Friday 31 July 2020

Welcome to the Virtual Museum to Commemorate the Abolition of Slavery and Emancipation in Trinidad and Tobago

1807-2020 Two Hundred and Thirteen Years on the Road to Freedom:

The Abolition of the Slave Trade in Trinidad & Tobago

Two exhibitions at the National Museum and Art Gallery, Port of Spain, in 2007

The National Museum in Port of Spain
During these times of the Coronavirus pandemic, when schools in Trinidad and Tobago and all over the world are closed, we would like to take teachers, students and parents on a virtual tour of the Museum of the Abolition of Slavery and Emancipation in Trinidad and Tobago, which were temporary exhibitions at the National Museum and Art Gallery, Port of Spain, in 2007. They were mounted to commemorate the bi-centennial anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire (1807) and the emancipation of the enslaved (1838).

The exhibition was opened on March 27, 2007 and ran until April 8, under the aegis of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs in collaboration with the Committee for the Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
The second exhibit, "Emancipation in Trinidad", was mounted later that year to commemorate the emancipation of the enslaved in Trinidad and Tobago in 1838.
The exhibits were coordinated by the Curator of the National Museum, Mr. Vel Lewis. They were conceptualised and built by Gérard Besson with items and images from the collection of the National Museum, augmented by materials from Paria Publishing's archives. Prof. Bridget Brereton assisted with the research and writing of the captions, and held a public lecture at the Museum on 3 August, 2007.

Double-click on the images to enlarge and read them!

The poster for the exhibition, showing the entrance to Champs Elysées estate in Maraval, then a plantation belonging to Jean Valleton de Boissière, a slave trader (on horseback, being pointed at accusingly by an enslaved man). It was illustrated by an anti slavery activist, possibly Richard Bridgens.
“Slavery in the Caribbean has been too narrowly identified with the Negro. A racial twist has thereby been given to what is basically an economic phenomenon. Slavery was not born of racism, rather, racism was the consequence of slavery. Unfree labour in the New World was brown, white, black and yellow, Catholic, Protestant and Pagan.” 

(Trinidad and Tobago's first Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams, from his book "Capitalism and Slavery", 1964)

Non-African Slaves in the Caribbean

Dr. Williams goes on to write that the first instance of slave trading and slave labour that was developed in the New World involved, racially, not the African but the Amerindian. The immediate successor of the Amerindian was not the African but the impoverished European. Some of these Europeans where indentured servants, people who had arranged with the captain of a ship to pay for their passage on arrival or within a specified time thereafter, and if they did not, they were auctioned off by the captain. Other Europeans who were forced into unpaid labour in the Caribbean were convicts, the destitute and those who were the victims of religious persecution. These people were sent out to serve for a specified time in the plantations or to work as domestics in households.

In 2007, the world commemorated the bi-centennial of the abolition of the African slave trade in the British Empire. The Slave Trade Act was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, passed on 25th March, 1807. The act abolished the sale and transportation of African slaves to the New World in and around the Atlantic Ocean, a trade which had begun in 1562.

Two Hundred and Thirteen Years on the Road to Freedom in Trinidad & Tobago

What Port of Spain looked like from the sea in the early 19th century (lithograph of the 1820s by Richard Bridgens)

What San Fernando looked like from the seain the early 19th century (porcelain lid in the National Museum Collection)

Trinidad, as compared to Tobago, was a late starter in the plantation economies of the Caribbean. Tobago had an early start in the plantation economies of the New World. It was partially settled by the Courlanders, today's Baltic States, and the Dutch in the 17th century. It was contested by the French in the 18th and finally captured by the British in the 19th century, changing hands back and forth among these European powers. During this period, slaves were continuously brought to Tobago from stations on the West Coast of Africa by the various European powers.
There were times when Tobago was abandoned, and described as a “desert island”. Nevertheless, Tobago continued to produce sugar well into the 19th century, as the various relics of the sugar industry may to this day be glimpsed in the abandoned windmills and waterwheels, and the rusting steam-powered crushing plants.

Main Street, Scarborough, Tobago, circa 1825. Possibly a slave ship is anchored in the Bay.
Illustration by Captain Wilson (Tom Cambridge Collection)

Views of the exhibition:  display cases and objects 

Storage Jar
This large earthenware jar, made in England, probably dates from the 1800s, and would have been used on a sugar estate for the storage of rum, molasses, or sugar. It is one of the few objects made of this material to have survived from the period of slavery, and as such may be seen as the central exhibit of this exposition.

Trinidad's Cedula for Population of 1783

Trinidad became a Spanish colony in 1498. Not seen as being of strategic importance to Spain, it was neglected until it was decided, by the Spanish Government, in the late 18th century, to introduce a population to Trinidad. The catalyst for this significant event was Philippe Roume de St. Laurent, a Grenadian of French descent. He obtained a Royal Cedula for the Population of Trinidad from the Spanish Crown on the 4th November, 1783, and was responsible for its propagation throughout the Caribbean region.
This decree granted free lands to foreign settlers in Trinidad. Among its stipulations was that the settlers be Roman Catholics and subjects of nations allied to Spain. As a result, French, Irish, German, Italian and English families arrived in Trinidad.
The Cedula of 1783 was remarkable for its time, in that it sought to accommodate by giving Civil Rights to those Black and mixed race people of the Caribbean who, for a variety of reasons, were not enslaved.
This would make Trinidad unique, in that from the inception of the Cedula for Population, the majority of "Free People" in Trinidad were of a mixture of Africans and of people who were of African and European descent.

