Saturday, 16 February 2008

The Gingerbread House, Port of Spain, Trinidad

Home of the Boissière family, 1904—2008

Concerned citizens of Port of Spain, Trinidad, are attempting to save a good example of the country's built heritage. To place this in context, we are posting a paper given by Gerard Besson to the Society of Caribbean Historians in 1990 on the de Boissière family from their entry into pre-British colonial Trinidad, the early 1790s, describing some of the more interesting personalities that this family has produced. Also posted will be the website set up by Nicholas Laughlin and others to draw attention to the necessity of saving built heritage, particularly when the built heritage represents an outstanding creole family.

Gerard A. Besson, H.B.M.(G)



A TALE OF TWO FAMILIES:
THE DE BOISSIERES & THE CIPRIANIS OF TRINIDAD


© By Gérard Besson
Presented to The 22nd Annual Conference of Caribbean Historians
St. Augustine April 1 – 6 1990

Tempora mutantur, et nos Mutamur in Illis.


I INTRODUCTION

This paper is an outline of the history of two immigrant families who arrived in Spanish Trinidad in the last decade of the 18th century. It seeks to show how in the context of Trinidad's social and political history throughout the 19th century, and even now towards the end of the 20th, the impact of these people was and is still felt.

The Cedula of Population of 1783 was the basis upon which mostly white French families from nearby islands, together with families of free blacks and people of colour established themselves in Trinidad, with Catholicism being the main criterion. Outnumbering the Spaniards they soon, both free coloureds and whites, owned more land and property than any other group. They became the major slave owners and transacted almost all the business on the island. Almost entirely French- speaking, it was not long before they became Trinidad's dominant element.

Population of Spanish Trinidad 1783
White Free Coloured Slave Amerindians
Spanish 126 295 310 2,032

(L.M. Fraser History of Trinidad, Vol. 1. P.O.S., 1891.)

Population of Trinidad in 1803
White Free Coloured Slave Amerindians
English 663 599
Spanish 505 200 300
French 1,093 2,925 28,000

(ibid)

After the conquest by the British of the Spanish forces on the island in 1797 the French and the free people of colour continued to maintain their culture and throughout the 19th century were a powerful force in commerce and in agriculture. The cocoa economy which lasted from the 1870s to the 1920s was the financial basis upon which both the-whites and the coloured upper and middle-class sustained themselves. The white French creoles operated in both trade and agriculture. They were soon joined by German, Irish and Corsican immigrants. The French influence on the new-corners was brought about largely through marriage and business. Sharing race and European culture both the local French and the European immigrants were soon welded into one very large extended family. The requirements for entry being in the main Catholicism legitimate birth and class, also the possession of land. The Catholic religion, the dress of the French islands of the Caribbean and French patois were common to almost all the people.
The Afro-French creole society produced a legacy of learning, a creative minority, a wide selection of remarkable individuals such as J.M. Cazabon the painter, J.B. Phillippe, J.J. Thomas, the linguist, RG.L. Borde the historian, Maxwell Phillip Q.C., Sir Louis de Verteuil, Sir Henry Alcazar, Kenneth Vincent Brown, Legislators, C.L.R. James the Philosopher and many others, both black and white. The black and coloured middle class was arranged in very much the same manner as that of the white French creoles and as they the whites had absorbed the Europeans in their midst, so too did the French/Patois speaking coloureds draw into their sphere of influence the Spanish Mestizo families from the Mainland and coloured immigrants from the other islands. Catholicism, language and the knowledge of agriculture, coffee and cocoa cultivation were important elements in the creation of the overall Afro-Franco creole society.
In 1838 the population stood at approximately 36,655 of whom, 3,993 were white - British, French, Spanish, Irish, German and Corsican - 12,006 were coloured (this figure included the free blacks) and 20,656 apprentices (former slaves).[Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition, Oxford, 1968] For most of the 19th century and up to the First World War, the basically white French creole minority prospered and accommodated itself very successfully to British colonial rule; religion perhaps being one of the few major divisions between them. Exclusivity was cultivated in extreme and inter-marriage was practiced to dangerous levels. In the period of the 1780s to the 1830s the first generation was educated mostly in France and many lived in a grand and aristocratic style.
After the 1830s and the collapse of the original sugar economy there was an increasing tendency for sons to be educated in England. Many French families, however, continued to be French citizens up until the 1920s. Because of the rights and privileges given to the free people of colour by the Cedula, which was framed by Roume de St. Laurent, a white Grenadian, and accepted under the articles of capitulation by the English conquerors of Spanish Trinidad and later endorsed by the House of Lords as a result of the labour of Jean Baptiste Phillippe, a black Trinidadian, the foundation for a coloured and black educated middle class was created prior to the emancipation of the slaves.
These rights and privileges contained in the Cedula that benefited the free blacks and people of colour were those that guaranteed them the rights to possess land and to benefit from the same fiscal concessions as granted to white immigrants and after a period of five years to be "... admitted to honorable public employment and to posts in the militia according to their respective capacities and circumstances".
After emancipation, when, in the eyes of the whites, they were all equally free, the educated black and coloured middle class, buttressed from the ranks of the ex-slaves, pressured by colonial prejudice sought upward mobility in the professions. An education, the acquiring of European cultural styles and the pursuit of respectability together formed the ticket to the outer edges of the white elite. It is true to say that their "captains of industry" were the schoolmasters and the teachers. Coloureds who had one white parent could have a considerable advantage if they were accepted by their white relatives. This was a prize that was often sought, but seldom bestowed.
Both families herein described maintained some ties within their respective extended circles for two or three generations. During the 1820s Governor Sir Ralph Woodford had prescribed against the death bed marriages of old white men and their coloured mistresses. It was, however, in the last wills and testaments that sentiment was often expressed, and provision made for loved ones, but even that was far from sacrosanct.
It was, in this crucible which simmered throughout the 19th century and into the 20th that the new dominant minority, destined to prove strikingly creative, was in the making. The large Indian immigration had little social impact upon the overall Afro-French creole society, as their social evolution progressed, sometimes expressing itself in riots and social upheavals every generation or so.* It was they who would inherit the colonial mandate and later take our island nation into Independence and beyond. The Trinidad we know is their product and the effects of the Afro-French creole culture which was so important a part of their heritage on every aspect of Trinidad life is well worth serious study.

