Fear drove the ideas behind the eugenics, master race, movement of the 20th century. Books, like Civilisation and Climate, written by the most prominent scientists of the day, helped to spur on ideas for the supposed need to further engineer selective breeding theories.

Civilisation and Climate painted a bleak picture of the generational outcomes of migrated Anglo Saxon whites, compared to the negro, in hot climates. Exactly why the Bahamas was chosen to highlight this hypothesis, expounded by Yale scientist Ellsworth Huntington, is somewhat of a mystery.


Geography, in the early 20th century, as a science, was changing. For Yale Professor Ellsworth Huntington, it had moved way beyond mere map making. As a discipline, it was being used to engage areas of climate and anthropological study. In the centuries after 1492, to scramble for Africa in the 19th century, Geography as a science, was primarily aimed at producing maps, as well as, recharting new physical borders drawn up by colonisation.

By 1915, old Geography had given way to a type of paleoclimatology field of academic research. Studies like these produced the first ideas about Eugenics.

Consider that the entire impetus for the Transatlantic Slave Trade was that the negro, due to his origins in the environments of Africa, was more suited to the climate and hard work needed, to help build the empires of Europe, in the New World.

Slavery and the ensuing colonisation of the New World, and Africa, resulted in substantial global population shifts. Disparate groups of people would be taken out of their generational climate environments, into new ones. Little thought was given to their outcomes, until after the economics within nations, and between nations, began to collide. As racial lines were being drawn along economic lines, across America, the Caribbean and Africa, and even Europe, we soon see ideas being promulgated, over what conditions make the best, most superior, people in the world. Ellsworth Huntington said cooler climates is a beginning towards this utopian ideal of superior beings.

How did climate, the tropical heat of the Bahamas, affect the descendants of Loyalists and European settlers? How did those, accustomed to more moderate, changing climate, fare after settling in a subtropical climate like the Bahamas?

By the early 20th century, one Yale Professor, Ellsworth Huntington, began to ask questions about the outcomes of white Anglo Saxons, who migrated from moderate, cooler climates, to tropical, predominantly hot climates like the Bahamas and South Africa.

Ellsworth Huntington theorised that heat had a debilitating effect on the body. This debilitating effect was more pronounced in whites, who historically speaking, were originally from cooler climate places. Huntington theorised that both white and black people had better economic outcomes in cooler, more moderate, northern climates.

ELLSWORTH HUNTINGTON (16 Sep 1876 – 17 Oct 1947)

“History in its broadest aspect is a record of man’s migrations from one environment to another.”

— Ellsworth Huntington

The Red Man’s Continent: A Chronicle of Aboriginal America (1919), 2.

American geologist, climatologist, explorer and geographer was perhaps the best now geographer of his time. In his early career, he was one of the first explorers of Central Asia. His life’s work was studying the effect of climate changes on human culture and civilization.

Ellsworth Huntington (September 16, 1876 – October 17, 1947) was a professor of geography at Yale University during the early 20th century, known for his studies on environmental determinism/climatic determinism, economic growth and economic geography. He served as President of the Ecological Society of America in 1917, the Association of American Geographers in 1923 and President of the Board of Directors of the Society for Biodemography and Social Biology from 1934 to 1938.


Among the things to be mapped, human character as expressed in civilization is one of the most interesting and one whose distribution most needs explanation. The only way to explain it is to ascertain the effect of each of many cooperating factors. Such matters as race, religion, institutions, and the influence of men of genius must be considered on the one hand, and geographical location, topography, soil, climate, and similar physical conditions on the other. This book sets aside the other factors, except incidentally, and confines itself to climate.

