BBC Special Report: Confronting My Family’s Slave-Qwning Past

Nicole Phillip-Dowe, DC Campbell and Laura Trevelyan (L) discover a former slave plantation on Grenada

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By Laura Trevelyan
BBC Information, Grenada

Almost 200 years after her ancestors got a big payout from the British authorities when slavery was abolished, our correspondent travels to Grenada to learn how this grim legacy continues to reverberate in the present day.Short presentational grey line

Excessive up within the hills of the Caribbean island of Grenada, within the grounds of a former slave plantation, a forged iron bell hangs from a tree.

The ringing of the bell signified the beginning of one other working day for West African slaves, harvesting sugar cane. At this time, the Belmont property is a well-liked vacation spot for vacationers. It’s a spot to benefit from the native delicacies and go to the present store, the place you should buy artisanal chocolate bars embossed with the picture of the slave bell.

It was right here that I got here nose to nose with the brutality of the previous – and the function performed by households like mine.

“This is the sound of slavery,” stated DC Campbell, a Grenadian novelist and descendent of slaves. He picked up a pair of shackles made for a kid, turning them over in his palms.

The artefact, often housed within the island’s nationwide museum, would have been used on a slave ship on the notorious center passage from West Africa to the Caribbean.

We appeared in silence on the shackles for adults and youngsters, the neck brace which could possibly be tightened till a slave might not breathe, and the leather-based whip which was even used on pregnant ladies. So sinister within the shiny daylight.

“These were instruments of control and torture,” stated Nicole Phillip-Dowe of the College of the West Indies, matter-of-factly. “There was an entire system of control to ensure that you get the labour you want, to get the profits that you want.”

DC Campbell poses near a bell that used to ring to call slaves to work at the Belmont Estate
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DC Campbell poses close to a bell that may name slaves to work on the Belmont Property

Historical slave artefacts

For BBC producer Koralie Barrau, an American who’s a descendant of slaves on Haiti, looking at these artefacts produced a visceral response.

“It’s sickening. I look at these neckbraces, these handcuffs for children, these whips. And it could have been me. Five or six generations back. This is what my ancestors had to endure and it’s very chilling.”

Ms Phillip-Dowe defined that “disobedient” slaves had been punished in public, to terrify the opposite slaves into submission.

We’re in Grenada as a result of a number of years in the past, I discovered about my connection to this island.

When my five-times great-grandmother Louisa Simon married Sir John Trevelyan in 1757, she delivered to the wedding her service provider father’s partnership in sugar cane plantations on Grenada, which included the possession of about 1,000 slaves.

I found all this in some unspecified time in the future after 2013, when the information of Britain’s Slave Compensation Fee had been put on-line and relations searched the database. The information revealed the names of the 46,000 slave homeowners who acquired compensation when Britain abolished African slavery in 1833.

Portrait of Sir John Trevelyan with wife Louisa Simon, Lady Trevelyan, his son Sir John Trevelyan and his Daughter Helena TrevelyanPicture supply, Nationwide Belief
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Portrait of Sir John Trevelyan with spouse Louisa Simon, who delivered to the wedding possession of about 1,000 slaves on Grenada

Paying off the slave homeowners didn’t come low-cost – it price the British authorities £20m, a staggering quantity that represented 40% of presidency expenditure in 1834.

In a household e mail chain, I discovered that the Trevelyans acquired about £34,000 for the lack of their “property” on Grenada – the equal of about £3m in in the present day’s cash.

Studying the numerous reactions of members of the family in Britain from my dwelling in New York, I felt faraway from the talk – and saved it away within the psychological class of issues that had been too tough to ponder.

Till I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

The racial reckoning within the US following the loss of life of George Floyd pressured me to ask what it actually meant, that my ancestors had sat sipping tea in England, making the most of an inhumane system of slavery greater than 4,000 miles away. In the summertime of 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests dominated the streets of my hometown New York Metropolis, I realised the previous was informing the current in ways in which needed to be confronted.


