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Welcome to the world of adventure, love and war. You’ve entered 17th century England. It’s a time of civil war, social upheaval, conspiracies and intrigue. In the world of historical fiction, this is gold.

Explore my blog and discover articles about 17th century Britain, creative storytelling, and my writing. Be sure to sign up for my 17th century Broadsheet, to keep abreast of news and special features.

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The Life of Indentured Servants in Colonial Barbados

The English Commonwealth in 1651 had a challenge on their hands. During the third English Civil War, their commander Oliver Cromwell defeated the forces of Charles Stuart (the future King Charles II) first at Dunbar, and then precisely a year later, at Worcester. But Parliament was left with a pressing concern: What to do with the thousands of Scottish prisoners that they had captured? 

Catch and release, even with exacting a promise not to raise arms against them again, wasn’t a viable option, and Parliament didn’t have the resources to keep thousands of Scottish prisoners indefinitely. After the Battle of Worcester, the cost to feed a prisoner was recorded as 2 1/4 pence a day, and this did not include the cost of coal to keep the cells heated. With an estimated ten thousand prisoners captured, the potential cost to a cash-strapped Parliament amounted to over twenty-five hundred pounds a month. 

Parliament’s solution was to ship these Scottish prisoners to the English colonies as indentured servants. The plantations in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Barbados desperately needed labour and this proved to be a coldly efficient solution. 

Those who found themselves in the New England colonies were better off than those who were shipped to Barbados. Though there were hardships to overcome in the New England colonies, transportation to Barbados was akin to a death sentence due to its harsh climate and demanding working conditions. Being “Barbado’ed” was one of the worst punishments Parliament could have devised. 

Colonial Barbados was an inhospitable land, quite opposite to the modern vacation destination tourists flock to today. In the mid 17th century, the island was heavily wooded while roads were rough and broken by tree stumps. Sugarcane was the major crop and provided unparalleled wealth to the planation owners, but the crop was labour intensive. The planters were heavily reliant on African slaves and indentured servants for sugar production. 

Indentured servants had found their way to Barbados since the colony was founded in 1627, some, but not all, willing. For many it was a way to seek opportunities, for others, a way to escape poverty or debtor’s prison. As the need for indentured servants exponentially increased with the onset of the sugar trade, ruthless merchants would kidnap even women and children to make their quotas. For the plantation owners in Barbados, this sudden influx of Scottish prisoners would have been a welcome development.

Indentures were usually for terms of five to seven years, although they could be extended as a form of punishment for bad behaviour. At the end of the indenture, the servant would receive a small plot of land, or in later years when land became too valuable, a pre-determined amount of sugar or passage home. 

For the Scottish prisoners arriving after Worcester, it’s unclear what their terms of bondage would have been. One of those prisoners was a German nobleman who had turned mercenary and fought for the king. Heinrich Von Uchteritz was shipped out to Barbados along with thirteen hundred other prisoners in the beginning of 1652. From his own account, he seems to have considered himself as little better than a slave and referenced his bondage as being for life: “I, like the other prisoners and those sold there, would have had to spend my life in difficult bondage and would have had to die.” Fortunately for Heinrich, he was ransomed by his countrymen and released from bondage four months after his arrival in Barbados. Others weren’t so fortunate. 

It would have been a strange sight for the Scottish prisoners when they finally reached Barbados and anchored in Bridgetown harbour. The passage would have taken approximately eight weeks and many easily died before reaching Barbados. Bridgetown was built on swampy ground and the air carried an unhealthy odour. In the 1640’s, plantation owners would have come aboard the ships to inspect and purchase newly arrived servants, but in later years when there were greater numbers of bondsmen for sale, auctions were held in the merchant’s yard in town, near the warehouses. Instead of coin changing hands, a different type of gold served as the currency on the island—sugar. In the 1640’s an indenture could be purchased for approximately four hundred pounds of sugar, but by Worcester, prisoners were sold for double that weight in sugar. This sounds like an amazing amount of sweetener, but this would have been the equivalent of the sugar produced from only half an acre of land.

