How Barbados made Charleston what it is today
We all know that Charleston’s charm largely stems from walking along the cobblestone streets, gazing into the multicolored Antebellum mansions, + sitting beneath sweeping Spanish moss trees. However, many don’t know that some of the city’s iconic staples initially originated in the island of Barbados.
Say what? I thought Charleston was founded by English colonists?
Technically, it was. The British landed in Barbados in 1627, where they settled + developed sugarcane plantations– which were largely operated by enslaved Africans + indentured servants. In the 1660s, land had become scarce (not to mention expensive), so Barbados planters set out on an expedition north, looking for an area to expand their operations– after all, the island is only 166 square miles.
In 1670, three ships sailed up the Ashley River + reached Albemarle Point– which is now known as the state historic site of Charles Towne Landing. The planters settled in Goose Creek, + became known as the ‘Goose Creek Men’. With the journey being deemed a success, more ships set sail from Barbados to the Carolinas– eventually leading to Charleston becoming a colony of Barbados.
In the first two decades of settlement, the majority of the Carolina’s population, whether free or enslaved, came from Barbados– bringing with them some of the Holy City’s most popular aesthetics– such as the style of homes, paint colors, + cobblestones.
While the Revolutionary War drastically changed the relationship between Barbados + the Carolinas, many similarities still exist today.
Here are a few things around the Lowcountry that were brought from Barbados.
One of the most recognizable architectural influences is the “single house,” or “longhouse.” These abodes, which are popular on the peninsula, are the shotgun-style homes with a narrow facade on the street side, often including a large piazza or porch.
In the late 17th century, a series of fires destroyed most of the single houses in Bridgetown, Barbados, which is why the style of homes is “unique” to Charleston today.
Have you ever noticed that several of these single houses’ porches have a light blue paint upon their ceilings? The Gullah Geechee descendants of the enslaved African planters thought that soft, blue-green paint would keep the “haints,” or evil spirits, away. In today’s era, you can even find paint companies selling colors within the “haint blue” spectrum.
Continuing with color, the bold, pastel hues seen on the exterior of Holy City residences are a strong representation of the Barbados culture.
In 1931, Judge Lionel Legge + his wife Dorothy Porcher Legge purchased a section of homes on what is now known as Rainbow Row. As they started renovating, they chose to paint the exterior of the houses in a bright, pastel pink– as a homage to the city’s Colonial Caribbean heritage roots. Throughout the late 1930s + 1940s, others in the neighborhood decided to copy their style– also painting their abodes in bold, Caribbean colors, furthering the influence.
According to Rhonda Green, founder of the Barbados and The Carolinas Legacy Foundation, Charleston + Bridgetown– the capital of Barbados– have almost the exact same layout. Both cities have the same cobblestone streets, which are lined with crape myrtle trees, + colorful buildings. The cobblestone was brought to both Barbados + Charleston as ballast in sailing ships from England. The stones were later utilized to build roads, versus being thrown into the harbor when they were no longer needed for ships.
🗣 Familiar Names
Lowcountry families with ties to Barbados carried names such as: Brewton, Bull, Colleton, Elliott, Fenwick, Gibbes, Harleston, Jenkins, + Middleton.
The influx of travelers lead to the social structure for a Carolina plantation society, which closely mirrored that of Barbados– from the structure of plantations to the entrance drive lined with oak trees.
While images of pineapples can be found all around the city of Charleston– such as the Pineapple Fountain– pineapples do not grow in South Carolina. Pineapples became a symbol of hospitality as the English sailed from the Caribbean to America. But, only for those who had the means to afford them– shipping the fruit in hot, humid, climates was difficult (no one likes rotten produce), not to mention costly. Using today’s currency, a George Washington-era pineapple would cost as much as $8,000.
For those who could not serve a fresh pineapple, which acted as a symbol of wealth + welcoming, households would display images of the fruit in order to show guests that they would be received within an accommodating atmosphere.
While I was only able to touch on a small tidbit of the overlap of cultures, Warren Alleyne + Henry Fraser capture the full shared history + architecture of Barbados and Charleston in their book, The Barbados-Carolina Connection.
Meanwhile, Rhonda Green works every day to facilitate business, education, and historical + cultural collaboration between Barbados and the Carolinas through the Barbados and Carolinas Legacy Foundation.
The more you know…