Round House has stood on the corner at the foot of the big hill in Bathsheba for over 200 years. John (later Sir John) Yeamans had it built before he shot Colonel Benjamin Berringer and fled to Carolina. The exact details of the whole affair are a bit vague but it is clear that Yearmans had an affair with Colonel Benjamin Berringers’ wife Margaret, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s about an hour horse ride from Bathsheba to the Abbey, in St Peter where the Berringers lived. Yearman rode there quite often from the Round House.. He went by day to organise workers with his friend and business partner Colin Berringer. Berringer and Yeamans were realestate speculators and planters. They were clearing the densly wooded area of cherry tree hill, with the idea of selling land to the new arrivals who were coming to Barbados. The land was fertile and ideal for agriculture besides being close to Bathsheba and the spectacular view of Xherry Tree Hill. At dinners, the Berringers and John talked of dreams, life, ambition, the military, adventure and power.
The Berringers loved his visits, but to Mrs. Berringer, John Yeamans was a saviour. She was lost in long, lonely days in a rambling mansion, tucked away in a wilderness of mahogany trees, far away from like minds and interest. Her husband did not understand her loneliness. He was content with his life, the business, the military reserves, the plantation and the stately home. Home was a magnificent Jacobean mansion that Banjamin had built and decorated with taste and antiques. It was build in the classic style of a Jacobbean mansion complete with four chimneys. Outside, the lawn stretched 100 feet to the great garden wall. Oleander, hibiscus, Ixora and tropical flowers grew, almost wild, in the formal beds. Royal palms lined the long drive. They were an established family living in luxury.
The plantation was manned by black slaves and a few white men who had come to Barbados as indentured labourers. Sugar, which was introduced to Barbados in the 1630’s, was very labor intensive and in the early days indentured labourers were recruited from England. They agreed to work for 7 years without pay in exchange for their passage and keep. But this was not enough, young English men were kidnapped and they along with convicted criminals were shipped to Barbados. Some like Henry Morgan escaped the tyranny of this system and lived as buccaneers, raiding Spanish galleons as they carted cargo between Europe and the new world. Later white labour was replaced Black African slaves from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon.
Margaret Berringer felt lost and alone. She was uncomfortable with the workers and the slaves. One white worker, now a foreman, had been a convicted criminal. He was crude and frightening. Often she stayed indoors just to avoid his stare and uncouth manner. “I am a prisoner in paradise”, she thought.
Margaret was an ambitious and determined woman who struggled with the prejudices of the day. Her father was reverend John Forester, and her upbringing was strict and conservative. She felt she had always been a prisoner of some sort, hiding her emotions, pretending to be demure and lady like, to please her parents and live up to the expectations smothering her. She married Berringer because it was somehow expected. Women had no say, they were property, but to be fair Berringer was wealthy and powerful and the idea of living in his castle-like home was intriguing. The intrigue did not last. Cherry Tree was a deserted forest where she remained hidden from everyone. Bridgetown was 2 ½ hour away by carriage, Speighstown was closer but people were moving to the south. They had few friends and no one just popped in as they did in Bridgetown.
Yeamans visits brought relief, laughter and excitement. She laughed at his jokes and loved his keen sense of the world. He understood so much, he understood her. They talked sometimes with little need of words, sensing thoughts, emotions and intentions. It seemed that they had known each other forever, even when they first met. Secretly they walked in the woods. Sometimes they rode their horses to Bathsheba and strolled along the deserted beach at Cattlewash. They found pretexts to meet whenever they could.
Benjamin was an old fashioned man. Honour and respect were the foundations of his morality. He did not want to believe his wife was unfaithful but there were rumors. He overheard workers talking, he saw secret in faces and was aware of the abrupt silence when he happened on plantation gossip. This was unusual, he connected it with Yearman and his wife. One day as he walked through the grounds he saw Nyala , a leader amongst the slaves, alone crushing cane in the windmill grinder. “What you know of the miss’s and Mr. Yeamans he asked point blank. “Some boys done see them together, he don’t got no respect that Mr. Yeamans”. Nyala never minced words.
Yeamans had become careless with his affections and Colonel Berringer, a military man of honour, had only one recourse.
The duel was a spontaneous affair, arranged with the best British manners. “You know what this means, John. You cant be with another mans wife and not expect him to do something about it”. “But I love her”, Yeamans had said. “These things happen, its not personal Benjamin”. . “All the same, no one makes a fool of me in my house and gets away with it, what will it be, pistols or sabers?”. “Why not just a good punch up, old boy, there is no need for anything fatal, Benjamin”. “Pistols then, and may the best man win”.
Yeamans did not want to kill Colonel Benjamin but he did not want to die. In a duel you can shoot to kill, to maim or miss. He was sure that Benjamin would aim to kill and that left no choice. From a distance the body is like a dartboard, aim for the middle and you have a chance of hitting somewhere. Miss and you will certainly be hit in the return volley. The two men stood back to back and on command walked the 20 paces away from each other. They turned together and fired.
Yeamans married Mrs.Berringer and moved into the Abbey, shortly after they buried Benjamin. But life was not easy. Friends and family turned against them. The 1660’s were hard times for Barbados.. There had been a locust plague in 1663 that destroyed crops across the island. A fire had burned Bridgetown to the ground and provisions were scarce. A major hurricane in 1667 blew down sheds and uprooted trees on the plantation and the drought of 1668 just about ruined them. The final blow came when the Barbados court ruled that the Abbey be returned to Berringer’s children.
In 1669 the couple packed their bags and moved to Carolina. John Yeamans became a leading figure in the founding colony. He was appointed Governor after just three years. He died a few years later and Margaret, once again lost and alone, fell into the arms of a new man and remarried.
The two Great homes of these men still stand as icons of a different age.
The Abbey now called Nicolos Abbey, was named after Berringer’s grand-daughter who married George Nicholas. It is now a private home and a designated historic property that is open for public viewing on occasion. Yeamans legacy in Barbados ended with John. There were no more deaths from duels in Barbados. Round House, built of solid coral with walls that are several feet think, has survived its rugged environment. Today the Round House is a fine guesthouse and restaurant.
This story is based on fact, but the account in Campbell’s History of Barbados indicates that Berringer was poisoned and not shot. Whichever the case, it is thought that Yeamans killed Berringer or had him killed so that he could inherit his estate and his wife. The estate was eventually sold to the Cumberbatch brothers for payment of back taxes.
Source: Ian R. Clayton, Originally on Barbados.org