Tuesday, September 15, 2009


A Tribute to Joseph Chatoyer
By Karielle Richards

Imagine: A clear blue sky, vibrantly colored flora and fauna, life emanating around you.  Most of the community (both young and old) are walking single-file, singing and laughing, along the winding path that leads to their destination. They get closer and closer until there before them is an opening, revealing a picturesque view of the beach. Everyone is excited to join the other natives who live on the coastal areas.  Life is perfect, more or less, until one day what first seemed like white clouds (ships) touching the sea proved to be showers of destruction (Europeans) descending upon the shores of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

A country with such beauty, fertility and richness was considered a treasure by the Europeans.  Britain and France fought over the ownership of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines when they discovered these islands.  However, long before the arrival of the Europeans, the islands were occupied by the indigenous Caribs.  According to Adrian Fraser (2002) "[t]hey are thought to have arrived since 1000 A.D." (p.10). From these people, Joseph Chatoyer, the chief of all chiefs, was born.

He was a Black Carib (Garifuna), a new race that had emerged from the interbreeding and intermarrying of the Yellow Caribs and Negroes, and as history proves, he was the chief of all chiefs, the paramount chief among these last groups of migrants.
In the late 1700s, the British were eventually victorious over the French in the battle for possession of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  The rights of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines now belonged to them, but the transition was not as easy as they had anticipated.  No way!  The Black Caribs would not give up their country without a fight.  The determination and resilience of these natives came as a shock to the British, and for two centuries, conflict raged between the two groups.

The first English-Carib War took place in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and lasted for two years, from 1771 to1773 – years of tremendous suffering and loss.  Then, realizing how unwavering and resilient the Black Caribs were in their determination to keep their homeland, Britain, through King George III proposed the Treaty of 1773 which agreed to end the hostilities and promised peace.  This was a first for the British as they were "forced to sign an accord with an indigenous population in the Americas" (www.wikipedia.org). One of the Carib chieftains to sign this treaty was Joseph Chatoyer. 

Who is this Joseph Chatoyer and what is said of him?

"Brave", "Rebellious", "Outstanding warrior", "Stubborn", "Ruthless", "Fierce", "Charismatic", "Formidable", "Tactful" are some of the numerous words  (Choose between "used to describe" and "associated with") Saint Vincent and the Grenadines' first national hero, Joseph Chatoyer.  He paid the ultimate sacrifice by dying in battle as he fiercely defended his country against attempts by the British to colonize his people's homeland.   (choose between "paid the ultimate price" and "made the ultimate sacrifice")

In 1795, twenty-two years after the Treaty of 1773 was signed and agreed upon, distrust and tension still existed between the Black Caribs and the British settlers. That year Britain broke the Treaty which they had made with the natives of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  Their sole purpose was to make the people subject to their power, and the intelligent and skillful diplomat, Joseph Chatoyer was cognizant of this fact. With the country under the governorship of James Seton, Chatoyer (the paramount chief) along with another chieftain, Du Valle, began the movement of resistance. Their open rejection of the plans by the British to build more inland roads, thus forcing the natives further into the interior of the island, eventually led to the two-year war known as the Second Carib War. This revolt against the British was led by Chatoyer, who, seeking justice and liberty for his people, wisely formed an alliance with French rebels from Martinique.

Joseph Chatoyer used the diplomatic skills he possessed to his advantage.  He understood the geo-politics of his time and never failed to negotiate with the different nations and neighboring communities. Fraser (2002) reports that "[t]he respect which Chatoyer earned,  particularly for his leadership and strategic skills appeared to be evident from the fact that the French were prepared to let their men serve under his command"(p.28).

Being an astute and outstanding warrior, Chatoyer not only enlisted the assistance of the French, but planned his campaign logically.  Instead of pillaging and destroying the property of the British, he directed his rage and fury only at the settlers themselves (www.svgtourism.com). As the attacks continued, Chatoyer led the rebellion on the leeward side of the island and delegated Du Valle to lead on the windward side. Working their way along the coast, their forces met at Dorshethill where they planned to launch their attack on Kingstown.

However, on March 14th, 1795, an army of British soldiers, which had recently arrived by warship, under the command of General Ralph Abercromby, marched toward Dorshethill and defeated the Carib and French rebels, in particular Joseph Chatoyer. This fearless leader fought fiercely to the very end before he was killed that same night by Major Alexander Leith.
Mystery surrounds the life of Joseph Chatoyer.  No one knows for certain the date of his birth, exactly how he lived, details of his family or the true nature of his death. There is a lot untold and unknown about this historical figure but from the findings gathered one cannot refute this: Two hundred and eleven years ago, in the year 1795, Joseph Chatoyer led a revolt against the British influence in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  He was killed as he bravely defied Britain, defending his people's territory.  Because of this patriotic, courageous act he is considered the National Hero of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Thank you Joseph Chatoyer!  The blood you shed is a symbol of the contribution you have made to the freedom we have to day.  Indeed you paid the ultimate price.  Again, thank you.

Bibliography and References
Fraser, A. (Dr.) (2002). Chatoyer (Chatawae) the First National Hero of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Galaxy Print Ltd.
 Retrieved on May 17, 2006 www.svgtourism.com
 Retrieved on May 17, 2006 www.wikipedia.org

Karielle S. Richards holds a BSc. from Caribbean Union College in Trinidad and Tobago. Recently graduated, Ms. Richards majored in Psychology and minored in English. She is currently employed as a guidance counselor and graduate lecturer by the Ministry of Education in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and is based at the Lowmans Leeward Secondary School.  

This was extracted from the current issue of Strategy, Forethought and Insight, The Little Caribbean Journal of Ideas, published weekly as email by irhondaking@sfisvg.com. You may write her to subscribe.