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The 60th Anniversarv Edition: WVest Indian History
Professor Sir Roy A ugier v
The U.W.I. and The Teaching of West Indian History I
Women's Lives and labour on Radnor, a Jamaican Coffee Plantation, 1822-1826 7
James A. Delle
Anna Heegaard- Enigma 25
Indian Women and Indentureship in Trinidad and Tobago 1845-1917: Freedom Denied 41
They Never Looked Back :The Role of the Hakka Women in Jamaica. 69
M. Alexandra Lee
Kalinago (Carib) Resistance to European Colonisation of the Caribbean 77
Hilary McD. Beckles
Juan De Bolas And His Pelinco 95
David Buisseret and S.A. G. Taylor
Maronnage In Slave Plantation Societies: A Case Study Of Dominica, 1785-1815 103
Bernard A :Marshall
Post-Emancipation Protest in the Caribbean: The "Belmanna Riots" in Tobago, 1876 111
The 1990 Violent Disturbance In Trinidad & Tobago: Some Perceptions 129
BOOK REVIEW Williams, Eric. British Historians and the West Indies by Elsa Goveia 141
VOLUME 54, No.3
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
Professor, the Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M. Vice Chancellor E, Editor
Sir Roy Augier, Professor Emeritus, History, Mona.
Professor H. Beckles, Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal, UWI, Cave Hill.
Professor B. Chevannes, Research Fellow, Mona School of Business, UWI
Professor Wayne Hunte, PVC Graduate Studies and Research, UWI, St.
Professor B.Lalla,, Faculty of Arts and Education, UWI, St.Augustine
Mr. J. Periera, Vice Principal, UWI, Mona
Professor Clement Sankat, PVC, Principal, UWI, St. Augustine
Professor Gordon Shirley, PVC and Principal, UWI, Mona.
Professor H Simmons-McDonald, PVC, Open Campus
Mrs. Linda Speth, General Manager, UWI Press
Dr. B. Tewarie, PVC, Office of Planning and Development, UWI,
Professor Alvin Wint, PVC, Board for Undergraduate Studies, UWI, Mona
Dr. V.Salter, CSI, Managing Editor,
Manuscripts CQ is a review journal. Articles and book reviews of relevance to
the Caribbean will be gratefully received. Authors should refer to the guidelines
on the web page or in any volume of CQ
Articles submitted are not returned.
Exchanges: Exchanges are conducted by the Gifts and Exchanges Section,
Library, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica
Back Issues and Microfilm : Information for back volumes supplied on request.
Caribbean Quarterly is available on microfilm from Xerox University
Microfilms and in book form from Kraus-Thompson Reprint Ltd.
Recent volumes are available online from EBSCO
Abstract and Index : 1949-2006 Author Keyword and Subject Index available
as a hard copy and also on the website.
The journal is abstracted by AES and indexed by HAPI
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
Cultural Studies Initiative, OCVC-E
University of the West Indies,
PO Box 130, Mona, Kingston 7,
Tel. and fax No. 876-970-3261, Email: cq(),uwimona.edu.im
Caribbean Quarterly, Volume 55, No. 4, December, 2008 celebrating the
60th Anniversary of the University of the West Indies salutes the work and
research of our historians in recognizing the heritage of our region. It serves as a
rear-view mirror for the journey forward. Placed at the end of the celebratory
series, the volume invites reflection on paths already traversed.
Caribbean Quarterly welcomes Professor Emeritus Sir Roy Augier, a
founder member of the University's History Department and a member of the
Caribbean Quarterly's Editorial Board as Guest Editor of this issue. He has
selected from the daunting task of numerous articles on diverse aspects of West
Indian History ten essays that reflect the contributions made by an often
unheralded group of people viz our women, as well as those who fought
valiantly and were eventually subdued our first inhabitants. Add to these such
other groups who sought to bring about the possibilities for their living peacefully
in their own truths as the maroons, rioting labourers, the muslimeens here
recorded in narratives of resistance in creative response to Plantation obscenities
in slavery and continuing transgressions in colonisation.
It is appropriate that the first essay, on the Teaching of West Indian History
was penned by the first ever Professor of West Indian history, who happened to be
a woman Elsa Goveia. Her classic book review of Eric Williams' British
Historians in the West Indies, written in 1964, completes this volume and
reminds us that our history is ours to write.
Elsa Goveia's (1969) account of what the department of history at U.W.I.
had done, and planned to do, to establish and promote the teaching and research of
West Indian history, which opens this volume, invites a postscript.
Since the principal collaborators in that work, from the University and the
school have died their labour enables us to celebrate the University's 60th
Anniversary with this volume. Caribbean has long since replaced 'West Indian' in
the titles of our courses and our texts. The change has made clear what had been
the department's claim from the beginning; one subject embraced the lives of all
the peoples in the lands washed by the Caribbean Sea. The Short History of the
West Indies and the Making of the West Indies, the pioneering texts, have for some
time, shared the shelves of bookshops with many others, fully illustrated, written
in different styles, for students at all stages of secondary and tertiary education.
Some of the new texts have been written by graduates of the departments and
others by members of their staff.
The pioneering texts have been written, first to serve the students being
introduced to Caribbean history at the University, and secondly, to serve their
students, when the new syllabus was adopted by secondary schools. Professor
Goveia has described how the initial steps involved collaboration with Cambridge
for a new syllabus for O 'level; and for A' level, a Special Paper on the
Post-Emancipation period. The establishment of the Caribbean Examination
Council provided the opportunity to use the experience of teaching the amended
Cambridge syllabus for 0' level to construct the CXC history syllabus, with the
radical addition of a school based project to be assessed by the secondary school
teachers themselves. The CXC advanced proficiency syllabus has now effectively
replaced A' level. These CXC syllabuses, revised every five years, teaches with
full information of the content of the courses; the CXC also provides new teachers
with teaching materials and workshops on the syllabuses.
Over the years the departments have had to adjust their undergraduate
teaching when the faculty had changed the structure of its Arts degree, and again,
when the semester system was introduced. Through their own determination to
help their students understand the methods by which historians arrive at the
conclusions they assert in books and in lectures, as well as to enable the students to
follow the debates among the historians about the validity of the claims made for
those methods, new introductory courses have been added.
The additional course of most significance since 1969, was archaeology,
first at St. Augustine and soon after at Mona and Cave Hill, and has led to the name
of the departments being formally changed to Departments of History and
Archaelogy. Fieldwork has involved investigating sites cooperatively with local
archaeologists and with staff and students of overseas universities; at Mona, field
work in historical archaeology had begun to add to our knowledge of the history of
the estates on which the campus is situated. The departments have also added
courses which reflect the research interests of their members as well as new
aspects of the discipline. Mindful of keeping the number of students in relation to
that of the staff in balance, the department at Mona has added courses which might
attract students who see them as useful for future employment. Heritage history
hitherto offered only for the Masters will be offered to undergraduates.
Happily, at Mona, there was not the interruption in the teaching of African
history that Professor Goveia feared would follow Rodney's exclusion. We now
have two posts, and at least two courses are offered in each of the three academic
years of an undergraduate's degree programme, as well as a masters' course. The
department at Cave Hill has on staff, a Barbadian who is an African specialist. In
St. Augustine, Fitz Baptiste successfully took African history beyond the campus,
emphasising its relation with the diaspora in the Caribbean. At Mona and St.
Augustine Asian history is well established.
It is tempting, because it is also the fruit of the pioneers' labour, to extend
this postscript by an account of the research and publication of the staff of the
departments. But the purpose of this introduction will be served, first, by reporting
briefly, what happened to the plans, noticed by Professor Goveia, for reprinting
the classical works of Caribbean history, for publishing current research as articles
in a specialized journal or as monographs, finally for a three volume History ofthe
West Indies, its chapters written by various authors.
The history and the reprints depended on the assurance of a Foundation
grant which ended when the Foundation changed its granting policy.
Fortunately, as the editors had decided to publish the chapters as soon as they were
written, four chapters have survived the death of the project; one of them is
Professor Goveia's 'The West Indian Slave Laws of the 18th Century', but all still
in great demand. The Journal of Caribbean History was within the resources of
the departments; it began as an annual, became bi-annual and has continued as a
quarterly, with the editorial work shared among the three departments. The
decision of UNESCO to publish a General History of the Caribbean in six
volumes, first in English and later in Spanish and French, has made it unnecessary
to seek funds to continue the project of a UWI three volume History.
Secondly, to end the postscript briefly, by mentioning the research of the
staff of the departments, neither by their names nor by the titles of their works, but
collecting, by mere mention of the topics and by titles which barely distinguish
between them; namely, historiography, economic and social history of slavery,
the demography of slavery, slave revolts, maroons, social and political accounts of
the period after slavery, island histories, immigration, gender and family,
education, urban history and public health; to continue, would be to make a list of
particulars. However, even the briefest of comments on historical research at
UWI, must mention the Mona Social History Project, the collective activity of that
department. So too, must comment on publication of monographs, the first of
department research, mention the publishers lan Randle and the UWI Press; their
catalogues indicate that they have been indispensable in enabling the achievement
of what Professor Goveia, in 1969, hoped would be the result of the teaching and
research at UWI that a many West Indians now have a better knowledge of their
past and a better comprehension of the forces that shape their present extent of the
work that Caribbean Quarterly has done, also in Professor Goveia's words, "to
promote the understanding of West Indian history in the University, in the schools,
and among the general public", is made manifest to anyone asked to select from
among the articles it has published, a handful to celebrate the 60th anniversary of
What follows, therefore, cannot be described as representing the numerous
articles that CQ has published on a variety of aspects of Caribbean history.
The perogrative of the editor's chair restrained by the limits of the purse, the
selection illustrates two themes, gender and resistance, by reference to time and
space. Fortunately, there were articles available which also allowed the
illustration of the varied ethnicity of Caribbean peoples, as well as the
circumstances in which their women lived their lives.
We are reminded by the account of the lives of enslaved African women on a
Jamaican Coffee estate, of the general determination of the enslaved to establish
some space, however narrow, in which they controlled their lives. That space was
greatly restricted in the isolated Radnor estate. But historians examining the lives
of the enslaved on other estates, topographies, territories and periods, have
enlightened us about the prevalence of the tendency for the enslaved to negotiate
successfully some space in which they determined aspects of their lives.
The extent of the influence on policy which Anna Heegaard exercised in St.
Croix as a free coloured woman in the early nineteenth century might have been
due to her extraordinary character, but as a Governor's consort she was not unique.
Neville Hall reminds us of examples in the English islands in the eighteenth
century. In Anna Heegaard we see a life, for all its privileges, still bounded by
slavery. In the two articles, which follow, the Indian and Chinese women live in
Trinidad and Jamaica after emancipation. The articles differ in length and in the
aspects of the lives of their subjects they describe. The lives of the Indian women
are described in the context of estate labour from the middle of the nineteenth to
the beginning of the twentieth century. The Chinese women are shown at home
relating to husbands and children. Yet there is a substantial amount of information
of the relations of Indian men and women, of the effects of caste on their relations,
of the consequences of recruitment policy on the number of each sex recruited, to
allow a comparison of the lives of the women within these limits.The articles
selected for the theme resistance were of course chosen as were those for gender,
from what was available, to meet the claims of geography and history. Yet, the
claims of history, not to mention of geography seem to have been ignored, when
there is no account of a share revolt from Santo Domingo, Cuba, Demerara, or
Jamaica. Moreover, when during the period from the 1840's to the 1940's, protests
and riots erupted, seemingly decade on decade, throughout the region, why
Tobago 1876 and not Jamaica 1865 or Trinidad 1938?
No doubt, an article on one of the slave revolts, had one been available,
could have justified its selection to illustrate a theme named resistance. But,
although it might be provocative to say so, if allowance is made for the difference
in scale of members and topography, the accounts of the resistance of the Kalinago
in the seventeenth century to the European occupation of the islands on the eastern
rim of the sea and of the Maroons in Dominica in the eighteenth, as well as the
account of the behaviour of Juan de Bolas to Juan de Ferrus, Ysassi and D'Oyley,
provide us with the elements responsible for the prolonged work, but temporary,
successes of resistance to slavery throughout four centuries.
The circumstances which explain the violent protests of the century of the
emancipation are present in the "Belmanna Riots" of 1876 and are in brief, the
contempt that racially prejudiced estate owners and managers had for those who
had to live on the low wage they paid; a wage made even lower by being garnished
for debt in a manner which excited greviances already present in the details of the
conditions which circumscribed their lives.
Finally, an article selected to illustrate violent protest against those who
inherited power from one or other of the imperial state, as happened in Haiti, Cuba,
British Guyana, Guadeloupe, Suriname and Grenada. As is constant when
historians attempt to account for broadly similar behaviour within the Caribbean,
they have to acknowledge differences, and so seek an explanation, which while it
includes them does not thereby deny superior weight to the common factors which
they share, should analysis of ideas and behaviour show that weight justified.
John LaGuerre's reflections on violent protests in Trinidad in 1970 and 1990
might well provoke reflection on the relations of ethnicity, class, colour, the ideas
on politics and economics adopted from abroad, the alignment of local
self-interests with residuary imperial interests after decolonization, the
beneficiaries of political power; on these and other factors, the mixture of which
led to the violent protests and their violent repression, on their success or failure,
in the Caribbean in the second half of the twentieth century. Will the generations
which follow absolve them?
It is safe to assume that there will be no dissent from the claim that Professor
Goveia's 1969 review of Eric Williams British Historians and the West Indies,
requires no postscript.
The U.W.I. and The Teaching of West Indian
When the History Department of the University College of the West Indies
first came into existence in 1950, there was very little West Indian history being
taught in the schools of the region, and even that followed a syllabus which had as
much European as West Indian history in it. Most of the undergraduates reading
History were coming into contact with the formal teaching of West Indian history
for the first time. Consequently, much of what they learnt came as a revelation to
Nowadays, however, this situation has changed; the schools are teaching
more West Indian History and using a syllabus which has been thoroughly revised;
the undergraduates are rather better acquainted with the facts of the subject when
they begin their University course. It is therefore possible to concentrate more on
the interpretation of the facts, while still emphasising the relevance of studies in
this field to their own experience as West Indians.
The increase in the teaching of West Indian History in the school owes a
great deal to the co-operation between the University and the teachers. In Jamaica,
for example an Association of History Teachers was formed in 1956 and lectures
were provided for them by staff members of the University. Miss Shirley Gordon
of the Department of Education and Dr. Roy Augier of the History Department
also arranged several conferences to help history teachers to collect teaching
material for use in their classes, and to improve their command of their subject
matter by means of lectures and discussions.
The first of these conferences was held in Jamaica in 1956, and the
participants decided that a source book, a text book, and a bibliography for use in
the schools should be produced and that the authorities responsible for overseas
examinations should be asked to provide a special paper in West Indian History for
candidates taking the General Certificate of Education at A level. In keeping with
these decisions, Knox College published a book of documents collected by the
teachers and edited by Miss Gordon and Dr. Augier; they subsequently edited a
further collection of documents, entitled Sources of West Indian History which
replaced the collection published by Knox. The text book entitled The Making of
the West Indies was later produced by Gordon and Augier with Dr. Douglas Hall
of the University and Mrs. Mary Reckord, who was then a school teacher in
Other conferences of history teachers were held at Barbados in 1958, at
Trinidad in 1960 and again at Jamaica in 1964, and the possibility of holding
another is currently under consideration in the History Department at Mona. These
West Indian Conferences, combined with the flow of graduates from the
University into the schools, have made it possible for West Indian History to be
taught in most of the secondary schools in the Commonwealth Caribbean today.
Another result of those conferences was the decision of the teachers to
propose changes in the existing syllabus to the examining bodies in Cambridge
and London. After some discussion both bodies accepted the changes proposed
and by the end of the 1950s, the result of cooperation between the History teachers
and the examining bodies was the new history papers in the Overseas
Some idea of the importance of these changes and the willingness of
teachers and pupils to take advantage of them can be gained by a comparison of the
figures for students taking the Cambridge A level special paper on the
post-Emancipation History of the British West Indies. In 1959, when the paper
was set for the first time, 42 students wrote this examination. By 1965, the number
of candidates had increased to 145 and by 1969 there was a further increase to a
total of 230. This development has also owed a considerable debt to the interest of
the University, which has collaborated with Cambridge on the setting and marking
of the papers, since this new paper was first introduced, and continues to do so.
The teaching of West Indian History at the University has not stood still
while these changes were taking place in the schools. In 1953 a class numbering
less than 20 candidates reading history sat their final examinations for the B.A.
(General). This was the first group to write a paper in West Indian History as part
of their syllabus for the degree. Since then, the degree course in West Indian
History taught at Mona has come to include, not only a greatly increased number
of undergraduates taking the General Degree, but also considerable numbers of
students taking a specialized degree in History, and students reading for the B.Sc.
(Econ.) and the B.Ed. When we add the increasing numbers studying for their
degrees at st. Augustine and Cave Hill it becomes clear that the proportionate
increase of students taking A level West Indian History in the Schools has been
paralleled and even surpassed by the growing number of undergraduates taking
the degree course in West Indian History at the University.
Nor is this all. Following on a decision by the University Council, a Survey
Course in West Indian History has been made compulsory for the majority of
undergraduates attending at any of the University Campuses; and in addition the
students are required to undertake the preparation of a substantial essay paper in
Caribbean Studies which of course includes work in West Indian History. The
latest development with regard to these Survey Courses is that they are now being
incorporated into the syllabus for the new General Degree as University courses
which will be a compulsory part of the undergraduates work in each year. Most
students graduating from the U.W.I. can, therefore, be expected to have a general
knowledge of the historical development of the West Indies, and, in addition, a
somewhat detailed understanding of the particular areas of Caribbean studies dealt
with in their essay papers.
For the purpose of teaching both the Survey Courses and the Degree course
in West Indian History, it has been very useful to have available the text book The
Making of the West Indies and also A Short History of the West Indies, the earlier
regional study of the subject written by J. H. Parry and P. M. Sherlock for use by
undergraduates in the Degree Course. These two texts compliment each other and
both attempt to write West Indian History as something more than an appendage to
the history of Europe. This concern with the internal logic of West Indian
historical development has also been emphasised in the actual teaching of the
subject at the University of the West Indies, where the similarities and differences
within the entire West Indian region and the changes and continuities of its history
are given particular attention.
The University has also begun to produce post graduate students in West
Indian History, and this development has stressed the further need for a more
detailed and comprehensive reference work based on a regional approach to the
study of West Indian historical development. To meet this need and also the more
public need for an authoritative analysis of the subject, the History Department of
the University has revived an idea which originated with Professor Parry its first
head. This idea envisaged the production by co-operative effort of a three volumed
reference History of the West Indies, but had to be abandoned for lack of
sufficient financial backing. However, the Department has managed to obtain a
launching grant for the History from the Ford Foundation, and the work of
preparing chapters has been resumed.
Besides the editors, Hall, Augier and Goveia, who are all on the staff of the
History Department at Mona, other scholars both in the West Indies and abroad are
being asked to write for the History, thus making generally available the specialist
knowledge of West Indian History which they have acquired in the course of their
work. The chapters thus written will be published as they are produced by their
different authors, and it is hoped that many people who could not afford to buy the
three volumes will still be interested in buying particular chapters as they appear.
About five of these chapters have already been accepted by the editors for early
The teachers of history at the University also hope to be able to publish paper
back series of reprints from West Indian History, monographs on the historical
development of the region, a journal of Caribbean History, and other materials of
interest for teachers in the University and the schools. We hope by this. means to
widen the interest in West Indian History and to reduce the cost at which important
teaching materials are available in the West Indies. If these publishing ventures
succeed, we should end by having a much larger and more receptive audience for
the discussion of West Indian History than exists even at present.
While we hope to stimulate greater public interest in West Indian History,
we are well aware of the fact that our students stand to benefit by the production of
more easily available material for the study of West Indian History. So we shall be
attempting to kill two birds with one stone. We hope, too, that our three-volume
History of the West Indies will also serve the purpose of enabling us to reach out
beyond the University and, at the same time, to better educate our undergraduate
and postgraduate students to increase their understanding of West Indian historical
developments. The two objectives are complementary and both will affect the
teaching of West Indian History in the West Indies.
While we try to promote understanding of West Indian History in the
University, in the schools, and among the general public, we have also found it
necessary to give thought to the need for filling in the wide background of
historical knowledge which is relevant to the study of West Indian History. Our
syllabus for the Degree Course at the University has always included courses, for
instance, in European history and the history of the Americas, which can better
help the student to see West Indian development in a wider focus. The earlier
syllabuses attempted to integrate these areas of enquiry under the concept of
Atlantic History. But this attempt was later abandoned because of staffing
difficulties. Ever since then, we have felt the need for competence teaching in
West African History, which was needed to fill the gap left by our inadequacies in
the teaching of Atlantic History.
Finally in 1967, we were able to recruit one of our own graduates, Dr. Walter
Rodney, to undertake the necessary teaching in African History. But his exclusion
from Jamaica has put an end to this development for the time being, and it may be
difficult to replace him, because specialists in African history are greatly in
demand at present both in Africa and in other parts of the world. However, at St.
Augustine, the development of a centre of African and Asian studies has begun, so
we shall not be guilty of completely neglecting these subjects in future. Yet we still
need to back up our teaching in West Indian History with a degree course in the
history of West Africa.
While we have tried to increase the breadth of our teaching, as a background
to our degree course in West Indian History, we have not neglected to provide
opportunities for a study in depth of particular aspects of West Indian History.
This has been done by devising documentary special subjects on such topics as
amelioration of the slave laws and the history of Federation in the British West
Indies. These West Indian special subjects have been very popular with our
undergraduate students and we shall no doubt, produce more of them in the future.
They not only train the students in historical method, which is the object of all our
special subjects, but they also give them a much clearer understanding of
important aspects of West Indian History.
Both within and without the University the teaching of West Indian History
has been making steady progress over the past two decades. Many West Indians
now have a better knowledge of their past and a better comprehension of the forces
that shape their present. We still have a long way to go before this understanding
can be shared by most of the regions people. But a start has been made in this task
by the University and the schools, and the progress so far achieved is encouraging
enough to inspire an increased effort for the future.
(Reproduced from CQ, Vol. 15, Nos.2&3, June-September, 1969.)
Women's Lives and labour on Radnor, a
Jamaican Coffee Plantation, 1822-1826.*
JAMES A. DELLE
Over the course of the past two decades there has been an explosion in the
historical and anthropological literature on slavery and slave life, both in the
Caribbean and on the North American mainland. While much of the
historiography of the British West Indies in general, and Jamaica in particular, has
traditionally focused on the economic and social dynamics of sugar production,
many scholars have recently turned their attention to the history of Jamaica's
alternative agricultural industries, particularly livestock and coffee production.' In
recent years, scholars have begun to thoroughly investigate the history of
plantations organized for the production of coffee in the Spanish, French and
British Caribbean2 A simultaneous trend has been the development of a
significant body historical literature on the lives of women working on
plantations.3 It is my hope to add to these subsets of the important and growing
body of literature on Caribbean slave life by examining the lives of women on one
of the few well-documented coffee plantations of Jamaica, Radnor Estate, which
was (and still is) situated in the Blue Mountains of eastern Jamaica, specifically
addressing what life was like for women living and working as slaves on Radnor.
The primary source of evidence for the material presented here is a well-preserved
estate journal, which documents the day-to-day workings of the plantation from
January of 1822 to March of 1826. Through the examination of this important
document, I hope to suggest how enslaved women on this plantation were
negotiating gender identities given the constraints of the oppressive mode of
production under which they were compelled to operate.
