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Who killed Chatoyer?

Who killed Chatoyer?

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We are really off by a few hours because Chatoyer actually died in the early morning of March 15. He was killed after an ambush by British soldiers and militia personnel who left Sion Hill after midnight on March 14 on their way to the fort at Dorsetshire Hill where Chatoyer, Duvalle and their men were lodged, no doubt waiting to launch an attack on Kingstown on March 15.  They got within eighty yards of the fort occupied by the Garinagu before they were discovered.  When they were 20 yards away orders were given to fire their volley. The buildings housing the Garifuna force were stormed and as Charles Shephard who wrote about the battle indicated, within 15 minutes “the fate of the hill was determined” in the “darkness of night”. Among those killed  was Chatoyer who, the author informed us “fell unregretted in single combat with the brave Major Leith of the Militia.” Shephard, of course, was telling the story of the British survivors. An African proverb reminds us that “Until lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunters.” The Garinagu certainly were never able to tell their story.

Above is a photograph of the memorial stone provided for Major Leith. It lies under a carpet in the St. George’s cathedral. It reads, “The Carib Chief Chattawae falling by his hand.” For a long time ,we accepted that version of the encounter but there had always been doubts about that account. Under what circumstances would there have been a single combat between Chatoyer (Chattawae) and Major Leith in the darkness after midnight? The Garinagu like the Kallinagos fought guerrilla warfare that gave them an advantage over their European enemies. So immediately any critical reader would treat that account with caution. One of the things about history is that as new evidence emerge you re-examine the data and there have been other sources that help to cast doubt on that account.

Kirby and Martin when they wrote THE RISE AND FALL OF THE BLACK CARIBS in 1972 seemed to have accepted that version. They wrote, “Chatoyer for his part, had by this time become fully convinced of the truth of the legend that he could not be killed by mortal means. He allowed his vanity to run away with him and he made the fatal mistake of challenging Major Leith to a duel. Leith was a trained army officer and would obviously have been proficient with the sword. . .”

Interestingly when Governor Seton wrote about the attack on Dorsetshire Hill, he singled out military officers who had performed outstandingly. Leith was not mentioned. It however suited British propaganda especially since the war continued following Chatoyer’s death to make the point that their Major was able to single- handedly in combat defeat their Chatoyer who had been such an inspiration to his men. There were other versions which give a different version of what transpired at Dorsetshire Hill. Among them were E.L Joseph’s Warner Arundell- The Adventures of a Creole, published in 1838 and the journal of John Anderson who served as a Special Magistrate in St. Vincent from 1836- 1838. He had taken the opportunity during his stay to speak to elderly persons about events of the past. A proprietor at Baker’s Ridge who was in 1795 a young militiaman gave his account of the storming of Dorsetshire Hill on March 14, “ My informant was within two rank & file of the cruel Carib Commander in Chief,- Chatoyer, when he fell. Major Leith of the Militia advanced upon him, crying out “you him Chatoyer?” – “Oui B —” was the response, accompanied by a thrust of his sword, which was parried ; five bayonets being dashed into the sanguinary monster’s breast at the same moment.”  The story as told to Warner Arundel, “We passed without noise into the fort, and surprised the enemy in the midst of their carousal. It was no fight- it was a mere regular slaughter and in a few moments the fort was cleared of the enemy.”

Chatoyer was then the villain and Leith the hero. Today Chatoyer is the real hero and Major Leith! A mystic figure? Winner of a phantom duel!

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