Rise and Fall of an Empire

A Progressive Caribbean

by Jerome Teelucksingh (Author)
Monographs XVIII, 180 Pages

Table Of Content

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Many persons tend to associate the word “Empire” with a mighty, powerful country or civilization in the past or present. It is normal to use the terms—British Empire, Roman Empire, Inca Empire, American Empire or Spanish Empire. Some would be familiar with evolution of the Maurya Empire, Byzantine Empire, Babylonian Empire, Qing Empire or Ottoman Empire.1 It would be difficult for some persons to readily accept the term—Caribbean Empire. In retrospect, it is easier to accept such a term when one considers the fact that Caribbean people (and the diaspora) have been major contributors to global development and progress.

The world’s history is one of invasions, conquests and expulsions. There was a continuous onslaught, initiated by “discoverers” and “explorers” against indigenous peoples. From the late fifteenth century, imperialism and colonialism wreaked havoc on millions of persons in the Caribbean. A cursory overview gives the impression that the Caribbean never produced mighty conquerors as Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Saladin the Muslim warlord, Julius Caesar and Hannibal. However, this is a misleading view. There are countless ←xi | xii→and often forgotten persons and organizations who fearlessly fought against slavery and indentureship and vehemently opposed colonialism and imperialism. Their names are neither recorded in history books nor displayed on memorials.

Some persons would ask—what would be the criteria in defining a region or country as an Empire? Is it the size of the population, amount of resources, achievements of the citizens or military conquests? It is obvious that there are no rigid laws or theories that determine whether a country should be defined as an Empire. Undoubtedly, the Caribbean migrants who have made valuable contributions to their host societies will certainly be part of any justification that the region be acknowledged as a Caribbean Empire. Determining if the Caribbean Empire is progressive will be a never-ending debate. Indeed, the story of the Caribbean Empire is one in which persons from different ethnic, religious, geographical and class backgrounds have strengthened the foundation for future citizens. Additionally, the observances of festivals as Divali, Hosay, Ramleela, Christmas and Eid have also contributed to the uniqueness and diversity of the Caribbean region.

The chapters provide ample proof that genocide, slavery, culture and ideology were crucial components in the evolution of the Caribbean. Additionally, within the nine chapters there is emphasis on the intersection of literature, media, religion and history within a Caribbean framework. The book is divided into three major sections: Slavery and Genocide, Culture and Conflict and Literary Criticism. Additionally, there is initial emphasis on the challenges and achievements of the Caribbean since the arrival of the Spanish in 1492. One of the salient features of this work is that it examines a cross section of the Caribbean society. This book highlights some invaluable and diverse aspects of Caribbean society and the global influences. There is an emphasis on both organizations and personalities in building the Caribbean Empire. Additionally, there is a focus on lesser-known events, individuals and organizations that have contributed to the creation or regression of the Caribbean. I have argued that some of these personalities and groups made valid contributions to the improvement and betterment of Caribbean societies. The never-ending list of “builders” of this grand ←xii | xiii→empire includes the First Peoples and persons of Chinese, Syrian, Spanish, African, French and Jewish descent.

In Chapter One, there is an analysis of the past injustices against the First Peoples (indigenous Indians) in the Americas from the late fifteenth century and their continued grievances. The arrival of the Spanish began a destructive wave in which the cultures and religions of these Indians were mocked and destroyed. These innocent tribal victims were killed, raped, forced into reserves, robbed of their lands and suffered due to a capitalist greed. This clash of civilizations has resulted in the disappearance of numerous cultures, languages, religions and ancient wisdom.

The link between the past and the present is obvious as land disputes and other cultural issues are being raised by the First Peoples in the twenty-first century. There will also be an historical overview of the harsh treatment of Indians by the Spanish and later Europeans. There will be emphasis on the rich culture and contributions of Indians to the economy of the Americas. Additionally, this chapter will contain a discussion of the recommendations and solutions to preserve the culture and legacy of the First Peoples. Undoubtedly, governments need to be more sensitive and aware of the importance of pre-Columbian history, tribal cultures and the contributions of the First Peoples.

Chapter Two focuses on the children of enslaved parents who were a crucial component of the labor force on the West Indian plantations. The fertility of women, mortality of infants and productivity and occupational mobility of children were inextricably linked to profit maximization. The rigorous labor demands in the British West Indies meant there was constant pressure to accelerate the transition from childhood to adulthood. The decline and fluctuating profits of sugar planting in the British West Indies would have directly impacted on the treatment and workload of enslaved children. It was evident that the cost-conscious planters contributed to enslaved children being overworked. The paucity of young slaves in the historical records gives the deceptive impression that they were improperly socialized in the rigorous regimen of West Indian plantation. However, their role in the estate gangs, involved in minor tasks, was critical in ensuring the smooth and efficient daily operations of the estate. An absence of children on an ←xiii | xiv→estate would have entailed more work for the first and second gangs. The survival of children to adulthood amid an unsanitary and inhospitable environment is a testimony to the hardiness and survival mechanisms imbued in some of these enslaved children.

A critique of the Hosay Massacre in Chapter Three sheds light on the factors responsible for the tragic killing of Indo-Trinidadians in the Hosay festival. The event occurred in South Trinidad during October 1884. Hosay was a religious and relatively peaceful festival that posed a threat to colonial authorities. The festival posed a threat because this occasion was a crucible for religious and working class unity. The gender barrier was also transcended as African and Indian women were present in the procession. Women, especially those of the Shia sect, were occasionally present in the procession and usually surrounded the tadjahs. And, the age barrier was crossed as evident from the fact that children and youths were in the procession. Teenaged sons, brothers and nephews often accompanied the older men. Thus, the suppression of Hosay in 1884 provided a golden opportunity for the colonial ruling class to sabotage solidarity among the colony’s working class. Both the government and the estate owners had a vested interest in a fragmented and polarized society.

The global connections in Chapter Four resonated during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (in Africa) in 1935. It had a significant impact on persons of African descent residing in the British Caribbean colonies. Both Britain and France were guilty of deliberately ignoring Italy’s aggressive actions. As the war between Italy and Ethiopia progressed, Blacks in the Caribbean colonies became increasingly agitated. Religious tensions increased, in December 1935, when it was revealed that the Roman Catholic Church intended to make a substantial loan to assist Benito Mussolini, leader of Italy.

One of Trinidad’s popular pro-Black newspapers, The People, had frequent Biblical references condemning Italy’s aggression. It was obvious from the writings and speeches that race/ethnicity appeared more important than religion for many groups and Blacks in the Caribbean and abroad. The pro-Ethiopia editorials, opinions and weekly summaries sought to convince its readership that Ethiopia was bravely defending her empire against great odds. In 2020, there is no longer a ←xiv | xv→foreign threat but the challenges of the African nation include border conflicts, refugees and violence.2

The main argument in Chapter Five is that foreign media has negatively influenced Caribbean culture and behavior patterns. One result of increased exposure to cable television and foreign movies was a flawed socialization. Additionally, there have been arguments that these influences have contributed to an increase of social problems such as underage sexual activity, pornography and crime. Furthermore, the foreign media’s influence is a form of cultural imperialism that has created incomplete Caribbean citizens. This implies that young people rejected their local or indigenous culture and accepted an alien culture.

There is an assessment of the controversial and transformative impact of Dancehall music on Caribbean culture in Chapter Six. Dancehall, associated with the West Indian island of Jamaica, has globally influenced persons. It is an art form which incorporates metaphorical language and allegory. One of the main arguments is that lyrics from artistes are used to reinforce the argument that this genre of music has influenced gender relations, cultural interaction, religion and contestations for space. Furthermore, there is emphasis that dancehall is a means of communication to express frustration, chastise politicians and reflect the harsh realities faced by the lower class.

Chapter Seven focuses on two novels At the Full and Change of the Moon and Witchbroom that deals with the themes of rebellion, sex and religion among the enslaved Africans and their descendants. Witchbroom, by Lawrence Scott, examined the experience of selected persons of the African diaspora. The novel can be viewed as a story of displaced people, whose predicament haunts them from the plantations of the Americas to freedom. In so doing, there will be some focus on the manner in which the characters in slavery and their descendants have sought to hide or transform their lives in a new environment. The author’s emphasis on sexuality and the manner in which he sought to relate the experiences of Josephine, the protagonist, will also be explored. Her life is one which is narrated through her grandchild. The religious setting is created with the references to the Holy Spirit, Virgin Mary, parish priests, acolytes and recitation of the Holy Mary. Witchbroom highlights the moral weaknesses of the priests and nuns as ←xv | xvi→they succumb to temptations and commit carnal sins of lust and fornication. Such fictional atrocities are a reality as there were reports of sexual abuse by priests in 2019.3

At the Full and Change of the Moon by Dionne Brand, a West Indian based in Canada, is a fascinating account of a rebellion and its impact on a failed society. Ursule is portrayed, by Brand, as a natural leader who earns the respect of men and is seen in the slave society as a “queen of rebels” who has lost an ear in a failed rebellion of 1819. The dispersal of Ursule’s relatives is directly linked to the traumatic displacement caused by slavery. Interestingly, the females portrayed in the novel are able to appreciate and understand their surroundings while the male characters are either apathetic or less aware of their surroundings. Ursule’s far-reaching guiding presence is felt among her descendants, and this is obvious in a later character—Ursule’s great-great-grandchild. Brand conveys the impression that the horrors of slavery endured by Ursule contributed or was partially responsible for her dysfunctional descendants. This long-term impact is a justification for the demand for reparations in 2020. The rebelliousness and misfortunes of Ursule’s descendants strongly suggest an underlying sense of continuity amid change. Both works, though fiction, pose a challenge to the historians and sociologists to seriously ponder on a plausible aspect of social history that had been ignored and unrecorded.

