The struggle of the free Africans for land space in Tobago




Dr Rita Pemberton. –


The end of the abominable apprenticeship system and the implementation of what has been called “full emancipation” on August 1, 1838, were marked by officially mandated religious services and joyful celebrations by the very liberated Africans. grateful.

Given the controversial issues that emerged during the apprenticeship period (1834-1838), it was very evident that the transition from the confusing, confrontational and semi-free status of learning to full freedom would not take place. slowly.

There were irreconcilable differences between the two groups that occupied the Tobago space. While the law changed the status of Africans, there was no facility to free the community of planters and their supporters from their enslavement to the notion of exploitation of plantations with slave labor under absolute control. planters.

The ruling class has remained stubborn in its opposition to emancipation and its determination to reverse its impact as much as possible. Therefore, the House of Assembly enacted a number of restrictive laws to ensure that the goals of the ruling class were met.

On the other hand, the law did not provide for the allocation of land resources to free Africans, who were likely to remain within the confines of the plantations and under the responsibility of their former masters.

However, the freed Africans were keen to shake off the restrictions of the previous era, pursue their ambitions and achieve emancipation. They sought to break free from the control of the planters and become independent landowners.

The dream of owning land was not easily realized, due to the obstacles deliberately put in place by the plantation owners in their effort to ensure that the liberated population remained a labor force available to maintain operations. of the traditionally impoverished sugar industry.

First, there were gentlemen’s agreements not to sell land to freedmen; but there was no rigid compliance, as the Tobago sugar industry was an unprofitable business.

Many estates were heavily in debt, few were able to break even and desperate planters looking to cut their losses advertised their properties for sale in the London market but failed to attract buyers. Some had little choice but to sell to available buyers.

Second, the land was sold at the prohibitive price of £ 20 ($ 96) an acre, which was a strategy to make the land unaffordable for free Africans, most of whom were earning eight cents (16 cents) per day as agricultural workers.

Such was the determination of some freed that some who persevered and bought land fell victim to unscrupulous planters who sold them useless land – very hilly, without access; marshy and uncultivable lands; land they did not own; in some cases, Crown land that the sellers did not have the authority to sell; and untitled land. In some cases, buyers did not receive any receipts, so there was no proof of the transaction.

Third, plantation owners have become vigilant over abandoned estates and crown lands in order to prevent illegal occupation by Free Africans. Some owners have illegally expanded their properties to include parts of neighboring abandoned estates, waterfronts, Crown land, unoccupied poor settler lots, and lots much smaller than size paid.

Fourth, the House of Assembly passed punitive anti-squatting laws that only applied to freed Africans.

The Africans’ immediate response to freedom was to leave the estates, to escape the control of the planters, and because those who occupied housing estates were paid lower wages than those who lived on the estates. Women and children have been taken out of plantation work. Women were employed in caring for their homes and families, cultivating provision land, turning some of their produce into salable items such as candy, starch and flour, which they sold on the market. market, haggling or domestic jobs.

The children were sent to learn trades, but some of the older boys were allowed to work on the fields taking care of the animals.

However, the ability to move from residence on the plantations to other locations varied in different parts of the island and was primarily based on the fortunes of the estates in that particular district.

Tobago was divided into three administrative districts, the Leeward, Middle and Windward Districts. The areas of Signal Hill in Milford and Buccoo in Plymouth were the Leeward District with the most estates.

The most populous Middle district included Scarborough and the surrounding area, passing through Mason Hall, Moriah, Castara, Parlatuvier and Mt St George.

The Windward District consisted of the areas between Mount St George and Charlotteville and the northern areas of Bloody Bay and L’Anse Fourmi. This district covered the largest geographic area, the most hilly terrain and was home to the smallest population of the island.

During the 1840s there was a rapid movement of liberated Africans to their own homes, built on leased land or on state land which they occupied as tenants at will (i.e. subject to eviction without notice), the next step being to obtain and occupy their own piece of land.

This movement, which resulted in the creation of free villages, was most marked in the Sous-le-Vent and Moyen districts. where the greatest number of land purchases were made.

There were two reasons for this development. First, it was easier to get land to buy because of the number of estates in the district that were having financial problems.

In addition, the planters sought to take advantage of the land scarcity of the liberated Africans by selling them land in order to maintain a residential workforce near the estate. It was expected that the estate would benefit from the services of this labor pool.

As a result, there were a number of free villages which developed on the fringes of areas in distress. These early villages were unplanned settlements that developed without any infrastructure for water supply and disposal of garbage and sewage.

The first village settlements in Middle District began before Emancipation, when Blacks and Free Blacks purchased land from the first debt-ridden estates before 1838. This resulted in the creation of Free Villages initially at Calder Hall , Rockley Vale and Morne Quiton.

After 1838, freed Africans were drawn to these areas and villages also developed at Mt Grace, Cinnamon Hill and St Cecilia. Villages developed around the Methodist churches of Mason Hall and Mount St George, and in Moriah from land purchased from Indian Walk Estates.

The villages of Parlatuvier were populated by migrants from the southwest of the island who traded with Barbados. The Middle District had the largest population in villages and freehold landowners.

The first villages that arose in the Leeward District in the early 1840s developed around the Moravian Church of Signal Hill, Hopeton, Patience Hill, Milford and Montgomery. These were later followed by the church-centered villages at Black Rock, Bethel and Bethlehem which were formed from the sales of Prospect Estate.

Sales of land from the smaller estates in the district resulted in the establishment of villages that bear the estates’ names: Hampden, Grafton, Old Grange, New Grange and Buccoo.

The first villages appeared in the Wind district in 1855. Movement was slower in this district because there was little land available for sale, and there was a strong migration from the area to the Middle and Leeward districts, where amenities and employment opportunities were more available. , and from which it was easier to transport goods for trade.

The first villages in the Windward District were created from the sale of land from the Kendall Place Estate. The control of the plantation community over the land resources of this district was the strongest on the island.

The establishment and growth of Free Villages in post-emancipation Tobago was a result of the struggle of the freed Africans to own land despite the cost and legal obstacles intended to restrict them to agricultural labor status. For them, land ownership was seen as the force of liberation from the continued domination of the ruling class.


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