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Chattel House In Barbados

You Discovered a Slave Owner in Your Family Tree? What Does That Mean to You?

Came across this article which was quite fascinating as I had similar thoughts about our slave owning ancestors.

A few years back, when I first met some of my African American linked descendants, I was excited and enthusiastic, ready to embrace them warmly. They opened their arms to me, and the renewal of our family connection has remained a positive part of our lives. For a while, I assumed that every African American with whom I had a family connection would be as glad to meet me as I would be to meet them. Fortunately, one of my linked cousins has kindly and frankly made it clear that she does not want to be hugged and called cousin by every new white relative she discovers in her family history research. I believe that she wants the warmth and friendship to grow out of time-tested relationship and candid dialogue. ……….Read the complete article here

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Gittens Quakers

Barbados Quakers – Early History

In 1655, two Quaker missionaries, Ann Austin and Mary Fisher, arrived on the island to propagate the Quaker faith. Their mission was very successful. One of the islands most respected and wealthy families, the Rous family, became Quakers and many others followed.

Barbadian Quakers were subject to persecution by the local government for their non-conformist views, which included better treatment of slaves and freedom for slaves after considerable years of service. The Quakers were also one of the first Christian churches to encourage the slaves to join them. This so angered the Plantation owners that it resulted in the legislation of 1676 that made it illegal for blacks to attend a Quaker meeting. This law was repealed only in 1810. Despite enduring suppression, arrest, and crippling monetary fines, prominent and ordinary Barbadians joined Quaker ranks, including plantation owners, businessmen, physicians and others. This list included the Gittens ancestors who were primarily planters and businessmen.

Prior to the Quakers’ large-scale migration to Pennsylvania, Barbados had more Quakers than any other English colony. However, on this island of sugar plantations, Quakers confronted material temptations and had to temper founder George Fox’s admonitions regarding slavery with the demoralizing realities of daily life in a slave-based economy—one where even most Quakers owned slaves.

Since Quakers refused to conform to the Anglican Church, they were generally not recorded in the parish registers. They established their own registration system for birth, marriage and burial. These records do not survive in Barbados. The loss of these records much complicates the research on the early Gittens family.

By the end of the 17th century, Barbados was home to at least 5 Quaker burial grounds and 5 meeting houses with substantial memberships. Through out the 18th century Quaker numbers began to decline as a result of persecution and other factors. By 1780, the island’s meeting houses had been destroyed by hurricane and were not rebuilt. The burial grounds fell victim to the elements and development.

Today only the Cliff Burial ground survives its original form. It was established in 1670, when Quaker Richard Settle gave a legacy in his will for the purchase of land in St. Phillip Parish. There, he directed that part of the bequest be used for construction of the Windward Meeting House and the rest for a “burying ground for friends upon the Cliff.” His Stepson, Richard Taylor, constructed a family vault there, as did John Gittens, Dr. Ralph Weekes, and others. In all, six tombs were hewn into the natural coral stone of the Cliff Burial Ground. (Note 1)

Gittens Quakers

The first evidence that our ancestors became Quakers was found in a land purchase of a property more recently known as Epworth House and owned by the Wesleyan Church since 1861. In 1668, John Gittens was a member of a Quaker group that purchased the dwelling and land for a Quaker meeting house and burial ground. It is unknown if the property was ever used for these purposes.

The 1680 Census of landowners in the Parish of St. Phillip included a listing of Quaker Land owners. and detailed the following people:

  • Gittens, John Sr. husband of Q Hannah Gittens 30 acres of land 8 slaves
  • Gittens, John Jr. son of Q Hannah Gittens, 5 acres of land 4 slaves
  • The Will of John Gittens was dated 10 November 1698, in St. Phillip Parish. It states that he wanted “To be buried in the manner of Quakers.”   It is the Gittens tomb in the Cliff Burial Ground that is pictured above.