Chapter Eight is an examination of selected novelists who have explored the topics of spirituality and superstition within Caribbean society. The argument is that the Caribbean experiences adaptation, acculturation and assimilation as evident in the mixture of religious beliefs with superstitions. West Indian novelists have captured some of the superstition and spirituality, which is prevalent in the region. Among the novels that have incorporated religion and superstition in the plots included A House for Mr Biswas, Black Midas, A Flag on the Island, The Jumbie Bird, The Wine of Astonishment, The Obeah Man and Mystic Masseur. Interestingly, these novelists have revealed that one’s personal space is being shaped by the interjection of the spiritual and the superstitious.

The characters in the novels sometimes find it difficult to understand the nature of religion and their superstitious beliefs. Without fear ←xvi | xvii→there would be less or no reliance on religion, likewise without religion there would be constant, unfounded superstitions. It seems that both exist in a symbiotic relationship. Thus the emotional comfort provided by spirituality prevents the superstitions from becoming a reality and creating harm. The fictional account also reflects the belief systems in Caribbean societies. For instance, some Haitians still accept voodoo, and in 2019, others believe in folklore as evident in the reports of a buck in south Trinidad.4

The final chapter examined the potential and usefulness of A New World Order: Selected Essays. The work, by Caryl Phillips, provided insight into four geographic regions which have intersected with various themes such as music, race, migration and culture. Certain questions will be addressed: Does the work reflect an attempt to create a new world order? Why does Phillips see the need for a new world order? Do the four geographic areas—United States, Africa, Britain and the Caribbean hold the key to creating a new vision? Is it possible for the Caribbean to be part of this program? There will be an examination of the extent in which film, literary and cultural personalities who are part of the vision of a new world order.


1. Cyril Lionel Robert James commented on the Caribbean, “Geographically and demographically we are the closest of modern social entities to the city-states of ancient Greece and of the Middle Ages in Flanders and Northern Italy. Cyril Lionel Robert James, “Tomorrow and Today: A Vision,” New World 2, no. 3 (1966): 86.

2. James Jeffrey, “Briefing: Five Challenges Facing Ethiopia’s Abiy,” https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2019/10/16/Abiy-Ethiopia-Eritrea-Nobel-peace-Tigray (accessed on 2 December 2019).

3. Sharon Otterman, “Buffalo Bishop Resigns after Scandal over Secret List of Abusive Priests,” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/04/nyregion/buffalo-bishop-catholic-church-abuse.html also “Catholic Priests in Argentina Sentenced to 45 Years for Child Abuse,” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/25/roman-catholic-priests-argentina-sentenced-45-years-child-abuse-school-deaf (accessed on 5 December 2019).

4. Radhica De Silva, “Family Begs for Spiritual Help from Buck Attack,” https://www.guardian.co.tt/news/family-begs-for-spiritual-help-from-buck-attack-6.2.803986.b08a1008f0; Anne Myriam Bolivar, “Cash-strapped Haitians Find Voodoo a Cheaper Alternative to Traditional Medicine,” https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-09-03/cash-strapped-haitians-find-voodoo-cheaper-alternative-traditional-medicine (accessed on 1 December 2019).

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An Italian mariner with borrowed Spanish ships began one of the most exciting chapters of European history since the glory days of the ancient Roman Caesars. By the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 and the Bull of Pope Alexander VI, lands discovered by Christopher Columbus were decreed as legitimate possessions of Spain and Portugal. The thrill of these discoveries, with prospects of abundant treasures and the irresistible lure of adventure, beckoned Europeans grown tired of domestic, political and social upheavals.

Britain took the vanguard role that spanned more than three centuries of European incursions in the Hispano-Portuguese New World domain. It began as early as 1496 with the voyages of John Cabot and the subsequent exploits of the Elizabethan sea dogs. The courage and vision of settlers and explorers and the magnificent victories of English admirals embraced such activities that engaged the monarchies of the Tudors, Stuarts and Hanoverians.

Spain could not successfully keep out the interlopers and intruders from her territories as these “squatters” from Europe gained a foothold in her unoccupied or poorly defended lands in the Americas. English, ←1 | 2→French and Dutch competitors were the primary forces competing for a share in the New World. Not content to merely trade with Spanish colonies, these European nations sought to gain a foothold in the Americas. Cardinal Richelieu with Marshall d’Effiat formed a French consortium, the Company of the Isles of America, to colonize lands in the New World and the place to begin was St. Christopher where the French sailor d’Esnambuc attempted to form a settlement. Furthermore, in 1635, the legitimacy of the Spanish-Portuguese claim to the lands of the Americas ended, when Pope Urban VII recognized the rights of France to settle in the lands in the New World. Further French colonization included the St. Lawrence area in Canada in 1655, then the Mississippi Valley in 1680 and other parts of North America.

As early as 1580, the Dutch entered the great European rush to settle unexplored New World territories in their visit to the Amazon region. And, in 1609, in their North American colonization thrust, they founded the New Netherlands settlement on the Hudson, later occupying Manhattan and in 1623 founded the town of New Amsterdam.

British colonialism in the New World has its genesis in the failed efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595, Charles Leigh in 1604, Robert Harcourt in 1609 and Roger North in 1619, all of whom sought to establish settlements in South America in the Guyana-Orinoco region. But, these failures did not eclipse the English vision for overseas colonization. Commissioned by the London Company, Christopher Newport with one hundred settlers arrived in Chesapeake Bay in 1607 and founded Jamestown which became the first permanent British colony in the New World. This signaled a new beginning in British colonial enterprise:

This first charter revealed the commercial motivation of both king and company in the plainest terms. Although it spoke of spreading Christianity and bringing “the Infidels and Savages living in these parts to human Civility” it stressed the right to “dig, mine and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold, Silver and Copper.”1

Expansion through colonization was simultaneously extended in the Caribbean when Sir Thomas Warner, in 1624, landed in St. Christopher (St. Kitts), one of the smaller islands neglected by Spain. This provided ←2 | 3→the impetus for the occupation of the scattered islands of the Lesser Antilles where in the scramble for these Spanish crumbs, England rushed ahead of France and Holland. Spanish monopoly of Caribbean lands was rudely challenged when in 1655 Admiral Penn and General Venables captured Jamaica from the weak Spanish forces. Later in 1797, Sir Ralph Abercromby and Admiral Harvey with a British squadron captured Trinidad from Chacon, the weak Spanish governor.

These and other West Indian islands that Britain gained through settlements, conquest or annexation were Crown property. Her new manors, parishes and estates were established across the Atlantic, far west of the British Isles. Basically, these islands were ruled from England with governors as vice-regents of the Crown and vested with such extensive powers enabling them to function as lords of Britain’s New World territories, a minuscule monarchy away from London.

Spain had proven incapable of properly administering and defending her New World Empire; now, Britain was soon to learn that it was no simple task to organize, develop and control her newly acquired Atlantic colonies. The deficiencies in her colonial management strategies indicated England’s inexperience and unpreparedness for overseas expansion. Her most embarrassing and humiliating lesson, which later exposed her inefficiency and failure in colonial expansionist policies, was in the struggle between king and colonists, which resulted in the loss of her thirteen American colonies in the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The nakedness of her policies were also obvious in initial attempts in West Indian colonization when royal charters were given to individuals and companies who led the way in establishing settlements and regarded the colonies merely as objects of overseas investment. The first of these was in 1627 when King Charles 1 granted to James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, the title of “Lord Proprietor” of the “Caribbee Islands” and gave him the patent to be the sole proprietor for most of the Lesser Antilles:

The grant gave the Earl … extensive powers … and permitted him to make laws with the assent of the colonist. According to established practice he should have called elected assemblies in the islands, but he evaded doing ←3 | 4→so. He had a commission as Captain-General which gave him the rights of a commander in the field … and on the pretext of war he kept the islands under martial law. He never visited the colonies himself, but carried on an arbitrary Government by the agency of Warner and other governors.2

But proprietary governance was unpopular with the planters and the colonist who preferred to manage their own affairs with taxes, if imposed, ought to be their own representative assembly. Colonists were familiar with the representative system of government at home in Britain, and felt comfortable with a government that included the governor functioning as the King did in England—the Council operating as the House of Lords, and the General Assembly elected by the freeholders, substituting for the House of Commons.3

The “old representative system” as a small-scale model of British parliamentary structure could not survive beyond the eighteenth century. This system belonged to the pre-emancipation West Indian society when there were two social classes: an upper class comprising the planters, merchants and freeholder and another class, the enslaved Africans who were no more than material property, devoid of representation and franchise. The assemblies then were representative of the only recognized class, the plantocracy. The emancipation of the enslaved Africans in 1838 created a new social order and, therefore, in subsequent decades of the nineteenth century, Crown Colony government was introduced as the preferred system of governance.4


1. John A. Garraty, A Short History of the American Nation, 7th ed. (New York: Longman, 1997), 11.

2. James Williamson, The British Empire and Commonwealth (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1954), 69.