Amongst the several Articles of the Cedula there are two that are of particular relevance to this exhibition:

Art. III. To each white person, either sex, shall be granted four fanegas and two sevenths of land (equal to ten quarrees French measure, or thirty-two acres English measure) and half the above quantity for every negro or mulatto slave that such white person or persons shall import with them, making such a division of the land, that each shall partake of the good, bad and indifferent. And these distributions shall be recorded in a vellum book of population, specifying the name of each inhabitant, the date of his admission, the number of individuals of his family, his quality and rank; and every such inhabitant shall have an authentic copy from said book for the parcel of land alloted to him, which shall serve as a title to his property in the same.

Art. IV. The free negroes and mulattoes who shall come to settle in the said island, in quality of inhabitants and chief of families, shall have half the quantity of land granted to the whites, and if they bring with them slaves, being their own property, the quantity of land granted to them shall be increased in proportion to the number of said slaves, and to the land granted to said negroes and mulattoes, this is, one half of the quantity granted to the slaves of whites; and their titles for lands shall be equally legal and granted in the same manner as to whites.

Population figures of Trinidad from 1782 to 1810

The 1803 figures show that while the numbers of the Europeans, Free Blacks and Amerindians remained almost stable, the number of African slaves doubled to 20,464 as the production of sugar burgeoned under the first six years of British rule. It can be assumed that this figure was still increasing until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.
Population statistics Trinidad 1782 – 1810 (double-click to enlarge)

Trinidad Slave Census of 1813 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. )

Map of West African tribes brought to Trinidad and Tobago

Total number of African slaves in Trinidad 13,984 in the 1800s. 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

Number of slaves freed in Trinidad in 1834.

The starting point of the Middle Passage was the sale of Africans by other Africans. Here, the King of Dahomey presides over his court, with Europeans slave traders looking on. (From: Archibald Dalzel, The History of Dahomy, 1793, as reproduced in From Columbus to Castro, Eric Williams)

The Beginnings of the Slave Trade in Africa

The arrival of the Portuguese and the building of the first European fort at Arguin in 1448, followed by the second in 1482 at Elmina on the Gold Coast, had at first little impact on Africa. The immediate objective of the Europeans was to take a share in the gold and pepper trade, dominated at the time by Arab middlemen, the slave trade being of secondary interest. 
But with the development of sugar plantations in Brazil and the West Indies, the slave trade became a major source of profit, especially after the Dutch and British had ousted the Portuguese from along the Gold and Slave Coasts (today’s coastal Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana). Fortified trading stations were set up as bases for this trade, the Portuguese continuing from their bases in Angola and Cacheu (now Guinea-Bissau).
At this time, Europeans remained largely ignorant of the African interior, and their influence was limited generally to the coast. In the far south the Dutch were established in the Cape, and in the northeast Islam was spreading.
Until about 1800, with the exception of the Ottomans in the north (their power was more nominal than real), Africa remained largely independent of foreign control. It was a world unto itself, but in no position to compete with the technology of Europe that was about to explore and eventually dominate this vibrant continent.
There had been a slave trade in West Africa for centuries before the coming of the Europeans. South of the Sahara, in the vast grasslands known as the Sudan, great empires had grown up in medieval times (circa 12th to 15th century). These states had long raided the forest areas for slaves, who were then transported across the desert for sale in the markets of Morocco.
But the Sudan had been falling increasing into chaos and decline since 1590, and soon the flow of slaves was moving south and west to the ocean rather than north into the desert. Throughout the 18th century, the harbours of the West African coastline reaching from Senegal to Angola, were annually infested with European ships seeking to purchase slaves.
The trade was well organised, and the Europeans did not capture slaves themselves as a rule. Rather, the latter were captured far into the interior of the African continent in great slave raiding wars, then sold through a series of African middlemen down to the coast, where Europeans acquired them from local chiefs in exchange for goods in demand in Africa, such as guns, copper, iron ware, rum and textiles.
The great and increasing demand for sugar in Europe had in turn created an insatiable demand for slave labour in the West Indies among other places in the New World, where sugar cane was grown.  Millions of Africans were captured in tribal wars or kidnapped from their villages, sometimes branded, and sold or exchanged for trade goods  and shipped across the ocean to be worked to death on the plantations of the New World.

Slave Coffle
A 19th century engraving of captives being marched to the coast for export. Prisoners of war, malefactors of a community or victims of slave raiders: the enslaved were chained or yoked by the neck in the cleft of a forked branch and had to walk to the coast. (Jackdaw No. 12)

Transport of Africans to the coast to sell them into slavery

The Miserable Journey to the Coast

Of the captured Africans, those who collapsed from hunger, sickness or exhaustion and who could not be whipped or goaded into continuing their journey to the coast, were abandoned to the vultures and wild animals. (Jackdaw No. 12)


Trading Station in Africa
At the trading station on the coast, the slaves were sold by the African or Arab sellers to the European shippers. Here the slaves were sometimes branded before being put aboard a slave ship. (Jackdaw No. 12)

Branding irons
Metal letters which were heated red hot and used to brand the owner’s mark on to the slave’s skin.

Below, a view of the exhibition hall and some of the objects that were on display.

