How did St Lucia’s Rich get so Rich?

The new Balembouche has become a hot spot for Jazz, but there was a time when the Estate had absolutely nothing to do with music!

The new Balembouche has become a hot spot for Jazz, but there was a time when the Estate had absolutely nothing to do with music!

In 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald (author of The Great Gatsby) wrote Rich Boy. In 1936 it was published in a popular book of his short stories entitled All the Sad Young Men. The book begins with the following passage: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them. It makes them soft where we are hard; and cynical where we are trustful—in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover for ourselves the compensations and refuges of life. Even when they enter deep into our world, or sink below us, they still think they are better than we are!”

In his original version of The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which first appeared in Esquire also in 1936, Ernest Hemmingway had expressed his own assessment of the well heeled: They were “dull and repetitious and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon.”

The cited iconic authors, who passed away in 1940 and 1961 respectively, came to mind this week after I’d read a The Perceived Right to Rule, sent me by an online reader, with his own cryptic review: “Interesting!”

The article opens this way: “It is a historical fact that after the abolition of slavery it was the slave owners who were compensated for their loss of slave labor, not their slaves after countless years in bondage. Crown grants for the 27 large estates listed below were awarded the slave owners . . . and unjust laws were enacted that excluded the ex-slaves from owning land. They ended at the mercy of their former owners, and had to work for way below the minimum wage [?]. In effect actual slavery had been transformed into low-wage slavery. Among the early maps of St Lucia is the La Fort De Latoor, which identified estates by their owners who, upon their departure, handed their estates to their descendants—who continued to employ the ex-slaves and other blacks as expendable beasts of burden. They became subservient to half-white or mulatto landowners whom they were forced to address as massa, giving rise to the master and slave syndrome.”

The writer purports that for male ex-slaves “slavery was preferable to hired labor.” On the other hand their female counterparts “continued to enjoy their customary living condition as maids and nannies, and provided for the entire family.” The writer informs us that modern day pimps, who live comfortably off the concupiscent sweat of the female brow, are a by-product of slavery. As for the ex-slaves who “could not withstand subsistent [sic] farming,” they took to preaching the word of God—which “accounts for the numerous black ministers of religion or reverends,” at any rate, “in the United States.” (Alas, he neglected to comment on their white counterparts!)

But let us return to the owners of those earlier mentioned 27 slave plantations. By the writer’s doubtless impeccably researched account, Marquis, in the north, was originally the domain of an English gentleman named Purchase who “drove only Mercedes Benzes and eventually committed suicide.”

A man of French origins owned Cap. Floissac was his name, and he subsequently sold his estate to a Colonel Harrison, a horse breeder. Choc Estate’s original owners were also from England, a family known as the Bascombes. They sold their property to “a former employee named JQ Charles, a St Lucian,” as was the owner of Corinth estate Balboa Edwards.

Another Frenchman whose surname was Devaux owned Goodlands, Cul-de-Sac and Roseau estates. His descendants, the writer reminds us, today operate here as merchants, sellers of insurance, and as airline and maritime agents. The DuBoulays, still another family of French descent, owned “most of the town of Soufriere and its environs, including Anse Chastanet.”

Still another Englishman, the original Johnson of Johnson’s Hardware, owned Jalousie and Beau estates, while a Monsieur Delieu laid claim to Fondu and Chateaubelair.

The area of Saltibus known as Morne Lizard belonged to Englishman George Barnard, as did Black Bay, “extending all the way to Cocodan.” His close relative David Barnard owned East Balembouche, while Dennis (perhaps the best known of the clan), was monarch of all he surveyed from Hilltop in Dennery to La Caye.

In all, the writer notes, “Fourteen sugarcane estates were granted to English slave owners, nine to the French, while four were acquired by St Lucians.” Authority on some them was “delegated by massa to the leggings and cork-hatted colums, to house niggers and to footmen.” Although he does not say what had been their inspiration, the writer suggests the role of white priests at the time was to further “enrich the Vatican” and, with the cooperation of the sons of slave-owners, divide and rule our trusting brothers and sisters, most of whom “were still stuck in the ideology of a civilization made up of pastoral people living in patriarchal family groups.”

What the white demons of divisiveness had in common, the writer points out, were “the material conditions to implement the doctrine of divide-and-rule to maintain the master and servant syndrome . . .  Acquisition of social eminence was frequent Holy Communion and invitation to cocktails at Government House.”

I doubt very much the majority of STAR readers would by this point have discerned the identity of the writer of this particular chunk of St Lucian history. Perhaps the following will help—which seems to be celebrating, if not signaling, the arrival of better days for the descendants of former slaves:

“But the phoenix was rising from the ashes. Government had taken control of education. Our two Nobel winners were products of the Anglican and Methodist churches, not the Roman Catholic. Offspring of farmers were acquiring university education; they were becoming doctors, lawyers, economists and political scientists in political office, challenging not only the primary authority of the bourgeosie but also their social and economic status. Control of the collective social environment by the new educated elite isolates the capitalist cult into the limbo of forgotten things.”

It wasn’t until I came to the tail end of The Perceived Right to Rule that I encountered its sting. It actually had little to do with how the ostentatious rich in Saint Lucia continue to grow richer amidst rampant poverty, or why they continue to be different from the native sons and daughters who seem to stand little chance of ever catching up with the slave owners’ spawn. It seemed to me that the main purpose of the article was to expose as traitors to our nation those despicable hagfish that had sought to devour the Labour Party from within . . . from John Compton and the Bousquet brothers to Neville Cenac and Mikey Pilgrim—George Odlum being the last of the horrid breed.

Observed the writer, regretfully: “Each time the gain has gone to the United Workers Party of the bourgeoisie that insists on regaining its perceived right to rule  St Lucia!”

It turns out (surprise! surprise!) The Perceived Right to Rule was first published in the STAR of 28 August 2003. It’s author? None other than Mr Pat Brown. And now I can’t help wondering how he feels today about the views expressed a decade ago? I can’t help thinking about those in our midst who had obviously profited from plantation- and other forms of slavery. Should they be brought to book? In any event, should the advocates of reparation now target the more obvious beneficiaries of local slave labor—wherever they may be found?

A final question: How is it that, rich as some say Michael Chastanet is, not one of our
27 former slave plantations was ever owned by his forebears? Or did they offload a certain “anse” on the early DuBoulays—in anticipation of things to come? Bearing in mind who could turn out to be Saint Lucia’s next prime minister, Pat Brown just might wish to take a closer look at that ancient La Fort De Latoor map!


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