* 1845 riot at Government Buildings Port of Spain over the shaving of the heads of debtors
1880s Camboulay riots, Hosay riots.
1903 Water Riot, Red House, (Government Buildings burnt)
1937 Social upheavals, strikes, riots.
1970 Black power upheavals, army mutiny
.


II Valleton de Boissière

The Valleton de Boissière family, originally of the town and general environs of Bergerac in Southern France, are of interest because they present an essentially different picture from the somewhat stereotyped view of the 19th century French Creoles in Trinidad in that they were Protestant, not Catholic. In Trinidad they began in trade, i.e. Money lending, mortgages and the importation and sale of slaves, as well as acting as estate agents and exporters rather than lawyers, ecclesiastics or soldiers. They were Republicans, not Royalists, in their politics, and for five generations did not marry into the main matrix of the French Creole extended family. For several generations, and in fact to present times, they have acknowledged and sometimes financially supported their illegitimate offspring, as opposed to claiming not to have fathered any over the last two hundred years.
Briefly, the family's background was as follows :- The French genealogist St. Saud notes that the Gwalton or Walton or the Gallicized Wallerton or Valleton family may have originated in Ireland and probably arrived in Bordeaux in the early part of the 11th century. It is recorded that Etienne Valleton was ennobled in 1396 attaining the rank of ecuyer. Soldiers and Huguenots, churchmen of strong conviction during the religious wars, they held, from 1450 to the late 17th century, the Tour D'Anglese at Clarens in the vicinity of Liorcre, near to the Hamlet de Boissiere. (St. Saud Essais Genialogiques de Perigord. Extracts from General Heraldic Annual 1903 (France) The nobility of the Dordogne de Froidefaud)
Jean Francois Valleton de Boissière, was born in Bergerac in 1733 and qualified in medicine at Montpellier in 1758. He went on not only to practice at Bergerac but to become a man of the Enlightenment and experimented in collaboration with Dr. Edward Jenner on a vaccine for smallpox. He was also interested in electricity and was an associate of Dr. Franz Mesmer in his research in animal magnetism. With the revolution on the horizon in France, it was his sons, Jean, Eli, Gustave and Villerneuve whom he sent to the West Indies in the company of their aunt Mme Sargeaton.
His son Jean Louis Francois Henry Valleton de Boissière was born in 1777 and had two birth certificates. One declared him a Protestant, a declaration of his faith, the other Catholic, the latter being a vital qualification to inherit property in France and also to enter Trinidad under the terms of the Cedula of Population of 1783. (The de Boissière Papers, Michael Pocock)
When Jean de Boissière and his wife Claire came to Trinidad in the early 1790s the winds of revolutionary change were already blowing in the French Antilles. Jean entered into business and formed the partnership of Boissière & Channon, for the importation and sale of slaves. He purchased property at the north western corner of George Street and Marine Square and lived above his "store and warehouse".
With the British Conquest in 1797, Jean de Boissière's Protestant birth certificate proved extremely useful. He and his brother Eli, who was about 9 or 10, anglicized their names and became John and Elias Boissière. John dropped the particle "de" from his name because as a practicing trader he thought it inappropriate to use it. ({Royal Victoria Institute (RVI) Centenary Exhibition Historial Catalogue 1897) John established his business at the north western corner of George Street and Marine Square. He was a member of the town council, the illustrious Cabildo, on and off over a period of some 15 years; first as one of the regidores in 1811 and at one time, its President. John also became a free mason and achieved high degrees at the early age of 22. (Grand Lodge Archives, Lionel Seemungal) When Jean's son by his wife Claire Beaulieu, Henry William Boissière, was born in 1799 and baptized a Protestant, John was described as a merchant.
John prospered, and in 1817 he acquired the 1,000-acre Champs Elysees Estate at Maraval. Champs Elysees estate was a profound symbol of the French establishment on the island. As the English consolidated their hold on Trinidad in the pre-emancipation period, the fortunes of the French colons began to change and large plantations changed hands inexpensively. The acquisition of the Champs Elysees estate by the Boissières in 1817 was significant as it marked the passing of the older French Royalist period under the Spanish Government. John did not depend upon its earnings to support him. In fact it just barely paid its way: it was his countryseat. He developed the grounds extensively and planted many samaan trees. Some of which still exist.
John and Elias Boissière had considerable capital to take advantage of the changing fortunes of their fellows. They invested surplus cash in property in Port of Spain and loaned money on interest. John did well as money-lender-at-large to the growing colony. Often the process of foreclosing required the disposal by sale of the contents of an estate, including the slaves - a valuable commodity, considering that the slaves alone could be worth more than half the total value of an estate. (Champs Elysees Papers - Michael Pocock)
Two other sons were born to John during the period 1814 and 1820, both to a black woman remembered only as Zuzule. (Daguerreotype in the possession of G.Besson) She appears to have had four children surnamed Boissière, Joseph Numa, Auguste Louis, La Cocadie and Esther. Only La Cocadie (1822-1900) and Esther (Mrs. Munso) are certain to be John's children. Nothing more than the oral heritage remains to support Joseph Numa and Auguste Louis as being his natural descendants.
Under the military governorships of Picton, Hislop and Munro (1797 - 1811), Joseph Numa Boissière and Auguste Louis Boissière's place in society was amongst the large, wealthy, property-owning, educated class of free coloureds of mostly Afro-French creole descent. Some of these free coloureds owned large sugar estates in south Trinidad, others were property owners in Port of Spain; many owned slaves, a few held commissions in the militia, and by the 1820s, two or three practiced medicine. (Carl Campbell, Man from the Naparimas, Preface to Free Mulatto by J.B.Phillip, Paria, 1987) Very little social intercourse existed between the white French creoles and the free blacks and people of colour, though a considerable amount of sexual interaction must have taken place, as mulattos gave birth to lighter skinned quadroons and they to mustees and green-eyed shabeens with red fizzy hair. They formed another class in society, second to the whites, and many lived in comparative wealth and some style. The better off free coloureds had the same nostalgic feeling for aristocratic tradition and the same respect for birth and breeding. (Bridget Brereton, Race Relations in Colonial Trinidad 1870-1900, Cambridge University Press 1979.)
