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“The core of the rebellion”: Harewood and the Barbadian Revolt of 1816

Sketch of a flag said to have been used by enslaved rebels during Bussa’s Revolt. It demands freedom but also expresses loyalty to the British Crown, 1816. National Archives MFQ 1/112 (2).

On the evening of the 14 April 1816 – 208 years ago to this day – fires were lit in the sugar cane fields of the Bayleys plantation in the parish of Saint Philip on the island of Barbados. These fires signaled the start of a coordinated uprising by the island’s enslaved population, becoming the largest such event in its history. Over the course of the next three days, battles were fought between the freedom-fighters and the British militia affecting over 70 plantations and spanning more than half the island. 

In her latest blog, Researcher Olivia Wyatt discusses Harewood’s links to this major event in Barbadian history, as well as its connection to the Black British actor David Harewood, the sitter of the newest portrait in our collection, now on permanent display in the Cinnamon Drawing Room. 

In the decades that followed the abolition of the British trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807, many enslaved Barbadians felt disappointment and frustration at the continued delay of emancipation. On Easter Sunday, 14 April 1816, they decided to take matters into their own hands. An African-born enslaved ranger named Bussa orchestrated a revolt that spanned across half of Barbados and commanded approximately four hundred rebels in battle. According to Colonel Codd, commander of the British troops garrisoned on the island, the rebels felt that “the island belonged to them and not to white men, whom they proposed to destroy.” 

Survey of Barbados, 1827, showing the proximity of Thicket and Bayleys plantation in the parish of St Phillip. Image courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.

One of the plantations that played an instrumental role in the uprising was the Thicket plantation owned by the Lascelles family and located only 2km North West of Bayleys plantation, where Bussa was based and the rebellion began. While the enslaved individuals based at Thicket were not the instigators of the revolt (as had been the case in the foiled conspiracy on one of the Lascelles family’s plantations in Tobago in 1805) leading Caribbean historian Hilary Beckles has described activity on the plantation as “the core of the rebellion.” 

Thicket’s enslaved Barbadians posed such a threat that Colonel Codd diverted his men to “where a body of the rebels were said to have made a stand” on the estate. A witness later testified that prior to the rebellion, one of Bussa’s co-conspirators, Jackey, “sent to a free man in the Thicket (who could read and write), to let the negroes at The Thicket know, that they might give their assistance.” The rebels at the Thicket adhered to Jackey’s instructions and engaged in fierce battle. Like many of the other plantations involved in the revolt, Thicket sustained significant damage – the rebels destroying profitable sugar crops and key productive buildings such as boiling and distilling houses, and British troops destroying the living quarters of enslaved Barbadians.  At Thicket, damage amounted to £3989, though another of the Lascelles family’s plantations that also participated in the uprising, the Mount, sustained some of the costliest damage on the island, at £5150.  

Photographs of the Mount plantation taken by Florence, 5th Countess of Harewood, 1906.

The rebellion was quashed by British troops after three days of fighting. Many died during battle, including Bussa himself, and even more rebels were executed or exiled as punishment. In the aftermath of the uprising, a committee was established to conduct investigations into the origins and causes of the rebellion. The committee included Richard Cobham, a resident enslaver and attorney to the Earl of Harewood who oversaw the management of his plantations in Barbados. Find out more about how the Lascelles family managed their plantations here

Joseph Connel, manager of the Thicket, was asked by the committee to shed light on the temperament of the enslaved before the uprising. He argued that they were “perfectly contented,” but “when correction was necessary (which was seldom), they were flogged with rods; and if crime was of any magnitude, they were confined in a solitary room, until they were made sensible of their error.” Nevertheless, several months following the rebellion, Cobham wrote to Harewood’s partner, John Wood Nelson, to express his belief that the rebels required a different type of punishment:

In answering your inquiry relative to the negroes Houses at the Mount, which were all totally burnt by the military, and nearly all at the Thicket Estate also, I must let you know that they are not yet restored, as it was the general opinion here that the negroes should not immediately enjoy their accustomed comforts, after their atrocious misdeeds against their owners: they have been, however, sheltered in the buildings they thought proper to spare. As soon as the boiling and distil houses at the Mount are completed I will have the negroes houses rebuilt. They remain tranquil. Seven of the prisoners belonging to his Lordship have been released and six remain to be tried. 