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If anybody had “white privilege”, it was certainly me, a descendant of Caribbean slave homeowners. My personal social {and professional} standing almost 200 years after the abolition of slavery needed to be associated to my slave-owning ancestors, who used the income from sugar gross sales to build up wealth and climb up the social ladder.

The daddy of Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone was a slave proprietor, as was a distant relative of David Cameron’s. It’s no coincidence that outstanding British households had been slave-owners.

If one of many legacies of slavery in America was police brutality in direction of black males, what was the legacy of slavery on Grenada, I puzzled? I needed to discover out. Even when it was going to open me as much as accusations of being a white saviour making an attempt to salvage her conscience. And I needed to attempt to discover a descendant of slaves owned by my household, to see if the previous could possibly be linked to the current.

In 2021, following the BLM protests after George Floyd’s homicide, Grenada’s authorities grew to become the final within the Caribbean to arrange a Nationwide Fee on Reparations for Slavery.

That fee is chaired by Arley Gill, Grenada’s Ambassador to Caricom, the Caribbean group of 20 nations.

We met on the historic Fort Frederick, constructed by slaves to defend the profitable buying and selling routes of the colonial powers of Britain and France. As we talked overlooking the glowing Caribbean sea, Ambassador Gill advised me how George Floyd’s homicide was “a profound stimulant, to not just Grenada, but the Caribbean as well. People saw these images of a white police officer kneeling on a black man’s neck, he’s crying out for breath. And that in itself really brought home the injustices of racism.”

Along with a proper apology for slavery from the British authorities, Mr Gill want to see an apology from the Queen.

“The royal family played a critical part in sanctioning and participating in the slave trade and slavery. They must not be exempted from accepting their responsibility,” he stated.

Queen Elizabeth II in Grenada in 1985Picture supply, Getty Photographs
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The Queen visited Grenada in 1985

When Prince William and his spouse Kate arrived in Jamaica this March, they had been met by protesters demanding Britain apologise for the slave commerce and pay reparations to its former colony for slavery. Prince Edward and his spouse Sophie cancelled a deliberate April go to to Grenada on the final minute, apparently over fears that they too may be greeted by demonstrations in opposition to slavery.

But there’s no avoiding the proof of Britain’s function within the struggling that slavery delivered to Grenada. The island has among the best-preserved slave registers within the Caribbean.

In Nicole Phillip-Dowe’s workplace on the College of the West Indies, in Grenada’s capital St George’s, we pored over file books, the place officers with copperplate handwriting recorded the annual births and deaths of the enslaved.

Information for the Beausejour property, the place the Trevelyans owned slaves, made for disturbing studying. Alexander is just one yr previous when he dies of an obstruction to the bowel. Harry aged 11 dies from measles. Leprosy and dysentery are frequent causes of loss of life.

Ms Phillip-Dowe defined how dysentery and measles unfold shortly due to cramped quarters on slave ships.

“Often the cause of death is put as itch. My thought is that was probably measles and the child would have been scratching uncontrollably,” she stated.

The horror of life and loss of life on the Beausejour plantation appeared at odds with our spectacular location.

Grenada’s capital St George’s is called some of the stunning within the Caribbean. The city sits on a horseshoe formed harbour, under the hillside of an previous volcanic crater. The Carenage is the guts of St George’s, the bustling promenade winding around the harbour.

That is the place the slave ships docked from West Africa, and the enslaved emerged from their arduous journey to be offered and start life on the plantations. I needed to go and see the Beausejour plantation for myself. The place the place these youngsters, Harry and Alexander, owned by my ancestors, had died.

As we drove up the steep hillside above the Carenage, I seen how the skyline of St George’s is punctuated by the spires of Anglican and Catholic church buildings. It’s one more legacy of a previous the place Britain and France fought for management of an island so beneficial to each nations.

North of St George’s, excessive up within the lush hillside, is the Beausejour property, the place I met Mr Campbell. His novel Winds of Fedon describes the horrifying circumstances through which slaves had been stored on Grenada, and the oppressive system of plantation life.

We stood on the veranda of the plantation home, overlooking the slopes the place the sugar cane as soon as grew, and the place enslaved individuals owned by my household toiled away, harvesting the crop and turning it into sugar for export.