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“One of the best places for comparing the two races is the Bahama Islands. For reasons which I shall present later, the process of making “poor whites” has probably gone farther in the Bahamas than in almost any other Anglo-Saxon community. Part of the white people are like their race in other regions, but a large portion have unmistakably degenerated. Witness their intense and bigoted speech, their sunken cheeks and eyes, their sallow complexion, and their inert way of working. In spite of racial prejudice, there is no real color line in the Bahamas. Persons with more or less negro blood are worthy occupants of the highest positions, and are universally accepted in the most exclusive social circles. The British government gives the negro every possible opportunity. The state of affairs may be judged from the remarks of a “poor white” sailor, who said to me: “You want to know why I likes the southern states better than the North. It’s because they hates a nigger and I hates him, too. What kind of a place is this where they do everything for the nigger and nothing for the white man? It’s bad enough to have to go to jail, but it’s pretty hard for a white man to be taken there by a nigger constable.” In one Bahaman village I saw negro girls teaching white children in the public schools. In that same village a number of the leading white men cannot read or write. When they were children their parents would not send them to school with negroes. The despised negroes learned to read and write, but have now largely forgotten those accomplishments. The proud whites grew up in abject ignorance. Today the same thing is going on. I visited two villages where the white children are staying away from school because they will not go to negro teachers. The homes of such whites are scarcely better than those of their colored neighbors, and their fathers are called “Jim” and “Jack” by the black men with whom they work. Racial prejudice apparently works more harm to the whites than the blacks. So far as occupations go there is no difference, for all alike till the soil, sail boats, and gather sponges.

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When the lumber industry was introduced into the islands, whites and blacks were equally ignorant of the various kinds of work involved in cutting trees and converting them into lumber. The managers did not care who did the work so long as it was done. They wanted three things, strength, docility or faithfulness, and brains. They soon found that in the first two the negroes were superior. Time and again persons in authority, chiefly Americans, but also some of the more capable native whites, told me that if they wanted a crew of men to load a boat or some such thing, they would prefer negroes every time. The poor white shirks more than the colored man, he is not so strong, and he is proud and touchy. Other things being equal, the negro receives the preference. But other things are not equal. The very men who praised the negroes generally added: “But you can’t use a negro for everything. They can’t seem to learn some things, and they don’t know how to boss a job.” The payroll reflects this. Even though the negroes receive the preference, the 400 who are employed earn on an average only about 60 per cent as much as the 57 white men. If we take only the 57 most competent negroes, their average daily wages are still only 88 per cent as great as those of the native whites. The difference is purely a matter of brains. Although the white man may be ignorant and inefficient, with no more training than the negro, and although his father and grandfather were scarcely better, he possesses an inheritance of mental quickness and initiative which comes into evidence at the first opportunity.

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All these considerations seem to point to an ineradicable racial difference in mentality. As the plum differs from the apple not only in outward form and color, but in inward flavor, so the negro seems to differ from the white man not only in feature and complexion, but in the workings of the mind. No amount of training can eradicate the difference. Cultivation may give us superb plums, but they will never take the place of apples. We have tried to convert the black man into an inferior white man, but it cannot be done. Initiative, inventiveness, versatility, and the power of leadership are the qualities which give flavor to the Teutonic race. Good humor, patience, loyalty, and the power of self-sacrifice give flavor to the negro. With proper training he can accomplish wonders. No one can go to a place like Hampton Institute without feeling that there is almost no limit to what may be achieved by cultivation. In an orderly, quiet way, those negro boys and girls go about their daily tasks and give one the feeling that they are making a real contribution to the world’s welfare. To be sure, they work slowly, they are not brilliant in their classes, they rarely have new ideas in their manual work, but yet they are faithful. The willing, happy spirit of their work is something that we nervous, worried white people need sorely to learn. Once in a long time there comes a leader, a man to whom both white and black look up, but such leadership is scarcely the genius of the race. Yet leadership is what the black man must have. At such places as Hampton he gets it, and one realizes that the white man’s initiative joined to the Christian spirit which is there so dominant can give a training which overcomes much of the handicap of race.

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Having turned aside to pay tribute to the potency of race, education and religion, in determining the status of civilization, let us come back to physical environment. What part does this play? Is it so important that a strong race in an unfavorable climate is likely to make no better showing than a weak race in a favorable climate? How far can a bad climate undo the effect of a good training?

