My fascination with my family history was ignited by my Barbadian uncle, Trevor Ashby, a brown-skinned man with a perfectly topiaried afro, who was an executive with Coca-Cola on the island of Barbados.
In my early teens, he began telling me stories of his and my mother’s plantation childhood. Fascinated by his anecdotes, I started searching archives all over the world for details of my ancestors’ births, deaths and marriages. My parents were interested but knew little. Undeterred, I badgered relatives I barely knew for information.
The story that emerged was almost four centuries old and replete with drama, tragedy and grief: the story of Atlantic slavery in microcosm.
In the late 1630s, my oldest identifiable ancestor, a young blacksmith called George Ashby, set sail from England to Barbados in search of a better life. The journey was difficult and dangerous; arrival no less so. Barbados was a wild land populated by a handful of unfettered young men with little to lose. Travelling across this small island meant hacking pathways through dense foliage in scorching heat, assailed by unfamiliar wildlife and bereft of familiar comforts. Life as a planter was exhausting and the crops he had hoped would make him rich – indigo, tobacco, cotton – barely allowed him to scrape a living.
But then he and his contemporaries turned to sugar, and their life was transformed. A few centuries before, sugar had erupted in popularity, becoming known as “white gold”. To meet demand, planters like George Ashby sought more cost-effective means of production, and replaced their indentured white servants with a more oppressed workforce: African slaves. The horrors these captives endured on their journey to the Americas – my African ancestors…
Read the complete article A bitter-sweet heritage | Life and style | The Guardian.