormac. The past does haunt us, doesn’t it? There shouldn’t be – but there are – innumerable shameful and horrific acts against our fellow human beings throughout history. I wish I’d seen the documentary on Irish TV that you’re referring to here ….

  12. Sue Larkin says:

    Hi There,
    I saw the documentary on Irish TV and was very shocked; I am fairly well educated but had never even heard a whisper of the Irish in Barbados. I work for a youth organisation and would consider trying to raise funds for a youth exchange if there is a group that works with this minority. I think it would be great to bring a group of Irish young people from Irish and african backgrounds and a simular return visit by Barbadian young people.
    Keep up the good work.
    Sue. (Waterford, Ireland)

  13. Thank you, Sue. No, I think most of us living in Barbados know very little about this aspect of the island’s history. Now that I do know, I notice the “Redlegs” as I drive through the countryside. I love your idea of an exchange program. What do they say about not learning from history doomed to repeat it?

    I appreciate your comment, Sue. Thank you.

  14. Rob says:

    “The Redlegs of Barbados” produced sometime in the late 80’s by either BBC or HTV was an eye-opener for some Barbadians when it was screened on CBC back then.

  15. I have to say, I really enjoy this website. Could let me know how I can keeping up to date with it? By the way I found your website through Aol.

  16. Ileana, good morning. There’s a place on the front page of my blog where you can sign up to receive updates; I’ll fill it in for you with your e-mail address. Thanks for wanting to hear more!

  17. Aoife says:

    Hello, I go to Barbados annually on my holidays and i have seeked out the redlegs on my visits there, you can certainly see them around st martins bay or a few of them collecting bottles at the oistins fish fry on a Friday night. Unfortunatly when the The National Archives of Ireland building burnt to the ground in 1922 all of the documents on file for these era were destoyed for ever. The passenger lists etc, all gone. Many of the indenture irish slaves left Barbados for Moneserrat, another tiny caribbean island, today the irish culture on this island remains intact and they are the only other country in the world to have st patricks day as their national holiday!

  18. Aoife says:

    I should note that I was referring to the National Archives in Dublin, Ireland in my last post.

  19. Thanks for this information, Aoife. It’s a complex and fascinating history; I wasn’t aware at all of the Moneserrat connection at all – thank you. How sad that the documents were lost in a fire at the National Archives in Ireland! I appreciate your writing. When you seek out the Redlegs on your visits to Barbados, are you taking an oral history from them? Doing so would provide a valuable addition to the history of the Redlegs in Barbados.

    Thanks for writing!

  20. Aisling Nolan says:

    Hiya im doind my project for my leaving cert on the redlegs In Barbados and have searched high and low on the internet for the documentary but cant find it any where. does anyone know where i can find it it would be a massive help?

  21. I’m so sorry, Aisling. The videos seem to surface and then disappear. I hope someone can help you find them again. Don’t give up!


  22. Aisling Nolan says:

    thanks a million jane

  23. Edward Barbour says:

    It now appear that far more Scots were shipped to the America’s as well as the Caribbean and sold as slaves as was first thought. Many were political prisoners fighting for Scotland after the act of union with England in 1707 (that created the UK). The Act of Proscription (1747) was widely used in Scotland to round up disidents and sold off into slavery.
    The act stated as follows:
    ‘That from and after the First Day of August 1747, no man or boy within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers of His Majesty’s Forces, shall on any pretext whatsoever, wear or put on the clothes, commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little kilt, Trowes, Shoulder-Belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for Great coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the first said day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garments or any part of them, every person so offending…. shall be liable to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.’
    As we know many were kept as slaves well after their period finished.
    Its also interesting that (Norfolk born) George Washington kept slaves well after the War of Independence, which in all likelyhood included Scots that had been bought.
    Which brings to mind what happened to Scottish soldiers captured during the War of Independence. As a vast number of colonial males were in the continental army, the Americans would use the prisoners of war to work the land, Im wondering now if they were given a choice of becoming slaves (as in slave labour, owned by a land owner) or be incarcerated in jail (which in reality was just slightly better than death, due to the grim conditions). I have a personal interest in this latter comment as my 6xGreat Grandfather was a Scottish soldier captured in 1776 and didnt re-appear until 1783 for repatriation back to Scotland.

  24. Edward Barbour says:

    Another related story about Scots sold into Slavery and were shipped to Virginia and Barbados
    ‘The Dunbar Martyrs’

  25. stiofan o labhrai says:

    sad. scottish, once persecuted – now fight for “english crown”.The six occupied counties have suffered much from scottish regiments in English Army

  26. robwat81 says:

    I just got done seeing this film and it was a eye opening film.Lots of things i did’nt know about white slaves and history of the irish.coming from irish decent i like knowing history of where i came from and what happen to them in the past.You can find a copy of this film on its a great copy.

