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Redlegs was a term used to refer to the class of poor whites that lived on colonial Barbadosmarker, St. Vincentmarker, Grenadamarker and a few other Caribbeanmarker islands. In Belizemarker, Jamaicamarker and Trinidad and Tobagomarker they are known as "Bakras" ("Back-Row"). Many of these people were English, Irish, or Scottish, and had originally arrived on Barbados in the early to mid 17th century as slaves, indentured servants, or as transported prisoner, notably from Oliver Cromwell's wars in Ireland and Scotland and from southwest England following the Monmouth Rebellion. Small groups of Germansmarker and Portuguesemarker were also imported as plantation labourers. Many were described as "white slaves". According to folk etymology, the name is derived from the effects of the tropical sun on their fair-skinned legs. However, the term "Redlegs" and its variants were in use for Irish soldiers of the same sort as those later transported to Barbadosmarker, and the variant "Red-shankes" is recorded by Edmund Spenser in his dialogue on "the Present State of Irelandmarker" as early as the 16th century.

By the 18th century, white slavery was becoming more and more uncommon, and fewer and fewer whites existed on Barbados outside of the sugar plantation. African slaves were trained in all needed trades, so there was no demand for paid white labour. The Redlegs, in turn, were unwilling to work alongside the freed slave population on the plantations. Therefore, most of the white population that chose to stay eked out, at best, a subsistence living. Because of the deplorable conditions under which the Redlegs lived, a campaign was initiated in the mid-19th century to move portions of the population to other islands which would be more economically hospitable. The relocation process succeeded, and a distinct community of Redleg descendants live in the Dorsetshire Hill district on St. Vincentmarker as well as on the islands of Grenadamarker and Bequiamarker.

In addition to Redlegs the term underwent extensive progression in Barbados and the following terms were also used: "Redshanks", "Poor whites", "Poor Backra", "Backra Johnny", "Ecky-Becky", "Poor whites from below the hill","Edey white mice" or "Beck-e Neck" (Baked-neck). Historically everything besides "poor whites" were used as derogatory insults.

References in popular culture

The song "Tobacco Island" by the Celtic Punk band Flogging Molly is told from the point of view of Irish Redlegs captured by Oliver Cromwell.Featured in a recent BBC Scotland documentary " Barbado'ed" produced by Moondance.

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