The nature of the historical record of Radnor Plantation allows for several
vectors of analysis, each of which can be considered a forum through which
gender identities were defined, negotiated and redefined: labour occupation, social
and biological reproduction, sexuality, health, and resistance to the oppressions of
slavery. While this list does not encompass the entire extent of the terrain across
which gender identities were negotiated, each of these phenomena can be analyzed
through a close reading of the Radnor Plantation Book.
Negotiating Gender through Plantation Work.
As a primary determinant of an individual's identity, the gender category to
which one is assigned defines the various roles one will play in society. Any
individual can exert some degree of agency in constructing the various elements of
this identity; however in most cases this will be mitigated by other social identities
over which individuals have relatively little control. By its very definition
plantation slavery limited the range of occupations a woman could pursue in her
life. As was the case on most New World plantations, enslaved people engaged in
coffee production in the early 19th century were assigned specific tasks to perform
by plantations managers or overseers. While coffee plantations required some
specialized skilled labour, most of these skilled positions went to men. Such
skilled occupations included artisans, particularly masons, carpenters, sawyers
and doctors. Supervisory occupations such as driver were also primarily the
domains of men. While Beckles among others has argued that women who worked
as domestics may have been socially or materially privileged by their occupation,
the number of women so employed was relatively limited, as were the skills they
would be able to acquire. It is evident that there were far fewer skilled occupations
open to women under the slave regime. As the pre-emancipation division of
labour was such that women performed more of what might be considered the
menial plantation tasks, in the long-run their post-emancipation opportunities
would be limited. Concurrently by the 1820's the field gangs of many Jamaican
estates were composed of a female majority. This seems to have been typical on
plantations in the West Indies at large.4
The estate records of Radnor Plantation indicate that such a gender-based
division of labour existed in the coffee producing region of the parish of St.
David's. According to the plantation book, there were only two specialized
occupations on Radnor open to women, both concerned with health care-giving,
and both defined by Marietta Morrissey as semi-skilled5 One woman, named
Mary, was identified as a midwife. Three (Penelope, Old Chloe and Peggy) were
identified as nurses. The only other specialized position available to women at
Radnor was occupied by Molly, who was responsible for "minding" the
unoccupied great house. In comparison, eighteen men were engaged in skilled
labour, including seven carpenters, a doctor, a boatswain, a saddler, three masons
and five sawyers; an additional eleven were employed as mulemen, sheep boys or
watchmen. The organization of field labour at Radnor in the 1820' s was following
the contemporary trend toward feminization: although the adult population of
Radnor consisted of a male majority, the field gangs contained a female majority.
In January of 1825, the working population of Radnor was composed of 85
working males and 81 working females (including members of the third gang,
some of whom were probably children). In that same month, there were 70 female
field workers as compared to only 55 males.
By far the most common occupation for both men and women at Radnor was
as field labourers. As was typical on 19th-century Jamaican estates, the labour
force at Radnor was organized through a gang system. The work force was usually
segregated into three gangs, occasionally into two or four gangs. The three main
gangs were probably organized by age group. There are entries in the journal
which identify the third gang as the "children's gang" and the second gang as the
small gang which may refer either to the size of the gang itself, or to the size of the
adolescents who may have worked in that gang. Children probably began to work
in the third gang as early as age five or six.6 When they reached the age at which
they could contribute to the economy of the plantation, their employment status
was upgraded from the category of "unserviceable children" into the working
population; most if not all were moved into the third gang. When they were young
adolescents, children would be elevated to the second gang; when they reached
adulthood, they would join the first gang. Higman suggests that throughout the
West Indies, children aged five to 12 would work the third gang; adolescents aged
12 to 18 would work in the second gang alongside weaker adults; healthy adults
aged between 18 and 45 would work the first gang.
It is thus not surprising that the vast majority of the Radnor women who can
be identified being of childbearing age worked in the first gang. Within the
plantation's population of about 220, 28 women were identified as either having or
bearing children; 27 of these 28 women worked in the first gang; the only other
woman identified as a mother was a nurse. While it is possible, and perhaps even
probable, that the female domestic workers were women of childbearing age, none
of these women were recorded in the plantations book as having given birth. Thus
while it is possible that some of the five domestics on Radnor were in this
demographic group, it is also possible that the domestics were either mature
women who were no longer useful to the planter as field labourers or young
women who were not yet old enough to be useful as field labourers. I should note
that the information used to identify women of childbearing age was limited to
recorded births and deaths of children. The Radnor plantation journal did not
include any information on the ages of the slaves.
The ratio of adult women to adult men working as field labourers on Radnor
can be calculated by factoring out the third gang. Of the adult working population
of Radnor in January 1825, just under half were female (72 of 155). However,
women comptised the majority of full time field labourers, 61 as compared to 42
men. The first gang of field labourers was the group expected to do most of the
heavy work. A disproportionate percentage of the first gang on Radnor were
women; nearly two third of this group were women; 52 of 81, or 62.4%. This
statistic is consistent with an overall trend toward the feminization of agricultural
work on Caribbean plantations noted primarily for sugar estates by Morrissey, and
is nearly identical to the percentage of female workers working at Worthy Park in
the 1830's as calculated by Craton.8 When comparing the gender ratio of the work
force of Radnor with the calculations made for livestock pens by Shepherd, the
feminization trend of field labour is further revealed. Shepherd calculates that on
Pepper and Bonavista pens 57% of the adult females worked in the fields. At
Radnor, the figure is even higher, a full 73% of the adult female population worked
in either the first or second gang, a figure comparable to the percentage of women
engaged in field work at St. Jago and Paisley pens in 1827 as calculated by
Shepherd.9 On Radnor in the 1820's, field work was primarily a female
occupation; most girls would be expected to perform field tasks on the plantation
once they reached adulthood.
Women's Role in Market Exchange
While the regime of slavery required most enslaved people to spend most of
their time toiling for the plantation, economic activity by the enslaved was by no
means limited to the rigors of plantation production. It is well known that enslaved
people in Jamaica were able to exert some power to use their provision grounds to
produce surplus goods for exchange in local markets; women 'participated in this
cash economy by producing their own agricultural commodities and selling them
in nearby market towns. As Radnor was (and remains) extremely isolated and a
long and difficult walk to any market, women on the, plantation may not have been
able to utilize marketing as a source of income. There ample evidence in the
plantation journal, however, to indicate that women earned a income by selling
agricultural products to the estate, probably for the use of the whole supervisory
staff and any dependents they may have had. Several entries in the plantation
journal suggest that the estate acquired provisions directly from the slaves. The mo
common items purchased for the use of the plantation employees were fresh pork,
yams and castor oil. Pork was most often purchased from men; we thus know that
the slaves (Radnor raised pigs and these animals were controlled by men. In
contrast, castor oil was almost exclusively purchased from women).
In all, eleven women are recorded to have sold castor oil to the estate
between 1822 and 1826 (see Table 1). Of these eleven women, three were
identified by the plantation book as either elderly or infirm (Nanny, Phillis,
Morinah); two were heal care-givers (Mary, a midwife and Penelope, a nurse), two
worked in the first gang as field, labourers (Pinkey and Roseline), one was a
domestic (Christianna), one a cook for the third, gang (Princess), and one was a
field labourer in the third gang (Rachael), who may have been an older woman
working in this gang as a result of her age. While the range c occupations suggests
that women involved in all aspects of the plantation's economy were producing
castor oil for sale, only Nanny, Mary, Penelope and Pinkey sold more than two
bottles to the estate. Only three men were listed as having sold castor oil to the
estate Thomas Kelly, listed as a doctor, sold nine bottles, Pompy sold one, and
Doncan two. A additional 22 bottles were noted as sold without identifying the
producer. Of the castor oil that can be traced to a producer (51 bottles), 39 (76.5%)
were produced by women. A aggregate 27 of the 51 bottles, or 52.9%, were sold
by four women (Nanny, Mary, Penelo and Pinkey) suggesting that castor oil
production was a specialized skill controlled-at lee for sale to the plantation-by
By the coercive nature of the institution enslaved women at Radnor were not
free to sell their labour directly. As the gender-based division of labour developing
throughout the plantation system limited the marketable skills that women could
acquire, some women took advantage of the internal marketing system that had
developed. In doing so, they were able to sell the products of their labour in local
markets, including directly to the estate managers, overseers and bookkeepers who
exerted control over their labour as slaves. While there is little direct evidence to
suggest that women at Radnor were engaged in the exchange of agricultural
commodities at local produce markets, the Radnor plantation book reveals that
enslaved women developed some measure of economic freedom through the
exchange of castor oil to the estate.
Table 1. Castor oil sold to Radnor plantation 1822-1825
No. of bottles |Amount
Nanny F Invalid 7 1 3s 4d
Phyliss F 2nd gang 2 62 8d
Mary F Midwife 4 13s 4d
Morinah F Invalid 2 6s 8d
Penelope F Nurse 12 2 Os Od
Princess F 3rd Gang 2 6s 8d
Pinkey F Ist Gang 4 13s4d
Christianna F Domestic 2 6s 8d
Rachel F 3rd Gang 2 6s 8d
Roseline F 1st Gang 2 6s 8d
Thomas Kelly M Doctor 9 1 10s 2d
Pompy M Invalid?? 2 6s 8d
Doncon M Ist Gang 1 3s 4d
Unknown ?? ?? 22 3 13s 4d
Rachel F 3rd Gang 2 6s 8d
Roseline F 1st Gang 2 6s 8d
Thomas Kelly M Doctor 9 1 10s 2d
Pompy M Invalid?? 2 6s 8d
Doncon M 1st Gang 1 3s 4d
Unknown ?? ?? 22 3 13s 4d
TOTALS 73 12 3s 4d
As gender identity is in large part defined by biological sex and sexual
behaviour, a discussion of sexuality is crucial to any consideration of gender
negotiations. Unfortunately, relatively little is known about the sexual life of
enslaved women, and much of what we know is clouded by the exaggerating
myths about African sexuality promulgated by European men in the 18th and 19th
centuries. There are many period accounts which describe sexual unions between
slave women and white planters and overseers; most of these, however, tend to be
polemical works which sought to expose what perceived to be the moral
degradation of West Indian society. Written from a Eurocentric point of view,
most of these contemporary discussions of West Indian sexuality tend to portray
women in insulting and patronizing ways. All the documentary evidence and
historical interpretations of female sexuality under the slave regimes with which I
am familiar exclusively discuss heterosexuality; despite inroads over the last
decade and one-half, clearly our knowledge of this intimate topic remains limited.
The evidence concerning sexual behaviour at Radnor is typically limited.
There is evidence that two of the enslaved workers at Radnor developed venereal
diseases; it can also be established that some of the young women were sexually
active by virtue of their children. One source of evidence concerning the identity
of women's sexual partners is provided by the journal entries concerning the
deaths of children; in sixteen cases the fathers of the deceased children were
listed. In all of these instances the fathers were also slaves on the plantation. At
least officially, as documented by the plantation managers, monogamy may have
prevailed, at least for the short time slice documented by the journal. Elfrida is the
only woman that can be identified as having had more than one sex partner. A man
identified as Mulatto Bob was the father of her daughter Grace; another man,
Murray, is identified as the father of her son George. This same source of evidence
reveals that Murray fathered at least one other child; he was listed as the father of
Myrtilla's son Richard.
There is evidence to suggest that at least one woman on the plantation was
engaged in a sexual relationship with a member of the white estate staff, probably
the overseer. In 1823 Penney gave birth to Sylvia who was identified as a Mulatto
Female child; two years later, she gave birth to Maggy, who is identified as a
sambo child. Although the precise meanings of the words were flexible, both the
terms "sambo" and "mulatto" were used to describe a child of mixed racial
parentage. It is difficult if not impossible to determine who the father of Penney's
children might have been; at most times there were three white men employed at
the plantation: an overseer, a bookkeeper and a head bookkeeper; it is likely that
the father was one of these men. Intuitive speculation points to the overseer Robert
J. Hall; at one point the plantation purchased a pessary, a contraceptive device, and
listed it under purchases. Although this can't be corroborated, it is possible that
one of the bookkeepers was trying to embarrass Hall by listing what may have
been seen as an unnecessary expense in the plantation record. It is equally likely,
however, that the device was purchased by either of the bookkeepers.
The struggle by the white planters to exert control over women's sexuality
was crucial to the negotiation of gender identities on Jamaican coffee plantations.
All parties involved, male and female, black and white, experienced a social reality
in which the white elites claimed proprietary rights to the sexuality of the enslaved.
While there is little direct evidence of this struggle on Radnor, it is quite likely that
the white estate staff, all of whom were male, would attempt to exert some level of
power over the women on the plantation. One of the leading contemporary
theorists on the design and management of coffee plantations, P.J. Labourie,
discussed at some length the sexual dynamics of coffee plantations in his
influential treatise The Coffee Planter of Saint Domingo. In this volume, first
published in 1798 Labourie entreated his readers to attempt to limit women's
sexual partners to the male slaves on the estate, primarily through a system of
rewards to the women. He further admonishes planters to be discreet in their own
choice of sexual partners from the enslaved population, suggesting that married
women should not be made sexually available to the white estate staff:
"The Property (sic) of the Negro living or dead ought to be, as it
really is, sacred to the master, and his exclusive right to his wife
still more so, if possible...
He adds in a footnote:
Upon the last article, the young subalterns employed in the estate
must be kept within great discretion, the want of which has more
than once been attended with shocking consequences... 3
Evidence for Negotiating Sexuality and Reproduction: Birth Rates,
Birth Spacing and Infant Mortality on Radnor.
While there is a dearth of direct evidence concerning sexual behaviour at
Radnor, an examination of some demographic evidence concerning child birth can
shed some light on the contested terrain of sexuality and gender negotiation on the
plantation. Child birth itself is a locus of gender negotiation; not only is pregnancy
the result of sexual activity, but the process of biological reproduction creates new
elements of a woman's identity: while pregnant, during the process of birth, as a
mother. Under the conditions of slavery this locus of negotiation is yet more
complex, as the identity of the child itself is negotiated. The plantation
management will perceive the child as a capital unit that will eventually become
serviceable to the estate, while the mother will perceive the child as a child, and
may act according to her own conscience as to what the fate of that child will be.
The control over child birth was of great concern to contemporary plantation
theorists. For example, Labourie recognized that enslaved women were capable of
exerting control over their reproductive systems by avoiding pregnancy, or when
necessary, by inducing abortions. Apparently accepting as fact a myth that black
women had irrepressible sexual appetites, he attributes the phenomena of
contraception and abortion to enslaved women having "an aversion to a situation
which checks their amours." He suggests that planters should both encourage
pregnancy and punish those who induce abortions, which he labels "voluntary and
early miscarriages." He admonishes planters to be aware that women could use the
bark of certain trees to induce abortion. In order to regulate pregnancy and to
prevent abortions, he suggests that planters exert an extreme level of control over
women's reproductive cycles by requiring women to declare their menstrual
periods. The planter, he argued, should then verify and register the periods;
furthermore, any woman whose miscarriage could not be explained by evident
causes should be forced to wear an iron collar until her "ensuing pregnancy was
well ascertained. 14
While it is unclear whether such extreme measures were adopted at Radnor,
it is evident that the plantation management took great interest in the births and
deaths of children; most of these occurrences were noted twice in the plantation
journal, and were submitted as required by law to the parish vestry. The plantation
journal records that between January 1822 and the end of 1825,25 women gave
birth to 32 children on Radnor: 21 girls and 11 boys. Six women gave birth to more
than one child: Creole Bella bore children in 1823 and 1824; Elfrida in 1822 and
1825; Lucretia in 1822 and 1825, Mulatto Bella gave birth to a child in 1823 and to
twins in 1824; Penney bore children in 1823 and 1825 and Pinkey in 1822 and
1825. The other 19 women bore one child each over these years. This represents a
birth rate of 145 per thousand. In comparing these statistics to Higman's data for
Jamaica, this figure seems high for a Jamaican plantation. In his study on the
demography of Jamaica, Higman calculated a crude birth rate of 23.9 per thousand
for the, parish of St. David and a rate of 23.0 births per thousand for Jamaica as a
whole for the period 1823-26, roughly the same period recorded in the Radnor
The high crude birth rate at Radnor may suggest that there were a relatively
high number of women of childbearing age on the plantation in the 1820' s.
Although the sample is small and the time slice relatively short, we can draw
some tentative conclusions concerning infant mortality and birth spacing on the
plantation. The deaths often of the 32 children were recorded in the plantation
journal. Seven died within three weeks of birth; the cause of death for only two of
these infants was recorded, both died of cold. The remaining three children died
within two years. Violet's daughter Judy died at 11 months of a cough; Elfrida's
daughter Grace died at 20 months of yaws and old Daphne's daughter Olive died at
17 months of scophula, a tubercular infection of the lymphatic glands. Using this
sample, we can estimate the infant mortality rate on Radnor to be 313 per thousand
live births. This rate is slightly higher than that reported by Higman, who suggests
mortality rates of 298 per thousand for Jamaican infant boys and 248 per thousand
Based on the information recorded in the journal, an analysis of birth
spacing on Radnor is limited to a small sample of just three instances. Of the six
women who gave birth more than once during the three years under consideration,
only three had children who were viable after the first year of life. Each of these
women gave birth to a second child approximately 3 years after the birth of a
previous child. Pinky gave birth to her son Dance 2 years and 8 months after the
birth of her daughter Penney. Lucretia bore William 3 years and 2 months after the
birth of Pulimart. The third case in this small sample is Elfrida; she gave birth to a
daughter on June 27, 1825, 3 years 3 months after the birth of her daughter Grace.
The mean birth space for this sample is 36.3 months, a figure which seems in line
with other West Indian contexts.7 While such a small sample can provide only the
most tentative of conclusions, these results suggest that women were lactating
and/or practicing abstinence for approximately two years after the birth of their
children and were soon after both sexually active and fertile.
It is possible that women resisted the regulation of their sexuality and the
co-optation of their children though the practice of infanticide. In his discussion of
the prevalence of lock jaw, or infant tetanus, as a cause of infant mortality,
labourie suggests that the slaves may have been practicing infanticide:
"It is an opinion too generally entertained, that this disorder originates
exclusively from actual malice or violence. The suspicion has gained credit, from
the frequency of this malady on certain estates, while those in the neighbourhood
did not suffer in any degree; as also from its disappearing entirely, when means of
watchfulness to prevent it, and severity in punishing it have been employed ... It
must, however, be owned, that sometimes exterior marks of violent pressure have
been discovered on the throat and it is certain that pressure may be made, to a
degree, dangerous to the life of a tender child, without leaving visible traces"'8
The plantation journal is remarkable quiet concerning cases of tetanus.
While it was a common cause of infant death in the West Indies, not a single
instance of tetanus related death was recorded at Radnor. There were, however, a
number of child deaths recorded in the journal without a cause of death. Between
1822 and 1825 eight such deaths were recorded; in two cases the child died prior to
being named; in a third case the child was named "Misfortune." While a matter of
speculation, these mysterious deaths may be the result of women practicing
infanticide, a phenomenon by which women could control some element of their
identity by not becoming, or remaining, mothers.'9
Diseases on Radnor
The state of a person's physical health will affect the strategies they adopt in
the negotiation of their identities. When examining the nexus of general (as
opposed to reproductive) health and gender, it is tempting to endeavour to isolate
diseases and other health concerns which affect women disproportionately to men.
Unfortunately, examination of the Radnor data reveals no disease occurring
disproportionately in either men or women. There is likewise no apparent
gender-based imbalance in the ratio of deaths between adult men and women. As
the plantation book only covers half a decade, however, relatively few adult deaths
are recorded. Indeed, only twelve adult deaths were recorded with the cause of
death: seven women and five men. Four women and one man died of"debility" or
old age. With the exception of Trim, the remainders of the deaths were attributed
to either flux or dysentery. Both of these are complaints of the gastrointestinal tract
which may be brought on by malnutrition or eating foods that were under-ripe,
suggesting that there may have been episodic periods of poor nutrition on the
estate. As was the case on livestock pens, however, at least some of the slaves on
Radnor commonly had access to fresh pork and poultry; the sale of fresh pork by
slaves to the estate was quite common, and on at least two occasions the estate
purchased "fowls ... from the Negroes, instead of fresh pork." It does not seem too
wild an extrapolation to suggest that if the enslaved population was producing
surplus animal products to sell to the estate then the population itself had access to
this type of animal protein. It is therefore possible that protein-deficiency diseases
were less common on Radnor than they would be on sugar estates.20
By far the most common affliction recorded in the Radnor plantation book
was yaws. Yaws, also known as frambesia due to the raspberry-like ulcers
symptomatic of this disease, is a highly contagious disease characterized by skin
eruptions, fever, rheumatic like bone pains, and disfiguring sores that can develop
into fungous tubercles and ulcers. About two-thirds of yaws cases occur before
puberty, and it seems to be more common in boys than in girls. If not treated
properly, yaws can persist for more than two years. In severe cases, facial bones
may be destroyed, leading to syphilitic-like disfigurement. Yaws that developed
on the soles of the feet and hands could result in permanent disability. In virulent
cases the victim's extremities, especially the big toe and nose, could quite literally
rot off. The European treatment for this disease consisted of isolation of the
victims from the rest of the community and the application of mercurial ointment
and the ingestion of mercury pills. This regime was both unsuccessful in treating
yaws and caused dangerous side effects from mercury poisoning; in a pamphlet
published on yaws in 1839, Dr. James Maxwell advocated abandoning mercury
treatment in favour of the traditional West African remedies, which proved to be
Although incidents of yaws in Jamaica declined following the abolition of
the slave trade in 1807, the disease was still prevalent in mountainous, rainy areas
like the Blue Mountains. From the beginning of the Plantation Journal in January
of 1822 through September 29, 1823 nineteen people-nearly 10% of the entire
population were confirmed with yaws. On that date, twelve of the sufferers were
moved into the plantation hospital, where they were apparently deemed fit for
work; all 12 were eventually reintegrated into the work force. Although yaws was
rarely fatal, there were at least two mortal cases on Radnor Plantation. As
mentioned earlier, Elfrida's daughter Grace succumbed to the disease as a child of
20 months. The second case also involved a child. Prucma's son Portland died of
yaws on January 12, 1824; unfortunately, we have no information revealing his
date of birth or his age at death. It is possible, however, to infer his age through
indirect evidence. Because there was a West African tradition of inoculating
children with yaws shortly before they were weaned, it is possible that Grace died
as a result of this inoculation. At 20 months, she would have been close to weaning
age and thus susceptible to inoculation. Portland was probably born before
January 1, 1822; if he was born shortly before this date, it is possible that he
suffered the same fate.
Yaws is caused by a spirochete similar in form to syphilis; the resulting
symptoms of yaws can be mistaken for syphilis. Unlike syphilis, however, yaws is
not classified as a sexually transmitted disease. Due to some of the syphilitic-like
symptoms of the disease, and the general reluctance on the part of the African
community to reveal certain health conditions to the planters, there is little reliable
evidence concerning the prevalence of venereal diseases among the slave
populations of Jamaica. There is only one fully documented occurrence of a
venereal disease on Radnor; the male slave Trim died as the result of an unnamed
venereal infection. There is a second incident, however, that might reveal that at
least one Radnor woman was infected with a venereal disease. The entry under
"Daily Remarks" for July 25,1823 reads:
"Dr. Schroeter has verbally ordered mercurial ointment for
Roseline to be rubbed into her groins, which has been done'
Mercurial ointment was used in the treatment of both yaws and syphilis. In
this case, because the ointment was rubbed into Roseline's groin, it seems likely
that it VI prescribed for a venereal disease. The ambiguous phrase "which has been
done" may a indicate that the treatment was performed on an unwilling patient;
Roseline may have t the mercury treatment forced onto her against her will.
