Saturday, July 08, 2017

Chapter 11. Cotton and Salt



What sort of persons were the early settlers of Anguilla?  What attractions made desperate men abandon the wealthier, if overcrowded, colonies of St Kitts, Barbados and Nevis and prefer this thirty five square mile barren, drought-ridden outpost of empire?  Were there any advantages that encouraged some of them to opt for Anguilla as an alternative to the new and land-rich settlements in Virginia and Maryland?  The answers must be as varied as the different types of persons that arrived to try to make a living here.  There is no one clear-cut explanation.  Due to the absence of written records left by our ancestors from those early days, we are left to infer and to speculate.  We ask ourselves, what were they doing in Anguilla?  What, other than subsistence agriculture, the breeding of small stock for meat and milk and export, and fishing, were they occupying themselves with?
Besides privateering, trading, and smuggling in their sloops between the islands, the main commercial occupations on land were the growing of tobacco and cotton, the reaping of salt, and the raising of food crops and cattle, ie, goats and, in the wetter years, sheep and cows.  Tobacco and cotton were small-planter cash crops that survived in Anguilla long after they were replaced in the larger islands by sugar.  It was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that a very few Anguillian farmers accumulated sufficient capital to invest in the mills and coppers and slaves necessary at that time to make sugar.[1]  Alternating cycles of drought and rain last in the Leeward Islands for up to forty years.[2]  Those islands with mountains have the opportunity to attract rain at least during the rainy seasons.  In a flat island such as Anguilla is, during the periods of drought little would live but the goats.  It is not for nothing that the children’s geography text books say dismissively about Anguilla’s climate, “Anguilla participates in passing Atlantic weather systems.  The keeping of sheep and cows, and the cultivation of cash crops, were limited to the periods when there was sufficient rainfall to permit their survival.
Tobacco was originally grown in Anguilla by the Amerindians.  The industry in all the islands was taken over by the newcomers.  It seemed to be an ideal small-farmer cash crop.  Apart from its small bulk and its ability when dried to survive the long voyage across the Atlantic, tobacco possessed other advantages to recommend it.  Its cultivation could be undertaken on a small scale.  It did not need the outlay of much capital.  The settlers could grow their crop on a comparatively small area of land.  They needed only a few helpers, perhaps the members of the family.
West Indian tobacco competed in England unfavourably with Virginia tobacco.  It paid a higher duty and fetched a lower price.  West Indian tobacco was less mild and less palatable than that of Virginia.  Besides, Virginia enjoyed the advantage of being able to produce tobacco in great bulk from a large area of land.  Merchants found it more convenient to deal with Virginia.  Her supplies came near to meeting the demand of the English market.  There was less risk than trading with the scattered islands of the West Indies.  Its disadvantages caused it to be replaced by sugar in Barbados, even before it was planted by the settlers in Anguilla.
Already, by the year 1639, the price of tobacco on the London market dropped alarmingly.  Barbados and the other English islands looked for other crops.  The first choice was cotton.  In Barbados, this was soon replaced by sugar cane.  In Anguilla, tobacco cultivation lasted longer, probably for want of any alternative.  The last reference to tobacco being grown in Anguilla in the Colonial Office papers is an unattributed memorandum probably prepared by Under-Secretary Joseph Williamson in 1667.[3]  He begins with the words, “From Major Scott’s mouth . . .[4]  Then, he notes that salt was made on Anguilla and tobacco was grown there.
In Anguilla, cotton replaced tobacco as the planters’ cash crop within a few years, certainly within the first generation of settlers.  It proved to be more successful than tobacco ever was.


1. Gossypium ‘anguillense’ growing wild at Corito in Anguilla (by the author).
Tobacco too was originally grown on Anguilla by the Amerindians.  Cotton was in some ways, like tobacco, an ideal cash crop for the settlers.  It too required little capital outlay.  It could be reaped by the settler and his family with a few helpers.  It did not spoil once kept dry.  Cotton continued as the main cash crop of the islanders until the middle of the eighteenth century, a run of nearly a hundred years.  But, Europe received sufficient supplies from elsewhere.  The demand for cotton at this time was comparatively small.  Wool was more popular in Europe for the manufacture of clothing.  The demand for cotton in Europe did not increase substantially until the late eighteenth century when the Industrial Revolution produced the automated ginning and spinning mills that made it more economic than wool.


