So I’m writing a book that will likely never see the light of day because, well, who’s just dying to read an adventure-romance set in 1795, featuring a plucky French-American girl and a tall, clever frigate captain? Raise your hands, please, all three of you. See, Penguin Publishing Group? This mess has potential! Anyway, I’m about two hundred pages into my Magnum Opus, and I’m (generally) enjoying the bejeezus out of writing it. To make it work, to make it all feel real and possible to my potential readership of three people plus my mother, I’ve been doing a lot of research about the parts of my novel that I know nothing about, like frigates, slave revolts, Prince Edward’s mistress, and Barbados. And in doing so, I’ve come across a wealth of odd and wonderful material on the ‘net. My latest find, in trying to learn more about Barbados’ history as a British colony, was “God Always Saves Endavor” from the National Archives’ Flickr photostream.
The National Archives dates this watercolor to April 1816 and describes it as a “Sketch of a flag taken from rebels against slavery in Barbados, after the uprising known as Bussa’s Rebellion. The flag appears to stress the rebels’ loyalty to Britain and to the Crown while conveying their earnest desire for liberty. British forces on Barbados suppressed the revolt and hundreds of the rebels were killed.”
Loyalty? I should say so. The number and range of national icons and images that the rebel(s) included on this flag are almost overwhelming: there’s Britannia herself seated on a lion, the four crowns, the enormous first-rate ship flying both the Union Standard and England’s ensign, and of course the figure in the foreground, who wears the scarlet coat and epaulettes of a high-ranking officer and bears a spear-tipped flag that reads “Royal endavor (sic), once for Ever.” Both the officer’s flag and the drum between him and the well-dressed black Barbadian beside him bear the initials GR – George Rex, Britain’s King George III, who was by this time quite insane. Though the man portrayed here is no 78-year-old, the star-shaped medal on his chest makes me wonder if he is, in fact, supposed to be George III. Compare to Sir William Beechey’s portrait :
I mucked around on the Internet for a while trying to figure out if only the sovereign wore that particular decoration. I haven’t been able to figure this out for sure. While it shows up in a good many portraits of King George III, I haven’t been able to suss out what that decoration is called. Any help?
The detail of the black Barbadian that the rebel(s) included on the flag is almost certainly aspirational as opposed to actual, “what could be” as opposed to “what is.” The man stands with his arms folded in a blue frock coat, white breeches, and riding boots, a riding crop in one hand and a top hat on his head. Emancipation did not come until 1834, some eighteen years after this flag was captured and rendered in watercolors, and the freedman population on Barbados around 1816 was miniscule.