Friday 17 February 2017

Cycles of Revolt

It has been noted that Trinidad, not Tobago, possesses a cycle of violence. From the time of Governor Sir Tomas Picton, slave insurrection, official violence, torture, public execution, public display of decapitated heads, public whippings (1,500 lashes for desertion) from the army was meted out to both free and enslaved, military and civilian, even to young girls, on through to slave poisonings on the estates.
This happened in a short period from 1797-1805. Then the Port of Spain Riots of 1849 took place, when a British regiment opened fire on a mob intent on destroying the Government building, later the Red House, in protest of a law stating that the heads of debtors be shaved in the same manner as convicted felons. The law was repealed. In the 1890s, the Canboulay Riots and the Hosay Riots took place. This was followed 54 years later by the famous Water Riots, when a mele ensued the burning down of the Red House and 16 people were shot.
Just 35 years later, the country experienced a general strike in which riots swept the city and protesting workers were shot out of hand at various places around the country. In 1970, Port of Spain’s Woodford Square again saw demontrations, riots and shootings. The events of 1990 are well known. This re-occuring cycle of revolt, followed by official reaction, has now become virtually inherited, involving basically the same people for close to 200 years.
In the context of these articles, we will deal with events that led up to the Water Riots of 1903.
Crown colony rule was frustrating for the general populance right accross the board. It was reepressive to the lower classes, mostly black people, and it tended to debar upward mobility confining the children of the ex-slaves to perpetual poverty. It was humiliating to the coloured people and the white middle class, who, notwithstanding the heroic attempts at educating their children and mindboggling and convoluted endeavours to achieve and maintain European cultural moirees and a respectable lifestyle, they were still ouside the pale and likely to remain there.
The upper class French creoles were jealous of the English for their positions and power and smarting at the slights dished out by people whom they considered to be beneath their social standing. They were the grandchildren of the original aristocratic colonists who had, after all, come here first. The Indians were completely out of the equation socially and politically at this point.
In the closing years of the 19th century, opposition to colonial rule became more general and in fact more radical. What was mostly a middle class dissatisfaction evolved into movements that attracted working class support.
Joseph Chamberlain, the Secetary of State for the Colonies, the Govenor’s boss, brushed aside the reform movements and turned down appeals for any form of elected representation in the Legistlature, summing it up thus “Local government (falsely so called) is the curse of the West Indies. In many islands it means only local oligarchy of whites and half breeds - always incapable and frequently corrupt. In other cases it is the rule of the negroes, totaly unfit for representative institutions and the dupes of unscrupulous adventures.” He followed this up by ending the token majority of local unofficials in the Legislative Council nominated by the Governor.
He then moved on the Port of Spain Borough Council. An elected body set up in 1853, it had served as an important forum for local politicians, particularly the black and coloured radicals, and was the only voice through which any national view could be expressed by elected representatives. The conditions placed on the members were tough and they voted not to accept these and, in effect, voted themselves out of existence. Chamberlain ordered a Board of Commissions put in place to run the city. It was felt that this amounted to “the killing of a school to teach people to manage their own affairs.”
These were not significant issues, however, to attract mass support. The young but vigorous Trinidadian Workingman’s Association was much better able to do rally people around their causes, and so too was th Pan African Association led by a London-based lawyer called H.S. Williams. The next and sigificant link was forged by the creation of the Rate Payers’ Association, comprised mostly of professionals and businessmen. This group of taxpayers sought to act as a counter balance against arbitrary measures taken by the government, particularly in the distribution of water in the city. These groups acted, more or less, in an organised manner. The grassroots, however alienated, poor and easily manipulated, were moved by the rhetoric of Rate Payers’ Association’s principle speakers, Emmanuel Lazare, Moresse-Smith and others. Those speakers urged them to assemble in Woodford Square, outside the Red House, on the day when the new Ratepayers Ordinance was supposed to be read. The purpose was to seek to prevent this reading. The Ratepayers’ Association’s radicals made a strenuous effort to excite the assembled crowds against the Government. The outcome was a major riot during which the old Red House was completely burnt down. Much of recorded history was forever lost in this fire. Soldiers were called in, and 42 people were wounded, 16 lost their lives.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Angelo Bissessarsing's Gift to Trinidad

Angelo ‘a scavenger of the past’
SEAN DOUGLAS Sunday, February 5 2017
HISTORIAN Gerry Besson had seen the late Angelo Bissessarsingh as a youngster onto whom a small and aging cohort of local historians could pass on their artefacts and insights in the vital task of unearthing and preserving this country’s heritage. Sadly Bissessarsingh died last Thursday, age 34, his work incomplete .
“The history of TT and the sources of the historical record have over the past 40 years been very sadly neglected. So I was extremely gratified to see this young guy so keen and taking source material and turning it intro popular presentations,” Besson told Sunday Newsday. He said Bissessarsingh would venture into Lapeyrouse Cemetery to take notes from the headstones, while are now being destroyed by vagrants. “He was putting together a virtual museum of great variety and content which is very, very good, when you see the state of the National Museum.” Besson said Bissessarsingh was not a university historian but an amateur who was more spontaneous and free to follow his own hunches and inclinations, staying close to the ground .