2. Close-up of a cotton boll of Gossypium ‘anguillense’ growing at Corito in Anguilla (by the author).
The strain of cotton grown in Anguilla in the seventeenth century possessed an unusually long strand or staple (see illus 1 and 2).  It was later to become famous as ‘Sea Island’ cotton.  As Dr Jones remarked, the botanical name of the species ought properly not to be ‘Gossypium barbadense’, but ‘Gossypium anguillense’.[5]  It was from Anguilla that the seed was exported in the eighteenth century to the Bahamas.  There its superior quality was recognized.  After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, loyalists and partisans of Great Britain were provided with homes in the Bahamas.  They obtained cotton seed from the island of Anguilla and took up the growing of cotton.  A hundred years later, the seed was taken from the Bahamas to Georgia and South Carolina.  It was eventually found to flourish in the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina, from which islands that particular strain of cotton now takes its name.[6]
The Vick family, after whom the city of Vicksburg in Mississippi is named, took up planting the Anguilla cotton seed from South Carolina.  They named their Mississippi farm 'the Anguilla Plantation'.  The railroad was later given a right of way through the plantation on condition that they named the depot, which they planned to build at the nearby town of McKinneyville, ‘Anguilla’.  The town for a while carried both names, McKinneyville and Anguilla.
3. Map of the city of Anguilla, Mississippi
To avoid the resulting confusion, the US Postal Department agreed to the change of the name of the town to Anguilla.  The city of Anguilla, Mississippi, has now sprawled out into the area that used to be the Anguilla Plantation (see illus 3).[7]
The crops of the Anguillians were grown in numerous ‘bottoms’.  The origin of the word is Dutch.  The Dutch were to be found in several islands within sight of Anguilla, namely, St Maarten, Saba, and St Eustatius.  They occupied those islands before any settlers moved to Anguilla from St Kitts.  The Dutch are responsible for naming the relatively stone-free ‘bottoms’ in all these islands that they cultivated for food crops.  This word ‘bottom’ is one of the few relics that remain of the early Dutch influence on Anguilla.  They are so-called, according to the Dutch historian of the Netherlands Antilles, Dr Hartog, from the old Zeeland word ‘botte’, meaning ‘bowl’.[8]  The English translated the Zeelander word as ‘bottom’.  So, the main town on the neighbouring Dutch island of Saba sits in the eroded crater at the top of a volcano, and is incongruously named ‘The Bottom’.  The naming is in the Zeeland dialect and is due to its bowl shape.
There are few other signs of Dutch influence remaining on Anguilla.  Statia Valley Estate may be named after the early Dutch settlers who moved there after the English captured the islands of St Eustatius (Statia) and Saba in the English-Dutch wars of 1665-1667 and 1672-1674.  The present familiar Anguillian surname Hazell is Dutch in origin.  It appeared in Saba as early as 1677.  In the same year, the name Van der Poll also appeared in Saba.  This was later anglicised in Anguilla to Vanterpool.  In Saba, the name Zeegars also appeared at an early date.  This later became Sagers or Zagers.[9]  These were all well-known names in Anguilla in later years.
It was the Dutch that were responsible for developing the salt industry.[10]  Since the sixteenth century, the Dutch were the major traders in salt in Europe.  They used large quantities of it for curing their herring.  Dutch salt herring was an important industry both for local use and for export from the Netherlands.  They originally procured their salt in Portugal.  Spain was earnestly Catholic, while the Netherlands were adamantly Protestant.  In 1580, Portugal came under Spanish rule.  The Dutch were already at war with Spain.  The Spanish barred their entry to the Portuguese salt flats.  They were forced to look elsewhere for their salt.  This was one reason the Dutch originally came to the Caribbean.  They were far more interested in reaping salt and in trading with the English, French, and Spanish settlements, than in planting cash crops.  Dutch ships would sail to the West Indies filled with trading goods, and return to the Netherlands filled with salt.  That explains why they were content to occupy islands that were all unsuitable for agriculture.  The islands of St Eustatius (Statia), Saba, St Maarten, Curacao, Aruba, and Bonaire were notable principally for their salt ponds.  They were also strategically placed for trade with their neighbours.  Neither the French nor the English settlers were interested in trade in dry goods.  This was a niche the Dutch were happy to fill.
