Spiritual Baptists in St Vincent and the Grenadines regained legal freedom to worship in 1965
Features
October 22, 2022
Top 12 Most Significant Moments in the History of St Vincent and the Grenadines

A country’s legacy is built on the struggles and triumphs of its people and here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), we have overcome insurmountable challenges to advance toward social and economic progress.

 

March 17, 1797: End of the Carib Wars and banishment of the Garifuna

“Painting by Agostino Brunias (commissioned by Sir William Young), depicting negotiations between British soldiers and Black Caribs, 1773” – From Michael Craton’s ‘Testing the Chains’. (Reproduced by Josette Norris for the cover of the book ‘Chatoyer (Chatawae) National Hero of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ by Adrian Fraser

The indigenous people of the island mounted fierce resistance to British colonization. Led by the Chief of Chiefs, Joseph Chatoyer, they fought in two wars from 1769–1773 and again from 1795–1797.

The resistance was eventually quelled by British armed forces. As punishment, the British rounded up over 5,000 Black Caribs and exiled them to the island of Balliceaux then to the island of Roatan where they then went on to settle in Central America.

This fight is the foundation of the celebration for National Heroes Day and is testament to the fierce spirit of Vincentian people.

 

 

August 1, 1834: Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day on a West Indian Plantation (Internet illustration)

Following a 40-year period under the system of chattel slavery in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the British government in 1833 and came into effect the following year.

The Act saw planters in SVG receive compensation for the loss of property. They received payment in the amount of £1.6 million.

The over 22,000 ex-slaves, however received no money and were forced to continue labouring under a four-year apprenticeship system.

 

 

May 7, 1902: Eruption of La Soufriere

The North Leeward community of Richmond after the 1902 eruption of La Soufriere (Internet photo)

La Soufriere volcano has erupted six times since the 18th century (1718, 1812, 1902, 1971, 1979 and 2021).The most famous of these is the 1902 eruption, which began on May 6, 1902.

The rapid onset of the May 1902 eruptions caught many people unaware, and contributed to the high death toll. The majority of the injured and dead were from the Windward coast north of Georgetown.

The Rabacca River after the 1902 eruption of La Soufriere (Internet photo)

From the available information, residents of the Leeward coast north of Chateaubelair which was also badly affected by the eruptions had either fled or taken refuge before the inundation by pyroclastic flows; and consequently casualties there were fewer.

A total of 2000 lives were lost and the northern part of the island was decimated.

 

Labour disturbances of October 21 & 22, 1935

Cover illustration from ‘The 1935 Riots in St Vincent: From Riots to Adult Suffrage’ by Dr Adrian Fraser

During the 1930’s, labour uprisings were springing up across the Caribbean. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, a proposed increase on the price of matches and other commodities was the breaking point that sent working class people to seek an audience with the Governor in the yard of the Court House.

By the evening they had grown restless and eventually launched an attack on the senior members of The House. Stores associated with the revenue generating legislation such as Coreas were attacked. By the next day the riots had reached Campden Park and protestors focused their frustration on the business of John DaSouza, which later spread to rioting in Questelles.

The event is recognized as the catalyst for social and political development in SVG and the attainment of Universal Suffrage in 1951.

 

 

Spiritual Baptist Freedom to Worship – 1965

Spiritual Baptists in St Vincent and the Grenadines regained the legal right to worship in 1965

The Shaker Prohibition Ordinance was passed in St Vincent in November, 1912 which led to the persecution of persons on the island who practiced ‘Shakerism’, known today as the Spiritual Baptists.

The Spiritual Baptist religion emerged out of the slave plantation and the prohibition was an attempt by the colonial authorities to exert control over them.Worshippers came under heavy persecution in the 1920’s and 1930’s and after the 1935 Labour Disturbances the struggle intensified.

Social and political activist George McIntosh had championed the cause of the Shakers. In 1951, a trial in a Magistrate’s Court ended with the acquittal of those who had been charged for offences under the Shakerism Prohibition Ordinance of 1912.

