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Estate life – Part 1

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Barrouallie is one of those places on mainland St Vincent which is “guarded” by estates at both main entrances. “She” is guarded by Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope at one end and by Wallilabou/Belle Isle at the other end. Those who worked on these estates are, in addition to those who braved the high seas, some of my heroes of yesteryear. We shall take a trip on the high seas at a later date.{{more}}

This article is therefore dedicated to those who toiled on these plantations and have passed to the great beyond. It is also dedicated to those who laboured on these estates and, are alive to tell the tales of “estate life”.

Several years ago, I tried my hand at a small kitchen garden at the foothills of Zion Mountain, under the supervision of my grandmother and the effort was back-breaking. I wondered then, and still do, about the conditions under which my ancestors worked. They were made to endure the heat of the sun and sometimes inhumane treatment, as they cultivated large acreages of sugar cane, cotton, arrowroot, cassava and later bananas. The profits made from these crops never reached their pockets.

It was quite amazing and, in several instances, overwhelming for me, as I listened to the tales of my elders who laboured on lands which were “technically” theirs, but which were taken away. I have since grown to appreciate more the contributions made by our ancestors and their descendants before my era. I was moved in many instances when I listened to the tales of hardship that my foreparents were subjected to and I can only conclude that we need to rewrite, in many instances, our history books with a focus on colonial days, from OUR PERSPECTIVE. We need to tell our side of the story.

In order to understand estate life, I conducted interviews with those persons who toiled. I was amazed at the wealth of information which my older town folks have of life several decades back. Their memories are as clear as crystal.

I sat with George Caesar, who everyone knows as “Bugga” and is lovingly referred to as “Adda” by his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I was taken aback by his memory and promised to follow up with him. “Adda” had much to tell. He related that Victoria (Vicky), whom I mentioned in my first article, was his grandmother and that in addition to the sisters, one brother, Robert Caesar, also had made the trip from Fancy to Wallilabou.

All of the older generation, he said, lived and worked on the surrounding estates. These folks lived in long barracks or estate houses. “Adda” remembers that in one of the barrack houses, there were four tenants, including one Mary Hamlet, Victoria Baptiste, Dessy Kirby and Jean Roberts. Lesilyn (my greatgrandmother) had “graduated” to her own thatched house.

A question was posed to “Adda” about land ownership before Casson’s time. George recalls that Mr McGregor McDonald and his brother George McDonald (Englishmen) owned the lands from Richmond Vale along the leeward to places on the windward side of the island! It was from the Mc Donalds that Mr Casson took over.

A telephone interview conducted with Mr Alfred Lowmans/Francis of Glebe Hill put me back several years and time to the days of estate life under Mr Casson. He, like “Adda”, recalls that Mr Casson (like the Mc Donalds) owned all of the lands on the leeward side, stretching from Richmond Vale to these parts and more.

He noted those times when he cultivated sugar cane, cotton, arrowroot and cassava and how his father worked as the blacksmith at Peter’s Hope estate. Mr Lowmans reminisced about that time when the Englishmen brought in a plant, parsley, which they grew, then dried to make perfume. He recalled those days when labourers were placed into gangs to work, males in one, females in the other. Lowmans/Francis, however, noted that when it was time to reap arrowroot, it was better to work by oneself, because each worker was paid according to the number of baskets of arrowroot he or she had dug. He remembers digging up to fourteen baskets in one day!!! I hope to continue my discussions with him as he has much to offer when it comes to community history.

I too have been touched by estate lives as my maternal grandfather, Norman Kennedy, worked as a driver at Peter’s Hope and later as an overseer at Belle Isle. His wife Elvie Kennedy, my maternal grandmother worked at “Yard” at Mt Wynne, and also as a labourer in several instances. It is safe to say that practically every home here in Barrouallie was in one way or the other connected with the estates.

Mrs Cunningham, another source of my information, remembers her grandmother, Ms Maude Jackson, who also lived in one of these estate houses at Peter’s Hope where she worked all her life. She also remembers that her father, Mr John Hoyte, also worked in the steam house at Peter’s Hope, where he tended tobacco for years.

Estate life was tough and hard and many limbs were severed, while others were maimed, some more serious than others. Ms Maude Jackson’s leg was severed at Peter’s Hope and, several years on, Ms Marjorie Bobb’s arm was severed at Wallilabou estate.

I wondered then how fair it was to our locals who literally “bust their backs” under the heat of the midday sun, losing limbs in the process. Just imagine picking up 100 coconuts for six cents, or working all day for 75 cents (males) and 48 cents (females)– all day !!!! As I listened to the tales, I became emotional, simply overwhelmed. Imagine getting up at the crack of dawn to work on an estate on which you were literally born, for meagre wages. As the day dawned, the ringing of the estate bell meant that it was time for work. Sometimes men and women would be seen running breathless from Keartons Hill until they got to Wallilabou to avoid being late.

I am cognizant of the fact that an effort was made to compensate estate workers a few years ago, but I want to make a passionate plea for those who are still around. I am quite sure that the Ministry of Agriculture may have information relative to those who toiled. Let us make a scroll and enshrine it somehere at the Wallilabou/Belle Isle or Peter’s Hope/Mt Wynne estates. Let us do something in remembrance of those who have passed. How about visiting those “estate workers” who are still alive and attending to some of their needs? It is just a thought which we can explore….

Continue reading as estate life continues next week, by God’s will.

Send comments to angelic_boldeyes@yahoo.com

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