With the rise of Napoleon France and increasing military tensions in Europe, British economic interests in the Caribbean were under threat of invasion.
In the 1790's a campaign was begun to strengthen the fortifications of Antigua. In light of the fact that the Naval Dockyard at English Harbour was of strategic importance to British interests, gun platforms and barracks with support facilities were constructed on the surrounding hills to house and support a large military force that could be quickly deployed in the region.
These fortifications and barracks were manned primarily by numerous British Regiments, but due to the high mortality rate among the white British troops, African (black) soldiers from the West India Regiments were stationed here at various times. All of the construction and support work at this large site was conducted by enslaved Africans.
The result of this cultural melting pot, is a rich archaeological assemblage with many avenues for theoretical and field research. Current research activities include, mapping the cemeteries and burial sites scattered across the hillsides, excavations at the artillary officers quarters, the barracks and canteen, and mapping all previously unrecorded structures.
Shirley Height's Project
Survey and excavations continues sporadically on the ridge, particularly at the Block House barracks. Recent excavations there have uncovered remains of several British regiments, including uniform buttons from the 54th West Norfolk Regiment, the 36th Herefordshire Regiment, the 68th Durham Light Infantry, the 37th North Hampshire Regiment, and the 69th South Lincolnshire Regiment. In addition, a domino piece made from lead, and a bone or ivory brush handle inscribed with the name Rodd was recovered along with a large volume of faunal remains, broken glass and china tableware fragments. The focus of this project is comparative research between the various barracks and residential spaces of the British military on the ridge at Shirley Height’s. To date only the barracks of the Artillery Officers, the soldiers’ barracks at the western Lookout and the western section of the Blockhouse have been systematically sampled, mapped and about 4 meter square units at each site excavated. At the Blockhouse midden overlooking the sea, research during restoration work uncovered a previously unknown underground drainage system that was used to collect and channel surface rain-water into the cistern.