By controlling their standards of living, Cobham sought to remind the African-Barbadians of the power of enslavers; that the island belonged to the White man, contrary to the (supposed) beliefs of the rebels. Cobham’s use of “remain tranquil” suggests that there was great anxiety about retaliation. However, not all enslaved Barbadians participated in the rebellion because they often feared repercussions, or sought the benefits of demonstrating loyalty to the upper classes. The Royal Gazette of Jamaica reported that four individuals, “among whom was one belonging to Lord Harewood”, were manumitted (freed) in January 1817, and received “the annual sum of Ten Pounds […] for their good conduct during the late rebellion.” 

Bussa’s Rebellion failed to bring about emancipation, though it represented an important statement of resistance by enslaved Barbadians, demonstrating to British parliament their intent to demand freedom by force if it was not offered to them through reform. Nevertheless, it should be noted that despite these intentions, British parliament and local colonial governments attempted to minimise the implications of the rebellion, choosing to conclude that the enslaved had rebelled due to the ‘meddling’ of William Wilberforce and his (and his supporters’) apparent false promises of immediate emancipation. Bussa’s Rebellion was a shock to the British government and terrified it more than it was willing to admit, choosing to blame misinterpretation and manipulative tactics, rather than concede the widespread desire for freedom. 

Missing Portrait No. 2, David Harewood by Ashley Karrell, 2023. Copyright Ashley Karrell.

The role of the enslaved individuals based at Thicket plantation during Bussa’s Rebellion is particularly significant in light of a new portrait that has recently entered the Harewood collection by the Leeds-based photographer Ashley Karrell. The sitter is the Black British actor and writer, David Harewood, whose great-great-great-grandparents, Richard and Betty Rose, were born enslaved on the Thicket plantation in 1817 and 1820. Richard and Betty Rose’s parents and possibly even grandparents were likely involved in the resistance. 

Richard and Betty Rose were emancipated in 1833 and their son, Benjamin William, was born as a free man in 1840. While their ancestors may not have lived to witness the freedom they fought for, their victory manifests within the achievements of their descendants: those, like David Harewood, who commit their lives to tackling ongoing issues of racism, exclusion, and underrepresentation.

By Olivia Wyatt

Sources and further reading: 

The Report from a Select Committee of the House of Assembly, appointed to inquire into the origins, causes and progress of the late insurrection. Published by T. Cadell & W. Davies, 1818. 

Hillary McD. Beckles, ‘The Slave-Drivers’ War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion’, Boletín de Estudios Latinoamericanos y Del Caribe, no. 39, 1985, pp. 85–110. JSTOR

S. D. Smith, Slavery and Gentry Capitalism in the British Atlantic: The World of the Lascelles, 1648-1834. Cambridge University Press. 2006.

Harewood House Trust welcomes the creation of the ‘Heirs of Slavery’ group

Harewood House Trust welcomes the creation of the Heirs of Slavery group, which includes David Lascelles, the Earl of Harewood, and other people whose ancestors profited from transatlantic slavery.

Harewood House Trust is an independent educational charitable trust established in 1986.  The Trust works to maintain and develop Harewood House, Gardens and Grounds, the historic home of the Lascelles family, for the public’s benefit. The charity, which is also an accredited museum, uses all the funds raised from visitor admission to keep the site open, to engage with Harewood’s local communities and to run a diverse programme of exhibitions and events, which are enjoyed by over 250,000 people every year. Given that Harewood House was built using profits from the Transatlantic trade in enslaved people, this programme has for a long time strived to open up conversations about this history and its ongoing impact around the world. Harewood House Trust welcomes the Heirs of Slavery’s statement and hopes that the group’s creation will continue to progress these conversations.

Since the charity’s creation, Harewood House Trust has maintained links with the Lascelles family. This has included generous donations from the family and working collaboratively with them on several projects. Harewood House Trust is grateful for their support of the charity’s projects and looks forward to further collaborations in future. The Trust will continue its work to be open about Harewood’s history; to make Harewood a welcoming, inclusive place for all; and to raise awareness of the local, national and global movements that seek restorative justice for enslaved people and their descendants.