This class, after the period of the military governors, under the first civil administrator Sir Ralph Woodford, fought hard through petitions and their principal spokesmen, Jean Baptiste Philippe, John Welsh Hobson and Francis DeRidder, to maintain social and civil rights as contained in the Cedula of 1783 and in the articles of surrender of 1797. Governor Sir Ralph Woodford felt that they were too rich and too many, too intimately associated with the whites, and far too scandalous. He made to move against their right to inherit property and forbade them to be referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Philippe's Address to the Rt. Hon. Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1828 put a stop to Woodford's plans, and it may have been the first civil rights case presented and upheld in the western hemisphere. By 1838 slavery was over, however, and in the eyes of the whites they were now all just as free, and altogether just as black. The coloured and black middle class now fell into two groups; there were those who were the descendants of the free blacks and people of colour who had settled here in the 1780s and then after emancipation there were those of the newly freed who made their way upwards. Education was the only way for self-improvement.
Both John Boissière's sons Joseph Numa and Auguste Louis, became writing clerks and both worked in their father's stores. Joseph Numa Boissiere, 1816-1870, married a coloured woman, Marie Dangard in 1842. (Catholic Church Records.) They had seven or eight children altogether. Eugene, their eldest son had as godfather Gustave, John Boissière's brother. He was educated in France and married Nancy Peachy an English girl. Joseph Numa lived at Prince Street, Port of Spain, bought and sold real estate and lent money. His brother Auguste Louis, (c. 1820-1877) also married within his class, a coloured woman by the name of Sophie la Granade. (Ibid.) He lived at 22 Henry Street and exported tonca beans and other crops and imported saltfish and tasso (dried meat from Venezuela). His son's name was also called Auguste Lewis Boissière. He married Louisa Park, a white Trinidadian, a grand daughter of the Irish capitulant John Black. (Anglican Church Records.) Both these young men, Eugene and Auguste were married in the Catholic church to Anglo Irish wives in the 1840s.
Joseph Numa's business existed until 1958. He was a mason, and was a member of Les Frères Unis No. 251.(Michael Pocock’s collection.) His son Eugene capitalized on his father's fortune and left his own son Charles very rich. Charles married a coloured woman, Alice Elegon, and built a mansion on the Queen's Park Savannah known today as the "Gingerbread House". Of all the branches of the family, they, the coloured descendants of John Boissière, became the wealthiest. (Family Tradition)
John, his wife Claire and their son William Henry, known as Henri Diable, continued to live at Champs Elysees. The estate produced only a low grade muscovado sugar. John, perhaps because his other ventures were more profitable, did not upgrade his factory or improve the method of cultivation. His wife Claire died in 1830, and he in 1853; they are buried at Lapeyrouse cemetery in the Protestant section.
In the period just after emancipation, John's son William Henry known as Henry and also as Henri Diable by all accounts lived in a riotous manner. Family Tradition It is likely that he succeeded in impregnating the aunt of his future wife, a white girl of about his own age, when they were perhaps 15 or 16 years old. Family Tradition She gave birth to a son who was called John Nicholas Boissiere and who remained Henri's favourite until his death. Henri inherited Champs Elysees on John's death in 1853. He married Louise Emile Roget de Belloquet (1807-1834), the niece of a French Republican General and granddaughter of Don Antonio Gomez, Woodford's assessor and puisne judge, and they produced one son, John Henry Joseph Boissiere, (1830-1906) and three daughters.
His business activities were similar to his father's, a general merchant, house and land agent and moneylender. Henry loved horticulture and planted a beautiful formal Spanish garden at Champs Elysees. He was active in various civic affairs.
In December 1864 Henry offered the house and lands for sale but no one bought them. A few months later he left for Bergerac in the Perigord region of France with a servant and died there in 1865. At the time of his death the considerable wealth left by his father was very greatly diminished. John Nicholas Boissière, 1816-1886, the child of Henry's youth, perhaps was born in France and was educated in Switzerland as a watch-maker. He inherited property at 22 Queen Street from his mother and set up shop there. He was given a piece of land directly opposite Champs Elysees' Great House on Long Circular Road which was known as the Rookery, and is today called Rookery Nook.
John Nicholas lived in considerable state at the Rookery. In 1860 he married Marie Aurile Soully, a coloured woman, and it is evident that there was close rapport between him and his large coloured family and his white half brother and his children across the street. Old Henri Diable even left money for his grandson, Jean Francois, John Nicholas's eldest son in his will. (Family Tradition. Michael Pocock)
John Nicholas and Henry were quite close. In his will, Henry left most of his household belongings, as well as his bay horse called Captain, to John Nicholas and also appointed him as his executor. (Will of Henry William Boissière)
In 1857, some years before his marriage to Marie Aurile Soully, a son and a daughter were born to John Nicholas by a black woman. This son he called Jules Arnold Boissière. In his will he left "to my son or reputed son... the sum of $4,000" (Will of John Nicholas Boissière) and "to my daughter or reputed daughter, Eliza Marie Boissière, on her marriage, or if she should die unmarried to whosoever she should appoint the sum of $5,000 so long as she should reside and form part of the household of my wife". Eliza continued to live at the Rookery until her death on 5th March 1893. In her will she left the residue of her estate to her half brother Jean Francois Boissière, John Nicholas's legal son.