A large plantation (500 acres) would have approximately 90 African slaves and 30 indentured servants (also called Christian servants), and all would have been expected to work ten hours a day, six days a week. The plantation owners were also obligated to feed and cloth them, and each servant would be issued two sets of clothes. The first task for the new servants would have been to build their own shelters as this was not always provided. St. Nicholas Abbey is an example of a 17th century plantation in Barbados.  

Though life was harsh for all fieldworkers, there were important legal distinctions between the slaves and indentured servants. The former were slaves for life as would any children born to them, while the latter had rights under the law, even if, in practice, few had access to the courts and were equally subject to the whim of poor overseers or masters. It was against the law for Christians to be slaves, which is why plantation owners would not allow African slaves to become Christians.

The typical day on the plantation would begin at 6am with the sounding of the first bell. Some indentured servants were put to work around the plantation, like the smithy, but many were expected to work in the fields alongside the African slaves. At eleven o’clock, a second bell rang, signifying a lunch break, and at six o’clock the final bell rang, halting work for the day. On Saturday, the final bell rang an hour earlier. 

Their diet consisted of a monotonous gruel called loblolly, bread made from the cassava root, and mobbie, a drink made by fermented sweet potatoes, which is unlike the more modern version of the drink. In addition to this, each week the men received two mackerel fish while only one for the women. The only time meat would be available was when one of the farm animals died, even if they were diseased. The meat was carved up and divided amongst the servants while the entrails would be given to the slaves. 

This was a dismal existence and only the heartiest survived. There were many instances when bondsmen attempted to escape from the island, and some managed it by negotiating passage on one of the outgoing vessels, however, not all made it home. If they were unfortunate to have fallen in with particularly unscrupulous captains, they may have found themselves taken to other islands and resold there. 

For those who survived the fields and remained in Barbados, they may have found paid work on the plantations as overseers, or started a new life in the trade they had before the war. To this day, their descendants are still part of the fabric of the island. 

This article was originally published on Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots.

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Severed Knot is available on NetGalley – News for #bookbloggers #bookreviewers #SeveredKnot #NetGalley

If you are a book blogger or a book reviewer and enjoy historical fiction or historical romance, this announcement is for you!

Severed Knot is available on NetGalley for the next month. If you are a NetGalley user and are willing to provide an honest review, request an ARC copy of Severed Knot today. Read it before everyone else does.

To request your ARC, click on the image below. Thanks for reading!

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Severed Knot: #NewRelease Coming Soon

At long last, my second novel, Severed Knot, is ready to hit online shelves on June 7th!

You can pre-order the eBook of this romantic historical adventure through online retailers: Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Google Play, Apple Books, and for those in Australia, Angus & Robertson. The paperback will also be available online through all the same retailers.

Severed Knot follows Iain Johnstone, a Scottish moss-trooper and officer in Charles Stuart’s Royalist army.

Iain first appeared in Traitor’s Knot with his company of moss-troopers when he tried to steal horses from James Hart, a highwayman. Iain Johnstone always had a great deal of cheek (still does). The two men were able to get past their rocky start and, together, fight under the banner of King Charles against the Parliamentarian forces of Oliver Cromwell.

The last you see of Iain is when he and his men ride forth from Worcester to take up a defensive position to the south of the city, at Powick, in order to block the advance of Cromwell’s forces.

Well that didn’t turn out as hoped . . .

Severed Knot opens a few months after the Battle of Worcester with Iain being a prisoner of war. The situation has deteriorated and finds himself far from home. New characters join him on his journey back to Scotland, including a musically talented woman, Mairead O’Coneill, who has also been uprooted from her home in Ireland.

Severed Knot is a standalone second instalment on the Road to Restoration. If you enjoyed Traitor’s Knot for the mingling of romance and adventure, all steeped in a turbulent historical setting, you’ll love Severed Knot. Don’t worry, if you haven’t read Traitor’s Knot, you can immediately jump into Severed Knot without a reader’s guide. And for fans of Traitor’s Knot, you may be delighted to find a few familiar faces.

Researching this book was hard

Not really. Severed Knot took me to Barbados where I explored stretches of sandy coastlines, historic sugar plantation and exotic flora & fauna. Creatives must suffer for their art. Looking forward to returning to “suffer” again. To read about 17th-century Barbados, check out my articles on St. Nicholas Abbey and Sugar Production.