Slave records from Grenada showing the Trevelyan's ownership
Former Beausejour plantation

There are just a few ruined outhouses on the property, however that and the pale grandeur of the plantation home are the one clues to the previous.

Mr Campbell identified a spot the place the steel rollers would have stood, into which slaves fed the sugar cane so it could possibly be crushed. If a slave’s finger obtained caught within the curler, he defined, a plantation official with a machete would reduce off the slave’s hand – quite than danger the slave’s physique being pulled into the curler, disrupting the manufacturing of sugar.

“They would rather the slave lose an arm, then a life. Because that human being with one arm can still get back to work,” stated Mr Campbell, explaining the amoral economics.

Listening to this harrowing description of life on the Beausejour plantation was surprising to me. Did the Trevelyan household again in England have any concept about what their slaves endured? And in the event that they knew, did they care?

What Grenadians name the monumental panorama of their island is dotted with references to the colonial previous. Streets are named for slave proudly owning English officers. Grenada’s Nationwide Reparations Fee has beneficial that by the fiftieth anniversary of Grenada’s independence from Britain in 2024, streets be renamed for outstanding Grenadians.

Carenage harbour

Educating the island’s youth in regards to the historical past of slavery is one other goal of the Reparations Fee, so the Fee’s vice-chair Nicole Phillip-Dowe took me to satisfy the scholars of St Joseph’s Convent faculty in St George’s.

As Ms Phillip-Dowe launched me to a packed classroom as a descendant of slave homeowners on Grenada, the women appeared on with intense curiosity. I requested who within the room was descended from slaves. Each hand shot up. Ought to my household pay reparations to the individuals of Grenada as a result of we had owned slaves right here? The reply was a powerful sure.

The query of what reparations for slavery ought to seem like is one which Mr Gill is mapping out. He’s adamant that former colonial powers ought to put money into the infrastructure of Grenada, which he argues is just honest given how a lot slavery contributed to the economies of Nice Britain and France.

“Slaves were kidnapped. They were kept in horrific conditions. And all of that, in many respects, established the Industrial Revolution and triggered the development of Western European societies,” he stated.

Mr Gill factors to the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes in Grenada and throughout the Caribbean as one other legacy of slavery. I tasted Grenada’s scrumptious nationwide dish referred to as Oildown. It’s a one pot dish, which was all slaves had been capable of prepare dinner, product of pigs tails and salted fish and breadfruit excessive in carbohydrates. Centuries of poor weight loss plan have led to excessive charges of power illness, argues Arley Gill, and investments in training and well being by the previous colonial powers would go a protracted approach to undoing a few of this injury.

During Carnival, people dress up as the character "Jab Jab'", which is a symbol on Grenada of the "devil slave master"
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Throughout Carnival, individuals gown up because the character “Jab Jab’”, which is a logo on Grenada of the “devil slave master”

St George's market in GrenadaPicture supply, Getty Photographs
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St George’s, Grenada

Having discovered these traces of my household’s legacy as slave homeowners on this island, was it attainable that I might discover somebody descended from slaves owned by the Trevelyans? Since freed slaves had been typically named for his or her former masters, at first, our BBC group appeared for anybody with the final identify of Trevelyan. No luck.

My ancestors by no means set foot on the island of Grenada, opting to depart the day-to-day operations of the plantations to our relative by marriage with the identify of Hankey, with whom we co-owned the properties.

So it’s conceivable that folks named Hankey are descended from slaves owned by my household. Perhaps if I might discover a member of the Hankey household, we’d have the ability to discover our shared previous?

The pc retailer in Grenada’s capital St George’s is named Hankey’s. It’s simply steps away from the market place the place slaves had been as soon as offered.

Assembly the shop proprietor, Mr Garfield Hankey, was not straightforward. He was uncertain about whether or not he needed to talk to me. Our driver Edwin Frank, a eager scholar of Grenada’s historical past, persuaded Mr Hankey that it was essential for us to satisfy nose to nose.

Somewhat nervously, I defined to Mr Hankey that my ancestors might have owned his. “That’s deep,” he responded.