Jules Arnold Boissière became an overseer at Palmiste Estate which was owned by a close friend of the de Boissières of Champs Elysees, Sir Norman Lamont (Champs Elysees Papers – Michael Peacock.) and married Evalina Redford. Their second daughter was born 13 April 1888 at Palmiste estate and was named Eliza Francis Boissière. Eliza married T.H. Williams, a civil servant, and had a large family. Their eldest child was to become the greatest figure in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. He was Eric Eustace Williams, born 25 September 1911.
John Nicholas Boissière's eldest legitimate son, Jean Francois Boissière, was born in May 1861. He qualified as a physician and surgeon at the Universities of Edinburgh and Brussels and returned to Trinidad in October 1886. He practiced medicine for a while and then returned to Edinburgh. In 1905 he published in English, through the publishers Clark and Bishop, several of
his lectures. (No such title has ever existed.) He married Marie Eugenie Rival de Rouville in 1898. Perhaps because he was the eldest son of John Nicholas, who was Henry's eldest son, he assumed, in France where he eventually lived, the courtesy title of Comte de Valleton de Boissière and in so doing earned the indignation of his cousins, the white de Boissières, Henry's legal children, who had lived across the street from him at Champs Elysees.
The rise of the family of John Nicholas Boissière (born 1816) is interesting: born illegitimate but white, he married a black woman, this was almost unheard of at that time. He inherited property directly opposite Champs Elysees and established in Europe his first born legal son who became a doctor and a "Count". His second son Arnaud did well in business and his grandson, Arnaud's son Ralph de Boissière became a writer of note as well as being associated with the working class movements which were being formed in Trinidad in the 1920s and 30s. His other son Jules appears not to have inherited the $4,000 (Flora Gittens, sister of Eric Williams.) left to him by his father, a consequence that affected the fortunes of that family, relegating them to the lower middle class during the financially disastrous 1920s and 1930s.
To conclude we now look at the fortunes of the white de Boissières of Champs Elysees. In the closing years of the 19th century John's son Henry had inherited the estate from John and in turn left it to his son John Henry Joseph Boissière, (1830 - 1906). (Wills of John Boissière and Henri Boissière) John Henry Joseph left for England in his teens. He was educated privately and graduated from the University of Edinburgh as a surgeon. He reassumed the prefix "de" and styled himself Dr. Jean Valleton de Boissière. He traveled in France, renewing acquaintance with the family at Bergerac, (R.V.I. Centenary Exhibition Historical Catalogue 1897.) and on his return to England in 1850 he joined the British army and served as a surgeon major in the Crimean war and in India just after the mutiny.
Dr. de Boissière returned home just before his father's death in 1864. He married his mother's niece, his first cousin, Whilemina Poleska Bogen née Roget de Belloquet (1836-1927), a widow, in the Catholic Church, where he vowed to bring up his children as Catholics. They lived at Champs Elysees opposite to John Nicholas. Dr. de Boissière practiced medicine, he was a member of the Legislative Council 1864-1894 and was fluent in Hindi. He left the running of the estate and the family business, money lending and real estate, to Poleska who set about making the estate a paying concern.
The estate, which was at that time heavily mortgaged, and consisted of slightly more than 800 acres, produced a small amount of muscovado sugar. Poleska decided to take advantage of the growing demand for cocoa and switched part of the estate in the well- drained cool Maraval river valley to cocoa plantations. Madame de Bossier also raised money by selling sand and
gravel from the bed of the Maraval river to the builders of the St. Ann's mental hospital. She laid out Boissière Village and rented house lots. Poleska cultivated the image of a grand dame and is remembered by some old people today as La Chatelaine. Her grandson Jean (Tony) de Boissière describes her in his Trinidad, land of the rising inflection as a matriarch. Tony, like his cousin Ralph de Boissière, identified with the working class movements of the time. He was a huge man, a prolific, an epicurean and a raconteur.
Of Poleska and Dr. Jean's six children, Lt. Col. William Henry Arnaud de Boissière 1872- 1948, is noteworthy. He joined the immigration department as Assistant Inspector and later became Protector of Immigrants in 1913. He was fluent in Hindi and spent some years as the Trinidad government's agent in India. Additionally, he served on the Legislative Council. During the First World War he was the most senior British West Indian officer serving in Europe. 
Poleska's eldest daughter Naida, 1868-1933, married W.V. Messervy, an English banker. It is interesting to note that as their young cousin Eric Williams was gaining First Class Honours and a Doctorate of Philosophy in history at Oxford, producing his scholarly Capitalism and Slavery in the U.S.A. in the 1940s and then serving with distinction as associate professor at Howard University in Washington D.C., their son, Eric's cousin Major General, later Sir Frank Messerv who was born in Maraval and educated partly in Trinidad, was driving the Japanese out of Burma. He commanded the 43rd Indian armoured Division, 1942-43, and commanded the 7th Indian division in Asakan and at Kohia and later the 4th army corps from Burma Tamu to Rangoon in the liberation of Burma in the closing years of World War II. He retired as Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan army in 1947.
In a period of some 150 years covering five generations of the de Boissières, it is of interest to note that the mulatto children of the founder and their children became the wealthiest of the extended family. The founder, himself a Republican, acquired the property and the house of one of the foremost Royalist families, while his children and great grand children amassed fortunes, and lost them, achieved great rank and fame, for both the British Empire that they served, and for the new nation that they helped to create.