More from the cover

Barbados 1652. In the aftermath of the English Civil War, the vanquished are uprooted and scattered to the ends of the earth. 

When marauding English soldiers descend on Mairead O’Coneill’s family farm, she is sold into indentured servitude. After surviving a harrowing voyage, the young Irish woman is auctioned off to a Barbados sugar plantation where she is thrust into a hostile world of depravation and heartbreak. Though stripped of her freedom, Mairead refuses to surrender her dignity.

Scottish prisoner of war Iain Johnstone has descended into hell. Under a blazing sun thousands of miles from home, he endures forced indentured labour in the unforgiving cane fields. As Iain plots his escape to save his men, his loyalties are tested by his yearning for Mairead and his desire to protect her.

With their future stolen, Mairead and Iain discover passion and freedom in each other’s arms.  Until one fateful night, a dramatic chain of events turns them into fugitives. 

Together they fight to survive; together they are determined to escape.

Order it today

Severed Knot is available for pre-order at any of these online retailers. Pre-order your copy today.

Don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads shelf

It’s a lovely cover (designed by Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial), and it would look great on that digital shelf! It’s also a good way to spread the word!

Severed Knot
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How the second novel is like a middle child

Advice to the parent writer

Works of creative fiction are really like children. The first novel, aka the debut novel, is a big miracle. It’s a wondrous burst of creative energy and an absolute marvel when you finally hold the finished product in your hands. It started out as a wee kernel of an idea, and it was just you and that kernel for so long (cough…seven years). Some writers share their kernel with anyone who will ask—baristas, busboys and the counter girl in the bakery—while others keep it close to their chest until it’s nearly ready. You can get consumed by it, wake up in the middle of the night with new scenes unfolding in your head. It’s a joy and the centre of your creative energy. There’s no social media to get between you and your work, no promo tweets and no blogs that must be written. It’s just you and that first child until you finally release it into the world. Then you watch like a proud mama at the window while it trots off to its first day at school.

The poor middle child

Then along comes the second novel, or as I like to think of it as the middle child. Technically it’s the second child but if you’ve made it as far as to get deep into writing a second novel, the third one is already a kernel of an idea in your head. So there—middle child. This poor darling has to fight for the crumbs of attention, and not because they aren’t as beloved as the first. There is far too much pulling at you at this stage: social media (hi to friends of the firstborn), promo (for the firstborn), and answering a number of welcome questions (ditto). Only occasionally is there a question about how the 2nd is coming along (concurrently giving you an opportunity to gush about its progress and feel guilty that you’re not talking it up more).

Progress as a writer

But the middle novel has an advantage over the firstborn. You’re no longer that nervous writer who was learning the craft (and all the inevitable mistakes) through a first novel. You are not wandering about clueless searching for answers to questions: Does it need more emotion? Why doesn’t this scene pop? Am I a poor writer? If you’ve spent years honing your craft thanks to the first, then you’ve probably run across these problems before and have figured out how to analyze the scene without writing 99 versions of it. Answer: (a) if you have to ask, yes, (b) see (a), and (c) no.

Working through all the mistakes you made writing that first book (hopefully that’s now a deep, dark secret between you and the Muse) really does help you work through the pitfalls lined up along your way for your next writing endeavour. Not that you won’t make new ones. Each story is different and true artists are driven to push themselves and take creative risks. The difference between the writer you were with your firstborn and the writer you are with your second is that you have a toolkit full of nifty tricks of the trade. You’re able to approach the problem with more confidence than the first time around. 99 versions of a scene are (mostly) a thing of the past.

The wild child

The guilt, however, of not spending all your waking, creative moments obsessing about this next novel can undermine your confidence in its worth. That is, until you finally turn off the wifi, cut yourself off from the other distractions and spend some quality time with your newest. Then you realize that you didn’t need to hover over it, smother it or comb through its sentences (over and over again). It’s managed, when you weren’t looking, to somehow sort itself out. It has somehow grown up with a life of its own, independent and (a little) wild.

I think this is what an artist can really hope for.


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Sugar Production in 17th century Colonial Barbados

Part of researching my next novel, The Severed Knot, included learning about sugar production in 17th century Barbados and how this sweet substance transformed the island. Sugar wasn’t just a luxury commodity. It served as the chief form of currency on Barbados (slaves and servants were paid for in pounds of sugar) and fuelled British colonization in the Caribbean. Colonial Barbados was at the centre of the sugar trade going back to the mid-17th century and was known as the Sugar Island.

