Conditions of the Enslaved People of St.Lucia

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Slave Woman In St. Lucia       

                                                                    Abstract

This chapter takes a closer look at the social aspect of the enslaved people of St.Lucia. It identifies issues such as the families [born on the plantations and in urban holdings], sex, language, festivals and other traditional rituals. This chapter is not enough for a complete study of the life of the enslaved but it aims to stir an interest to the ancestors of majority of St. Lucians. The life of those people on the plantations as field or domestic enslaved or the work in urban enslaved is not a major focus. It is a deliberate attempt to step away from the work that labelled the enslaved as property. As property, enslaved people received the treatment as goods and building. This is evidenced by  posters boldly indicating the sale of the enslaved, while at the same time there were items such as rice, ribbons and books [See Figure 3:1]. It is true that their force labour dominated their life but in spite of this essence, community life is awaiting exploration.

Slave Poster

[Figure 3:1] Source: ©Hull Museums                       

                                                                The Slave Registers

In 1807, the British abolished the Slave Trade and proclaimed that none of her subjects should practise in the illegal shipment of enslaved persons from Africa. However, the trade persisted. As a result, the slave registers became a means to record the names of the enslaved in a hope to track and destroy the illegal trade. St.Lucia and Trinidad were the first two colonies to start the slaves’ registers in 1814. [1]

There are a few discrepancies with the Slave Registers. Most of the enslaved registers for St.Lucia were in French [but this is the problem]. According to Barry Higman, the local office complained that the slaveholders brought in their reports very late and some of the information was repetitive. For example, for the Slave Registers in 1815, owners submitted in December 80 percentages of the 1,024 returns.[2] In addition, owners registered 13% of 1815 slave returns in January 1816.[3] Here one can see that the slave registers may not be concrete definite statistics for the population statistics for the enslaved population. However, the slave registers are an excellent source to differentiate between the plantation and personal enslaved on the island. The slave registers also give the age and slave owners of the enslaved, which is useful information in understanding the enslaved. Higman posits the view that some of the problems with the slave registers associates with the small urban slaveholders. As a result, there were many repetitions in their reports for the slave returns.

Origin of the Enslaved People

The origin of the enslaved population of St.Lucia came from various locations in West Africa because of the island’s mixture of both French and English slaveholders. According to Jolie Harmsen, between the periods 1600-1700, the enslaved came largely from Senegambia. Harmsen further explains that the “Neg June (Guinea Africans) were likely to have been of Ewe/Fon origin and the Neg Kongo of Congo/Angolan origin.”[4] In contrast, when St.Lucia became a British colony, many of the enslaved were from Akan and Eastern Nigerian descent.

Throughout the region, the enslaved were both Creole and African in origin. In the Slave Registers of Former British Colonial Dependencies for St.Lucia, there is no category for Origin of the enslaved but a section titled Nationality, which seems to serve the same purpose. For example, Mary Anah was a 37-year-old female whose nationality was Congolese or Fanny Collins a 24-year-old female who was Dominican.[5] The Registers show that the enslaved population in St.Lucia came from different nationalities far and nearby. Rituals

  1. Baptism

Baptism and marriage of the enslaved population on the island is very peculiar because of the different practise of the French and English slaveholder. The French adhered to the Roman Catholic faith, whilst the English held unto the Protestant faith. There are marked differences in the approach of the churches to baptism of the enslaved people. According to Richard Hart, the Catholic priests were more involved in the lives of the enslaved than the Protestant. Hence, the priests became an part of the lives of the enslaved in the French Caribbean. The Protestants believed that the enslaved had direct access to God in relations to moral issues.[6] In addition, Sir Frederick Thomas explains that the French King mandated by law that the enslaved are full converts of the Catholic faith, therefore baptism and other sacrament such as marriage were highly encouraged.[7] However, after the island came under formal British control in 1815, they enforced some of their British customs. As Parry and Sherlock put it by law, the enslaved became as “pieces of property, not men and women and were excluded from the sacraments of the church.”[8] Slavery was inhumane in both the French and the British West Indies but the French Catholic religious laws allowed the enslaved greater scope for identity through the church. The French enslaved were able to form a relationship with the clergy, the clergy who easily spread the doctrine of the Catholic Church.[9]