There are several salt ponds in Anguilla.  These were created when earlier coves became cut off from the sea by sand bars which formed across their mouths.  As with similar sea-level salt ponds in other islands, they never completely dry out.  Their bottoms are below the level of the nearby sea.  As the brine becomes concentrated by evaporation, the salt precipitates out on the bottom of the pond.  It forms a thick crust on the bed a few inches below the surface of the pond (see illus 4).  This underwater salt deposit was reaped by the workers bending over, breaking off and lifting up bits of the slab of salt.  These bits of salt slab were then thrown into the small salt barges, or ‘flats’, floating alongside the pickers.  It was back-breaking work.
4. The Road Salt Pond, July 2009, with tufts of salt deposits visible (by the author).
Several ponds in Anguilla were originally picked in this way.  The more important salt works were at the Road, Long Path, Rendezvous, Cove, Maundays Bay and West End.  Most were abandoned years ago.  Until recently, when Hurricane Klaus in 1984 forced Anguilla’s principal market in Trinidad to seek salt elsewhere, only the Road Salt Pond and the West End Salt Pond produced salt for export.
The industry was carried on in Anguilla from the earliest days of settlement.  As we have seen earlier, in 1624 Anguilla was described by a Dutch sea captain as having “no fresh water, but a salt pan with enough salt for two to three ships a year.”[11]  This refers to the Road Salt Pond, the most productive of all the salt works in Anguilla.  The early references that we find in the records give us an indication of how the salt industry was operated in Anguilla.  Originally, the ponds were communal property.  Each man owned only the salt that he reaped.  He heaped it up under palm-frond shelters on the beach.  There he stored it, awaiting ships that would visit the island for the sole purpose of purchasing it.
There are few other references in the Archives to this ancient salt industry.  Vere Langford Oliver records a grant of the Road Salt Pond made by Governor Daniel Parke in 1708 to one John Brady (see illus 5).[12]  Brady appears to have done nothing with his prize.  He promptly transferred the pond to one Martin French of Antigua and Montserrat.  What use Martin French made of it is not recorded.  His name does not reappear in the Anguilla records.
5. Extract from VL Oliver, History of Antigua, p.275.
Another early reference to the salt industry of Anguilla is met in 1769 when Jehabed Clark swore a formal protest.  A ‘protest’ is a notarized report of loss or damage to a ship or its cargo for insurance and other purposes.  Clark’s protest relates to the sinking of his brigantine Elizabeth.  From this document, it appears that the Elizabeth was wrecked on Sandy Island.  This is the name of a small sandy shoal enclosed by a little reef just outside of Road Bay in Anguilla.  The protest reads as follows,[13]
Anguilla.   I, John Payne, Deputy Secretary and Notary Public for the Island aforesaid, do by this Public Instrument of Writing make known to all people to whom the same may or shall come that on this twenty ninth day of April one thousand seven hundred and sixty nine, Jehabed Clark, Master, David Cullam, Mate, and Benjamin Welch, Mariner of and belonging to the late Brigantine Elizabeth owned at Piscataga [ . . . ] personally appeared before me and being duly examined and sworn on the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God deposeth and says that
On Sunday the 23rd day of this instant sailed from the island of Grenada bound for this island aforesaid for a load of salt; on the 28th day instant turning up that shore, there being a small sandy key off the harbour being enclosed with a parcel of shoals and shallow ground and not being acquainted, the Brigantine miss-stayed and sailed on the reef, who immediately bilged and found it was impossible to get her off, in a short time after some people from this island came to our assistance and saved all they could having on board four casks of coffee, one hogshead of rum and two bales of cotton.
Wherefore, I the said John Payne, Deputy Secretary and Notary Public, do at the special instance and request of the said Jehabed Clark, David Cullam and Benjamin Welsh, master mate and mariner of the said Brigantine Elizabeth, and to and for the benefit and advantage of all and every the person or persons that now are or shall or may be any ways interested in or entitled to either said Brigantine Elizabeth and her lading on board or any part thereof, protest against the vessel's mis-staying and all accidents herein mentioned and for and in respect of all costs, charges, losses, damages and expenses whatsoever that already have or at anytime hereafter shall or may happen to be sustained for touching and concerning the aforesaid Brigantine Elizabeth and her lading being run on shore or any ways however suffered. 