Colonizing Barbados

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Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The earliest English settlement was established in 1627 through a private venture corporation headed by the Courteen Company, Anglo-Dutch rivals of the East India Company. The soil in Barbados was good, there were plenty of wild hogs roaming the island, and the island was unoccupied by the native Caribs. Unfortunately for the Courteen Company, a dispute for proprietorship of the island came from another source just as the first settlers were establishing themselves. The company failed to obtain a patent for the island from King Charles I, and the oversight was discovered when the governor of St. Kitts, William Warner, acting through the Earl of Carlisle, obtained proprietorship of Barbados as well as a few other Leeward islands. James Hay, the first Earl of Carlisle, was a favourite of King Charles and his wife, Lucy Hay, was an infamous court lady. Over the next several years the matter of the proprietorship of Barbados was litigated in favour of the Earl eventually leaving the Courteen brothers financially bankrupt.

In the early years, settlers were not yet producing sugar; instead, they grew tobacco, indigo, and cotton. Not being able to compete with the superior tobacco being shipped from Virginia, the plantation owners eventually began to grow sugar cane. Plants were obtained from Dutch controlled Brazil, and by 1642, sugar cane production had started.

Plantations

In the early years, smaller plantations ranging from ten to thirty acres dominated Barbados, but as sugar production took off, wealthy landowners began to purchase and consolidate smaller plantations, in order to maximize their yields. Larger plantations of five hundred acres would have had approximately two hundred acres devoted to growing sugar cane, producing approximately 600,000 pounds of sugar in a 15 month growing cycle and generating an income of approximately £7,500 for the lowest grade (muscavado) brown sugar. Refined white sugar meant lower yields but even greater profits. To read more about a 17th century plantation in Barbados, see my post about St. Nicholas Abbey.

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By Thinkheritage [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Indentured servants and slaves

Plantations needed field labourers. In the early years, owners would obtain indentured servants from the British Isles, mostly willing, though not always so. These servants would agree to indenture themselves for a period of 5 to 7 years after which time they would get their freedom dues in the form of land, or in later years, an agreed amount of sugar. As sugar production took over there were not enough indentured servants to supply the need, and plantation owners relied more and more on imported slaves from Africa. During periods of war and invasion in the 17th century, English Parliament forcibly shipped Scottish prisoners of war and displaced Irish men and women to work the fields.

After the Battle of Worcester, approximately 1,300 prisoners of war were shipped out of London according to one of those prisoners, a German mercenary named Heinrich Von Uchteritz. Thanks to his account, we know that he was sold to a plantation owner in Barbados for 800 pounds of sugar. It also appears from his account that there was no time limit for his indenture. He expected to a bondsman until he died. Fortunately for Heinrich, his countrymen ransomed his freedom.

Growing and harvesting sugar

The English settlers relied heavily on the Dutch for the knowledge of how to cultivate and harvest sugar cane. The Dutch not only taught them how to grow and convert the rich cane juice into lucrative sugar, they lent them the initial funds to purchase the equipment needed (ingenio).

Canes took approximately fifteen months to mature (they initially experimented with twelve months but their yields were low). Once cut, the sugar canes needed to be crushed within hours of being cut. Men and women would be working in the fields in ten hour days and during harvest time, it would not be unusual for them to be working into the night.

In the 17th century, cut stalks would be loaded onto a cart, piled vertically in the back of an ox-drawn cart such that the cane could be easily tipped and taken to the rollers. Alternatively, they were loaded on a crook rigged to the packsaddle of a donkey.

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The crushing mills were situated on a high point of the plantation and designed like windmills. A team of oxen would turn the gears of the rollers. Crushed juice was collected into troughs, which ran downward through a series of tubes to the boiling house, which was situated at a lower elevation than the crushing mill.

17th century Barbados

Ingenio

The ingenio refers to the sugar works, or the equipment needed to crush the sugar cane and process the juice. This would include the crushers, rollers, the coppers in the boiling house and the stills. The end products include muscovado (brown unrefined sugar), refined white and rum (also called kill-devil in the 17th century).