The Benin Bronzes
are a collection of brass plaques and objects from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin which are held by the National Museum & Art Gallary. These Bronzes are  believed to have been cast in Benin in the thirteenth century.
The Bronzes depict a variety of scenes, including animals, fish, humans and scenes of court life. They were cast in matching pairs (although each was individually made). It is thought that they were originally nailed to walls and pillars in the palace as decoration, some possibly also offering instructive scenes of protocol.
The Benin Empire, which occupied parts of present-day Nigeria between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, was a high civilization very rich in sculptures of diverse materials, such as iron, bronze, wood, ivory, and terra cotta. The Oba's palace in Benin, the site of production for the royal ancestral altars, also was the backdrop for an elaborate court ceremonial life in which the Oba, his warriors, chiefs and titleholders, priests, members of the palace societies and their constituent guilds, foreign merchants and mercenaries, and numerous retainers and attendants all took part.

The Horrors of the Middle Passage

After the near extermination of the native populations of the Caribbean islands by the Spanish conquerors and their followers, the first African slaves to be shipped to the New World came via the Portuguese slave markets in Lisbon. The first documented shipload of slaves dates to 1503. Starting in 1515, Africans were brought from the Guinea coast directly to the Caribbean. Soon after, the Spanish, who had not enough ships for the number of slaves required, also gave permits to engage in the lucrative slave trade to ship owners of other nations.
Sir John Hawkins, a wealthy, Plymouth merchant, was the first systematic English slave trader in 1567. The pattern of his voyages was to sail to the Guinea coast, exchange trifles with slave-raiding Africans Kings for slaves, and sail with his human cargo to the New World, where he sold the slaves at a profit to the Spanish, returning to England with the produce of the New World. This triangular trade was called the “Middle Passage”.

Map of the Middle Passage:
Plymouth, Guinea, New World, Plymouth

The Careening of Slave Ships

In many islands of the Caribbean is to be found the interesting word “Carenage”. This was a place on the sea front where the ocean-going, slave-carrying ships as well as merchant vessels and His Majesty’s ships of the line would have their bottoms cleaned and re-caulked with tar before resuming their duties. 
Slavers, in order to achieve high profits from the transports, needed to maintain the seaworthiness of their craft. Over 30,000 voyages were made to Africa to capture slaves. 
Carenage on Trinidad’s north-western peninsula is a memory of the time when ships were careened there. It is interesting to note that to this day, people of mostly African descent pilgrimage there to perform religious rites

Model of a Slaver

This model (below) was used by the abolitionists in the British Parliament to show the real conditions of the Middle Passage. It was shown in one case that, even allowing only two feet for the width of each slave, the legal complement of the ship was found more than this space would accommodate.
The plan of the slaving ship was prepared by the Wilberforce Committee. The illustration shows the six-foot wide platforms on which slaves were ranged “like books on a shelf”. They had no space above them to sit up. The deck was completely covered with rows of bodies. (Jackdaw No. 12)

Model of a slaver shown by the abolitionists in the House of Commons
Sketches of slave ships

This is what a slaver under full sail on the Middle Passage would have looked like

The Lampooning of the Slave Trade

The early 19th century was a time when political lampooning served to influence political decisions in England.
The “Johnny Newcome in the Caribbean” series sought to demonstrate the debauched and hedonistic lives of the sugar cane planters. It also shows something of the nature of miscegenation. (the interbreeding of people who are considered to be of different racial types.) This was the origin of the so called "mulatto class," a great many of whom came to Trinidad & Tobago. They were the  Free Negroes and Mulattoes mentioned in Article IV of the Cedula for Population. (double-click on the picture to enlarge)

View of the exhibition

1780s: Sugar flourishes in Trinidad and Tobago

In 1782, a man by the name of St. Hilaire Begorrat, plantation and slave owner and slave trader of Diego Martin introduces the Otaheite variety of cane, which flourishes in Trinidad. The sugar industry starts in the Port of Spain area.
The first sugar mill is erected in 1787 by a Frenchman, Picot de la Peyrouse, where Lapeyrouse Cemetery is today. Sugar becomes the leading export good and continues to be so, until 1897 when cocoa takes over.

St. Hilaire Begorrat introduced the Otaheite cane to Trinidad.

Slave markets - Both Europeans and Free Black and Free Mixed Race people sold and bought enslaved Africans at Fort San Andres,  close to today's City Gate in Port of Spain.

"For sale at the Fort in Port of Spain: a chestnut gelding, a barrel of whisky, and a well-made good-tempered black boy. April 18th, 1807." (An advertisement in a local paper)

"To be sold at the Fort: A black girl, the property of H. Debe, eleven years of age, who is extremely handy, works at her needle tolerably, and speaks English perfectly well, is of an excellent temper and willing disposition. Inquire of Mr. Owen, Carib Street, San Fernando." (An advertisement in a local paper)

Poster advertising slaves in 1829. 

Poster advertising slaves prior to the abolition of the slave trade (as they are being sold from a slave ship

The Turtle Shell
Turtles generally have lifespans comparable with those of human beings, and some individuals are known to have lived longer than 150 years. Because of this, they symbolise longevity in some cultures. In Guyanese folklore, they are referred to as “Old Creole”.
The turtle has both an endoskeleton and an exoskeleton. The first turtles already existed in the era of the dinosaurs, some 200 million years ago.
This turtle shell of a fully mature creature formed part of the original Royal Victoria Institute’s Natural History collection (now the National Museum). The animal whose shell came to the Museum in the early 20th century may as such have been alive when there was still slavery in Trinidad.

