by Gabriella Matouk
Roume was born on October 13th, 1743 in Grenada. Having been educated on his native soil, it is said that he had planned to spend the rest of his life there, disassociated from public affairs. However, when Grenada fell under British rule in 1763, Roume's loyalty to France led him to take up the position of the only French member of His Britannic Majesty's Council, but he and four others were expelled by the acting Lieutenant-Governor in 1776 for impeding conciliar business. His allegiance to the land of his forefathers motivated his subsequent refusal to join the militia against France, which earned him open disapproval from the British in Grenada. These events were two of several factors that motivated Roume to leave Grenada and travel to Trinidad.
When Roume first visited Trinidad in 1777, the island was still largely undeveloped. Serendipitously, Roume befriended the Spanish officer Don Juan de Catilla, who was surveying Trinidad for the purpose of producing accurate maps. Roume joined de Catilla on his exploration of the island, during which time they examined Trinidad's economic prospects. Fascinated by Roume's ideas, de Catilla urged him to write a report for the Spanish officials in Caracas. The report was well received, and Roume was invited to return to Trinidad to further assess the colony's potential. In the resulting report, Roume proposed incentives for settlers and, in the interest of the new colonists, advocated for the appointment of a Governor who would encourage unity and harmony between the settlers. The Intendant at Caracas followed Roume’s advice, and elected Don Martin de Salaverria, the Commandant of the company of Coastguards at Caracas.
Before he finally relocated to Trinidad in 1781, Roume traveled around the West Indies, encouraging residents of the other islands to settle in Trinidad. Governor Salaverria encouraged Roume to present his ideas for Trinidad’s development to the Intendant in Caracas. Impressed by his vision, the Intendant agreed that Roume should travel to Madrid and present his ideas to the authorities there. Roume went first to Paris, where he took the opportunity to inform the Spanish Ambassador of the state of affairs in the Caribbean. Knowing that the future of the island of Tobago was an issue at hand, Roume advocated for Tobago remaining under French rule, which it did.
After much difficulty, Roume was denied any meetings with Count Galvez, the Minister for the Indies, in Madrid. Galvez was unwilling to share any credit for the plans for Trinidad. However, on November 20th, 1783, the cedula including Roume’s proposals for Trinidad’s development was granted, notwithstanding Galvez’s elimination of any credit to Roume himself. In extensive debt by the end of his voyage, Roume submitted a claim for re-imbursement, which Galvez disregarded.
Despite these setbacks, Roume saw his vision implemented in Trinidad with positive results. He had recommended the election of a Governor who would be objective and unbiased in dealing with the old and new settlers. The well-respected Don Jose Maria Chacon filled the role, and his governorship saw increases in population and prosperity.
With little hope of returning to Trinidad due to his dire financial situation after his visit to Madrid, Roume went to his wife’s house in Paris, desperately seeking employment. At the same time, the French colony of Tobago was in need of an equipped ordonnateur to help improve its suffering economy. Roume presented himself as a candidate and was chosen for the position in April 1786. Roume worked with newly appointed governor Count Arthur Dillon to remodel Tobago’s systems of law and taxation, resulting in tremendous improvements. However, with the advent of the French Revolution and Dillon’s departure in 1789, the Chevalier de Jobal was elected acting governor and proved to be a dishonest college for Roume. Seeing much of his work crumbling before him, Roume willingly departed Tobago in late 1790. On the other hand, the unstable political situation occurring in the island of St. Domingue at the same time would lead Roume to the pinnacle of his career.
St. Domingue, being the most valuable colony in the world, was vital to the French economy, so the news of Revolution on the island was a great threat. In 1791, Roume was appointed by the National Assembly in Paris as part of a three-man Commission to confront the situation in the colony. While hopes for the Commission’s success were high, the Commissioners’ loyalty to the ideals of the Revolution incensed the whites in St. Domingue. Two of the Commissioners departed the colony, fearing for their safety, and Roume followed suit and returned to France in June of 1792.
Despite his departure, Roume remained attentive to the situation in St. Domingue. In 1796, he traveled to Santo Domingo as part of the French Government’s third attempt at a Commission. While in Santo Domingo, Roume supported measures in favour of the blacks in St. Domingue His sentiments were acknowledged by Toussaint L’Ouverture, who asked Roume to take over the position of sole Agent for France in St. Domingue.
Roume and Toussaint had forged an intriguing respect for one another over the years. On one hand, they trusted each other as fellow West Indians, with Roume even requesting Toussaint’s presence as a witness at his divorce hearing and second marriage in 1799 to Marianne Elizabeth Rochard, a coloured woman born in Grenada. On the other hand, Roume’s and Toussaint’s opposite allegiances cemented the rift between them.
Victory for the blacks against France’s attempt to hold on to the colony of St. Domingue marked the end of Roume’s career, and he returned to France. He died in 1805, not wealthy, but contented.
Exploring Port of Spain, one will find streets and structures named after the significant figures in Trinidad’s past. There is no memorial or street named for Philippe Rose Roume de Saint-Laurent, but the enduring effects of his visions and achievements are evocative of his tremendous contributions to the development of modern Trinidad.