Women's Resistance to the Slave Regime
It has been noted in the recent historical literature that women often took a
leading role in acts of resistance against the oppression of slavery.22 Resistance can
take ma forms, from violent insurrection and flight to the more passive acts of
feigning illness ineptitude. There are no violent acts of resistance recorded in the
Radnor plantation jourr There are, however, several indications of resistance
through flight. This particular type resistance, running away, was more commonly
pursued on Radnor by women than by men
The only slave to have successfully run away for the duration of the accounts
recorded in the plantation journal was Phoebe, a woman. She was listed as a
runaway ea in 1822, and did not return to the estate by 1826 when the plantation
account ends. Several other women followed Phoebe's example, with less success.
For example, Helen ran away twice, only to be apprehended and returned to the
plantation each time. Perhaps the m dramatic example of flight as a form of
resistance is the case of Prucilla. While in the ninth month of pregnancy, Prucilla
absconded from the plantation and made her way over very precipitous terrain of
the Blue Mountains to Kingston, nearly twenty miles away. Two days after her
disappearance, the birth of her child, in Kingston, was recorded; the cll reportedly
died two days after that. Prucilla returned to Radnor one month later. We v
probably never know what motivated Prucilia's flight across the mountains to
Kingston, nine-months pregnant and perhaps in the first stages of labour. Was she
attempting reunite with the child's father or with members of her own family? Was
she trying conceal the birth of the child from the Radnor plantation staff so that the
child could raised in another environment? Whatever the case, Prucilla's flight
was symbolic of resistance waged by women against the oppression of the
plantations and the sex brutality on the part of the white planters that may well
have existed on Radnor.
No women are recorded to have been punished in the plantation journal; this
m however, be deceiving, as corporal punishment of women was officially
discouraged. The Radnor journal does reveal that a stocks-room existed on the
plantation and that the estate purchased several neck collars with padlocks; while
no specific reference to the use of the, devices was made it seems likely that they
were obtained for a reason. The lack of spec! reference to punishments against
women may simply be the result of selective recording, the British Colonial Office
frowned upon corporal punishment against women. Won were probably confined
to the stocks, and may well have been forced to wear iron collars especially after
attempting to escape. Documents from the Colonial Records Office indicate that
during the period of apprenticeship, women who disobeyed an overseer could
Punished by confinement in the "Dark Hole," a dungeon-like pit dug into the
ground. 1836, Elizabeth Davis, a woman from nearby Minto Plantation, was
confirmed in such a for disobeying her overseer and complaining to the
magistrate. According to her own testimony concerning this incident, the overseer
Mr. Murray put me in Dark Hole-place not fit to put Dog in-this rain weather, it is
all swamped up with wet-the ground all mud-no board to lie upon, obliged to stand
up all night. Kept me there til next morning. Sent me a little victuals (cocoas) to eat
but not a drop of water 23
It is quite possible that such a form of punishment existed on other
plantations in the Blue Mountain region, including Radnor, prior to emancipation.
I would like to conclude by making a few summarizing comments about the
construction of gender roles and relationships on Radnor. Although providing the
majority of field labour for the estate, women played a socially subordinate role in
the macro-economy of the plantation. By limiting access to skilled positions and
training to men, the planters placed women in a disadvantageous position to deal
with the post-emancipation economy, particularly as the planter class quite
deliberately limited the development of subsistence agriculture in the years
following emancipation. Despite this structural limitation, women on Radnor were
able to exploit the expanding cash economy through the development of an
internal castor oil industry. Sexuality was a primary battle ground for the
negotiation of gender under slavery. It is likely that women adopted strategies to
limit the number of children they would have, perhaps by prolonging lactation and
taking advantage of post-natal taboos on sexual intercourse. Women may also
have exerted control over their sexuality, and thus a crucial element of their gender
identity by practicing contraception; the intriguing inclusion of a pessary an
inter-uterine contraceptive device-in the plantation accounts suggests that at least
one woman may have been aided by the plantation staff in this endeavour. On the
other hand, Roseline, forced to undergo dangerous mercurial treatments, may have
been a victim of European use of medical science to control sexuality through the
violent treatment of venereal diseases. Finally, on Radnor, more women than men
chose flight and absences from the plantation as strategies of resistance to the slave
regime, despite the threat of apprehension and violent punishment.
Gender is a social construction which helps to define behaviours deemed
appropriate within specific cultural contexts. Although based in part on biological
sex, gender categories are not universal, nor are the behaviours expected of
members of given gender categories. Gender identities are often contested; this
may be perhaps no more evident than in plantation slave contexts. In such systems
behaviours that are deemed appropriate by those with vastly greater social power,
i.e., the male planter elite, will be challenged by those oppressed by the definitions
of those behaviours. The definition of gender was thus negotiated, albeit within a
context of vastly unequal power relations. The negotiation of gender appropriate
behaviour was, and remains, contested on a variety of terrains. In this paper, I have
attempted to outline some of the theatres of this negotiation that existed on a
Jamaican coffee plantation in the decade prior to emancipation. It is my hope that
this paper has demonstrated that the use of plantation journals and similar
documents can be used to analyze the negotiation of gender behaviour and identity
of women on Caribbean coffee plantations in the 19th century, the struggles they
faced in their quotidian lives, and the strategies they developed to maintain control
over the definition of their own lives.
*This research was funded in part by a pre-doctoral research from the Wenner-Gren
Foundation for Anthropological Research.
1. Among the notable contributors to the history of these alternative agricultural
industries in Jamaica are Barry Higman, Verene Shepherd, and Kathleen Montieth.
Higman has written on the geography, demography and history of coffee plantations,
livestock pens, sugar plantations, pimento and cotton plantations. Shepherd has written
several pieces on pens, while Montieth wrote her MA thesis at the University of the West
Indies on the history of the Jamaican coffee industry. For a general synthesis of the
history and geography of these industries see Higman, Barry. Jamaica Surveyed.
Kingston:Institute of Jamaica, 1988. For more specific discussions on livestock pens see
Higman's "Internal Economy of Jamaican Pens" in Social and Economic Studies
38:1:61-86, 1989. Verene Shepherd's important pieces on this issue include
"Alternative Husbandry: Slaves and Free Laborers on Livestock Farms in Jamaica in the
18th and 19th Centuries" in Slavery and Abolition 14:1 :41-66, 1993, "The Effects of the
Abolition of Slavery on Jamaican Livestock Pens, 1834-1845" in Slavery and Abolition
10:2: 187-211, 1989, and Pens and Pen-keepers in a Plantation Society: Aspects of
Jamaican Social and Economic History I 740-1845, PhD dissertation, Cambridge
University, 1988. For coffee plantations in Jamaica, see Higman, "Jamaican Coffee
Plantations 1780-1860: A Cartographic Analysis" in Caribbean Geography 2:73-91;
Kathleen Montieth, The Coffee Industry in Jamaica, 1790-1850, MA thesis, University
of the West Indies at Mona, 1991; and James Delle An Archaeology of Crisis: The
Manipulation of Social Spaces in the Blue Mountain Coffee Plantation Complex of
Jamaica, 1790- 1865, PhD dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1996.
2. For a good overview of the development of the coffee industry in the Caribbean,
see Michel-RolfTrouillot "Coffee Planters and Coffee Slaves in the Antilles: The
Impact of a Secondary Crop" in Cultivation and Culture, edited by Ira Berlin and
Philip Morgan, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, pp. 124137. See also Laird
W. Bergad, Coffee and the Growth ofAgrarian Capitalism in Nineteenth-Century
Puerto Rico, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1983; David Geggus, "Sugar
and Coffee Cultivation in Saint Domingue and the Shaping of the Slave Labor
Force", in Cultivation and Culture, pp. 73-98; Montieth, The Coffee Industry in
Jamaica; Higman Jamaica Surveyed, and Delle, An Archaeology of Crisis.
3. For an introduction to the literature on enslaved women in the Caribbean, see
Marietta Morrissey, Slave Women in the New World: Gender Stratification in the
Caribbean, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989; Barbara Bush, Slave Women in
Caribbean Society. Bloomington: Indiana UniversityPress, 1990; Hilary Beckles,
Natural Rebels: A Social History of Enslaved Black Women in Barbados, New
Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989; and Verene Shepherd, Bridget Bereton
and Barbara Bailey (eds) Engendering History: Caribbean Women in Historical
Perspective, New York: SI. Martin's Press, 1995.
4. See Morrissey, Slave Women in the New World. pp. 62-80; Bernard Moitt,
"Women, Work, and .Resistance in the French Caribbean during Slavery,
1700-1848", in Shepherd, Bereton and Bailey Engendenng History, pp. 155-175; and
Richard Dunn, "Sugar and Slave Women in Jamaica" in Cultivation and Culture, pp.
5. Morrissey, Slave Women in the New World, p. 67.
6. Barry Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807-1834. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, p. 166, 189; Roughley, Thomas. The Jamaica
Planter's Guide. London, 1823, p.108.
7. See Higman Slave Population- of the British Caribbean, Barry Higman, Slave
Population and Economy. in Jamaica, 1807-1834. Cambridge, Cambridge University
Press, 1976 and Morrissey Slave Women in the New World, pp. 73-75, for discussions of
the age structure of West Indian labour gangs under slavery .
8. Morrissey, Slave Women in the New World, p.75; Michael Craton, Searching for
the Invisible Man, Cambridge, MA, 1977, p. 142.
9. Shepherd, "Alternative Husbandry..."
10. In the early 19th century castor oil was used both as a laxative and as a machine
lubricant. The castor oil could have been used to lubricate the pulping mills on the
plantation, however, as each of the three white estate employees were consuming
between 15 and 25 pounds of pork each month, it is possible that the oil was used for
medicinal purposes. This possibility is reinforced by the fact that Thomas Kelly, a
doctor, and Penelope, a nurse, were the leading producers of castor oil at Radnor.
11. For an intriguing discussion of the sexual dynamics of West Indian society, see
Barbara Bush, 'White'Ladies', Coloured 'Favourites' and Black 'Wenches'; Some
Considerations on Sex, Race, and Class Factors in Social Relations in White Creole
Society in the British Caribbean", Slavery and Abolition 2:3:245-62 (1981). See also
Bush, Slave Women in Caribbean Society; Morrissey, Slave Women in the New World;
and Beckles, Natural Rebels, particularly pp. 141-151.
12. Beckles, Natural Rebels, p. 141.
13. P.J. ,Laborie, The Coffee Planter of Saint Domingo. London: T. Caddell and W.
Davis, 1798,pp. 179-180.
14. Ibid, p. 170.
15. Higman, Slave Population and Economy in Jamaica, Table 21.
16. Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, p. 319.
17. See for example Michael Craton, "Changing Patterns of Slave Families in the
British West Indies", Journal of Interdisciplinary History 10: 1: 1-35, 1979
18. Laborie, The Coffee Planter, p.173.
19. See Morrissey, Slave Women in the New World, pp. 114-116 and Bush,. Slave
Women in Caribbean Society, pp. 137-142 for discussions concerning abortion and
contraception among slave populations. On infant tetanus see Higman, Slave Population
in Jamaica, p. 113 and Richard Shendan Doctors and Slaves, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1985, pp. 200-201 and 236-237.
20. Shepherd, "Altemative Husbandry..."
21. Sheridan, Doctors and Slaves, pp. 84-87. See also James Maxwell Observations on
Yaws, and Its Influence in Originating Leprosy. Edinburgh, 1839.
22. e.g. Beckles, Natural Rebels.
23. Colonial Records Office, London, C0137/216f.33.
Anna Heegaard- Enigma
The history of the West Indies in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries furnishes many examples of free coloured women as governors'
consorts. Governors were not expected to be, nor indeed were, paragons of virtue
in the loose moral climate of plantation America. Indeed it is possible to argue that
their effectiveness as leaders in a given settler community would have been
facilitated by such an obvious demonstration of their subscription to that
community's norms. The absence of large numbers of European women would
have further facilitated this kind of sexual association, particularly where a
governor was either unmarried or for one reason or another had left his wife at
home. Free women of colour for their part saw no disadvantage in such
associations. Their status was subjectively enhanced by the role as first lady,
however marginally or informally, of the particular colony.
Lady Nugent hinted broadly that Lord Balcarres who governed Jamaica in
the late 1790's had such an arrangement' George Poyntz Ricketts who governed
Barbados at about the same time was hardly ever without his Betsy Goodwin. She
performed all the functions of official hostess, except that she never publicly
presided at the governor's table, and was widely reputed to exercise what
influence she had on behalf of the free people of colour in Barbados.2 In St. Croix,
in the early decades of the nineteenth century, Governor Adrian Bentzon who had
married into the Astor fortune was not deterred by this fact from developing a
'second family' with a free woman of colour Henrietta Francisca Coppy, for
whom he appears to have developed a deep and enduring affection.3
In terms of longevity and generalised effect, none of the above relationships
is as significant as that between Anna Heegaard and Peter von Scholten, the last
governor general of the Danish West Indies, an association that endured for a
period of 20 years. This in many ways remarkable woman has left no personal
records of herself: no diaries, journals, letters or private papers. Her inner life is as
inscrutable as her countenance is ambivalent, but the circumstantial evidence
certainly points to a person of granite fibre, particularly in her later years. Nor
could she have been all stone, for even the most ungenerous reconstruction would
be forced to concede that she was a person who inspired not only respect but
affection and devotion. Above all the association with Peter von Scholten,
coinciding with the achievement of free coloured equality, the ameliorative slave
reforms of the 1830's and 1840's and emancipation finally in 1848, offers strong
presumptive evidence of her catalytic influence on the course of Danish Virgin
Island history in this period of the nineteenth century.
Very little is known of this enigmatic woman's paternal antecedents. So far
as the available records indicate, the European Heegaards 'Were neither important
office-holders nor plantation owners of particular substance.' Jacob Heegaard, her
father, was a clerk and customs collector before he died in 1804. The Heegaards do
not appear in the estate censuses of 1792 when the decision was taken to abolish
the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Danish islands.4 The returns for 1805 in the
East End quarter of St. Croix show the heirs of Jacob Heegaard he had three
legitimate children in possession of two estates, Union and Mount Washington.
The East End was St. Croix' least developed area, given over largely to
pen-keeping and cotton, and -aid not support the opulent life styles which
ownership of estates in other quarters permitted. Union and Mount Washington,
bought between 1792 and the death of Jacob Heegaard in 1804, had 135 slaves
between them and were of modest proportions at 75 and 300 acres respectively.
Even the latter, for all its apparent size, had only 120 acres in cane with 45 fallow
and 123 uncultivated.5 The Heegaards were latercomers to and very recent
members of the St. Croix plantocracy. As a family they were not one of the first in
the island, neither old nor established nor well-to-do at the beginning of the
Anna Heegaard's maternal antecedents are less obscure in the literal and
figurative senses of that word. She represented her family's second generation of
freedom; her mother Susanna Uytendahl was free coloured whose putative father,
Johannes de Bretton, was the eldest son of Baron Lucas de Bretton, a resident
planter of considerable substance.6 Anna Heegaard's grandmother, Charlotte
Amalia Bernard, was not manumitted until sometime between 1788 and 1793, at
about the same time that her grand daughter was born 7 Charlotte Bernard lived to
the ripe old age of 103 and died in 18568 with the satisfaction of witnessing
emancipation. More importantly, however, she had spent her childhood,
adolescence and early womanhood in enslavement. Those years would have
coincided with the most vigorous period of St. Croix' exploitation as a plantation
colony after its purchase from the French; a period when the rigour of the
plantation regimen had been mollified neither by the self-interest which prevailed
after abolition of the trade in 1802 nor the specific reforms of the 1830's and 40's.
She represented therefore a direct family connection with slavery at its harshest.
Through this connection Anna Heegaard, already one generation removed from
slavery, could acquire first-hand information about and acquaintance with the
institution. It would be by no means fanciful to conclude that Charlotte Bernard
represented an important formative influence on Anna Heegaard's attitude to
slavery and the condition of the free people of colour.
Certainly in St. Croix at the close of the eighteenth and in the early years of
the nineteenth century, the free people of colour, black and brown, were growing
spectacularly not only in numbers but in self-awareness. A matriculation return for
1797 indicates that the 1,164 free coloureds of St. Croix represented a total of
slightly more than half that of the white population at 2,223. The overall
proportion of free coloureds to whites, when St. Thomas and St. Jan were
included, presented a roughly similar picture: 1,418 as against 3,062.9 By 1835,
however, the free coloured population of the Danish Virgin Islands had increased
almost ten-fold to 13,000 while the white population had risen to only 3,723.o0
Despite their numerical significance, the free coloureds, Anna Heegaard
among them, laboured under several, sometimes severe, disabilities. They were
prohibited from planting cotton unless they owned land; were required to wear a
distinguishing cockade; observe a curfew; live in houses of specified dimensions
in a particular area of Christiansted, commonly known as the Free Gut; could not
hold liquor licences; could hold dances only with specific permission; were
required to carry certificates, attesting their freedom, to be produced on demand;
wear clothing of no more than a prescribed value; and were liable to the indignity
of corporal punishment for public order offences. This catalogue of disabilities is
by no means exhaustive. Some of them, such as the residential stipulation, had
been modified by convention in the half-century or so before 1815.12 But their
continuing dejure existence nevertheless rankled, and occasioned a petition to the
crown, signed by 331 free coloureds, and taken in person to Copenhagen by two of
their representatives, William Windt and William Purcell. The burden of the
petition was that the onerous limitations on their right to citizenship and equality
before the law should be lifted.13 Far from receiving any satisfaction, the
petitioners were sharply reproved for having left St. Croix without the permission
of the local administration."4
In 1816 Ann Heegaard would have been a fully grown woman of at least 26,
mature enough to contribute to the struggle for equality of status which had just
begun. Her name, however, is conspicuously absent from the list of signatories to
the petition of 1816. In the absence of any memoirs, a shrewd guess would be that
these were years in which she was consolidating her material situation byjudicious
alliances with men who sought her favours.
Certainly between 1809 and 1810 she lived with C. Hansen, probably the
attorney Christopher Hansen who was then trustee for her mother's estate,15 which
consisted of three properties in Christiansted, the result of thrift, application and
the knitting and sale of crochet work.6Anna Heegaard's choice of companion at
that particular juncture of her life, if not calculated, was not such as to prejudice
her interests. In the years immediately preceding and succeeding 1814 she appears
to have established a relationship with an Irish merchant, Paul Twigg. Thereafter
and up to 1820 she shared a house with her mother in Christiansted before
becoming the companion of Captain H. C. Knudsen. a colonial adjutant. Although
of inconsequential military rank. Knudsen had been for a long time attorney for
one of the largest estates in St. Croix, La Grande Princesse. owned by Count
Schimmelmann. Knudsen himself was a planter, owner of plantation Belvedere on
the island's north side.17
Anna Heegaard manifestly prospered by these alliances, each apparently
more successful than the last. Reproductions of her which have survived indicate
that. her inscrutability apart, she was if not beautiful by no means plain. Physical
assets married to a resolution to prosper constituted a winning formula for material
success. Already in 1809 Hansen conveyanced to her two slaves, Mathilde and a
boy "sambo" Charles. By 1821 when she was installed in the Knudsen household
her slaves numbered 15.18 An affidavit by Knudsen in 1824 indicated that her
personal contribution to the furnishings of Belvedere- plantation great-house
consisted of the following: 2 Mahogany Bedsteads. 5 Mattresses, 2 large
Mahogany Clothes Chests, a Mahogany Dining Table, 2 Sofas, 2 large Mirrors in
Mahogany frames, a Mahogany Sideboard and 2 Mahogany Chests of Drawers. In
addition all the silver, porcelain, glassware, table linen and kitchen utensils at
Belvedere were hers and were acquired before she took up residence there.9 By
contemporary American standards Anna Heegaard was ,an extremely wealthy
woman, so wealthy in fact that by 1829 she was able to buy a house in
Christiansted for the considerable sum of 6,250 Rigsdaler,20
Her spectacular material success was unequally yoked with the social
ostracism and legal disabilities which had been complained of in the petition of
1816. Having achieved economic security and prominence which, however,
conferred no accompanying social and civic status, she had more than ample
personal motivation to make her contribution to the full emancipation of her own
free coloureds. That struggle, in its initial stages the decade previously, she had
had neither the inclination nor the confidence, born of success, to join.
In this struggle, the work of Peter von Scholten, sadly unsung in English
historical letters, stands as a monument to the best humanitarian instincts. As the
last governor-general of the Danish West Indies, he came to St. Croix to assume
office in 1827. By then he had spent the greater part of his life since 1804 in posts
of varying significance in the Danish Virgin Islands and in the 1820's in addition
to being Inspector of Weights and Measures was Lieutenant governor in St.
Thomas. In 1828, within a year of his arrival, he shared a common establishment
with Anna Heegaard, thus beginning an association which was to last unbroken
until his proclamation of emancipation on 3 July 1848 and his precipitate
departure from the West Indies shortly thereafter.
By all accounts von Scholten was a bon vivant. His portraits suggest a
certain sensuality and a predisposition to a sybaritic life style. His early years in
Copenhagen as a young army officer and adjutant to Frederick VI were given over
to a joyous celebration of wine, women, horses and the pleasures of the gaming
tables.21 His lust for life had been dimmed neither by the continuous demands of
high office, advancing middle years nor a climate which many of his countrymen
found enervating. As late as the early 1840's when he was well into his fifties, Van
Dockum, who knew him well as his adjutant, could remark on his zest for life.22
Whether this conviviality and gregariousness was a characteristic which Anna
Heegaard herself displayed is difficult to say. But it is reasonable to conclude that
she found it appealing. In all probability this was a consideration which, in part,
explained her association with Twigg, the Irish merchant, whose bonhomie
elicited a contemporary's comment. 23
In any case, now that she was financially secure Anna Heegaard could form
her associations on the basis of genuine affection and regard. That would certainly
explain the durability of the liaison with von Scholten for the next two decades in
which he was in Denmark often, for months at a time, and his financial
circumstances subject to extreme pressure from his tendency to extravagance.
Indeed it was Anna Heegaard herself from her own private resources who relieved
the governor-general of some of his embarrassment by a substantial loan of $4,000
in the 1840's.24
For von Scholten's part there were many circumstances which predisposed
to such a liaison. The island's prevailing ethos encouraged such an association.
Many prominent government officials,25 priests even,26 had free coloured
'housekeepers'. One of von Scholten's recent predecessors in office,
governor-general Bentzon, whom he resembled in many respects,27 had
maintained a free coloured mistress as pointed out earlier. Moreover Mme. von
Scholten had not accompanied her husband to the West Indies except for a few
brief years after 1815. His gregariousness made it extremely unlikely that he
would forego for very long sustained female companionship. Further, as Preben
Ramlov has suggested, von Scholten had already met Anna Heegaard in 1805 in
St. Thomas while his father was commandant there.28 von Scholten had arrived the
year before, a young ensign of 21, impressionable and susceptible to his new
environment. Anna Heegaard at 15 would have been in the prime of young
womanhood, St. Thomas sufficiently small to make their encounter a likelihood.
There is no evidence to indicate that there were subsequent encounters, although
these were quite probable given the smallness of island society and the frequent
communications between St. Thomas and St. Croix. In any event nothing would
have been more likely than that on arriving in St. Croix in 1827 he should seek out
this young woman's company, assuming that he already knew her.
