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NOT ‘HIS’ TORY – Part 4

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We continue this week with extracts of Dr Bernard Marshall’s excellent record and commentary on “Slavery, law and Society in the British Windward Islands, 1763- 1823”.

This late local historian did much to counter the false “historical’ claims by apologists for British colonialism that occupation, genocide and disinheritance was “necessary” to bring “civilisation” and “development” to these islands to save them from the supposed “savagery” of the Garifuna and Kalinago people.

We left off with Dr Marshall indicating the suspicion of the indigenous people to European intrusion. Not just suspicion but the inhabitants of our country were prepared to defend their right to it. Dr Marshall tells us:

“In 1719, for instance, the French Governor of Martinique sent an expedition of 400 men to the island to reduce the “Black Caribs” to submission. When this party attempted to penetrate the Windward side they were greeted by a shower of Carib arrows. The survivors of this ill-fated expedition quickly fled back to Martinique”.

This was no isolated case for four years later when a group of Englishmen landed here to enforce the claims of an English Duke (Montague) who had been “granted” the island by his king, Dr. Marshall tells us that “as a result of opposition not only from the Black but also from the Yellow Caribs the grant was withdrawn”.

It is an important background to what was to be called the “Carib Wars” of the last quarter of the 18th century. In 1763 for instance when the colonialists were making recommendations for settlement in St. Vincent, according to Dr. Marshall, “…they were forced to take into account though somewhat reluctantly, this Black Carib tradition of hostility to settlements attempted by Europeans in the part of the island they inhabited and also their willingness to take up arms in order to prevent these settlements from being made”.

That courageous and patriotic defence of their sovereignty by the Garifuna was not lost on the colonial usurpers. The British Board of Trade described the “Caribs” as being “jealous of their property” and noted that they were “sufficiently numerous to defeat any settlements attempted to be made without their consent.”

In spite of these pertinent observations, and the fact that, as Dr Marshall mentions, “the whole of the Windward side with the exception of Calliaqua and certain sections of the Marriaqua valley were either actually inhabited or claimed by the Black Caribs”, the British persisted in efforts to displace the indigenous people.

The lure of the sugar industry, built on the blood, sweat and tears of African slaves, was too strong. Between 1765 and 1767, Dr Marshall reminds us, 12,507 acres on the Leeward side were sold to planters, but this mountainous part of the island was not favourable for sugar plantation cultivation. The Windward side, described by Dr Marshall as “the most extensive and the finest part of the island”, with soil regarded as “perhaps the best in the world” which fuelled the greed. It was argued that if the lands here were cut up into sugar plantations, the island could become, in a few short years, “a more valuable sugar colony than any possessed by the Crown” with the exception of Jamaica.

The defence of the homeland and colonial greed were thus set on a collision course, as we shall read in the next episode.

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