17th century Englishmen in Barbados weren’t degenerates, UMR historian says

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On October 2, 2003

Traditional views of 17th century English planters in Barbados paint them as reckless fortune-seekers who failed to create a viable society in the tropics. But University of Missouri-Rolla historian Dr. Larry Gragg challenges that widely accepted view in his new book, Englishmen Transplanted: The English Colonization of Barbados 1627-1660. The book will be published this month by Oxford University Press.

Englishmen Transplanted by Dr. Larry Gragg, available in October from Oxford University Press.

Englishmen began traveling to Barbados in 1627 expecting to make quick money, first in tobacco, then cotton, and finally sugar production, which began in the 1640s. Those Englishmen have traditionally been viewed as degenerates, says Gragg, who is chair and professor of history at UMR. But Gragg argues otherwise.

"In looking at the available evidence, I found the settlers, like Englishmen throughout the empire in the 17th century and immigrants to most places, eager to transplant the familiar," Gragg says. That includes the Church of England (Barbados had more ministers per capita than any other 17th century English possession other than Pennsylvania and the New England colonies), the British court system, "a two-house legislature, a colonywide militia, nuclear families, and English fashion, furnishings and, to a limited extent, house design."

Gragg studied reports filed with the British Colonial Office, accounts written by travelers, letters written by settlers and laws passed by the island legislature, as well as deeds and wills, to conclude that English settlers of Barbados weren’t as roguish as imagined.

Some historians have previously argued that settled English communities began showing up in the 18th century, but Gragg found evidence of these settlements a century earlier. "Oxford University Press was primarily interested in this project because they wanted to illustrate that the settlers on Barbados, the most valuable English colony in the 17th century, did not create a ‘social disaster,’" Gragg says.

A nationally recognized expert on the Salem witch trials, Gragg has written three previous books and authored dozens of articles, essays and book chapters. Gragg’s other areas of research include Colonial America, Revolutionary America and the history of the American family. He is currently working on two future books, an examination of the Quaker settlement on Barbados in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and a history of Las Vegas.

Prior to coming to UMR as a lecturer in history in 1977, Gragg taught social studies in Fair Grove, Mo., and served as a teaching assistant at UMC. In 1990, he was named professor of history at UMR. He was UMR’s archivist from 1998 to 2002. Gragg first served as UMR history department chair from 1992-1998. He began his second term as chair in January.

Gragg received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1978 and a master’s degree in history from Southwest Missouri State University in 1973. In 1972 he received a bachelor’s degree in education also from SMSU. Gragg is originally from Nevada, Mo.

Englishmen Transplanted is available online from Oxford University Press, as well as from other online booksellers.

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On October 2, 2003. Posted in News