A visit to Betty’s Hope Sugar Estate in Antigua, bringing history to life

Betty's Hope windmills drawing
Betty's Hope windmills drawing
Betty’s Hope windmills, drawing

“What’s a slave Mummy?” he asked softly, as we walked around the site of Betty’s Hope sugar plantation. I thought carefully about how I would answer. It is a big part of the history of Antigua.

I had to ignite a child’s imagination. After all, we were standing outside a museum on a ruined site – not your average young boys idea of a fun day out. And it was hot, humid, and still.

We started 300 years ago. “What’s 300 years, Mummy?”. I sometimes forget that when you are 6 years old, time still means nothing. So we started again with a talk about him being 6 years old, which meant that he had been alive for 6 years. The penny dropped, big-style. “I’m 6 years old!!!! How old are you Mummy?” —— “Wow, that is REALLY old”. Why, thank you my dear son.

Our adventure veered swiftly off to brave explorers setting off to find new lands and returning home with pineapples and mangos and coconuts, parrots and monkeys, coffee, chocolate and sugar. The new conquerors claimed the islands and planted sugar cane. Then they bought people from Africa and made them work for NO money.

I could see his comprehension of such a tale. He knows that Mummy and Daddy work hard for money and that some jobs pay more money than others.

Then the sugar was put on ships to take back to Europe and the PIRATES waited to attack the ships. Then the navy from other countries were attacking all the time, to try to take over the land. Have you seen the canons? {Yes.} That is where they the brave soldiers battled. Do you remember carnival the other day? {Yes.} That is a celebration of the day that slavery ended in Antigua all those years ago.

He listened and ask me to ‘read’ it over and over.

I love that he is interested.

We were at Betty’s Hope Sugar Plantation in Antigua. It feels like the history of the island surrounds us here and I could almost feel it coming alive in the heavy heat of the day. I could see it in my son’s eyes.

The story of the plantation begins in the 1650s, and under the Codrington family, it became the most efficient sugar estate in Antigua.

There were up to 390 slaves working there at a time. The slaves were emancipated in 1834 but many continued to work there after they became free.

The Codrington family sold it back to the Antigua Sugar Estates Ltd as recently as 1944.

The programme of restoration began in 1990 and there is now a shady visitor centre – welcome respite from the heat. It costs US$ 2 to enter, and the money goes towards the continued restoration and maintenance.

We also visited the slave village, the windmills, the cistern and the estate house.

Bettys Hope sugar plantation Antigua
Betty’s Hope model – visitor centre
Windmills for processing the sugar cane
Windmills for processing the sugar cane
Estate house, Betty's Hope
Estate house ruins, Betty’s Hope, Antigua

Betty’s Hope is well worth a visit, even with children in tow. It is well looked after and they have great plans for future work on the site, including planting sugar cane.

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