Redlegs was a term used to
refer to the class of poor whites that lived
on colonial Barbados, St.
Vincent, Grenada and a few
other Caribbean islands. In Belize, Jamaica and Trinidad and
Tobago they are known as "Bakras" ("Back-Row").
Many of these people were English
, or Scottish
, and had originally arrived on
Barbados in the early to mid 17th
, indentured servants
, or as transported prisoner
, notably from
's wars in Ireland
. Small groups of
Germans and Portuguese 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 Barbados, and the
variant "Red-shankes" is recorded by Edmund Spenser in his dialogue on "the
Present State of Ireland" 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
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.
Vincent as well as on the islands of Grenada and Bequia.
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
band Flogging Molly
from the point of view of Irish Redlegs captured by Oliver
Cromwell.Featured in a recent BBC Scotland documentary " Barbado'ed
" produced by Moondance