  1. Names

The names the enslaved people were reflected their character or lack of interest of the slaveholders in finding suitable names for them either at baptism or at purchase. According to Barry Higman, owners gave the surnames displayed on the slave registers for the enslaved people simply to meet requirement of the colonial office. For example, the enslaved on the Choc Plantation received surnames of the year in French – Janvier, Fevrier, Mars, and Avril etc.[10] Additionally, the enslaved on the Volet plantation were given surnames after drinks or liquids such as Syrup, Limes, Rum, Sangree, Grog, Brandy, Gin, Champaign, Madeira and Porter.[11] In addition, Margot Thomas points out that a few of the enslaved acquired names based on an extremely noticeable physical feature or link to their behaviour.[12] For example, an enslaved of Frѐdѐric Tharel named Coffy Gros-Yeux – which meant big eyes and another enslaved of John McCall named Andrew Barker because he was quarrelsome.[13] Margot Thomas also explains that some masters gave the enslaved their names.

It is important to note that in Higman’s text Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807-1834, he acknowledges that he did not engage in the task of explaining the cultural meaning to the surnames of the enslaved. One can surely agree with Higman when he states that the “naming practices can be expected to provide insight into the functioning of the slave community.”[14] The planters- the main slaveholders on the island – were the ones who gave the enslaved their names not their parents. One can argue that although the Creole enslaved had biological parents, the planters and other slaveholders usurped many of the traditional roles of parents. The naming process was part of the seasoning of the enslaved people. According to James Walvin, the planters wanting to purge the Africans of their roots gave them new names.[15] The enslaved acquired a new identity with new names. Your name defines who you are and gives insight into your background, new names suggests the act of the masters wanting the enslaved to forget about their old homes.

  1. Marriage

Marriage is another part of the enslaved life, which tells more about the enslaved communities in St.Lucia. It appears that the many British owners prevented wedding, as couples encouraged to co-habit. One can posit the view that the aim of the slaveholders prohibiting the enslaved from matrimony was to reinforced that premise that the enslaved were property. Additionally, the slaveholders especially planters encouraged the enslaved to co-habit for reproduction for continuous labour. Additionally William Burnley, four years after the apprenticeship period stated that there was an increase in marriage among the freemen in St. Lucia.[16]  Burnley further stated that the most of the marriage were between old couples who for long had co-habited.

Furthermore, Engerman and Higman states that the rural enslaved were more likely to live as families than the urban enslaved population. For example in 1815, “69% of rural slaves were attributed to families, compared to 55% of town slaves.”[17]  The slaveholder reared the children reproduced by the urban enslaved women. The growth of the Creole population facilitated the raise of kinship especially since “cross population mating became common.”[18] In addition, according to French traditions on the island, when co-habited couples married, their children immediately became legitimate and should the parents die without a will, the children became entitled to the properties left.[19]

  1. Wakes

The enslaved communities had many traditions and practises for different occasions such as festivals or death. According to Malena Kuss, there are communities in St.Lucia today – such as Babonneau- whose ritual at the wake of their dead family came from the traditions of the enslaved people. [20] The practise kele, involved having wakes from the night an enslaved dies, until the burial. The sympathizers kept the bereaved family company until daybreak on each night of the wake. There would be a chantwѐle, singing whilst other persons repeated the lines or joined in the singing.[21]

Festivals

Piaye is a cultural village, where communities use drums and dance forms passed on by their ancestors: Neg Jine of the Guinea Coast. They keep history of the African enslaved alive through songs, folklores, all part of their oral tradition. According to Auguste, the Rose and La Marguerite festivals show that the enslaved were mimicking the rivalry between the French and English. It also depicted the bitter relationship between the enslaved and the slaveholders. In addition to dances there were folklores speaking of stories or events, which occurred in Africa – Anansi’s stories, Ti Jean stories etc.

