Nelson, the Mass-murderer – Part 4.

Nelson, the Mass-murderer – Part 4.
This article addresses Trevor Marshall’s claim that Nelson was a mass-murderer of Barbadians, and David Comissiong’s claim that the statue is keeping us psychologically enslaved.
According to Trevor Marshall, Nelson destroyed food on American ships that was to feed slaves, resulting in mass deaths from starvation. Let us look at the evidence.
In 1774, the enslaved Barbadian population was estimated at 78,874. [1] Food for the Barbadian enslaved normally came from trading with the American colonies. This trade essentially stopped at the start of the American war of independence from Britain in 1775. This resulted in severe food shortages, and many slaves died from starvation. [2]
Food was imported from England, Scotland, Canada, and Ireland. But it was not enough feed the enslaved. The planters had to import higher-cost beef, pork, and herring. But such foods were not normally given to the enslaved. [3] Planters resorted to illegally importing food and supplies from the French islands and Americans.
In 1780, the enslaved population had fallen to 68,270. [4] Then a major hurricane resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,326 persons, and the near total-destruction of buildings and food crops. With limited food available, the desperate enslaved started looting. [5]
Approximately 5,000 enslaved persons died from starvation between 1780 and 1781. [1] They were not replaced, since slave imports to Barbados almost stopped during the war. [6]
In 1781, the enslaved population fell to 63,248. In 1784, it fell further, to 61,808. [1] The war ended in 1783, and American ships resumed trading.
In January 1785, Nelson decided to enforce the Navigation Act. His initial efforts were unsuccessful – most American ships were able to unloaded their cargo. [7] So, he gave notice to the Americans that he would seize their ships after 1 May 1785. They did not believe him.
On 2 May 1785, Nelson seized an American ship. He was charged, acted as his own lawyer, and the judge ruled in his favour. [8] Nelson seized four more American ships in Nevis.
The Nevisians sued him, and again, the trial was determined in Nelson’s favour. [9] By November 1785, American ships were replaced with 50 British built and operated trading ships. [10]
In 1786, the enslaved population rose to 62,115. In addition, there were 833 free black persons. [11] Another storm struck Barbados in 1786, resulting in more deaths and damage to houses and crops. [12]
In 1787, the enslaved population rose to 64,405. The free black population rose to 2,229. [11] Nelson was married in March 1787 to a Nevisian widow, and returned to England in June 1787.
In October 1787, Captain Bligh sailed from the UK to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees for the Caribbean. After initial challenges, he brought the trees to St Vincent in 1793 and Jamaica in 1794. The enslaved did not generally like breadfruit, and it was fed to pigs and poultry. However, it was an effective emergency food. [13]
The historical record does not support the assertion that Nelson’s actions caused any mass-starvations. The reduction in the enslaved population was certainly due to hurricanes, and likely, the refusal of planters to give the enslaved the higher-cost imported food.
David Comissiong identified two reasons why Nelson’s statue needs to be removed from its current prominent location. He quoted the National Heroes Square Committee thus. “In view of Lord Nelson’s pro-slavery proclivities and activities, the location of the statue must not be such as to suggest that Nelson is a hero of the Barbadian people.”
Parts 1 to 3 of these series of articles show that there is no credible evidence of these pro-slavery proclivities and activities. Instead, there is credible evidence of his anti-slavery proclivities and activities during the Mediterranean campaign. Therefore, their basis of moving Nelson is flawed.
David gave the second reason as psychological enslavement: “this is important to nation building. You are not going to build a strong economy and a strong society, unless you have people who have a positive self-image, who are psychologically liberated.” This is also based on a flawed understanding of Nelson as an oppressor.
Our historians have convinced two generations of Barbadians that Nelson was a racist, white supremacist mass-murderer of Barbadians, with no credible evidence.
Our political activists have convinced two generations of Barbadians, that their lack of economic progress, is due to them being psychologically enslaved – rather than the corrupting mis-management of our country by their political masters.
I have a lot of sympathy for those who want to see the statue of Nelson gone, because they have been misled.
If Nelson is really this evil mass-murderer that our children are being taught to believe, then the statue should be destroyed immediately. It should not put in any museum to be examined, or thrown into the wharf to be retrieved, or sold to be admired by others, but destroyed – completely. But our children are being lied to.
Our children were never told about the Nelson who was a brilliant teacher, trainer, and captain, and who disobeyed orders to win battles and keep his crew safer. They were never told about the Nelson who treated all people equally despite their colour, hated corruption, unfairness, and all types of slavery, and did what he could to free the enslaved.
Facing a mountain of evidence, Nelson’s accusers accept his brilliance as a naval officer, but claim that he did nothing for Barbados. We are told that he despised Barbados and would not even step foot in our country. This is, of course, another lie.
Nelson visited Barbados several times, both to dine and to report to his commander, who was stationed in Barbados.
Nelson uncovered massive corruption in Barbados, which he reported. He also enforced fair trade to Barbados.
Nelson was stationed in the Caribbean to protect the Islands from the French and Spanish forces. During the American war of independence, the British lost most of their Caribbean colonies to the French. Nelson protected the islands, including Barbados, throughout his naval career.
In the year that he died, Nelson left Europe without orders, and chased after the main French fleet that was plundering property in the Caribbean. His first destination in the Caribbean was Barbados. He would chase them back to Europe, where his final battle against the combined French and Spanish fleets took place.
Should Nelson occupy such a prominent place in our city? Two hundred years ago, Barbadians thought so. If Barbadians today want to move it to a less prominent place, then they should also be allowed to do so. But we should never invent history to justify our agendas.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at
References for Part 3 follow.
[1] Carrington. The American Revolution and the British West Indies’ Economy. Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 1987. p.833.
[2] Carrington. The American Revolution and the British West Indies’ Economy. Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 1987. p.827.
[3] Carrington. The American Revolution and the British West Indies’ Economy. Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 1987. p.831.
[4] Carrington. The American Revolution and the British West Indies’ Economy. Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 1987. p.844.
[5] Schomburgk. The History of Barbados. 1847. p.47.
[6] Carrington. The American Revolution and the British West Indies’ Economy. Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 1987. p.839.
[7] The Dispatches and Letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, Vol 1. p.129.
[8] Harrison. The Life of Horatio Lord Nelson, 1806. Vol 1.
[9] Southey. The Life of Nelson. 2012 p .15.
[10] The Dispatches and Letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, Vol 1. p.149.
[11] Schomburgk. The History of Barbados. 1847. p.86.
[12] Schomburgk. The History of Barbados. 1847. p.50.
[13] Howard. Captain Bligh and the Breadfruit. Scientific American Inc. 1953. p.88.

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