Since 2007 students from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia have conducted archaeological investigations at St. Nicholas Abbey. Under the direction of Dr. Frederick H. Smith, the archaeological research program seeks to provide evidence that will help in the restoration, preservation, and celebration of this important historic property.
UNCOVERING THE PAST
While deeds, maps, paintings, and other documentary sources offer insights into the early history of the estate and its owners, the archaeological investigations aim to put flesh on the bones of history. Over the past three summers we have unearthed thousands of artifacts, including ceramics, animal bone, beads, buttons, gaming pieces, and clay tobacco pipes, which have helped shed light on the daily lives of planters, enslaved laborers, and poor whites who lived and worked on the estate in the early colonial era. Our work has uncovered information about the types of food people on the estate ate, the types of clothing they wore, the types of pottery they used in their daily lives, and the types of leisure activities they pursued. The research program we have designed seeks to illuminate the ways in which planters, enslaved workers, and poor whites at St. Nicholas Abbey blended European and African cultural traditions to develop a truly creolized community. The evidence we have collected also provides important insights into the architectural changes that have occurred at St. Nicholas Abbey great house over the past 350 years.
St. Nicholas Abbey sugar plantation is perhaps the most important heritage site in Barbados. Established in ca.1658, it is a testament to the momentum and energy of the British capitalist system in the emerging Atlantic world. St. Nicholas Abbey produced sugar for Atlantic markets, which helped fuel the growth of various industries in England and make Barbados the wealthiest colony in the Americas in the seventeenth century. St. Nicholas Abbey great house is probably the oldest standing structure in Barbados. Moreover, it is one of only three Jacobean-styled houses still standing in the western hemisphere. As a symbol of the Barbadian sugar revolution and a product of early British colonialism in the New World, St. Nicholas Abbey’s historical significance transcends the physical boundaries of Barbados. Archaeological investigations in the summer of 2007, 2008, and 2009 are beginning to shed new light on St. Nicholas Abbey’s prominent role in the emerging Atlantic world. The site is well preserved and archaeological deposits are largely intact. Moreover, the archaeological investigations reveal a continuous occupation of the St. Nicholas Abbey property from prehistoric Amerindian settlement all the way up to the present. The majority of materials we have collected, however, are from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries when St. Nicholas Abbey was a prominent and extremely active sugar-producing estate.