By the time Captain West's ship arrived in the Caribbean in January 1637, eight of the 61 had died. The remainder were sold, including ten to the governor of Barbados for 450 pounds of sugar apiece. SOURCE
In the early decades of the 17th century, when England began to develop lucrative tobacco and sugar plantations in the West Indies, official accounts of Irish people arriving in the Caribbean began. Most were brought involuntarily, likely kidnapped by press-gangs in the vicinity of the principal ports in Munster. (But some Irish, particularly in Monserrat and Jamaica, were planters themselves).
The working conditions on these plantations were especially harsh. First-hand accounts indicate that indentured servants were
- fed a relatively scant diet,
- prodded with sticks if they did not work fast enough,
- lived in basic accommodation, and
- split up and purposefully sold to different planters as part of their punishment. [Biet 1654]
While indentured servants worked the fields alongside slaves, their legal rights were distinctly different:
- Indentured servants (mostly convicts or poor Europeans) worked ‘under a yoke harsher than that of the Turks’ for a fixed period of time after which they were to obtain freedom and two acres of land. While some found themselves sold "in perpetuity" to plantation-owners, most were free (in theory) after 7-8 years.
- Slaves (mostly enslaved Africans) by contrast, were treated as livestock and had no hope of freedom, neither for themselves nor their descendants. Their right to life did not fall under English common law; it was essentially forfeit. For example, servants had the right to kill a slave for stealing.
These fair-skinned field workers became known as Redlegs. As African slavery grew in importance in the British colonies, the practice of indentured servitude dwindled, bringing the Redlegs closer to destitution. Some were relocated to the Doresethill district of St Vincent but about 400 Redlegs still exist in Barbados today.
R&B icon Rihanna aka Robyn Fenty is of Redleg descent on her paternal side. The name Fenty (a variation of Fenton) originates from the parish of Middelton in Cork.