Human  Toll

The trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted in a vast loss of life for African captives both in Africa and in the Caribbean. The total number of slaves carried across the Atlantic from Africa is a matter of dispute, it is today assumed that of 11.5 million people, 9.5 million were landed alive. These numbers are comparable to the European 20th century genocides as a result of the actions and politics by Adolf Hitler (12 million people killed) and Josef Stalin (17 million people killed).
During the 1790s and early years of the 19th century, the proportion of the African slave trade carried in British ships had been rising fast, as the Royal Navy cleared the seas; between 1793 and 1807, it more than doubled.
For every African captive arriving in the New World two died during capture or transport. The exact number of dead may never be known, but records of the period and modern research paint a grim picture. The vast price paid by the people of Africa hardly reckons deaths of African slaves as a result of their actual labour, slave revolts or diseases they caught while living among New World populations. The savage nature of the trade, where most of the slaves were procured during African wars, led to the destruction of individuals and cultures.

A page from the account by James Fraser of Trinidad, describing the anxiety about the abolition of the slave trade amongst the planters in Trinidad (double-click to enlarge)

Many and various arguments were raised by the West Indian planters against the abolition of the slave trade. This book, written by a gentleman of Jamaica, was addressed to a friend in London, but was intended as a criticism directed against the Reverend Clarkson, who, in association with Wilberforce, was promoting the abolition of the slave trade and ultimately the emancipation of the slaves (double-click to enlarge)

Resistance against British Ordinances to Ameliorate the Condition of the Slaves

The British Colonial Government, under political pressure from the Anti-Slavery Party in England, decreed after the abolition of the slave trade a series of Ordinances to improve the position of the slaves. These Ordinances were first enacted in Trinidad, not in other Crown Colonies like British Guiana, because Trinidad was deemed an “experimental colony”.
The slave-owners were alarmed and vehemently opposed these new laws, which sought to suppress the still ongoing smuggling and trade of slaves, and to secure an improvement in their civic status (i.e. they could bear witness in court, corporal punishment was banned or restricted, fixed work hours were set for them, and they could buy their own freedom).
What the slave-owners of course feared most was that their absolute authority over the slaves was undermined by these Ordinances, and in many ways they simply refused to comply with them. Many of them had experienced the slave uprisings in Haiti and Grenada, when a wholesale slaughter of European men, women and children had cost the lives of their families and friends. Also, because the plantation economy had begun just recently in Trinidad, many planters had not yet realized a return on their investment and were heavily indebted. And third, slavery had simply become a way of life over many generations, and the slave-owners could not imagine another way to exist.

The Personalities on both sides of the Movement for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and of Slavery

Pro Abolition: The British Anti-Slavery Movement of the late 18th century

In the 1780s, the antislavery society in England grew in numbers. Public meetings were held all over the country and support increased. William Wilberforce, compelled by his strong Christian faith, became the leader of a parliamentary campaign of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Thomas Clarkson took a leading part in the affairs of the Committee, and was given the responsibility for collecting information to support the abolition of the slave trade. As Wilberforce continued to bring the issue of the slave trade before Parliament, Clarkson continued to travel and write. Between them, Clarkson and Wilberforce were responsible for generating and sustaining a national movement which mobilised public opinion as never before.

In 1791, Wilberforce introduced a bill in the House of Commons to abolish the slave trade, saying “As we have been great in crime, let us be early in repentance”. The bill did not pass. England then went to war with Napoleon. Delay followed delay until at last the great day dame. Sixteen long years after Wilberforce had moved the first bill, in 1807, the English parliament voted to abolish the slave trade. As members cheered, William Wilberforce was seen with tears streaming down his face. 

William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833) British politician, philanthropist, and abolitionist who led the parliamentary campaign against the slave trade.

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet (7 April 1786 – 19 February 1845) was a English Member of Parliament, brewer, abolitionist and social reformer. He took over as leader of the abolition movement in the British House of Commons after William Wilberforce retired in 1825. His efforts paid off in 1833 when slavery was officially abolished in the United Kingdom.

Page from the Journal of John Newton

John Newton (1725–1807) was a slave trader from 1750–54 but later became a priest and an abolitionist. In 1788, he published a pamphlet on the slave trade and in 1790 gave evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons. It was a sermon preached by Newton which led to Wilberforce being interested in the abolition movement. (Jackdaw No. 12)

Page from the Journal of Slave Trader John Newton (double-click to enlarge)

Effect on the Economy of Africa

No one can dispute the harm done to the slaves themselves, but the effect of the trade on the African societies themselves is also an aspect of the slave trade that should be remembered. 
Before 1807, proponents of the slave trade, such as Archibald Dalzel, argued that African societies were robust and not much affected by the ongoing trade. In the 19th century, European abolitionists, most prominently Dr. David Livingston, took the opposite view, arguing that the fragile local economy and societies were being severely harmed by the ongoing trade. 
This view continued with scholars until the 1960s and 70s such as Basil Davidson, who conceded it might have had some benefits while still acknowledging its largely negative impact on Africa.
Historian Walter Rodney estimates that by c.1770, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling captive African soldiers and even his own people to the European slave-traders. Most of this money was spent on British-made firearms (of very poor quality) and industrial-grade alcohol. 

