Thursday 1 December 2011

Trinidad in Hislop's times

Brigadier Thomas Hislop became Trinidad's second military governor in 1804. Sparsely populated, the census of the period showed a population of free persons to be 7,538, comprising 1,095 French, 505 Spanish, 663 British, and 2,256 Free Coloureds. This free coloured population ranged from pure African to light-complexioned individuals, who would be taken as European anywhere on that continent.
The colonial reality, however, dictated that every black, free or enslaved, be accounted for. In terms of their political persuasions, the free coloureds included royalist sentiment, republican fervour, on to revolutionary zeal. Several were wealthy land and slave owners and had been from two or even three generations, other were artisans and labourers, some did nothing at all. Because of their history on other islands where they had been fired by the prospects of what they imagined republican status would mean for them, and because of their involvement in bloody revolution from Haiti to nearby Grenada, they were held in opprobrium and viewed with suspicion by the British administration.
It was felt that in the event of an attack on the island by either republicans or for that matter the Spanish, the free coloured population could not be counted upon to support British interest. One report stated: "If the inhabitants are not controlled, untold trouble in inevitable." It pointed out that the previous administration's "interference in the affairs of the police has produced arrogance in the people of colour and insubordination among the slaves". The difference in number between white and coloured people made the Cabildo uneasy lest the disturbances of other islands spread to Trinidad through indecisive government. the report to the Cabildo continued:
"To relax the police when we still have 5,000 of these people and daily increasing would be an act of moral madness. Most of them are the scum of the revolution who find here a 'refugium peccatorum' and against whom every precaution is necessary."
They missed "the good old days" of Colonel Thomas Picton's governorship, which featured public executions, decapitations, amputations, the administering of thousands of lashes in public places on any given individual, and the exposing of severed heads and other human body parts at public places and at the entrances of the various towns.
That Picton did not hesitate to dish out this form of justice to the free, the enslaved, the military or the civilians, black or white, was remarked on particularly as many of those who had fled to the main in Picton's time were now returning to the island.
Attorney General Archibald Gloster in writing to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, pointed out that "Both France and Spain look at Trinidad with a jealous eye and will not fail to take advantage of our foolishness. We are surrounded by the worst class of coloured persons joined to French and Spanish brigands. It they attacked with such a host of enemies within, we are lost and with us the whole archipelago of the West Indies."
In this period, both the civilian population and the military establishment lived in constant fear that a surprise attack on the island might force its surrender. They had considered fortifying St. Joseph, but abandoned that idea in favour of an older Spanish plan to turn Chaguaramas into a formidable bastion in the style of Cartagena de los Indies or those in Cuba. Point Gourde was selected as a military post. The islands of Carrera and Cronstadt were also surveyed and roads cut on them.
The fortifications were built with slave labour levied from the planters. Governor Hislop was not comfortable, however, with this type of defense, especially as a French battlefleet was known to be in Caribbean waters and was expected to attack Trinidad. He turned his attention to La Vigie, now Fort George.
The island, unlike its neighbour Tobago where there was a fort overlooking every bay and cove, had almost no defensive armament. There were four cannons at Fort Picton in Laventille, seven cannons at Fort Abercromby, two in Macqueripe Bay and twelve at Fort George. 

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