The cut canes were passed through the rollers twice in order to extract all the juice. The remaining plant material would be carted away and used for pig fodder. Crushed cane juice would pass through a series of five boiling coppers followed by two cooling tanks. The entire process would take a week. The fires in the boiling house were kept alight day and night from Monday to Saturday at which point they were extinguished for Sunday. By the time the reduced cane juice reached the coolers, crystals would begin to form. The solid mass was then put into cone-shaped pots with plantain leaves on the bottom (where the molasses could be filtered out) and left in the curing house.

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“Platforme or Superficies of an Ingenio, that grinds or squeezes the Sugar” (A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados, Richard Ligon)

For muscovado sugar, the pots would be left to rest for a month before the sugar was ‘knocked out’ and bagged for transport to Bridgetown. For refined white sugar, after the sugar mass was put into the pot, a thin clay mixture was added right on top of the sugar to draw out the molasses content. The sugar would sit for four months after which time they would cut away the top and bottom (which was muscovado sugar and could be sold or passed through another round of boiling to process again) leaving the middle part which was pure white sugar.

Rum production used the skimmings of the boiling sugar during the clarifying process. The skimmings from the first two coppers would be discarded, but by the time the sap reached the third copper, the skimmings were syphoned off to the still house to be turned into rum. In the early days, the rum, or “kill-devil” was kept on the planation and given to the servants and slaves for various ailments. Whatever was in excess could be sold to the taverns in Bridgetown or shipped abroad.

Barbados dominated the sugar trade for the next few centuries. Today, sugar is still grown on the island, but it isn’t the major industry it once was. Next time you are asked, “One lump or two”, you will have a better appreciation for where it came from.


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A 17th century sugar plantation in the Caribbean #Barbados

I’ve been quiet on the blogging front as I’ve been writing a new novel that continues on the next leg of the journey on the road to the Restoration. The Severed Knot picks up on the fate of the Scottish prisoners (at least one in particular) following the Battle of Worcester and how they were transported to Barbados as indentured servants.  

I find that starting a new novel can be both exhilarating and nerve wracking as I wrestle with my Muse to get the story down. One of the most enjoyable aspects of starting a new historical fiction novel is . . . you guessed it, research! Oh the joys of digging into a new topic and chasing down a warren of rabbit holes. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve uncovered. Also stay tuned for cover reveals and first chapter previews.

Today, we head to Caribbean island of Barbados! Long before Barbados became a travellers’ destination, renowned for its beautiful beaches, the island was a lucrative English colony and a source of exotic commodities, particularly sugar.

Barbados had been first colonized in 1627 by London merchants, and by approximately the mid 1640’s, the island’s plantation owners had started growing sugar cane. For the next three centuries, Barbados would become one of the major sugar producers in the world. Even today, when driving around inland Barbados, acres of sugar cane fields are a common sight.

Scottish prisoners

Leading to the Third English Civil War, Parliament declared war on Scotland shortly after Scotland proclaimed Charles II King of Great Britain, France and Ireland. Under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, England invaded Scotland and won a stunning victory against the defending Scots at Dunbar in September 3, 1650. This resulted in more prisoners than they knew what to do with (or could keep), and their cruel solution was to transport them to the colonies, to be sold as indentured servants. Many ended up in Barbados working the sugar fields, where they had an acute need for as many labourers as they could get.

A year later to the day, Oliver Cromwell won another decisive victory against Charles II at Worcester, and once again, had more prisoners than he could keep. Transportation had worked out for Parliament with the Dunbar prisoners (not so much for the Scottish prisoners!), so Parliament applied the same solution to the prisoners from Worcester. Many were shipped to the Saugus Iron Works in Massachusetts, but an unknown number were shipped to Barbados to be indentured to plantation owners. Today, their descendants are still there, adding to the rich culture of Barbados.

St. Nicholas Abbey Plantation

One of the oldest surviving sugar plantations on the island is St. Nicholas Abbey, which also has the distinction of being one of three remaining Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere. A visit to St. Nicholas satisfies those interested in the island’s history, Jacobean architecture and life on a sugar plantation. I loved my visit there and I could imagine how characters would have moved around in the house, the courtyard and the fields.