3. Gordon K. Lewis, “British Colonialism in the West Indies: The Political Legacy,” Caribbean Studies 7, no. 1 (April 1967): 3–22.

4. See Hugh Edward Egerton, “The System of British Colonial Administration of the Crown Colonies in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries Compared with ←4 | 5→the System Prevailing in the Nineteenth Century: A Lecture Delivered before the Society on April 19, 1918,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 1 (1918): 190–217. Also Ronald V. Sires, “The Experience of Jamaica with Modified Crown Colony Government,” Social and Economic Studies 4, no. 2 (June 1955): 150–167.

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Chapter One

Slaughter of the First Peoples

Prior to 1492, there were millions of First Peoples peacefully residing in the Americas. The inventions, lifestyle and achievements of the First Peoples are well-documented. This would include the Incas who used musical instruments as the panpipes, had systems of measurement—calendar, hanging bridges and aqueducts.1 Other civilizations as the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs also made valuable contributions to humanity.2 In the Caribbean, the Tainos (Arawak) and Kalinagos (Caribs) had also made considerable progress. The Tainos were skilled as potters, weavers, woodworkers and carvers of wood, stone and shell. Also, the Tainos developed a grater to make cassava cakes and used juice squeezers to obtain cassava juice. Likewise, the Kalinagos were well-known for their large canoes, about forty feet in length, which were used for fishing and warfare. The Kalinagos also made pepper sauces and beer from sweet potatoes.

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Arrival of the Spanish

Since the re-discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus, in 1492, there has been a continuous onslaught against these innocent peoples. Columbus, on October 12, 1492, wrote in his journal, “They should be good servants …. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses.” These six Indians were frightened and confused and were paraded before the King and Queen of Spain and other curious Spanish onlookers. Paul Gray, in 1991, summarized the impact of Columbus, “The indigenous peoples and their cultures were doomed by European arrogance, brutality and infectious diseases. Columbus’ gift was slavery to those who greeted him; his arrival set in motion the ruthless destruction … of the natural world he entered.”3

Some of the callous Spanish conquistadors include Hernán Cortés who defeated the mighty Aztec Empire and Pedro de Alvarado who played a vital role in conquering the Mayans in Central America. Alvarado was Cortés’ most trusted lieutenant. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incas by firstly capturing Atahualpa, Emperor of the Inca. Pizarro became wealthy by demanding a large ransom from Atahualpa who was not released. Pizarro pitted one Inca faction against one another, and by 1533 had established control of Peru.

Native Americans endured burnt villages, stolen treasures, looted pyramids and exploited women are part of a sad encounter involving greed and imperialism. Furthermore, the introduction of diseases, from Europe, such as influenza, smallpox, bubonic plague, typhus and measles resulted in the genocide of the First Peoples. It is estimated that in some areas of the Caribbean, 80% to 90% of population succumbed to these dreaded diseases. The gruesome impact of this ecological imperialism is well known, “Whole towns and villages were wiped out. The dead were left unburied whilst survivors fled. Social and political networks collapsed.”4

One of the underlying factors influencing the discovery of new lands by European countries was the misguided belief that Christian countries had a right to govern and rule all non-Christian nations. This warped philosophy was known as the Doctrine of Discovery and was ←10 | 11→conceptualized by the Roman Catholic Church.5 In 1513, Spain decided to formalize the “Doctrine of Discovery” in a document known as the “Requirement.” In this warped document, King Ferdinand of Spain claimed that God had declared that the Pope ruled all peoples, regardless of their law, sect or belief. The Requirement was neither a vague nor a disguised document but the ulterior motive was obvious, “We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do all the harm and damage that we can.” All Spanish expeditions were supposed to carry a copy of the Requirement.

Labor Problems

The Spanish in the New World were not accustomed to labor in a tropical climate and many were also too arrogant to work on estates and in the mines. Thus, it was inevitable that the Indians would be enslaved. Two of the oppressive labour systems implemented by the Spanish were the encomienda and repartimiento systems. The encomienda system was used during Spain’s feudal era.6 Under this system in the New World, a Spaniard (encomendero) had rights over the Indian who was expected to provide tribute in the form of labour, money, precious metals or goods. The encomendero was supposed to provide Christian instruction and protect the Indian. However, this rarely occurred as millions of Indians perished under the encomienda system. Michael Busbin described this system as “one of the most damaging institutions that the Spanish colonists implemented in the New World.”7 Such accounts did little to sensitize Spain’s population and the rest of Europe of the atrocities being committed in the New World.

Secondly, the repartimiento was also a forced labor system endured by the Indians. It was implemented by the Spanish and contributed to the deaths of many overworked Indians. Under the repartimiento, Spanish settlers were allotted a number of Indians who would provide labor in farms or mines. During the sixteenth century, members of the clergy in Mexico were guilty of using Indian labor for personal profit.8 ←11 | 12→These labor systems contributed to the starvation of Indians as many neglected their fields.

Cruel Treatment

In the Caribbean, the Spanish were callous and brutal in their treatment of Indians. Evidence of the Spanish brutality was seen among the Tainos, who were dominant in the Bahamas and Greater Antilles. Many Tainos were forced to commit suicide by jumping from cliffs, practice infanticide, drinking poisoning from the manioc or women deciding to have abortions.9 Indians from Cuba and Hispaniola would use the cassava juice to poison themselves during Spanish rule. The Spanish used dogs, lances and daggers to kill Indians. The dogs and animals brought by the Spanish destroyed the Indians’ agricultural lands. Furthermore, Indians of all ages were burned at stakes, and for amusement the Spanish would cut off the noses, hands and heads of Indians. Sometimes, the Spanish, with their twisted minds, drowned babies in rivers or dropped them from hills. Chiefs were burned to death especially when they refused to convert to Christianity. The extent of the trauma was evident as Indians also hanged themselves rather than face Spanish cruelty.

Not all the Spanish were guilty of abusing the Indians. An attempt was made to curtail the abuses and killings. For instance, Cardinal Archbishop Domingo de Mendoza of Seville heard reports of the abuse of the Indians and decided to send missionaries to Hispaniola. These missionaries were supposed to prevent further maltreatment but this proved ineffective. A Dominican friar, Antonio de Montesinos, would urge the colonists to stop abusing the Indians and treat them better. This also had little effect. The Dominican friars in Spain were one of the voices sympathetic to the plight of the Indians and influenced the King Ferdinand II of Aragon to intervene. Subsequently, the Laws of Burgos were passed in 1512 to protect the Indians and regulate the relationships between the Spanish and Indians. However, the Spanish colonists disregarded the Laws of Burgos which were passed in December 1512 and the New Laws in 1542.

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In 1518, the Spaniards massacred almost four million Indians in Mexico and surrounding areas. This violence became a feature of the Spanish presence throughout Latin America and South America. The Roman Catholic Church remained a quiet onlooker. The Spanish brutality was documented by Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Roman Catholic priest, “We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the forty years that have passed, with the infernal actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women, and children. In truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself that the number of the slain is more like fifteen million.”10 It seemed odd that the Spanish, who claimed to be Christians, would be responsible for these atrocities in the New World.

The writings of the Spanish often reflect their religious fears and obsessions with evil spirits. For instance, “Doctrina Christiana” written in 1550, in Mexico, stated, “ … aca alcentro dela tierra que fellama infierno y alla los encerraron a gran mu chednbze de demonios” (here at the center of the earth that we call hell and they locked them up over with a large amount of demons).11Secondly, in “Huehuetlatolli” written in 1847, “No seas piarleroni le detengas en el mercardo ni en el bano, porque no te engane el demonios” (don’t be so distractive don’t linger or stop in the market or in the bathroom so that the demons will not fool you).12

Contact with Other Europeans

In the early history of North America, there have been tribes of the First Peoples involved in the fur trade and encounter with Europeans. These included the Abenakis, Miamis, Ottawas, Senecas, Iroquoians, Mohawks, Nipissings, Metis, Micmacs, Innu, Onondagas, Hurons, Eskimos, Crees, Ojibwas, Assiniboine, Susquehannocks, Tsimshians, Nootkas and Massawomeks. Prejudiced European minds served to undermine the relationships between the inhabitants of the Old World and New World. John Long, an Englishman, who went to Montreal in 1768 and worked with the Hudson’s Bay Company as a trader and trapper. He later joined the British and fought in the American Revolution. ←13 | 14→Long described the Oswegatche Indians, who belonged to the tribes of Five Nations, on the St. Lawrence River as “savages.” Additionally, Long noted that the Indian chiefs in their council used to complain of the introduction of “strong water” (alcohol), but now it is being regularly used.13 A drunk Indian who felt his wife had loved Long (also known as “Beaver”) is supposed to have said, “Mornooch Amik kee zargetoone mentimoyamish” (I do not care though the Beaver loves my wife).