III Cipriani

(The Cipriani Family are not related to the de Boissière family.)

To this day there is a strong recall of the name Cipriani in the collective memory of Trinidad, long after the demise of the ascendancy of Trinidad's 19th century dominant French creole minority, who through marriage and cultural assimilation had come to include the Cipriani's. This is of interest, especially when one considers that there is a city boulevard and a Labour College by that name, a public statue in the heart of Port of Spain and a call, from time to time, that Piarco Airport should be renamed "Mikey" Cipriani Airport.
The Cipriani family is of truly antique origin and they are recorded as being members of the Florentine Consulate of the 12th century. (Cipriani family papers presently in the possession of Louise Cipriani.) In the wars of the Guelfi and the Ghibelline that racked Italy through the 12th century the Cipriani name is mentioned often in the chronicles as possessors of towers and fortified places. When victory was won by the Guelfi family, in order to consolidate the popular government, the Ghibelline family and their supporters, who included the Ciprianis, were deprived of public representation and the confiscation of land and wealth. In 1292 rather than change theirname and give up their status as nobles, as was being demanded, they preferred exile in a foreign land. (Cipriani family papers presently in the possession of Louise Cipriani.)
The sons of Antonio de Lapo de Cipriani, Giovanni and Picoli, were declared revolutionaries and sentenced to death. They, together with their wives and children and the remnants of their retainers, fled to the island of Corsica to the town of Contini, the home of the powerful feudalist Simon Pietro La Mare and "there retained in born nobility and military pride".
Their service to this Lord re-established the family and their fortunes were recreated. It was during this period that the Cipriani's were allied through marriage to the famous Bonaparte family. (A family tradition, also mentioned by C.L.R. James work on Captain Cipriani.)
The early 17th century saw the descendants of Juvenale de Cipriani di Contini emigrate to Marseilles, France and established themselves. Tornelio de Cipriani and his son Simone presented to the King, Louis XIII (1610-1643) a memorandum strengthened by proof that they were the legitimate descendants of "the great noble illustrious family of Cipriani of Florence" who had been obliged to emigrate on account of the wars between the Guelfi and the Ghibelline and that they were the descendants of the Lords of the Feifs of Cabres and Nebellian in Provence. (Ibid.)
The earliest record found of the name Cipriani in Trinidad is in the list of proprietors in the island on the 20th March 1797 by E Mallet. Their name was spelt with an TS and showed them holding lands at Naparima "since the first establishment". (Map Collectors Guide.) The second record is that of J.A.
Cipriani who signed a petition for the enactment of British laws in 1803. (P.F. McCullum, Travels in Trinidad, Liverpool, 1805) Sabastian and Cipriano Cipriani were established in Port of Spain by 1823, (L.M.Fraser, History of Trinidad Vol.2, P.O.S. 1896) Sabastian serving as Regidor and Field Executor in the Illustrious Cabildo. Seventeen years later he would have the honour to be one of the last and longest serving members of that board as it was transformed from Cabildo to Town Council in 1840, his last position was Field Alcalde. (C.B. Franklin, The Trinidad and Tobago Year Book, P.O.S. 1916) He married, in the opening years of 19th
century, a daughter of Don Paul Guiseppi, whose wife, Trinidad de Los Angeles had been the only child of Don José Mayan a senior member in the administration of the island's last Spanish Governor. It was in fact at the Guiseppi estate house "Valsayn" at St. Joseph that the articles of Capitulation were signed on the 18 February 1797, between Don José Maria Chacon and Sir Ralph Abercromby thus ceding Trinidad to England. (R.V.I. Centenary Exhibition Historical Catalogue 1897)
The Guiseppi family had come to Trinidad prior to the capitulation. Don Paul was one of the leading members of a considerable Corsican immigration to Trinidad which took place in the 1780s and 1790s. They benefited from the Catholic clause in the Spanish Cedula of Population of 1783. Many of them were seeking refuge from Corsica's 13-year struggle for Independence from Genoa. (Cipriani Family Papers presently in the possession of Louise Cipriani) These Corsicans were the countrymen of Pasquale Paoli, Corsica's great nationalist freedom fighter, who had held out against first the Genoese, then later the French, and who, after the French had purchased the island from Genoa in 1768, became its administrator. He defeated the then Brigadier Napoleon Bonaparte at Ajaccio in 1793. He expelled the Bonaparte family and their allies from Corsica. Paoli was later to hand the island over to the British in 1794. (R.V.I. Centenary Exhibition Historical Catalogue 1897.) 
The Corsicans formed alliances with the Spanish and French families of Trinidad,
