In 1800 the Nova Scotians and perhaps the last few of the London black poor were joined on their peninsula in Sierra Leone by around five hundred Maroons, former slaves from Jamaica. The Maroons were a people of Ashanti heritage who had escaped from slavery, established their own settlements up in the mountains and fought two wars against British forces. After the Second Maroon War the defeated Maroons of the town of Trelawny were transported to Nova Scotia and from there they too were shipped across the Atlantic and drawn into the experiment being played out on the coast of Africa. Their little whitewashed church stands not far from the waterfront in Freetown, and their descendants still live in the city, part of a so-called Krio population made up of people of various heritage. Respectable, pious and passionately dedicated to education and self-improvement they seem too gentle a people to be the descendants of the slave rebels whose guerrilla warfare against the British forces remains legendary in Jamaica. The younger generations of Freetown Maroons have themselves become settlers; they are part of a Krio diaspora that has clusters across Britain and the United States.
– pg. 196, BLACK AND BRITISH: A FORGOTTEN HISTORY, by David Olusoga, Macmillan, 2016
A new lingua franca developed, a hybrid, amalgam language known as Krio. It has become one of the national languages of modern Sierra Leone …
– pg. 317, ibid.
Edward Marcus Despard was an Irish soldier who served in the British Army. During the American War of Independence Despard led a force to victory at the Battle of the Black River (1782), securing the British presence on the Mosquito Coast.
Despard was subsequently made Superintendent of the Bay of Honduras, which later became British Honduras and then Belize. He administered the British enclave until 1790 when he had married a young black woman, Catherine, and staked his reputation on giving the same rights to freed slaves as to white settlers. This, however, did not go down well with some of the settlers.
A close relative of mine, quite sincere, was saying to me two or three weeks ago that one does a disservice to the Creole people, now a dwindling minority in the territory of Belize, when one questions the Battle of St. George’s Caye narrative. That narrative, as officially structured, is supposed to fill us Creoles with pride and self-esteem.
Now let me say this. The only purpose the “Creole” designation can serve for me is to distinguish one African tribe here from the other, the other African tribe being the Garinagu. The purpose the “Creole” designation serves for white supremacy, on the other hand, is to encourage us to deny the fact that our ancestors came from Africa, that we were kidnapped from Africa, that we were originally enslaved in Africa.
And, by the way, there are many African-descendant heroes in Belize who fill me with pride and self-esteem – Ludwig, Harmie Brackett, Margaret Usher, Glenda Ellis … The list is long. Me personally, I don’t need St. George’s Caye.
Anyway, the question we should all ask ourselves is this: who structured the official narrative? What purpose did they have in mind when they began giving the credit for a naval victory to a people enslaved on the mainland? And, why weren’t the descendants of that enslaved people happy in 1820, in 1894, in 1919 and in 1934?
In last Friday’s issue of Amandala on page 35, we reproduced an article entitled Catherine Despard, abolitionist. I know you didn’t read the article. But, you should. Look for last Friday’s issue and read it. Please.
The man who did more to structure the official Battle of St. George’s Caye narrative than anybody else in the modern era was a man named Emory King. He was a white American from Florida, one of the most racist states in the United States of America, who landed on these Belizean shores, supposedly as a shipwreck, around 1952 or so.
Emory dedicated himself to glorifying the white men who ruled the settlement in 1798. One of the heroes of the Battle of St. George’s Caye, for whatever it was worth, was a slavemaster named Thomas Paslow, who had been convicted of mutilating his slaves. King always did “powder jobs” on Paslow. Old Thomas was a favorite of his.
The only white man from that time whom Emory King viciously and continuously excoriated was Colonel Marcus Despard, an Irishman. I always wondered why. I was intrigued. Despard was the Superintendent of the settlement from the late 1780s until the middle 1790s, if I remember correctly. (NOTE: I did not remember correctly. Despard was summoned back to London in 1790.) Despard was in charge of the settlement during a period which saw people from the Mosquito Shores in Nicaragua taking refuge in Belize. The established settler families in Belize were very hostile to the refugees (white, I presume). Despard’s sympathy for the refugees from Nicaragua earned him the hatred of the established Baymen. Emory King, Belize’s foremost Baymen historian, repeatedly lashed out at Despard in his writings.
About 15 or 20 years ago, I discovered that Marcus Despard’s wife, Catherine, was black, colored or whatever. That discovery came, if I remember correctly, out of an article in The New York Times Review of Books. I went to Emory with this information, because I thought it might explain certain things about Despard’s experiences in the settlement during those years before 1798. Emory did not indicate that he had known of Catherine Despard’s ethnicity. In fact, he said nothing, and more importantly, he never wrote anything about that important bit of information.
There is no reason to believe that the settlement of Belize was anything but a racist, white supremacist settlement in 1798. In independent Belize, however, there was a Belize Historical Association (or Society) which was encouraging Emory with his “slavery was a family affair” propaganda. These so-called historians ignored the 1773 slave revolt. (The slaves fled north from the Belize Old River to Bacalar in the Yucatan.) Our Belizean historians chose not to know that there were black Haitians living on the north coast of the Yucatan in 1796 who added to the African texture of the Yucatan, the place where escaped slaves had been fleeing from Belize for many decades. Belizean historians and official educators had no interest in the Caste War of 1847 (or the Mexican Revolution of 1910). I submit to you, recklessly no doubt, that where the sovereign, national landscape of Belize is concerned today, the Caste War of 1847 is more important than the Battle of St. George’s Caye. Belize’s African and Mayan populations should be finding areas of commonality instead of emphasizing areas of contention.
I don’t have a problem with Creoles celebrating the Battle of St. George’s Caye. The music is great. But you have to answer me this question: why are the same people who are leading the Battle of St. George’s Caye charge the same people who still absolutely refuse to teach African and Mayan history? Can you say, “royal Creoles”?
Any division amongst us, the roots Belizeans, benefits the elitist, isolationist foreign groups who have been buying their immigration, real estate, and business rights here from our attorney/politician types since independence “freed” us in 1981.
Belize is in a mess, and the Belizeans who are benefiting from this mess are invariably the loudest Tenth of September voices. Belize is the strangest country. With a majority black population, we never celebrated Emancipation Day. Instead, in 1898 we began celebrating Centenary. In addition, Belize’s Garveyites of the 1920s became loyalists of the British Empire in the 1940s. Strange country.
Since Centenary, who are they who have made progress here – the roots masses of the Belizean people or the flag wavers for white supremacy?