Undoubtedly, the Indians were stereotyped by European settlers. For instance, in 1770, Charles Inglis (of New York) in a letter to Sir William Baron discusses the Mohawk mission and the Onondagas, Cayugans and Senekers. Inglis stated, “There is a great similarity between all Nations whilst in an uncivilized State. History evinces how slowly Mankind emerge out of Barbarism, and with what Difficulty they are brought to cultivate arts ….”14

Disagreements over land and unfair treaties were the cause of many conflicts between the Europeans and First Peoples. In the English settlement of Jamestown, there was an uneasy relationship between Algonquian tribes, in the Powhatan Confederacy, and the English settlers during 1607–1644. Likewise, increasing demands from English in New England led to a breakdown in relations with the Wampanoag during the 1670s that resulted in hundreds of Indians being killed and hundreds being shipped to the Caribbean as enslaved persons.15

There are noteworthy instances of First Peoples being friendly and helpful in their dealings with the Europeans. One of the well-known examples is Pocahantas, whose father was Chief Powhatan. She was friendly toward the British settlers and became closely associated with their settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. Eventually, in April 1614 in Jamestown, she married tobacco planter John Rolfe and they had a son. For instance, a male Indian was killed by members of his tribe because he warned Spanish settlers in Santa Cruz, in north Trinidad, about an attack on their settlement. To commemorate this Indian’s bravery, a two-foot-high statue was built by the Spanish and the words “La Venezuela” inscribed at the base of the statue.16

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Forgiveness and Healing

The First Nations have been victims of a holocaust. The shameful stigma of imperialism includes stolen lands and animals and burnt villages. Furthermore, these once-free peoples were forced into reservations and soon became victims of alcoholism and gambling. In Arima, in north Trinidad (in the Caribbean), a similar scenario existed, “Lands had to be cleared of their original inhabitants in order to make way for the new influx of planters setting up large plantations.”17 The Indians posed a formidable challenge to the incoming Spanish. One of the outstanding chiefs, in Arima, who resisted the Spanish was Hyarima. He belonged to the Araucan tribe and during 1636–1637, he joined with forces with Dutch settlers in Tobago and raided Spanish settlements in Trinidad.18 The Arena Massacre on December 1, 1699, provides further proof that the Indians were not complacent. The Indians were working on rebuilding the Roman Catholic Church at the mission of San Francisco de los Arenales mission at Arena. The priests felt the Indians were not working fast enough and were planning to complain to the colony’s governor. The Indians knew that an unfavorable report could lead to torture or death and thus they revolted, killing the priests and desecrating the church. The punishment was that 22 Indians were hanged in January 1700.19

There are other examples of the unfortunate clash of these two cultures. On June 11, 2008, in Ottawa, Ontario, the prime minister of Canada issued a formal apology on behalf of Canadians for the negative impact of the Indian residential school system. During the 19th and 20th centuries, residential schools separated over 150,000 Aboriginal (or Indigenous) children from their communities and families. This was a government policy that sought to deliberately isolate Aboriginal children from their culture and language so they could be better assimilated into the dominant European culture in Canada. This cultural genocide was only part of the colonial tragedy, as many of these innocent children suffered emotional, sexual and physical abuse in the schools. Furthermore, these children were inadequately clothed and fed and some went missing.20 This was the sad legacy of the incoming Spanish and the repercussions continue to affect this generation. Simon ←15 | 16→Fraser University (SFU) is located on unceded, traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie and Kwikwetlem First Nations.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is based in Ottawa, Canada. This group’s mission is to honor survivors of Canada’s Indian residential school system. This Foundation and similar groups have organized retreats, workshops and seminars for grief and loss, sharing circles, participation in sunrise ceremonies and sweat lodges. Visits to ancestral ceremonial sites allow spiritual connection to the First Nations. The Australian government offered a similar apology to the Aboriginal population in February 2009. The thousands of children who were forcibly removed from their families and communities and forced to assimilate were known as the “Stolen Generations”. Zita Wallace, an Aboriginal woman from Australia, who is part of the “Stolen Generations” recounted of her life in an institution operated by the Roman Catholic Church, “We got belted for speaking our language. We were called pagans and heathens and spawn of the devil. We cooked for the nuns, we washed their big bloomers, we cleaned their rooms. We got just enough education to read and write.”21 The abuse committed by so-called religious persons is another incident in which the guilty persons have not been punished.

The repercussions of the Spanish brutality will not be forgotten. For instance, on October 12, 1498, Columbus arrived in Venezuela, and almost five hundred years later, radical protestors in Venezuela pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus to protest the genocide of South American First Peoples during colonialism. On the statue’s foundation was spray-painted graffiti that read “Columbus Equals Genocide” and “The Resistance Continues”.22 Interestingly, no such protests occurred in Trinidad which also has a statue of Columbus.

A cultural holocaust is still occurring among the First Nations. There is a need for greater tolerance, recognition of the rights and protection of native people. Today, there are diminishing First Nations cultures comprising elders, healers, fishermen, shamans and hunters. It is unfortunate that a great deal of the wisdom, philosophy and experience of many tribes or communities still remain undocumented.

←16 | 17→

In November 1990, the United States passed a federal law—Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which made it illegal to traffic in Native American human remains and cultural items. This law also resulted in artifacts owned by federal agencies and institutions to be returned to the descendants of the Native Americans. The passage of such legislation demonstrates that even in death, there is no peace and rest for the First Peoples. Other countries need similar laws. In Trinidad, there are more than sixty Saladoid sites. The Trinidad and Tobago Historical Society, in 1969, discovered the remains of a 7,000-year old at Banwari site in southwest Trinidad. In 2013, artifacts and bone fragments of the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago were discovered during restoration work of the Parliament located in the city of Port of Spain.23 More of these sites could be discovered and artifacts properly dated if advanced technology such as infrared imaging system and radiocarbon dating were available.

In 2006, the Carib community in Arima marked 220 years of celebrating the feast of Santa Rosa de Lima. At this festival, the Carib Chief Ricardo Bharath appealed for assistance from the government to assist in promoting public awareness of the culture and history of Caribs.24 The valuable tribal autohistory has the solutions to many of the problems facing humanity. The ethnohistory of many of these Amerindian tribes must be wisely used to ensure their survival.

It seems that these custodians of the natural order and trustees of the environment would be relegated to the fringes of society. First Peoples and their descendants have always respected the environment and sought a cosmic balance. They lived simple, humble lives and worshipped benevolent and malevolent deities. Yet, across the world these ancient cultures have been treated as inferior and unequal. Hundreds of First Peoples in New Guinea, Borneo, Alaska, Africa, Canada, the United States, Latin and South America seek protection from encroaching civilization and modernization that threatens their survival. First Peoples such as the Penans, Sarawaks (Malaysian Borneo), Aka Pygmies, Bayanga (Central Africa), Aleuts and Unalaska (Alaska) certainly need protection and assistance in sustaining their communities and regaining the balance between humanity and the environment.

←17 | 18→

It is unfortunate that the promise of land, at Blanchisseusse Road, Arima, for the Carib community in Trinidad and Tobago has not materialized. Such land would allow the establishment of an Amerindian Heritage Complex. In 2008, president of the Santa Rosa Carib Community, Ricardo Bharath-Fernandez has constantly demanded the importance of owning land and a national holiday:

If we are to preserve what is left of this culture, we must have our own space. It is too difficult to preserve these traditions in a mixed and open environment as we operate now. This land was ours. Arima was the last mission town of the Amerindians. They lost their lands through illegal means; it was taken away by the British …. We’re asking for a public holiday, a one-off, not a regular holiday. We asked for a day of recognition to sensitise the national community, but it’s not able to do what we expected … but if a holiday is granted, it must reach out to the nation.25

Jennifer Pyle-Cassar, the Carib Queen, also stressed the need for the necessary space for the descendants of the Caribs to continue their cultural practices, rear wild animals and grow crops as cassava.26 The Caribs in Arima annually celebrate Amerindian heritage day. In 2004, the day was observed with a smoke ceremony, prayer session and street parade.27

The world must remember the historical trauma that continues among communities with First Peoples. Governments need to be more sensitive and aware of the importance of pre-Columbian history, tribal cultures and the contributions of First Peoples to the planet. The world must remember those innocent tribal victims who were killed, raped, forced into reserves, robbed of their lands and suffered due to a capitalist greed. This clash of civilizations led to the disappearance of numerous cultures, languages, religions and ancient wisdom.

The encroachment on tribal and prime agricultural lands must not be allowed. The knowledge and oral histories of indigenous people must be preserved. These are priceless, invaluable aspects which should not be foolishly sacrificed or overlooked in the headlong rush to become industrialized, modernized and “progressive”. It is unfortunate that a great deal of the wisdom, philosophy and experience of the few tribes and their descendants still remain undocumented. ←18 | 19→This valuable history and experiences has the solutions to some of the region’s problems. Tribal groups need protection and assistance in sustaining their communities and regaining the balance between humanity and the environment.


1. “The Inca Project,” http://eeincaproject.weebly.com/inca-achievements.html (accessed on 14 April 2019).