In answer to these questions, we may well compare the Teutonic and negro races when each is removed from the climate in which it originally developed. Before proceeding to this a word should be added to forestall any possible misunderstanding of my attitude toward the southern parts of the United States and toward other progressive regions which, nevertheless, suffer somewhat from climatic handicaps. In searching for the truth I shall be forced to say some things which may not be wholly pleasing to residents of such regions. It must be clearly understood, however, that these are not stated on my own authority. All are based either on the consensus of opinion among a large number of persons including many southerners, or upon the exact figures of the United States census or other equally reliable sources. My part has been simply to interpret them. Believing that in all essential matters of inheritance and of ability the people of the South average as high as those of the North, I have tried to find out why the southern part of the United States had prospered less than the northern. This does not mean that I reject the old ideas as to the cause, but simply that I emphasize another which has not received sufficient consideration. It does not discredit the South nor its people. It does not alter the fact that southerners possess a courtesy and thoughtfulness which we of the worried and hurried North need greatly to imitate. Nor does it mean that men of genius are not as likely to be born in one section as another. Instead of this, it merely indicates that in addition to the many efforts now being made to foster progress in the South by other means, we should add a most vigorous attempt to discover ways of overcoming the handicap of climate. This book is written with the profound hope that the truth which it endeavors to discover may especially help those parts of the world whose climate, although favorable, does not afford the high degree of stimulation which in certain other restricted areas is so helpful.

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Let us first undertake a study of what the census shows as to negroes and whites in different parts of the United States. The only people whom we can compare with accuracy are the farmers, for they are the only ones for whom exact statistics are available. Fortunately they are the part of the community where social prejudices and other hampering conditions have the smallest influence. The prosperity of the farmer, more than that of almost any other class of society, depends upon his own individual effort. If he is industrious, he need never fear that he and his family will not have a roof over their heads and something to eat. Even when the crops are bad, he rarely is in danger of suffering as factory operatives often suffer, at least not in the eastern United States with which alone we are now concerned. Moreover, the prejudice against colored people has little effect upon farmers. No one hesitates to buy vegetables peddled by a darkey farmer. Finally, farming is the occupation in which the South has been least hampered as compared with the North. For nearly half a century the negro has been able to buy land freely in any part of the country. The southerners, whether white or black, have suffered economically because of slavery and the consequent war, but they have a soil and climate far better for agriculture than those of the North, and they have peculiarly good opportunities to raise tobacco and cotton, two of the most money-making crops in the world. Taken all in all, the farmers of the country ought to show the relative capacities of different races and of the same race under different conditions better than almost any other class of people.

In 1904 the United States Census Bureau published a bulletin on the negro. From that I have prepared the following table showing the relative conditions in four groups of states in 1900. The first row of numbers (line 1) shows the total number of white and colored farmers. The second row shows that the farms of the northern white men average about 100 acres in size, while those of the southern white men are larger. The colored farms, on the other hand, have an average size of about 50 acres. In the next row of figures, line 3, we notice that the northerners forge ahead. Even in the relatively hilly states of New York and Pennsylvania, the white farmers have improved 63.5 acres per farm, or 69 per cent of the whole, leaving only 31 per cent in the rough state of bushes or woods. The northern negroes do exactly as well in proportion to their holdings, for they have cleared 33.0 acres, which is also 69 per cent of the average farm. In the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, on the contrary, the white men have improved only 34 per cent of their land, and the colored men 58 per cent. For the states farther west (comparison B), approximately similar conditions prevail. The negroes are obliged to clear a larger percentage than the whites because their small holdings would not otherwise furnish a living. The significance of the figures lies in the fact that the northerners, whether white or black, show more energy in improving their land than do the southerners of the same kind.

