From the 17th century onwards, Speightstown was Barbados' most thriving port. Barbados was rapidly becoming one of the wealthiest colonies in the world thanks to the cultivation and trade of sugar cane (a system which was built upon African slavery), and Speightstown was an important social and economic hub in the wider imperial system. In fact, Speightstown would become known as 'Little Bristol' owing to the importance of trade with this west-country city.
Speightstown's mercantile class included a number of Sephardic Jews and its hinterland was dominated by a plantocracy (a ruling class formed of plantation owners) whose wealth, manifested in magnificent houses and enriched churches, was built entirely upon the export of sugar cane to new markets in the Americas and Europe. For this, however, they relied wholly upon the exploitation of a massive African slave class.
Speightstown also has other historical curiosities: one of the Caribbean's few whaling centres and the site of the only English Civil War battle to be fought outside Great Britain, the 17th-century fort at Maycocks Bay in northern Barbados (photo, during excavation). Built to repel French and Dutch raiders, it probably only saw action against English Parliamentary forces.
The Speightstown Archaeological Research Project is a collaboration between the University of Winchester and the University of the West Indies, offering extensive scope for archaeological training to students from both institutions. It is also a community archaeology project and has close links with Barbados Museum and the Barbados National Trust.
In addition, it presents significant heritage conservation and management issues and as such is of great interest to the Archaeology Departments's Centre for Applied Archaeology and Heritage Management (CAAHM). Photo: a 17th-century cannon raised from the seabed; one of several salvaged guns at great risk from corrosion.
To find out more about the project's findings so far, download the progress reports via the links on the right, or visit the CAAHM webpage for the latest issue of our research newsletter.
For more information, contact the Project Director, Dr Niall Finneran