2. “The Olmecs,” http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~kennyk/Project/New/Olmecs.html; Christopher Minster, “The Maya Classic Era,” http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/Maya/p/The-Maya-Classic-Era.htm (accessed on 9 October 2019).

3. Paul Gray, “The Trouble with Columbus,” Time, 7 October 1991, p. 34.

4. Trinidad Guardian, 14 October 2008.

5. “The Impact of European Expansion Lingers among Native Americans,” http://www.wheaton.edu/Students/The-Record/Archives/Fall-2012/October-5-2012/The-Impact-of-European-Expansion-Lingers-Among-Native-Americans (accessed on 14 April 2019).

6. Christopher Minster, “Spain’s American Colonies and the Encomienda System,” http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/theconquestofperu/p/Spain-S-American-Colonies-And-The-Encomienda-System.htm (accessed on April 2013).

7. Michael Busbin, “Encomienda System and the New World Indians,” http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?action=read&artid=633 (accessed on 20 August 2018).

8. Stafford Poole, “The Church and the Repartimientos in the Light of the Third Mexican Council, 1585,” The Americas 20, no. 1 (July 1963): 3–36.

9. See “Espagnols-Indiens: le choc des civilizations,” L’Histoire 322 (July–August 2007): 14–21.

10. Bartolomé de Las Casas, Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, pp. 30–31. http://www.reformation.org/new-world-holocaust.html (accessed on 2 September 2017).

11. Zumarraga, Doctrina Christiana (Mexico, 1550). The John Carter Brown Library, Rhode Island.

12. “Huehuetlattoli,” traducidopor Fr. Andres de Olmos, 24 November 1847. The John Carter Brown Library, Rhode Island.

13. John Long, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, Describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians (London: J. Long, 1791), 13.

14. Handwritten letter from Charles Inglis to Sir William Baron 29 October 1770. The John Carter Brown Library, Rhode Island.

←19 | 20→

15. Historyworld. “The American Indians,” http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?ParagraphID=iuh (accessed on 21 December 2018).

16. Express, 27 September 2010.

17. Trinidad Guardian, 14 October 2008.

18. Sunday Guardian, 12 October 2008.

19. For more information see Michael Anthony, “Amerindian History: The Arena Massacre,” http://www.trinicenter.com/more/Arenamassacre.htm (accessed on 3 March 2019).

20. See “Indian Residential School Deaths Found by Ontario Coroner,” http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/indian-residential-school-deaths-found-by-ontario-coroner-1.1151767 (accessed on 20 February 2019).

21. Barbara McMahon, “Snatched from Home for a Racist Ideal. Now a Nation Says Sorry,” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/feb/11/australia (accessed on 20 February 2019).

22. Trinidad Guardian, 15 October 1992. A statue of Columbus is in Columbus Square located on the corner of Independence Square and Duncan Streets in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

23. Trinidad Guardian, 6 April 2013.

24. Trinidad Guardian, 28 August 2006.

25. Trinidad Guardian, 12 August 2008. See also Newsday, 4 August 2008; Trinidad Guardian, 15 October 2013.

26. Sunday Guardian, 21 August 2011.

27. Newsday, 16 October 2004.


Anthony, Michael. “Amerindian History: The Arena Massacre.” http://www.trinicenter.com/more/Arenamassacre.htm (accessed on 3 March 2019).

Busbin, Michael. “Encomienda System and the New World Indians.” The Historical Text Archive, 2015. http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?action=read&artid=633 (accessed on 20 August 2018).

CBC/Radio-Canada. “Indian Residential School Deaths Found by Ontario Coroner.” 2012. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/indian-residential-school-deaths-found- by-ontario-coroner-1.1151767 (accessed on 14 June 2015).

de Las Casas, Bartolomé. “Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies.” The Reformation Online, 2007. http://www.reformation.org/new-world-holocaust.html (accessed on 2 September 2017).

Duverger, Christian. “Espagnols-Indiens: le choc des civilizations,” L’Histoire 322 (July–August 2007): 14–21.

Gray, Paul. “The Trouble with Columbus,” Time, 7 October 1991.

←20 | 21→

Historyworld. “The American Indians.” 2001. http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?ParagraphID=iuh (accessed on 21 December 2018).

“Indian Residential School Deaths Found by Ontario Coroner.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/indian-residential-school-deaths-found-by-ontario-coroner-1.1151767 (accessed on 20 February 2019).

McMahon, Barbara. “Snatched from Home for a Racist Ideal. Now a Nation Says Sorry.” The Guardian, 2008. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/feb/11/australia (accessed on 20 February 2019).

Minster, Christopher. “Spain’s American Colonies and the Encomienda System.” About Education, 2015. http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/theconquestofperu/p/Spain-S-American-Colonies-And-The-Encomienda-System.htm (accessed on 3 April 2013).

Poole, Stafford. “The Church and the Repartimientos in the Light of the Third Mexican Council, 1585,” The Americas 20, no. 1 (July 1963): 3–36.

“The Impact of European Expansion Lingers Among Native Americans.” http://www.wheaton.edu/Students/The-Record/Archives/Fall-2012/October-5-2012/The-Impact-of-European-Expansion-Lingers-Among-Native-Americans (accessed on 14 April 2019).

Zumarraga. Doctrina Christiana (Mexico, 1550).

←22 | 23→

Chapter Two

A Lost Generation: Enslaved Children

The historiography of Caribbean slavery focused mostly on the experiences of the enslaved male. In the post-1960s, with a growing interest in gender history, scholars shifted their focus to enslaved females especially their health, fertility, lactation practices, labor and punishment.1 However, the enslaved child received scant attention in gender history, and thus remains, in slavery studies, largely “invisible.” This chapter seeks to help redress this imbalance by investigating the role of enslaved children in the British West Indies. The topics to be addressed include natural increase, immigration, extent of child care, division of child labor and the impact of abolition.

During slavery in the Caribbean, children played a pivotal role in the daily operation of the estate, but they were undervalued by plantation owners. Also, adult slaves largely excluded enslaved children from participation in the rebellions and revolts, common throughout the Caribbean, which were often harshly suppressed by the plantocracy and often led to enslaved children losing one or both parents.

The stories of insurrections, conspiracies and the trauma of enslavement and the Middle Passage would at night or during celebrations be ←23 | 24→graphically recalled for children to appreciate the struggles of ancestors. Children were also told stories of Africa, taught animal folklore, myths, songs, riddles and jokes. Furthermore, on festive occasions, such as weddings, children were exposed to traditional African drumming and dancing.

Natural Increase

Incomplete and unreliable statistics make it difficult to accurately estimate the number of children who survived the trip from Africa to the Caribbean. The hardships of the Middle Passage and grueling demands of the plantation meant that physically strong and healthy enslaved adults would have been preferred to children. Nonetheless, the records suggest that children comprised a noteworthy component of the transported slaves. Children, comprised an estimated 9% of slaves, carried on British ships from Africa to the Isle of Barbados from 1663 to 1667, 19% of slaves shipped to Jamaica from 1764 to 1788 and 32% of slaves to Grenada from 1784 to 1788.2 Overall, children formed 14% of slave cargoes to the British West Indies from 1673 to 1725, and between 7% and 14% of those transported to the region from 1791 to 1798.3

Due to the cheapness of slaves, planters in the British Caribbean initially placed more value on an enslaved woman’s work than on slave breeding. Planters looked unkindly on pregnant enslaved women because they represented a temporary loss or reduction in slave labor, considering that it was more economical to increase their labor supply through importation rather than natural increase.4 An illustration is John Terry, an overseer and manager in Grenada, from 1776 to 1790, confessed that he had never received instructions to “pay particular attention to pregnant woman or their children.” Furthermore, he claimed that his employers believed that “suckling children should die for they lost a great deal of the mother’s work during the infancy of the child.”5 The feeling among the plantocracy during the eighteenth century was that it was “better to buy than to breed.”

However, other planters viewed the purchase of enslaved African women as a capital investment. Descriptions such as “breeding women” ←24 | 25→and “breeding wenches” were commonly used in slave notices of sale to emphasize the reproductive and productive capacities of enslaved females. In producing children, these enslaved females allowed the planters to recover capital investment and thereby contribute to their relatively high maintenance costs. This was clearly enunciated in 1655 by Henry Whistler, an Englishman, on a visit to a Barbadian plantation, “Our English here doth think a Negro Child the first day it is born to be worth £5; they cost them nothing the bringing up; they go always naked. Some planters will have thirty more or less about four or five years old.”6

Nevertheless, there was no significant increase in the natural growth of the slave population in the British West Indies. On the Seawell Estate in Barbados, there were only a dozen births in the five years from 1795 to 1799 (see Table 2.1).

Table 2.1 Slave births at Seawell Estate, October 1795–May 1799.

