The story of Rachael Pringle Polgreen is one that evokes different emotions and perspectives from people depending on their outlook on life and how to live it as well as the role, expectations and the state of women through time.
For some, her unashamed use of sex as a means of acquiring millions and a great amount of property remains a bad example for women while for others, her determination as an enslaved woman who made her way to the top by all means necessary is a story of ambition and empowerment.
Rachael was born in 1753 to an enslaved African mother from Barbados and a white father, William Lauder, who was a white schoolmaster known for his affairs with black women. Although he did not take full responsibility of her, like several other women that had children with white people, Rachael was given her dad’s surname to give her an advantage and little benefits to life that pure black people were deprived of. Her maiden name was Rachael Lauder.
After several sexual advances from her own father, William Lauder, Rachael managed to find protection in another white man, Captain Thomas Pringle, by purchasing her as his property and offering her a place in his home. Several records indicate that Rachael gave into the idea of offering Thomas Pringle sex in exchange for a place to stay. After a while, through the advantage of her affair with Captain Pringle, Rachael was given her own home and adopted the name of the Captain dropping hers and becoming Rachael Pringle.
The relationship between Rachael and Thomas fell out after a while and the Captain returned to Jamaica to rejoin the army after the breakup. Few sources indicate that Captain Pringle ended the relationship after he found out that Rachael faked pregnancy with the hopes of receiving more benefits from him.
It didn’t take long for Rachael to find herself another white man, Mr Polgreen, who also offered her all she wanted including security and after a while, she took his name and officially became known as Rachael Pringle Polgreen.
With the wealth she had obtained from both men, Rachael turned the house Captain Pringle offered her into a tavern which offered short stay accommodation but the tavern later grew into a hotel where sailors from the British Royal Navy and men on business could gain sexual pleasures from women. With the help of Mr Polgreen, her business boomed and soon made her very rich and wealthy.
By the 1770s, Rachael became very influential and popular, loved and admired by many and shunned by a lot more due to her choice of business, but that did not stop the very determined young woman in any way. In fact, a visit from Prince William Henry, who became King William IV of England, to her hotel changed her business for the better.
While visiting the Bahamas and lodging at her hotel with some of his high ranking soldiers, the then Prince William Henry and his entourage destroyed her hotel due to being very drunk. With all confidence, Rachael sent the Prince a letter requesting that he pays for the damages to her property and included a bill which the Prince out of admiration for her boldness paid the requested amount.
Rachael used the money to rebuild her hotel and make it more lavish naming it the Royal Navy Hotel and establishing itself as the number one stop for wealthy traders and royals visiting the Caribbean.
Sadly, Rachael died at very young on July 23, 1791, at 38 and was buried at The Cathedral Church of Saint Michael and All Angels which was at the time the burial grounds for wealthy white people.
Due to her wealth, Rachael gained access to various white societies and places that were out of bounds for blacks and mulattoes. Her wealth and properties close to 3,000 pounds was the worth of several of the wealthiest whites in Barbados at the time. There is no denying that she made her wealth out of the fact that white men had sexual desires for black women that were satisfied at her hotel.
Her story has been told throughout the years with bits and pieces being altered to suit the narrative. While some indicate that she was a wicked slave owner who forced many of her female slaves into sleeping with her clients, others express that Rachael was actually a nice woman who bought freedom for several slaves and children and many of her girls worked for her at their own will.
It is easy to identify the image of Rachael being painted black from analyzing the fact that society did not like her for her hotel and lifestyle and would do anything to tarnish her image. In addition, much documentation of history was done by white literates who embellished narratives to suit them and their community.
Regardless, it is of great importance to be aware of her interesting story and her will to make it at a time when her race and gender made it more difficult to be part of the most regarded class in society.