The likelihood becomes the greater in view of the relationships that von
Scholten had established with the free coloureds of St. Thomas. During his tour of
duty there he gave ample evidence of his lack of prejudice and his responsiveness
to the free coloured thrust towards equality. In the aftermath of the hurricane of 21
and 22 September 1819 which hit St. Thomas with particular severity, the free
coloured, community of that island presented von Scholten with an address. Its
signatories observed inter alia:
... permit ourselves to assure you of the great value we attach to the
advantages we enjoy. .. and in particular of our unfeigned gratitude
for the protection, security and comfort, we have experienced
during the time of your Honour being at the head of this
Government. Not to mention the numerous instances of generosity
and kindness to ourselves, our friends, relatives and acquaintances,
the justice and impartiality which your Honour has constantly
manifested to us, the facility of access to your person, having
gained to you our respectful affection and our sincerest regard. 29
The address was accompanied by a present of a sword. In reply von Scholten
declared, "In my intercourse with you I shall always be flattered to merit your
esteem, and present or absent, entertain the best wishes of your happiness and
prosperity:'30 Behind the formal turn of phrase was an assurance that
considerations of race were no restraint on his openness and urbanity,
characteristics of his which had not escaped the free coloureds' notice. In all
probability, von Scholten had observed in persons of colour, or those at the
confluence of the streams of Europe and Africa, a type, an ideal type even, which
fired his imagination and aroused his curiosity, including the sexual.
Many years later, he identified as an urgent priority the free coloureds'
stedse lige fra Begyndelse af mit mangaarige Ophold her i
Colonieme har vaeret mit oprigtige og ufortrodne Bestraebelse..
(constantly from the very beginning of my long residence in the
colonies has been the object of my heartfelt and unremitting
"From the beginning", that is to say from 1804, was perhaps a hyperbolic
flourish'32 but it was, however, his considered view in 1833 that:
det vilde .. derfor v.ere i h~iest Grad uretfaerdigt om Man paa
Grund af Farven, som aldrig kan vaere noget kjendtegn paa
Menneskets Vaerd, ville at disse i Staten skulle staae som en
underordnet Classe af Indvaanere.
(It would be an injustice of the highest order, if, on grounds of
colour, which never can be a yardstick of human worth; these [free
coloureds] were confined to second-class citizenship.)33
In 1819-1820 there is evidence of von Scholten's egalitarianism in practice,
but he had no power to give this practice the theoretical sanction of the law. By
1827 that power was his and there existed in Anna Heegaard the catalytic agent
which hastened that process by which the status of the free coloureds was
revolutionised in another eight years.
In the absence of hard evidence it is easy to dismiss or to adjudge not proven
the case for Anna Heegaard's influence on the issues of free coloured equality,
amelioration and eventual emancipation. But the juxtaposition in time of her
alliance with von Scholten and his initiatives on all three of these issues is strongly
suggestive of her influence, however indirect. One of her former lovers, Capt.
Knudsen, was convinced that an important basis of their relationship was von
Scholten's undertaking to act on behalf of the partly free and the unfree. Writing to
the Danish Cabinet secretary, Adler, in 1840, Knudsen, who claimed he bore von
Scholten no ill-will, suggested that the latter "bought" Anna Heegaard with
"extravagant promises"; had only partially fulfilled them in 1840, and was
therefore obliged unwillingly to continue with a mistress, at 50, long past her
best.34 The acidity of sour grapes had no doubt eroded Knudsen's judgment,
convinced as he was that his former mistress still cherished his affection.
There was no need for anything so gross and commercial as the quid pro quo
which Knudsen suggested, von Scholten was already disposed by 1820, by his
own public ad. mission, to further the interests and welfare of the free coloured
community. Anna Heegaard, his wife in all but name, objectified the anomaly of a
free coloured class assigned second-class status -despite the fact that, as von
Scholten observed in 1833, the cultural development of many of them was on par
with that of Denmark's middle class."What better way to further those interests
and advance that welfare than by granting equality to a class, one of whose
members was his consort? If von Scholten moved with decisiveness after 1828 to
facilitate free coloured equality, if was not because he had struck any prior
bargain; with Anna Heegaard at his side, sharing his bed and preparing his board,
he had no choice but to follow where his best instincts led him. There is no
evidence that she discouraged him.
By January 1830 von Scholten had authored a "Plan for an Improved and
more distinct Organisation for Your Majesty's Free Coloured Subjects in the West
India Colonies" The plan proposed inter alia:
Where free persons of colour, of both sexes assimilate in colour to
the whites, and they otherwise, by a cultivated mind and good
conduct render themselves deserving to stand according to their
rank and station in life, on an equal footing with the white
inhabitants, all the difference, which the colour now causes ought
to cease. The right of deciding hereon, must be left with the
Anticipating resistance and in particular the jealousy and virulent prejudice
directed to. wards free coloured women by their white counterparts, von Scholten
proposed shrewdly to invest himself with wide discretionary powers. By April
1830 this original plan had had royal approval; in another four years after further
discussion and modification, a royal order superseding the 1830 plan gave
unconditional civic rights to all free persons of colour who, with the order's
publication, were in lawful possession of their freedom. They and their offspring
would thenceforth be treated according to the laws applicable to whites, and the
distinctions of yore would no longer apply.3sThose to be manumitted in future
would serve an "apprenticeship" period of three years before their final
incorporation into the free citizenry. 39
Legislation, however, did not bring social acceptance. Legal equality could
not in the short term eradicate prejudice and snobbery especially on the part of
white women.40Van Dockum, in his reminiscences of his tour of duty as adjutant to
von Scholten, points out that in 1840 the white community in St. Croix was still
scandalised at free coloured appointments to positions of trust and at invitations to
them to the governor-general's dinner parties. The reaction was even more
extreme when these free coloured officials with their families attended official
functions. It was equally during this period that von Scholten first attempted to
invite individual free coloured matrons and unmarried women to Government
House balls. Van Dockum reflected his superior's anxiety at the prospect of the
precipitate emptying of the room by European men, who would not entertain the
thought of their women together with those regarded as low-caste. The free
coloureds for their part wished to avoid embarrassment and resisted the temptation
to accept the first invitation. By degrees, however, both prejudice and fear of
embarrassment were eroded, and by the time Van Dockum's tour of duty came to
an end in 1846, white women encountered free brown, at least, without any show
og da jeg i 1846 forlod St. Croix, kunde de Brune og Hvide mode
hinanden, uden at de blanke Darner vendte Hovedet borte ...
In Van Dockum's view, one of von Scholten's distinguishing characteristics
was an impulsiveness,4' the only exception to which was the sustained nature of
his endeavours on behalf of the free coloureds.42 von Scholten's was not a
particularly subtle mind; he was a man of action whose talents ran to the
practical.43 Equally everyone who knew him well concurred in his endless
capacity for enjoyment and his love of show.44 The manner of his response to the
prejudice which lingered after 1834 and the sustained nature of his war of attrition
upon it, are both explained by the facets of his character indicated above. His
hospitality? public and private, became the relentless battering ram upon the
Jerichos of opposition. In that campaign, his palatial private residence of
Biilowsminde where Anna Heegaard was mistress of the house played a role of
Initially the couple had lived in crown counsel Gjellerup's house in
Kogensgade [King Street] in Christiansted. Thereafter they rented William
Newton's estate great house at "Castle" in Prince's Quarter. Building at
Blilowsminde, atop a sugar-loaf promontory 800 feet above the sea with a view of
Christiansted, began in 1833, and by 1834 they moved into the house which they
would occupy for the next fourteen years. The house and its outbuildings were of
manor-house proportions,45and the continual re novations and additions would
have cost an enormous fortune, or so thought Knudsen.46 The baronial life style
was an expression of the governor-general's taste but was beyond the reach of
even his ample private means. Anna Heegaard's own financial resources were
invested in the property. Far from being a kept woman, she was a partner in an
enterprise-Btilowsminde-and its purpose. Indeed von Scholten's biographer has
suggested that by 1838 she was part owner of the property, and by 1845 sole
Anna Heegaard, the baron's great-grand-daughter, became in a sense the
Baronessa of Bulowsminde where she held court.48 Assisted by her friend,
companion and 'lady-in-waiting', an elderly free coloured known only as Miss
Gordon, she presided at the nine o'clock luncheon, the first major meal of the day.
It was a working meal at which were present more often than not government
officials, military and naval personnel and planters who had business to discuss.
This meal was not only presided over by Anna Heegaard but was served in her
suite. Dinner, the next major meal of the day between 4 and 5 o'clock, was served
in von Scholten's suite of rooms; again it was an occasion to which at least six
persons were invited; Anna Heegaard and Miss Gordon were invariably present
and after dinner when the gentlemen withdrew to their cigars, billiards or the card
tables, those who knew Misses Heegaard and Gordon well enough made a point of
calling on them in Miss Heegaard's suite 49
Biilowsminde with its free coloured hostess hummed daily with activity at
the lunch and dinner table. But this was not the only basis on which it became a
centre of island society or imposed its social cachet. Routine dinners such as
Dahlerup describes were superseded from time to time by gala occasions on which
the silver service, crystal and fine china complemented the vintage wines and
elaborate menus. Monday, apparently, were set aside for these special festive
occasions when the guest list was as large as the hospitality was lavish. Those
evenings tended to end as animated soirdes dansantes. 50
Neither the irregularity of Miss Heegaard's position nor her colour made
any difference to these occasions as sought-after affairs. The local clergy for its
part appeared to turn a blind eye, and even a visiting French bishop was among the
guests whom Dahlerup en countered, enjoying von Scholten's good food and fine
The social barriers, then, against free coloured acceptance, had begun to
collapse by the 1840's. For Van Dockum the seismic therapy had had a major
effect by 1846. Dablerup who was his brother-in-law traces the development with
greater differentiation. Writing for the service journal Nyt Archiv for S-vresnet in
1842, Admiral-as he subsequently became Dahlerup contrasted the situation in
1841 with an earlier visit at the end of the 1820's. Prejudice by the later date had
largely disappeared so far as free coloured men went: they were in the "best
society"; occupied important government posts; were even in the royal service and
were no longer segregated from the main party, nor served drinks separately at
public functions. Many, Dahlerup estimated, deserved to be called "gentlemen" in
the full meaning of that word:
Nu ere Mrend af blandet Farve ansatte i vigtige og anseete
Kongelige Embeder, og det var mig en Glrede at mtfide i de bedste
Selskaber couleurte Herrer med liberal Dannelse og med ethvert
Krav paa at kaldes "gentlemen" i Ordets fulde Betydning, en
Glrede, naar jeg trenker tilbage paa den Tid, da de couleurte
Officerer ved Fri corpseme, paa Kongens Geburtsdag og andre
Festdag, blev stredende til Audients afsides, ude i Galleriet, hvor
Forfriskninger blev ombudte dem, medens de Blanke var
forsamlede i Salen.52
In 1841 the status of free coloured women had not yet approximated that of
the men. The nature of their association with white officials in particular had given
rise to a pre-judice which Dahlerup thought would take a long time to eradicate.53
But the injustice of prejudice could not for long resist the imperatives of change.
An elderly free coloured woman fulminated in Dahlerup's hearing against the
designation "bastard" applied to free coloured women and their children. They
had, she claimed, brought their children into the world in their fathers' own
houses. They had been to those fathers all that an honourable wife could be but
could do nothing about that prejudice which deprived them of the privilege of
being a wife. But, she continued, things had now changed and would continue to
do so, and that would be better in the sight of God and man.54
The change in attitude which this person detected had become the reality
which Van Dockum was to observe five years later. If by 1846 free coloured
women had gained total social acceptance, the presence of Anna Heegaard in
Bulowsminde since 1834 had contributed in no small measure.
While it is possible to attempt to reconstruct the influence of Anna Heegaard
on the course of the struggle for free coloured equality, it is considerably more
difficult to assess her contribution to amelioration and ultimate emancipation of
the slaves in the Danish Virgin Islands. The ameliorative milestones of the late
1830's and early 1840's which distinguish the von Scholten administration are
contemporaneous with her most influential years after 1834. The question which
poses itself is the degree to which Anna Heegaard exerted any pressures in this
direction. For lack of evidence, the question admits of no ready answer. For the
same reason the weight of Charlotte Amalia Bernard in the scales cannot be
measured, although it is obvious she was living testimony to the virtues of
emancipation. von Scholten for his part asserted that it had been his intention from
the moment he assumed office to direct his energies in the direction of slave
upliftment. The future of the Danish Virgin Islands, considered from any point of
view, he argued, was closely bound up with that. 55
Whatever domestic or personal motivation might have been involved, the
external pressure of British West Indian emancipation, particularly with a free
Tortola on the doorstep of St. Jan, forced von Scholten not only to accelerate the
pace of amelioration in the late 1830's and early 1840's, but to work towards an
ordered denouement of slavery by total emancipation after satisfactory
preparation. In this connection it is important to state that Anna Heegaard was not
herself a rabid abolitionist; it is a matter of record that although she occasionally
manumitted slaves out of kindness,56 she owned slaves up to the moment of
emancipation on 3 July 1848.57
The liberal Copenhagen newspaper Fredrelandet, one of von Scholten's
bitterest antagonists of the 1840's, suggested snidely after emancipation that Anna
Heegaardhad with nice anticipation sold all her slaves a short time before the
event.58The suggestion was wholly without foundation. Frederlandet, for all its
measured prose, had never been above innuendo in its strictures on von Scholten
and all his works, and in this instance simply overreached itself.
There was not and has never been any evidence, although there is fruitful
ground for speculation, that Anna Heegaard by herself or in collaboration with von
Scholten planned the uprising of 2-3 July 1848. Her importance, in so far as
emancipation went, seems to lie far more in the kind of constant support which she
afforded von Scholten, to work with a fixity of purpose towards the day when the
progress of amelioration would justify a total and general emancipation. Such
support was vital, particularly in the difficult years after 1841 when von Scholten
came increasingly under attack from the local plantocracy, from Denmark's liberal
politicians and the liberal press like Fredrelandet, who saw in the governor-general
the colonial variant of an authoritarianism which they were determined to bring
down at home.
Definitive judgment on the role of Anna Heegaard at this critical juncture in
the history of the liberation of Caribbean peoples will have to be suspended until
the corpus delicti of concrete evidence has been unearthed. In its absence the case,
such as it is, rests on the circumstantial evidence which the historian like the jurist
is obliged to treat with circumspection. Nevertheless, it is hoped that enough has
been said to indicate that she was at the very least a sleeping partner, but partner
nonetheless, in an enterprise of major magnitude. At worst she deserves a
recognized place in the literature of New World slavery.
1. Lady Nugent 's Journal of her Residence in Jamaica 1801-1805, (ed. Philip
Wright) Kingston: 1966, p.38.
2. John Poyer, A History of Barbados, (London: 1808), p. 604.
3. H. B. Dahlerup, Mit Livs Begivenheder, 2 vols. (Copenhagen: 1909), Vol. 2, p. 78.
4. Rigsarkivet, Copenhagen (hereafter cited as RIA): Dokumenter vedkommende
Kommissionen angaaende negerhandelen samt efterretninger om negerhandelen og
slaveriet i Vestindien, Plantation Returns for 1792.
5. Ibid. Plantation Returns for. 1805.
6. H. F. Garde, Anna Heegaard og Peter yon Scholten in Personal Historisktidsskrift,
13 R Bd. 6, (1958) p. 29.
8 Ibid.: p. 30.
9. P. L. Oxholm, De Danske Vestindiske Oers Tilstand i Henseende til Population,
Culture og Finance-Forfatning, Copenhagen: 1797, Statistik Tabelle, n/p.
10. H. Lawaetz, Peter yon Scholten; Vest in disk Tidsbilleter fra den sidste General
gouverors Tid, (Copenhagen 1939), p. 123.
11. On cotton cultivation see: IA, Vestindisk Guineisk Rent Samt General-told
Kammer (cited hereafter as VGRG): Udkast og
Betamkning angaaende Negerloven Med Bilag, No. 27:
Placater Anordninger og Publicationer no. 31, did
11 August 1767.
On the cockade see: Ibid., Placater, etc., no. 32, did 21 May 1768.
One the curfew see: Ibid., Placater etc., no. 29, did 9 February 1765.
On the Free Gut see: R/A, VGRG, Udkast og Betxnkning ...,
No.1, Extract afde for de Kongelige Danske
Vestindiske Ejlande udkomne Reglementer
Ordonnancer of Placater Negerne betrxffende:
Governor Hansen's Pla cat did 27th novemberl747
On liquor licences see: Dansk Vestindisk Regierings Avis (cited
hereafter as DVRA). 8 February 1803: An
Ordinance for the Better Control of Rum Shops.
On dances : RI A, VGRG, Udkast og Batxnkning
... No. 27, Placater etc., no.38, did 5
On freedom certificates : RIA, Kongelige Anordninger, Ordinance of
Christian VII, did 5 October 1776, para. 1.
On clothing restrictions: RIA, VGRG, Kommissions Forslag og
Anmxrkning angaaende Negerloven med
genparter af Anordninger of Publicationer,
Bind 2 Gienpart 63, Governor Schimmelman's Placat
did 26 May 1786.
On corporal punishment: R/A, VGRG, Akter vedkommende slave
emancipationen, Frikulorte, 1826, 1834 (cited
hereafter as A VS/FC) Free Coloured Petition, 1 April
1816. See also RIA, VGRG; Udkast og
Betxnkning... No.l, Extract... etc., Placats dated 14
December 1741, 31 January 1746,25 December 1746.
12. RIA, VGRG: A VS/FC: Governor Oxholm's Circular, 3 January 1816, Enc!. D:
Comments by Regeringsraad Mouritzen, did 27 September 1815.
13. RIA, VGRG: AVS/FC: Free Coloured Petition did 1 April 1816.
14. DVRA, 28 August 1817.
16. Ibid., p. 30.
17. Ibid., p. 31.
20. Ibid., p. 32.
19. Ibid., pp. 31-32.
21. See for example Dahlerup, op.cit., p. 264.
22. C. Van Dockum, Mit Livs Erindringer (Copenhagen: 1893), p. 63;
23. Dahlerup, op. cit., p. 31.
24. H. F. Garde, op.cit., p. 31.
25. Lawaetz,op. cit., p. 221.
26. Garde,op.cit., p. 28; Dahlerup, op. cit., p. 47.
27. Lawaetz,op. cit., p. 238 n3.
27. Van Dockum, op.cit., p. 69.
28. Preben Ramlov, Brodrene og Slaveme (Copenhagen: 1969), p. 190, fn. 1.
29. DVRA, 28 February 1820.
31. RIA, VGRG: AVS/FC, yon Scholten to Frederick VI, 7 July 1833, End.. 27 to
Major Didrichsen, Commander, Fredericksted Fire Corps, 25 May 1833.
32. Preben Ramlov in his otherwise carefully researched historical novel Massa Peter
(Copenhagen: 1967) has taken author's licence to attribute anti-slavery sentiment to
von Scholten as early as 1804. An alternative view is that von Scholten was then far
too preoccupied with life's pleasures to have even given it a thought.
33. RIA: Deliberations Protokoller af den Dansk Vestindisk Regering, 3 June 1833,
34. H. F. Garde, op. cit., p. 34.
35. RIA: Deliberations Protokoller afden Dansk Vestindisk Regering, 3 June 1833, f.
36. Peter von Scholten, Plan til en forbedret og mere Bestemt Organisation for de
Fricouleurte i de Dansk Vestindisk (/Jer, (Copenhagen: January 1830), nip.
38. RIA: Kongelig Forordning Angaaende nrermere Bestemmelse afde Frifarvedes
borgerlig Stilling paa de danske Vestindisk (/Jer, 18 April 1834, para. I.
39. Ibid.: paras. 2-4.
40. RIA: AVS/FC: von Scholten to Frederick VI, 7 July 1833, Enc!. 20: Major Magens,
Police Chief, St. Jan to von Scholten, 2 June 1833. In Major Magens' view, the
problem posed by prejudice was irresolvable.
41. Van Dockum, op. cit., pp. 64-65.
42. Ibid.: p. 46.
43. Dahlerup,op. cit., p. 264.
44. Ibid. See also Van Dockum, op. cit., p. 63.
45. Dahlerup,op. cit., p. 273.
46. Knudsen to Cabinet Secretary Adler, 2 April 1837, quoted in H. F. Garde, op. cit.,
47. Lawaetz,op. cit., pp. 54, 221.
48. Fredrelandet, 2 March 1841: OmVestindien betragtet fra Planteuremes Standpunkt,
49. Dahlerup,op. cit., p. 274.
50. Ibid., p. 275.
5 I. Ibid.
52. Nyt Archiv for Sov net, Bind 1, 1842, pp. 30-31.
53. Ibid., p.31.
55. RIA, VGRG: Commission angaaende Negrenes Stilling 1834-1843: Afskrift afdet
af General gouvemor forfattede Udkast til en Emancipations Plan for Siaveme paa
de danske Vcstind.iske (Jer, 13 October 1834, f. 9.
56. H. F. Garde, op. cit., p. 34.
57. Lawaetz,op.cit., p. 194 n.
58. Fredrelandet, 15 September 1848.
Indian Women and Indentureship in Trinidad
and Tobago 1845-1917: Freedom Denied
When Indian Indentureship to Trinidad began in 1845, what later became
known as the 'Indian Women Problem' had already reared its head.The initial
phase of migration to the Caribbean of Indians destined for indentured labour on
the plantations began as early as 1838 when migrants to the then British Guiana
were among the 6,000 men and 100 or so women who were shipped to Mauritius,
Australia and British Guiana between 1834 and 1839.' The initial phase of
indentured Indian emigration followed fast on the heels of the abolition of slavery.
This was an attempt (and eventually a successful one) by the plantocracy to
reduce labour costs as well as to re-establish some degree of labour control on the
The first prohibition of indentured Indian migration which took place in
1839 was fueled by the activities of the re-organized Anti-Slavery Society against
this 'new system of slavery'. One of their major objections had been the small
numbers ef women among the migrants during this initial phase. In November
1844 therefore when the government of India lifted its ban on indentured Indian
emigration to the Caribbean one of the conditions was that at least 12 per cent of
the emigrants be female2 The inclusion of quotas for women was mainly for public
consumption.a On 30 May,1845 when the Fatel Rozack brought the first 227
Indian immigrant labourers to Trinidad, 206 were men and 21 women." In addition
to the factors in the receiving countries which favoured migration, there were also
developments in British India where:
To natural hazards and traditional fragmentation of family
holdings to an excessive degree, were added changes in production
following the training of British rule 5
which encouraged migration.
In the eighteenth century India had supplied cotton goods on a large scale to
Europe, but now she was losing her position as a manufacturing country and had
been transformed into a consumer of British goods. The textile industries were the
first to collapse before competition. Weavers and other workers were left without
employment and had no alternative but to fall back on the land. The land, however,
did not welcome them. According to J .C. Jha, British land policy in India had
sought to create and perpetuate a class of large landowners to the detriment of the
small peasant proprietors through, for example, the permanent settlement of
Bengal in 1793.
This settlement destroyed the land tenure rights of small holders while
increasing the powers of landlords or zamindars over the tenants or ryots." This
situation was further aggravated by the recurrent famines in north India during the
19th century which affected peasants and rural artisans whose conditions were
worsened by the annexation of Oudh to the British Empire in 1856.7
Within India itself one of the apparent effects of this combination of
destructive colonial policy with natural hazards was the migration of those
affected to the towns from surrounding areas. For these landless unemployed,
facing the increasing competition for survival in the towns, emigration to the
British colonies was one alternative.
The system of indentureship was organized through two Emigration Agents
in Calcutta and Madras. They were responsible for the recruiting, safe-keeping
and transportation of immigrants from India to the Colonies. In each recruiting
territory there was an Agent-general of immigration later known as the Protector
of the Immigrants. They and their staff were responsible for the receiving and
assigning of immigrants to estates, looking after their well-being health,
food, working conditions and the prosecution of estate owners who failed to
provide adequately in any of these areas.
