THE TRINIDAD HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
Publication No. 56.
Letter from Don Jose Maria Chacony Sanchez. Governor of Trinidad
to His Excellency the Principe de la Paz. 16thMay, 1796.
From Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
Source :--Galeria Biografia de los Generales de Marina, by
Francisco de Paulo Pavia, 1873. Translated from the
In spite of my constant desire not to intrude upon the
time which Your Excellency needs for dealing with the
numerous affairs with which you are most worthily charged,
I deem it absolutely necessary to do so now with full details
in the following account of the recent extraordinary events
in this Island ; not only because of the grave consequences
which may follow but also because of the urgency with
which the present alarming situation in this Colony, calls
for immediate remedy.
The patrols of the English in the bay of which I advised
Your Excellency in my letter of the 29th February of this
year, still continue with persistent regularity and are even
of use to the Island because trade has been carried on with
that nation without risk from corsairs and the produce
of the year has been exported with such security and at
such advantageous prices as never has been expected by
However as this protection is due to foreigners, we
experience certain difficulties and are involvedin consequences
as disagreeable as dangerous.
The French vessels which have been coming to this
Island or cruising around its coasts finding themselves chased
by the English have run ashore in the bays and the men
have escaped on land into the depths of the woods. There
have been many such cases and in consequence there are
many republicans here asking for protection from the Governor
of a friendly nation. They do not dare to leave openly
for fear of the English vessels and they remain in the town
hoping for a chance to slip away secretly.
In any other place such events would be of no importance
but here they are the root of infinite troubles as I forsaw
in my letter of 27th October last and have repeated ever since.
Our Garrison is weak, we have no fortifications and the
lack of buildings of lime and stone leaves me without a
prison, barracks, magazine or storehouse ; in a word I am
dependent on the good will of a public composed of people
of other nations with but a few of our own. In consequence
they are disunited by race, they are in discord because of
their habits, rivals by customs and enemies amongst
themselves by the traditions of their nations and by the
development of actual circumstances.
It was my duty to convince you and to warn you that
frequent disputes between the English and the French on
land here would involve the greater part of the population
and the consequences could only be ruinous to all.
Unfortunately only too well founded were my fears
and only too soon have they been justified.
After many disputes and disorders, on the 21stMarch
last at nine in the evening an affray took place between
some English and French sailors which spread to the whole
town and ended in two persons being killed and six seriously
Another more serious occurrence took place on Sunday
the 8th of the present month (May) which is the cause of
the present dangers in this Colony which cry out to the
King for an early and prompt remedy to save it from
At 7 p.m. on that day an English and a French sailor
came to blows without any other weapons but their fists,
The Captain of the English frigate, Alarm, George Vaughan,
learnt what had happened and instead reporting it to the
Alcalde or some other magistrate, he with his officers landed
and seeing many people there, drew his sword and cleared
a way followed by his officers who copied his example.
The first person struck by his sword was a Frenchman
whlo shrieked out that he was (dying. This was taken up
by his countrymen who called to arms ami in a moment
attacked the English who took refuge in a house and locked
the gate. The French surrounded this house and as it was
of wood, they began to break it down. So as to hinder this
Captain Vaughan started firing pistols, the noise of which
brought me notice of this disturbance. At once I sent patrols
and some troops to clear the streets and to control the large
crowds of people which were menacing and starting to
fire in many parts. My principal anxiety was to secure
the safety of Captain Vaughan and of one Gaudctat who
acted as the leader of the republicans. With these two
leaders absent I believed it could be easily possible to restrain
the people and quiet their anger.
My Lieutenant Governor, the Auditor de Guerra supported
by his officers and troops was able to secure the Frenchman
Gaudetat who was seriously wounded. But it was not easy
to get at Captain Vaughan who was completely surrounded
by the French all in a high state of anger and excitement.
At o1 p.m. when we had succeeded to some extent
in quieting the crowd, two boats arrived at the jetty full
of armed men from the English Frigate who had come to
protect their Captain, but in accordance with my orders
anticipating such an event, these men were detained and the
French were unaware of their arrival. Had the French
known this, it would have increased their numbers and
made my difficulties even greater.
At last by great skill, we relieved Captain Vaughan
at 11 p.m. and accompanied him to the boat with a salvo
as salute from the guard and without the people seeing
him in the darkness of the night. We had led him through
the garden and over the wall of the house where he had
taken refuge, to the adjacent building and then into a street
away from the actual centre of excitement.
As soon as the people were satisfied that CaptainVaughan
was not in the house and that he had retired aboard his
frigate, they began to disperse and by midnight all was
quiet. A few were taken to prison and two patrols were
enough to maintain order for the rest of the night.
