In the 1790s, the mass deployment of British troops to protect and stabilize its colonies in the West Indies reflected how seriously Britain took not only the threat of external enemies but also the growing problem of internal unrest. Jamaica, in particular, was wracked by bloody uprisings. However, on Barbados, planters had been lulled into complacency by over a hundred years of peaceful, revolt-free prosperity. They mistakenly believed their slave population to be too ‘creolized’ to engage in such rebellions.
All that changed on April 14, 1816, when a widespread, well-organized uprising led by a slave named Bussa took place. This remarkable event was triggered by abolitionist debates that had filtered down to the slave population. Although the plantation owners were completely caught off guard, the revolt was nonetheless ruthlessly quashed. One hundred and seventy-six slaves were killed in the uprising, and another 214 were later executed.
As it turned out, the growing momentum of the abolitionist movement, which had prompted Britain to abolish the slave trade in 1807, led to the emancipation of all slaves throughout the British colonies in 1834. However, on Barbados freedom came only after a period of "apprenticeship," and the planters retained control of the land for a good time thereafter.
Signal StationsShortly after Bussa’s revolt, six signal stations were built on strategically located hilltops to alert guardsmen if further trouble arose. Grenade Hall Signal Station at Farley Hill was one of them. Today a visitor can enter station, which has been beautifully restored by the National Trust, view artifacts from colonial times, and listen to a short, engaging audio segment that tells of the rebellion and subsequent creation of the signal station network.
The trust also oversees the adjacent Grenade Hall Forest, which contains a network of educational nature trails snaking through a dense mahogany-forested hillside. Monkeys from the nearby wildlife reserve often frequent this forest during the daytime, and there are numerous benches among the attractive groves where a visitor can do a bit of monkey watching. In addition, set into the hillside is an Amerindian cave, which provided a somewhat spooky interlude for this solo hiker. What I most enjoyed, though, was the panoramic view from the top of the signal station.
The view from Grenade Hall Signal Station
After the uprising of 1816, there were no subsequent slave revolts on Barbados. The signal stations assumed various functions, including vantage points to spot approaching trade ships. They became obsolete and later fell into disrepair after the first telephone was introduced on the island in 1883. Restored signal stations such as the ones at Grenade Hall and Gun Hill are now important reminders of Barbardian history.
February 6, 2004
From journal I'd Rather Be in Barbados