At Bucknell’s Griot Institute for Black Lives and Cultures, faculty and students are working on a research project investigating and narrating the lives of African descended people enslaved at Antigua’s Sugar plantations and at over one hundred sugar mills. Through this project we have created a digital representation of Agnes Meeker’s  three-volume publication Plantations of Antigua: the sweet success of sugar: a biography of the historic plantations which made Antigua a major source of the world’s early sugar supply. Meeker’s passion has been gathering historical information on plantation owners and the physical structures and special layout of sugar mills and plantations of Antigua.

Bucknell student Barbara Wankollie, and History Professor Cymone Fourshey, are focused on recovering the experiences of the enslaved individuals who lived and labored at the plantations and mills Meeker details. Enslaved people were rarely accounted for in record keepers’ books, except to mark their values and costs to estate owning families. Their hardships and aspirations were preserved primarily through oral accounts from one generation to the next. The lives of enslaved Antiguans have rarely been narrated in the larger scholarship of the Black Atlantic. We overlay our own primary source research on Black people in Antigua prior to 1834, the legal end to slavery on the island, with Meeker’s descriptions of sugar mill history, geography, and material culture while drawing upon historian Natasha Lightfoot’s research into life post-slavery Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation. In addition, for the Griot Institute project, we draw comparisons, where appropriate, from the work of scholars who have centered the lives of Black Antiguans, Black Caribbeans, and enslaved individuals in the Black Atlantic. Narrating the day-to-day lives, cultural creations, and labor conditions experienced by those enslaved in the sugar industry of Antigua between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, is important in understanding the excessive poverty, wealth, and social disparities that powerful people and industries created.

This project was initially conceived while in Antigua in 2016. Students studying on Bucknell in the Caribbean learned, during a tour with a local professor, about the important work the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda had been engaged in to document the more than one hundred sugar mills of Antigua. That encounter instigated the idea of digitizing, mapping, and historicizing each of the mills electronically. The idea was that digitizing the project would allow anyone interested in studying Antiguan and Caribbean histories access to important and not otherwise easily accessible information. In partnership with Bucknell’s Digital Humanities staff, the Museum of Antigua and BarbudaAgnes Meeker, and Bucknell students, this website emerged as one outcome of these multi-year and multilayered research. With the near unitary economic focus of Antigua on tourism as a livelihood, it is important to preserve the earlier history and the unitary focus on sugar. In addition, descriptions and discussions of slavery have been marginalized and nearly erased from public spaces on the island. Yet it is critical to provide tools, for tourists and other visitors and newcomers to the island, to recognize and understand the complex place Antigua occupies in the larger Caribbean and Atlantic narrative.