These projects include:

  • The Trust’s Open History series highlights the site’s past with the exhibition Bertie Robinson: The Footman from St Vincent and Black History walks with Leeds-based Heritage Corner.
  • In the Missing Portraits series, the Trust is creating exhibitions to accompany portraits of Black sitters, commissioned by the Earl and Countess of Harewood to diversify the House’s historic art collection. The first portrait is of Leeds community activist and founder of Leeds Carnival Arthur France and the second will be of the actor and writer David Harewood, whose ancestors were enslaved on Lascelles plantations.
  • In 2007 Harewood hosted a wide range of events to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The highlight was performances of Carnival Messiah in a big top near Harewood House. Carnival Messiah is inspired by the music of Handel’s Messiah, performed Caribbean Carnival style and featuring Carnival performers from Britain and from Trinidad.

A full list of Harewood House Trust’s projects that engage with the site’s history can be found here.

An Outstanding October at Harewood

Primley Wood Primary

It’s certainly been an exciting start to the new school year, as well as launching several brand-new workshops we’ve also been busy delivering some old favourites too!

October saw us teach the first of our Harewood & the Transatlantic Slave Trade workshops. This session has been designed to highlight Harewood’s historic links to the horrific practice, as well as discussing the trade and its wider legacies. Harewood is dedicated to an Open History and acknowledges the importance of addressing these important topics with all ages.

We have been so pleased to have been rated outstanding by all of the schools who have taken part in our new workshops so far. All of the positive and lovely feedback has been greatly appreciated.

”The workshop was fantastic as not only did it explore the slave trade, it also had strong links to Harewood House and its own challenging history. The children were able to look at replica sources and documents during the session which we would not have had access to if teaching the lesson at school. The workshop was also cross-curricular as we did some map work based on the location of different plantations, some investigative source work and had lots of discussion. We then had a tour of the house by the staff members whose expertise shone through.”

-Teacher, Primley Wood Primary, October 2022

If you would like to find out more about available workshops, our friendly Learning Team can be reached via email at learn@harewood.org.

Primley Wood Primary

Recovering Identity in Harewood’s West Indian Archive


Inventory of enslaved people belonging to Castle plantation, Barbados, 1777.

In this article, Olivia Wyatt – Harewood’s volunteer researcher and an expert on the Lascelles family’s West Indian archive held at the Borthwick Institute – discusses the importance of surviving plantation inventories and how they can be used to recover the identities of enslaved African Caribbeans.

Deep within the Lascelles family’s West Indian archive lies the collection’s best preserved inventory of enslaved African Caribbeans – that of Castle plantation, Barbados, dated to 1777. 

“It was created to enable plantation managers to calculate the value of their enslaved population and reinforce their subhuman status.”

This inventory (or list) records over 200 individuals by name as well as their ‘country’ of origin, occupation, computed age and condition. It was created to enable plantation managers to calculate the value of their enslaved population and reinforce their subhuman status. Ironically, however, historians can use this and other similar inventories, to ascertain lost names and reconstruct the lives of the marginalised, in turn helping us to return power to enslaved African Caribbeans. By using inventories to understand the ways in which experiences of disability, Blackness and naming practices operated on Lascelles-managed sugar plantations, we can diminish the attempts of slave masters who sought to eradicate the legacy of those they enslaved. 

Some of the entries in the Castle Plantation inventory claim that the value of certain individuals was “nothing” because they had a “broken back” or were “very infirm”. At first glance, old age appears to be a key factor in this assessment, as the estimated age of ‘Great Joe’ and ‘Old Bridget’ was 80; Great Joe was only worth £10 despite being a “clarifier” and in “good health”. 