In Faith and Testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal the day and date first above written.
(sd) Jehabed Clark
(sd) Benjamin Welch
(sd) David Cullam
(sd) John Payne
Notary Public and Deputy Secretary
Clark records that on 28 March 1769, he and his crew were on their way from Grenada for a load of salt.  Their brigantine Elizabeth, we learn, was registered at Piscataga (now Portsmouth) in the colony of New Hampshire.  The Elizabeth’s trade in salt in the West Indies was lawful under the Navigation Acts, as New Hampshire was a British colony.  The brig rounded the little islet of Anguillita at the western tip of Anguilla.  It sailed eastwards up the northern coast of Anguilla.  It was heading to Road Bay to collect the required salt.  The crew was not acquainted with Road Bay.  Clark accidentally sailed his brig onto the reef at Sandy Island. There, it immediately bilged and took in water.  Shortly after, people arrived from Sandy Ground Village.  They saved all they could of his ship’s simple cargo.  This amounted to four casks of coffee, one hogshead of rum and two bales of cotton.  Of interest is the additional fact that he seems to have employed an Anguillian, Benjamin Welch, among his crew.
Not all of the ponds in Anguilla are salt ponds.  There are also three brackish-water ponds situated away from the coast.  These are Cauls Pond, Bad Cox Pond and East End Pond.  They each have a limestone outcrop at the water’s edge on the northern shore.  Springs feed into the ponds from fissures in the limestone outcrops.  Besides the Fountain Cavern and the several Indian Wells, these springs were the only sources of fresh, if brackish, water on the island available to the settlers.  There are no rivers flowing on the island, even in the wettest years.[14]
The springs supplying the three ponds are not the only source of potable water.  There are in all fourteen springs in the island.  Most of them are more or less saline.  The degree of salinity depends to a large extent on the amount of rain falling in that particular period.  The settlers found water, too, in the wells that the Amerindians dug.  The settlers eventually dug some twenty five others scattered over the island.
When the island was first settled by the Europeans and Africans, the surface was covered in considerably more soil and vegetation than there is today.  Once the forest cover was removed for agriculture, the top soil began to erode down into the ‘bottoms’ or out to the sea.  Only low-lying scrub can now grow on the higher ridges.  The lack of tall trees is unfortunate.  Forests, besides conserving the soil cover, encouraged more rain to fall from passing clouds than falls today.  The three inland ponds were fresher than they are today.  No trace of alligator remains were ever found around any of these ponds, as suggested by de Rochefort.  If, as was likely, the island was wetter then than it is now, we can well understand that tobacco and corn were easily raised, and that the cattle multiplied very fast as he wrote.
The trees were cut down very early.  Land needed to be cleared for cultivation.  There were also valuable dye-woods to be cut for export to England.  Dye-wood is today a forgotten, almost unknown product.  At one time, fortunes were made in the Caribbean by merchants who traded in it.  Dye-wood used to be called by a variety of names.  The old Portuguese word 'brazil' is the source of the English word brazen.  'Brazil wood' was one of the names for dye-wood, a reference to its ruddy colour.  Another name was 'campeachy wood.'  This comes from the Gulf of Campeche in Mexico, where it grew profusely.  Nearby was the territory where wood-cutters would eventually establish the British colony of Belize.  Dye-wood was also called 'stockfish wood', either because its bark resembled stockfish or, perhaps, after the legendary island of Stocafixo.  The dye was obtained from the wood by rasping or grinding it fine, and then boiling it.  Dye-wood trees grew on Anguilla in the seventeenth century, as they did on all the neighbouring islands.
There was also a ready market among the planters of the bigger, sugar cane-growing islands for building timber.  When the Anguillian trees were exhausted, the sloops and schooners of the islanders sought out new supplies in the unoccupied Virgin Islands to the west:  St Croix, St Thomas, Tortola and Crab Island.  Until the 1970s, Anguillian trees were also cut down to make charcoal, then the staple fuel available to the islanders.  All the primeval trees were soon destroyed by this combination of bad husbandry and the need for fuel.  The first cylinders of propane gas for cooking began to be imported as recently as the early 1970’s.  At first they were inconvenient as, until the early 1990’s it was not possible to refill empty cylinders locally.  The cylinders had to be shipped to Puerto Rico for refilling.  Now, charcoal is a luxury fuel for barbecues, and the trees have begun to recover.
