Monday, 4 March 2013

Slave Uprisings


In the period following the establishment of the plantation system in Trinidad (1783) and especially after the dramatic and devastating events of the slave uprisings in Haiti, the planters grew increasingly afraid in Trinidad. Already, there had been the terrible effects of poisoning on many estates. Not only slaves had fallen victim of poisoners, but also overseers and sometimes the children of the master and one of his favourites.
Rumours of a planned uprising spread. A conspiracy was meant to wipe out the slave-owning population of Trinidad in one go. Over the years it has been suggested by some historians, however, that this was not so much a conspiracy halted ‘in the nick of time’, as much as it was a preemptive measure mounted by planters who were hysterically afraid for their lives and a British administration only too eager to impose authoritarian rule.
It would appear that some sort of plot was planned for Christmas day 1805. Historian E.L. Joseph in his ‘History of Trinidad’ (1838) calls attention to this plot and states that “the revolt was to have commenced on Shand’s Estate. It appeared to have originated among some French and African Negroes.”
In Fraser’s History, mention is also made of this terrible incident. He points out that the slave population was some 20,000, while the slave-owning, white and free coloured inhabitants were half that number.
History tells us that the authorites acted by declaring martial law and moved swiftly to apprehend those involved. As it turned out, the slaves had organised themselves into various societies. This was not unusual as in their African homelands there were many such secret groupings, denoting advancement into maturity and initiation into tribal rites.
In the context of Trinidad’s slave society, where members of various tribes were mixed and mingled on plantations for security reasons, these groupings or societies of Africans continued, but had assimilated European systems of order and designation. The slaves started to give themselves names such as ‘Major’ or ‘Captain’ and described their societies as ‘Regiments’.

By His Excellency Thomas Hislop
Proclamation of Martial Law in Trinidad
(abridged from the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, February 1st, 1806)

“Whereas there are strong reasons to apprehend that this Colony is threatened with internal dangers from the nefarious machinations of ill-disposed negroes and slaves in this community: And His Majesty’s Council of the said Island having recommended me to adopt the measure of Martial Law.
All persons must suffer temporary and individual inconvenience for the general welfare of the community. Notice is hereby given that the several patrols will be ordered to take up all negro and other slaves, who shall be found in any of the streets of Port of Spain, after eight o’clock at night and to lodge them in security during the night. Such negro or other slave who may be found to have offended against any of the ordinances now in existence will be immediately punished with death, or otherwise, according to the regulations of the said ordinances. All such negro or other slave attempting to escape from the patrols will be immediately shot. All persons concerned are therefore required to make the same known to their several slaves.”

Punishment of persons found guilty of conspiracy in contemplated insurrection of slaves
(abridged from the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, February 1st, 1806)

Roo - Colonel in the Cocorite Regiment to have both his ears cut off, to receive as severe a flogging as the Surgeon attending may think he can bear without injuring his life, and to be banished from the Colony, not to return to it under pain of death.

Bastian - Colonel in the Sans-Peur Regiment, Carenage, to receive one hundred lashes and to be returned to his owner, first having an iron ring of ten pounds weight affixed to one of their legs, to remain thereon for the space of two years.

Adelaide Dison - alias Buzotter, free woman - Queen of the Macaque Regiment, to work in chains for life, with an iron ring of ten pounds weight affixed to one of her legs.

(Source: C.B. Franklin's Selected Papers, published in "The Book of Trinidad", Besson/Brereton, Paria Publishing Co. Ltd.)

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