On the following day, the ninth, at 9 a.m., I was notified
that Captain Vaughan had landed on the jetty with more
than ioo armed men, had formed in column and was
marching into the town with the English flag flying and
with drums beating with all the appearance of an attack.
There was no time to wait and collect my scattered
thoughts ; they can readily be imagined in the uncertainty
and upheaval of the times. Since the last letter whIich
I received from Spain was that of November of the past
year, what changes might have occurred in the plans and
political relations in Europe and what variations were
My first aim was to verify the exact state of the aggression
and sent immediate orders to Lieutenant-Colonel Don
Matias de Letamendi, the second in command of the garrison,
to meet the English man and arrange for him to come and speak
with me but with particular instructions not to use force.
Simultaneously Lieutenant-Colonel Don Miguel Herrera
was busy in restraining the French republicans who had
formed up in front of the English, from making an attack.
The people of the town were in disorder and confusion
and were making for the magazine of arms which was of
wood. It was therefore easily broken open and the people
entered and took guns and it was impossible for the few
regular troops to prevent this.
At once I collected them all and persuaded them to
wait in the patio of the barracks and as they were somewhat
safer there and more under control, I went off to speak
with Captain Vaughan who had come with Lieutenant
Colonel Letamendi and the Engineer Captain Don Andres
Gonzalez, armed with pistols and swords.
To my request for the reasons for these proceedings, he
replied that he came armed in this way for his adequate
protection. I pointed out by argument and demonstration
the impropriety and danger of such an act, having regard
to the absence of any declaration of war and offered him
the choice of two courses, the first that he should disarm and
retire in column in which case I would allow him to depart
without any restraint, or the second that he should put himself
at the head of his troops and begin hostilities in which case it
would be my duty to oppose him as soon as he had fired the
first shot or continued the insult which he had already begun.
Convinced by these representations, he decided to act
on the first and ordered the columns to retire and re-embark.
This was done in my sight and in that of the whole town
which watched in complete silence and without a movement,
in obedience to my orders and instructions so that not the
slightest indication of any resentment occurred.
We then proceeded to recover the arms which the people
had taken from the magazine in the first disorder and
repaired its gates and walls which had been broken, leaving
all secure, though only temporarily.
On the morrow at 9.30 a.m. boats from the frigate Alaim
again came to land and for the second time the town was
in a turmoil, even more violent than before ; the number
of people was greater being increased by those from the
country round, the excitement was more acute and more
widely spread and their impetuosity and distrust united in
moving them to one end. These people inundated the
streets like a flood and reached the square in front of the
jetty after having for a second time forced the gates and the
shutters of the magazine of arms.
I had given orders that no boat from the frigate was to
be allowed to approach the jetty and in consequence they
retired whence they came; but this was not done soon enough
since in the confusion and disorder at that time some people
in the crowd fired about 50 shots which resulted in an accident,
the deathof a negrocarpenterwho was in the square by chance.
All the Officers of the garrison were fully occupied
amongst the people in quieting them down and requiring
them to return the arms, most of which were collected.
The good order and discipline of regular troops make it
possible for the General to perform the miracle of arming
Ioo,ooo men in a few minutes and equally to disarm them
as quickly ; this however cannot be done in a whole town
of people excited and in disorder. Once armed it is difficult
to get them to return to their usual peaceful habits and
when they can see the object of their rancour in the distance,
a people thus insulted is even more resistant to persuasion
especially when they believe themselves with good grounds,
to be on the verge of another attack.
Those vessels in the bay which were anchored between
the English frigate and the battery on the jetty began
to move away and this action renewed the people's fears
and expectations that the frigate was going to bombard
the town that night.
It was in vain to assure the people that such a proposal
was impossible not only because of the distance at which
the frigate was anchored but also because of the advantage
in calibre of our guns of 24 and those of the frigate of only
i2 and some of 16. Their anger and excitement prevented
them realising the force of these arguments and we
passed the night constantly on the alert but without any
On the following day the Iotl, representations were
made by the English Captain complaining of the restrictions
against the landing of the boats of His Britannic Majesty,
pointing out the state of peace between the two countries
and that my restrictions were personal to him and in particular
to his frigate as I had informed him.
The negro slaves of the estates nearby had come into
the town during these disturbances. Some of them on their
return related what they had seen, attributing the disorders
to many different causes which really did not exist in fact,
but which produced the most dangerous consequences.
The tricolor cockade which they worship as a symbol of
liberty was displayed by many of these slaves and they
persuaded their comrades to follow their example.