Part II: Emancipation of the Enslaved in Trinidad and Tobago

Am I not a Man and a Brother

Poster for the Exhibition 

The Act of Emancipation was passed in August 1833, and became law on 1 August 1834. 

While children under six were immediately free, all other slaves had to serve an ‘apprenticeship’ of six years for field slaves and four years for other slaves, during which they would be obliged to labour for their former owners for three-quarters of the
working week, without wages. For the rest of the week they were free to seek paid work. Special magistrates appointed and paid by the British government were to enforce the system and protect the apprentices’ rights. Twenty million pounds were voted to compensate slave-owners for the loss of their property. The Act represented a compromise between the anti-slavery party and the West Indian interests; if anything it gave the West Indians more than the abolitionists.

Emancipation day — 1 August 1834

Emancipation day 1 August 1834 was calm; but a crowd of apprentices gathered in Port of Spain near Government House shouting ‘Point de six ans!’ (‘Not six years more!’) and complaining that absolute freedom had been denied them. On the next day the crowd reappeared. Some were arrested for breaches of order, and twenty-three were publicly flogged, but Governor Hill resisted pressure to declare martial law and removed the regular troops from the city to avoid provoking trouble. There was no disorder anywhere else in the island. By 12 August, Hill reported that the great majority of the apprentices were working peacefully. Four long years would pass before full freedom would be won by the slaves of Trinidad, but, at least, after years of futile efforts to ‘ameliorate’ slavery, liberty was in sight."
(Bridget Brereton, A History of Modern Trinidad, p. 63)

                                                                                The Exhibition's entrance


1807–1834: The Years after the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Demographics 1810-1813

Trinidad had begun to be a slave colony late in the history of West Indian plantation economies. As such, its demographics differed from the “mature” slave colonies like Jamaica, Barbados, or Tobago.
This is how Trinidad differed from mature colonies the period 1810–1813,
  • only 67% of the population were slaves — in mature colonies, the proportion was at least 90%
  • slaves in Trinidad were more often property of coloured or black slave-owners than in other colonies, because of the large amount of free coloured planters in Trinidad.
  • slaves were concentrated in small holdings. 60% belonged to units of under 50 slaves (in Jamaica, the proportion was only 24%), 8% lived in units of over 150 slaves. In 1834, 80% of slave owners had less than 10 slaves, only 1% held over 100 slaves.
  • 25% of Trinidad slaves lived in Port-of-Spain, 20% lived on estates growing coffee, cocoa or provisions; just over 50% lived on sugar plantations, far fewer than in Barbados or Jamaica
  • 13,980 Trinidad slaves were natives of Africa, only 11,629 were born in the West Indies (Creole).

(Information from Fraser’s “History of Trinidad”)

Entrance of the Exhbition, with an African Carving and and African Talking Drum on exhibit

The Exhibition's entrance

The Slave Family

African-born slaves tended to marry fellow Africans, only 10% of African men had Creole wives. While family units headed by a male were quite common, the majority of the slave children lived with their mothers, especially in the large urban slave population.
The formation of stable families was not possible if slaves belonged to different owners, and was often interrupted by the high mortality rate in the slave population. Between 1816–1834, the slave population declined from 25,287 to 17,539 persons, or 32%, due to deaths outnumbering births.

(Information from Fraser’s “History of Trinidad”)

An African musical instrument called a Marimba.

View of the Exhibition

View of exhibits on display

1830s: Daaga and Jonas Mohammed Bath

These are the stories of two Africans in the West Indies in the 1830s, who did not resign themselves to the system, but sought to take their fate into their own hands and make a change. One of them ended in tragedy, the other was eminently successful in bettering the lot of his fellow Africans.

Jonas Mohammed Bath – Mandingo Society Leader

In 1804 or 05, a Mandingo slave arrived in Trinidad who was a Muslim Imam in West Africa. He bought his freedom and began to form a community of Muslim ex-slaves who pooled their resources to purchase the freedom of fellow Mandingos.
In the 1830s, this group of about 140 lived in a community in Port of Spain, and were involved in money-lending, trade and planting. They owned cocoa estates and houses,  and even slaves – non-Mandingo Africans, just as they would have done in the Senegambia.
Bath’s community retained their African identity and Muslim religion, and they were determined to go back to Africa. They petitioned the Governor and the British government, but Bath died in 1838. But a few members of his community succeeded and were repatriated to Benin and the Senegambia. Most of them, however, remained in Port of Spain and were joined by other Mandingos and Muslims amongst the freed Africans who arrived at these shores.

Daaga – Freed African and Mutineer

After 1807, the British Navy enforced the law which abolished the shipping of Africans for the purpose of selling them as slaves on the Atlantic Ocean, by hunting down slavers on the high seas. Those surviving the capture were liberated and distributed amongst the British colonies as free labourers. Several of the freed African men were drafted into the West India Regiments and became often became outstanding soldiers.
An exception was Daaga, a remarkably tall man of 6 feet 6 inches in height, who stated that he had been an adopted prince of the Pawpaw tribe, and that he himself had captured many Yoruba slaves and sold to Portuguese slavers before a plot of treason had brought him to Trinidad as a freed African. He was given the name of Donald Stewart upon arrival in Trinidad, drafted into the 1st West India Regiment, trained as a soldier and stationed in St. Joseph.
On 8th June, 1837, Daaga became the leader of a mutiny amongst the African soldiers of the Regiment, setting houses and barracks on fire and singing African war songs. While Daaga himself was overwhelmed and detained, an armed group of mutineers were making for the East, where they met dispatches of the local militia. In a melee outside Arima, five mutineers were killed, six wounded, and three taken prisoners. The others fled.
Daaga, together with two other ringleaders, were tried and convicted to death by firing squad, a sentence that was carried out on 16th August, 1837.