“Us amateur historians are getting old - Fr Anthony De Verteuil, Michael Anthony, Adrian Camp Campins and myself. I am 75 years, so to suddenly see this young fellow (Bissessarsingh) arrive on the scene gave us all the sense that we have someone to pass on our archives or a box of old photos. He wasn’t writing with any political overtones but wending his way to the real facts and putting it across in such a way that people really liked.” He said Bissessarsingh’s books became popular as gifts to recall a past time, spur conversation and trigger memories. However he noted that such publication was a labour of love, saying such a local book would typically sell about 700 to 800 copies, quipping, “If you sell 1,000, you’ve got a best-seller.” Besson wondered why in contrast Jamaican publisher, Ian Randle, can sell thousands of books on the Jamaican market and thousands more overseas .

“How does Jamaica have such a strong sense of national identity that people want to read about, but not TT?” mulled Besson. “I ask question how come a lad from deep south would have the impulse to do this (historical research)? They are not rich people, and this work won’t make him a living. This thing comes from the heart.” Yet history is vitally important, he said .

“People are growing up in this country but don’t know why a place is called a certain name, why certain animosities exist in society and why we have certain customs,” related Besson .

“So people like Angelo who pursue the historical record are exceedingly commendable.” He hoped the media could whet public thirst for local history by way of pondering why is George Street called George Street, why do the streets of St James bear the names of cities of India, and why are many streets in Woodbrook are named after Boer War commanders such as Kitchener and Gatacre? Saying the answers to such questions build a country’s identity, Besson said, “Angelo was contributing to a sense of identity of the place, what Jamaica and Barbados have.” He lamented that just a few old people know the full history of the Red House and President’s House, both whose current dilapidation pose a future threat of demolition one day, a loss of edifice that he likened to the death of somebody .

“Things just fall apart, and next thing a rich man bulldozes it and it is gone overnight.” Besson recalled learning of the mindless past demolition of an old Spanish colonial building at lower Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain, likely used historically by the Cabildo or Treasury which he ended up scavenging for relics .

“Angelo too was a scavenger of the past,” he said .

While post-Independence politics may have led many persons to disdain TT’s history as being too linked to TT’s colonial past, Besson said heritage buildings can also be cherished by the fact of who were the persons who crafted them, the masons and craftsmen, the grandfathers of ordinary persons in TT today .

“These things give continuity and give us a sense of identity and make you stronger as a person in the context of the place where you live, so you take better care of it and have a better sense of belonging .

“So Angelo was one on those really remarkable people who somewhere in his subconscious he understood all of this and was prepared to dedicate the rest of his life to this. God rest, good old Angelo. 

Thursday 9 February 2017


Publication No 483.

The Minister of the Colonies, le Duc de la Luzerne,
to the Administrators of Tobago. 1790.

Source: Paris. Archives Nationales.
State Papers Colonial. C 10. E 11.

Published by the courtesy of the Minister 
of the Colonies. Paris.

Translated from the French.

                                                                                                12 March 1790.


        The Minister has learnt with satisfaction that the Chevalier de Jobal and Monsieur Roume de St Laurent have been able to settle their differences in the face of the serious events now taking place in Tobago and the critical times to which France itself, is exposed.
        The Minister has directed the Committee which had been formed to enquire into and report on these mutual complaints, to cease any further consideration of the matter.