In spite of the experience of Caribbean slavery where women engaged in
plantation labour manifested a higher survival rate than their male counterparts,8
the planters adopted the notion of women as unproductive and generated policies
from this idea, The relations of production between planters and their female
indentured labourers must, however, not be seen only in ideological terms but also
as resulting from the planters' initial unwillingness to finance the cost of
reproducing a second generation of workers in the Caribbean. This fact went a
long way in creating the possibilities for Indian women's independence in the
Recruitment Policy and the Reproduction of the Labour Force.
From its inception, Indian indentureship in Trinidad, as in all receiving
territories, was characterized by a numerical disparity between the sexes: far fewer
women were recruited and a number of reasons could be used to explain this. In
India, since the 19th century to the present, unlike in most other countries of the
world, the ratio of women to men in the population is much lower. In 1911, the
ratio of women to men in the United Provinces was 915 to 1,0009 while in the
Punjab and Delhi, at this time, the ratio was only 817 women to every 1,000 men.' o
Recruiting therefore took place in a situation of an already existing unequal sex
Throughout the indentureship period, the approach towards the recruitment
of women varied over time in relation to the desire of the plantocracy and the
exigencies of the recruiting situation as mediated through the policies of the
colonial authorities. Some of these have already been identified and include the
relative necessity to reproduce the labour force locally, the need to stabilize the
male labour force and the problems incurred in securing the 'right kind of woman'.
During the early period therefore, as noted by Ramnarine," while the
planters were interested in immigration as a source of direct labour, women as a
source of labour were seen as financial liabilities due to the financial risks of
child-bearing and child-rearing.
"Thus, in the early period, little encouragement was given to family
migration or for women to migrate. In addition, the supposed 'natural weakness'
of women was assumed to be another discouraging factor and, in a search for
'able-bodied' labour, few women were recruited. During the initial phase
therefore between 1845 and 1848 no legal restrictions on the proportion of males
to females existed. At least two authors, Weller and Cumpston, stated that
encouragement was given to men to bring their wives and families.'2 However,
this could not have been very successful. In 1857, the ratio was set at one woman
to three men (1:3) and in 1859 it was changed to one to two (1:2). In 1860, due to
difficulties in recruiting the 'right type of women' this was reduced to one to four
(1:4) by Act XLVI of 1860. According to Weller,13 the Protector of the Emigrants
in Calcutta had the discretionary power to alter this standard.
The main areas of recruitment were the markets, railway stations, bazaars
and temples. The main towns in the north were 'nakas' between Delhi and Benares
and included Allahabad, Fyzabad and Agra. Muttra (Mathura) was apparently a
main area for the recruitment of women.'4 From time to time although statements
were made against the recruitment of women from these areas because of their
'low moral character' similar reservations were never made about men recruited
from these same areas. The emigration-agents were at pains to explain to the
planters and the Colonial Office the difficulties of obtaining the 'better class of
women' and pointed out that these, if recruited, would be totally unsuited to estate
Certain magistrates carried out thorough investigations of single women's
backgrounds before they would allow them to migrate. This was usually done
through the police and could take from one to three months.15 The women's
statements were not accepted. An obvious disqualification was, of course, the
manifestation of pregnancy by single women during the waiting period. Known
prostitutes or those who were described as 'coarse low caste females' were also
disqualified. But in periods of great shortage these controls could not be
maintained and this contradictory situation was never adequately resolved. In
1913, Mr A. Maisden, the Trinidad Government Emigration Agent writing from
Calcutta to the Under Secretary of State in the Colonial Office, had this to say:
S. .it is in the recruiting of women that more than half our
difficulties in emigration consist, and which causes recruiters to get
such a bad name, and fall into disfavour with magistrates. In one
district where the recruitment of women had come to a full stop for
several months a new Magistrate was appointed who refused to
register any woman for the colonies unless the recruiter who
presented the woman at the Court for registration gave some
evidence that he had been to the woman's village and obtained the
sanction of her husband for her to go abroad. The recruiter replied
if I do this I shall get my throat cut as the husband will be sure to
attribute the cause of the woman's leaving her home to my
influence, no matter how little truth there may be in the allegation.'6
By the mid-19th century, much concern was being voiced over the 'kind of
women' who were being recruited. Many of the alterations in the official
recruitment ratios were made with this in mind. Throughout the period,
contradictions continued between the planters' short-term preference for adult
male migration and their long-term need for a self-reproducing, cheap and stable
labour force. Among the male Indian workers, their desire for docile, secluded and
controllable women as befitted their aspirations for higher caste status, conflicted
with the planters' need for women as labourers and the non-availability of women
of 'the right kind' for migration to the colonies. The effect of this latter
contradiction was manifested in the increasing violence among Indian men over
women and towards women in all recruiting territories during the latter half of the
19th century.'7 In July 1868, therefore, the proportion was again increased, this
time to 1: 2, but the Government of Bengal complained that this would lead to the
recruitment of 'a low caste of women' mainly 'prostitutes'. The figure was altered
once more by the Government of India to 1:3 but finally it was fixed by the
Colonial Office at 2:5.'8
This did not persist and, according to Weller, in 1878-79 the proportion was
once again reduced to 1: 4 on the plea that females migrating prior to 31 October
that year had had a high mortality rate.19 The recruiters used this opportunity to
turn back family groups and individual women and to send single men. Contrary to
common belief, the majority of Indian women came to the Caribbean not as wives
or daughters, but as individual women. As late as 1915 the commissioners, McNeil
and Lal, described the composition of women indentured labourers thus.
The women who came out consist as to one-third of married
women who accompany their husbands, the remainder being
mostly widows and women who have run away from their
husbands or been put away by them. A small percentage are
ordinary prostitutes. Of the women who emigrate otherwise than
with their husbands and parents the great majority are not, as they
are frequently represented to be shamelessly immoral. They are
women who have got into trouble and apparently emigrate to
escape from a life of promiscuous prostitution which seems to be
the alternative to emigration... What appears to be true as regards a
substantial number is that they ran away from home alone or
accompanied by some one by whom they were abandoned, that
they drifted into one of the large recruiting centres and after a time,
were picked up by the recruiter.20
Following on this observation, it is interesting to note the types of women
who did migrate. Of the two-thirds who were not wives of migrating husbands, the
majority as mentioned earlier were widows. In India then as now, in many cases
the position of widows was particularly abhorrent. In particular, Brahmin widows
and those of other twice-born castes who, in spite of certain possible escapes
suffered the stigma of impurity, were forbidden to remarry and were forced to live
miserable lives in the homes of their in-laws. In particular, the case of child
widows was especially difficult and was an issue eventually taken up by the
nationalist movement.2 As a result of this, Brahmin widows comprised a large
proportion of those migrating.
The remaining number usually comprised women who had left their
husbands or been deserted by them for whom prostitution or destitution was the
only remaining alternative in India. A smaller number included unmarried women
who were pregnant or already practising prostitutes seeking anew life. Thus, it can
be seen that the decision to emigrate, in itself, was a sign of the independent
character of these women and the decision to emigrate alone was a sign of their
strength. According to David Dodd writing on British Guiana.
many of the women who did come to the colony tended to be
already more independent and self-seeking than those whose
fathers, husbands and brothers decided that they should not go .22
This contrasts greatly with the commonly-held image of the docile, meek
Indian woman arriving five steps behind her husband. Within India itself, the
usefulness of this image for certain categories of women was recognized by the
In 1882-83, Tinker noted that two reports were forwarded to the Indian
government on this question. The first was by Sir Alfred Lyall, Lieutenant/General
of the North Western provinces, and Major D. J. Pitcher.23 They believed that:
a very large proportion of the women who now emigrate are
persons who have been turned out of the home, or have lost their
friends by famine or pestilence; some were Hindu girls who have
been forced to become Muslims in some inter-communal quarrel;
many were widows; therefore women might benefit more by
The other report was written by G. A. Grierson, a scholar of ethnographic
and linguistic studies. It was forwarded by the secretary of the Bengal government
to the Indian government in March, 1883.25
'Grierson also saw emigration as a necessary outlet for women in
trouble. He asserted that the best sort of female recruit was drawn
from those abandoned and unfaithful wives who could make a
fresh start by getting out of the home environment (the only
alternative for them was prostitution). Many magistrates refused to
register an absconding wife; but said Grierson, women have rights
too, and if an alienated wife was determined to go, no officer has
the right to stop her',
According to Tinker, 'It was a radical suggestion within the conservatism of
Indian society and Anglo-Indian officialdom'. These two reports, however, did
have some effect and once more the ratio of two to five (2:5) was advanced. It is
interesting to note that the social reality of life in India did not always conform to
the ideology of 'conservatism' which was and is often propounded: women were
'deserted' or abandoned or had children outside of marriage. It is possible that the
government of India saw this as an opportunity to rid itself of some of the
Reports vary as to the actual nature of the recruitment process. It is possible
that differences can be explained chronologically. But it is also possible, that in
anyone period different methods were used, depending on the character of the
recruiters. The main question usually discussed in relation to this is the extent to
which people had come of their own free will and the extent to which they had
been forced to come. If one attempted to use the two approaches mentioned above,
it is possible to suggest that at all times both were used. Tinker points out that a
clear correlation can be seen between, increases in migration and years of
economic difficulty. For example, he states:
Thus in 1860-61, there was famine in the North-Western Provinces
and a high departure rate from Calcutta (17,899 in 1860 and 22,600
in 1861). The year 1865 -66 produced famine in Orissa and Bihar
and a high emigration (19,963) while from 1873-75 there was acute
scarcity in Bihar, Oudh and the North-Western Provinces... 2
While this general rule with regard to migration could largely be accepted,
the recruitment of women presented special problems. After the initial period
when no specific sex proportions were laid down, the effects in the colonies were
such as to make the recruitment of women an issue throughout the period of
immigration. The independence of character of the first female recruits left much
to be desired as far as the planters and Indian men were concerned. To a large
extent both groups desired women who could facilitate a certain degree of
'stability' in estate life, who could accept a subordinate position and also work
diligently in the fields. The following letter gives an example of this feeling:
April 26, 1851.
I have the Honour to report the arrival of the 'Eliza Stewart" with
173 Coolies on board.
The number is small, but the appearances and condition of the
people are highly commended.
There is but a small proportion of women (eleven) which is to be
I am happy to say that a great number of Coolies who have
completed their five years have declared themselves ready to
accept the bounty. Ifa cargo entirely of women could be sent over, I
have little doubt that the greater number of the Coolies would
remain here permanently.
I have the honour to be My Lord
Your Lordship's Most Obedient Humble Servant
The Right Honourable Earl Grey
There was clearly a need for some women as a means of keeping
experienced male workers in the country and as available labour themselves on the
estates. Later in the century, the need for women became increasingly apparent,
but the old contradiction of the 'kind of women' continued to rear its head. In
1891, the sex ratio for the entire Indian population in Trinidad was 637 women to
In 1893 therefore surgeon-major D. W. D. Comins recommended the
reduction in the period of indentureship for women from five to two years as a
means of encouraging the migration of women.28 In making this
recommendation, which was eventually accepted, Comins was pandering to the
prevailing ideology within the Indian and Trinidad ruling classes, which accepted
the definition of women as 'housewives' and of seclusion as a sign of high caste
status. The hypocrisy of this ideology, however, and the way in which it was/is
used to mask women's productive contribution to the society and economy were
clear in his addendum to this recommendation. He assured the planters that, after
the two-year indentureship period, he was certain that the husbands would not
allow their wives to 'sit idle' if plentiful and good wages were available.29 By the
early 20th century, the recruitment of women became a much more serious issue as
complaints were being made to the Government of India and increasing opposition
was emerging against the 'slavery of Indian men and the prostitution of Indian
women'. It is interesting to note the way in which the exploitation of women was
characterized, not in terms of their work as labourers, but in terms of their morals.
In other words, while the realization of men's life-potential was seen in terms of
their labour and work, for women who were also workers, it was seen in terms of
the necessity to control their sexuality. In this period, therefore, in an effort to:
(i) ensure a self-reproducing labouring population in the face of the
threats to end emigration;
(ii) supply an adequate number of women to stabilize the male
(iii) to assuage complaints that women were placed beyond the
control of their menfolk and leading an independent life, family
migration was reluctantly supported.
In response to the demands for an increased number of women migrants, in
the early 20th century new rates of commission were established which offered a
much higher commission for women than for men. At the same time, however,
attempts were made to place more stringent controls on the type of women
In 1915, for example, Mr C. W. Doorly, emigration agent in Madras,
informed the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies of recent changes in rates
of commission for recruitment. The new rates were
Original Rates Men Women
1-10 35 45
11-20 45 60
Over 21 55 70
Alterations beginning October
1-10 35 55
11-20 40 70
Over 21 45 80
He gave as reasons for these alterations the difficulties he was having in
filling the required quota of women. He said,
the continued scramble for women does undoubtedly lead
recruiters to take a certain number of persons who are not desirable
emigrants. As an instance, I may mention by occasion of my last
shipment to British Guiana. I was very short of women and yet in a
week prior to the embarkation I had to reject nearly 20 women as
In 1916 and 1917, the period immediately preceding the abolition of the
system of indentureship, great debate ensued within colonial circles in India on
this question. In August 1916, W. M. Hailey, Chief Commissioner of Delhi,
argued that "if a high proportion is insisted on, the females will always tend to
comprise a proportion of prostitutes and women who were seeking to escape their
husbands or their families. .,," This view was shared by many others who, after
years of experience, distrusted the establishment of proportions as a means of
dealing with this 'problem'. In December 1916, in a pamphlet 'Labour in Fiji', Mr
Andrews advised that a bonus be given to men migrating to encourage 'the taking
out of female children by married persons' rather than recruit a number of
'unattached women'. On this same issue, E. L. Hammond, Secretary to the
Government of India, argued that married emigrants should be encouraged to take
their families with them to the colonies; that greater facilities be given to
unmarried immigrants to find wives among the free population and married
immigrants whose families had been left behind be given part of the costs of
bringing them over.32 In December that same year, Sir Wilmot G. Golvin, chief
commissioner of Ajmer-Merwara, also rejected the fixing of sex proportions and
instead recommended the giving of'large bonuses in the case of Fiji and Trinidad
for married couples taking out daughters of age between 10 and 14 and bonuses of
less amount in similar cases emigrating to Jamaica and British Guiana' ,
In 1917 the debate continued, but the emigration agent took on a more
defensive posture. Mr Doorly, emigration agent for Madras, argued that:
It must be borne in mind that genuine field labourers such as the
planters require can be obtained only from the lowest castes i.e.
from the non-moral class of the population. A more moral type is
found higher in the social scale, but such women would be useless
in the fields...
In my view, the class of women recruited during the recent years is
not an undesirable class for the men who accompany them and who
are drawn from the same social stratum as themselves.. .
To prove that family migration was accepted out of the needs of planters,
Doody in another confidential letter noted that, while he had always favoured
family recruitment, the Colonies always objected to receiving dependents. 'Now'.
however, he admitted, 'we must look to families for our chief source of supply and
in order to get them we must take a fair number of old and broken down. .
dependents. ,. Unfortunately it was too late to have much effect on the existing
system. Many of these recommendations were incorporated into new proposals
made initially in 1917 for the replacement of the system of indentureship by one of
assisted migration. By 1917, however, in response to the great public outcry in
India, the system was abolished.
For a number of reasons, the majority of Indian women who came to the
Caribbean were not the docile, subordinate wives which the traditional
understanding of Caribbean history would have us believe. In spite of the many
cases of kidnapping, enticement and false information, it is clear that a large
proportion of women did make a conscious decision to seek a new life elsewhere.36
Unfortunately, their intentions did not fit in with those of the planters or the Indian
men in the Colonies and already at this recruitment stage attempts were made to
control the situation.
Women's Labour in Plantation and Peasant Production
Much less consistent data exist on the exact nature and character of estate
work than exist on recruiting. There is general agreement .that it was hard and
inhuman but exact details of changes over the entire period are hard to come by.
Most ot the data easily available are relevant to the latter period when changes had
been made after various commissions had reported, and not for the earlier period.
Most of the information on estate labour is derived from these reports
1. Surgeon-Major D. W. Comins, Note on Emigration from India
to Trinidad, 1893.
2. Report on Emigration from India to the Crown Colonies and
Protectorates (Part I) and Minutes on Evidence and Papers laid
before the Committee (Part II), 1910. (The Sanderson Report).
3. James MacNeil and Chaimman Lal, Report to the Government
of India on the Conditions of Indian Immigrants in the Four
British Colonies and Surinam (part 1) Trinidad and British
Unfortunately, many historians writing on indenture have ignored this fact
and taken this information of the latter eighteen (18) years of indentureship to be
relevant for the entire seventy-two year period.
Plantation work in general meant work on sugar estates but it also included
work on cocoa and coconut estates. As would be expected, tasks differed. On
sugar estates, the degree of work varied with the season of the year. During the
production season, work continued up to 15 hours a day and all indentured
labourers men, women and children were involved. Most work was allocated
according to 'tasks' a kind of piece-rate system' and the 1875 Ordinance
specified five tasks a week to an immigrant.
The main occupations on the estates as outlined by D. W. Comins for
Woodbrook Estate37 were:
35c per day
Banking chiefly by contract
and free Coolies
Forking, burying trash
Cane cutters, chiefly free
Cane carriers at mill
25c per 450 holes
25c per day
$6'/2 per acre
40c for 6,000 to 7,000 ft.
40c for 4,000 ft.
10 per 100 holes
10c to 15c per day
25c for 20 to 55 rods
25c to 30c per day
25c to 30c per day
30c per day
35c per day
While in general wages were low for all indentured labourers, for women it
was even lower. Comins noted that 'women, boys and weakly men are given
permanently some sum less than 25 cents per task because it has been decided that
they are unable to do a full task.. .'" (my emphasis). McNeill and Lal found that
women normally earned 'about' one-half to two-thirds the wages of male
immigrants,.39 Even in periods of high season when, for example, at Palmiste
Estate in 1891, men got 50, 60 and 70 cents for a task, all women received a flat
rate of 25 cents a day on task-work.4 In addition to the payment of low wages,
Comins found on some estates the practice of carrying forward 'an ever
accumulating debt' for rations supplied to women during pregnancy. This resulted
in them earning no wages for months or years.4
Some writers found, however, that in spite of wage differentials, some
women could earn a gross salary almost equal to that of the men by doing more
tasks and/or working extra hours. For example, McNeill and Lal found that
The best woman workers earn almost as much as the average man.. .42
Unfortunately, the wage differentials in most instances served their
traditional purpose of making the Indian woman dependent on men in spite of the
fact that they were full-time workers. This practice, although universally in
existence, was contrary to the terms of agreement made in India which stated that
adults over 10 years should be paid as adults with no differentiation made for
women, weakly men, boys or girls.43
The appendix to the Sanderson Report gives a breakdown of wages on
various estates. Ross Shiels44 noted that the statistics given in this report are often
incomplete and inadequate, but are nevertheless used for an illustrative rather than
an accurate analytical purpose, helpful in the absence of comparable data.5
A further factor differentiating female indentured labour, especially during
the latter period, was the length of indenture. As the pressure to encourage large
numbers of 'respectable' females to emigrate grew, a number of actions were
taken to facilitate this. In the mid-1890s therefore the indentureship period for
women was limited to three years.46 While a few 'well-off Indian men could afford
to keep their wives at home, the large majority of women did continue to work on
the estates. This change was used as a bait to encourage men to migrate with their
wives, during this latter period when family migration was encouraged. In 1892
when Comins recommended the reduction of the indentureship period of women
to two years, he assured the planters that he was certain that the husbands would
not allow their wives to 'sit idle' if plentiful and good wages were available,47
although he noted in his 'Diary' that 'The women are so well off that many of them
do not work' .8 Another source, however, states that in 1891 when the sex
distribution for the entire Indian population was 637 females to 1,000 males, there
were 14,131 female agricultural labourers to 26,771 male.49 This view is also
supported by Shiels who stated that not only did the majority of women continue
working after the three-year period but they worked harder during the next two.o5
Brechin Castle Estate 1st April, 1907 31st March. 1908 Average Wage
1. Average Wage per Day Actually Worked
Number of Average Actual Average wage per
days worked per Total wages earned d perhe
Immigrants head day per head
Males 461 195.44 $22,830.44
Females 181 94.02 3,512.85 20.64 cts.
2. Average Wage Earned per Legal Working Day
Number of Av e A l Average wage per
Immigrants days worked per Total wages earned day per head
Immigrants head day per head
Males 461 280 $22,830.44
Females 181 3,512.85 6.93 cts.
3. Average Wage Earned per Day at 365 Days per Annum
Number of Average Actual Average wage per
Iumber of days worked per Total wages earned day per head
Immigrants head day per head
Males 461 365 $22,830.44
Females 181 3,512.85 5.31cts.
During the late 19th century, the Trinidad sugar industry faced one of its
perennial economic crises. Among the measures taken to control the falling rate of
profit was the introduction of cane farming in conjunction with the reduction of
wages. The system of cane farming, like most peasant proprietorship, was based
on the existence of at least the basic nuclear family where the wife would work 'at
home' in cane production and subsistence food production but could provide
additional labour on estates when needed during harvests. Men on the other hand
continued to work on the estates but could contribute to their private production
during their spare time. This system served a number of purposes for the planter by
providing a ready reservoir of cheap labour; providing an alternative source of
sugar cane, thus removing dependence on wage-labour (in the light of numerous
.strikes during this period); and subsidising wages by allowing workers to produce
a certain proportion of their own food (Johnson, 1971).51
Between 1869 and 1879, therefore, 19,055 acres of Crown Land were given
to Indian immigrants in lieu of return passage and between 1885 and 1900 a further
37,256 acres of Crown Land was sold to Indians.52 This system allowed many men
to fulfil their desire for a 'secluded' wife who did not labour for a wage on the
estates. This withdrawal of women from plantations to peasant production also
fitted in with the overall colonial policy of defining all women first as
'housewives' as this was the period when Indian men were being supported by the
Colonial State in the reconstruction of their family system in the colonies. Thus,
the yard-stick eventually used to determine whether suitable conditions existed on
an estate was in terms of men's labour. The Sanderson Report said;
It is provided in the Ordinance (#70) that when by the returns of the
Protector is that 30 per cent of the adult males indentured to any
estate during the year earn a wage averaging less than 6d. per diem
for the whole 365 days, it shall not be lawful for the Protector to
entertain any application for fresh immigrants on behalf of that
plantation ... (my emphasis).58
In spite of a relatively sizable working female population on the estate their
wages were of no consequence in determining conditions on the estate. This
criterion was uncritically accepted by the Trinidad Workingmen's Association
(TWA) in their fight against immigration.
With few exceptions, Indian women, like their African counterparts before
them, came to the Caribbean as workers and not as dependents or, as the planters
wished to portray them, 'for other purposes'. During the initial stages, the planters
were unwilling to cover the costs of the local reproduction of their labour force
which large numbers of female workers apparently implied. At later periods,
however, the ideology of woman as 'unproductive labour' facilitated their
exploitation as cheap labour at half the cost of male labour; through their
availability as part-time labour during harvests and eventually as a means of
reproducing the cheap labour force when indentured migration was abolished.
Social and Domestic Organization
As alluded to earlier, one of the main factors affecting the position of Indian
women in Trinidad and Tobago was the low proportion of women in relation to
men. That this was considered a major problem by the State, the Church and the
men is apparent from the records. The following table gives an idea of the sex ratio
between 1871 and 1911.