The Anguillians in their sloops continued throughout our period to trade in dye-wood and building timber from one end of the Caribbean to the other.  In the first quarter of the eighteenth century, there are several references in the Colonial Office records to this Anguilla trade.  One such is a 1719 dispatch by one George Lillington of Barbados, shortly after the Anguillian settlement on Crab Island was destroyed.[15]  He reported that the Spaniards burned a large quantity of dye-wood that the settlers collected before the destruction of the settlement.  The dye-wood industry was eventually replaced by the cochineal beetle of Mexico, and it fades from the scene.[16]
Anguilla is described by geographers as a seasonal forest island.  In this it resembles Antigua, Barbados, St Barts, Statia and St Martin.  In all these islands, long-lasting changes have taken place in the natural vegetation and wild life.  There is presently more rain falling in Anguilla than would fall in a true desert.  Yet parched barrenness generally pervades the island, save for exceptional years of heavy rainfall.[17]  It is the livestock that reduced Anguilla to the scrubby state that it is in since the eighteenth century.  Goats played the most important role here.  They denuded the land.  Where they roam, all is picked bare.  Much of the soil has, as a result, eroded away.  Until the goat is recognized as the dangerous vermin it is and completely banned from the island, it will always be difficult to grow anything successfully in Anguilla.
All these ancient industries are now closed.  The occasional tobacco plant may survive in someone’s grandfather’s hedge.  Sea Island cotton shrubs are hardy plants and grow wild all over the island.  The birds scatter their seeds and ensure their survival while using the lint to make their nests.  A few surviving grandmothers can recount stories of the hardships involved in picking salt.  Sugar cane grows in a few back gardens, for the enjoyment of the children, but will flourish only if it is watered from time to time.  The best agricultural lands are planted over now with houses, offices and hotels.  No longer is the young Anguillian boy presented at his seventh birthday with a goat kid to look after, so that when it is grown he can sell it for pocket money.  Instead, both he and his sister have the latest electronic gadgets and toys to play with.  The Anguillians of the twenty-first century find more productive crops to reap than their ancestors ever enjoyed.  Some of these new crops and industries, such as tourism, even prefer long periods of drought.


[1]       See Chapter 18: Sugar Arrives.
[2]       The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.
[3]       CO.1/21, No 175, folio 348: Unattributed memorandum.
[4]       For Major Scott see Chapter 4: The First Generation.
[5]       Dr SB Jones, Annals of Anguilla (1936).
[6]       West India Committee circular for 5 February 1820, cited by Dr Jones.
[7]       Personal correspondence in 1996 with Billy C Fields, Tom Greer, and Henry Kline of Anguilla, Mississippi.
[8]       Dr J Hartog, History of Saba (1975).
[9]       Ralph Hodge, then the Accountant General in the Government of Anguilla, told me many years ago that when he worked as a young man with the Cadastral Survey team in Anguilla in 1974, it was he who provided the unusual spelling to the surveyors who asked him how Sagers’ land at South Valley was spelled.  There was no written document available in Anguilla at that time that provided any clue to the spelling.  He suggested that it must be ‘Sachasses’.  His spelling stuck.
[10]     Dr J Hartog, A Short History of Bonaire (1975) p.14.
[11]     Chapter 3: The First Settlers and the Carib Raid.
[12]     Vere Langford Oliver, History of Antigua, (3 vols, 1894-1897) p.275.
[13]     Anguilla Archives: Jehabed Clarke’s 1769 Protest.
[14]     Sir William Halcrow & Partners, Water Resources of St Kitts, Nevis & Anguilla (1964) p.18.
[15]     CO.28/15, No 56, folio 358: Lillington to the Committee on 31 October 1719.
[16]     The cochineal beetle was in its turn made obsolete in the 1850s by the discovery of synthetic aniline dyes.
[17]     C and A Carlozzi, Conservation and Caribbean Regional Progress (1968) p.84.