The Agricultural and Livestock economy in Trinidad & Tobago in 1954-55

In 1955 there were 409 agricultural credit societies with 16,000 members, assets $300,000 and working capital of $1,067,140.
Sugar estates canes acreages 36,000. Farmers' canes acreage 44,000; number of farmers 111, 000.
Citrus acreage planted 13,000, 432,000 crates of citrus handled in 1954. Bananas, 45,546 stems exported in 1953. Rice 18,000 acres devoted to rice production in 1953, 288 mills produced 12,000 tons of rice. Coconuts, 40,000 acres under cultivation, 21,400 tons of copra valued $1,840,509 1953. Cocoa 120,000 acres under cultivation produced 200,000 cwt., in 1954
Forest production reserves in 1953, 49,000 acres; protected reserves, 194,900 acres;
Teak plantation 7,000 acres. Timber production for 1954 all woods, 5,607,000 ft..
Livestock population; 1954, cattle 37,900, water buffaloes, 3,000, goats, 39,000, sheep, 5,000, swine, 35,000, horses 2,400, mules, 2,800, donkeys, 6,000, poultry, 1,134,244. Source, Who, What and Why. 1955-56

Cocoa estates owned by French Creole families 1916

A list of cocoa estates owned by French families in 1916, a period that may be considered a high point in the economy of Trinidad.
Out of some one thousand cocoa estates  in 1916 (Franklyn's Year Book 1916) the French Creole holdings were: (some names are not French but these people were considered to be a part of that comunity)
 Centeno 1. de la Payrouse 4. de Martini 1. Blanc 1. de Gannes 8. Cipriani 4. Leoteaud 8. Quesnel 1. Stollmeyer 9. Sellier 4. Garcia 1. Caracciolo 4. Delisle 3. Luces 3 de Verteuil 14 llanos 1. Giuseppi 2. Maingot 7. de Matas 6. Pollonais 2 Ambard 1. D’Abadie 4. Pampellonne 1. Anduze ! Kernahan 1. Boos 1. Thavenot 1. de Boissiere 2 Hart 1. Savary 2 Borde 3 Agostini 4 Senbior 1. Coryat 6 Rostant 2. d’Heureux 1. Figeroux 1. Gransaul (. Farfan 1. de Pompignon 1. de Meillac 1. Pantin 1. Devenish 3 Know 1. de Boehmler 1. O’Connor 2.
 Lezama 1. Zepero 1. Wehekind 1. Herrera 1. Bernard 1. Fahay 1. Peschier 2. Franklyn’s Year Book 1916.
These estates came in a varity of acreages.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Trinidad Slave Census of in1813 And other population numbers

Total number of African slaves in Trinidad in 1813 was 25,696. Of these 11,633 were Creole slaves, that is, born on the estates or in the households of their owners. These can be broken down thus: 7,088 born in Trinidad, 2,576 from British Colonies, 1,593 from French Colonies, and 376 from other places.
Source, B. W. Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807 --1834.

Total number of African slaves in Trinidad 13,984. Comprising :–
Ibo, South Eastern Nigeria                2,863
Congo, Congo                                   2,450                                  
Moco, Cameroons                             2,240                          
Mandingo,  Senegambia                    1,421
Kormantyn, Ghana, Gold Coast,
Fanti, Ashanti, others                         1,068
Kwakwa, Ivory Coast                           473
Sierra Leone, Temne 169, Susu 145
Kissi, 63,                                               377
Ibibio, South Eastern Nigeria                371
Raddah, Dahomey                                 281
Chamba, Nigeria                                   275
Fulani, Northern Nigeria                       171
Popo, Dahomey                                     112
Hausa, Northern Nigeria                       109
Yoruba, Western Nigeria                         10

Various tribal groupings                        818

             * * *

Trinidad's population in 1783 Source, L. M. Fraser, History of Trinidad, Book 1
Whites                                                   126
Free Colourds                                        295
Slaves                                                    310
Amerindians                                       2,032

In 1797 at the time of the British conquest of Trinidad the population stood as:-
Men                  Women                   Boys                  Girls                 Total
929                     590                        301                     266                 2,086

                                    FREE COLOUREDS:
1,196                1,624                        895                    751                  4,466

305                     401                         190                    186                   1,082

4,164                3,505                       1,232                 1,108                10,009
_____             ______                     ______              ______             _______
6,594                6,120                        2,618                2,311               17,643

Trinidad's population in 1803:
                                 Whites             Coloured
English                       663                  599
Spanish                      505                1,751
French                     1,093                2,925
                               ––––––             –––––
                                2,261                5,275              7,563
Enslaved Africans                                                 20,000

            * * *

In 1796 the produce of the island of Trinidad had been:-
From 159 Sugar estates                                  7,800 hhds (hogheads)
  ''      130 Coffee   "                                    330,000 lbs
  "        60 Cacao    "                                      96,000  "
  "      103 Cotton   "                                    224,000  "

          * * *

In 1803 the produce of the island of Trinidad had been:-
Sugar                                                       16,014,036 lbs
Rum                                                              344,292 galls.
Molasses                                                       214,120   "
Cacao                                                            361,070 lbs
Coffee                                                           185,658  "
Cotton                                                           478,046  "

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