In April 1816, the largest slave revolt in Barbadian history, Bussa’s Rebellion, took place. It was the first of three significant rebellions that eroded public support of slavery, thereby resulting in its abolition in 1834, when more than 80,000 British Empire slaves were emancipated.
After emancipation, labor contracts provided freed slaves with the opportunity to work as indentured servants. Unfortunately, these labor contracts had 12-year terms, as well as ridiculously low wages. Some former slaves were forced to work 45-hour weeks without pay in exchange for sparse accommodations. Also, indentured servants in Barbados were barred from receiving an education.
So, although emancipated, many of these freed slaves were still not free. It wasn’t until 1838, with the passage of the Masters and Servant Act (a.k.a. the Contract Law), that discrimination against people of color was prohibited, and these former enslaved were finally free.
The novel, The Summer Country, by Lauren Willig, takes place in 1854, twenty years after emancipation.
Bristol-born Emily Dawson has left the familiarity and temperate climate of her English home for the tropical splendor and swelter of Barbados. A vicar’s daughter, Emily always assumed that she would never leave the simple surroundings in which she was raised. But when her grandfather passes away, Emily is surprised to discover that she is the heiress of a “secret” sugar plantation.
When Emily arrives in Barbados to claim her inheritance, she discovers everything in ruins. The sugar cane is overgrown with weeds and the estate’s once majestic manor was burnt to the ground in Bussa’s Rebellion.
However, hidden among these ruins lie family secrets, long-buried and carefully concealed. But like all secrets, the truth is eventually outed, forcing Emily to redefine her self-identity and her family connections.
Spanning two eras, the time before/after the 1816 insurrection and four decades later, The Summer Country delves deeply into one of the darkest times in human history. The bonds of master and slave, parent and child, and lover and loved are exposed and dissected, layer by layer and nuance by nuance. Well-researched and well-written, The Summer Country is an engrossing tale that I highly recommend to history buffs.