Age

According to the Personal and Plantations Slave Registers the ages of the enslaved population is not certain. In the Age category, the word about appears before the birth year of each enslaved. For example, on the Personal Slaves Register1815,  an enslaved of Jean Fҫois Rechou was Thomas Bea whose birth year was about 1806; his aged recorded at nine.[22] Higman states that it was for this reason, the slaveholders estimated the age of the enslaved by assessing their physical appearance.

In addition, Higman explains that in 1815, in the urban areas in St.Lucia – specifically Castries – there were more enslaved women in their twenties compared to the plantations.[23]  Younger enslaved women was common in the urban areas due to the nature of the slaveholders’ economic activity. The enslaved women were   prostitutes, washerwomen, nannies, and wet nurses. The age of the enslaved was just as important as sex and birthplace in determining whether they were urban or rural enslaved. Thus, a great number of the younger enslaved women resided in the urban areas on the island to satisfy the main economic activity present, which was starkly different from the rural. It clearly shows that  majority of the male enslaved slaved on the cotton, coffee and sugar plantations in comparison to their female counterparts.

Food

The diet of the both the rural and the urban enslaved was meagre. The Law required rural planters to give each of the enslaved with half an acre of land. The land provision gave the planters the liberty of providing less food allowances to the enslaved.[24] The urban enslaved had to rely solely on food and money allowances from their slaveholders. If the slaveholders were poor, the enslaved received a very small allowance. Higman explains that if there were a drought in the rural areas, the price of food would be high in the urban areas. Thus, the enslaved given cash allowances sometimes could not afford to buy food.[25]  The lack of food resulted in increase in theft and scavenging in the urban areas.

Housing and Accommodation

The enslaved of St.Lucia lived in ajoupas; Higman describes them as “well thatched, wattled, plastered and whitewashed.”[26] According to Joyce Auguste, many of the enslaved families had two or more ajoupas as living, kitchen and sleeping quarters – there was also a thatch covered pit latrine. Sometimes the enslaved lived in long rectangular compartments, with a unit for the enslaved family. These houses were of local timber and imported nails with the roofs and outer walls made of shingles to offer protection from the rain.[27] [See Figure 3:2] Higman explains that the rural enslaved build their own houses on a given tract of land. Usually, the size and fabric quality of the drivers and skilled tradesmen were larger and better. The urban enslaved lived in the slaveholder’s backyard in the ‘masters negro yards’ whilst some of the domestics lived on their own premises. In some cases, some of the urban enslaved slept in the same rooms as their masters or mistresses or they occupied rooms provided for them near the kitchen or storeroom. Higman states that houses of the urban enslaved were later made of stone or brick to safeguard from fires.

Slave Housing In ST. Lucia

[Figure 3: 2] Source: Joyce Auguste

Slave Housing

[Figure 3:2] Source: Joyce Auguste

Clothing

The clothing of the rural enslaved was ‘miserable’, speaking not of the quality but the few articles of clothing they possessed. The men wore coarse linen breeches and a headwear. The women were not so fortunate with a headwear but they wore skirts. Neither the men nor women wore stockings or shoes; the children up to the age of four to five years stayed naked. At age five, they wore linen robes until ten when the boys dressed as their fathers and the girls has their mothers. The Law required slaveholders to give the meagre garments enslaved; however, the enslaved found ways to improve on their toiletries.[28] Additionally, Higman explains that by the 19th century most of the planters gave the enslaved the materials to make their own clothes. Frequently, the planters withheld clothes as a form of punishment. Clothes were so scarce that the enslaved slept in the same clothes, even when it was wet.[29] The urban enslaved clothes consisted of cast offs from the slaveholders. Therefore, the enslaved clothing depended on the wealth of the slaveholder. Unlike the men on the plantation who wore flocks, the urban men wore waistcoats. The urban slaves were more likely to wear shoes than the rural areas.