Sex Ratios (Male per 1,000 females) Among Estimated Net Immigrants
to Trinidad, 1871-1911
Period East Indian Other
1871- 1881 2,143 1,101
1881 1891 2,117 1,246
1891 -1901 1,748 1,147
1901 1911 3,037 744
Source: Jack Harewood: The Population of Trinidad and Tobago, CICRED Series, 1975.
The records, as would be expected, express the views of the dominant
groups. Nowhere, except in quotations, is the voice of women heard.54 Even the
oppressed Indian men through their illustrious letter writer Mohammed Orfy were
able to have their views made public. The way in which the women perceived their
situation, therefore, has to be judged from their actions and analysed without
colonial and religious moralism. As to how women were perceived by these
various institutions the following quotations give us some idea.
The Presbyterian Church
'There were no zenanas in Trinidad.55 Our women immigrants are
not recruited from the class that in India are shut up in zenanas. In
Trinidad they find themselves of added importance through the
small proportion of their sex. They have great freedom of
intercourse and much evil example around them. Sad to say they
often show themselves to be as degraded as they are ignorant. On
the other hand many are beautiful and lovable, faithful to their
husbands and devoted to their children. This however is by no
means the rule.56
'S.E.M. (Sarah Morton) The loose notions and prevailing
practices in respect of marriage here are quite shocking to the
new-comer. I said to an East Indian woman whom I knew to be a
widow of a Brahman, "You have no relations in Trinidad, I
believe". "No Madame", she replied, "only myself and two
children; when the last (Immigrant) ship came in I took a papa. I
will keep him so long as he treats me well. If he does not treat me
well, I shall send him off at once; that's the right way is it not?"
This will be to some a new view on woman's rights.57
The Colonial State
'The proportion of Indian females in the colony is so much smaller
than that of males that it is impossible for every man to have a wife
of his own even if he wished to have one. This evil is also increased
by the fact that in some cases Indians, such as shopkeepers,
landholders etcetera who are in comfortable circumstances have
more than one wife and though they may be married to one, keep
another as a concubine.. .'58
'Predisposition to immorality among women emigrants.
The Government of India in paragraph 7 of its despatch observes
that it is inevitable under existing conditions that among female
immigrants there should be "a large proportion of persons who are
prostitutes, social outcasts or who have been unhappy in their
domestic relations". These persons besides being prone to immoral
conduct themselves must by their example exercise a corrupting
influence on the respectable women who are compelled under
present conditions to live in barracks with them. .'
another most disgraceful concern, which is most prevalent and a
perforating plague, is the high percentage of immoral lives led by
the female section of our community. They are enticed, seduced
and frightened into becoming concubines, and paramours to satisfy
the greed and lust of the male section of quite a different race to
... they have absolutely no knowledge whatever of the value of
being in. virginhood and become, most shameless and a perfect
menace, to the Indian gentry.'60
'Is it permissible for a male member of the Christian faith to keep a
hindoo [sic] or muslim female as his paramour or concubine? Is
this not an act of sacrilege and a disgraceful scandal according to
the Christian faith to entice and encourage Indian females to lead
immoral lives? It is a burning shame, and a grave cancer of a
disgraceful and scandalous nature, which is predominantly
amongst the females of India. This tends to prove most detrimental
to the welfare in general to our community. Is it plausible that as
those females desire to live as paramours with males of a different
race to hers. Fathers nor husbands, nor brothers, who are their
lawful protectors have power over them and are not in the least
heard when such matters are brought before the authorities; all the
consolation these lawful protectors derive are, so long as the girls
are pleased, no one has power to interfere.' 6
What is evident from these quotations is that many Indian women, probably
for the first time in their lives, got an opportunity to exercise a degree of control
over their social and sexual lives which they had never had before. As pointed out
in an earlier section, the majority of women who did migrate were already
independent women who were seeking a hew life. These were hardly the type of
women who would fall back into the oppressive life patterns from which they had
fled. This situation in relation to the women differed greatly from the desires of the
men. To them migration was an attempt at improving their economic and if
possible their caste status. The practice known as 'sanskritization', common in
other areas of high Hindu migration, was not absent here. Maria Mies in her book
Indian Women and Patriarchy shows clearly the increased restrictions on the
social, sexual and economic freedom of women the higher up the caste and/ or
economic ladder. In fact a restricted wife was/is a sign of high caste. That this
was/is the position, at least of Mohammed Orfy (although apparently muslim), is
clear by the use of the words 'Indian gentry' to describe the indentured or
ex-indentured labourers in Trinidad and Tobago. These words obviously express
an aspiration on their part to recreate themselves as an Indian gentry in Trinidad.
Many writers on this subject have chosen either to ignore the situation of
Indian women in this period or to accept the judgments based on colonial and
religious moralism. Tyran Ramnarine, for example, writing on British Guiana,
noted that 'This Ordinance (16 of 1894) apparently brought no improvement in the
class of women recruited. .' (my emphasis), while J. A. Weller noted that the
'paucity of women created various sorts of immorality in the depot, on shipboard
and in the colony' .62 These authors accepted uncritically these definitions of
morality as well as the class prejudices of the colonial authorities. It is, however, in
relation to the registration of non-Christian marriages that most of the discussion
has taken place.
In discussing the question of marriages, one first has to come to terms with
the phenomenon of 'depot marriages'. According to Tinker, in spite of the strict
segregation of the sexes, relationships did develop between them. It is interesting
that while still on the Indian sub-continent, people were willing to disregard caste,
religion and custom, and get married. One can suggest that among the poorer
agricultural classes/castes from which the majority of the immigrants were drawn,
restrictions on marriages were less strict. Or the explanations could be seen on a
more subjective level as Tinker.
The advantage to the man is obvious: he had someone to cook for him and to
attend to him in a society where females were very scarce. But there was also
advantage to the woman in securing a protector in a savage new environment, and
in establishing some sort of recognized position in a social order, which held no
place for an adult single woman.6
These marriages were, however, the exception rather than the rule, for
Ramnarine notes that among the 4,000 adults who travelled to Guiana in 1892, 421
marriages took place on board ships.64 These marriages, despite their legality, had
no claim on stability after the arrival of the ships. Indian women apparently
preferred to leave their 'depot hus bands' for men who had lived longer on the
colony and could offer them a better standard of living. So great was this problem
that by 1882 the immigration authorities in Trinidad and Tobago were considering
the possibility of registering these marriages 12 months after the immigrants'
arrival in the country.
In relation to the legal registration of marriages which had taken place in the
country other problems arose. These arose from the fact that the majority of
Indians saw no necessity to register their marriages at a government's registration
office when an elaborate wedding ritual had already taken place. In India itself
there was no need for registration. The discussion on this subject has occurred
extensively.65 Much of the discussion (not necessarily in these texts) has centred
around the obvious failure of the Colonial government to automatically accept
Hindu and Muslim marriages as being legally constituted. Most writers quite
rightly condemned this as the means through which thousands of Indians were
robbed of their land and other inheritances by being declared 'illegitimate' as well
as being debarred from attending secondary schools. With the exception of
Professor J. C. Jha, few have sought to explain why, in spite of the immeasurable
economic and social loss incurred by this practice, the majority of the Indian
population, up until the 1930s, refused the relatively easy solution of registering
their marriages. The following may serve as an explanation.
In 1893, Sarah Morton noted a case where a father had sold his daughter nine
times for money and goods and on each occasion had refused to deliver her .66
Similar instances were noted by other authors. Tinker noted that this was common
in all receiving countries. He states:
Because females remained in scarce supply the parents reversed the
usual Indian custom of providing a dowry for their daughter when
she became a bride and often instead demanded a bride-price. .67
Among the labouring classes (and tribals) from among whom the majority of
migrants came, bride-price and not dowry was the norm. In their new situation,
however, girl children did gain an increased value due to the shortage of women.
Weller noted that 'female infant children were considered a valuable addition to a
family and were reared with great care' 68 This improvement in the 'marketability'
of girl children by their fathers did not really represent an improvement in their
position per se. Rather, child marriage from as early as ten years became the rule.
The advantage of this new situation, however, was that women could now,
on their own accord, leave one husband for another or have parallel relationships
with more than one man. Sarah Morton noted with dismay many such cases,
including one where the mother left her child with its father when leaving to go to
live with another man. Of course, reports vary as to the degree to which women left
one man for another or were enticed or seduced away from one man to another.
Proponents of the former position viewed this action as immoral, while proponents
of the latter viewed the woman as hapless, childlike victims of adult, worldly men.
In either case, the independent intelligence or decision-making capacity of the
woman was not considered. The independence of the Indian woman was seen
therefore as a source of shame by the Indian man. In addition, the inability to have
one woman upon whom he could exercise all the power and authority denied in a
colonial situation only added fuel to the fire.
It was for this reason therefore that around 1880, according to Weller, 274
Indian men in the presence of the Presbyterian Reverends Morton, Grant and
Christie petitioned the government for the right to prosecute an unfaithful spouse
and her partner in guilt in the magistrates court, the complaint court or the supreme
court with damages of 10, 25 or more or imprisonment. The wife was to be
imprisoned if she did not return to her husband. In other words, the men sought
less to punish the women than to possess and control them. These
recommendations were accepted and promulgated as the Indian Immigrant
Marriage and Divorce Ordinance, No.6 of 1861, which was later incorporated into
the Immigration Ordinance of 1889.69
The law was one means through which the Indian men sought to re-establish
control over their women in a situation which denied them any other source of
power. In addition to this, another weapon more easily available to them was used.
A weapon used by men internationally to maintain control over women violence
and in the specific case of the sugar plantation, the cutlass (machete). One
Guyanese clergyman, Archdeacon Josa, sympathetically put it this way:
Is it any wonder then that the Hindu who, according to his own
religion, is so far superior to the woman, when he finds that his wife
has proved unfaithful takes his 'cutlass' and makes mincemeat of
such a thing? He considers woman a mere chattel, we feel for the
man. We could almost wish that capital punishment were abolished
for such as he until he learns to understand that woman is his equal
his helpmate his wife.70
The murder of women was a phenomenon common to all areas of high
Indian migration. Trinidad and Tobago was by no means at the head of the list.
According to Donald Wood, between 1859 and 1863 twenty-seven (27) murders
were committed by Indians and in each case it involved the wife or mistress of the
murderer.71 In British Guiana between 1885 and 1890, 40 murders of women
occurred of which 33 were of wives killed by husbands or reputed husbands.72
But not only did the men kill women; to a lesser extent they killed other men and/or
committed suicide. To some extent, these actions had the effect of stereotyping
Indian men but this violence had the much more lasting and important effect of
placing Indian women once more firmly under the control of the men through the
reconstruction, albeit in a different setting, of the Indian patriarchal family system.
That violence was necessary for such a reconstruction is apparent. The
continuous letters of Mohammed Orfy to the Secretary of State for the Colonies,
the Indian government and numerous other authorities bear testimony to this. In
addition, the inclusion of clauses in the immigration ordinances prohibiting the
harbouringg of an immigrant's wife', and the continuous court cases resulting from
breaches against this law, are all evidence of the struggle which ensued. The
Indian woman did not 'naturally' give up ,her new found freedom as some writers
would have us believe, but was forced to do so and kept in that position through
similar means. This is not to deny, however, that the equalisation in the proportion
between the sexes over a period of time would have had the effect of changing the
relationship between the sexes.
The dissolution of caste endogamy was another important effect of this
situation. Although the majority of migrants came from the lower agricultural
castes, it is known that members of higher castes including Brahmins and
Kshatriyas (mainly Rajputs) also came.73 Indeed, Donald Wood goes so far as to
suggest that between 1845 and 1870 Brahmins comprised the second largest caste
represented among the immigrants.74 Wood notes that Brahmins falsified their
castes in order to be allowed to migrate as they could be rejected by the officials as
unsuitable labourers.75 In addition it was known that a large number of the widows
who migrated were from the higher castes where widow remarriage was totally
forbidden. On the whole, most of the five main factors governing Hindu marriage -
endogamy, exogamy, prohibited kin, virgin marriage and hypergamy were
irreparably broken down. In the case of the last mentioned, hypergamy, Brahmin
widows formed relationships with and/or married men of lower castes and the
opposite occurred to a much greater degree. Comins noted in 1893 that
Thousands of men have been for years past living with women who
are not of the same caste with the result that their children would in
India be looked on as outcasts; I refer here of course to the Hindu
part of the population.. .76
Attempts to re-establish strict caste endogamy had much less success as it
was obviously in the interests of only a minority in the Hindu community.
Similarly, among Muslims (as among Hindus), the practice of polygamy
was virtually impossible. Comins noted in 1890 that among the 282 marriages
declared on arrival, there were six cases in which two women were entered as the
wives of one man.7 He did not state the religions involved. Polygamy is in theory
permissible for all Hindus but, in practice, rare. In a situation such as existed in the
migrant colonies, more often than not the opposite situation of consecutive
It was through the Church that the Christian community was able to establish
its greatest influence over Indian women. This was through the Canadian
Presbyterian Indian Education system. This mission began work in 1862 under
Reverend John and Sarah Morton and they worked specifically among the Indians.
The views of Sarah E. Morton on Indian womanhood have already been expressed
in this paper; her efforts to change it call for an analysis of the Mission's education
By 1890, Comins noted, there were 49 East Indian schools with 1,958 boys
and 926 girls, with an average attendance of 1,876 pupils.78 He also noted that
while education of boys comprised industrial training and land cultivation that for
girls comprised 'Needlework and cutting-out underclothing.. .'79 This finding did
not diverge greatly from the stated aims of Mission Education as outlined by John
Morton, which was '. .. to teach the largest number the three R's, a knowledge of
the way of life and duty, and to the girls sewing'."8 Comins found that very few
children of indentured labourers attended school. One can only suggest that they
were too busy working on the estates. On visiting Tunapuna Presbyterian School
on 11 June 1891, he found 12 Indian girls present and was informed by the
mistress, Miss Blackadder, that the girls were 'merely sent here to be taken care of
to save their mothers trouble, and not for any educational advantages they might
Post-primary education of girls usually meant an extension of
housewife-oriented training. In 1890 a 'Home for Christian girls' was opened with
the express purpose of developing girls who 'would naturally be qualified above
all others to be wives of our helpers' (my emphasis) or Biblewomen for the
This imposition of Western European middle-class housewife ideology
taught in all 'Indian schools', when combined with a strengthened Indian
patriarchal family system re-established partly through violence, served to create
the prototype of the submissive, subordinate, docile Indian housewife who many
would have us believe followed her husband from India. On the contrary, the
women of the agricultural castes were not then or now housewives. The
prerogative of a zenana or secluded housewife was not that of the majority of
Indian men who migrated during the indentureship period. But it was their
aspiration and in this they were supported by the Colonial Church and State.
The position of women in the colonies was one of the main 'whipping
horses' of the Indian nationalists against migration. It reflected the colonials'
acceptance of Victorian ideology on immorality and 'women's place'. As noted
before, the campaign was seen as one against 'the slavery of men and the
prostitution of women'. The reports on the 'immorality' of women in the colonies
were seen as inflicting a blot on the image of India which should be removed.
Because of this emphasis on women, the campaign made much use of women's
organizations associated with the nationalist movement. Meetings held throughout
India, mainly among middle and upper-class 'ladies', passed resolutions calling
for the abolition of this system. Telegrams of protest were received from the
superintendent of the Widows Home in Cawnpore; the Ladies Branch of the Home
Rule League and from public meetings of 'ladies' of Ahmedabad, Allahabad,
Godhra, Surat and Amraoti, dated January-February, 1917." Fiji appeared to be
the focal point of discussion, but it is possible that 'Fiji' became a generic concept
for all colonial territories of migration. At a public meeting of women of
Ahmedabad, the women resolved to approach the wife of the Governor-General of
India, Lady Chelmsford, to intercede with her husband on this matter. In this the
governor's wife was appealed to as a woman who could identify with conditions of
women overseas. The resolution read in part as follows:
... the system of indentured labour under which Indian women are
taken to Fiji compels them to lead a bad and immoral life and
subjects them to indignities and outrages. Children born in such
immoral conditions are brought up in degradation. This shocking
state of things requires that the system of indentured labour should
be stopped immediately. We humbly beseech Her Excellency to
hear this cry of defenceless women and children of India and to
champion their causes. We are confident that as a woman and a
mother, Her Excellency will appreciate the deep feelings of Indian
women on this subject, and we pray that Her Excellency may be
graciously pleased to lay before His Excellency the Viceroy this
supplication of women and children of India. ..84
So great was public agitation in India that even the proposal for the system of
assisted emigration had to be shelved. In the latter years, attempts were made to
address these complaints, such as the implementation of the law giving the
governor the discre tionary power to transfer estate employees (presumably
Europeans) found guilty of 'immorality with an East Indian woman'. This and
other actions aimed at protecting the 'chastity of Indian women' by the
Government however came too late for the abolitionists and virtually all migration
of labourers from India was abolished in 1917.
(Reproduced from CQ, Vol.32, Nos.3&4, Special issue East Indians in the
Caribbean, Sept.-Dec. 1986. This article was previously published in Economic
and Political Weekly, Review of Women's Studies, New Delhi, 26 October 1985.)
1. L. M. Cumpston, Indians Overseas in British Territories, Oxford Historical Series,
Oxford University Press, London, 1953. p. 21.
2. J. C. Jha, "Indian Indentured Migration 1835-1917", n.d. (mimeographed).
3. See Cumpston, p. 69.
4. M., Kirpalam, Rameshwar Sinanan, S. M. & L. J. Seukeran, Indian Centenary
Review: One Hundred Years of Progress 1845-1945, Trinidad, B.W.I. Guardian
Commercial Printery for Centenary Review Committee, 1945.
5. See Cumpston, 1953. See Jha.
6. See Jha.
7. See Jha
8. Rhoda Reddock, "Women and Slavery in the Caribbean: A Feminist Perspective"
in Latin American Perspectives, Issue 44 Vol. 12, No.l, 1985.
9. E.A.H. Blunt, The Caste System of Northern India: With Special References to
the United Provinces ofAgra and Oudh, S. Chand & Co. New Delhi, 1969. p. 67.
10. C.O. 571/5: 11985.
11. Tyran Ramnarine, "Indian Women and the Struggle to Create Stable Marital
Relations on the Sugar Estates of Guiana During the Period of Indenture, 1839-
1917". Paper presented at the 12th Conference of Caribbean Historians,
University of the West Indies, St Augustine, 1980.
12. Judith A. Weller, The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad, Institute of Caribbean
Studies, University of Puerto Rico, Caribbean Monograph Series, No.4. 1968.
13. Ibid., p.4.
14. High, Tinker, A New System ofSlavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas
1830-1920, published for the Institute of Race Relations by Oxford University
Press, 1974. p. 123.
15. Ibid. p. 131.
16. C.O. 571/1 No. 33014, 1913, p. 8.
17. Arthur & Juanita Niehoff, East Indians in the West Indies, Milwaukee, Public
Museum Publications in Anthropology No.6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1960., David
Dodd, "The Wellsprings of Violence: Some Historical Notes on East Indian
Criminality in Guyana", in Caribbean Issues, Vol. II No.3 December 1976, and
18. Bridget Brereton, "The Experience of Indentureship 1845 -1917" In Calcutta to
Caroni, John La Guerre (ed), Longmans Caribbean 1974, p. 75; Weller, P. 4.
19. See Weller.
20. Sir Henry Cotton, "Indian Indentured Labour in our Colonies" in the Indian
Emigrant, July, 1915. p. 372.
21. Maria Mies, Women and Patriarchy, Concept Publishing Company. 1980, p. 49.
22. See Dodd, p. 9.
23. See Tinker, pp. 266-7.
26. Ibid., p. 119.
27. H. H. Clarke, "Introductory Note to the Census of East Indian Population."
Government of Trinidad and Tobago, 1891, App,endix in Comis A note on
Immigration from India to Trinidad, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta, 1892.
28. See Comins Diary 1893, p. 49.
29. Ibid., p. 49.
31. C.O. 571/5, 27270.
34. C.O. 571/5,27680.
.35. C.O. 571/5,27681.
36. See Tinker, p. 124.
37. Surgeon-Major D.W.D. Comins Diary, 1893, p. 3.
38. Comins Diary.
39. James Mac Neill, & Chaimman Lal, Report to the Government of ndia on the
Conditions ofIndian Immigrants in Four British Colonies and Surinam. Part 1:
Trinidad and British Guyana, London, 1915, H.M.S.O. Cmd. 7744.
40. Comins Diary, p. 36.
41. Comins Diary, p. 15.
42. See Mac Neill and Lal, pp. 20-21.
43. Comins Diary, 1893. p. 9.
44. Ross Sheils, "Indentured Immigration into Trinidad 1891-1916" unpublished
thesis, University ofOxford,1969.
45. Sanderson et al, Report on Emigration from India to the Crown Colonies and
Protectorates (Part II) and Minutes of Evidence and Papers laid before the
Committee (Part II) Cmd. 5192, 5193,5194,1910,pp.139-40.
46. Tikasingh, Gerad, "The Establishment of Indians in Trinidad, 1870-1900,"
unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Department of History, University of the West Indies,
St Augustrne, 1973., p. 112.
47. See Comins Diary 1893, p. 49.
48. Ibid, p. 4.
49. See Clarke.50
50. See Shiels, p. 162.
51. Howard Johnson, "Immigration and the Sugar Industry in Trinidad during the last
quarter of the 19th Century" in Journal of Caribbean History, Vol. 5,1971
52. See Brereton, 1979, pp. 179-181.
53. See Sanderson et al, p. 66.
54. Interviews with ex-indenture labourers have been carried out by Peggy Ramesar.
55. Zenanas 'part of house for the seclusion of women of high caste families in India
and Iran, Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 1982, 1054.
56. Sarah E. Morton, John Morton of Trinidad, Westminster Company, Toronto, 1916.
57. Ibid, p. 342.
58. Note by the Protector of Immigrants to Surgeon-Major D.W.D. Comins, 1893, pp.
59. A note on the System of Assisted Emigrants to the Colonies, 1916, CO 571/5:
60. Mohammed Orfy on behalf of destitute Indian men of Trinidad, CO 571/4 W.I.
61. Petition of Indentured Labourers in Trinidad, 1916.
62. See Weller, 1968, p. 3.
63. See Tinker, 1974, p. 140.
64. See Ramnarine, 1980, pp. 3-4.
65. See Jha, J .C. "The Background of the Legalisation of Non-Christian Marriage in
Trinidad & Tobago." Paper presented in the conference on East Indians in the
Caribbean: A Symposium on Contemporary Economic and Political Issues,
University of the West Indies, St. Augustine 1975: Marianne Ramesar, Indian
Immigration into Trinidad 1897 -1917, unpublished Master's Thesis, Department
of History, University of the West Indies, Mona, 1973 and also Weller, 1968.
66. See Morton, p. 342.
67. Tinker, p. 203.
68. See Weller, pp. 71-72.
69. Ibid., p. 69
70. See Dodd, pp. 11.
71. Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition: The Years after Slavery, Oxford University
Press, 1968. p. 154.
72. See Ramnarine, p. 2
73. See Weller, 1968, Appendix: Table 7.
74. See Wood, p. 143
76. Comins Diary, p. 31
77. Ibid, p. 30
78. lbid, p. 33
79. Ibid., p. 35
80. Morton 1916, p. 225
81. Comins Diary, p. 15
82. Morton, p. 347
83. CO 571/5, 27270
They Never Looked Back :The Role of the
Hakka Women in Jamaica.
M. ALEXANDRA LEE
The notion that Hakka women played a pivotal role in the establishment of
the Chinese in Jamaica during that group's first wave of immigration from China
to the island between the mid 1800's and early 1900's, perhaps often quietly
acknowledged but rarely publicly declared, stands up to scrutiny. The Hakka
woman's reputation of being hard-working is unshaken within the Chinese
Jamaican community, and is a truth that brings solemn acknowledgement to the
faces and tongues of their descendants.