Page 19 – Civilisation and Climate

In both comparisons the figures in lines 4 and 9 are the most significant. They show the value of the farms and the value of the annual products. In each line the values are stated in dollars as given in the census report, while underneath I have added percentages. In computing the percentages the highest value is reckoned as 100 per cent and the rest are figured accordingly. In each item of both comparisons the northern whites stand at the top. In general the northern white man’s farm is worth twice as much as that of his colored neighbor, and he gets twice as much from it. The southern white man has a farm worth less than that of the northern negro, but he gets from it approximately the same amount of products. The southern negro’s farm is worth about half as much as the southern white man’s, and he gets from it about two thirds as much. Taking all the farmers from our four groups of states and reckoning them according to the value of what they actually produce,

This little table possesses profound significance. It shows unmistakably two types of contrast. First, there is the racial contrast, the result of long inheritance. That, apparently, is what makes the negroes fall below the whites in both the North and the South. There is also a climatic contrast. That, apparently, is why the negroes who come to the North rise above the usual level of their race, while the whites of the South fall below the level of theirs. I realize that the contrast between the two sections is explained in a hundred ways by as many different people. One ascribes it to the fact that slavery was a poor system economically. Another says that the South is cursed for having consented to the sin of slavery. Again, we are told that the predicament of the South is due to the War of Secession, the failure to develop manufactures, the absence of roads and railroads, bad methods of farming, the presence of the negro making the white man despise labor, and many other equally important causes which cannot here be named. Still other authorities ascribe the condition of the South to its supposed settlement by adventurers, whereas the North had its Pilgrims.

I would not minimize the importance of these factors. All are of real significance, and if any had been different, the South would not be quite what it is. All depend upon the two fundamental conditions of race or inheritance, and place or climate. Yet in the contrast between the North and South, the climatic effects seem to be the more potent. Slavery failed to flourish in the North not because of any moral objection to it, for the most godly Puritans held slaves, but because the climate made it unprofitable. In a climate where the white man was tremendously energetic and where a living could be procured only by hard and unremitting work, it did not pay to keep slaves, for the labor of such incompetent people scarcely sufficed to provide even themselves with a living, and left little profit for their masters. In the South slavery was profitable because even the work of an inefficient negro more than sufficed to produce enough to support him. Moreover, the white man was not energetic, and his manual work was not of much more value than that of a negro. Hence, it was easy to fall into the habit of using his superior brain, and letting the black man perform the physical labor. If the Puritans had settled in Georgia, it is probable that they would have become proud slave-holders, despising manual work.

So far as inheritance is concerned, the white southerners, according to the generally accepted principles of biology, must be essentially as well off as the white men of the North. New England has probably had a certain advantage from the strong fiber of her early settlers, but that section is excluded from our comparison because it has so few colored farmers. In New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the states farther west, the white farmers in 1900 were of highly mixed origin, and there is little reason to think that they inherit any greater capacity than do the white men of the South. Hence, we infer that the difference shown by the census is largely a matter of climate. It has arisen partly by indirect means such as slavery and disease, partly by direct means such as the disinclination to physical exertion. This demands emphasis, for we are told that the South needs nothing but a fair opportunity, plenty of capital, and abundant roads, railroads, and factories, or else it needs only education, a new respect of one race for the other, coöperation between the two for the sake of the common good, and a deeper application of the principles of Christ. All these things are sadly needed, but it is doubtful whether they can work their full effect unless supplemented by a new knowledge of how to neutralize the climatic influences which seem to underlie so many southern problems. In the climate of the South a part of the white population becomes a prey to malaria, the hookworm, and other debilitating ailments. People cease to be careful about food and sanitation. Even those who are in good health do not feel the eager zest for work which is so notable in the parts of the world where the climatic stimulus is at a maximum. Thus one thing joins with another to cause a part of the people to fall far below the level of their race, and to become “Poor Whites,” or “Crackers.” These increase in number as one passes from a more to a less favorable climate. It is their run-down, unkempt farms which bring the average of the southern whites so dangerously near the level of the negroes. The best farms of the South vie with those of the North. They show what could be done if all the inhabitants could be instilled with the energy and wisdom of the best.

