Betty's Hope plantation: A Tour of a West Indian Sugar Plantation

Betty's Hope, Antigua:
a Tour of a Colonial Sugar Plantation

(Note: To access all the pages in the tour please follow the hyperlinks as they appear in the text)

The photo above shows the two surviving windmills at Betty's Hope. The one towards the rear was adapted for use as a cistern after the plantation converted to steam powered milling. The mill in the foreground has been restored and has full working gears and crushing rollers. (for a picture of the site as it appears today, click here).

Betty's Hope Plantation was founded in the early 1650's by Gov. Christopher Keynell. After the French occupation of Antigua in 1666-7, ownership was transfered to the Codrington Family and it remained in continuous operation for nearly 250 years.

Once the cane was brought in from the fields, it was passed through one of the taller portals where two men fed the cane back and forth to each other through the rollers. Feeding the cane was a dangerous job and the slightest inattention could result in loss of life or limb as there was no way to stop the mill quickly. The pressed cane or "begasse" was discarded through another portal and stored for use as fuel in the Boiling House and Distillery.

To assure full power to the press, the upper mill housing could pivot using a large diagonal beam or "Tail Pole". Several men under the direction of the "Bosun" were responsible for keeping the sails at the best angle to the wind. On Antigua, Barbados and most of the Leewards, wind-power was preferred because of good exposure to the Trade Winds, but many early plantations and those less fortunately located relied on cattle-driven mills for cane-crushing. In Jamaica, where mountain streams were plentifull, water powered mills predominated.

Although it is not illustrated here, surrounding the mill machinery there is an underground catchment area. The cane juice would squeeze out to collect in this catchment and from there flow through a lead pipe downhill to the Boiling House. Since gravity was so crucial to the efficient movement of the juice to the Boiling House, most plantations had similar layouts and it was important to build the mill at a high point to catch the best of the Trade Winds. This is why in the parish of St. Mary which is has "rift" valley characteristics, the ruins of all the old mills inland are far above the bottoms where the cane was grown.

The machinery on the left are the gears which transfered power from the sails to the crushing rollers in a wind driven sugar mill.

Continue the Plantation Tour 

The Betty's Hope Trust was founded in 1990 and works towards restoration of the plantation to serve as an open air museum and interpretation center for Antiguan History. It is hoped that the museum will help all Antiguans and Barbudans, as well as those who visit from off Island, to see the strength and human dignity revealed by better understanding of a painfull history. The plantation is a short ride from St. John's in the middle of the island...if you visit Antigua, don't miss the opportunity to visit and should you wish to assist their efforts,

contributions may be made to:

Betty's Hope Trust
PO Box 103
St. John's
Antigua. W.I.

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Copyright by C.M. Codrington 4 Feb. 2000