St Nicholas Abbey -Cryssa Bazos

A tale of many families

St. Nicholas Abbey is located to the north of the island in St. Peter’s Parish, and the mansion was built in 1658 by Colonel Benjamin Berringer. With its 400 acres of prime land, at least half devoted to sugar cane, and its proximity to the main shipping port of Speightstown (once called Little Bristol), the plantation was indeed a jewel. As you drive up to the mansion, you pass under a shaded roadway lined on either side with mature mahogany trees. Those trees would have been planted in the 19th century, but when the house was first built, this roadway would have been graced by cherry trees.

 

Originally, St. Nicholas Abbey was part of a collective property owned by Colonel Berringer and his business partner, John Yeamans (whose own portion was called Greenland). Over the years, the two men would engage in a heated rivalry over the property, and more scandalously, the affections of Berringer’s wife, Margaret.

In the early days of their partnership, Berringer and Yeamans competed for the favours of Margaret Foster, a preacher’s daughter. Berringer came up as the winner in that contest, and he and Margaret married and settled down to have three children. Yeamans, no doubt, stewed. It’s very likely that the subsequent and ongoing disputes about the plantation borders were spurred by losing out on Margaret’s affections.

As these things often happen between married couples, Berringer and his wife’s marriage had its ups and downs, and in 1661, the couple had a major argument which forced Berringer to leave the home and remove to nearby Speightstown to stay with friends. The cause of the argument is unknown, but he and Margaret did not have time to reconcile. Not long after his departure, Berringer died suddenly and under very mysterious circumstances. Many whispered that Yeamans had somehow poisoned his old business partner, and these rumours dogged Yeamans for the rest of his life. Whether Yeamans did poison Berringer or not, no one could say nor was any proof established, but everyone noted the speed to which he and Berringer’s widow, Margaret, were married—her mourning lasted only ten weeks. Not only did Yeamans profit romantically by his former business partner’s death, he came out significantly ahead financially. Upon his marriage to Margaret, Yeamans acquired the Berringer plantation and merged both properties under the new Yeamans Plantation appellation.

John Yeamans’s star was now on the ascent. A couple of years after Berringer’s death, Yeamans was awarded a peerage by King Charles II and appointed Governor of Carolina, and he and Margaret eventually relocated to Charlestown. The man was reputed to be a greedy opportunist, and his reputation soon soured his dealings in the new world. He eventually moved back to Barbados with his wife and died in 1674.

St. Nicholas Abbey eventually passed to Margaret’s son from her first marriage and then shortly to his daughter Susanna Nicholas. This was when the plantation changed from Yeamans to its present day name.

Eventually the plantation would change hands in 1720 when Joseph Dottin, the Deputy Governor of Barbados purchased it. In 1746, he gave the property to his daughter as a dowry, with the provision that it would revert back to her heirs, when she married Sir John Gay Alleyne (he was the Gay Alleyne connected to the famous Mount Gay rum). Sir John was a Speaker of the House and one of the first plantation owners to have educated his slaves. Unfortunately when Sir John’s wife passed away, there were no heirs and St. Nicholas was in a state of legal limbo. The plantation eventually grew deep into debt and had to be sold off.

Enter the Cumberbatch family. If you’re wondering if there’s a connection to that Cumberbatch, yes, there is indeed. Meet Benedict’s 7 x great-grandfather (give or take). The resemblance is uncanny.

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Abraham Carlton Cumberbatch (1728-1785)
Father of Edward and Lawrence Cumberbatch

Two brothers, Edward Cumberbatch and Lawrence Trent Cumberbatch purchased St. Nicholas Abbey in 1810 and through the Trent Cave branch owned the property until 2006. The property was sold one last time to architect Larry Warren, who restored the home to its former glory and opened it to the public.

Features of St. Nicholas Abbey

Come with me on a virtual tour of the mansion. When you walk up to the house, you will pass an old stone wall and gate which leads to a forecourt, filled with local plants and flowers. The front of the three storied mansion features three Jacobean curvilinear gables set above an arched entranceway. When you enter the short hallway, to your right is the formal dining room. In the 17th century, the kitchen would have been a separate building accessible off the dining room, but in recent years, the kitchen was connected to the main house through this route. Of note in this room is an English Sheraton sideboard that dates to the late 18th century and a mahogany dining table crafted from local wood. The Minton china dates back to the early 19th century.