Aside from North America the only large area where Teutons and negroes come into direct contact as permanent inhabitants is South Africa. There they meet on practically equal terms. The English and the Boers began to settle in South Africa in large numbers only in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1911 the South African Republic contained about 1,300,000 Europeans, 4,000,000 natives, and 600,000 from other regions. A large proportion of the white men were not born there, and hence the new conditions have not had time to produce their full effect. The natives consist largely of the Bantu stock of negroes. The majority are Zulus, but the most capable appear to be the Basutos, an allied race who have preserved a large measure of independence in the safe refuge of the Drakenberg mountains. Both the Zulus and the Basutos came from the North a few generations ago. Some preceded the white man and in South Africa the white men settled first in the regions most favorable from a climatic point of view and then pushed north- ward into worse conditions. Even the best parts of South Africa cannot approach England and Holland in the excellence of their climate. Hence, the white settlers are everywhere at a disadvantage. On the other hand, the Bantu negroes have come into South Africa from the north, where the climate is far less favorable than in their new homes. Thus the two races face each other under conditions which lessen the white man’s energy, while they stimulate the black man. The whites are still far ahead, and will doubtless continue to be so indefinitely. Nevertheless, the weaker ones are being weeded out and prepared for destruction. What the final result will be, no man can say. It depends upon whether we can discover a means of preventing the deterioration which now seems to attack a portion of the population when people move from a good climate to a worse.

A more striking case than that of South Africa is found in the Bahama Islands. At the time of the American Revolution a considerable number of Loyalists were so faithful to England that they sacrificed their all in order to escape from the new flag with its stars and stripes. Leaving their homes in Georgia and other southern states they sought the British territory of the Bahamas. Other colonists came from Great Britain. Now, after from three to five generations, the new environment has had more opportunity than in South Africa to produce its full effect. Nowhere else, indeed, in all the world have people of the English race lived as genuine colonists for several generations in so tropical a climate. What has been the result? There can be but one answer. It has been disastrous. Compare the Bahamas with Canada. The same sort of people went to both places. Today the descendants of the Loyalists in Canada are one of the strongest elements in causing that country to be conspicuously well governed and law-abiding, and the descendants of other colonists, both British and French, vie with them in this matter. In the Bahamas the descendants of the same type of people show today a larger proportion of poor whites than can probably be found in any other Anglo-Saxon community. Although no figures are available, my own observations lead to the conclusion that the average white farmer is scarcely ahead of the average negro.

Whatever the exact figures may be, there can be no question that in the Bahamas the two races tend to approach the same level. This seems to indicate a marked retrogression of the white race in regions which are climatically unsuitable. Let me hasten to say that many of the more intelligent Bahamans do not differ from the corresponding portions of the AngloSaxon race elsewhere. At home they feel themselves handicapped, but when the young people go away to the northern United States or England, they frequently show marked ability. Their inheritance is still good. As to the poor whites, who were described in connection with the lumber industry, it is not so certain that their inheritance remains unimpaired, for in some villages genuine abnormalities both of body and mind are seen. This, however, may be due to the intermarriage of cousins which has been common in certain communities.

The inefficiency of many of the white Bahamans, however, is not due to intermarriage, as is sometimes implied, for villages where this prevails are scarcely worse than those where it is no more common than in America. Nor is the inefficiency due to disease. The hookworm is practically unknown. According to a report of Dr. McHattie, Chief Medical Officer of the Islands, only two cases had been reported up to October, 1913. In this report, for which I am indebted to the courtesy of Dr. J. A. Ferrell of the Rockefeller International Health Commission, the author points out that “the remarkably rapid manner in which the soil . . . dries after even the heaviest rain” prevents the development of the infective larvæ. For similar reasons malaria is no more prevalent than in Delaware, for instance, and in general the islands are decidedly healthful. A monotonous diet may be another detrimental factor, but it is scarcely the root of the matter. Many of the people are well fed, and all could be so if they displayed any

