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Map of the "Yland of Barbados"

If you can say that the history of the modern Caribbean begins anywhere, it has to be on the West African coast. By the middle of the 17th century European colonists in such islands as Jamaica, San Domingo (Haiti), Barbados and Antigua, were hard at work building forts, clearing the ground for planting, importing cattle, and dispersing the local Indians by slaughter and intimidation. But this was also the period which brought together the profits to be made from sugar, with the availability of cheap and expendable labour from West Africa to work the plantations.

Curator's note:
Shown here is the earliest known map exclusively of the island of Barbados. It appeared in A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados written by Richard Ligon and published by Humphrey Moseley in 1657. Ligon is believed to have redrawn the map from an original, now lost, made by John Swan, the island's leading surveyor of the time The map identifies 285 plantations by name of owner, the majority along the island's coast. According to the map much of the interior of the island is overgrown with forest and still virtually inaccessible, for the roads leading inland from the coast quickly peter out. Four churches are shown along the coast, with fortifications at Carlisle Bay protecting the island's principal town, Bridgetown. Vignettes depict planters hunting wild hogs and chasing runaway slaves. Curiously, a pair of camels is inserted in the map. According to Ligon, “several planters imported these beasts and found them useful in Barbados, but did not know how to diet them”.

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