It is a known historical fact that the Hakka women in China did not bind their
feet, as was the tradition for China's women up to the early 1900's. This has been
taken as a sign of their strong sense of independence though the exception was
made for practical reasons. As members of a sub-class, Hakka women were
expected to work in the fields. But hard work was merely one thread in the fabric
these women wove to protect, nurture and hold together their young families in
Jamaica. Indeed, the survival and success enjoyed by Chinese Jamaicans today
can be linked directly to the personal sacrifices made by these Hakka daughters,
wives and mothers.
Their sacrifices had little to do with superficial luxuries. Theirs was the
sacrifice of self. Simply put, these women rendered invisible their personal
dreams, hopes, even personalities the very things one is now taught to cherish
and value as fundamental to one's personal happiness. They buried these as if
knowing that indulgence in such things would rob them of the energy they needed
to raise happy children with better futures. Even their former life in China would
also become an unspoken memory. Indeed, it is ironic that the survival and
prosperity of their descendants rested on the foundations of a past these women
never spoke of, but which bestowed on them a culture of unconditional
For the purpose of this paper, over a dozen descendants were interviewed.
Each was asked a set of standard questions, but allowed to deviate in the direction
to which their memories took them.
In order to collect as much undiluted information as possible, interview
subjects were restricted to the first generation children of immigrant Hakka
women. The only exception was a granddaughter who had spent much of her life
with her Hakka grandmother. Discussions were held both in person and on the
telephone, and all were conducted in 2000. The following excerpts have been
selected to demonstrate the spirit of these women, and to show the general content
of these interviews from which the summary was compiled. For the sake of
privacy, pseudonyms have been used. On a note of interest, each subject was
asked what his or her mother's favourite colour was. "Favourite colour?,"
exclaimed one interviewee. "You don't understand, there was no time for such
luxuries." Indeed, not one of the interviewees could answer this question.
Lily was a spirited 16 year-old when she married and began her family of six
in the 1930's. Her husband set up their tiny family shop and home in downtown
Kingston. Literally a comer shop with the living quarters at the back, the operation
was so small, it had no name.
Her son, Clayton, describes his mother as "formidable". "She never
indulged in self pity," he insisted. "Not when she went deaf after delivering her
third child, not when my father disappeared for days on end, not even when he
brought his girlfriend to the house for breakfast. Nothing seemed to bother her."
Unable to read or write English, and unable to rely on her largely absent
husband, Lily would at first rely on her housekeeper to write out the wholesale
orders they needed to restock the narrow shelves. Eventually she taught herself to
write by carefully drawing the letters she saw on the labels of those items she
While there were few physical signs of her affection for her children -even
many birthdays forgotten amid the day's work- she focused on bigger issues like
equal opportunity: "Everyone must turn doctor even the girls," she would
command. Her sons would also share in the housework duties. Her focus was
forever on her children, with little or no attention paid to her own interests. Son
Clayton remembers seeing his mother in lipstick and a pretty dress once a year for
Chinese New Year.
From the start Lily worked every day while her husband gambled.
Sometime later during Jamaica's pre-independence period, the economy briefly
turned sour, making many businesses and families down and out. Determined not
to fall, Lily began to notice the wharf workers making their trek to work at 4:30
every morning. She immediately began to rise at 4:00 a.m.each day to sell them a
breakfast of codfish fritters with coffee or tea. Her breakfast campaign turned the
tide for her family, and soon the business became more profitable than it had ever
been. To this day son Clayton rises at 4:00 a.m.
Yvonne worked quietly in her family's 500 sq. ft. shop and home in
Kingston, packing shelves, making funnels, making change, raising chickens.
When her eldest son left home at 14 determined to make his own mark, she secretly
sent him food and money to keep him safe and out of harm's way. Today that son
and his brother own over 73,000 sq feet of supermarket and pharmacy, and rank as
one of the island's largest in the business. Now over 80 years old, Yvonne still
goes to work with her sons and grandchildren, and cooks lunch for them every day.
Dorothy lived on the island's north coast in a fishing port with her husband
and eleven children. Working long hours to establish their bakery business, the
young couple used boxes as dining table chairs in their home above the bakery,
while a corridor leading to the stairs served as an extra room. Dorothy who was
sick for almost the entire duration of each pregnancy, had all eleven children in the
home, and still worked in the bakery nonetheless. Today she can still be found at
the bakery, now a much larger establishment.
Lola was the grandmother whom I never met my father's mother. To this
day, her eight children, now grandparents themselves, still speak with awe and
sadness about the near servitude with which she cared for their home in rural
Jamaica, their amenities, health, education and childhood happiness. There exists
only a handful of photographs of her, one of which is a portrait. In this
photograph, her eyes stare forward. There is no promise of a smile, no concern
with the camera, no fleeting joy in a moment of self-indulgence. No glamour shot.
Instead, she offers only a hint of mild impatience with the knowledge that there
was much still to do in the shop and home.
It is said that grandmother was prolific in the kitchen. Her children recall
fondly her still unmatched treats of rice puddings, ice cream, and codfish fritters,
among many others. She tended to the animals, cultivated the small plot of land on
the steep hillside, cooked for the shop and family, and worked in the shop cutting
and wrapping salted fish.
At nights she sewed clothes for her children and curtains and bedding, but
not before she crept quietly up the stairs to wash the feet of those children that were
black with dirt. In the mornings she would see that each child ate breakfast, looked
presentable for school and had his/her homework ready.
Grandmother's passing came early too early for her children, especially
for her firstborn left behind to attend school in China. He was 15 when she left to
start her new life in Jamaica. She had always hoped to see him again, but never
did. She would also never see the successes of her children something they each
acknowledge as their greatest regret.
SUMMARY OF INTERVIEWS
What follows now is the summary of those firsthand and very
Fewer Chinese-born women came to Jamaica than did men.
Many Chinese immigrant men, it was told, could not afford the passage for
their wives, this being a luxury of the wealthy. And while some Jamaican-born
Chinese did manage to go to China in search of a wife, the majority of men, both
Chinese and Jamaican-born, would take Jamaican-born wives of Chinese descent
or otherwise. The result there were fewer Chinese-born women in Jamaican than
The Hakka women viewed their husband's progeny as their priority.
Here we speak of survival of the bloodline. This was evident in the number
of children the majority of these women had, with several reaching double-digit
levels in rapid time. Said one interviewee, "there was always a new baby being
born at the back of the shop ... ". In fact, most gave birth to their babies in this very
way at home with the help of a midwife. Only one interviewee remembered her
mother's last baby being born in a hospital. Resourcefulness was not reserved
only for matters of the purse. Another mother remembered being forced to cut her
newborn's umbilical cord herself, as the midwife arrived much too late and much
too intoxicated to perform the task.
Hakka women also tolerated polygamous marriages. It was, in fact, not
uncommon for a Chinese man to have two legal wives, with wife number one
remaining faithful to him in China. Nor was it uncommon for each wife to raise the
other's children. During this period, it was customary for Jamaican-Chinese
children to return to China for school. If available, wife number one was expected
to raise and care for her husband's new children. Wife number two had little say in
this arrangement. Jealousy and other emotions, justifiable or otherwise, were not
usually given audience, if they even existed. So obedient a wife was the Hakka
woman, that resentment was hardly ever displayed or detected.
Arranged marriages were also still prevalent in this generation. Of the 15
interviews conducted, only two reflected any origins of love. One even featured a
woman who had always wanted to be a nun, not a wife. In general, those
interviewed felt that communication between husband and wife in a Hakka home,
while usually cordial, was typically limited to matters of the home and business.
Again, only one reported witnessing signs of love or emotion, while the rest
comfortably labeled these unions as "partnerships in the business of life".
The Hakka woman was the epitome of the patient and tolerant wife.
A female elder in the community, "Jeanne", insists that the secret to the
Hakka woman is the insight that comes with their deep patience. "They
understand human nature," she said. "They understand men".
From preliminary research it would indeed appear that the Hakka man was a
walking philandering phenomenon. Jeanne recounted a story told to her by a
cheating husband who had confessed his infidelity to his wife after one of his many
business trips. While it was by no means his first episode, it was necessary to
discuss it this time because he had caught a venereal disease. He sat her down to
give her the dreaded news.
"Amoy," he said. "Darling, I'm afraid I caught a disease while I was away
from you, so you must please go to the doctor to get your medicine right away."
His petite wife of 20 years roared at him with an angry fist. "Soy dung see!
You foolish man! Don't you know you have someone at home waiting for you,
someone who cares for you? How could you do such a thing to your body, how
could you do such a thing to me? And what time is my appointment anyway?"
"Jeanne" also spoke about another friend whose husband was particularly
promiscuous, even by Hakka standards. One day she came to visit Jeanne,
frustrated and upset with all the gossip being circulated about her husband.
"Look," she argued, "everyone has a hobby, right? Your husband likes golf, you
like mahjong. My husband likes women. So what's the problem?"
And still another interviewee spoke of his father who occasionally brought
his girlfriends to the family home for breakfast, his mother serving the "guest" as if
she were exactly that.
Gambling was another weakness of the Hakka man, one also met by his
wife's dutiful silence. One interviewee spoke of her mother who would cry
silently as her father lost shop after shop in one unlucky game of mahjong after
another. Of course, this meant losing the home too as the home and shop were one
and the same. Many years later, her eldest son, by then a successful businessman
and head of the household since his father's death, would present his mother with
the keys and the title to her own home, and the promise that no one could take it
away from her for as long as she lived. (She remains there at the time of the writing
of this paper).
They shouldered their responsibilities at a very early age.
They were, by modem-day standards, mere girls. Some as young as fifteen
or sixteen, these child brides travelled with their new husbands to a new life in a
strange land, sight unseen with a strange language, without family, without
support. They managed to do all of this while successfully carrying the
responsibility of their own young families, under more than humbling
circumstances. Clearly those days were different, and a woman's world has
changed greatly since. However, it still leaves one wondering how such girls
became instant women.
They persevered despite communication hurdles.
With only a few exceptions, none interviewed had gone to school in China,
although the consensus is that they all possessed some knowledge of written
Chinese. Once in Jamaica, they would, at best, achieve functional command of
written and spoken English. This often rendered a Chinese-born wife socially
isolated. The only person she could easily communicate with was her husband,
who was often traveled for days at a time on business, usually purchasing goods
for the store.
Even with her children, communication for the Hakka woman was done on a
need-to basis. Speech was usually truncated, partly gesticulated. Western names
were grossly mispronounced. Sometimes the job of naming their children was left
to the housekeeper. But while this gap left much unsaid between a mother and her
children, maternal instincts never failed to surface when necessary. However,
most interviewed did cite the language barrier as one of the biggest regrets of their
childhood, as many questions remain unasked and, therefore, unanswered to this
While the woman's role as co-family business owner was partially
undermined by the Chinese culture, it was hindered by her lack of education.
Research shows that while it was usually the wife who ran the shop and brought in
the actual income, it was the husband who purchased the stock, handled the books
and determined how the money was spent. But they held their tongues and
persevered. Indeed, many improved on their financial situations once their
husband had passed on, when they could begin to save and make their own
decisions. Usually, however, this would come much later in life.
The Hakka women were ahead of their time.
From all the observations made thus far, it could be argued that the Hakka
women were merely following tradition, living the only life they knew. It is
conceivable, however, indeed strongly possible, that these women had much more
insight than they have been previously credited with, that they were, in fact, biding
their time, a strategy that proved them to be ahead of their time. Indeed, the
tradition of lack of choice and lack of voice began to turn with that migrant
The daughters of these women were sent to school, encouraged to reach for
professions once reserved for sons, and were no longer forced to marry. Many
sons, in turn, were taught to clean house like their sisters, do needle work and sew.
In effect, these women forged a new way of thinking for their first generation-born
children, representing perhaps the most significant, if not only break they made
from their culture.
Their lives were never to be their own.
Their collective life was one of labour and of love. This final observation
speaks to the very essence of their existence and, it can be argued, is one of the
reasons why that generation was given a chance to edge its way out of the poverty
it first endured.
When Jeanne reported that her mother often said to her, "In a Hakka
woman's life, you have time to die, but no time to get sick," it struck a personal
chord. In my own family it is the consensus that my grandmother worked up to the
very day of her death, never taking a moment to rest, not even to fight the chronic
diabetes that took her from her husband and eight young children.
My grandmother and her peers were usually the first in the household to
rise, the last to close their eyes. They filled their days with caring for the children,
working in the shop, in the house, sewing clothes, curtains and bed sheets, tending
to the chickens, pigs or crops, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Add to this the isolation of life in the rural areas no electricity, running
water, entertainment, family support or companionship from others in the Chinese
community. Those in the city of Kingston were only slightly better off, but still,
they had little time for the luxury of companionship and camaraderie. Few choices
were left to them and yet so much depended on them.
Were it not for the commitment and forbearance of the Hakka women, ours
would have merely been a story of immigration. Instead, the Chinese, as a
Jamaican minority today, represent financial success, familial reverence and firm
These women looked beyond their own situations, and patiently and silently
practiced the culture in which they were raised. They did this knowing that their
children stood a chance to have the kind of life that they themselves would never
be able to claim. As they embraced their life of labour, suppressed their untold
dreams and quietly guided their young ones, these women shaped a foundation of
inner strength and a source of empowerment from which many families grew and
Kalinago (Carib) Resistance to European
Colonisation of the Caribbean
HILARY McD.. BECKLES
The resistance of native Caribbean people to the colonial dispensation
established by Europeans following the Columbus landfall of 1492 has received
insufficient attention from scholars. Unlike the case with the experience of
enslaved African people few studies have presented systematic accounts of their
anti-colonial and anti-slavery struggle. The reasons for his historiographic
imbalance are not altogether clear. No one has suggested, for example, that their
fight for liberty, life and land was any less endemic or virulent than that of
Africans. On the contrary,-'most accounts of European settlement have indicated
in a general sort of way their determination and tenacity in confronting the new
order in spite of their relative technological limitations with respect to warfare.'
This study seeks to specify some of the political and military responses of
the Kalinago people (known in the colonial documentation as Caribs) to the
European invasion as they sought to maintain control over lands and lives in the
islands of the Lesser Antilles. The examination makes reference to the immediate
post -Columbian decades, and touches briefly upon the early eighteenth century to
the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, but is concerned principally with the period 1624 to
1700 when Kalinagos were confronted by considerable military pressures from
English and French colonising agents. During this period Kalinagos in the
Windward and Leeward Islands launched a protracted war of resistance to
colonisation and slavery. They held out against the English and French until the
mid-1790's, protecting some territory, maintaining their social freedom, and
determining the economic and political history of the region in very important
According to recent archaeological evidence, the Kalinago were the last
migrant group to settle ill the Caribbean prior to the arrival of the Europeans in
1492. The Columbus mission found three native groups, of different derivation
and cultural attainments, but all of whom entered the Caribbean from the region of
South America known as the Guianas. These were the Ciboney, the Taino
(Arawaks) and the Kalinago. The Ciboney had arrived about 300 B.C., followed
by the Taino, their ethnic relatives, about 500 years later and who by 650 A.D. had
migrated northwards through the islands establishing large communities in the
Greater Antilles. Starting their migration into the islands from about 1000 A.D.,
Kalinagos were still arriving at the time of the Columbus landfall. They were also
in the process of establishing control over territory and communities occupied by
Tainos in the Lesser Antilles, and parts of the Greater Antilles. When the Spanish
arrived in the northern Caribbean, therefore, they found the Tainos to some extent
already on the defensive, but later encountered Kalinagos who they described as
more prepared for aggression
Kalinagos, like their Taino cousins and predecessors, had been inhabiting
the islands long enough to perceive them as part of their natural, ancestral, survival
environment. As a result, noted G.K. Lewis, they prepared themselves to defend
their homeland in a spirit of defiant "patriotism," having wished that the
"Europeans had never set foot in their country." 4 From the outset, however,
European colonial forces were technologically more prepared for a violent
struggle for space since in real terms, the Columbus mission represented in
addition to the maritime courage and determination of Europe, the mobilisation of
large-scale finance capital, and science and technology for imperialist military
ends. This process was also buttressed by the frenzied search for identity and
global ranking by Europeans through the conquest and cultural negation of other
In the Greater Antilles, Tainos offered a spirited but largely ineffective
military resistance to the Spanish even though on occasions they were supported
by the Kalinago. This was particularly clear in the early sixteenth century in the
case of the struggle for Puerto Rico in which Kalinagos from neighboring St
Croix came to Taino assistance. In 1494, Columbus led an armed party of 400 men
into the interior of Hispaniola in search of food, gold, and slaves to which Taino
Caciques mobilised their armies for resistance. Guacanagari, a leading Cacique,
who had tried previously to negotiate an accommodating settlement with military
commander Alonso de Ojeba, marched unsuccessfully in 1494 with a few
thousand men upon the Spanish. In 1503, another forty Caciques were captured at
Hispaniola and burnt alive by Governor Ovando's troops; Anacaona, the principal
Cacique was hung publicly in Santo Domingo. In Puerto Rico, the Spanish
settlement party, led by Ponce de Leon, was attacked frequently by Taino warriors;
many Spanish settlers were killed but Tainos and Kalinagos were defeated and
crushed in the counter assault. hi 1511, resistance in Cuba, led by Cacique Hatuey,
was put down; he was captured and burnt alive; another rising in 1529 was also
crushed. In these struggles, Taino fatalities were high. Thousands were killed in
battle and publicly executed for the purpose of breaking the spirit of collective
resistance; some rebels fled to the mountains and forests where they established
maroon settlements that continued intermittently the war against the Spanish.5 By
the middle of the sixteenth century, however, Taino and Kalinago resistance had
been effectively crushed in the Greater Antilles; their community structures
smashed.and members reduced to various forms of enslavement in Spanish
agricultural and mining enterprises.
In the Lesser Antilles, however, the Kalinago were more successful in
defying first the Spanish, and then later the English and French, thereby preserving
their political freedom and maintaining control of their territory. According to Carl
Sauer, "As the labor supply on Espanola declined, attention turned to the southern
islands" which from St. Croix, neighboring Puerto Rico, to the Guianas were
inhabited by the Kalinagos. Spanish royal edicts dated November 7, 1508 and July
3, 1512, authorised settlers to capture and enslave Kalinagos on "the island of Los
Barbados [Barbados], Dominica, Matinino [Martinique], Santa Lucia, San
Vincente, la Asuncion [Grenada], and Tavaco [Tobago]," because of their
"resistance to Christians."6 By the end of the sixteenth century, however, the
Spanish had decided, having accepted as fact the absence of gold in the Lesser
Antilles, and the inevitability of considerable fatalities at the hands of Kalinago
warriors, that it was wiser to adopt a "hands off policy" while concentrating their
efforts in the Greater Antilles. As a result, the Greater and Lesser Antilles became
politically separated at this time by what Troy Floyd described as a "poison arrow
curtain."? The English and French initiating their colonizing missions during the
early seventeenth century, therefore, had a clear choice. They could either
confront the Spanish north of the "poison arrow curtain" or Kalinago forces south
of it. Either way, they expected to encounter considerable organised armed
resistance. They chose the latter, partly because of the perception that Kalinagos
were the weaker, but also because of the belief that Kalinagos were the 'common
enemy' of all Europeans and that solidarity could be achieved for collective
military operations against them.
Having secured some respite from the pressures of Spanish colonisation by
the end of the sixteenth century, then, La Kalinagos were immediately confronted
by the more economically aggressive and militarily determined English and
French colonists. Once again, they began to reorganise their communities in
preparation for counter strategies. This time, it would be a clear case of resistance
on the retreat. By the 1630s, their rapidly diminishing numbers were being
consolidated around a smaller group of specially chosen islands mostly in the
Windwards but also in the Leewards. By this time, for instance, Barbados,
identified in a Spanish document of 1511 as an island densely populated with
Kalinagos, no longer had a native presence. Europeans understood the
significance of this reorganisation and resettlement of Kalinago communities, and
established their infant colonies in peripheral parts of the Leeward Islands where
their presence was less formidable, and in Barbados where it was now absent. The
English and French, then, were aware that most of their settlements would have to
come to terms with Kalinago resistance. This expectation, however, did not deter
them, and they continued to seek out island niches where an effective foothold
could be gained until such time as Kalinago forces could be subdued and destroyed
by their respective imperial forces.
The English and French sought the pacification of the Kalinago for two
distinct, but related reasons, and overtime adopted different strategies and
methods but maintained the ideological position that they should be enslaved,
driven out, or exterminated. First, lands occupied by the Kalinago were required
for large scale commodity production within the expansive, capitalist, North
Atlantic agrarian complex. The effective integration of the Caribbean into this
mercantile and productive system required the appropriation of land through the
agency of the plantation enterprise, finance capital, then, sought to revolutionize
the market value of Kalinago lands by making them available to European
commercial interests. By resisting land confiscation Kalinagos were therefore
confronting the full ideological and economic force of Atlantic capitalism.
Second, European economic activities in the Caribbean were based upon the
enslavement of Indigenes and imported Africans. The principal role and relation
assigned to these and other non-Europeans within the colonial formation was that
of servitude. Europeans in the Lesser Antilles, however, were not successful in
reducing an economic number of Kalinago to chattel slavery, or other forms of
servitude. Unlike the Taino, their labour could not be effectively commodified,
simply because their communities proved impossible to subdue. It was not that the
Kalinago were more militant than the Taino. Rather, it was because the nomadic
nature of their small communities, and their emphasis upon territorial acquisition,
in part a response to the geographical features of the Lesser Antilles, enabled them
to make more effective use of the environment in a "strike and sail" resistance
strategy. Kalinago, then, while not prepared to suffer either land or labour to
Europeans, were better placed to implement effective counter-aggression.
Primarily because of their irrepressible war of resistance, which intimidated
all Europeans in the region, Kalinago were targeted first for an ideological
campaign in which they were established within the European mind, not as 'noble
savages,' as was the case with the less effective Tainos, but as 'vicious cannibals'
worthy of extermination within the context of genocidal military expeditions.8
Voluminous details were prepared by Spanish and later English and French
colonial chroniclers on the political and ideological mentality of the Kalinago,
most of whom called for "holy wars" against "Les sauvages as a principal way to
achieve their subjugation. Literature, dating back to Columbus in 1494, in a
contradictory fashion, denied Kalinago humanity while at the same time outlined
their general anti-colonial and anti-slavery consciousness and attitudes. In the
writings of Jean-Baptiste de Tertre, Sieur de la Borde, and Pere
Labat, for example, all late seventeenth century French reporters of
Kalinago ontology, they are presented as a people who would "prefer to die of
hunger than live as a slave."9 Labat, who commented most of their psychological
profile, found them to be "careless and lazy creatures," not at all suited mentally to
arduous, sustained labour. In addition, he considered then a "proud and
indomitable" and "exceedingly vindictive" people who "one has to be very careful
not to offend," hence the popular French Caribbean proverb, "fight a Caribe and
you must kill him or be killed."'0
The French discovered, like the Spanish before them, noted Labat, that it
was always best, if possible, "to have nothing to do with the Kalinago."" But this
was not possible. Relations had to be established, and here Europeans discovered,
Labat noted, that the Kalinago knew "how to look after their own interests very
well.,,12 "There are no people in the world," he stated, "so jealous of their liberty,
or who resent more the smallest check to their freedom.""3 Altogether, Kalinago
world view was anathema to Europeans, thus the general view, echoed by Labat,
that "no European nation has been able to live in the same island with them without
being compelled to destroy them, and drive them out."'
