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NO OBSCURE OUTPOST PART II by Rawle Boland

posted 7 Jan 2014, 09:58 by Gerry Kangalee
Britain
’s trap, pursuing its Western Design to displace Spain in the Americas, was effectively set, with its capture of Trinidad in 1797. By then, however, the scheme had been rumbled by unforeseen developments. (See No OBSCURE OUTPOST PART I)

 

In 1781, Britain suffered the awesome loss of its American colonies. Their recapture remained a preoccupation, notwithstanding the 1783 Treaty of Paris, acknowledging US independence.

 

Article 1 of its Constitution (1787) enabled the US to abolish the slave trade, not before 1808, which it did on January 1. But, capitalising on fears in its sugar colonies of competition from the development of Trinidad’s virgin lands with slaves from Africa, Britain jumped the gun, finally enacting its abolition of the trade, experimentally in Trinidad by 1806 and, generally, in 1807..

 

Naval friction, as in that year, with the infamous boarding of the USS Chesapeake by HMS Leopard, was already an issue between the US and Britain, which could claim naval supremacy from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. But the US navy, though a newcomer, had already proved to be no pushover.

 

John Paul Jones, a Scot and consummate seaman, fled Tobago in 1773, after killing a colleague, allegedly in self-defence. He resurfaced as a US revolutionary in 1775.

 

In 1779, he administered the mother and father of a naval licking on Britain at the Battle of Flamborough Head, within sight of shocked spectators on the English coast. The Commodore - not Lord This nor Sir Dat - is idolised as the father of the US navy.

 

Hostilities revived in the War of 1812, the British burning Washington to the ground in 1814. US slaves, forced to fight for Britain, or who had done so for their freedom, were released in 1816, not in Britain, but south Trinidad, out of sight of slaves elsewhere on the island, especially since 1783. Thus arose communities of the “Merikens”, such as Fifth Company, Hard Bargain and New Grant (my family’s roots).

 

To add US insult to British injury, by the time the futility of efforts to recapture the US became obvious, the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 was unleashed. It put paid to any further European bacchanal over colonies in the Americas, following the close of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.

 

Its author, President Monroe, was the last of the five founding fathers to become President and the third to die on July 4, Independence Day. A battle-hardened revolutionary, he served, before becoming President, as Ambassador in London and remained wary of the British and, in particular, their canny and cunning Foreign Secretary, George Canning.

 

Slavery was already arousing controversy on grounds of security, then morality. This was fanned by the extent and ferocity of rebellions, above all the victorious Haitian Revolution (1791 to 1804), and reports, following the abolition of the slave trade, subsequently, of human cargo being thrown overboard from slave-ships facing capture, to avoid fines!

 

Britain’s political establishment, in a unitary kingdom, was better disposed than the US, a young federal republic, to challenge its pro-slavery lobby, then. Whether the sudden decision of Canning, as Leader of the House of Commons and Foreign Secretary again, to take over the parliamentary proceedings in 1823, which led eventually to the abolition of British slavery, was intended as a dagger at the heart of the US, is a topic for research.

 

Following Sam Sharpe’s Emancipation or Baptist Rebellion in Jamaica from Christmas 1831, Britain hastened to end slavery in the Caribbean, in 1838 finally, and in India, incidentally, in 1843. In the meantime, with its Western Design checked, it battened down the hatches, placing strategic colonies under heavy manners.

 

Thus, like Ceylon (1814), Trinidad (1831), on spurious grounds, and St Lucia (1838) became tightly controlled crown colonies. In 1865, US slavery and its Civil War having ended, Jamaica, self-governing traditionally, was spooked into becoming a crown colony, after Paul Bogle’s Morant Bay Rebellion. Others followed.

 

Was Trinidad’s significance, enhanced as Trinidad and Tobago from 1889, extinguished?  It reignited, as sugar and cocoa turned sour, with the exploitation of its oil resources, from 1910, to convert Britain’s navy from coal to oil fuel, before World War 1 from 1914. In World War II, foiling the attempts by German U-boats to disrupt its oil exports for the war effort became a major aim of US forces.

 

In 1941, under the lend-lease agreement with war-destitute Britain, several installations, including Chaguaramas and Waller Field, were secured by the US in the colony. And with US oversight, if not, unfortunately, its “manifest destiny” in mind, the Caribbean Commission (Anglo-American Caribbean Commission from 1942) arrived here in 1946.

 

Among its senior employees was Dr Eric Williams. Following his acrimonious departure in 1955, he would form the PNM, becoming, after its ascendance to office in 1956, the nation’s illustrious father in 1962.

 

The significance of Trinbago, with gas resources now, could be news again, in the event, heaven forbid, of regional unrest, or uncivil commess internally. This nearly occurred, remember, in 1970, when, reputedly, the Venezuelan navy steamed menacingly over the horizon. It could have recurred in the wake of the 1990 insurrection, as in Grenada in 1983.

 

If hell fell, our helicopters, whether or not otherwise engaged, would hardly suffice to make the slightest difference for its most precious resource, the rainbow people of this little, though hardly obscure, outpost of empire. Happy Carnival!!

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