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posted 30 Jul 2017, 11:17 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 30 Jul 2017, 11:33 ]
On Monday 31st July 2017 at 6:30 pm, the Southern Marines Steelband Foundation is scheduled to host a procession beginning at the Pointe-A-Pierre Roundabout. It proceeds to the Marabella Roundabout and thence to the Southern Marines Pan Palais, Southern Main Road, Marabella. This, of course, is part of the oldest steelband in the Greater San Fernando area’s Emancipation reflections.

This activity is actually the rejuvenation of a procession that used to be held in the past, but which went into disuse. Why the Pointe-A-Pierre Roundabout you might ask. The fact is the area known as Pointe-A-Pierre, which now contains the Petrotrin refinery was once a sugar estate called Plein Palais.

It was owned by the Peschier family and in pre-emancipation days, it was operated by African slave labour. Plein Palais is noted for the slave uprising that took place in either 1822 or 1832.

Let’s give it some context. After the success of the Haitian revolution in the early 1800’s, an insurrectionary mood swept the slave plantations throughout the Caribbean. The slaves were determined to be free, while the slave owners were terrified that they would be attacked and killed by the slaves The Haitian revolution had thought them that the slaves were no longer going to put up with slavery and they had enough experience to know that if emancipation did not come from above it would come from below, and if it did come from below the status quo would be radically different.

What the revolution in Haiti did was to spawn a series of never ending revolts throughout the Caribbean that convinced the colonial authorities that it was time for slavery to go. In the words of one historian: "Economic change, the decline of the monopolists, the development of capitalism...had now reached their completion in the determination of the slaves themselves to be free."

The historical record is a bit confusing, but according to the version pieced together by Carlton Ottley in his book Slavery Days in Trinidad. Port of Spain: Trinidad First Edition. 1974: Trinidad did not escape what may be termed the massacre‐hysteria with which all those who were part of the institution of slavery, were afflicted from time to time. The masters lived in constant fear of being killed by their slaves, and, the most insignificant sign that something was brewing among the slaves set off the most violent explosions in the ranks of the white and coloured population.

It was learnt in 1808, that the enslaved had formed themselves into societies, most powerful being in districts such as Maraval, Diego Martin and Carenage. They formed themselves in Convois or regiments. There were for instance: Convois de Sans Peur or Dreadnought Band; Convois St. George; Regiment Danois or Danish Regiment; Regiment Macaque or Monkey Corps, etc.

In 1822, according to Ottley, a slave rebellion broke out on the Plein Palais Estate (Pointe-A-Pierre). The enslaved rebelled against the harsh working conditions, under the pretence of demanding three days holidays in the week. Three of the leaders were beheaded with an axe in Woodford Square. Their heads were exposed in the Square, and their bodies hung in chains on the various estates where the societies existed. It took four years to crush the remnants of the rebellion.

JD Elder claims the revolt took place in 1832 and according to the Sunday Express of January 29, 2012, Elder claims "the slaves working on the Plein Palais estate had approached the manager enquiring from him when they would be freed (talk of Emancipation was in the air). Angered by his refusal to give them an assurance of their freedom, they set the estate on fire. Many died from the raging flames and others were shot when the militia appeared on the scene to restore order. Those that escaped went to Gasparillo and Caratal, but emerged later from their hiding places and became coal burners."

An interesting footnote to this story is that the Peschier family who owned the Plein Palais sugar estate received £4,000 sterling from the British government as compensation for the loss of their property (slaves) when the Emancipation Act was passed in 1833 (although under the guise of being apprentices, slavery continued until 1838). This was part of the £20,000,000 the British government paid out to slave owners throughout their empire. In today’s terms this would be worth £16.5bn.

The Peschier family’s cut of £4,000 would be worth just about £3 million today. This should undercut the myth about certain sections of the society working hard and enjoying their rewards today! Incidentally, the freed slaves got no compensation. Yet there are people today who would argue against reparations!
Gerry Kangalee,
30 Jul 2017, 11:17