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  28. ejam says:

    The British slaves in the West Indies, The Bahamas, and Guyana,were given apprenticeship in 1834,in preparation for their emancipation in 1838. There are some errors in these documentaries by people who have not paid attention to the year of emncipation. Barbados,Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, St.Vincent,Jamaica, Grenada, ,The Bahamas, and Guyana, are very aware of their history, and take pride in reconizing the day of Emancipation of their ancestors, and their date of Independence, as well as being members of the United Nations.

  29. ejam says:

    I mean’emancipation’–freedom from slavery–for blacks —
    and whites.

  30. Pamela J. Hilton says:

    I have done some historical research and have found one of my direct ancestors was a Scot soldier sent to Massachusetts as an indentured servant after the Dunbar battle, massacre, POW holocaust, and the remaining 1200 or so out of 12 thousand soldiers at that battle were sent to Virginia, Barbados or Massachusetts. In BOston they were sent to iron foundries to make nails, etc. Some of them made it to Canada later and other parts of the world. But many do not know this story about how despicable the slavery of all these people of Scottish or Irish background as well as African and Native people who were sent to work the sugar plantations. Wow!!! We need to hear about ow they did survive and get together and thrived! With much respect, Pam Hilton of Sudbury, MA, USA

  31. History | says:

    […] A friend of Scottish descent often spoke of the fact that his Scottish ancestor was a slave on a plantation near Savannah, Georgia. I was skeptical. And since I also had Scottish ancestors, I began researching Scottish history. And found out he was right…Scots had been enslaved at various times and in various circumstances (Have you ever heard of the Redlegs of Barbados?) […]

  32. bim says:

    An interesting and forgotten part of history. It wasn’t only Irish and Scottish that were sent over by indenture, it was also English (e.g. prisoners following the Monmouth Rebellion in the west country), and others. I have both English and Scottish indentured background in Barbados, but funny how all whites there are viewed by a lot of the black population as former slave masters

  33. Yes, it’s (sadly) true that we human beings have a tendency to lump all of a group into a single stereotype we carry. The population of Barbados is, in fact, amazingly diverse.

    Thank you for your fine comment.

    Jane Shattuck Hoyos

  34. Hey BIM you got it rite man ! OR Woman ! LOL
    They still call us white men in Barbados RED man /men Its RUDE but we accustomed to it , I am 1/4 of each Scottish?Irish?/English and Welsh
    ‘The Forgotten Irish’ were not only Irish but all were called Irish (cause of ignorance) They were called the red Legs cause of their RED Hair and Red hair on their legs especially and also cause the got sun burnt ! Knew TOM a ‘red man’ from old times in the 60’s in Bathsheba they Sold Ham and pork and his brother both men were BIG 6′ 6″ Tall at least never wore shoes ..Had a big booming voice HAM , HAM , ANYBODY WANT HAM !!! LOL

  35. Steven Wampler says:

    My Grandfather’s family came to America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They were from St Lucy’s Parish and I traced them to the 1700’s in Barbados. I see no one is mentioning Red Legs Greaves, the Pirate. I am supposedly descended from him according to family legend.

  36. My grandfather, a 13th generation Barbadian, used to tell me about finding caves of poor whites in St. John in the 1950s and that the first slave rebellion was by Irish in 1649. They held parts of Bridgetown for three days until the militia from St. Lucy and St James arrived.

  37. There is a lot of prejudice against redlegs. Another family story was that my great x8 grandmother about 1770 found an Irish servant girl trying to drown a Black baby in the brook that runs past Codrington College. She took the baby home and apprenticed it. The woman was sold.

  38. Jane says:

    Nick, your stories are fascinating. I hope you take the time to write every single recollection you have from family and of course yourself about the early days of the “Redlegs.”

    You mention a slave rebellion by the Irish. Weren’t the Irish brought to Barbados as indentured servants, or am I mistaken?

    The history of our island is rich and varied. Thanks for contributing.

    Warm regards,

  39. Nick says:

    When i was a teenager, my great aunt and uncle always refered to Mullins as battle beach. The last battle of the English civil was actually fought on barbados. Roundheads lost 8, barbados militia ,royalists, lost 150 but the roundhead commander was killed.

  40. The history I learn from Barbadians fascinates me. I have never heard Mullins called Battle Beach but I see why it was at one time called that, given the history you cite. Thank you for contributing!