That acquittal virtually put an end to prosecutions under the ordinance. After that, Spiritual Baptists worshipped openly.The Prohibition Ordinance was formally repealed in 1965, under the influence of Ebenezer Theodore Joshua.

The Spiritual Baptists continue to be a central thread in the fabric of the country’s religious landscape.

 

 

Carnival in June / July – 1977

A section from SVG Players Junior Mas presentation 2018.

From its inception, Carnival in St Vincent and the Grenadines has undergone significant and progressive changes from the early days of celebrating on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. 1977 was a signal point of Vincentian culture, this was when the first July Mas was celebrated and the start of the 10-day festival as we know it today.

 

 

October 27, 1979: Independence Day

Almost 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, St Vincent and the Grenadines stepped out from under the skirt tail of the Queen to become a fully-independent nation.

At midnight on October 27, 1979 at Victoria Park, the Union Jack was lowered and the gold, green and blue flag was raised for the first time.

 

 

November 1979 – SVG emerges runners-up in the Caribbean Football Union Championship

Football is still a popular game in St Vincent and the Grenadines. In this photo, players from the opposing teams in the Layou Football League battle for ball possession as supporters anxiously look on (photo by Robertson S. Henry)

St Vincent and the Grenadines, a virtually unknown Caribbean Football Nation at the time emerged runners-up to Haiti in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Championship.

They placed ahead of Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. It was then, and still is the biggest achievement in the history of football in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

 

 

December 7, 1979: The Union Island Uprising

An aerial view of Union Island (Wikipedia photo)

Dissatisfaction with the social and economic conditions for those living on Union Island led to the uprising with the goal of removing the Grenadine island from under the control of mainland St Vincent, an event which happened on the heels of the Grenada Revolution.

Head instigator, Lennox “Bumba” Charles took over control of government buildings and essential services.

The response from the Cato government was swift and harsh. A dusk to dawn curfew was implemented under a state of emergency and military reinforcements were called in from Barbados.

Police were able to regain control of the island and after word spread that Bumba fled the island, the other ‘rebels’ fled their posts and went into hiding. The uprising resulted in the death of one and the arrest of close to 40 persons.

 

 

June 3, 1981: Kill the Bills March

On June 3, 1981, thousands of people marched in Kingstown to protest two pieces of legislation the Government intended to pass

In early 1981, life had become difficult for the Vincentian working people. Cost of living had skyrocketed and there was widespread social and industrial unrest.

The SVG Labour Party Government responded to the growing unrest by seeking to pass the ‘Public Safety and Public Order Bill’ and the ‘Essential Services Amendment Bill’, known as the ‘Dread Bills’.

On Wednesday June 3, 1981, history was made in SVG with the largest-ever demonstration witnessed in our country.Thousands of people from all walks of life marched in Kingstown to demand the withdrawal of the proposed legislation.

So successful was the mass mobilisation that while the Bills were not formally withdrawn, the legislative process itself ensured that they were relegated to the dustbin of history, with no government since then daring to move in that direction. It was certainly the most significant victory for our working people.

 

 

2001: Education Revolution

Graduates of the class of 2022 of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College

Considered a flagship policy of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government, the Education Revolution is a move to achieve universal access to quality education for all Vincentians, from preschool to tertiary education. The policy is seen as mostly successful considering the increase of students pursuing secondary, post-secondary and university education.

 

 

February 14, 2017: Opening of the Argyle International Airport

The Argyle International Airport was opened on February 14, 2022 (Photo Credit VIP Pix Rico DeShong)

Nine years after the government broke ground for the construction of the nation’s first international airport, the country joined its Caribbean counterparts by stepping into the future of air access. Funded by donations, grants and loans from a number of countries to the tune of approximately $700 million, the AIA has proven to be an economic boost for tourism and other sectors.

 

 

SEARCHLIGHT is grateful to historians Dr Garrey Dennie and Dr Cleve Scott for their assistance in the identification and analysis of these and other significant moments, from which the 12 were chosen.