circumstances which may have influenced the Corsican influx. Both Cipriano and Sabastian along with other Corsicans signed the subscription list for the farewell of Lt. Col. Aretas WilliamYoung, as well as other petitions in support of British causes. (Ed. Esmond Wright, History of the World, Hamlyn 1980)
Sabastian's daughter Sophia Cipriani married Gaston de Gannes de La Chancellerrie and became the mistress of the great house "La Chance" at Arima. Sabastian Cipriani's three sons were José Emmanuel, Albert Henry and Leon. José Emmanuel married first Lucie Ganteaume de Monteau, the daughter of P.A. Ganteaume and Adele Besson, with whom he had three daughters and his second wife was Helen Lange, with whom he had two sons and one daughter. José Emmanuel became a Solicitor and late Mayor of Port of Spain for seven years, 1875-1882, "the most distinguished member of his family" in his generation wrote C.L.R. James in 1932. He goes on to say "José Emmanuel Cipriani played a great part in the lighting of the city and the laying out of Tranquility, and it is after him that Cipriani Boulevard is named. He not only spent time on Port of Spain, but also much of his personal fortune, giving largely to charitable courses". He died at the age of 45. Their son Leonetto Paul became a solicitor, married Helen Sellier and had five children. Among them was André Cipriani who was to distinguish himself later in the field of science.
Another son of Sabastian Cipriani, Albert Henry married Alice Agostini. Alice was the daughter of John, son of Don Simon Agostini and Alix Ganteaume, daughter of P.A. Ganteaume and his first wife Eliza la Quarree.( Joseph Marryat, The Substance of a Speech, London, 1822.)
Albert Henry Cipriani and his wife Alice Agostini had three sons. Edward the eldest married Catherine Andrea and had no issue, Albert Henry (Baba) Cipriani was qualified as an engineer, but made a fortune for himself in cocoa. He bought Perseverance estate from Dr. George Latour and in the 1920s added many embellishments to it, living there in extravagant style. (Olga Mavrogordato Informant) He became a director of Gordon Grant and as a businessman he was apparently quite astute, diversifying out of cocoa just in time to avoid the recession in the cocoa economy in 1929. He had also invested in the sugar industry and became a millionaire many times over. A visionary, his plans and schemes included the draining of the Caroni Swamp for planting food crops and a railway to Chaguaramas Bay. The Caroni Swamp drainage scheme fell through and he and many others lost large sums of money. He eventually lost Perseverance estate and was forced to sell to an Englishman, one James Evans. (Ibid)
Albert Henry's third son Arthur Andrew Cipriani known to his friends as 'Tattoo' was born on the 31 January, 1875. By the time he was six he had lost both his parents in a typhoid epidemic
that swept Trinidad in the 1880s. He was brought up by his aunt Mrs. Dick and attended St. Mary's College. He spent a lot of time on the family's cocoa estates at Santa Cruz and at Gran Couva and from an early age demonstrated a way with animals, especially horses. He left St. Mary's at about sixteen years of age and, turning down various offers to study abroad, decided to raise and train horses. He obtained a trainer's license and traveled in the West Indies as a rider and trainer with some considerable success. His friends described him as a solitary sort of man who never married.
Today at the foot of Frederick Street in the middle of Independence Square stands a statue of Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani, 'The Captain' as he was known to one and all. This statute was erected by the Government, led at the time by Prime Minister Eric Williams. As a mark of respect and in keeping with the wishes of a vast majority of people the statue was erected. Called the champion of the barefoot man, Arthur Cipriani was a renowned sportsman as well as a turfite. 
A spokesman in the Legislative Council for the people, acting at times almost like an
Ombudsman, his contribution to the Legislative process could not be overstated. He was an officer and a gentleman so regarded by his peers, a leader of men, a moving spirit in Trinidad's fledgling Workingmen's Association. He was many times Mayor of Port-of-Spain, and a supporter of many causes. He was presented at Buckingham Palace on more than one occasion. He retained his common touch all his life. He was a man of such personal prestige that he could raise five contingents of volunteers to fight in the first World War. He himself leaving with the fifth, elements of which went into action against a superior Turkish force in the Damay sector of the Jordan Valley in 1917 with considerable success - 'No public man is more widely known in Trinidad', wrote C.L.R. James, " many West Indians (and a few Englishmen too) have worked for the emancipation of the West Indies. Their story will be told in time but none has worked liked Captain Cipriani". (C.L.R.James Captain Cipriani family tradition, Gregor Duruty.) The impact of Arthur Cipriani on the hearts and minds of Trinidadians up to the time of his death in- 1945 is difficult t overstate. That he was revered by the basically black and coloured middle-class intelligentsia that assumed power in the fifties from the played out French creole minority is an indication of the stature of the man.