Carting sugarcane on the Rose Hill Plantation Port of Spain in the 1820s.
Edward Jackson, an Englishman, was the proprietor of this estate. It was situated in East Port of Spain. It is possible that this house was at the foot of Gloster Lodge Road, although it is also said that it stood at the top of Piccadilly Street overlooking Park Street. Jackson Place and Rose Hill are place names that remember the period. 

Sir Thomas Picton

Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, Colonel Picton, as he was then, first British Governor of Trinidad, from 1797–1803, was to administer the island in the period immediately after the British conquest. The plantation economy, operated by slave labour, was was developing rapidly, to some extent against the inclination of the British Government, who wanted it to be a “model colony”. Colonel Picton, however, was strongly influenced by the French planter society of the day, in particular St.Hilaire Begorat who had been alarmed by both the slave uprisings in Haiti and other islands in the Caribbean, and by the fall of French Ancient Regime. In addition to this, the island being the recipient of thousands of immigrants, radicalised by the events in both the Caribbean at large and the Venezuelan mainland, made Trinidad a difficult place to govern. It was said that Picton ran the island in the manner in which he ran his regiment.
Under Picton’s successor, Colonel Thomas Hislop, harsh reprisals on a reputed slave insurrection were undertaken in 1805. Many slaves lost their lives, some slaves were executed, others were mutilated and deported, setting the tone for the slave society which was to last until Emancipation in 1838.

The Torture of Luisa Calderon
Colonel Picton ordered the torture of Luisa Calderon, a young woman of Port of Spain, accused of larceny, at the Royal Gaol in Port of Spain. 
This episode was an example of the medieval penal culture of the day, part of the Spanish laws which Picton under orders of Sir Ralph Abercromby, his superior officer, continued to uphold in the now British colony.
At right, holding two keys, is Vallot the Gaoler. On his right is his slave, Porto Rico, who is executing the torture. One of the gentlemen on the left is St. Hilaire Begorrat, the chief magistrate at the time, a plantation and slave owner in the Diego Martin area. The presence of two members of the Illustrious Cabildo at the scene, the Spanish governing body at the time, indicates that this is government-condoned torture.

A Slave in Chains
Illustration of an anti-slavery publication of 1827.

Thomas Clarkson (front) (28 March 1760 – 26 September 1846), abolitionist,  became a leading campaigner against the slave trade in the British Empire, with William Wilberforce (back).
Iron Ladle
This utensil was used in the sugar factory to remove any solid objects like leaves, insects or other from the liquid molasses.

Voices against the Abolition of Slavery

Another voice, that of self-interest, was the voice of planters and merchants in the West Indies and in England, particularly in the port city of Liverpool. They held a important stake in the slave trade, and set themselves against its destruction.

Liverpool Members of Parliament (MPs), merchants and their anti-abolitionist supporters worked together to oppose the abolition of the slave trade. They presented their case on the basis of the damage which abolition would cause to the national and local economy. They also tried to present responses to the humanitarian arguments against the slave trade. Slavery, they argued, was not only an aspect of the natural order of things but it was also vital for the colonies.

They said that it brought wealth to Liverpool and ‘happiness to the slaves’. Such was the belief of local merchants and politicians in the slave trade that John Tarleton, MP for Seaford, spent over three hours in 1788 trying to convince the Prime Minister William Pitt (1759-1806) that the abolition of the slave trade would bring ‘total ruin’ to Liverpool. 

William Burnley, Trinidad’s first millionaire, an American planter with a British background, established Orange Grove estate in Trinidad in the early 19th century.  He was the largest slave owner on the island at the time of emancipation, and agitated strongly against the emancipation of the enslaved.

An anti-abolitionist cartoon, probably drawn by Richard Bridgens, which depicts the fate of the planter interest in the event of the emancipation of the enslaved. From the left, European importers would have to pay duties to the emancipated, and the African would be king (seated figure with orb in his hand), while with fiddle and drum, European woman (on balcony) would be seduced into loose and lascivious behaviour.

A title deed, signed by Sir Ralph Woodford, Bart., Governor of Trinidad 1813-1828, for lands in Diego Martin owned by St. Hilaire Begorrat. St. Hilaire Begorrat, a Frenchman from Martinique, played a very active part in the early administration of Trinidad. A land owner, who was reputed to have introduced the Otaheite cane into Trinidad, he virtually controlled the quarter of Diego Martin for most of his active life. As a slave owner, he was infamous for his cruelty, but he is also remembered for his support and indeed close attachment to slaves whom he encouraged to sing an early form of calypso. His principal henchman was Gros Jean, who is said to be among our earliest calypsonians.
St. Hilaire Begorrat built a plantation house directly above a group of caves on the western foothills of his Diego Martin estate. Remembered by some of the older inhabitants as “Begorrat’s caves”, these are said to have been variously torture chambers, the site of his orgies, the haunting place of the spirits of the dead, but might well have been the holding bays for slaves smuggled illegally into Trinidad to be re-sold as contraband after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

Closeup of the Deed

Joseph Marryat, a British businessman with investments in Trinidad, represented the island’s planter and commercial interest unofficially in London, conveying the views and suggestions of the planters to the colonial office. The planters in Trinidad sought to prevent or to postpone the abolition of the slave trade, their argument being that Trinidad, unlike the older colonies such as Tobago, Barbados and Jamaica, had only very recently been established with a plantation-based economy (from 1783). Inasmuch as land had up until recently been granted to planters, the trade in slaves from Africa should be continued so as to allow them to realise a return on their sizeable investments.