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Dining room – Picture © 2017 Cryssa Bazos

 

To the left of the hallway is a grand drawing room with sash windows, which were installed in 1746, and which replaced the original shutters. These windows overlook a herb garden (with bay leaf, lemon grass, and aloe) and expose the room to refreshing tropical breezes. One amusing aspect of the house was that there were fireplaces built into the design. I don’t think a chimney sweep’s services have ever been needed.

 

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View of the courtyard from the drawing room – pictures © 2017 Cryssa Bazos

Just off the drawing room you will find a private study and in it, a unique gentleman’s chair. Consider it a modern day equivalent of a La-Z-boy recliner. The master of the house could read, eat, sleep, and when his snoring grew too loud, be wheeled around to another room, all without having to vacate the chair!

Upstairs there are seven bedrooms, accessible by a Chippendale staircase which dates back to the early 18th century. When the staircase was installed, it didn’t just replace the original staircase, it was moved over from the left to the right.

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Chippendale staircase – © 2017 Cryssa Bazos

Moving toward the back of the house you’ll find a 17th century English Oak Settle in the Jacobean style. A closer look at the settle will show the upper panels depicting various knights.

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From there we exit into the courtyard with a very large (and thorny) tree stands. This tree is believed to be nearly as old as the house, and locals call it a “monkey-no-climb tree” because the monkeys sensibly stay clear of it. There are a number of outhouses positioned in the courtyard including a bathhouse on one end and a barn at the other end.
 

 

 

Sugar and rum and all things yum

St. Nicholas enjoyed continuous sugar production from the 17th century until 1947. After a sixty year break, it resumed again in 2006. Today St. Nicholas crushes 350 tonnes of cane each year. The plantation crushes the cane on site between January to June using steam powered rollers which were introduced in 1890. Before then, the crushing rollers would have been wind powered. You still see these windmill structures throughout the island.

Traditionally, the cane was cut by hand (a foot off the ground), stacked vertically in a wagon and taken to the crushing mill. Time was of the essence in harvesting the canes, for they had to be crushed by the end of the day or dry out. By stacking the cane vertically, instead of been laid flat on the bottom of the wagon, they’re quickly offloaded at the crushing mill.

Basic sugar production includes extracting the muddy brown cane juice, passing it through a series of copper pots in the boiling house and then curing it in clay pots. The coarse, brown sugar takes about a month to cure, while the refined white sugar takes a few more months longer.

For rum, they distill the skimmings which run from the three lesser coppers in the boiling house to another building called the still house. From there the resulting liquor would need to be distilled twice and aged. Today, visitors can try the St. Nicholas plantation rum and be a part of the island tradition.

If you’re ever in Barbados and look for a unique experience and a trip back in time, I recommend a visit to St. Nicholas Abbey.

 
For more detailed information on sugar production, check out this article called Sugar Production in 17th Century Barbados.

This post was re-worked from an article written for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog

Note: Since this article was posted, Severed Knot has been published. Set in 17th century Barbados, the story follows a Scottish POW and an Irish woman who are both pressed into indentured servitude.  

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The HNS New Novel Award 2018

I’m especially really pleased to share with you my good news. My second novel, The Severed Knot, has been longlisted for the HNS New Novel Award 2018. Making the long list is a huge accomplishment. The Historical Novel Society is a respected literary society devoted to the promotion of historical fiction.

The Severed Knot is set in the UK and Barbados during the 17th century and follows one of the characters from Traitor’s Knot after the disastrous Battle of Worcester. Here is what they had to say about my work:

The Severed Knot
Bleakly impossible choices face the protagonists in the brutal aftermath of civil war. Stark but involving tale of early colonial exploitation strongly centers on an indomitable Scottish hero. ~ The Historical Novel Society

I’m hard at work on the final draft, and I expect to have it out early in the new year. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing bits of history and other interesting things that have gone into this story including a sneak-peek of the first chapter.

And finally, a warm congratulations to the authors who made the short list. Now that their names have been revealed, I’m even more in awe of having made it this far. To see the works selected for both the long list and shortlist, check out the HNS New Novel 2018 page.

17th century Barbados

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