August 7, 2012
UWI Open Campus hosts panel discussion in celebration of Emancipation month

The death of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, as well as the defeat and deportation of the Garifuna people, opened the doors for St Vincent and the Grenadines to become one of the region’s last slave societies.{{more}}

That was one of the major points established last Tuesday evening, as local historians and a capacity crowd gathered at the lecture hall of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus in Kingstown, for a panel discussion entitled Slavery and Resistance: the Vincentian Experience, which looked at the role played by local slaves.

Those gathered at the lecture, organized by the UWI Open Campus, learned that this defeat of the Garifuna and Calinago, during what was called the Second Carib War in 1795, paved the way for a full-fledged slave society to be established in St Vincent, which was previously considered a ‘society with slaves’.

Curtis King, history teacher at the St Vincent Grammar School, delivered a lecture on ‘The Role of Enslaved Africans in the 1795 Black Carib War’, where he determined that captive Africans fought on the side of the British settlers, leading to the defeat of Chatoyer and his warriors.

King said that although enslaved Africans fought on both sides, the majority of these slaves were enlisted and armed by the British, and fought against the Calinago and Garifuna, as well as the French, who lent their support to the indigenous people.

“If we were to summarize the role of the enslaved Africans… it would be fair to conclude that mostly the French enslaved Africans fought on the side of the Black Caribs. Some of the British enslaved Africans did join the Black Caribs, but the evidence supports the view that the vast number of the British enslaved Africans fought on the side of the British.

“As indicated, it played a critical role in helping the British defeat the Black Caribs.”

Following this defeat, the number of slaves in St Vincent increased from just under 3,000 slaves in 1797 to more than 28,000 by 1807, according to historian Dr Garrey Michael Dennie, who spoke on the topic Disease, Death and Demography in Vincentian Slave Society.

According to Dennie, that era was among the worst to be a slave on the island, where the mortality rate among newborns was about fifty per cent, and the majority of slaves died between the ages of 19 and 50 years old.

“In a normal healthy population, if you have 25 deaths per 1,000 births, that’s a crisis. For the Vincentian slave population, it was 500 deaths for 1,000 births; one out of every two kids would die within the first three days of life.”

Dennie noted that following the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the population of slaves dropped sharply in St Vincent, due to death and disease, and by 1834, the planter class was prepared sacrifice the lives of slaves in exchange for the profits that would be generated through slave labour.

“Today, we refer to St Vincent as the home of the blessed, but between 1797 and 1834 for enslaved Africans, St Vincent was ‘the land of the damned.’”

Female slaves also had an impact on the slavery resistance, who, according to professor of history Dr Joyce Toney, were more passive than the men, who actively rebelled against plantation owners.

In her delivery ‘Women and Resistance in Slavery’, Toney pointed out that women were instrumental in defending and keeping African traditions and communities together, which was essential to the preservation of African culture.

“When we think of resistance, we tend to focus on male slaves, leading rebellions and fighting back…. Often, however, the role that women played in the resistance of slavery is not publicized.”

“The truth is, what the slave owners saw as laziness, intransigence and such behaviour, is now perceived by scholars as the enslaved woman’s way of frustrating the slave owners.”

Toney pointed out that the slave women were involved in the poisoning of a number of the planter class, as well as providing food and shelter to the slave rebels where possible.

“If women did not show that strength, emancipation would have been a dismal failure,” she said.

“Our people could not have survived these heinous periods in our history without the efforts of our women,” Toney added.