From Crape Myrtles To Long Houses, Charleston Is A 'Big Barbados' This South Carolina city has its architectural and economic roots in the Caribbean.
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From Crape Myrtles To Long Houses, Charleston Is A 'Big Barbados'

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From Crape Myrtles To Long Houses, Charleston Is A 'Big Barbados'

From Crape Myrtles To Long Houses, Charleston Is A 'Big Barbados'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have an early story of South Carolina. It's a story from long before South Carolina was part of the Confederacy, long before there was a Confederate flag. In fact, this story reaches back before there was a United States. It's the story of a pathway followed by unwilling travelers, and it's part of this country's creation. The path leads from Bridgetown, Barbados, across the water to Charleston. Kenya Downs reports, as MORNING EDITION heads down trails this summer that lead places unexpected.

KENYA DOWNS, BYLINE: The piped in sounds of seagulls fills the air as visitors board mock ships simulating a voyage to Charles Towne Landing. This state park recognizes the birthplace of the original Carolina colony. Rhoda Green, who runs the Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation, gives tours of the city, offering a look at the lives of its early settlers and what is now Charleston, S.C.

RHODA GREEN: They were from Barbados. They were British or British-born. They were enslaved who worked on Barbados plantations, and they were indentured servants.

DOWNS: Black Barbadians were brought to the city as slaves in the 1600s by white Barbadians who set out for the Carolina colony, seeking new land to farm.

ROB POWELL: Charles Towne, in 1670, was the colony of a colony 'cause Barbados was the most thriving colony of that time period of England.

DOWNS: Rob Powell is the park manager of Charles Towne Landing. He says English settlers from Barbados had an influence on the system of slavery that came to define the economy of the American South.

POWELL: The plantation economy started in Barbados. And, of course, it moved to Charles Towne. Not only the economy, but the architecture transferred from Barbados to Charles Towne, and you can still see that evidence today.

DOWNS: That Barbadian architecture is key to Charleston's draw as a tourist destination. When Rhoda Green relocated to the city in the 1970s, she and her husband, Robert Green, were shocked by the similarities between Charleston and Barbados's capital of Bridgetown.

ROBERT GREEN: So I would come and tell Rhoda, I mean, hey, look, I was just in this place and all these - you know, all the names are the same thing. What is happening? We realize, hey, this place is, you know, small Barbados (laughter) or big Barbados, I should say.

RHODA GREEN: This would be big Barbados.

DOWNS: Tour guide Rhoda Green says big Barbados and small Barbados - that's Charleston and Bridgetown - have almost exactly the same layout - the same charming cobblestone streets. Crape myrtles, with their colorful, fluffy flowers, bloom in both the cities. And Green points out one way in which Charleston is actually more Barbadian than Bridgetown. They're called single houses - long, shotgun-style homes with a narrow facade on the street side.

RHODA GREEN: They basically have one narrow room, and then you get in from the side. And then they would have verandas or porches or whatever.

DOWNS: A series of fires destroyed most of Bridgetown's single houses in the late 17th century. Only a handful remain in Barbados today, so now they're essentially unique to Charleston. Green also guides visitors along a narrow street lined with traditional row houses and tropical palm trees. Each home is a different pastel color. It's Charleston's Rainbow Row, and it's here that, as someone who's traveled throughout the islands extensively, I feel the closest connection to the Caribbean. Shallun Evelyn, a Barbadian who - full disclosure - is my partner in crime and joined me on the trek, says it's so familiar, it makes him question if perhaps he's been here before.

SHALLUN EVELYN: I feel like I'm back home in Bridgetown. The only difference is that the people are driving on the right side of the road instead of left.

DOWNS: Despite that difference, Green says there's a spiritual connection between the two cities.

RHODA GREEN: The English colonists - their presence and their footprints are very, very prominent, but behind them, you have the unnamed, the faceless, the people who weren't recorded in history.

DOWNS: Green says telling the story of those unnamed people is why she offers this tour - to shed some light on an ugly past that helped shape Charleston's beautiful present. For NPR News in Charleston, I'm Kenya Downs.

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