May 24, 2020

They stole us


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Contrabands_at_Headquarters_of_General_Lafayette_by_Mathew_BradyBy Peter Binose

“They stole us. They sold us. They owe us!” The question is; who stole who? who sold who? who owes who? and who is ‘us’?

I once wrote about Antonio Gonsalves the Portuguese sea captain from Madiera who captured the African men and shackled them taking them to Portugal. That was the very beginning of the African Atlantic slave trade. The Gonsalves family are the forerunners of the Atlantic African slave trade that spanned more than 400 years. I am biding my time to publish the full account, it may well be next year, or sometime after the upcoming Vincentian elections.

I am now seeking knowledge about the ancestors of Sir Louis Straker, one of whom was a black lady that owned slaves and in 1809 gave a slave woman and her child to her daughter as a gift. Because a slave, like land or property, was something owned and registered, the sale or gift of such was required to be registered with the Court Registry.
Feoffment [grant of ownership] of two slaves: Nanny Straker, a free coloured woman of Saint Vincent, has enfeoffed [has given] to her daughter Polly Melville a female slave and her daughter. Ref: Public Records SVG, Record # f. 288 Entered 22 July 1809

I was hoping Louis Straker would have the courage to come forward or the family would come forward and help in the matter because I know some members have been working on the family tree for some years now.

Really the thing that prompted me to bring up the past again was a statement I came across when looking through my records of Gonsalves speeches.

October 8, 2013: PM Ralph Gonsalves Speaking in Harlem on Reparations “They stole us. They sold us. They owe us!”

The question is Who stole who? Who sold who? Who owes who? And who is us?

We certainly know for sure that Antonio Gonsalves stole Africans and shipped them to Portugal.

We know that the Portuguese shipped the most slaves over the ensuing 400 years, they were the first to start and in the South Americas they were the last to finish shipping and selling slaves.

We know that the majority of slaves over the centuries were sold by Africans to the white slave traders. White slave traders hardly if ever went into the jungle and captured slaves. African tribesmen brought their prisoners in chains or wooden yolks to the beach head, and later the fort or trading post. The black tribal slavers sold the slaves to the boat owners and traders. The white traders were middle men; they bought slaves, and sold slaves and took them to the New World to sell them to plantation owners. The white traders then brought back to Europe hardwood lumber and later sugar, rum, tobacco, cacao, which they sold on the dockside markets. In Britain that was where all imports were sold the word port means market. The black kingdoms and tribes were all powerful and the foreign traders and shippers would have stood no chance against them if the Kings or Chiefs decided to attack them, the jungles belonged to the Africans, and the traders knew that, that’s why each party had its own job to do. And the Africans certainly played their part to the full.

We know that Britain was responsible for shipping the second most number of slaves. But Portugal was in the trade a hundred or more years before the British started and for about eighty or more years after the British had stopped.

The fact is that Britain paid Portugal millions of Pounds to stop trading slaves, the Portuguese cheated and their colonies such as Brazil carried on the filthy trade until the British sent warships to threaten and blockade them.

The British paid hundreds of millions to all the European countries to stop trading and shipping slaves, and then the British Navy policed the coast of Africa for a hundred years to stop trading and the shipping of slaves. Skuttling and sinking all ships that they caught with a slave cargo, and doing the same even if they didn’t have a cargo but were specifically equipped to carry slaves. In fact if the British had not stopped the slave trade by monetary and physical force the slave trade may well still exist today.

The British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Germans, Portuguese, Danes, in fact just about the whole world were buying and selling slaves.

The British sold Irish people into slavery in Virginia America and in Barbados many years before black Africans ever were used in those places. The Irish population of about 1.5 million was reduced to 600,000. The British also sold convicted felons who were rarely given a term of less than 20 years, sold them as term slaves. Which meant they shipped the prisoner and they were sold into slavery for the same term as their sentence, they rarely lived to see freedom.

The Africans have always owned and used slaves. Some Africans were born into slavery as all their ancestors were, they knew no different. Some were spoils of war, captured and often killed if men; and the women used as house slaves and concubines in the African household or fields. They had sold men as slaves to the Arab traders for more centuries than can be accounted for.

Then for Gonsalves to pop up and say “They stole us. They sold us. They owe us!” What in hells name is that all about?

We all deep down know that we cannot hold people responsible for what their ancestors did so far back as when slavery was approved of by the Catholic Church and the Church of England, it was legal everywhere until such time as the British made it illegal. If we can, then we should hold the Gonsalves and the Portuguese, and the African Kings and the African Tribal Chiefs, and those black people in the Americas and the Caribbean who bought and sold and gifted slaves like Saint Vincents ‘Nanny Straker’ in 1809. All those people should be the first to pay reparations for their ancestor’s actions. Then if they pay up we should ask the others to also pay, but only then and not before.

At that time we should also demand reparations from the British for all the Irish, Scots and English term slaves who were worked to death, often in a tropical country of which they were not acclimatized to. Their ancestors can still be recognized in Barbados as ‘red legs’ and those living at Dorsetshire Hill in Saint Vincent, where some still claim to be Irish.

This is a message to Ralph E. Gonsalves;
All this reparations nonsense looks good on your CV when trying to get re-elected. But you as a white man from the Gonsalves family and the ancestral home of Portuguese Madeira are making a mockery of the black man with your pushing this reparation nonsense which is unwinnable in any court of law anywhere in the world.
As for “They stole us. They sold us. They owe us! ” Who is the ‘us’ that you refer to? Have you included yourself in the ‘us’? You may be one of us as a citizen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. But you most certainly are not one of us in any other shape, form or way. Your family came to Saint Vincent as indentured servants, for those of you who do not understand what that means I will tell you.

During the mid 1800’s Madeira was hit by a famine that lasted for several years, people were starving. An offer was made by the British to find employment and living accommodation under an indentured labour contract. That meant the British paid the shipping and found them paid work on plantations in the Caribbean where they had to stay for a minimum of three years, they were then free to go home or stay in Saint Vincent or wherever they had gone. Gonsalves has tried on a number of occasions to equate indentureship with slavery. It is nothing like that at all, that is why I object so strongly to the ‘us’.

The Gonsalves family came in a steam ship with sleeping cabins and doctors and nurses on board with good food and personal attention. The slaves came in a sailing ship, nude and in chains and shackles sometimes bound so close together they spewed crapped and peed all over themselves and the person next to them. Then to lay in that until a crew member threw a bucket of water over them, can you imagine the stench the disgusting treatment. Then when they fell ill, they were thrown overboard, sometimes still alive. Is that the same as being an indentured servant? Is that the ‘us’ in this whole story of events? Well is it?

I will not ask him to apologize because I doubt he has ever apologized in his life to anyone about anything.

Comrade if you find this a little disturbing, may I apologize, I doubt you will lose any sleep over it.

Well its goodnight from me and its goodnight from ‘us’.

Peter Binose, Manchester.

DISCLAIMER: The opinion, belief and viewpoint expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinion, belief and viewpoint of iNews Cayman/ or official policies of iNews Cayman/

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