However, a thirty-year-old man was also deemed valueless because he too was “infirm”. This implies that any injuries enslaved individuals acquired – most likely through work on the plantations – rendered them worthless, unable to emulate the labour of their counterparts. Even ‘Robin Almond’, at the age of just 10, is listed as valueless because he was also “infirm”. ‘Goany’, however, despite being only one month-old and “not fit for work”, was worth £5 because she was considered to have labour potential. These entries show that not only were enslaved African Caribbeans dehumanised by the brutal ways in which they were treated, but Black disabled people were considered worthless because they could not fulfill their assigned purpose, which reinforced the idea that Africans were only fit for servitude.

In an attempt to strip enslaved African Caribbeans of their identity, it became common practice to rename newly-arriving Africans as objects, or to give them European names. Two examples are ‘Black Silver’, a 45 year-old enslaved woman, and ‘Yellow Silver’, a Barbadian enslaved washer. The dehumanisation that naturally occurs when one’s heritage and name is replaced with that of a commodity reveals how slave owners intended to use naming practices to further oppress the enslaved population. These two names also represent the different shades of Blackness found on Caribbean plantations, which usually emerged as a result of the (typically coercive) sexual relations between enslaved women and their masters. ‘Black’ and ‘Yellow’ likely refer to the shades of the women’s skin, given that ‘Black Wallis’ and ‘Molatto William’ are other names on the plantation. ‘Yellow Silver’, like ‘Molatto William’, may have acquired her light complexion due to a mixed heritage. We do not know enough about the lives of the individuals listed in this inventory, though a growing amount of research has revealed that light-skinned African Caribbeans sometimes received preferential treatment due to their proximity to Whiteness. This could explain why ‘Molatto William’ was accorded one of the most valuable roles on the plantation. 

Nonetheless, research has also revealed that enslaved African Caribbeans often had multiple names because they did not always adhere to the names that slave owners gave them. They also often played a role in the naming of their children and grandchildren. The names ‘Phibah’ and ‘Quashy’ appear frequently in the Castle plantation inventory, which have been identified as West-African “day names”, as ‘Phibah’ translates as Friday and ‘Quashy’ as Sunday. Historians agree that it was unlikely that slave owners selected these West-African names; therefore, these African naming practices are indicative of the ways in which the enslaved population retained their culture and humanity in the face of the brutality of slavery. 


But what about Castle plantation itself and why this inventory was created? 

The Lascelles family initially avoided owning plantations and instead operated as one of the biggest financiers of the Caribbean plantocracy and the sugar trade. Nonetheless, from 1773 they amassed many properties in Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, and they sold their last plantation in 1975. Alongside managing their own plantations, the Lascelles provided loans for other planters and controlled some plantations as mortgagees in possession. The Castle plantation in the parish of St Lucy in Barbados was one such plantation. The Sober family owned it in name, but the management of the estate was overseen by representatives of the Lascelles family, and its produce was consigned to the Lascelles’ commission house in London until the mortgage was repaid. To determine the specifics of this mortgage, surveyors composed a full inventory of the Castle plantation’s enslaved population, cattle and horses in 1777. This document was originally drafted therefore to reaffirm the assigned status of enslaved African Caribbeans as property, but this blog has demonstrated how it can today be used to recover their humanity and ensure that they are never forgotten. 

Olivia Wyatt
HHT Volunteer Researcher

Harewood takes part in BBC Art That Made Us Festival

Chris Day in All Saint's Church. Picture Credit Charlotte Graham.

Harewood is taking part in the BBC’s Art That Made Us Festival, which runs throughout April. Museums, libraries, archives and galleries are opening their doors to tell the stories behind their astounding collections. The festival complements the broadcast of a major new BBC documentary series Art That Made Us, which explores Britain’s creative history.

As part of the festival, Harewood has worked with the BBC Rewind team to produce a digital feature which delves into the story behind Under The Influence by Chris Day, a work part of his 2021 Craft Spotlight exhibition at Harewood.

Read the full story below or head to the BBC Art That Made Us website.

Harewood’s collection will also feature in the accompanying documentary series Art That Made Us, as sculptor Thomas J Price visits Harewood House to see the elaborate Robert Adam-designed interiors, Joshua Reynolds portraits and Thomas Chippendale furniture, paid for through fortunes made from the transatlantic slave trade.

The series launches on Thurs 7 April at 9pm, with the whole series available on iPlayer shortly afterwards.

Art That Made Us Festival