One of the more significant factors that points to our ancestors being Quakers is the absence of baptism and marriage records from 1650 until 1699, in the Parish of St. Phillip, almost a 50 year period. On April 10, 1699, Isaac had his sons Robert, Isaac, Joseph, Benjamin and John baptized. On April 19, 1699, he had his daughter Sarah baptized. This would appear to be conversion to the Anglican Church which was likely caused by persecution of some form.

Through this 50 year period we know that there were Gittens families living in St. Phillip Parish as evidenced by a few of our ancestors Wills in the early 1700’s. These people were all living before 1699.

  • Hannah Gittens, Feb 1720, St. Phillip Parish
  • Isaac Gittens, Mar 1713, St. Phillip Parish
  • Isaac Gittens Apr 1717, St. Michael Parish
  • Joshua Gittens, 1714, St. Phillip Parish
  • Robert Gittens, 1715, St. Phillip Parish
  • Samuel Gittens, 1718, St. Phillip Parish

The final bit of evidence confirming the existence of the Gittens families in the Parish of St. Phillip is the Census of 1715. The census lists 12 Gittens families in St. Phillip Parish and one in St. Michael parish.

The 50 year absence of baptism and marriage records in the Parish of St. Phillip and the knowledge that there were Gittens families living in the Parish at the time, as evidenced by wills and the 1715 census, supports the conclusion that all of our ancestors became Quakers. The really interesting fact then is that all Barbados Gittens families originally descended from these early Quakers.

The conversion back to the Anglican Church started in 1699, with Isaac Gittens and his family. Slowly over the following years many, if not all, of our ancestors reverted to the Anglican Church.

Note 1 – Source Pamphlet titled “Quaker Burial Ground c. 1670” prepared by the Committee for the Preservation of the Quaker Burial Ground.

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The Gittens Family of Barbados – At the Beginning

The intent of this blog is to gather information about the history of the Barbados Gittens family, who were very early English settlers in Barbados, and to make the information available to family members and other interested individuals.

This first blog contains an overview of the Gittens family history and its origins in Barbados. Future blogs will attempt to highlight some of the interesting aspects of the Gittens family of Barbados over the past 350 years.

All comments, suggestions and or ideas are invited and welcomed. I would especially appreciate making contact with other members of the Gittens family who have an association, past or present, with Barbados.

The start in Barbados

My ancestors, the Gittens Family, were white settlers who arrived from England in the mid sixteen hundreds. It appears likely that the family came from England but as yet there is no direct evidence supporting this assumption.

The early history of the Gittens family in Barbados is often confusing as records of this era, if they exist, are somewhat brief. For example baptismal records often only include a parish name, date, name of father and name of child.  As time progressed the record keeping became better, often including the first name of the mother on baptismal records.  Adding to the confusion were the naming preferences of the era. The Gittens family, for example, often used John, Nathaniel, Isaac, Benjamin, Joseph and Joshua for male children and Mary, Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Hannah for female children. This meant that almost every family had children with the same names making positive identification of children often challenging.

Further complicating the family history was the illiteracy of the 1600’s.  The officials doing the record keeping wrote names as they heard them. The majority of the people of the era could not read or write so they were not able to correct spellings. Because of this the Gittens name had many variations, some of which included Gittings, Githens, Gittins and Gettings. The name standardized to Gittens following the census of 1715.

The final factor that adds to the confusion is that many of the Gittens in Barbados took up the Quaker faith in the 1655-1700 era. Unfortunately, all of the Quaker records have been lost over time.