This caused me to dispatch several parties to the country
to suppress, right at the beginning such disorder, which is
one of the most terrible in those Colonies where slavery is
the basis of agriculture. Fortunately as the result of the
capture and the flogging of three negros, the disorders stopped
at once and I was able to restore order and had the satisfaction
of being able to publish at 5 p.m. on the I th a military
proclamation informing those families whose fear had led
them to seek safety on the vessels in the harbour that they
could return to their houses as all disorders had ceased.
From that time till the present, peace and order have
continued but in the opinion of the best informed inhabitants
this cannot be expected to continue. Their reasons are well
founded as it is clear that the present tranquillity may
easily be broken when the Governor has such weak forces
as actually at present. The contact which our people of
colour and our negro slaves have had with the French and
Republicans, have made them think of liberty and equality
and the first spark will light the whole Colony into a blaze.
NoTE.-Having learnt of these events the English
Government entirely disavowed the action of the Commander
of their frigate. He was deposed from his command and
imprisoned in a fortress and there full of despair committed
suicide putting an end to his days. (This is in the original.)
The English are attacking the French Islands and as
many of the Republicans as can escape, fly to the shores
of Trinidad where there is no force to prevent them settling.
The greater part are Mulattos and Negros which increases
in consequence, our numbers, and infuses with them the
same ideas and desires and makes the danger of a rising
more imminent each day.
This opinion is held by all the responsible part of our
people and keeps them in a continual terror and general
fear such that they contemplate abandoning the valuable
estates which they have made and which form the success
of the Colony.
I have assured them of my confidence that the King
will not leave them without that protection which is necessary
and which they seek. This supports and encourages them
for.the moment but on leaving me, the slightest suspicion
to the contrary, throws them back into despair.
The rapidity with which this Colony has been peopled
and extended is such that 4,000-5,000 negros are required
each year and in two or three years many more will be
required. The produce is abundant and of good quality,
the country side is pleasant not only for its natural features
but also for the houses on the country estates, with their
mills, storehouses and all kinds of buildings necessary for
dealing with the produce and its preparation.
All this brings in riches not only to pay the actual cost
of the Government of the Island but also to provide other
facilities which are necessary and result in an active commercial
community which is the pride of our metropolis, in industrial
progress, in increased merchant shipping and in all the
other favourable consequences which can easily be realized.
I earnestly beg for the assistance of troops and ships of war,
at least during the neutrality or until a general peace, to
protect the Colony, in default of which it will remain exposed
to the most horrible disaster which can afflict mankind.
I have used every effort to hide the weakness of the force
at the disposal of the Government and up to the present
have managed in some degree to succeed, but now our lack
of reinforcements is only too obvious and if with this knowledge
they decide to measure their strength with the Government,
all will be lost.
The previous establishments of the King in this Island
were developed slowly, their requirements came little by
little to the notice of the Ministry which had time to consider
carefully all the difficulties, to discuss, compare and finally
to select the best remedies.
In this development it is just the reverse. Special efforts
were made to populate and to cultivate the land and in a
few years much more produce was being raised than in
other colonies of two centuries duration.
This prosperity is such as to require much prompter
decisions, and the difficulties must be met by executive action.
It is not possible to proceed with that leisurely manner and
considered thought that is convenient in other places.
I have to insist on this difference, this necessity, this
urgency and desire to fulfil my obligations and beseech in
the name of this community, their Sovereign's protection.
May His Majesty be pleased to send with the quickest
possible dispatch, a division of two ships, two frigates and
two small vessels such as brigantines, goletas or balandras
with 800 to i.ooo men to remain here at least during the
war between the neighboring nations, and so preserve
the peace in this Colony which is suffering from great fear
and alarm, until an end be put to these ills and their
consequences, for which they rely upon the Royal sympathy
of His Majesty.
At present we maintain constant vigilance with what
little means we have, watching all over the wide extent of
this Island and ready to suppress at once the beginning of
any rising amongst the slaves, which according to persistent
reports is soon likely to occur.
The officers and troops suffer an intolerable strain and
the responsible section of the people help in this same task
and assist me to hope that it may be possible to keep order
until the arrival of the reinforcements for which we are
Copies of this are sent herewith for the Minister of War
and of Marine so as to facilitate the necessary decision and
I am relying on Your Excellency with the fullest confidence
which is infused by the indefatigable zeal and prudence
with which Your Excellency directs the general affairs of
State and adorns the services of the King.
May God grant Your Excellency long life.
JOSE MARIA CHACON,
Puerta Espana de la Isla
de Trinidad de Barlovento,
16th May, 1796.