Date of Birth Sex of Infant
October 11 female
November 17 male
December 15 male
December 30 male
January 1 2 males (twins)
January 27 female
April 17 male
April 30 female
May 9 male
May 31 female
May 31 male
(Source: Newton Plantation Papers, M. 523/131)

Again, in 1804, one Jamaican plantation had 229 enslaved women but only 11 enslaved children.7 There was a similar scenario of more slave deaths than births in Grenada where, in the year 1817, Lower Pearl Estate recorded 6 births and 10 deaths, MorneFendue Estate recorded 2 births and 7 deaths, Mt. Rich Estate had 5 births and 16 deaths and the Parish of St. Andrew on Grand Bacolet Estate, 4 births and 7 deaths.8 Cases of natural increase of enslaved populations were rare. One ←25 | 26→example was on the island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas where from 1822 to 1834 the number of Lord John Rolle’s slaves increased from 254 to 376. This resulted from a number of factors, including the nuclear family pattern characteristic of that population.9

One reason for the relatively low birth rate was the high rate of infertility among enslaved women that resulted from a combination of physical stress due to plantation labor, poor diets and the early age of childbearing.10 There was also a high incidence of miscarriages. It has been estimated, for instance, that one-fifth of slaves’ pregnancies in Jamaica ended in miscarriages.11 Yet another factor was prolonged period lactation.12 Slave women in the British West Indies practiced a breastfeeding interval of at least two and sometimes three years as a deliberate strategy to control their fertility. By nursing their babies for an unusually long time, slave women considerably reduced the slave birth rate—although they thereby caused their husbands to devote their attention during this period to their other “wives.”13 The discouragement of pregnancy by planters was a realization that female slaves were using this to avoid labor. Secondly, fewer pregnancies would mean lower mortality rates and thus a better image of the estate.

Undoubtedly, the inability to sustain the slave population by natural increase in part reflected the unwillingness of enslaved females to bear children—even though the practices they adopted could be costly, as in the case of Celest, of the Boccage Estate in St. Patrick in Grenada, who died when she underwent an abortion in July 1801.14 It was a common belief among planters that some enslaved females practiced abortion in order to maintain their figures and thus their attractiveness to males through whom they might attain an improved social status for themselves and any offspring they might bear him.15Enslaved women’s management of their fertility could also be interpreted as a form of protest against the slavery system and occurred throughout the Caribbean.16 For instance, in the French colony of Saint Domingue, which similarly experienced no natural increase among the enslaved population, one Black nurse confessed to poisoning each child she delivered while others induced the deaths of enslaved babies from jaw sickness.17

←26 | 27→

Care for Children

Planters never admitted that enslaved children were a vital component of the estate’s workforce. However, child care was minimal and child mortality rates high. Mortality and illness among enslaved children reflected the woefully inadequate diet. For instance, half of the children born in Barbados during the two decades (1730s and 1740s) died, before they were one week old, from nutritional-related diseases.18In the majority of cases, planters provided slaves with plots to cultivate food with which to supplement the meager portions of pork, saltfish or beef they handed to their workforce. In British Guiana and Trinidad, these plots provided slaves with most of their food. On these provision grounds, slaves cultivated plantains, bananas, breadfruit, yams, eddoes, cassava and sweet potatoes, and they also reared fowls, hogs and sheep. Boys and girls under the age of 14 assisted in relatively light tasks such as watering their parents’ provision grounds and ensuring there was no praedial larceny. While infants could do little to improve their access to food, older children often resorted to stealing provisions. For example, in Berbice, British Guiana, a young enslaved male complained to the Protector’s Office in Berbice that he was savagely beaten when caught stealing bread to satisfy his hunger.19

Also, child health provisions were primitive. During childbirth, there was a high risk of infection as midwives delivered babies in the slaves’ quarters, which were insalubrious.20 By the late eighteenth century, hospitals or sick houses had been built on the majority of estates that benefited from bi-weekly or weekly visits by a medical doctor.21 However, mortality rates for mother and child continued to be high.22 It is difficult to ascertain the health of infants as children aged one to three in the West Indies often went unrecorded by planters both to reduce their taxes and to avoid accusations of cruelty that might result from infant deaths.23 Thus up to 50% of children’s deaths on a Jamaican plantation went unrecorded.24

Indeed, children generally are often missing from the plantation records. For instance, although the records of Paradise Estate (1,100 acres in size) in Tacarigua in North Trinidad show that it possessed 27 enslaved children, there is no allusion to their health or work.25 Almost ←27 | 28→one-third of all the enslaved imported into the British West Indies, including children, died within a three-year period of “seasoning” and that the value of survivors doubled.26

High slave child mortality was in part due to poor sanitation. Planters failed to provide proper toilets which were usually situated in relatively and poorly drained flat land. Enslaved children and adults walked and worked in feces-contaminated soil and stagnant water—which also attracted disease-carrying mosquitoes and flies. As a result of these unhygienic conditions, children on the estates were affected by dysentery, worms, marasmus, whooping cough, diarrhea and tetanus (lockjaw)—afflictions that contributed to the high child mortality rate, particularly for under four years. In Barbados, newborns and young children died chiefly from yaws, worms and lockjaw. Thus, it was no surprise that on the Newton Estate deaths usually exceeded births (see Table 2.2).27

Table 2.2 List of the increase and decrease of Negroes on the Newton Estate in Barbados. From August 1, 1800, to August 1, 1801.

Those Born:
Boys 3
Girls 5
Those Dying:
Men 4
Women 2
Boys 2
(Source: Newton Plantation Papers, M. 523/282)

Slave Children’s Labor

Although a few slave children were selected as domestic servants, the vast majority of slave children were employed in the fields. The plantation gangs in both the British and French Caribbean comprised mainly women whose numbers varied according to the needs of the estate. Some estates had one, two or three gangs. The strongest female and male slaves belonged to the first gang. Their workload entailed ←28 | 29→planting and reaping the cane and growing food crops. An illustration is on the Breda Plantation, in St. Domingue, where the enslaved who attained the age of 17 entered the first gang,28 and this did not seem determinant on their physical strength.

Among the enslaved, those who were pregnant, older, weaker and nursing and those aged between 12 and 17 or 18 years had a specific task. Weeding was their major duty and included the cultivation of corn, distribution of manure in the cane and coffee fields, gathering grass for animal consumption and carrying ashes from the furnaces to the fields. However, children aged 9 to 11, termed “meat pickers” were often incorporated into the second gang in order to gradually adjust to a more arduous work regime. More valued than members of the third gang, their duties included land clearance after cultivation, and serving as cane carriers, water assistants and mill attendants. In Barbados, there even existed a separate group known as the “Fourth Gang Meat Pickers” (see Table 2.3).

Table 2.3 Number and value of 4th gang meat pickers on the Newton Estate, 1803.

In 1803, on the Newton Estate, in Barbados, there was also a second gang comprising only girls of noteworthy financial value to the planters. These enslaved girls, the future bearers of plantation labor, would have been viewed by planters as valuable (see Table 2.4).

Table 2.4 Names and values of 2nd gang girls at the Newton Estate, 1803.

←29 | 30→

The third gang comprised the weakest and smallest of the enslaved—generally children aged 8 to 13, who worked under the supervision of an elderly enslaved female.29 However, sometimes children as young as four were placed in the third gang (also sometimes called “pickininny,” “hogmeat,” “little,” “grass” or “pot” gang.30 The size of these gangs would be fairly large. For example, a sugar plantation in Saint-Domingue possessed 64 children from a total enslaved population of 249.31 Again, the 45 “grass gang” children represented 30% of the enslaved workforce on the Lowther’s Estate in Barbados in 1774.32

Often referred to as “basket children” since each child usually possessed a basket, their task was to collect cane trash from around the mill, pull out weeds, feed animals and perform other light labor. Enslaved children on the coffee, cotton, coconut and cocoa estates in the British West Indies had similarly light tasks.33 Unlike members of other gangs, they were not expected to work from dawn to dusk. They were nevertheless a significant asset to the estate, the monetary value placed on children strongly suggesting that they were neither easily “disposable” or replaceable (see Table 2.5).

Table 2.5 Number and value of 3rd gang children at the Newton Estate, 1803.

