Finding Barbados in London: the “Povey Papers”

by eobermanns

It always seems as though Spring Break flies by in the blink of an eye, which seems especially true when you get to spend it in London.  My surprise trip to London was an utter success and quite a surreal experience to walk in the footsteps of monarchs like Henry VIII and our infamous Charles II.  I may have been on break, but I did not forget my duties as a research assistant.  Amazingly, I got to sift through the papers compiled in Egerton MS 2395 in the British Library that I have been researching all semester, or what I refer to as the “Povey Papers”.  I felt quite official and academic at the library amongst other historians, especially when I was given a year long pass to the library.  Although I only had the chance to read through a few documents in the compilation of the Povey Papers (it weighed almost 15 pounds and I was on vacation, after all), I did find some interesting and revealing information.


(A very rainy Monday perfectly fit the mood for visiting the gloomy Tower of London, where many Royalists were imprisoned after the English Civil War)

Folio 48 of Egerton MS 2395 contains a pamphlet dated from 1653, entitled “A Brief Relation of the Beginning and ending of the Troubles of the Barbados, with the true causes thereof”.  It details yet another story of ambition in the lives Colonel Humphrey Walrond and his younger brother Edward Walrond, two Royalists of wounded pride who sought to take advantage of the seemingly relaxed system of government in the West Indies.  Like countless numbers of their contemporaries (Henry Morgan included), their ambition for monetary and political gain was encouraged by the physical distance between the West Indies and the British Parliament; they “little doubted but in a short time to gain the Government into their hands, and by that means amply to Repair their broken Fortunes” (f. 48, Egerton MS 2395).  Humprey Walrond saw an opportunity to make Barbados a continuing center of support for the Royalist cause, seeking to further its reputation as a place of asylum for those who supported Charles II as the rightful monarchial ruler of England.

The Walrond’s soon enacted a campaign of terror, preying on Royalist fears of the Cavalier faction in Barbados infiltrating and overthrowing their asylum’s government.  Humphrey Walrond eliminated the islands treasurer Guy Molesworth, falsely claiming that he was a Cavalier; the mere accusation of Cavalier loyalty was a serious offense in a Royalist asylum, where every man had been slighted by Cromwell’s government in some way.  Humprey’s claims were supported by the oratories of his brother Edward Walrond, who claimed that “there was a very formidable Malignant party in the Island which daily increased, and would in time master this island, and turn all well-affected to the King from thence” (f. 48, Egerton MS 2395).

I spent time in last weeks post detailing the political relationship between Governor Thomas Modyford and Admiral Henry Morgan in Jamaica in the 1670’s, in which Modyford entrusted Morgan with an incredible amount of power and discretion.  In the Povey Papers, I found a reference to Thomas Modyford early in his career on the island of Barbados during the Interregnum period of Cromwellian power.  General Thomas Modyford enters the saga of the Walrond brothers, attempting to circumvent the power they had gained through terror and violence, seeking instead to reason with the Cavalier faction in Barbados.  While the Walrond’s wanted to eradicate the threat Cavaliers posed to their power, Modyford instead sought to unite the two groups to create a policy of neutrality.  Modyford’s assertion of the importance of neutrality was not simply based upon a desire to avoid war (he did begin his career as a general); he recognized the importance of the Cavaliers to the success and prosperity of Barbados, as they controlled the incredibly lucrative sugar industry on the island.

While the wording of the pamphlet turns towards propagandist phrasing, much like Philip Ayres’ account of Henry Morgan, it emphasizes the important role Thomas Modyford played in ensuring the future success of the island of Barbados.  The author makes Modyford the saving grace of the island of Barbados against the tyrannical rule of the Walrond brothers; “Thus may you see that by the excellency of one mans temper and Conduct, with Gods blessings theron, this rich spot of Land, containing at least thirty thousand Souls, Reduced and United to their Native Country without Bloodshed” (f. 48, Egerton MS 2395).


Folio 48 also includes a short but revealing statement regarding the treatment of Royalists following the English Civil War as they faced the consequences of losing the fight for monarchial power in England.  Barbados was made to be an island of neutrality, a policy fundamental to the islands prosperity seeing as it housed both Royalists and Roundheads.  This policy was maintained until, “the Parliament prevailing, multitudes of the Royal Party being made Prisoners, were sent thither to be sold as Servants” in Barbados (f. 48, Egerton MS 2395).  The idea of captured Royalists being sent to the West Indies as indentured servants is one explored by Dr. Donoghue in his first book, Fire Under the Ashes; interestingly, this action directly connects to the infamous merchant Martin Noell, a man I have encountered many times this semester.  Noell was accused by members of Parliament of selling 72 captured Royalists into indentured servitude in 1655.  He claimed it was an attempt to rid London’s prisons of men that could be far more beneficial to England’s prosperity by working on plantations in the West Indies, rather than sitting idly in a prison cell.  Royalists were transported to places like Barbados along with countless men and women imprisoned during Cromwell’s attempted conquests of Scotland and Ireland.

This makes an interesting connection to Alexandre Exquemelin’s claim that Henry Morgan was sold into indentured servitude in Barbados in the 1650’s; like most families during the English Civil War, Morgan’s was divided along Roundhead and Royalist lines.  While it seems unlikely that a wealthy youth like Morgan would be “spirited away” to the West Indies, it aligns with the policies of the times.  Royalists captured and imprisoned by Roundheads often opted to serve as indentures in the West Indies if their lands had been taken by the government, and the majority of volunteers to indenture in places like Barbados were young men. Exquemelin’s tale is common of Morgan’s contemporaries, leaving another unanswered question regarding Henry Morgan’s ambiguous origins.


(While Henry Morgan evaded imprisonment in the Tower, Thomas Modyford was not so lucky-he served 2 years. It’s quite surreal to think I may have walked on the same ground as these men.)