Garfield Hankey
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Garfield Hankey

I defined I used to be wrestling with the information that my household had been compensated in 1834 for the lack of their property, the enslaved, whereas slaves obtained nothing.

I requested Mr Hankey if that was honest.

“Not at all,” replied Mr Hankey, animatedly. “It wasn’t fair. I believe that the slaves were the hard workers, they are the ones that should really get some form of compensation.”

It’s a query I struggled with myself throughout my go to to Grenada.

The British authorities has by no means formally apologised for slavery or supplied to pay reparations.

In a press release to the BBC, the Overseas Workplace stated: “Slavery was and still is abhorrent.

“The UK Government has expressed deep regret that the transatlantic slave trade could ever have happened, and we recognise the strong sense of injustice felt in countries affected by it around the world.”

The arguments for and in opposition to reparations are controversial and complicated – the ethical crucial of constructing amends, versus questions on whether or not that is the best approach to sort out racial inequality. And is it proper to anticipate those that weren’t accountable to pay the value for selections made a whole bunch of years in the past?

One factor I’m exploring personally is how I can contribute to an academic fund that college students in Grenada may benefit from. The ladies at St Joseph’s convent advised me this might present I cared about their future, and needed to make amends for the previous.

As I grappled with the philosophical query of whether or not personally I owed something, I sought the recommendation of Sir Hilary Beckles, the historian and vice-chancellor of the College of the West Indies who’s the chair of the Caricom Reparations Fee.

“Slavery is not in the past,” stated Sir Hilary. “Our grandparents remember their great-grandparents who were slaves. Slavery is part of our domestic present. Slavery denies you access to your ancestry. It leaves you in this empty void.”

On the vexed query of whether or not there’s something households like mine ought to do, Sir Hilary stated: “What you are trying to reconcile is privilege on one side of the ledger and poverty on the other. We inherited poverty, illiteracy, hypertension, diabetes, racial degradation – all the negative dimensions. You inherited wealth, property and prestige.”

If I give cash to assist Grenadian college students with greater training – couldn’t that be dismissed as an empty gesture, I requested. “There is great symbolic significance,” Sir Hilary stated. “Think of the impact if every one of the slave-owning families did the same thing.”

On our final day in Grenada, producer Ms Barrau and I sat on the unending sands of Grand Anse seaside with our hosts Ms Phillip-Dowe and Mr Campbell.

Grand Anse is the place all of it started in spite of everything, Mr Campbell jogged my memory – it’s the place the British first tried to land and take possession of Grenada in 1609.

Grand Anse beach in GrenadaPicture supply, Getty Photographs

Ms Barrau advised me she now has a concrete concept of what the idea of reparations means.

“As a Haitian American living in the US, you hear a lot about reparations within the black community. And for me, it felt really intangible. Are we all going to get money? How does that play out? But in an island like Grenada, with 110,000 people, it seems a bit more tangible, a bit more real.”

“It’s important to acknowledge that a crime was committed,” says Ms Phillip-Dowe. “And after the apology, it’s only fair that the colonial powers that built their industrial revolutions from enslavements should give back to the Caribbean.”

However it doesn’t undo the previous, does it, I stated to her.

“No, it doesn’t,” she replied. “And we understand that you can’t go back and take a paintbrush and say that never happened. We can’t do that. But we can recognise that it happened. And we can find ways to repair it as much as possible.”

So when you concentrate on slavery and what it means for Grenada’s future, what’s your conclusion? I requested DC.

“This is an ongoing effort to bring closure,” he replied. “Into the future, the history ought to be kept alive, so we can learn from it. And there’s a significant lesson that we can learn from what the slaves endured, in terms of their strength, their faith, their resiliency.”

As Ms Barrau and I stated our farewells, I felt overwhelmed by what we’d seen and discovered in Grenada.

Ms Phillip-Dowe’s phrases after we’d dealt with the shackles and the neck brace on the plantation had been ringing in my ears. “The touching and the feeling brings strangely enough a sense of recognition,” she stated. “This is what was, and now we are trying to learn from it, and heal and move forwards.”

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