Girls Value (£) Boys
4 65 1
3 70 3
2 75 3
80 1
Total 9 Total 8
(Source: Newton Plantation Papers M. 523/280)
←30 | 31→

In the French Caribbean, enslaved children were designated similar jobs as their peers in the rest of the British West Indies. Usually, after children left the estate nursery, at 5 or 6 years of age, they would be placed in the grass or weeding gang and later moved to one of the adult gangs. These children were given light tasks as weeding among the sugar cane and cutting grass to feed the livestock. During planting season, the grass gang also assisted the great gang by placing manure into the holes for the canes. In Martinique, there was a gang known as the petit atelier (second gang) comprising aged, physically weak adults, nursing mothers, those recovering from childbirth and children (10 to 16 years old). One planter in Martinique mentioned that if enslaved children were not given work, they would commit acts of theft or arson.34

On plantations, children generally accompanied their mother to the fields. For instance, Felicie of Guadeloupe, a 40-year-old enslaved female, had eight children between 1 and 15 years old. Four of her daughters, aged 15, 14, 11 and 9, and her only son, aged 9, worked in the fields but not those under 5 who were considered by planters as too young to work.35 They did not work as a family work unit but were separated into gangs on the same estates. During times for lunch or relaxation, they would be able to meet and converse with each other. This type of family arrangement resulted in another generation being confined to field work without the need for a lengthy and uncertain period of acclimatization. This also ensured a continuity of labor supply and reduced expenses for the planter. While the majority of historians of ←31 | 32→slavery have focused on children employed on sugar estates, a considerable number of children were also trained and employed as domestics, tradesmen and watchmen.36

In 1813, of the approximately 6,000 enslaved persons in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad, 2,740 were domestics—a position considered much more prestigious than agricultural work—including cooks, house servants, washers, house maids and 20 house boys or house girls.37 In Jamaica, on the Irwin Estate during 1821–1822, the offspring of a mulatto or quadroon had a better chance than “Africans” of being employed as domestics.38

The health situation in Barbados was no different in other colonies. For example, in Grenada in 1815 on the Morne Delice Estate, in the parish of St. George, Colette’s child, Dorothy, died from “marasmus” at the tender age of 4 months. Two years later, on the Grand Bacolet Estate, in the parish of St. Andrew, a similar tragedy occurred as Lizette’s child died of lockjaw 5 days after birth. In the parish of St. Patrick on the Hermitage Estate in 1817, Mary Ermine’s infant, two months old, was a victim of measles. In 1833, on the Grand Bras Estate, in the parish of St. Andrew, Angelique’s child, Rowley, died 20 days after birth from “cholic.” Also in this year, on the Tempe Estate in St. George, Sally’s child, 18 days old, succumbed to bowel complaint and debility.39 On the Madeys and Hermitage Estates, the newborn of the enslaved were affected by similar ailments (Tables 2.6 and 2.7).

Table 2.6 Natural increase and decrease on Madeys Estate, 1799.

Table 2.7 Natural increase and decrease on Hermitage Estate for 1817.

←32 | 33→

The children, especially the young ones, were treated with scant regard by the planters. Nurseries were built in which elderly women cared for the infants.40 These nurses, who assisted while mothers were working, were always females.41 Additionally, the woman who served as a driver of the children had the onerous responsibility of administering discipline and ensuring the young enslaved population would be properly socialized into the plantation life:

The primary task of the female driver of the child gang must be the preservation of the children’s health. She must monitor them constantly and prevent them from eating harmful substances. She must teach them how to perform all their duties well and stimulate the quick-witted to make the effort to conform. She must also instruct them to obey orders without question and to resist bickering among themselves …. Thus, much depends on authority ←33 | 34→figures who mold them into either good or bad subjects. Those who execute their task well merit much from their masters.42

The absence of educational and recreational facilities for enslaved children made employment on the estate seem as the only viable alternative. Masters firmly believed that formal education would result in the enslaved being unsuitable for, or uninterested in estate labor.

Pregnancy and Health Care

Pregnant and nursing mothers were temporarily relieved from the arduous duties and rigorous schedules of plantation life:

Women, who have children at the breast, should not be required to appear in the field till seven o’clock. And in the bad days, during the rainy seasons, they should be employed some work within doors. As soon as women are known to be pregnant, they should be relieved from all the laborious work of the plantation. In that state they must not carry any load.43

During the early stage of pregnancy (6–7 months), enslaved women were exempt from field labor.44 Richard Dunn noted that a pregnant slave was exempted from flogging and two weeks after childbirth, she resumed field work with the baby securely fastened on her back.45 There were instances when pregnant women were punished and to protect the unborn child, a hole was dug in the ground for the woman’s belly.46 In Jamaica, during the initial decades of the nineteenth century, one out of every four mothers was allowed to breastfeed her child for 15 minutes.47 Likewise, in Cuba, there was a stipulated period of 45 days, after childbirth, when the mother returned to the fields and continued work. While at work, the baby was cared for by an old female slave usually known as a criollera.48In colonies as Barbados, the value of unweaned children and the offering of financial incentives by planters partly served to encourage the enslaved females to have successful pregnancies and rear children.49

Similarly in Grenada, the 1797 Act stated that enslaved women who possessed six children were to be exempt from all field labor.50 In 1786, a Barbadian planter stated:

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To every negro woman, who shall have more than four children living, I direct ten shillings to be given on every X’mas day. To such as have more than two living, I direct five shillings to be given on that day. I also direct five shillings to be given to every negro woman upon the birth of her first child.51

In another island, Nevis, the Pinneys, who belonged to the plantocracy, encouraged child-bearing by providing gifts of baby linen.52 In Grenada, women who gave birth to children were allocated extra flour and were offered cotton handkerchiefs and loose linen. Despite offering money and gifts, the planters failed to understand the repercussions of their actions. Barbara Bush believed that forcing women to produce children had a damaging psychological effect on the slave women who were accustomed, in Africa, with receiving assistance from the extended family. In the absence of this cultural practice, the new mothers remained isolated and deprived of valuable emotional support.53 The repercussions would have been considerable since the majority of children were born to African and not Creole women.54

Undoubtedly incentives failed to promote natural increase among the enslaved. During 1700–1750, approximately 3,000 slaves from Africa were imported into Barbados but malnutrition, disease and plantation work resulted in their rapid demise.55 During the 1740s on the Codrington Estates in Barbados, the plantation owners were not interested in purchasing women for breeding since their offspring only had a 50% chance of surviving beyond the age of five. Thus, the owners purchased two men for every woman.56 This was an accurate portrayal of the grim situation since no births were recorded for three years—1735, 1736 and 1740. And, during 1735–1745, there were only 17 births on the Codrington Estates.57

During 1807–1834, the decline of the British West Indian enslaved population declined from 775,000 to 665,000.58 Ironically, while a few planters were solely interested in the expansion of their estate population by natural increase, others had serious reservations. Barry Higman in Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807–1834 argued that the slaveowner perceived a rapid natural increase as a threat to his life. Such a growth would ultimately lead to the overpopulation of Blacks and be “conducive to slave rebellion” in the colonies.59

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In Trinidad, there was also a high mortality rate among infants. A child born into slavery during 1813–1816 lived an average of 17 years, and more than a third of enslaved children died before celebrating their first birthday. Additionally, fewer than half of the estate’s children attained 5 years of age.60 The majority of these unsuccessful pregnancies were attributed to malnourished mothers who had produced babies with low birth weights, practiced abortion and infanticide or used herbal contraceptives.61 Furthermore, planters attributed the prevalence of eating dirt as being responsible for child mortality and abortions among women.62

The planter was concerned with profit maximization and thus the provision of better health care was never a priority. The provision of better housing, a proper hospital, nursery and other amenities would mean extra allocation of capital to projects that he deemed unprofitable and contribute to a reduced sugar output. In Barbados, planters and managers advised on the basic health precautions to ensure a contribution to labor on the plantations:

As soon as the children are weaned, let them be committed to some careful, good humoured woman, to keep them together, and to attend upon them in the day when the mothers are in the field … The size and strength of the child will be your best direction, when he is fit and able to be put into the children’s gang, and to be removed from thence into the second gang.63

Despite the distribution of food in the British West Indies, it was still insufficient and young enslaved population was undernourished. This is supported by the archaeological work of Jerome Handler and Robert S. Corrucini in “Plantation Slave Life in Barbados: A Physical Anthropological Analysis” who analyzed skeletal remains of children. Both researchers discovered a noticeable delayed development in the teeth of children 3 to 4 years old (age of weaning) and those between 6 and 12 years old.64Planters did not cater for special dietary needs of their young laborers. The allowance system meant quantities of food were allocated according to the tasks performed and age of the slaves. These meant physically stronger slaves were given more food than ill, old slaves, nursing mothers and children. Children who were between 1 and 5 years old were given one-third of provisions. Children between ←36 | 37→10 and 15 years old and invalids received two-thirds of the allowances, and those boys and girls between 5 and 10 years old received one-half.65 As a result of this rationing of food, it was no surprise that the enslaved children were often malnourished.

Abuse of the Enslaved

There was also general abuse of enslaved children. In British Guiana, in 1829, three enslaved young females complained to the Office of the Protector of Slaves about their manager who, although they were sick, forced them to work because the estate’s doctor accused them of “making ridiculous complaints of sickness” and one slave was “excessively impertinent” and of “bad character.”66

The “old” or superannuated women and those with disabilities served as surrogate mothers for unweaned children. The nanny cared for children who were too young to be employed, and they were returned to their mothers at night. The children were treated better since the nanny was usually kinder and inadvertently the children became more attached to their nannies than their mothers.