Another of Sabastian Cipriani's sons was Leon; he was probably the eldest and he had a relationship with a coloured slave woman remembered only as de Rose on one of the family's estates. (Louise Cipriani. Olga Mavrogordato. Gregor Duruty) He may have had several children with her, among them being Jules de Rose also known as Cipriani de Rose but who, later with his father's consent, took the name Jules Cipriani. Leon Cipriani established L. Cipriani and Co at 41 Marine Square and operated as a commission merchant. Leon Cipriani appeared not to have married. His son Jules Cipriani prospered as a businessman and built a remarkable mansion on Abercromby Street known as Cumberland House. (Cumberland House, since renovated, once posed a remarkable day tile roof with red clay finials and a wrought iron fence with a flame design.) Jules married Paula Louisa Leoniza Ultima Latour the illegitimate daughter of Paul Latour of Perseverance Estate Maraval. Louisa Ultima, as she was known, is remembered for her beauty. She was brought up in his household together with his wife and other children. His wife was Jeannie Marie née Besson. (Besson Family Papers) Louisa Ultima was born in 1851, the same year as Paul Latour's legitimate son, Georges. The circumstances of her birth are not known, however, they may have been such so as to allow for this rather unusual arrangement. Jules Cipriani had seven sons and seven daughters. One of his son's was Michael (Mikey) Cipriani, a solicitor by profession, and one of Trinidad's pioneer aviators. A popular sporting hero, he was known as "Marvelous Mikey" (Trinidad Guardian) by Trinidad's sporting fraternity, at one time champion cyclist and athlete of Trinidad and of the West Indies. (Ibid.)
A West Indian hero during the first European war in which he served as a gunnery sergeant in the Second Life Guards, "Marvelous Mikey" in 1917 was attached as a machine gun sergeant to the French troops defending Verdun at which time he acquitted himself well. (Ibid.) He became very interested in aviation and flew on several missions over the western front during the closing years of the war. He represented Trinidad in colonial cricket and also in football and "shone in every position on the field". He was considered during the 1920s and 1930s as the "greatest athlete Trinidad has ever known". He was very popular among the people at large, he was one of their own, a born creole. He moved at every level of society. When he died at the age of 40, a victim of a plane crash in the northern mountains of Trinidad, the entire country devotedly mourned his death. His body was taken from the wreckage of his aeroplane "Humming Bird" and brought to Port-of-Spain, where thousands of people attended his funeral, people of every class, colour and creed, from the representative of the British Crown to the barefoot in the street. (Ibid.)
André Cipriani, son of Leonetto Paul, Jose Emmanuel's son with his second wife Helen Lange, demonstrated from an early age an interest in science which grew after he entered St. Mary's College. His sister Louise wrote of him:“Realizing Andre's great potential, Papy started to gear him from an early age for the scholarship class, Unfortunately Papy died the year before Andre was successful in obtaining the Science Scholarship. Andre left for Canada and McGill University in 1928 to take up studies in Electrical Engineering, but when he arrived at McGill he was encouraged into the field of Mathematics and Physics. He took his B.Sc. and M.Sc. with first class honours.” (Louise Cipriani.)
After the war, André entered the field of Atomic Energy. He became director of Biology and Radiation Hazards at the Atomic Energy Plant at Chalk River in Canada. He became a scientist of international reputation in this field of research, creating a unique laboratory. Through his pioneering efforts Andre Cipriani and his colleagues and staff at Chalk River developed "the first highly active cobalt sixty sources" which were made for the treatment of malignant diseases.
Several hundred cobalt therapy units have since been produced by the commercial products division of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and sold worldwide, they have brought relief to thousands of suffering patients. (David A. Keys Atoms at your Service, Exhibition-Royal Ontario Museum January 29 1960) At his death at48 in 1956 the BBC gave him a three minute obituary describing him as the most knowledgeable man in the world on radiation hazards. He was married and had four daughters. His success in the field of atomic research for peace is not known in Trinidad, nor that he was a victim of his own research.
The Cipriani family produced in just about every generation an outstanding figure, especially in the fields of business, civic administration, sport, the military and finally in science.


