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An Eyewitness Account Of Emancipation Day

1st August 1834

Given by Lieutenant Colonel Capadose, a British Army Official, while stationed in Trinidad. It was first published by Capadose in 1845 in the book 'Sixteen Years in the West Indies'.

I was present, with the late Colonel Hardy, at the Government House (or Office) at Port of Spain, Trinidad, on the memorable 1st August 1834.

As the first step to freedom, the quondam slaves of all British Dominions, were denominated apprentices - the Governor and Council were all assembled to listen to a representation, or an interrogatory, of a number of Negroes, regarding their supposed, unlimited, emancipation - these people appeared to be a deputation from a few French Estates: and were for the most part very old men, old women, and children, the only young man among them was their spokesman, who was probably selected, because he spoke French language well- it was he who addressed the Governor, with the question, whether the King had not granted them (that is all slaves) unqualified liberty, from that date? That they understood so, yet their managers and overseers insisted on their working, as usual, that Morning on the estates.

I must here explain that French gentlemen, managers and overseers, accompanied these Negroes to the Government House, H.E., the Governor, Sir George Hill, followed by the members of council, the Judges and other official Gentlemen, had repaired to the balcony of the Council chamber to enquire into the cause of such an assemblage as then filled the Court Yard, below the building. In answer to the above question, be mildly observed that His Majesty had indeed been most graciously pleased to grant them Freedom, that they were consequently no longer slaves, but free British subjects from that day forth- yet, His Majesty had decreed that they were still to reside on the estate and serve, under certain enactments for their benefit, as before; in capacity of apprentices during six years, after which they would, in 1840, be free to go wherever they pleased - scarcely had His Excellency pronounced "Six years," than the Negroes, old women and men, vociferated "pas de six ans, point de six ans" (not six years, no six years) - hardly would they allow His Excellency to be heard in conclusion, so loud did they repeat "pas de six ans," ect.

The Governor however continued speaking to them, in their own language, with the greatest affability, and concluded by exhorting them, to return quietly home, like good folks, and resume their avocations under employers who, doubtless would treat them kindly, and indeed the new laws ensured them good treatment; they nevertheless stood immoveable, and would not retire; the Governor then left the balcony, and lest he might not have been properly understood by the multitude below, he directed one of the Secretaries, or Government Officers, present, to take his place, and explain more fully what he had said, which was done, but with no better success, the same vociferations being repeated at the words "pas de six ans!" ect.

At this time two gentlemen entered the council chamber, military officers, Captain hay, and Captain Mackenzie, just arrived from England, on appointment, as Special Magistrates, to see the act for the apprenticeship carried into effect. One of these magistrates was accordingly directed by His Excellency to replace the previous speaker, at the balcony, and explain to the infatuated people below, their error; which the magistrate did in the most clear and intelligible manner; read, and explained to them, the printed act, that he held in his hand; exhorted them to withdraw peaceably and without delay, or it would become his painful duty to use compulsion; but no, the foolish people were deaf to his remonstrances and ever and anon vociferated "Pas de six ans, nous ne voulons pas de six ans, nous sommes libres, le Roi nous a donne la liberte!"

"No six years, we do not want six years, we are free, the King has given us liberty!" at different pauses, or cessation of noise, the young spokesman represented in good French, and with eloquent and respectful tone, that they had toiled all their lives, had enriched their masters by the sweat of their brow, that the King was surley too good to exact of them six years more of servitude, that their masters might take advantage, so as to work them, during that period, to death, or so immoderately, that they could not live long after service - at this, the magistrate assured them that he and his colleagues would take especial care to prevent such abuse, that the act provided for so many hours moderate labour per day, and such allowance of food ect., and it would be impossible for anyone to ill-treat them - again he most earnestly exhorted them to withdraw, but in vain, they would not - torrents of rain fell, but had apparently no effect on those people, they remained immoveable, vociferating "pas de six ans" ect. - the Members of Council, and some other gentlemen present, then lost all patience, and forcibly advised the Governor to declare Martial Law- the Militia was under arms in various parts of the town, and artillery drawn out at different points, an insurrection being apprehended, though no symptom of it appeared beyond the obstinacy of foolish old people in the government courtyard, headed by a single young man, and none of them had even a stick in their hands - nevertheless gentlemen (civilians) about the Governor, were vehement in their demands for Martial Law - His Excellency appeared perplexed, and at length requested the opinion of Colonel Hardy, who had till then remained a tranquil spectator but on being asked whether he deemed it advisable to declare Martial Law, he replied, decidedly not.

Slave Cartoon
Anti-Abolition cartoon from a British newspaper of the early 19th century. An act of parliament provided for a free grant of 20 million pounds- an enormous-to be distributed among all slave-owners as compensation. The money came from the British tax payers who all profited from the exploitation of the slaves. The cartoon expresses the resentment to this, and 'John Bull' (right) felt that the slaves, who were now dancing to a different piper, and the slaveowners (symbolised by the man with hat in hand) should go somewhere else to finance abolition.

"Martial Law!" exclaimed he, "against whom? - I see only old men, women, and children, poor ignorant people, who come to ask a question, and to know no better" or words to that effect. The chief Judge, and to the best of my recollection, the Attorney General, also, coincided in opinion with the Colonel, that there was no necessity for Martial Law, that the police could disperse the obstinate people.

It is to be remarked, that had Martial Law been proclaimed, Colonel Hardy would have been invested with the chief command, would have commanded the Militia, tighter with the regular force throughout the colony, whilst the Governor's authority, in a great measure, if not entirely, would have been suspended - yet it was generally believed that had the Colonel advised it, Martian Law would certainly have been declared in Trinidad.

Towards the close of the evening, that is about sunset, the police were called in to act, and by persuasion more than force, cause the obstinate apprentices to retire; soon after which, Colonel Hardy took me with him, in his gig, to St James Barracks, on our way we saw bodies of militia, cannon planted at the entry of the streets, with militia artillery-men and lighted matches, as if prepared for a fierce encounter; and as the gig rolled on, a number of girls danced about in the streets, singing French arriettes of, probably, their own composition on the goodness of King William in granting them freedom - which Colonel Hardy observed "looked mightily like insurrection."

The two or three succeeding days more Negroes flocked to town and would not return to their masters, so that the magistrates were compelled to exert the power vested in them, and make some examples by having corporal punishment inflicted on a few of the strong and refractory men, which had the desired effect, and the apprentices returned to the Estates and recommenced work.

At Naparima the apprentices on some Estates were still more refractory, and several examples were made, which restored order, and all proceeded quietly after-wards.

For about a week to ten days after Aug. 1st, 1834, the inhabitants (many of them) were very apprehensive of insurrection and revolt; the French were the most alarmed. A lady, who had been driven from St Domingo at the early part of the French Revolution, told me that the troubles in that Island, commenced by deputations of old persons coming forward in the first instance; and, that consequently, when she heard of the assemblage before the Government House, she dreaded lest similar horrors to those formerly perpetrated at St Domingo were on the eve of being committed in Trinidad. | | A Revolt

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