Language

According to Albert Valdman, the first variety of French Creole came to the Caribbean via St.Kitts – the first settled colony. Thereafter, it spread to Martinique, Guiana and Guadeloupe, the language came to St.Lucia via Martinique, as the early enslaved of island came from Martinique.[30]  Martinique and St.Lucia were under the same government before the St.Lucia ceded to the British. Majority of  St.Lucia’s enslaved came from Martinique. According to John Jeremie, the French planters taught the enslaved population French as one of the ways to remove their African culture. However, the enslaved retained part of the African language infusing it with French to create the language called Kwéyòl. Henry Breen describes the language as a jargon and unintelligible and notes the letter “r” was obsolete and “ki’s” and “ka’s” became the root for formulating past tense.[31] In this writer’s belief, Breen described the language as unintelligible and a jargon, simply because he could not understand it.

[1] Sir Alan Burns, History of the West Indies (London: George Allen and UNWIN Ltd, 1965), 590

[2] Barry Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807-1834 (London: John Hopkins University Press, 1984), 10

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jolie Harmsen, Sugar, Slavery and Settlement: A Social History of Vieux-Fort St.Lucia, from the Amerindians to the present (Castries: St.Lucia National Trust, 1999), 27

[5] Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 for St.Lucia

[6] Richard Hart, Plantation Society: A Study of the Sugar Plantation in the Caribbean (London: Community Education Trust, 1980), 7

[7] Sir Frederick Treves, Peeps Into St.Lucia’s Past: The Cradle of the Deep” (Castries: University of the West Indies St.Lucia, 1979), 82

[8] J.H Parry and P.M Sherlock, A Short History of the West Indies (Maingot: MacMillan Caribbean, 1987), 69

[9] According to Charles Jesse writings (Catholic Priest), the majority of the enslaved of St.Lucia practiced the Catholic faith. Thus, today the majority of St. Lucians today belong to the Catholic faith.

[10] Higman, 15

[11] Ibid.

[12] Margot Thomas, From Slavery to Freedom: Some Aspects of the Impact of Slavery on Saint Lucia (Castries: Saint Lucia National Commission for UNESCO, 2006), 13

[13] Ibid., 94

[14] Ibid., 16

[15] James Walvin, Slaves and Slavery: The British Colonial Experience (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), 67

[16] British Parliamentary Papers “Report from the Select Committee on West India Colonies: Examination of William Burnley,” Colonies West Indies 1 (Ireland: Irish University Press, 1842), 58

[17] Stanley L. Engerman and B.W Higman, “The Demographic Structure of the Caribbean Slave Societies in the 18th and 19th Centuries,” ed. Franklin W. Knight General History of the Caribbean Vol. III: The Slave Societies of the Caribbean (London: UNESCO Publishing, 1997), 87

[18] Ibid.

[19] British Parliamentary Papers “Report from the Select Committee on West India Colonies: Examination of William Burnley,” Colonies West Indies 1, 60

[20] Joycelyne Guilbaut and Embert Charles, “St.Lucia”  ed. Malena Kuss, Music in Latin America and the Caribbean: Performing the Caribbean Experience (USA: The Universe of Music, Inc., 2007), 381

[21] Ibid.

[22]“ Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834: St.Lucia,” (Ancestry.com Operations Inc. , 2007)

[23] Higman, 145

[24] Woodville Marshall, “Provision Ground and Plantation Labour in Four Windward Islands: Competition for Resources during slavery,” eds. Ira Berlin and Philip Morgan, The Slaves Economy: Independent Production by Slaves in the Americas (England: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd, 1991), 53

[25] Higman, 252

[26] Ibid., 220

[27] Joyce Auguste, Cultural Heritage Series No.1: Oral and Folk Traditions of Saint Lucia (Saint Lucia: Lithographic Press, 1986), 25-26

[28] Notes of Charles Jesse FMI of St.Lucia Roman Catholic Church

[29] Higman, 225

[30] Albert Valdman, “Creole, the Language and Slavery,” ed. Doris Kadish Slavery in the Caribbean Francophone (London: The University of the Georgia Press, 2000), 147

[31] Breen, 185

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