In 1833, there was the publication of a pro-slavery work, Domestic Manners and Social Condition of the White, Coloured and Negro Population of the West Indies. The author, A.C. Carmichael, a White female, spent the early 1820s in Trinidad and St.Vincent. Carmichael felt the young female slaves were more of a challenge than the males, “The little girls are far more wicked than the boys: and I am convinced, were every proprietor to produce the list of his good negroes, there would be, in every instance, an amazing majority in favour of males.”67

Carmichael’s work provided selective though distorted evidence that Black mothers were not suited for motherhood and lacked the warmth and understanding necessary to properly raise children. She cited some of the responsibilities of the planter’s wife being to “watch over the negro children daily” and “see them swallow their physic.” Obviously, if parents were forced into a daily life of drudgery there would be little or no time to care for their children. Furthermore, Carmichael observed the display of coldness among Black mothers ←37 | 38→who were “… cruelly harsh to their children; they beat them unmercifully for perfect trifle omissions … I have frequently seen mothers flog their children severely for forgetting to say yes or no ma’am to them.” Carmichael noted that it was a common sight to hear children shout “Oh! Massa, misses, me mama go murder me” and then flee their mothers and seek her protection.68

Indeed, this seems as a facetious attempt by Carmichael to justify slavery, exaggerate the cruelty of enslaved mothers and portrayed White women as “fairy godmothers” who were the guardians and protectors of enslaved children. There were instances of paternalistic treatment meted out to child slaves. For instance, on the Gabrielle Plantation in French Guiana, Marie-Rose, a White, gave religious instruction to the young slaves.69

Carmichael failed to mention the humiliation and injury that many of these children faced on a daily basis. A considerable number of free colored and White women in the Caribbean earned a living from hiring their enslaved females as cooks, prostitutes, nannies, laborers, seamstresses and hucksters to other households on nearby estates. The infants borne by Black prostitutes were owned by the mothers’ owners and when weaned were often sold for an average of ten dollars.70

From the limited evidence available, cruelty among children was not widespread in the British West Indies. In Demerara and Essequibo in British Guiana, during the first half of 1828, there were only ten incidents of neglect and cruelty to enslaved children, from over 10,000 reported cases among the colony’s 62,000 slaves.71It would be easy to assume that all the slaves sought to escape the curse of slavery. Some scholars have overlooked the isolated incidents when the enslaved, who had been socialized into slavery, opted to remain within the system instead of purchasing their freedom or fleeing. During the 1820s, on Concordia Estate in Tobago, an old enslaved woman had sons who were tradesmen and could have bought their freedom but they decided to remain enslaved.72 These males would most likely have been enslaved children who were forced to accept a life under slavery. Additionally, there were other instances in the British West Indies, when children, who were born as slaves, would encounter both a difficulty in ←38 | 39→obtaining employment outside the plantation system and assimilation into the wider society.

Slavery eventually ended with the passage of the Emancipation Bill in 1833. The British government decided to pay £20 million in compensation to the slave planters. All enslaved children under six years of age, on August 1, 1834, were to be freed immediately.73 In the British West Indies, there were 88,306 children under six who were freed and from this total, Trinidad had 2,246 enslaved children.74One of the prevailing views was that once slavery was removed the society would become destabilized. The Emancipation Act of 1833 led to the gradual development of elementary school education among the children of these emancipated Blacks. The Act stated the slaves were to receive religious and moral education. Various missionary bodies were allocated funds from the Negro Education Grant to undertake this task. Many Whites believed that the introduction of education among the formerly enslaved would serve as a control mechanism and maintain the status quo.75

Child Slave Agency and Impact of Abolition

Children were incapable of strongly resisting slavery. Some engaged in theft or arson—a classic form of passive resistance.76 Children were also often involved in marronage. For infants, this was involuntary as their mothers took them with them when they fled.77 However, some older children fled alone. For example, in Grenada, Kitty, a twelve-year-old slave girl, ran away in February 1815, as did 16-year-old Mary (nicknamed Monkey) in September 1821.78

In the years prior to abolition during 1803–1805, the cost of young enslaved persons had increased. For instance, in Grenada on the Duquesne Estate in the parish of St. Mark a little “negro girl” was sold for £100. Young enslaved females were valued at as much as £140 such as Mary Louise, a 10-year-old, and 12-year-old Paul. Others included Rose, a 17-year-old enslaved female, who was valued at £170.79

After the end of Britain’s slave trade in 1807, certain slavery reformers began to campaign for health improvements to reduce mortality ←39 | 40→and advocated natural increase among the enslaved. Among the recommendations included provision of housing, clothing, better diets and sanitation.80 In 1826, a few years before slavery was abolished in the British West Indies, Alexander Barclay, a writer showed concern for the choice of foods eaten by young children. He believed that certain foods as soup, oatmeal and rice were best suited for infants.81

In 1833, a planter’s wife noted, “the arrangement of the children upon a West Indian estate is most gratifying, for every want and comfort is minutely attended to.”82 By the early 1830s, mortality was relatively low among children and infants because they received greater care than in the last 200 years.83 Despite this apparent reform, the children still remained a vulnerable group and suffered from such life-threatening and debilitating ailments as whooping cough, diphtheria, infantile berberi and tetanus.84

In Grenada, by 1833, there was evidence on some estates in the parishes of St. Patrick and St. Andrew of a natural increase among the enslaved population. On the River Salle Estate, there was an increase of 14 with the death of five enslaved persons. Likewise, Union Estate showed an increase of six and a decrease by death of two while Mt. Rose Estate showed an increase of nine and five deaths.85

The decline and fluctuating profits of sugar planting in the British West Indies86 would have directly impacted on the treatment and workload of enslaved children. Mary Butler compared the fluctuating prices of sugar and slave mortality and discovered “the increases and decreases in sugar production are closely followed by corresponding increases and decreases in the death rate.”87 It was evident that the cost-conscious and penny-wise attitude of planters contributed to enslaved children being overworked. Their role in the estate gangs involved in minor tasks was critical in ensuring the smooth and efficient daily operations of the estate. An absence of children on an estate would have entailed more work for the first and second gangs. The survival of children into adulthood amid unsanitary and inhospitable environments is a testimony to the hardiness and survival mechanisms imbued in these young warriors.

Children were a crucial component of the labor force on the West Indian plantations. It is obvious that the fertility of women, mortality of ←40 | 41→infants, productivity and occupational mobility of children were inextricably linked to profit maximization. The rigorous labour demands in the British West Indies meant that pressure was constantly present to accelerate the transition from childhood to adulthood.


1. These include Barbara Bush, Hilary Beckles, Barry Higman, Bernard Moitt, Marietta Morissey, Anya Jabour, Herbert Klein and Stanley Engerman.

2. David Geggus, “The Demographic Composition of the French Caribbean Slave Trade,” Proceedings of the French Colonial Historical Society 13–14 (1990): 28.

3. Geggus, “The Demographic Composition of the French Caribbean.”

4. Heather Cateau, “Management and the Sugar Industry in the British West Indies 1750–1810,” PhD diss., University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad, 1994. p. 272.

5. Sessional Papers, vol. 82, 1791.

6. Extracts from Henry Whistler’s Journal of the West India Expedition in C.H. Firth ed., The Narrative of General Venables, with an Appendix of Papers Relating to the Expedition to the West Indies and the Conquest of Jamaica, 1654–1655 (London, 900), 145–147.

7. Cateau, “Management and the Sugar Industry,” 275.

8. Annual Return of the Increase and Decrease of slaves on Mt. Rich and Morne Fendue Estates Parish of St. Patrick, and Annual Return of Increase and Decrease of slaves on Grand Bacolet and Lower Pearls Estates Parish of St. Andrew. Grenada Slave Registration Volumes, Public Records Office, 71437 T71/266 (1817).

9. Michael Craton, “Hobbesian or Panglossian? The Two Extremes of Slave Conditions in the British Caribbean 1783 to 1834,” William and Mary Quarterly 2 (1978): 325, 338.

10. Marietta Morrissey, Slave Women in the New World: Gender Stratification in the Caribbean (Kansas, 1989), 108–131. See also James Trussell and Susan Watkins, “The Nutrition Fertility Link: An Evaluation of the Evidence,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 11 (1981): 425–441.

11. Michael Craton, Searching for the Invisible Man: Slave and Plantation Life in Jamaica (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978), 78.

12. Herbert S. Klein and Stanley L. Engerman, “Fertility Differentials between Slaves in the United States and the British West Indies: A Note on Lactation Practices and their Possible Implications,” William and Mary Quarterly 2 (1978): 358–359.

13. Richard Sheridan, Doctors and Slaves: A Medical and Demographic History of Slavery in the British West Indies, 1660–1834 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 245.

14. Journal and Ledger of Boccage Estate, 1801. CO 110/105.

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15. A planter in St Kitts, James Tobin, noted that young female slaves preserved themselves through the means of abortions. This view was supported by Dr. John Castles of Grenada. See Sheridan, 226–227.

16. Barbara Bush-Slimani, “Hard Labour: Women, Childbirth and Resistance in British Caribbean Slave Societies,” History Workshop: A Journal of Socialist and Feminist Historians 36 (1993): 95.

17. Cyril Lionel Robert James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (New York: Random House, 1963), 14, 16.

18. Hilary Beckles, “To Buy or to Breed: The Changing Nature of Labour Supply Policy in Barbados during the 18th Century,” Seminar Paper, Department of History, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, 1987–1988.

19. Beckles, “To Buy or to Breed,” 10–11.

20. Barbara Bush, Slave Women in Caribbean Society 1650–1838 (London: James Currey, 1990), 145.

21. Cateau, “Management and the Sugar Industry,” 243.


XVIII, 180
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XVIII, 180 pp., 4 b/w ill., 7 tables

Biographical notes

Jerome Teelucksingh (Author)

Jerome Teelucksingh is a senior lecturer at The University of the West Indies, in Trinidad and Tobago, and earned his PhD in history.


Title: Rise and Fall of an Empire