IV CONCLUSION

To conclude, the Afro-French creole culture as it has existed in Trinidad is very interesting. Apart from giving us carnival, calypso and steelband, it also produced a dynamic, creative minority, a remarkable group of individuals as illustrated by a look at our two families. This Afro-French creole culture came into existence because the Cedula of Population of 1783 in effect invited the French to settle on the island. It was from that time that the foundation for important elements in the social, political and cultural conditions that exist today were laid, like eggs in a nest, one black, one white.
There is an irony in this history, the irony of Eric Williams, a member through his mother of the Afro-French creole family of de Boissière, who took this country into its post colonial phase. He was Prime Minister for 25 years and because of his own genius and his academic achievements, he was the natural inheritor of the traditions of the black intelligensia that had its origins in the time of the Cedula. He declared "massa day done" and in doing so acted well in keeping with the tenets of history. As Arnold J. Toynbee states in “A Study of History”, published in 1957: …in encounters between contemporaries in which the assailant's impact has resulted in a successful penetration of the assaulted body by the assailant's cultural radiation, the two parties to the encounter usually prove to have been already in process of disintegration; and we have also observed that one of the criteria of disintegration is the schism of the body social into a minority that has become merely dominant instead of creative and a proletariat that has become morally alienated from its former leaders, who have now become merely 'masters'.
Eric Williams attempted to contain the growth of the white domination of the financial, agricultural and commercial sectors of the country, of which the French creole element was perhaps the largest. This was necessary in as much as the British had left and independence had to be demonstrated in practice and not merely in law. The nature of his politics was popularist in character and tended to discriminate against elitism in race and class. Elitism was so effectively disestablished that people became ashamed of or afraid to admit to a "French creole" heritage, black or white, and the very term acquired derogatory connotations in the popular mind. During this period an unprecedented number of Trinidadians emigrated, so that a Trinidad-style carnival appeared in Brooklyn, New York and in London's Notting Hill. An unknown number of people from the other islands have migrated here. All the while Williams attempted to preserve, promote and to control the cultural side of life, the Carnival, the Best Village Competitions, which are themselves in large measure products of the whole Afro-French creole experience as evidenced in the competition for "La Reine Rivée". Significantly the one hero that both he and his mentor C.L.R. James held up to future generations, Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani, was a white French creole.
In a real way this paper is about Dr. Eric Williams our great nationalist leader, wounded by history. On the one hand, he was the inheritor of all the hopes and dreams of his people, their entire colonial experience made flesh; and on the other, the dispised child of the European master and of the African slave diaspora. Despite his experiments with the trade unions, party politics, the civil service and with so called state sector capitalism, all of which sought largely to create a financial platform for the black people of Trinidad and Tobago, he never revolutionized the country. He never brought the Indians, now more than 50% of the population, in from the cold or rather, in from the cane. In that sense the nature of Trinidad's social culture from the 1790s to the present has not changed radically.
When Williams died in 1981 though the French creoles were now regarded with opprobrium by many the culture which developed from their entry into the society two centuries earlier was still a vital and living element in the developing culture of the independent nation. Presently, in business and finance, they are being challenged by strong Syrian/Lebanese and East Indian consortiums. Always a small minority the dieing-out of entire families and the emigration of the young has also taken its toll. The East Indians in our midst now are into their sixth or seventh generation. They stand poised, waiting in the wings of history to play a role in our nation's unfolding destiny.


1 comment:

Sweet Sue Ohio said...

Edward and Catherine Cipriani had 3 children. My Uncle Alfred, was born in New Jersey in 1899. My aunt Constance in Trinidad/Tobago, in about 1903, and my father Chester also in Trinidad/Tobago in 1910. My sister resides in Texas (USA), and I reside in Ohio (USA)