The First Settlers

John Gittens and his wife Mabel were the first Gittens family to have children baptized in Barbados. It is likely that there were 8 children fathered by John Gittens as follows:

  • Mary Gittens, daughter of John Gittens was baptized 12 June 1648 in the parish of St. John. This is the earliest record of the Gittens in Barbados.
  • Isaak Gittens, son of John Gittens, baptized 22 November 1650 in the Parish of St. Phillip.
  • Maria Gittens, daughter of John Gittens and Mabel baptized 31 August 1678 at the age of 18 years and 7 months, in the parish of Christ Church. Maria was also married the same day to John Herbert in the Parish of Christ Church.
  • Joseph Gittens, this relationship was establish from a census done in 1679/80 listing the militia members
  • James Gittens, this relationship was establish from a census done in 1679/80 listing the militia members
  • John Gittens, This relationship was determined through a 1679/80 census of land owners which included three Gittens in the Parish of St. Phillip: John Gittens Senior owning 30 acres and 8 slaves (father) : John Gittens Junior, owning 5 acres and 4 slaves (son of John Gittens senior): Isaak Gittens. owning 25 acres and 8 slaves (son of John Gittens Senior)
  • Elizabeth Gittens, married Edward Barrett on the 14 February 1681 in the Parish of St. Michael.
  • Elizabeth Gittens was mentioned in the will of Thomas Pooler. She was the daughter of John Gittens and his second wife Elizabeth Pooler.

It is from these eight children that the Barbados Gittens family is descended.

The next blog will focus on the origins of the Gittens name.

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Leading Families in Eigteenith Century Barbados

“In 1651 Barbados was said to be the most flourishing island in the British West Indies and during the following decade it enjoyed the Golden Age of its prosperity. White indentured servants were still plentiful and African slaves were being imported in steadily increasing numbers. Improved methods of cultivation were employed, the production of sugar increased more than fourfold and the price of that commodity remained at a consistently high level.

Out of these circumstances emerged the planters who made their way to the forefront of the island’s affairs mainly at the expense of the yeoman farmers. The pattern of the Barbadian economy suited them well and they took the opportunity to establish themselves in the economic and political life of the colony. The phase to be “as wealthy as a West Indian planter” may well have owed its origin to the affluence of the Barbadian planter aristocrat.

The “Golden Age”, however, did not last more than a decade. The period of great prosperity was followed by one of decline. A host of evils came upon the inhabitants of Barbados. When the woods were cleared, the cultivated fields were attacked by monkeys and racoons. The cane was gnawed by rats which had come across the Atlantic as unsuspected passengers on board the English ships. To cope with the rats, cane fields were set on fire, but these fires frequently spread when strong winds arose and fanned them out of control of the planters. And the practice of burning the canes was imitated by the slaves when they wanted to give expression to their bitter resentment against their enslaved condition.

Moreover, the Barbadian soil began to show signs of exhaustion. The land had grown much poorer and produced much less sugar. A strange kind of caterpillar came upon the scene “like the locusts of Egypt” and devoured everything that chanced to come its way. A fire broke out in 1666, which destroyed Bridgetown and was followed two years later by a drought which was accompanied by one of those epidemics that raged in the island during the latter part of the seventeenth century. Such epidemics, not always clearly identified, were of smallpox, or yellow fever, typhoid, dysentery or elephantrasis.

When this calamitous decade ended, Barbados, with remarkable resilience, seemed about to return to its normal condition. But its efforts to regain a measure of prosperity were frustrated by the renewed conflict between the British and the Dutch who succeeded on one occasion in capturing the whole fleet of ships transporting Barbados sugar to its overseas markets.

Nor was this the end of the troubles. In 1675 the island was visited by a disastrous hurricane and few things seemed to survive the ravages of that tempest. In some areas of the island all the sugar works and dwelling houses were destroyed and few, if any, of the windmills escaped the fury of the high winds. Canes were flattened by the force of the hurricane and some were uprooted from the ground as if by some malignant giant. The pots in the curing houses were all smashed to bits and vessels in Carlisle Bay were driven on to the shore by the gales of wind. Slaves were diverted to the task of rebuilding the shatter houses and, as a result, the damage to crops in 1675 was followed by a total lack of a crop the next year, owing to the lack of an adequate labour force to cultivate the land.” (Hoyos, 1978)

“The Plantocrats (1)

In the circumstances described above, it is not surprising that a number of planters emigrated with all their belongings to seek their fortunes anew in other parts of the world. It was only the wealthier planters, the Plantocrats, who survived to enjoy a period of prosperity that started in 1677 and lasted for some years.” (Hoyos, 1978)

The leading families who remained in Barbados and carried on into the eighteenth are listed in Table 6.