The English and French started out simultaneously in 1624 with the
establishment of agricultural settlements in St. Kitts. From there, the English
moved on to Barbados in 1627, and between 1632 and 1635 to Antigua,
Montserrat and Nevis, while the French concentrated their efforts during the 1630s
at Martinique and Guadeloupe. the first three years at St. Kitts were difficult for
both English and French settlers. They were harassed and attacked by Kalinago
soldiers, and in 1635 the French at Guadeloupe were engulfed in a protracted
battle. French success in their war with Kalinago at Guadeloupe encouraged them
during the remainder of the decade to expand their colonial missions, but failed to
gain effective control of the Kalinago inhabited islands of Grenada, Marie
Galante, and La Desirada. Meanwhile, a small English expedition from St. Kitts to
St. Lucia in the Windwards, the heart of Kalinago territory, was easily repelled in
1639. the following year Kalinagos launched a full-scale attack upon English
settlements at Antigua, killing fifty settlers, capturing the Governor's wife and
children, and destroying crops and houses.15
While English settlements in the Leewards struggled to make progress
against Kalinago resistance, Barbados alone of the Windwards, forged ahead
uninterrupted. Unlike their Leewards counterparts, early Barbadian planters
rapidly expanded their production base, made a living from the exports of tobacco,
indigo and cotton, and feared only their indentured servants and few African
slaves. By 1650, following the successful cultivation of sugar cane with African
slaves, the island was. considered by mercantile economic theorists as the richest
agricultural colony in the hemisphere. St. Kitts colonists, both English and French,
determined to keep up with their Barbadian competitors, were first to adopt a
common military front with respect to Kalinago resistance. During the 1630s they
entered into agreements, in spite of their rival claims to exclusive ownership of the
island, to combine forces against Kalinago communities. On the first occasion,
they "pooled their talents," and in a "sneak night attack" killed over eighty
Kalinagos and drove many off the island. After celebrating the success of their
military alliance, the French and English continued their rivalry over the island
until 1713 when the matter was settled in favour of the English by the
Treaty of Utrecht.'6
The success of Kalinagos in holding on to a significant portion of the
Windwards, and their weakening of planting settlements in the Leewards, fueled
the determination of the English and French to destroy them. By the
mid-seventeenth century, European merchants, planters and colonial officials,
were in agreement that Kalinagos "were barbarous and cruel set of savages beyond
reason or persuasion and must therefore be eliminated.."'7 By this time it was also
clear that the slave-based plantation system demanded an "absolute monopoly" of
the Caribbean, and tolerated no "alternative system."'8 What Richard Dunn
referred to as "Carib independence and self-reliance" constituted a major
contradiction to the internal logic of capitalist accumulation within the plantation
economy.19 As a result, therefore, the economic leaders and political
representatives of this increasingly powerful production and trade complex were
determined to bring the contradiction to a speedy resolution by any means
necessary or possible.
By the mid-seventeenth century, the need for a full scale war against the
Kalinagos, though clearly established and articulated in Spanish colonial thinking
during the sixteenth century, now assumed greater urgency with the English and
French. By this time the English were first to successfully establish productive
structures based on sugar cultivation and black slavery, and not surprisingly took
the lead in attempting the removal of principal obstacles to the smooth and
profitable expansion of the system. Also, the English with the largest number of
enslaved Africans in the region, were concerned that efficient control on their
plantations would be adversely affected by the persistence of Kalinago resistance
It did not take long for the Africans to become aware of Kalinago struggle against
Europeans, and to realise that they could possibly secure their freedom by fleeing
to their territory. Labat, who studied inter-island slave marronage in the Lesser
Antilles, during this period, stated that slaves knew that St. Vincent was easily
reached from Barbados, and many escaped there "from their masters in canoes and
rafts." During the formative stage of this development, between 1645 and 1660,
the Kalinago generally took "the runaway slaves back to their masters, or sold
them to the French and Spanish," but as the Kalinago came under more intensive
attack during the mid-century, Labat noted, their policy towards African maroons
changed. They refused to return the Africans, he stated, and began regarding them
"as an addition to their nation." By 1670, Labat estimated that over 500 Barbadian
runaways were living in St. Vincent. This community was reinforced in 1675
when a slave ship carrying hundreds of Africans to Jamaica via Barbados ran
aground off the coast of Bequia. Survivors came ashore at St. Vincent and were
integrated in the maroon communities. By 1700, Labat stated, Africans
outnumbered Kalinagos at St. Vincent.20 In 1675, William Stapleton, governor of
the Leewards, noting the significant presence of Africans among the Kalinagos
suggested that of the 1,500 native "bowmen" in the Leewards six hundred of them
"are negroes, some runaway from Barbados elsewhere."21
Throughout the second half of the seventeenth century Europeans tried
unsuccessfully to exploit the sometimes strained relations between Kalinagos and
Africans by encouraging the former to return runaways to their owners.
Miscegenation bet} Veen the predominantly male African maroon community and
Kalinago females was a principal cause of social tension between the two ethnic
groups.22 Both the French and English alleged that Kalinago leaders occasionally
sought their assistance in ridding their communities of Africans. The significance
of such allegations, however, should be assessed against the background of two
important developments in African-Kalinago relations. First, by the
mid-seventeenth century, the group mixed bloods, now known as the Garifuna,
was increasing rapidly in numbers, and by 1700 had outnumbered both parent
groups in St. Vincent.23 Second, joint African-Kalinago military expeditions
against the French and English were common, and represented a principal
characteristic feature of anti-European activity on both land and sea.24 The full
scale attack on the French at Martinique during the mid-1650s, for example,
involved both African and Kalinago forces.25 The warriors who attacked French
settlements at Grenada during the same period and kept them in a weak and
defensive condition were also described as having an African component.
similarly, noted Labat, the English expeditions from Barbados sent to capture St.
Vincent during the 1670s were repelled by both Africans and Kalinagos.26
The presence of effective anti-colonial Kalinago communities on the
outskirts of the slave plantations, therefore, constituted a major problem for slave
owners in so far as they fostered and encouraged African anti-slavery. The
merging of Kalinago anti-colonial and African anti-slavery struggles, therefore,
represented the twin forces that threatened the very survival of the colonising
mission in the Windwards. As such, Europeans with the greatest economic stake in
the enterprise of the Indies wasted no time in adopting a range of measures to
suppress the Kalinago. Both the English and French pursued an initial policy
characterized by the projection of anti-Kalinago social images in Europe, while
seeking at the same time to promote diplomatic efforts to settle territorial claims.
In 1664 a Barbados document entitled "The State of the Case concerning our
Title to St. Lucia, "described the island as being "infected" with Kalinagos who
were "abetted by the French" in their war against English settlers. In this
document, Barbadians sought to reject French claims to the islands by stating that
they had purchased it from du Parquet, the Governor of Martinique, who had
bought it from the Kalinagos in 1650 for 41,500 livres.27 Likewise, in 1668,
Thomas Modyford, Governor of Jamaica, former Barbados Governor and sugar
magnate, described St. Vincent, another Kalinago stronghold in the Windwards,
as a place which "the Indians much infect."28 These statements represent part of
the ideological preparation of the English mind for what would be a genocidal
offensive against the Kalinago that London merchant houses were eager to
But a full-scale war, the English and French knew, would be costly, both in
terms of human life and capital, and hoped it could be averted. The significance of
an ultimate military solution was clearly perceived by Kalinago leaders and
colonial officials alike. The Kalinago, by participating in tactful diplomatic
intrigue designed to exploit differences and conflicts between Europeans, the
Kalinago sought to advance their own interests. In 1655, for example, Captain
Gregory Butler informed Oliver Cromwell, the Protector, that the settlement at
Antigua was unable to get off to a good start on account of frequent molestation
by the Kalinagos, who at that time seemed to be in league with the French.29 Again,
in 1667, Major John Scott, an imperial Commander-in-Chief, reported that he led
an expedition against Dutch settlements in Tobago with the "assistance of a party
of Caribs."30 During the second Dutch War, 1665-1667, in which France and
Holland allied against the English in the Caribbean, the Kalinago played an
important role in shifting the balance of power between Europeans while at the
same time seeking to expand the scope and effectiveness of their own war of
resistance." In June 1667, Henry Willoughby stationed in the Leewards informed
his father William Lord Willoughby, Governor of Barbados, that when he arrived
at St. Kitts he received "intelligence" of further atrocities committed by the
Kalinagos against the English which were "instigated" by the French. European
rivalry, Michael Craton concluded, was effectively used by the Kalinago nation as
evident in the delayed loss of St. Lucia and Grenada, and in the longer retention of
full control over St. Vincent and Dominica.32
The English and French also targeted the Kalinago for diplomatic
offensives. The first systematically pursued diplomatic effort by the English to
establish a footing within Kalinago territory in the Windwards was the
Willoughby initiative of 1667. William Lord Willoughby, Governor of Barbados,
had long recognized the great financial gain that would accrue to himself,
Barbados, and England, if the Windwards, the last island frontier, could be
converted into slave-based sugar plantations. For over a decade, the sugar kings of
Barbados had been signalling their demand for lands on which to expand their
operations, and the Windwards were the perfect place given prevailing economic
concepts about the conditionalities of slaved-based sugar cultivation. Small scale
military expeditions had been repelled by the Kalinago since the 1630s, and so
Willoughby, not yet organised for a large scale military assault, opted to send
emissaires to open negotiations with Kalinago leaders.
The Kalinagos, in response, showed some degree of flexibility, as is often
the case with peoples involved in protracted struggles. Willoughby wanted a peace
treaty that would promote English interests by removing obstacles to slave
plantation expansionism, but the Kalinago were suspicious and vigilant. In 1666,
they were tricked by the English to sign away by treaty their "rights" to inhabit
Tortola, and were driven off the island.33 The Windward Islands were their last
refuge, and their siege mentality was now more developed than ever.
On March 23, 1667, Kalinago leaders of St. Vincent, Dominica and St.
Lucia met with Willoughby's delegation in order to negotiate the peace.34 At the
signing of the Treaty were Anniwatta, the Grand Babba, (or chief of all
Kalinagos), Chiefs Wappya, Nay, Le Suroe, Rebura and Aloons. The conditions
of the treaty were everything the Barbadian slavers wanted at that particular stage
1. The Caribs of St. Vincent shall ever acknowledge themselves
subjects of the King of England, and be friends to all in amity with
the English, and enemies to their enemies.
2 The Caribs shall have liberty to come to and depart from, at
pleasure, any English islands and receive their protection therein,
and the English shall enjoy the same in St. Vincent and St. Lucia.
3.His Majesty's subjects taken by the French and Indians and
remaining among the Indians, shall be immediately delivered up, as
also any Indian captives among the English when demanded.
4.Negroes formerly run away from Barbados shall be delivered to
His Excellency; and such as shall hereafter be fugitives from any
English island shall be secured and delivered by as soon as
The Willoughby initiative was designed to pave the way for English
colonisation of the Windwards, using Barbados as the springboard for settlement.
In essence, it was an elaboration of a similar agreement that was made between the
defeated Kalinago and victorious French forces at Martinique after the war of
1654-1656. On that occasion, noted Jean-Baptiste du Tertre, who described in
detail the nature of the conflict and its resolution, the French were able to obtain
settlement rights from the Kalinago, as well as guarantees that they would assist in
the control of rebel slaves by not encouraging, and more importantly, returning all
runaways.36 Within two months of the Kalinago- Willoughby Treaty, a party of
fifty-four English colonists from Barbados arrived at St. Vincent in order to
pioneer a settlement. The Kalinago, Garifuna, and Africans objected to their
presence, drove them off the island, and broke the Treaty with Barbados.
The collapse of the Barbados diplomatic mission angered Governor
Willoughby who swiftly moved to the next stage of his plan full military
offensive. His opportunity came in March the following year when English
military commander, Sir John Harman, left behind in Barbados a regiment of foot
soldiers and five frigates. Willoughby informed the Colonial Office that since he
knew not how to "keep the soldiers quiet and without pay" the only course open to
him was to "try his fortune among the Caribs at St. Vincent."37 Once again, the
Kalinago proved too much for Willoughby, and the expedition returned to
Barbados having suffered heavy losses.
English awareness of Kalinago solidarity and efficient communications
throughout the islands of the Lesser Antilles meant that they had reasons to expect
reprisals for the Willoughby offensive anywhere and at anytime. Governor
Modyford of Jamaica, a most knowledgeable man about Eastern Caribbean
affairs, has opposed Willoughby's war plan. He told the Duke of Albermarle that
while Willoughby was "making war with the Caribs of St. Vincent" he feared the
consequences for settlers at Antigua, and other places. Such an untimely war, he
said, "may again put those plantations in hazard, or at best into near broils." "It had
been far better," he continued, "to have made peace with them," for if they assist
the French against us the result would be "the total ruin of all the English
Islanders" and a "waste of the revenue of Barbados."38
Modyford was perceptive in his assessment of Kalinago responses. A report
sent to the Colonial Office in London from officials in Nevis dated April 1669,
entitled "An Intelligence of an Indian Design upon the People of Antigua," stated
that "The Caribbee Indians have lately broken the peace made with Lord
Willoughby, and have killed two and left dead two more of His Majesty's subjects
in Antigua." Reference was made to twenty-eight Kalinago warriors who arrived
from Montserrat in two canoes and who participated in the raid upon Antigua in
response to Willoughby's war in St. Vincent.39 In addition, Governor Stapleton of
the Leewards, in a separate document, outlined his fear for the lives of Leeward
Islanders, including those who had gone to work in a silver mine in Dominica
under an agreement with the Kalinago.40 The Barbadians also offered their
criticisms of Willoughby's war effort. In 1676, Governor Atkins described it as a
"fruitless design," whose overall result was that there remain "no likelihood of any
plantations upon Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Tobago.,,41 Meanwhile,
the Antiguans were forced to keep "fourteen files of men," doubled three days
before and after a full moon" as a protective measure against Kalinago warriors.
Governor Stapleton, reflecting on the collapse of the Willoughby initiative,
and considering the prospects for English settlements in the Leewards and
Windwards, quickly moved to the front stage what had been Willoughby's hidden
agenda. Only the destruction of "all the Caribbee Indians" he concluded, could be
the "best piece of service for the settlement of these parts."42 In December, 1675, a
petition of "Several Merchants of London" addressed to the Lords of Trade and
Plantations in support of governor Stapleton's extermination thesis, called for the
granting of a commission to Philip Warner, Stapleton's deputy, to raise soldiers to
go into Dominica to "destroy the barbarous savages."43
Stapleton, however, had pre-empted the Colonial Office in their response to
the London merchants and had already sent Warner "with six small companies of
foot," totaling 300 men, into Dominica to "revenge" on the "heathens for their
bloody perfidious villanies.[sic]'44 One William Hamlyn who participated in the
Warner expedition, described the assault upon the Kalinago as a massacre. At least
thirty Kalinago, he said, were taken and killed on the first round, not including
"three that were drawn by a flag of truce" and shot. After these executions,
Hamlyn reported, another "sixty or seventy men, women and children" were
invited to Warner's camp to settle matters over entertainment. These were given
rum to drink, and when Warner "gave the signal," the English "fell upon them and
destroyed them."46 Included in those killed by the English was Indian Warner,
Phillip Warner's own half-brother, whose mother was a Kalinago, and who had
risen to become a powerful Kalinago leader. Warner was imprisoned in the Tower,
tried for the murder of his brother, but was found not guilty. The decision pleased
the London merchants who described him as "a man of great loyalty" whose
service to the Crown in the destruction of the Kalinagos "who have often
attempted to ruin the plantations" should be commended.47
In spite of losses sustained in Dominica, Kalinagos there continued to use
the island as a military base for expeditions against the English. In July 1681, 300
Kalinagos from St. Vincent and Dominica in six periagos, led by one who named
himself Captain Peter, and who was described as a "good speaker of English
having lived for some time in Barbados," attacked the unguarded English
settlements in Barbuda.48 The English were caught by surprise. Eight of them
were killed, and their houses destroyed. The action was described as swift and
Frustrated again by his inability to protect the lives and property of Leeward
Islanders, Stapleton reiterated his call for a war of extermination against the
Kalinagos. He wrote to the Colonial Office: "I beg your pardon if I am tedious, but
I beg you to represent the King the necessity for destroying these Carib Indians."
"We are now as much on our guard as if we had a christian enemy, neither can any
such surprise us but these cannibals who never come 'marte aperto'... If their
destruction cannot be "total," insisted Stapleton, at least we must "drive them to
the main."49 He was aware, however, of the inability of Leeward Islanders to
finance a major war effort, and had also become respectful for Kalinagos' ability
to obtain "intelligence" with respect to their plans, given these two circumstances,
Stapleton instructed London to order the Barbados government to prepare the
grand design against the Kalinagos. Barbados, he added, was closer to the
Kalinago 'infested' islands of St. Vincent and Dominica; also, on account of the
colony's wealth, it would be the "best piece of service" they could offer England
whilst there was "amity with the French."50
Colonial officials in London accepted Stapleton;s plan in its entirety. They
instructed him to make plans to "utterly suppress" the Kalinagos or "drive them to
the main""5 They also directed Governor Dutton of Barbados to make all possible
contributions to the war effort. Dutton, however, would have no part of it, but not
wishing to contradict the King's orders, he informed the Colonial Office that
though he was in agreement, Barbadians would support no such design against the
Kalinagos for three reasons. First, they consider the affairs of the Leeward Islands
none of their business. Second, they do not consider the advancement of the
Leewards as good thing, indeed they consider it in their interest if the Leewards
would decline rather than progress. Third, planters considered peace with the
Kalinagos in the Windwards a better objective as this would assist them in
securing cutwood and other building materials from those islands.2
The Leeward Islanders, therefore, had to look to their own resources to
finance their military operations. In June 1682, a bill was proposed to the
Leewards Assembly requesting funds to outfit an expedition against the Kalinagos
in Dominica. The council agreed, but the Assembly of Nevis dissented on the
grounds that since they had not been attacked by the Kalinagos in over "twenty
years: they did not intend to endanger their peace.5 Months went by and Stapleton
failed to get his planters to agree on a financial plan for the expedition. By 1700,
the grand design had not yet materialised.
When on the 11th April, 1713, England and France settled their 'American'
difference with the Treaty of Utrecht, Kalinagos were still holding on tenaciously
to considerable territory. St. Vincent and Dominica, though inhabited by some
Europeans, were still under their control, and they were fighting a rear guard war
to retain some space at St. Lucia, Tobago and Grenada. Since the French feared
that successful English settlement of Dominica would lead to the cutting of
communications between Martinique and Guadeloupe in times of war, they
continued to assist the Kalinagos with information and occasionally with weapons
in their anti-English resistance. The best the English could do was to continue the
attempt to settle private treaties with the French, as they had done during the peace
of Ryswick in 1697, which enabled them to go unmolested to Dominica for the
sole purpose of purchasing lumber from the Kalinago.
Kalinagos, then, succeeded in preserving some of their territorial
sovereignty and by so doing were able to maintain their freedom from European
enslavement. While other native Caribbean peoples suffered large scale slavery at
the hands of Europeans, the Kalinagos were never found in large numbers working
the mines, latifudia, or plantations in the Lesser Antilles. Though Spanish slave
raids during the sixteenth century did take many into the Greater Antilles to
supplement Taino labour gangs, European controlled productive structures in the
Lesser Antilles were not built and maintained on the basis of a Kalinago labour
The involvement of Kalinagos into the colonial economy, then, tended to be
small scale, and confined to areas such as fishing, tracking and hunting,
agricultural consulting and a range of petty domestic services. When, for example,
a group of Barbadian sugar planters, concerned about the shortage of white
indentured servants, and the rising cost of African slaves, encouraged Captain
Peter Wroth in 1673 to establish a slave trade in Kalinagos from the Guianas,
colonial officials instructed Governor Atkins to make arrangements for the return
of all those "captured and enslaved." The reason being, they stated, was that
"considering the greater importance of a fair correspondence between the Carib
Indians and the English" in establishing settlements on the Amazon coast, it was
necessary that "provocation be avoided" and all proper measures be taken to gain
their "goodwill and affection."54 Governor Atkins, in informing his superiors of
this compliance indicated his agreement that it was necessary to "keep amity" with
Kalinagos, since they have "always been very pernicious, especially to the smaller
Between 1492 and 1700 the Kalinago population in the Lesser Antilles may
have fallen by as much as 90 percent, noted Michael Craton, but they had done
much to "preserve and extend their independence."56 By this time the Dominica
population, according to Labat, "did not exceed 2000" and warriors were too weak
in numbers to do any serious harm" to European colonies.57 Nonetheless, colonists
in the "outlying districts" still had reasons to believe that any night Kalinago
warriors could take them by surprise and "cut their throats and bur their
houses.""5 By refusing to capitulate under the collective military might of the
Europeans, Kalinagos certainly kept the Windwards Islands in a marginal relation
to the slave plantation complex of the North Atlantic system for two hundred
years, and in so doing, made a principal contribution to the Caribbean's
anti-colonial and anti-slavery tradition.
(Reproduced from Caribbean Quarterly, Vol.38, Nos.2&3, Special issue -
Caribbean Quincentennial, June- Sept. 1992)
1. See Michael Craton, Testing the chains: Resistance to Slavery In the British West
Indies (Ithaca, 1982) pp. 21-23; Hilary Beckles, "The 200 Years War: Slave
Resistance in the British West Indies: An Overview of the Historiography," Jamaica
Historical Review, Vol. 13, 1982, 1-10.
2. See J. Paul Thomas, "The Caribs of St. Vincent: A Study in Imperial
Maladministration, 1763-73," Journal of Caribbean History, Vol. 18, No.2, 1984, pp.
60-74; Craton Testing the Chains, pp. 141 153, 183-194; Richard B. Sheridan, "The
Condition of slaves in the Settlement and Economic Development of the British
Windward Islands, 1763-1775," Journal of Caribbean History, Vol. 24, No.2, 1991, pp.
128-129; Bernard Marshall, "Slave Resistance and White Reaction in the British
Windward Islands, 1763-1833," see this volume.
3. David Watts, The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture and
Environmental Change since 1492 (Cambridge, 1987) pp. 41, 51-52. W. Borah, "The
Historical Demography of Aboriginal and Colonial America: An Attempt at
perspective," in W. Denevan, The Native Population of the Americas in 1492 (Madison,
Wisconsin Univ. Press, 1976) pp. 13-34. J.M. Cruxent and I. Rouse, "Early man in the
West Indies" Scientific American, No. 221, 1969, pp. 42-52. B. Meggers and C. Evans,
"Lowland South America and the Antilles," in J.D. Jennings, Ancient Native Americans
(San Francisco, W.H. Freeman, 1978) pp. 543-92.
4. Gordon Lewis, Main Currents In Caribbean Thought: The Historical Evolution of
Caribbean Society In its Ideological Aspects, 1492-1900 (Heinemann, Kingston, 1983)
5. On Kalinago assistance to Tainos in Puerto Rico, see Carl Sauer, The Early Spanish
Main (Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, LA, 1966) pp.32, 58, 192.See Eric Williams,
Documents of West Indian History, 1492-1655 (Port-of Spain, PNM Publishing Co.,
1963) pp. 62-70, 89-94.Robert Greenwood, A Sketchmap History ofthe Caribbean
(MacMillan, 1991) pp. 18,23.
6. Sauer, C. The Early Spanish Main, pp. 35. 180, 193; see also Lewis, Main
Currents, p. 64.
7. Troy S. Floyd, The Columbian Dynasty In the Caribbean, 1492-1526
(Albuquerque, Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1973) p. 97. For an account of the Spanish