A Proclamation regarding the registration of slaves during the Governorship of Sir Ralph Woodford in Trinidad.

Slave Returns from Tobago

Twenty-seven years after the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Empire, the Emancipation of slaves was granted by the British government. It was decided that the sum of £ 20 million be paid to slave owners as a compensation for the loss of their property in human beings and for the dislocation that this would inevitably cause.
The money paid out to slave owners was viewed by them as grossly insufficient, especially in Trinidad, where planters had relatively recently commenced the cultivation of estates, the vast majority coming to the island from 1783. But no important person or group, not even the abolitionists, recommended compensating the slaves in such a manner that upon achieving freedom, they would be given something so as to re-commence their lives. 
Below are two returns from Tobago, where the number of former slaves on an estate and their estimated value in each class or division of labour was filled out and passed on to the authorities with the view of receiving money for the slaves freed (double-click to enlarge).

Exhibition case with a Tobago Slave Return and the Emancipation Cententary Booklet.

The Freed Africans of the 1850s & 1860s

After the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807, the trade continued in many other territories in the New World, namely the Spanish, French and Portuguese colonies and the United States. The British Navy patrolled the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea and freed the African survivors
from slave ships. Some of them were brought to Trinidad and Tobago where they settled, and today, a  many Trinbagonians of African descent are in fact descended from these Freed Africans.

The National Museum's collection encompasses a collection of prints from the Illustrated London News, which tell the story and show the pitiful condition of the Africans rescued from slavers. The story is that in April 1857 — long after the slave trade and indeed slavery itself was abolished in the British Empire – a British naval vessel captured the slave ship "Zeldina" and brought it to Port Royal in Jamaica. On board were the 370 survivors of the approximately 500 Africans who had been boarded in Cabinda (Angola) approximately 46 days earlier. The London Illustrated News describes their condition as follows:

"The poor captives were in a wretched condition – all of them naked; and the greater part seemed to have been half starved. They were packed closely together, and covered with dirt and vermin . . . . The slave-schooner had two decks and between them the captives were packed in such a manner that they had scarcely room to move. During each day of the voyage they sat in a painful posture, 18 inches only being allowed for each to turn in . . . in a deck room of 30 feet in length . . . [they were] brought up in platoons once every day to get a small portion of fresh air . ." 
 (The Illustrated London News, June 20, 1857, pp. 595-596). 

Here are the images:

Liberated Africans being held at Port Royal, Jamaica (1857, London Illustrated News)

A group of Africans rescued from the Zeldina (1857, London Illustrated News)

Drawing of how children were packed into the slaver (1857, London Illustrated News)

Drawing of children in the "sleeping position" aboard a slaver (1857, London Illustrated News)

The slaver "Zeldina" whence the Africans were rescued in 1857 (London Illustrated News)

An Eyewitness’ Account of Emancipation Day

1st August, 1834

given by Lieutenant Colonel Capadose, a British Army Official, while stationed in Trinidad.
Published by Capadose in 1845 in the book ‘Sixteen Years in the West Indies’

