Redlegs is a term used to refer to the class of poor whites that live on Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada and a few other Caribbean islands. Their forebears came from Ireland, Scotland and the West of England. Many of their ancestors were transported by Oliver Cromwell. Others had originally arrived on Barbados in the early to mid 17th century as slaves or indentured servants. Small groups of Germans and Portuguese were also imported as plantation labourers. Many were described as "white slaves". According to folk etymology, the name is derived from the effects of the tropical sun on their fair-skinned legs. However, the term "Redlegs" and its variants were in use for Irish soldiers of the same sort as those later transported to Barbados, and the variant "Red-shankes" is recorded by Edmund Spenser in his dialogue on "the Present State of Ireland" as early as the 16th century.
By the 18th century, white slavery became much less common. African slaves were trained in all needed trades, so there was no demand for paid white labour. The Redlegs, in turn, were unwilling to work alongside the freed slave population on the plantations. Therefore, most tried to emigrate to other British colonies whenever the opportunity arose, which reduced the white population to a small minority; and most of the white population that chose to stay eked out, at best, a subsistence living. Because of the deplorable conditions under which the Redlegs lived, a campaign was initiated in the mid-19th century to move portions of the population to other islands which would be more economically hospitable. The relocation process succeeded, and a distinct community of Redleg descendants live in the Dorsetshire Hill district on St. Vincent as well as on the islands of Grenada around St. Moritz and Bequia.
In addition to Redlegs the term underwent extensive progression in Barbados and the following terms were also used: "Redshanks", "Poor whites", "Poor Backra", "Backra Johnny", "Ecky-Becky", "Poor whites from below the hill", "Edey white mice" or "Beck-e Neck" (Baked-neck). Historically everything besides "poor whites" were used as derogatory insults, and the community was perceived as arrogant, alcoholic, and worthless. However, although most live on a par with Blacks, individuals born in the community have been known to accumulate land or start successful businesses like Cave Shepherd.
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