Indeed, many people say that life is altogether too easy in the Bahamas. The soil is wonderfully fertile, crops of some kind will ripen at all seasons, and a man can work less than half his time and still readily procure an abundance to eat and wear for himself and his family. On the other hand, we are often told that the difficulties of life have broken the spirit of the inhabitants. The soil, in spite of its richness, is thin, and rocks are so abundant that the plough is almost unknown. Hand agriculture in little patches in the midst of naked limestone is the rule. It cannot be denied that there are difficulties in comparison with many other tropical countries. For instance, I was talking with a negro whose parents were in a slave ship bound from Africa to Cuba when a British warship captured it. The slaves were taken to the Bahamas and liberated. In answer to a question as to how his parents liked the islands compared with Africa, the son said: “They didn’t like it. They used to say, ‘In Africa one could lie around all day and do nothing and always find something to eat. Here one has to work or else starve.'” The truth seems to be that compared with North Prussia or Maine the Bahamas are a very easy place in which to make a living, but that much more work is needed than in some other tropical regions. They are at the happy mean. Other difficulties such as the tropical hurricanes which sweep over the country once in every few years; insect pests, which are neither more nor less harmful than in other countries; the American tariff; competition with Cuba, and above all the isolated position of the islands are frequently cited as causes of the constant Bahaman failures. The islands are always suffering from bad luck, and something must be to blame.

All these various factors doubtless play a part in retarding the development of the Bahamas. Back of them, however, lies a factor of even greater import, namely, an inertia due to the climate. It does not cause the difficulties mentioned above,

I asked a Bahaman girl, who had been studying nursing in New York, whether she enjoyed life more in the United States than in the Bahamas. “How can one help enjoying it more there?” she answered. “There one feels like doing things. Here one never feels like anything.” Like almost everyone else she was sure that it was the climate even more than the new social environment which made the difference.

One thing that surprised me was to hear the Bahamans speak of the stimulus of living in Florida. A native merchant remarked: “If I hire a new man I don’t have to ask whether he has been to Florida. I know it by the way he works, but it does not last long.”

The last thing to be said about the Bahamas concerns the effect of the climate on mental activity. Practically all the islanders with whom I talked thought that the effect of the climate on mental activity is at least as great as on physical. Several of the more thoughtful, without any suggestion on my part, put the matter in this way: “The worst thing about this climate is the effect on the mind. Not that people do not have as good minds as elsewhere, but one soon gets weary of hard mental effort. It is extremely difficult to concentrate one’s thoughts. At night one cannot seem to make himself read anything serious–nothing but the lightest kind of stories.”

In our own southern states one hears the same complaint. Even in Virginia the booksellers say that during the long summer almost no one touches a serious book. One feels it everywhere, for on the trains, at the railroad stations, and at the news- dealers it is generally difficult to find the higher grade of magazines. Time and again during a recent journey of three months in the southern states I tried to get such papers as the Outlook, Independent, Harper’s, Atlantic, the Review of Reviews, The Century, and so forth–but all that I could find was trashy story magazines. The dealers rarely keep the better magazines because people will not read them. Lack of training surely has something to do with the matter, but mental inertia due to lack of climatic stimulus seems to be at least equally important.

Let us return now to our question as to a Teutonic and a negro Egypt. The farmers of the northern and southern states, the race problem of South Africa, and the backwardness of the Bahamas, all seem to point to the same conclusion. When the white man migrates to climates less stimulating than those of his original home, he appears to lose in both physical and mental energy. This leads to carelessness in matters of sanitation and food, and thus gives greater scope to the diseases which under any circumstances would find an easy prey in the weakened bodies. The combination of mental inertia and physical weakness makes it difficult to overcome the difficulties arising from isolation, from natural disasters, or from the presence of an inferior race, and this in turn leads to ignorance, prejudice, and idleness. Thus there arises a vicious circle which keeps on incessantly. From its revolving edge a part of the community is thrown off as poor whites, whose number increases in proportion to the enervating effect of the climate and the consequent speed with which the circle revolves. That climate is the original force which sets the wheel in motion seems to me evident, because it is only in adverse climates that we find the “cracker” type of “poor white trash” developing in appreciable numbers. If white men lived a thousand years in Egypt it seems probable that a large proportion of them would degenerate to this type. Whether they would still retain an inheritance of mentality sufficient to keep them ahead of a similar body of negroes can scarcely be determined.”


Civilisation and Climate by Ellsworth Huntington and Humphrey Milford, YALE University Press 1915