“I was present, with the late Colonel Hardy, at the Government House (or Office) at Port of Spain, Trinidad, on the memorable 1st August, 1834, when, as the first step to freedom, the quondam slaves of all British Dominions, were denominated apprentices - the Governor and Council were all assembled to listen to a representation, or rather an interrogatory, of a number of negroes, regarding their supposed, unlimited, emancipation - these people appeared to be a deputation from a few French Estates; and were for the most part very old men, old women, and children, the only young man among them was their spokesman, who was probably selected, because he spoke the French language well - it was he who addressed the Governor, with the question, whether the King had not granted them (that is all slaves) unqualified liberty, from that date? That they understood so, and yet their managers and overseers insisted on their working, as usual, that morning on the estates.
I must here explain that French gentlemen, managers and overseers, accompanied these negroes to the Government House, H.E., the Governor, Sir George Hill, followed by the Members of Council, the Judges and other official Gentlemen, had repaired to the balcony of the Council Chamber to inquire into the cause of such an assemblage as then filled the Court Yard, below the building. In answer to the above question, be mildly observed that His Majesty had indeed been most graciously pleased to grant them Freedom, that they were consequently no longer slaves, but free British subjects from that day forth - yet, His Majesty had decreed that they were still to reside on the estate and serve, under certain enactment for their benefit, as before; in capacity of apprentices during six years, after which they would, in 1840, be free to go wherever they pleased - scarcely had His Excellency pronounced “Six years,” than the negroes, old women and men, vociferated “pas de six ans, point de six ans” (not six years, no six years) - hardly would they allow His Excellency to be heard in conclusion, so loud did they repeat “pas de six ans.” etc.
The Governor however continued speaking to them, in their own language, with the greatest affability, and concluded by exhorting them, to return quietly home, like good folks, and resume their avocations under employers who, doubtless would treat them kindly, and indeed the new laws ensured them good treatment; they nevertheless stood immovable, and would not retire; the Governor then left the balcony, and lest he might not have been properly understood by the multitude below, he directed one of the Secretaries, or Government Officers, present, to take his place, and explain more fully what he had said, which was done, but with no better success, the same vociferation being repeated at the words “six years” “pas de six ans!” etc.
At this time two gentlemen entered the council chamber, military officers, Captain Hay, and Captain Mackenzie, just arrived from England, on appointment, as Special Magistrates, to see the act for the apprenticeship carried into effect. One of these magistrates was accordingly directed by His Excellency to replace the previous speaker, at the balcony, and explain to the infatuated people below, their error; which the magistrate did in the most clear and intelligible manner; read, and explained to them, the printed act, that he held in his hand; exhorted them to withdraw peaceably and without delay, or it would become his painful duty to use compulsion; but no, the foolish people were deaf to his remonstrance and ever and anon vociferated “Pas de six ans, nous ne voulons pas de six ans, nous sommes libres, le Roi nous a donné la liberte!” “No six years, we do not want six years, we are free, the King has given us liberty!” at different pauses, or cessation of noise, the young spokesman represented in good French, and with eloquent and respectful tone, that they had toiled all their lives, had enriched their masters by the sweat of their brow, that the King was surely too good to exact of them six years more of servitude, that their masters might take advantage, so as to work them, during that period, to death, or so immoderately, that they could not live long after service - at this, the magistrate assured them that he and his colleagues would take especial care to prevent such abuse, that the act provided for so many hours moderate labour per day, and such and such allowance of food etc., and that it would be impossible for anyone to ill-treat them - again he most earnestly exhorted them to withdraw, but in vain, they would not - torrents of rain fell, but had apparently no effect on those people, they remained immovable, vociferating “Pas de six ans” etc. - the Members of Council, and some other gentlemen present, then lost all patience, and forcibly advised the Governor to declare Martial Law - the Militia was under arms in various parts of the town, and artillery drawn out at different points, an insurrection being apprehended, though no symptom of it appeared beyond the obstinacy of foolish old people in the government courtyard, headed by a single young man, and none of them had even a stick in their hands - nevertheless gentlemen (civilians) about the Governor, were vehement in their demands for Martial Law - His Excellency appeared perplexed, and at length requested the opinion of Colonel Hardy, who had till then remained a tranquil spectator but on being asked whether he deemed it advisable to declare Martial Law, he replied, decidedly not.
“Martial Law!” exclaimed he, “against whom? - I see only old men, women, and children, poor ignorant people, who come to ask a question, and know no better -” or words to that effect. The chief Judge, and to the best of my recollection, the Attorney General, also, coincided in opinion with the Colonel, that there was necessity for Martial Law, that the police could disperse the obstinate people.
It is to be remarked, that had Martial Law been proclaimed, Colonel Hardy would have been invested with the chief command, would have commanded the Militia, together with the regular force throughout the colony, whilst the Governor’s authority, in a great measure, if not entirely, would have been suspended - yet it was generally believed that had the Colonel advised it, Martial Law would certainly have been declared in Trinidad. Towards the close of the evening, that is about sunset, the police were called in to act, and by persuasion more than force, caused the obstinate apprentices to retire; soon after which, Colonel Hardy took me with him, in his gig, to St. James Barracks, on our way we saw bodies of militia, cannon planted at the entry of the streets, with militia artillery-men and lighted matches, as if prepared for a fierce encounter; and as the gig rolled on, a number of girls danced about in the streets, singing French ariettes of, probably, their own composition on the goodness of King William in granting them freedom - which Colonel Hardy observed “looked mightily like insurrection.” 
The two or three succeeding days more negroes flocked to town and would not return to their masters, so that the magistrates were compelled to exert the power vested in them, and make some examples by having corporal punishment inflicted on a few of the strong and refractory men, which had the desired effect, and the apprentices returned to the Estates and re-commenced work.
At Naparima the apprentices on some Estates were still more refractory, and several examples were made, which restored order, and all proceeded quietly afterwards.
For about a week to ten days after Aug. 1st, 1834, the inhabitants (many of them) were very apprehensive of insurrection and revolt; the French were the most alarmed. A lady, who had been driven from St. Domingo at the early part of the French Revolution, told me that the troubles in that Island, commenced by deputations of old persons coming forward in the first instance; and, that consequently, when she heard of the assemblage before the Government House, she dreaded lest similar horrors to those formally perpetrated at St. Domingo were on the eve of being committed in Trinidad”.

Emancipation Booklet was published on occasion of the 100th Anniversary of Emancipation published in 1933.

During the pre-Independence era, there was much discussion as to whether Emancipation should be marked as a special occasion or celebrated as an event. The nature of the colony’s socialisation tended to promote a form of amnesia with regard to slavery in the minds of many who had achieved middle class status, and who preferred to forget their African antecedents.
There was, however, a move by many of the more enlightened of the day, such as Dr. Stephen Laurence, one of the leading Methodist laymen of Trinidad and Tobago and author of this booklet on display, to take a philosophical view. They promoted that the experience of slavery should be viewed constructively by members of the African diaspora in modern society in the New World. Dr. Laurence demonstrated that the virtues of Christianity, as extolled by Wilberforce, triumphed over mammon. He promoted the celebration of Emancipation as one of the great achievements of Christianity. 

Thank you and come again!

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