    Warm regards,
    Jane Shattuck

  41. skipper vance says:

    OH yeh Red Leg Graves I talk about him a lot and have studied his story , he might have been an ancestor of mibe as well . To answer another question on here about Endentured VS Salves REALLY ! there ain’t muuch difference especially when yhey usually died from skin cancer or ring worm infection before their 7-10 years term of endenture was up and SOME WERE SLAVES especially the orphans kidnaoped out of orphanages in scottland , that where red leg people come from no doubt !

  42. Barbadian in NY says:

    One other term use for white people from the st. John, st. Joseph area was Backrow Jonny, Eckey Beckey, Poor white and, the more populat, Red Leg.

  43. Colorful names but isn’t it awful to call anyone a name …. thanks for the bit of history.

  44. Ringworm, skin cancer, kidnapping orphans …. such a sad history! No, there wasn’t much difference between “indentured” and “slave.” It’s awful, the way people can treat one another.

  45. skipper vance says:

    I am a Boat skipper and Barbados Private Tour Guide , come go on my ‘ The Forgotten Irish’ Tours Call me 1-246-261-0968 or email

  46. Hello, Skipper Vance: I’ll add you to my suggestions to guests of things to do during their visit to Barbados. Sounds like a really interesting tour you offer.

    All best regards,
    Jane Shattuck

  47. I also am a descendant of Red Legs Greaves. Family members said that he was a gentleman pirate, which may explain why he had a long life.

    My grandmother thought Greaves, which is pronounced as “graves”, was a morbid last name so she put the accent on the “e”. Then, the name is pronounced like “grieves”.

  48. Deborah, great and humorous bit of history; I love the idea of adding the accent! Very clever.

    Here’s to the Red Legs Greaves family,


  49. Edward says:

    This entry from the Barbados National Archive recording the fate of a Scots PoW is interesting.

    “Ninian Beall, b. in Largo, Fifeshire, Scotland, in 1625. His will is dated 15th Jan. 1717 and was probated 28th Feb. 1717. He held a commission as cornet in the Scotch-English Army, raised to resist Cromwell. He fought in the battle of Dunbar, 3d. Sept. 1650, against Cromwell. He was made prisoner at that battle and sentenced to five years’ servitude. He was sent with 150 other Scotchmen to Barbadoes, West Indies. About 1652 they appeared in the Province of Maryland. Ninian Beall served his five years with Richard Hall, a planter of Calvert Co.

    “In Liber 5, folio 416, Maryland Land Office Records of 1658, there is a record of Ninian Beall making a land transfer in Calvert Co., Md. It seems that these military prisoners were entitled to 50 acres of public land after completing service. In Liber 11, folio 195, Maryland Land Office has the following 16th Jan. 1667: “Then came Ninian Beall of Calvert County, Planter and proved right to 50 acres of land for his time service performed with Richard Hall of same county.” By the inexperienced reader the servitude of Col. Ninian Beall for five years under Richard Hall, on account of fighting against Cromwell, may be rated as a disgrace.

    “This humiliation of servitude which came to him not on account of crime, but through the fortunes of war, was an honor. The principle for which he fought finally triumphed in the overthrow of Cromwell. His servitude was a halo of martyrdom for a principle which was honorable. Although he had many chances to escape from servitude after reaching Maryland, yet we find the instincts of a gentleman and soldier prompted him to not only honorably and gracefully submit to the fortunes of war, but at the same time, by so doing, he gained the respect and confidence of the people of Maryland to such a degree that they showered continuous honors upon him to the day of his death.”

    While this refers to Scots some like to believe the Irish were treated differently i.e. much worse. Not necessarily, while much is made of the Irish in Barbados few are aware that it was the destination for English convicts and rebels as well who were also Redlegs. It is recorded that 850 English Protestant rebels were shipped there after the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 apart from the hundreds who were hanged. They dealt pretty sharply with rebellion then and one elderly Englishwoman was actually sentenced to be burned alive for sheltering a rebel leader for one night. Public protest forced them to behead her but she had the unenviable distinction of being the last woman in England to die this way.

    This item from History Ireland looks into the Irish of Barbados and contains some startling information. For example in 1667 2000 Irish were serving in the colony’s militia and were trusted with firearms. This would suggest like the Scots PoW’s they were serving limited sentences and were not badly treated or they would not have been armed. It also notes that on occasion the Irish could be as brutal to negro slaves as anyone else.

    The question might be best answered by research into the Barbadian archives.

    As the oldest continuous English/British West Indian colony Barbados prides itself on having the most comprehensive records in the

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