Table 6: Leading White Families of the eighteenth Century (Beckles, 2006)

Adams Ford Jordan Salter
Alleyne Frere Lyte Skeete
Applewhaite Gibbes Maycock Terrill
Beckles Gibbons Maynard Thornhill
Best Gittens Osbourne Walker
Bishop Haynes Peers Waldron
Braithwaite Hinds Pinder Walters
Carrington Holder Powell Waterman
Cumberbatch Hothersall Rous Weeks
Dottin Husbands Salmon Yeamans

Adams
Alleyne
Applewhaite
Beckles

These families through their wealth, and influence controlled the socioeconomic fabric of the island for many years. Many held positions of status such as judges, military officers, politicians, merchants and clergymen, in addition to being wealthy planters. The influence and control they exerted was further strengthen by the inter-marriage of the leading families. For example, our Gittens family married into both the Carrington and Weeks families during the eighteenth century.

Our Gittens family must have certainly been part of the Barbados Plantcracy of the eighteenth century. Research indicates that the listed individuals were actively involved in the political, economic and social affairs on the Island.

Benjamin Gittens (1701-1730) Merchant
Benjamin Gittens (1716-1743) Planter
Benjamin Gittens (1730-1790) Planter (Green’s Plantation, St. George) , Appointed Chief Baron of His Majesty’s Court of Exchequer, Provisional Grand Master of Masons 1783
Isaac Gittens (1739-1819) Planter (Gorings and Gooding Plantations)
John Gittens (1701- ) Captain in Militia, Planter
John Gittens (1712-1768) Member of Assembly 1750-1763, Chief Judge of St. Michael 1768, Colonel in militia
John Benjamin Gittens (1759-1790) Doctor
Joseph Gittens (1693-1761) Doctor
Joseph Gittens (1730-1791) Planter
Joseph Gittens (1763 – 1805) Planter
Joshua Mayers Gittens (1741-1819) Member of Assembly, succeeded his father John from 1768-1807, Commissioned as a Judge 1781, Deputation as Comptroller 1793, Commissioned as Judge of Precinct of St. Andrews. 1797, Judge of Christ Church 1807, Judge of the Courts of Common Pleas 1807, Planter (Pilgrim Plantation)
Nathaniel Gittens (1676-1752) Planter (Thickett Plantation)
Samuel Gittens (1674-1718) Planter (26 acres in St. Philip)
Samuel Gittens (1729-1772) Planter
Thomas Gittens (1753-1759) Planter
William Gittens (1769- ) Planter

Beckles, H. M. (2006). A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Caribbean Single Market. Cambridge: University Press.

Hoyos, F. A. (1978). Barbados : A History from Amerindians to Independence. Macmillan Publishers Limited 1978.

note (1) : A plantocracy, also known as a slavocracy,[1] is a ruling class, political order or government composed of (or dominated by) plantation owners.

A number of early European colonies in the New World were largely plantocracies, usually consisting of a small European settler population relying on a predominantly West African chattel slave population (as well as smaller numbers of indentured slaves, both European and non-European in origin), and later, “freed”-Black and poor-white sharecroppers for labour. These plantocracies proved to be a decisive force in the anti-abolitionist movement. One prominent organization largely representing (and collectively funded by) a number of plantocracies was the “West Indies Lobby” in the British Parliament. It is credited (or conversely, discredited) in constituting a significant impetus in delaying the abolition of the slave trade from taking place in the 1790s to being implemented in 1806-1808; and likewise, with respect to prospects of emancipation being proclaimed in the 1820s (instead, a policy known as “Amelioration” was formally adopted throughout 1823-1833), to it being implemented in 1834-1838.

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